Tag Archives: knitting

GET MY DRIFT?

COMMUNICATION: a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior

As previously mentioned Costa and I do a lot of talking in various combos of Greek and Albanian. He speaks a fair Greek considering he learnt as an adult when he came here from Albania in search of work.

Kids usually learn a new language so much more quickly than adults do, but it’s amazing how much can be communicated by just a few words, and the universal language of hands. Pointing, waving, gesturing help quite a bit to get a point across.

“So,” says Costa, “I cut down your oleanders. That’s upset you?”

“Well, yes, seeing they were flourishing and seemed always to be in bloom.”

“They’ll grow,” asserts Costa, “they needed it.”

“But I didn’t tell you to cut them back,” I respond.

“Well then, cut me down,” he jokes, making ghastly throat cutting actions. “I’m Albanian. We had the Ottomans. We know about that.”

“Stop! Just stop!” I say, shuddering. He’s been making these jokes for years. We used to laugh, but now in the light of recent horrors they can’t even be thought of.  I throw up my hands as we play through the familiar pantomime. “Do what you like, Costa, do what you like.”

He grins and goes off into the garden, whistling.

His cheerful whistling is another form of communication for it usually brings at least one of the cats and dogs running. No words needed. It’s probably also a very polite way of Costa pointing out that he’s won. Again!

When it comes to people trying to communicate in a foreign language it’s invariably a game of hands. Some cultures ‘speak’ with hands more than others though, and family and friends tell me they can tell what language I’m speaking just by watching my hand movements. I’m not conscious of it, I must say, but it’s interesting to know.

The hand raised in greeting is one of the most ancient forms of non-verbal communication. It’s universal, and when accompanied by smiles it’s clearly friendly. The classic STOP hand signal might however have all manner of connotations, from a warning of danger ahead to a very definite “Get the #$!* out of here!” The accompanying body language often establishes the context.

I had a wonderful conversation in Izmir with this lovely fellow and his companions. We laughed, we smiled, we made hand gestures. None of us had the faintest idea what was being said. It didn’t matter a bit. What was being said was that we were having a grand old time just being. They were all such good ambassadors for their country; it’s distressing to think of what’s happening there now.

It’s probably not escaped your notice that I love to knit. And yes, I guess I do go on about it. A bit.  Yarn and needles are a language spoken worldwide. There can’t be many countries where the language of knitting isn’t known, where yarn and its attributes and possibilities are not at the very least a dialect.

I have been fortunate to meet knitters in many countries. We have an instant connection – we communicate instinctively without any words. Non-verbal communication is more than adequate when the topic is knitting. The hands and eyes can explain whatever it is you want to know about a technique.

Diagrams and symbols, yet another form of non-verbal communication, can be jotted down and carried with you to be studied again and again, and can be passed on to others.

Those who speak knitting are often oblivious to the lack of verbal communication. The spoken language barrier is of no consequence. Demonstrations, the show-and-tell and the tactile signals translate without any effort from those participating in the discussion.

I have never failed to make an instant connection with a knitter whose language I do not speak. I have never been treated with anything but the utmost courtesy, delight and enthusiasm. I have been warmly embraced, offered refreshment and have often had a gift pressed upon me.

The hands that show me new ways to knit are the same hands that pat mine approvingly when I master some fabulous new technique. The hands that patiently guide my awkward ones are the same hands that would probably like to shake me as I blunder along.

Without my hands and eyes I am reduced. With only my voice to communicate I would be diminished. This photograph of my friend quite literally in touch with a blind man had me close to tears when I took it. They had no common language, but the gentleman could ‘see’ her, he told me, and could tell she’s a very good woman. Communication with no need for words.

The very, very young typically have enormous eyes, a feature designed to appeal to the protective instincts of adults of that species. That demon Raki is a case in point, and coupled with his pathetic little cries he had no trouble communicating his desperate need for care. We fell for it!

So did Mythos, who communicated a great deal of loving care to the infant Raki, and interesting that he recognized Raki posed no threat to his position as dominant male cat.

Non-verbal forms of communication such as signs and symbols written in some manner on a surface that can be preserved convey information of every conceivable type, in every language from the most ancient to the very latest graffiti.

Nothing new about graffiti though – we’ve been making marks where we shouldn’t for aeons.

Messages can be communicated in coded symbols by various means, as witness the tally of guillotined heads entered into the knitting of the fictional Madame Defarge. The methods of passing on info through symbols range from messages worked into textiles, from smoke signals to flags, from piled up rocks to carvings on trees and from word and number play to fires and flashing lights. Such communications are limited only by man’s imagination, and that the intended recipient must know the code.

Music and dance are modes of communication with roots almost as ancient as man himself.

Dances are often codified forms of expressing the record of a culture, as this example of traditional dance from the Pelion village of Trikeri shows.

Costumes, simple or elaborate, body painting and various markings used by countless peoples throughout recorded history contain information of importance, not only to the group, but to anthropologists and other academics who might be engaged in studying them.

The objects carried by this Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church are visual communications, as are the traditional robes, which serve to establish his standing in the hierarchy. These symbols are non-verbal communications of his authority and understood by all who are part of the particular community. So powerful are these symbols that even foreigners understand the implications.

Language and other means of communication have interested me for a long time, ever since I was a small child living in a variety of cultures. I’ve been fortunate to have written a book about language and communication so that kids might enjoy it too.

https://www.quartoknows.com/books/9781633221550/You-Talking-to-Me.html?direct=1

MY ORACLE AT DELPHI

Some years ago we spent a few days in Delphi, one of the most dramatic of ancient Greek archeological sites. Delphi is situated high on the side of Mt Parnassus, a mountain holy to the ancient Greeks, and commands a spectacular view above the Gulf of Corinth. Looking across the Pagasitic Gulf from our house we can see the peak of Mt Parnassus rising up on the mainland, covered in thick snow; the ancients would be surprised to see the ski resorts!

Temple of Apollo at Delphi

View from Delphi over the Temple of Apollo

Like the ancients, I don’t ski, but I share their reverence for the site which is awe-inspiring and never fails to enthrall and humble me. The famed Oracle of Delphi made her pronouncements in the Temple of Apollo, and great was the fame of each successive oracle. Her prophecy was ambiguous: the person receiving the advice would interpret it to suit his or her purpose, sometimes with catastrophic results, as Croesus found to his cost.

A pilgrimage to Delphi, a place difficult to access, was a memorable experience for those who undertook it in ancient days, and it was for me too on my first visit there, but not entirely because of the ruins and the Archeological Museum.

A charming employee at our hotel, Maria, noticed me knitting and told me as we chatted that her mother was a very dedicated knitter, and asked if I might perhaps like to meet her? Would I? Most certainly! There and then it was arranged that Maria, who lived with her mother nearby, would take us home during her lunch hour which she routinely spent taking care of the elderly lady.

The Greeks are renowned for their philoxenia, which translates literally to love of the stranger, or hospitality. In spite of her duties Maria managed to purchase a box of delicious cakes before we accompanied her home, where she and her delightful mother were the epitome of philoxenia.

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Mrs Katerina

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Mrs Katerina – an inspiration

Mrs Katerina, Maria’s very elderly mother to whom she attended with a devoted love, was dignified, gracious and generous. Generous in every way. I peppered her with questions – about her life, her knitting and other needle arts, and about the Second World War. The war in which Greece suffered immeasurably. The war in which thousands perished from famine. The war in which the Greeks fought with characteristic courage, as they have done throughout the centuries, and about whom Churchill said:
“The word heroism I am afraid does not render the least of those acts of self-sacrifice of the Greeks, which were the defining factor in the victorious outcome of the common struggle of the nations, during WWII, for the human freedom and dignity. If it were not for the bravery of the Greeks and their courage, the outcome of WWII would be undetermined.”

Mrs Katerina was a young girl in that war, enduring unimaginable horrors and atrocities, misery and anguish, like so many thousands of others, and, like all those who survived, suffering the effects for the rest of their lives. I have said Mrs Katerina was generous, and she certainly was with her material goods, but it’s her generosity of spirit which I will never forget. Not once did she condemn, not once did she criticize, not once did she express contempt. She answered my probing questions, she told her horrifying stories, but she did not ever pass judgment. Not once.

We drank coffee, ate cakes, and talked knitting. And did we talk knitting! Mrs Katerina’s body was very frail, but her mind was razor sharp, her turn of phrase delightful. I learnt so much from her, and I don’t refer only to knitting though she was a fountain of knowledge. She was working on a sock when we arrived, the second pink sock to the one already completed, the yarn tensioned around her neck in the eastern manner.

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Still nimble fingers

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Working on the second sock

I was fascinated by her method of inserting the heel into the sock, what Elizabeth Zimmermann would call an ‘afterthought’, and she took great delight in explaining the technique to me, insisting on giving me the sock, in spite of my protestations. The incomparable Kyria Katerina, assured me she would simply knit a replacement for it.

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Explaining how the heel would be put in

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The sock finished and awaiting the heel

I have watched Greek, Turkish and Albanian knitters, some of whom employ this method. Mrs Katerina learnt to knit stockings as a very small girl, and could recollect no other way of working the heel, saying simply that’s how it was always done in her village.

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Toe detail

 Knitting is a way of life to Mrs Katerina who could not hazard a guess at how many pairs of socks she had knitted over her lifetime. “Pola! Pola!” she happily exclaimed. “Many! Many!” were the socks she’d produced for herself, her family and her long-dead husband. A widow of many years she dressed only in black, and was determined, absolutely determined, that I accept a pair of her own socks so that I could study the work at my leisure. It was impossible to refuse, and I treasure her gifts.

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Mrs Katerina’s basic black socks

But socks were not enough for the indomitable Kyria Katerina. She loved that I share her name, and wanted me to have something to remember her by, not that I could ever forget her. So her last piece of embroidery I was to have, for her eyesight was fading and knitting was not as taxing for her. Here it is – a beautiful piece of work in counted thread embroidery – shown by Maria.

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The embroidery

I love the painstaking work, marvel at her patience, delight in the few, the very, very few missed stitches which speak so eloquently of the hand worked item. I’ve thought of framing it, but maybe I’ll turn it into a pillow.

Meeting this good lady and her devoted daughter was an experience I can never forget. The warmth and affection extended to us, complete strangers, remains with us still.

Mrs Katerina, then living in Delphi, is my personal Delphic Oracle for she assured me that whatever was to happen in my life my knitting would always bring me joy.

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TWISTED, KNITTED FAIRY TALES #2: CINDERELLA

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The tale of a lovely young girl wickedly abused by the stereotypical witch of a stepmother is one told in various forms in different cultures. Poor stepmoms! They continue to get a bad rap.

It appears that the earliest version lies deep in antiquity with some historians maintaining that a Greek slave girl, Rhodope, so named for her rosy cheeks, and who endured various trials and tribulations until she wed the king of Egypt, is the basis for the numerous Cinderella stories. According to one account of the Rhodope fable, an eagle snatched her sandal as she bathed and it fell into the lap of the aforementioned king, who went quite dilly over it, resolving to find the owner as she was sure to be most beautiful. You can guess the rest.

The enduring themes of all variations are the gorgeous girl of sweet disposition who’s mistreated and unappreciated until suddenly things are put right and she trips off to a life of luxury and ease with a rescuer, usually a prince. Shoes tend to feature, along with dainty feet, rags, ashes, housework and nasty sisters; modern retellings are embellished with magic wands and pumpkins.

My Cinderella had a bad a time of it, like all the classical Cinderellas, and she too finds happiness with a prince of a man, but mine, though uncomplaining like all the others, has a bit more gumption, and in addition is a most accomplished knitter. This is because her poor sainted mother (look, they’re always wonderful mothers in these stories) took the trouble to teach her when Cinderella was very young.

Therapists will tell you this was a good thing for both of them as they bonded very well and Cinderella was able to draw on all her happy memories to sustain her through her terrible situation during the stepma interlude. I do feel however that her male parent must have been quite sorely lacking in that he was either totally unaware of his daughter’s situation or not anxious to do anything about it. Whatever the reason, in my book he was a complete and utter disaster as a caregiver. Anyway, I digress from my story of the motherless, but knitting-empowered Cinderella.

One day, quite early on in the stepfamily relationship while the evil stepma was gritting her pointed little teeth and pretending to be nice to Cinderella who was not yet lumbered with all the chores, she came upon Cinders knitting away at a lovely sock. This impressed her no end for Stephorror and her miserable daughters were all perfectly hopeless at any such dainty arts. Now remember, in those days one could not waltz into a shop and purchase a pair of socks, handknit or otherwise, for the perfectly obvious reason that all articles of clothing had to be made at home by industrious housewives, or if one was lucky, by loving maiden aunties or grannies, or specially ordered from some soul seeking to supplement the family income. Anyway, my point is that Stepmutter, absolutely not slow to seize upon an opportunity, immediately saw the potential in Cinderella’s skills and promptly demanded the finished pair of socks.

Cindy sweetly gave them to her, but of course the ugly stepsisters quarreled most unpleasantly over who was to have them, finally sulking off into separate corners, each clutching a sock, which try as they might, and even allowing for the wondrous elasticity of handknitted socks, they couldn’t possibly tug over their great ugly knobbled feet. But they whinged and they cringed, they snivelled and snorted and generally made themselves even more unpleasant than usual so their doting mama promised they would have socks. She would obtain yarn as soon as she could and Cinderella would knit them socks to fit.

Before long Cinderella was getting stuck with more and more chores, and being not only a very beautiful young woman, but a smart one too, wisely chose not to mention that she had spun the yarn. And on a drop spindle yet, for where would she have been able to find a spinning wheel?

It was something of a bother for the old cow to find someone who was prepared to spin yarn for her, but she managed it and indeed was fortunate enough to find a spinster, who as we all know is an unmarried woman, but probably not all of us know that the unmarried woman in times now fortunately gone by often did the spinning for the household. Anyway, she secured for herself and her miserable offspring a fairly good and steady supply of yarn.

Poor Cinderella now found herself in an even more difficult situation than before, for not only did she have a never-ending work schedule, but knitting, which had previously been such an enjoyable outlet for her, became a burden in that she was forced to use her skills in the service of that horrendously ungrateful trio.

So she cooked and cleaned and polished and mended until she finally could settle down before the fire to work on a pair of stockings for one of the miseries. The spinster meanwhile, also not slow to spot a good thing when she saw one, began to dye her yarns in enticing colours which Stepmonster just couldn’t resist buying.

Time passed, and Cinderella knitted away on socks for the hags, who demanded more and more pairs of the wonderfully patterned ones that her nimble fingers created from the beautifully coloured yarns. She worked late into the night, getting more and more sleep deprived, all the while carefully hoarding the odds and ends of yarns left over. The knitting took on that soothing quality all knitters know. As her fingers flew, her mind raced and her plans grew. She determined, did my feisty Cinderella, that she would run away just as soon as she was able and make her way to a city, there to set up a teensy enterprise knitting gorgeous garments for discerning ladies.

See, her late mama had impressed upon her the need for a woman to have the skills necessary to support herself in the world, and not to be dependent upon a man. In the world in which you and I are fortunate enough to live, there is no question that my heroine would have been a most competent executive woman. She would have worn red power suits and Manolo Blahnik shoes. She’d have jetted about all over the world, sourcing yarns and designs for her multi-million dollar knitwear business, but that time was still far ahead in the future. So, in the absence of any kind of shoes, Cindsy planned and prepared while she turned the knitted heels and grafted the toes of the socks that would greatly improve the appearance of the stepcrowd’s ugly feet.

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Before she could run away, she had to give some thought to suitable clothing, and using the leftover yarns was an obvious place to start. Like all knitters she faced the challenge of how to make the best use of those oddballs, and after careful consideration, she began to cast on stitches for a cardigan. She managed to work on it a little at the end of each long day, content in the knowledge that she would soon set off on her great adventure, until it was done.

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Well, she never actually got to run away. Before long all that stuff you remember, or jolly well should from your childhood, about the great excitement of the ball, the prince and his search for a bride, the fairy godmother (who as far as I am concerned should have shown up a great deal earlier in Cinderella’s young life, though I suppose better late than never) pumpkins, glass slippers, coaches and so on came about.

We’ll fast forward a bit, quite a bit in fact, to find my Cinderella working away happily in her knitting room, in one of the palaces that she and the charming prince occupied at various seasons. With all her tools to hand and every kind of yarn her heart could desire did Cinderella pass her peaceful time. She never got rid of that cardigan. Indeed she kept it with her always as a reminder of how far she had come, even though she now had whole armoires full of the beautiful things she had knitted, very becoming to a beloved, good and kind princess.

It only remains for me to add that the Prince adored her, her mother in law treasured her, and as for her father…well the best I can do for him is that he continues to live with the trio, feeling awfully sorry for himself.

MAGIC BALL COWL

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The weather has indeed turned out exactly as forecast – snow, sleet, freezing rain, rain, and wind. The wind’s not pussyfooting about, making itself known with gales so bad that most of the ferries are docked and not permitted to sail. The gods are evidently much annoyed, and each is trying to outdo the other. The fireplace is doing a great job, the tea is hot and plentiful, and the banana loaf is down to its last little slice.

Colour! Lots of it has been needed these blustery days, with the wind roaring its way through grey cloud and snow flurries to rattle shutters and nerves. I turned to my magic balls of yarn for the perfect quick fix. Cheerful colours almost begging to become a circular knit cowl. Something so simple and easy, it feels like cheating.

Round and round I knit while the yarn colours changed enticingly, and after two evenings glued to the TV drama, it was finished. I gave my cowl a solid colour lining, did a three-needle bind off with the live stitches of the lining and the cast on stitches of the magic ball bit, and there – done! All the knots are neatly concealed, and the cowl is doubly warm.

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They cannot manage without me

A HAT FOR OTZI

That poor man! I can’t imagine what he went through, and how difficult his life must have been by today’s standards.

I’ve lived in the Austrian Alps. I’ve hiked there, even in winter. Not in blizzard conditions of course, but certainly through deep snow, equipped with the proper boots, thermal underwear, ski jacket, hat, gloves and trekking sticks. The whole nine yards. Note, I said hike. Not me for the ski run and all that suicidal careening down gradients designed by Nature for mountain goats to frolic on.

Ah yes, hats. Many and varied did I knit. I’m not convinced that much heat is lost through the head, and apparently scientists have more or less debunked this notion, but certainly a warm, fleecy cover on one’s noggin is a comfort, and so much better if the headgear is bright of colour, in my humble and much-biased opinion.

Back then to my favourite older man. Much older man. I suppose his bearskin hat did ward off the elements to some extent, though as I’ve mentioned before he seemed to have trouble keeping it firmly affixed to his head, given that the leather ties had been broken and then knotted together again.

I’m no historian of Neolithic clothing but although wool was known and used by Neolithic peoples in other parts of the world, it appears this excellent insulating material wasn’t available to Otzi and his folk. Seems sheep had yet to find their way high up into the Alps, or at least trade in fleece hadn’t begun here at that time; I’m happy to be corrected on this point.

Ever since we met, Otzi and I, his lack of a snugly-fitting hat of warm wool has spun its way through my imagination on occasion. A hat for Otzi should surely not be coarse and bulky like skins and furs, but soft and cosy. It should be somewhat waterproof, as indeed his bearskin cap was, but able to hug his head against the vicious winds that whip and rip through the Alps.

Otzi needed the protection afforded by felted fabric. Austria is famous for its wonderful Loden cloth which is not actually felted, but fulled. Wool yarn is first loosely woven or knitted, then subjected to a controlled process of agitation and boiling, until the wool fibers shrink and mat together into a dense fabric. This density makes fulled fabric exceptionally warm and very hardwearing; it does not ravel, it can be cut, and it can be moulded to any shape.

I have quite a bit of oiled Shetland tweed yarn in my stash, a perfect yarn for my tribute to Otzi. Such yarns, spun in the oil, can be unappealing to knitters who aren’t aware that once the finished item is well washed in hot soapy water the oil is removed and the yarn fluffs up, becoming much softer. Tweed yarn for Otzi then. Tweed, with all its inviting little flecks of color, to warm and cheer him.

Two colours, I decided. Two colours, as his clothing had been so drab. Brown for earth and rock, blue for the sky so far above him. To think he perished, alone, all those thousands of years ago, and now esteemed scientists devote their careers to him.

His hat didn’t take long to knit. I used a larger size needle than the yarn usually calls for and knitted an overly big hat. I gave it a deep brim so that it can be worn doubled, or pulled down to cover part of the face. The resulting hat, prior to fulling, was of course floppy and stringy and looked quite odd, but the magic was yet to come.

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Looks rather odd

Bucket of very hot water, bucket of cold water, bottle of dishwashing liquid, rubber gloves, and go… I love this part! The idea is to agitate and aggravate the woollen item by rubbing it hard in the soapy water, plunging it in and out of hot and then cold water. The water has to be changed often so that it remains as hot/cold as possible, and the item must be checked frequently to monitor the rate of fulling and shrinking.

When satisfied with the result, I rinsed it thoroughly and rolled it up in a towel to blot excess moisture. Poor Jason sat outside in the sun all day while Otzi’s hat dried, never saying a word.

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Would Otzi have liked this?

It’s likely that I’ll knit another hat for Otzi – there are so many exciting possibilities.

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I have my own woollies, thank you

KNITTING SPOKEN HERE

Turkey’s larger towns and cities have many sophisticated stores and boutiques where the shopper, whether a local resident or tourist, is presented with an abundance of the goods to be found in such surroundings. Designer clothing, sumptuous rugs, antiques. Tantalizing temptation!

 

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Street market in Izmir

But for me, the street markets and covered bazaars do it every time. They are so enticing, full of weird and wonderful objects, the everyday and the exotic, paper tissues and cloth of tissue, jeans and jewellery.

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Always busy; always exciting

The buyers and sellers alike are fascinating; visitors are from far and wide; dozens of languages are heard, mingling with the sounds of bells and music. Tiny shops selling sweet-smelling spices nestle between the textures and vibrant colours of handwoven carpets, rugs and other handworked textiles in adjoining enterprises.

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Snack, anyone?

It’s knitting that invariably catches my eye. Anything knitting related, be it the handknitted socks which pop up here and there in various shops and stalls, or knitting yarn. Although stores here do a brisk trade in clothing of varied quality, much of it imported from countries like China and Taiwan, handknitting is still popular, and domestically produced knitting yarn is widely available.

You will often find a small selection of basic yarns in the typical haberdashery business. These little shops are bursting with threads, buttons, zippers, needles of all types, sewing tools and gadgets, notions and trims – an amazing selection of items for those of us inclined towards the needle arts.

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Worth a look

Displayed on shelves reaching to the ceiling and expertly retrieved for your inspection by the owner or assistants, tucked under the counter, stored in the back or even fetched for you by some runner urgently dispatched to a fellow dealer, the goodies are many and varied.

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Spoilt for choice

Whilst we communicated only by gestures and much pointing on my part, the owner of this establishment was extremely courteous and helpful, even though my purchase was tiny. The hospitality however was huge, as we have often found it to be in Turkey, and sweet tea, always served in glasses, was immediately sent for.

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Later in the day we came across a shop pretty much devoted to knitting – owned and run by two charming ladies who are either sisters, or mother and daughter. I couldn’t quite establish the relationship and as we were a little off the typical tourist part of this particular market, there was no helpful local to translate for me. No matter. We spoke the universal language of knitters and got along quite happily.

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Examining a pair of traditionally knitted socks

As you see in these photographs, the knitters were very excited about a recently published magazine pattern they were working on. They were most anxious to show me the baby jacket, knitted from the top down, a technique which we in America are familiar with, but one completely new to them.

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What was so touching, and so typical of the generosity of knitters, was their determination that I too should learn this method and all of its advantages, in spite of the fact that we had not one word of common language among us. I not only hadn’t the heart to tell them I have made several items this way, but I quite literally couldn’t.

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Here are the ladies explaining the pattern to me, and going to enormous trouble to write down some pointers, bless them. In Turkish yet! They were so enthused about the process, and so eager for me to benefit from it also. We had a grand old time, babbling away, trying to find words in my tiny pocket dictionary, which was not exactly encyclopaedic with regard to knitting terms.

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When nods and smiles aren’t quite enough

I will never forget them, how genuine and cheerful they were, their generosity in sharing. They spoke for knitters everywhere.

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MAGIC BALL KNITTING

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Leftover scraps and remnants of various materials have been used throughout the centuries by diverse cultures in all corners of the globe; manufactured goods such as clothing, for example, have been re-purposed in countless imaginative ways. So varied are the techniques, and so decorative and/or practical the results that many a book is devoted to the subject.

Knotting and tying short lengths of yarns into a longer, more useful yarn is by no means a new idea, and is a thrifty way to knit a garment. I have seen wonderfully vibrant kiddie clothes made like this in Africa, but unfortunately have no photographs. Where economic considerations aren’t an issue, beautiful multi-coloured yarns can be created by cutting lengths from yarns in one’s stash and joining them into what is now called a ‘magic ball’. I don’t know who first came up with this very apt name for such an exciting ball of yarn; Kaffe Fasset uses the technique to spectacular effect in some of his stunning garments, but as far as I’m aware, he didn’t coin the term. If anyone knows who did, I’d love to hear from you.

For those knitters not familiar with Magic Ball knitting, there’s a great deal of info on the Internet. Clara Parkes of Knitter’s Review has written a very clear description.

The Magic Balls, knitted hats and handwarmer I’m showing here were all made from leftover bits and pieces as I was knitting, and in particular from my always too generous length of yarn pulled out for a longtail cast on. I live in terror of running out before all the stitches are on the needle! I toss the scraps into a ziplock bag and wind them into balls every now and then, having several balls on the go so that I can vary the colours in them. So far I’ve knotted all the bits together, but there are many ways of joining the yarns so that no knots show at all. If that’s your look, turn to our old friend, Google.

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Woven, knitted

Beauty and utility

Simplicity in scraps

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It’s interesting that the rug, handwoven from cotton fabric scraps in India, produces the same effect.

The beret has the knots featured on the right side.
Fun! The hat’s knots are on the wrong side.

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I began by knitting a 3inch brim which was turned to the inside.

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The handwarmer is lined in mohair which both hides the knots and makes it reversible, as well as doubly warm.

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Raki, who can sleep through anything, including earth tremors and all that Hera, Zeus, Poseidon and the crew can hurl at us, was totally unaware that he was standing in for Jason.

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Catatonic

My adorable little models, Nellie and Michael, pictured here with their mother in their home in Volos, were very patient and obliging. Thank you, Lena and Sotiris.

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Nellie’s ready to go out, and she loves the handwarmer!

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Michael’s a sporty fellow

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Warmly snuggled

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I’ll wear it the other side out, shall I?

I think it’s pure magic that you can take knitting needles and yarn, a little knowledge and two basic stitches, and create almost anything at all. And if you’re not pleased with the result then you can simply unravel your work and hey presto – you have your yarn back! Very few handcrafted goods can be returned to their original materials; unfired clay can be reworked, but cut cloth can’t be restored to the original yardage, though the pieces can of course be used in a different way.

Whatever my yarn, whatever the project, for me the knitting magic will never end.

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Enough already – let me mess with this!

TWISTED, KNITTED FAIRYTALES #1: RAPUNZEL

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Towers and turrets are frequently a feature of medieval buildings in Europe, but particularly striking are those on castles situated high on hills and mountains from which fortifications the occupants attempted to defend themselves against the various attackers who made life rather difficult back then. Many of these remain intact, some still being occupied by the descendants of those who first built them, who live in splendour surrounded by the trappings of their illustrious family histories; many former strongholds are reduced to romantic ruins whose history may or may not now be known.

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Ice Palace

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These centuries-old castles which were constantly being enlarged to accommodate all those who lived within their walls as well as the lesser folk, the serfs, who toiled to provide the food and goods required, certainly capture the imagination and it’s easy to see why stories abound of deeds daring and dastardly, of noble knights and pretty princesses, of loyalty and treachery, not to mention exploits in towers.

Prominent among these is of course Rapunzel, imprisoned in a tower. The fairytale version of this was popularised by the Brothers Grimm and is known to most people, though the story upon which it is based is considerably older. The witch is described in some interpretations as wicked, but in others she is depicted as kind and loving towards Rapunzel who lets down her magnificent long hair, depending on which account you read, for the witch to climb up to the tower, or the fabulously handsome prince.

Well, I thought about this and I sure wouldn’t be letting my hair down for someone to yank themselves up on. So I’ve written my own Rapunzel story, about a witch warmly disposed towards a Rapunzel who wasn’t quite such a ninny. My witch would do anything for Rapunzel other than let her go, so witchy was delighted when Rapunzel asked for a spinning wheel with which she might pass her not inconsiderable time. Spinning wheels seem prominent in fairytales about princesses and princes and towers and having a good long sleep, but I digress.

Rapunzel got her spinning wheel and I’d rather not think how it was brought into the tower, but then asked for fleece which she cleaned, carded and combed before spinning a lovely yarn, soft but strong, rather like a good Australian merino, though she did not of course have anything to compare hers to. The witch would have brought her fleece from a local sheep and I sure can’t tell you what that might have been, for I doubt witchy knew much about the properties of fleece. Anyway, as far as I am concerned, Rapunzel would have gone for a merino if she’d had any say in the matter.

Actually, ‘Punzel was quite an accomplished spinner and soon turned out a large quantity of yarn. Well, as all spinners know, she wasn’t content to leave it at that but soon had the urge to dye it herself into some luscious color, and being a cheerful soul in spite of her rather limited existence, she opted for one of the reds. A crimson, or a scarlet would do very nicely, she thought and so she sweetly asked the witch to bring her some berries, or roots, or twigs or leaves or whatever it was that a witch of that period and in that particular region might be able to procure for the production of a good natural dye.

The witch, because she really was very fond of the industrious little Rapunzel, did a fine job of gathering dyestuffs and equipment, even helping Rapunzel tie up her skeins and organize her dyepot before she left to do whatever it was she did when she wasn’t visiting the tower. Rapunzel busied herself immediately with her task, being driven as she was by her desire for beautiful red yarn, now greatly intensified after all she’d been through to get it, what with hauling the old girl up and down so many times on her hair.

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And then it was done and Rapunzel was totally delighted with the result, even though life in the tower became a tad more cramped due to her having to weave her way among the luscious skeins drying overhead.

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When next the witch clambered up to the tower, Rapunzel requested knitting needles and instructed her not to be stingy with them, but rather to bring several different types and sizes so that she could make gauge swatches. Look, Rapunzel might have lived in a tower but she was no knitting dummy. Now I could devote pages to her efforts with the gauge swatches but it isn’t necessary as we knitters know what’s involved, so suffice it to say she was happy with the results and got started as fast as possible on her project, which was going to be a scarf.

Rapunzel, being a product of her medieval time did not have access to all the knitting stitch dictionaries we do, but she was a resourceful lass and created a stitch to suit her purpose. She wanted her scarf to lie flat and be reversible, she wanted her stitch pattern to be a very simple repeat, and in short she created what we today would call a seed or a moss stitch. And every day for many an hour she worked away at knit one, purl one, alternating on every row, and chanting sweetly “He loves me, he loves me not,” as a way of maintaining her rhythm.

The scarf grew and grew and witchy was delighted that her darling was so happy in her little hobby. Finally it was finished, a long and lovely thing but Raps was not yet satisfied and asked the witch to bring her some beads and baubles as she had a bit of a mind to embellish it. Witchy brought a super collection of beads, some of which Rapunzel selected to apply to her wonderful scarf, so that it became truly a thing of great beauty, dazzling in color and sparkling enticingly whenever the sun’s rays fell through the narrow windows of her high tower.

The day came when Rapunzel was finally satisfied with it, and she stationed herself at the window which afforded her a most excellent view of the forest, for as I have already mentioned, she may have been limited in her opportunities but she was nobody’s fool, and had been scoping out her surroundings for some time. Soon the stunningly handsome prince of the realm came trotting by on his gorgeous white steed, just as these useful princes do in many a good fairy tale, clad in doublet, hose and feathered hat, chirping tunelessly away to his badly played mandolin.

Rapunzel, having secured one end of the scarf firmly to the leg of her very heavy iron bed, flung the other end out of the window and watched as it tumbled in a glorious flash of color to the ground. The prince was greatly amazed, but to his credit grasped both the situation and the end of the scarf immediately, and being quite athletic, as well as very kind and awfully rich, was in the tower in a heartbeat.

Well, it’s obviously all going to end very happily for Rapunzel though the witch won’t be too thrilled. Our Rapunzel was a young woman well ahead of her time, so the prince had to get used to the idea that Rappie was going to do her thing, rather than the typical princessy thing, which meant of course that she would spend her days knitting away while being waited upon hand and foot.

FOOTNOTE: Like Rapunzel, I wanted a cheery crimson scarf, but unlike Rapunzel I wasn’t going to knit umpteen yards of it as I haven’t as yet had any need to facilitate the entry of a prince to my high window, so I settled for a small cowl. The yarn is indeed a merino, purchased pre-spun in the natural colour, which I dyed using two dyes – a red and a fuschia. Seed stitch, in the round, gazing at the TV and not out of a tower, a cat or two on my lap… and here it is.

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I love it!

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DO YOU SPEAK KNITTING?

 

Driving through Central European border crossings does have its moments, rather memorable ones at times. Whenever we set off on such a trek, I have enough knitting yarn, needles and WIPS (that’s work in progress for those who don’t speak knitting) to sustain me no matter what eventualities we might encounter. Not for nothing was I a Girl Guide in my dim and distant youth, so Be Prepared! is my motto. Well, at least where knitting is concerned.

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One particular trip required more complicated packing than usual as several stages were involved. A friend who divides his time between homes in Austria and Greece was to accompany us on the drive, and after we had spent a couple of days with him and his wife in the Austrian Tyrol, we were to fly on to Texas from Zurich.

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Our airplane baggage was carefully packed, locked and secured to the roof luggage rack, ready to be checked in at the airport; the overnight bags and other travel needs were stowed in the car. We set off from the Pelion at daybreak, heading to FYROM/Macedonia with hubby driving at this point and me in the passenger seat surrounded by various knitting bags, our friend in the back, surrounded by various knitting bags. Uncomplaining, good soul that he is.

Knitters will understand that the choice of a knitting project for long journeys can become quite complicated, depending on the knitter’s preferences. In my case, involved projects are reserved for plane trips and overnight stays. For the long drives through countries where the use of phrase books and hand gestures might be needed the knitting is simple, the better to keep my eyes firmly fixed on the road.

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Circular needles are the knitter’s friend here as round and round I knit, and round and round I peer, ever vigilant. This amuses my husband greatly, but I am unfailingly prepared. Who knows if a situation might arise where I will frantically knit details of the incident into my work, in code of course, to be deciphered by those unravelling the mystery of our disappearance. I’ve learnt a thing or two from Madame Defarge!

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And so it was that we three left FYROM/Macedonia, drove through no-man’s land and arrived at Serbian Customs. A long line of vehicles, as far as the eye could see, stretched depressingly before us. Our friend has been making this journey for many years, far more than we; he cursed roundly in a number of languages. “Ach!” he exclaimed. “This has happened to me a few times – they decide to do an extremely thorough search. They will open everything! We will be here for hours!” I knitted furiously in the passenger seat. In front of us cars and buses had offloaded mountains of luggage, among which disconsolate passengers stood in groups, waiting to be interrogated by officials. One tearful young woman was wringing her hands as each item was lifted out of her case and examined minutely. “Holy cow!” I grumbled. “They will open our bags and you know how long it will take to pack everything back in properly before the flight.”
“You can repack it all tonight in the hotel,” soothed my husband, “we’ll soon be in Belgrade.”

I knitted up a storm.

To our right was a sort of watchtower structure occupied by a large figure in grey uniform, complete with peaked cap and red epaulettes – typical garb of the Soviet era. The person began to climb down the steps, and I saw that it was a woman. A woman of slow, purposeful movement and very forbidding demeanour. She approached the car, stern of face, and gestured to me to open the window, speaking rapidly in Serbian. All I could understand was “Baggahjes! Baggahjes!”, but there was no mistaking the peremptory gesture at the suitcases on the roof. My heart sank. Suddenly she stood stock still, then moved to my open window and reached inside. She was smiling broadly! She laughed happily as she picked up my knitting, a boy’s sweater, and held it to her, fingering the work and pointing at the stripes. More rapid speech of which the only word that meant anything was “Plekta! Plekta!” And then I understood, because the Greek word for knitting is very similar – she was a knitter, a kindred spirit.

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She handed me my knitting, patted my hands, and stepped back. “Auf Wiedersehen! Auf Wiedersehen!” she beamed, making a sweeping gesture to indicate that we should move out of line and bypass the waiting vehicles, which stretched at least a kilometre. We were, to put it mildly, stunned, as were the dozens of people we swept past.

And for the rest of that journey, whenever we approached a border post, our friend who had been amazed and delighted at this encounter, would sing out: “The knitting, Cathy! Hold up the knitting!”

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SPEEDING THROUGH SERBIA

My husband’s work requires that we travel to Central Europe from time to time. Occasionally we drive both ways, sometimes we take the ferry to or from Italy. The war in Kosovo made driving through the Balkans a very risky proposition, and this remained the case for some years after the conflict ended. Several years ago, after much discussion with friends who had recently braved the road trip again, we decided to drive through and judge the situation for ourselves.

Upon leaving Greece, you cross into FYROM/Macedonia (the name dispute has yet to be settled) and from there you enter Serbia. We successfully completed the various passport and customs checks at the Serbian border, and had driven a few miles into the country when we saw a tall, burly man in black uniform at the side of the road. He stepped forward, holding out his hand. My eyes were drawn to the large pistol on his belt, while my fingers flew faster over my knitting needles. Gulp!

We’d been warned to expect official roadblocks, and to be on our guard as there were likely to be organised gangs conducting holdups in that area, for we were in the vicinity of Kosovo. What hadn’t been clearly explained though was how to distinguish one from the other.

“What do you think?” my husband muttered, as he began to slow down. “If we stop, we might be ambushed, if we don’t…”

As we got closer, the man moved swiftly towards the car, coming up to my window as we stopped. I opened it halfway, clutching my needle tightly; I think I had some half-formed idea of poking his eye out as we died under a hail of bullets. He was unsmiling, but it became clear he intended no harm, and was asking for a lift to Belgrade, about three hours away. You don’t need a common language to understand “Beograd” accompanied by pointing up the highway, and a movement towards the rear door of the car.

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Once it was clear that he could ride with us, he made a hand motion to indicate that we should wait, and began walking towards some bushes. I must admit we had a brief tingle of alarm, but he was only retrieving his overnight bag. Phew!

“I’ll get in the back,” I announced, climbing out with my knitting bag and indicating to the chap to sit in front. He remonstrated at first, but I was adamant, and so we set off again. He pointed to himself, repeating a name which was quite unpronounceable and completely escapes me. The atmosphere was understandably awkward; some pleasantries were exchanged by means of broken German and English, punctuated by much hand waving and the odd Serbo-Croatian phrase from my pocket dictionary.

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Our passenger began to relax a little, becoming quite animated as he gesticulated at my knitting yarn and his head. I interpreted this as a reference to a hat, a knitted hat, which appeared to have warm memories for him, but while we gabbled incomprehensibly at each other, I dug in my knitting bag for my longest circular needle, and kept it next to me as I knitted away at my project.

This part of the highway is long and boring, quite depressing in fact, for it passes through endless miles of derelict farms and homesteads, sad reminders of a time when communities lived their lives and farmed their fields as they had for generations before the creation of Yugoslavia. Decaying buildings, long-abandoned orchards, lands now conquered by weeds stand in silent reproach of the Soviet era when families were moved off their lands and onto collective farms.

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The road is poor in parts, but stretches straight ahead. Dispiriting. The occasional car whizzed past us, as anxious as we to get away from the forlorn landscape. Unsure of the speed limit, hubby pointed to the speedometer, raising his hands and shoulders in that universal gesture of enquiry to our companion, who threw back his head in laughter. Sitting up even straighter, imposing in his uniform, he pointed cheerfully to his insignia. “No problem,” he announced in his heavy accent, “special policia!” So we sped along, the first and only time we’ve driven through Serbia with our own protection officer.

Given that we had no language in common, it’s amazing how much we gleaned from our convoluted conversation. Three hours is a long time to chat if those involved are making determined efforts to communicate, and we all did our best. We learnt that he had been in the Serbian army during the war in Kosovo, and was now in the Special Branch. He had to attend an official meeting in Belgrade, and it was up to him to make his own travel arrangements. He told us of his wife and family, he talked politics and history. He and I passed the phrasebook back and forth to each other, pointing out the words we needed, and we laughed. We all laughed. A lot. In that grim, war-ravaged country we managed to laugh. We three strangers, from backgrounds and cultures that could hardly be more divergent, had a grand old time, though I do wonder who and what he was exactly.

We dropped him off close to the river on the outskirts of Belgrade where he would stay the night with his sister, parting company with genuine regret. I got back into the front, still clutching my empty circular knitting needle. My husband commented on it, and was stunned when I explained that I’d had some vague plan to garrote our pal with it had the need arisen!