Sunday, May 27, 2007

Another Commandment

One of the best things about knitting in public is the stories that people share with you. Yesterday as we sat around a large wooden table for our monthly (more or less) meeting of the Northernmost Mainland Britain SNB, several people stopped by to chat or to say hello. One woman went to her car and brought in a cardigan she had made. I'll spare my non-knitting friends the details of stitch patterns and fasteners and such like that ensued, but then she got to the story that I think everyone can enjoy.



The complicated patterns with lots of colours most often seen on sweaters (jumpers) are called Fair Isle, but there are lots of variations of stitches and colours. For example, Caithness has several patterns associated with the sweaters knitted for fishermen. Really adept Scottish knitters could (maybe still can though I have not found any yet) insert the double pointed needles in a pouch worn around the waist like a money belt and knit while doing other things. (Perhaps if men had the right tools they could multi-task, too, but that is definitely a subject for a different post).




The woman who had described with pride her own particular stitch for her cardigan told us that women used to keep the details of their own unique patterns as closely guarded secrets. To reinforce her story, she related the tale of a woman in an upstairs flat who used to lean out her window to spy on the woman below as she stood knitting and watching her children in the front garden. This act of espionage would be translated from the motion of the woman's hands into a pattern of X's and O's on a grid on a large piece of cardboard and then presumably knit into something.




The woman was gone before I could ask if the spy was ever caught or what happened when the pattern revealed itself in a jumper or on a skirt, but perhaps the pleasure was in the taking. The story merged in my mind with martial arts movies where the fighting form was a closely guarded secret. Although not trained fighters, I am confident that the knitters could give a fierce battle if it came to it. To prevent all that I propose another commandment: thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's pattern.

To see examples of a local pattern and get an idea of the interest they can generate, check out this link. For some reason, I cannot publish the link. Sorry. Go to www. caithness.org and search for gansey.

4 Comments:

At 1:22 AM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

the blue one by Judy Harper of Wick is one of my favorite colors and I like the subtlety of the pattern. the color must be the color of the sea under certain conditions.

 
At 6:44 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, yes, just the other day I said to Morris that the sea was a navy blue. Deep water is that color or water closer in to shore when a cloud passes over. Today the sea might have close to that hue but with a flatness about it and grey skin on top. The wind is picking up again so it might also have white caps like bobbles. The pattern may have been reminiscent of Merry Men of Mey--the pattern of the water at Mey when the tides from the different flows meet each other. Did you get to see that when you were here?

 
At 4:14 AM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

Yes, I certainly did. It was one of my favorite things we saw. I took a photo of it too. it was in Orkney, at Ein Hollow between Rousay and the mainland (this is how I heard what Morris told me when he was here in January). I didn't know they were called the Merry Men of Mey.

 
At 1:36 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

ampiggy you have the right phenom but the wrong place. Merry Men of Mey are at Mey, which is near Castle of Mey--not too far from Angela and Reg's house. I don't know the name of the dancing men you describe, but it is typical Socttish understatement to call something very dangerous by a pretty name. Some of the most treacherous water in the world is around those dancing men. The ferry goes around it.

 

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