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Swallow Your Pride

For this post, I’m actually going to cheat & look back at some designing I did 6 years ago, when I was still at University in Wales, and only had a couple of years of knitting under my belt. At that time, lace-weight yarn was impossible to find at my small local yarn shops; I remember the shopkeeper offering me a small skein of mercerised cotton as an alternative. She had also never heard of “shadow” or “illusion” knitting. I bet she has now! (an interesting counterpoint to my story from yesterday, I think). Anyway, the thing about this particular design is that it’s still in progress!

In 2005, the extent of my lace knitting experience was a feather & fan baby blanket, and (diving in at the deep end, as usual), the most difficult (and prettiest) piece from the Homework collection on It took me a while to find these photos…

I don’t think I’d even seen much knitted lace, but my imagination (& ambition) was probably fuelled by a few books in my Grandma’s collection, one of which was Knit One, Make One, by Furze Hewitt; and some pieces I saw on the Livejournal knitting community. My vision was a lace stole, with swallows darting daintily to & fro, and spilling out of the garter stitch border at either end. The centre would have some patterning, to symbolise the swallow’s long seasonal migration. I also wanted to try to depict the bird’s motion, and the direction of its feathers. Ha! I bungled along, sewing swatches into my knitting book, and making detailed notes…

Knit Notebook Page
Knit Notebook Page
Knit Notebook Page
Knit Notebook Page
Knit Notebook Page

Yes, I even checked out a book on swallows & made some sketches. When I look back at these, I sort of admire 1. my documentation, and 2. my sheer audacity. Even now this would take a lot of fiddling, swatching, and moving stitches around in Mac Numbers. At the time, not even fully understanding the concept of left- and right-leaning decreases, and working on squared notebook paper, it was more than a little preposterous. I guess it was my love of the graceful form of the swallow, and a desire to break out of the symmetrical nature of most lace, that has made the vision for this design so long-lasting. I think I now have enough of an understanding of lace to give this a fair go, and I intend to, one of these days. My thoughts on the concept of “skill” haven’t changed much though. Here’s an extract from my (digital) journal from August 2005:

knitting lace really isn’t as complicated as it looks. it needs a good deal of patience, but it’s a slow little world you can recede into, weaving miles and miles of thread into a small space. i like to sit on my bed, with no music or radio and certainly no television, and concentrate. if you count and count very carefully you will understand the joy of reaching the end of a row with the right amount of stitches. and if you find you have lost count, it is usually because your mind has wandered, and then you might learn just how unused you are to thinking of just one thing. but you will make a mistake eventually anyway, and then stitch by stitch undo your work, or pull the needle out and try to catch the loops a row down. a lifeline, a length of embroidery thread, woven through the live stitches with a tapestry needle and left in place as you knit, will help you redress, or catch any stitches you drop.

My recent experience teaching my friends how to knit has only reinforced this belief that skill is more about concentration than innate ability, or even practice. When I compare some of the wonky garter stitch I’ve produced while watching Youtube videos, to the perfect bumps my friends make, each with great care and concentration… I can’t help but feel a little embarrassed.

A little OT, but I also wanted to mention this TED talk, and how much I like the idea of looking at self-development as a computer game, where you really can +1 strength, +1 health, etc. :)

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