Sunday, 23 March 2014

Knitting as memory

Last year we had a precious few days away in the Outer Hebrides.  I had wanted to go for years.  We hired a campervan and drove and ferried and kept on driving to the edge of the world.


It was a special snatched few days of sun and wind and the simple, slightly uncomfortable but ultimately calming life that is life in a van, away from home, with nothing to do but look and listen and walk and read and eat.  I have almost lost it now, under the huge tides of this winter with my mother's death and my father's illness and the care of my father in law and the flood of need.  Almost but not quite.

While we were away I bought some wool from the Hebridean Woolshed, handspun fine Merino in the colours of the seas around South Uist.


Here it is far away from home on my kitchen table in Wales.  I was going to make a cowl with it but after a couple of false starts I decided I wanted to have a go at doing something of my own, not a pattern or a design made by someone else but something or other that would be wholly mine, something that would remind me of South Uist and Berneray and Eriskay.  This is quite a big deal for me.  I know that the world of blogs is full of creative people making and dreaming and producing everything from the twee through the astonishingly accomplished to textile pieces which are as much art as a sketch or a painting or a sculpture. I am not one of them.  My skills, such as they are,  are academic or intellectual ones: skills with words or numbers or analysis.  I enjoy practical things too and I have quite deliberately explored the satisfactions of using my hands  since I gave up my job, looking to use the bits of me that were put to one side when all my time was eaten up by work.  I can cook and sew and garden and knit but my skills at all of those things are competencies, life skills in the long tradition of women's work.  There are better cooks and knitters and gardeners amongst my acquaintance,  friends and family and there are worse ones too.  I am competent, that is all, and I enjoy being competent and using my hands and making things.

What I have never really done is anything creative, unless you call trying to weave a good life out of the everyday creative.  Perhaps the most creative thing is what I am attempting to do with my garden but just now the space is too big and my time and energy are too small for me to be able to engage with it on the scale it requires.  I don't know what made me want to make this wool into something more wholly mine but I did.

I decided to make a cushion because this would allow me to treat one side as an image, something to be looked at rather than something to be worn.  I knew I wanted to use the colours of the wool to recreate for myself the sense of the Hebrides.  It couldn't be a picture.  It would somehow have to be something that represented the islands, even if it meant nothing to anyone but me.

I messed about.  Finally I came up with something which reminded me of the waves of the sea.


Somehow I wanted sea and sky and wind and stillness.


You can see that this was in January because son and daughter in law's lovely dog was still with us.  By then I had decided I had the sea and the sky.


The reverse of the cushion uses garter stitch, perhaps another version of the sea.  I swatched and knitted and measured and sometimes gave it up and sometimes sat with it by the fire.


Each piece was finished with a row of single crochet, followed by a row of double crochet to make something with the echo of a frame.


The two pieces were then joined using single crochet and here it is.


I do completely love it.  I love the fact that it is so entirely mine.


In a world of mass production I love the fact that I have something that is unique, something that means something to me and into which I have poured hours of thinking and working and trying and starting again and seeing it come to life under my hands.  I love the fact that it feels good and looks just as I want it to.

Generally when I make things I am very aware of the flaws and the places where, if I were doing it again, I might do something a little differently, a little better.  Somehow I can't feel like that about this cushion.  I don't mean that I am entirely satisfied with it.  How would you ever learn if you were entirely satisfied?  But it makes me happy.  Out of a beautiful material and a beautiful place I have created an item with meaning and memory knitted into it over a long and difficult winter.  It makes me feel something of the calm I felt when we walked the beaches of the Hebrides.


Whatever it does to others, it sings to me.

65 comments:

  1. It sings to me too ... you have done what you intended I think. The garter stitch side has the limpid calm of the sea on a still day, and the textured side suggests the sea when it's choppy. I 'feel' your cushion, if that doesn't sound odd. Perhaps you are more of an artist than you think :)

    And you are certainly a word smith !

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    1. Thank you Annie. Your judgement means a lot!

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  2. How lovely, it has everything in it you meant to put in. Wish I could knit.

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    1. If you want to try making things I would say that crochet is an easier place to start but knitting comes quite quickly. My younger daughter is an accomplished crocheter and is now mastering knitting and she started very recently!

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  3. Beautiful, and inspirational.

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    1. Thank you. What a lovely thing to say.

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  4. It is beautiful, and evocative. You have created something very speciall. If it ever gets worn or holey, it will look wonderful in a frame!

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    1. I do like the idea that I could keep it going if I did not want to use it as a cushion.

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  5. Some people have tweeted me to let me know there is a problem with comments. What a pain! Hope it is shortlived.

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  6. It is lovely Elizabeth. A beautiful concept and the colours sublime.

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    1. The colour of the wool was what drew me in the first place. It is fabulous isn't it? There were so many possibilities but this sea colour spoke to me.

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  7. I love it! The colours are beautiful and so is the texture.

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    1. Making the texture was fascinating. I can see how people find it compulsive!

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  8. There is only one word that comes to mind. Amen.

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    1. I think that is something to say thank you for Marcheline!

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  9. Simply beautiful Elizabeth - you have captured the skies, sand and gently moving waves - the very essence of the place.

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    1. Oh thank you Anna. Have you been? If you haven't, you should.

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  10. How very satisfying. You have very cleverly allowed the wool to tell the story.

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    1. It was one of my thoughts Lucille, that the wool itself was so beautiful that it needed to be appreciated for itself rather than my trying to be too clever with it.

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  11. brilliant colours and how well you wove the feelings behind it and the contours of the seascape. p.s. some serene shots too
    p.s. sorry to hear of all your family losses

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    1. Thanks Laura for both sentiments. The serenity of the place was very marked.

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  12. There are oceans and islands and memories in your beautiful cushion

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  13. Sorry, the iPad osn't terribly helpful when it comes to commenting - must add it's a beautiful thing and full of memories for you.

    Would be good to catch up one of these days?

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    1. It would be great to catch up. Funnily enough I was thinking of you and the others as I was walking today. Will email you.

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  14. So beautiful! All those memories knit into a cushion of your own design, those colours recalling a beautiful place. And cushions, always comforting on their own, so a powerful place to store memories. Well done!

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    1. Oh I hadn't thought of the comforting role of cushions mater! That is pleasing.

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  15. I love this post and the fact that you managed to do your own thing with that lovely wool, something that makes us happy is a huge plus. I think I would love to be as inventive as this.

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    1. Thank you Penny. I wonder if we all have invention in us? Have a go!

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  16. Its beauty and its song can be felt and heard from your words and your photos. And, we also can feel what the process of creating it was like. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you. I did find the process very interesting and very unlike following a pattern which is what I am accustomed to. Maybe I will have another go if inspiration strikes.

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  17. Elizabeth, you have visited a place that I also wish to visit. I will get there, I know I will! The yarn that you brought back is very lovely with such rich colors. From your photographs, the texture of this yarn also looks very, very good.

    Your cushion design and the completed cushion is wonderful. I think that you've done a fine design just for this special yarn. How wonderful to be able to remember your inspiration in the Hebrides every time that you know see, or rest against, this cushion.

    What will be your next original design? The opportunities in knitting are limitless. xo

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    1. You really would love the Outer Hebrides Frances from everything I know about you. It is another world. Do hope you get there.

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  18. I completely love it too. And I completely love the fact that it is all yours born from the needs of the moment.
    Creative indeed.

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    1. The needs of the moment is a great phrase for it!

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  19. All I can do is echo what everyone else has said.

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    1. Thanks Susan. I am delighted that others like it too.

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  20. So very beautiful.. everything about this.

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    1. When I think of the beauty I see on your blog I feel very pleased indeed that you find it beautiful!

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  21. It's beautiful. Lovely colours, lovely shapes and I love the way that the horizontal and vertical are the other way round than you think!

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    1. I liked that too, about the horizontal and vertical. I did muse about it but decided that the continuation of colour between water and sky needed it to work the way it does.

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  22. The outer hebrides is my kind of place, too, for a perfect break. And what a great idea to capture its beauty in something you're crafting. The cushion is fabulous - such gorgeous colours.

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    1. The wool that is produced by the Hebridean woolshed is very lovely, worth looking at their website if you are a knitter.

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  23. Elizabeth, it is exquisite - absolutely perfect as a reminder - and designed and executed by you. Wonderful stuff.

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  24. yes, yes, yes. That is how I used to knit, and hope to get back to when life is different. Making the idea in my head visible with needles and yarn. The fun bit was the swatches. Actually finishing it ... still have 2 in bits.

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    1. I did find the switching and the thinking really interesting. Like you I am more likely to start projects than finish them! Quite glad I finished this one.

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  25. Lovely! Isn't that what makes most things precious to us? The memories they invoke? We drape a thing in memories and give it a context. I hope this project and its successful outcome will lead you on to more adventurous knitting projects.

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    1. It certainly gave me the confidence to feel I could try more thinking from scratch projects.

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  26. Your cushion is lovely, lovely - and your analytical and mathematical skills are perfect for creating a unique knitting pattern. I love the colours - reminds me of Shetland… sigh...

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    1. Shetland, Orkney, the Hebrides - they all have that extraordinary colour of sea and sky!

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  27. I know only Shetland where my sister ran the second most northerly dairy farm in Britain for several years. I've long wanted to visit the Outer Hebrides. My uncle used to go to Barra for his holidays. And my father, so he used to say, landed an aeroplane on the sands of Benbecula, something that I believe still happens today. My grandfather used to fish there but complained that the lochs were heavily poached, But yes I should like to go but preferably not in an open boat like Bonnie Prince Charlie (both ways). Your wools are lovely and invoke what I imagine the atmosphere to be like. But I once got into trouble with Bradan, whom you will remember, when I said I thought it must be a remote and lonely place.

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    1. I do remember that Fennie. Interestingly my feeling when we were there was that it was remote but not lonely!

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  28. How wonderful your pillow is! And what lovely language in your story: I enjoy being competent ... when my time was eaten up by work ...
    I have a friend who used to run a yarn shop, and she always says knitting is therapy -- but far less expensive than psychologists!! Enjoy your gorgeous cushion. xoxox

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    1. I do agree that knitting is therapy. I find it almost meditative. There is something about the focus when you need to concentrate and the flow when you don't which is very calming!

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  29. How much better to have something you've made with such a lovely 'story' behind it, that you can look at every day and remember. That makes it priceless and unique.
    I hope to visit Scotland one day. I have an aunt who comes from the Outer Hebrides, whose mother was well known for her bus covered with shells (http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/83976).
    Teresa x
    Teresa x

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    1. Just had a look at the bus Teresa - how amazing!

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  30. So much of this post resonated with me Elizabeth - thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and the cushion that will always mean far more to you than anyone else

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    1. The odd thing about the sense of the cushion's meaning to me is that I have to remind myself that to anyone else it is just a blue cushion!

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  31. I'm not sure which I love more Elizabeth, the process or the outcome! But it really does capture something of the magic of that area of the world. Very special. Its funny, I live right by the sea, on a very beautiful stretch of coastline, but the Outr Hebrides are beautiful in completelt different, wilder and more calming way.

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    1. The process and the outcome. Unanswerable question and distinction.

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  32. It sings! Love it. Faaaaantastic - the colours and the contrasting texture. And simplicity..Xxxx

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    1. Ah thanks Anne. If you like it that pleases me!

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  33. Like you, I feel I'm good at following patterns when I'm making things but have rarely knitted anything that was totally my invention. So I'm very much in awe of the fact that you set out to do something and succeeded so completely. The colours are so evocative of your photographs and I love the wavy section in particular.

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  34. I mused for ages about how deep that wave section should be and I am still not entirely sure it shouldn't have been deeper but the skies are very big in South Uist so it is close to right!

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  35. what a lovely cushion - beautiful colours and I love the wave pattern, such a lovely way to remember the islands

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Comments are great. Thank you for taking the time!