Knitting facts and knitting fictions

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I learnt to love knitting at a time when so much of our life seemed to revolve around textiles. In the afternoons, all the other housework done, my mum would iron and put away the washing or else sit and knit. Sometimes she would get out the sewing machine or spread fabric on the lounge floor, pin the paper patterns and cut out the pieces with the stainless steel dressmaking scissors. All our dresses were homemade from fabrics chosen in Gordon Thoday’s (an East Anglian institution, now gone) and we always had matching hair ribbons chosen from the haberdashery of an Ipswich department store. Between my mum, my auntie and my grandma there was constant talk of needlework: the quality of a fabric, the cut of a skirt, the fit of a bodice, pinning hems, choosing trim, tacking darts, finishing button holes and piles and piles of patterns.

But I didn’t just learn to love sewing and knitting around these women of my childhood, I also learnt it in the library books I devoured: Little Women, Anne of Green Gables and the Laura Ingalls Wilder tales of pioneer life travelling west across America. Each of these girl heroines found herself caught between the pressure to conform to a certain standard of womanhood and the longing to be free or educated or to live a life more like a man. And whilst they negotiated for themselves a safe path through the conflicting calls and constraints of womanhood a great deal of knitting and sewing was completed and I have sought it out again.

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I thought I would share some of the exerts from my childhood reading that gave me such a romantic and must- accomplish mentality about my knitting. In days past it would always end in tears; the latest failed knitting project, dropped stitches and bodged techniques. At one time my family dreaded seeing the knitting needles come out. But more recently with patience and practice, youtube and a good note book I’m knitting more like a heroine in a nineteenth century children’s novel.

I hold the characters below at least 50% responsible for my knitting habits and 100% responsible for my romantic knitting notions.

Louisa May Allcot, Little Women

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Little Women opens with Jo knitting, and what’s more it rather beautifully exemplifies the tension I have just described. Jo is complaining,

It’s bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boy’s games and work and manners! I can’t get over my disappointment in not being a boy. And it’s worse than ever now, for I’m dying to go and fight with Papa. And I can only stay home and knit, like a poky old woman!” And Jo shook the blue army sock till the needles rattled like castanets, and her ball bounded across the room.

The socks Jo knitted were to be sent out for soldiers fighting in the American Civil War. At this time there were no standardised knitting patterns, wool weight or needle sizes. Knitting patterns offered a vague description of how to construct the garment rather than the row by row instructions we are familiar with today.

An 1861 sock pattern read,

The following rules are laid down for the direction of ladies wishing to knit socks for the soldiers: Get large needles and a coarse yarn; cast on seventy-eight stitches, and knit the leg 10 inches before setting the heel. The heel should be 3 1/2 inches long, and knit of double yarn, one fine and one coarse, for extra strength. The foot should be 11 or 12 inches long.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter

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In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novel, set in the severe winter of 1880-1881, we find the 13 year old Laura knitting petticoat lace every afternoon after the chores are done.

In the sunshine from the western windows Mary rocked gently, and Laura’s steel knitting needles flashed. Laura was knitting lace, of fine white thread, to trim a petticoat. She sat close to the window and watched the street, for she was expecting Mary Power and Minnie Johnson. They were coming to spend the afternoon, bringing their crocheting. . . . ‘Oh, bother! I’ve miscounted the stitches!’ she exclaimed. She unraveled the row and began to pick the tiny stitches up again on the fine needle. . . . The little loops of thread were dimming before her eyes as if she were going blind. She could not see them. The spool of thread dropped from her lap and rolled away on the floor as she jumped up.

The family are stranded in town with little in the way of food. Laura works on fine needle with cotton thread completing gift for her blind sister Mary to take to college,

Laura wound her lace into a roll, wrapped it carefully in tissue paper, and gave it to Mary: She fingered it lovingly and her face was shining with delight. ‘I’ll save it to wear when I go to college,’ she said. ‘It’s another thing to help me to go. It will be so pretty on a white petticoat.’

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

When I read of Marilla reprimanding Anne for not scolding the dish cloth I knew it had to be a hand knit dish cloth made form unbleached cotton yarn and based on a pattern passed on from mother to daughter, the kind of item a little girl could leaner to knit with. I also knew that you would never found Mrs Rachel Lynde knitting dish cloths. Mrs Rachel Lynde was a notable housewife of Avonlea, she ran the seeing circle and we are told that she spent hours at her kitchen window knitting. I have done a little research into the knitting habits of Mrs Lynde and found that the cotton warp quilts she knitted were probably virtuoso items designed to show of the finest knitting skills. We read that Mrs Lynde had knitted 16 of these quilts and in Anne’s House of Dreams we learn that Mrs Lynde makes a gift of two of these quilts to Anne,

‘I’m going to give Anne two of my cotton warp spreads,’ she resumed. ‘A tobacco-strip and an apple leaf one. She tells me they’re getting to be real fashionable again.’

The knitting historian jury is out on exactly what the quilts would have looked like but there seems little doubt that this was accomplished and time consuming work completed on extremely fine needles using the best cotton thread.

You can read about an example of one such historic cotton warp quilt here.

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I’m hoping to be sharing my 90 minute baby mitt pattern here tomorrow. So, watch this space!

Something lovely for the weekend

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It was cold and glum on Tuesday morning and the sky was grey and dead. Dry brown leaves were blowing round the yard and the wind was moaning it’s way through the tall poplars at the back of our house.

I had, open on the kitchen table, the gospels and a notebook.  A little morning reading and a good strong cup of tea. I leant forwards over the words, searching for something to carry me into the day ahead. Lost in the smaller world of my kitchen, the book and the gloom of the day.

And then I looked up …

I looked up from the from the page and the whole vast sky beyond the kitchen was lighted up with colour fit for a day in glory.

One moment the sky was still and cold. The next moment it was alive with light, hues of vivd pink and velvety purple, a great trail across the expanse of the sky, just a quick distance from where I sat. In the short moment when I bowed my head the darkness of the morning had been changed. Without announcement. Without ceremony. Without any expectation or effort on my part, it came as a gift.

All week I’m reading and memorising the beautiful and trustworthy words of John about Jesus,

 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

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I work and I pray. A friend is unwell, another has been let down. I am perplexed that things do not always work out the way I planned.  I struggle with something that should come easily and at night I fall into bed very, very, tired.  But in the mornings when I bow my head over the words … every time I bow my head over the words and read I look up to find, without any effort on my part, the whole world alight with the glory of God. I can see it so close I can nearly touch it in every unrelenting, impossible situation and every exhausted and bedraggled face. Because, however hard the darkness tries to extinguish the light, however many times it reached to stuff her out, the darkness has none of that power. And light will always win.

 

Baby knits and other thanks

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So, some friends had a new baby on Saturday. Which is beautiful and surprising: we didn’t even know they were expecting!

I had to get knitting quickly and I was very glad of the two hour baby hat pattern which I wrote for the blog in the spring. This time I made it up from a small ball of sale bin yarn I bought in John Lewis last Christmas. I rang the changes with a moss stitch band instead of the usual knit-one-purl-one rib and I’m pretty pleased with the results. I’ll get it in the post just as soon as I can and I’m looking forwards to hearing this particular new baby story some time in the not too distant future.

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This knitting and blogging all coincides with a couple of messages I received on the blog from knitters who had completed the hat project themselves and were kind enough to let me know the pattern worked for them. Peggy and Elizabeth, thanks for the comments, it was great to hear from you!

The blog post containing the homespun knitting pattern has a history of unusual and unexpected responses. It had been viewed at least one or two times every day since I published it which I guess is largely due to the way I tagged it: 4 ply baby hat pattern, easy baby hat pattern.  It is accessed in a way that none of my other blog posts are found or viewed. I must have got something right. I had planned to blog faith stuff  but have been surprised with how popular posts on baking and knitting have been.

A couple of months ago now the pattern got pinned on Pinterest and since then the traffic has increased further. The number of views are relatively small but for me they are significant. It’s nice when people read your blog! It would sound very worthy for me to say I write only for myself, but I don’t. After years of writing for myself I decided I wanted to write for an audience.  That’s why I have a blog, it’s public on the internet and I write it because I want people to read it. So thanks to every one who has read the blog.  Thanks for all your encouragement, comments and Facebook ‘likes’. It means a lot to me and keeps me writing. And writing make me happy.

Frederick Buechner said, “Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need”.  According to that definition I am not yet able to call my writing a vocation yet but I’m getting closer. So I will keep writing.

Thanks for reading.

I am currently developing the one hour baby mitten pattern and it should be up on the blog soon. In the meantime, if you are interested, you can find the original two hour baby hat here.

Give thanks

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Put your hope in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

1 Timothy 6.17 (my paraphrase)

The whole internet is alive with thanksgiving #100happydays #1000gifts #thanksgiving #thankyou

At first glance it looks like little more than glossy optimism: the tweets, the hashtags, the gratitude lists and blog posts. Like Pollyanna with her ‘glad game’, adopting a positive attitude in the face of adversity, trying to make everyone feel better despite the mess. And it would be optimism without God-in-the-mess, without Christ and the devastating mess of the cross it would all be a child’s game in a dangerous world. When God redeemed the mess he did it to hell and back and the price he paid was greater than the sum of every bad hair day you ever had and is enough to get you through the most unimaginable pain.

God gives us the gift and we give the thanks.

You can not live your whole life wishing it were different or always waiting for that one-day-maybe moment just around the corner. You only have ‘now’ and ‘now’ is good and ‘now’ has been given for your enjoyment and pleasure. So stare her in the eye; stop and meet her gaze. Consider her more intentionally and find the beauty in a little scrap of the day that was about to go un-noticed. Don’t squander your time in regret and discontent, with the dread of getting up each day for a job you do not like or counting the minutes until the kids are asleep in bed. Each moment is given for our good pleasure, gracious and kind in the cold hard reality of our real-time lives, rekindled with joy the moment we give thanks. 

Thanksgiving radically re-orders our relationship to heaven and digs the foundations of the place where God will rebuild our hope. One small word of thanks and the whole of heaven’s resource comes tumbling down on your head, invading your gloom and transforming your fears. When you can not change your circumstances, you change the way you see your circumstances, one word of thanks at a time. 

There is power in thanksgiving, the power to redeem and transform the toughest grief or the dreary grind of a humdrum day.

Thanksgiving invites miracles, like Jesus giving thanks and Lazarus walking out of his black tomb alive.

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Thank you for: little children counting creation days, pastry biscuits with rainbow sprinkles, sticky fingers, watching the marbles clatter down the marble run, a child’s concentration on a task, taking turns and saying ‘thank you’.

Thanks you for: afternoon naps, pools of yellow lamp light and reading in the evening, a pile of great books, the hum of the computer and the tapping on the key board, a family at peace and rested for the week ahead, an uncluttered evening, a glass of wine.

If you want to read my gratitudes you will have to sneak a look in my note book, the one with the Cath Kidston cover. Andy has been writing a gratitudes list on his blog, A Eucharist.  Most of my thanksgiving inspiration comes form Ann Voskamp’s wonderful blog, A Holy Experience and I can thoroughly recommend her NY Times best selling book, One Thousand Gifts.

The strength of my fury

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At that time we lived a good walk from the children’s school and nursery and each day began with a mile walk to school followed by a trek to nursery, return trip to nursery at lunch time, then the school run at 3.15. I did this with a push-chair and a buggy board (do you remember those?). Most of the time I was working nights, pregnant or nursing but mercifully the journey was broken up by good friends, coffee, offers of help and life-saving chatter at the school gates. Most of all the journey was made pleasant by the lovely location we found ourselves in. Our house was built on a little rise over looking a meadow where we could watch curlew and hares. There was a footpath running along the back of the houses and a roost of one hundred long-tail tits in a hawthorn tree just outside the kitchen window. Not long after we moved in we spent all the money we had on having our own hawthorn hedge laid in the traditional way: they cut almost all the way through the stems that they called pleachers, laying them over at an angle, weaving them together and then strengthening the whole structure with vertical stakes. At the bottom of the garden my dad erected a wooden gate by our compost heap and this is the route we took each day, playing at living in the countryside.  When it all seemed  too much I’d breath deep and find a little thankfulness in the dense berry studded thorn hedge. Or if it rained for days on end I was glad of the short cut along the back of the houses. I didn’t much mind the muddy shoes for the joy of looking out of the dining room window on an evening and seeing my own piece of countryside spread out before me.

Until the day they sent digger to make a new path.

They started digging right by my back gate, a deep trench, foundations for a new path. For several weeks I could not take my normal route. It poured with rain. The baby howled, teethed, gums red raw, cheeks pitted and hot. The toddlers had serial ear infections and the unwashed dishes piled up in the scummy sink. Outside the machinery grunted and growled all day long, breaking the sod, churning the ground. There were no birds in the hawthorn tree. The men had come to make a better path, to turn the strip of waste ground into a community orchard with cherry, plum and apple trees a place for families to walk and children to play, but I saw red. Pure furry: no one had told me, no one had considered me, the work progressed regardless.

I told everyone who crossed my path about the crisis and little noticed that, though most cared, none shared my rage. I shocked myself with the strength of my own fury and found myself reflecting on how destructive my anger was to me and my dearest.

Last week I was watching Frasier (our recorder is choked up with back to back episodes) and he was giving advice to a caller about anger. My ears pricked up, “Most psychiatrists agree that chronic rage is due to …” Then Roz announced that time was up on the show and I didn’t get to hear what chronic rage is due to!  But I really want to know. You see I still get angry.

I consider Google. But heavens!  Am I really getting all my psychological insight from Frasier and Google?

So I didn’t Google it but later I remembered Dorothy Rowe.

The blurb on the back of my Dorothy Rowe book says, who hasn’t been stuck at a party with someone who had their life changed by Dorothy Rowe?  But when I first read her books on depression in the 1990s I didn’t know anyone else who had read her, I didn’t know anyone else with depression and I was only just coming to terms with the idea that depression might be my illness and it might be OK to admit it. The only people I got stuck with at parties had fabulous kids and fast track careers (usually academic or creative). I remember little of Rowe’s main arguments but I do remember the key wisdoms from her pen that turned me around and one of them was this: angry people, depressed people and anxious people have often constructed rigid beliefs about their world and how it should be and a have a strong sense that what they perceive to be wrong should be righted.  A more healthy way of being comes through relinquishing rigidly held beliefs and considering alternative explanations for life and the world around us. A strong sense of how things should be and a complete lack of ability to see things any other way is not a helpful way to exist. For faith people this can be especially difficult. Many of us have been taught that doubt is wrong or we have acquired particular fears over challenging doctrines and certainties. When we first came to faith we adopted a system wholesale, a water-tight way of seeing, and it becomes harder and harder over time to sort the good from the bad. But change can happen. There is listening, watching and attentiveness. There is reading, praying, meditating and talking to dear trusted friends. Maybe some of the beliefs we thought were right beliefs or faith beliefs were just un-truths accidentally acquired along the way.

I still get angry, but something changed when I read Rowe. She said, as we grow we develop a set of theories about how the world works and how the world should work. These beliefs can be hidden or public, religious, philosophical or political, but they become central to how we see ourselves and our world. One idea about depression, anxiety and anger is that they are defence tactics that happen when something up-turns our most trusted world view.  Our natural urge is to protect ourselves by protesting, withdrawing or avoidance but depression, anger and anxiety grow persistent when we refuse to see something of the possibilities beyond our own redundant schemes of life. This is a junction in the road. The choice is: dig in your heels in or change. I got hurt, but I will recover. It shouldn’t have happened, but life goes on. The world did not go my way, but that can not be changed.

And life is good.

Dorothy Rowe is a psychologist and writer famous for, Depression: The way out of your prison, first published in 1983. Controversial at times, she rejects the medical model of depression and argues that depression happens when belief patterns prevent us from living happily with ourselves in this world. 

 

One small change: Tea

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Thanks for reading my ‘One small change’ post. That was one great blogging day!

Please do let me know about your one small change and in the meantime, if you don’t already do so, why not consider making one small change to Fairtrade tea?

Apparently, in Britain, we drink 165 million cups of tea a day which is why changing from your regular brand of tea to a Fairtrade brand could make all the difference. Changing one item in your weekly shopping basket is completely do-able. Even if you are on a budget, it may not be as expensive as you think (Aldi sell a box of 80 approved Fairtrade tea bags for £1.29). The whole point of the extra expense is that a small affordable part of what you spend in the supermarket is going to pay the greater cost of a significant act of justice for a community in need.

What is Fairtrade?

There are two aspects of Fairtrade products: the first is a Fairtrade minimum price and the second is the Fairtrade premium. Most people know about the first but possibly don’t fully understand the second.

The minimum price is an agreed minimum price that a buyer must pay to a producer. It is not a fixed price but the lowest price at which negotiations can begin. When world prices are high the buyer pays the market price, even if it is higher than the Fairtrade minimum. The minimum price is set to ensure that the producer has covered his costs and can sustain his business. It offers the poorest farmers some protection for times when market prices are very low. The Fairtrade premium is an additional sum paid to the community for investing in development projects.This money will be used to provide schools, clinics, agricultural improvements and other projects for the benefit of the community.

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By choosing a box of tea bags with the Fairtrade logo you can be sure that the product you are buying meets international Fairtrade standards and offers an improved deal to farmers, their families and communities. If you shop at a supermarket like Tesco this will cost you about 25p more than a regular box of 80 teabags but over a year you could be making a significant difference to a family in terms of putting meals on the table or sending children to school.

This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.

Zechariah 7.2

 

Find out more about the principles of Fairtrade on the official Fairtrade website and visit the beautiful website of Clipper, my favourite brand of Fairtrade tea.

One small change

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New Year. I don’t want to to fill my life with more stuff; material stuff or mental stuff. I don’t even want to accomplish more. I don’t want to live another year propelled forwards on an unremitting wave of ‘should have’, ‘could have’ or ‘would have’ and all their accompanying cruelties. I’m avoiding resolutions because they are hard masters.

I teach a story of Jesus every year to my class in school. These kids often tell me they don’t like RE but soon get lost in the activities. I choose the activities well. Though we enter the story throughout the plain words of the text, the lesson soon colours up with drama and real live stories and somewhere along the way the people of the story meet the kids in my class and at that junction comes  the sparky discussion, bartering of views and all the issues weighed in the great scales of a child’s sense of justice (a scary thing!). I love my job.

When it comes to the turn of the parable of the sheep and the goats, I walk the line between teaching them to help others and dealing out some hard-to-reach theology of what it looks like to worship God, questions of who my brother really is and close-to-the-edge issues of heaven and hell. These kids are only 11 and 12. So we play a game: “Sheep!” is port and they run to the right, “Goats!” is starboard and they run to the left. I shout, “Feed the hungry!” and my class of thirty start shovelling imaginary food into their own open mouths, I shout, “Drinks for the thirsty!” and they mime a cup to their lips, I shout “Greet a stranger!” and they shake hands with a partner, I shout, “Clothe the naked!” and they mime getting dressed.

I show them some photos and some films of Christians round the world, a diversity of charities, organisations and churches and what they do to feed the hungry and care for the sick. I show them stories from around the world of children being given blankets against the cold in refugee camps in countries they thought were hot. We watch a video of a well paid engineer with a call in his heart to build wells in dusty villages abroad. We look at pictures of children trapped in a Philippines jails for no other reason than they had nowhere to sleep at night. I tell them how someone I know took boards games to these children who have no family, no education and no home. The class is divided into groups and each team of children takes a small part of the story and builds a drama. Our class rule is everyone joins in. If you don’t like acting take a small part or help write the plot, make sub-titles on poster paper or find the props.

When the sketches are rolled out some actors reach out in compassion towards those in need and others cruelly push the needy away, they are the goodies and the baddies in a pantomime show. The issue divides up easily: of course you should help people in need and it’s wrong to withhold assistance when it’s in your power to help. They make a freeze-frame and I take a snap. We add a title and speech bubbles, a record of our work, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25.40). And this is what this class of children can do, in Fairtrade fortnight, we will build ourselves a Fairtrade shop with cookies and brownies and chocolate and have an assembly and raise some money.

When I get paid at the end of the month I gift aid a little something to a development charity. There are standing orders supporting projects I’m linked to through friendships and through church. I watch the news and read the right books: biographies of world shakers, prophets of social justice, history and current affairs. I can rouse the youth group to make a cake sale in response to a major disaster appeal, enthuse the Sunday school to give a little each week from their own pocket money to buy shoes and pencils to send a child to school. I know a whole lot of people who volunteered short term and some who volunteered long term, I read their  newsletters and pray for them each morning as I sip my Fairtrade tea. And it is good. But if there was more I could do today to bring us a little closer to the Jesus kingdom transformation of this sad world I’m volunteering right now to get that thing done.

This is not another New Year’s resolution post laden with guilt that destines you to fail.

This is a post in favour of the kind of small incremental change that will draw you and me closer to the human connections we already with the rest of our sad and beautiful world. This post asks you to use all that you are and all that you have to honour the extraordinary connections you have with the rest of the human race, but in ordinary, can-do ways.

It could work out for you in the way you love your family or in how you do the weekly shop. It could work out for you in a decision about work or play. It could be how you steward a talent or what you create and who you create it for. It could involve risk and stepping out of comfort zones but it does not shun the domestic acts of care, kindness and joy that really count for the people who see you every day.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne and all the nations will be gathered before him,

(Matthew 25.31)

… and in the meantime we say, Maranatha! Lord Jesus come!

I’m submitting this blog post for a Tearfund competition to be part of blogging trip to Cambodia, which would certainly be something to write home about! But whether I win, or not I will still be making that one small change wherever I can and I’d love to hear about your one small change too.