Sunday, June 21, 2009

In piam memoriam, Emmeline Grangerford

Emmeline Grangerford is a character in Huckleberry Finn who writes poems about local people who have died. Her trademark is that she always finds a clever rhyme for the name of the deceased — that is, until a man dies in the village whose name was Whistler. Utterly defeated by this, she is heartbroken and soon dies herself.

We read Huckleberry Finn in middle school English (7th grade, I think), and one of our weekend writing assignments was to compose the poem that Emmeline never could. I remember being totally at a loss until my father thoughtfully came to the rescue with the news that there is a kind of sailboat called a Thistle, which of course would make a person who sails one a "Thistler." Q.E.D.

How on earth can all this have *anything* to do with my knitting??

Well... The Caledonian thistle is, of course, a beloved symbol of Scotland. Since Margaret Tudor's first marriage was to James V of Scotland, in the hope of uniting the two countries, the sweater designed in her honor includes the thistle as well as the Tudor rose as a prominent motif. I was suddenly reminded of Emmeline today, therefore, as I contemplated the first thistle of my Peggy Tudor sweater, happily complete. You may click on the image, as usual, for a closer view.

This is an extremely intricate and tricky pattern, meticulously conceived with extraordinary attention to detail. Stitches are not only knitted or purled, but also twisted or not, and then there are cabled elements as well, with single stitches or pairs elaborately crossing one another on both RS and WS rows — all of which would be perfectly manageable, given that there is a detailed chart, except for the part where I knit left-handed.

Oy, gewalt.

Charts usually solve all my left-right dilemmas, because they can easily be read in either direction, but the symbols on this one were both numerous and specific enough that I had to consult the key to figure out what each one meant. That brought verbal instructions into the game (ALWAYS a potential pitfall for left-right transformations), and then I had to figure out what I was supposed to do at any given moment, depending on (a) which direction the pattern assumed I would be going for that particular row (RS vs. WS) and (b) which direction(s) I was actually trying to go and/or reading the pattern at the moment (since I sometimes follow the chart from right to left while knitting the opposite way). YIKES. It was enough to make my head spin. DYSLEXICS OF THE WORLD, *UNTIE*!!!

In the end, I had to take a quick reality check before each little maneuver. "OK, hang on," I kept thinking, "what exactly is supposed to happen here?" Then I would make the stitches do what the design seemed to demand, rather than worrying about trying to rephrase the instructions to describe what I was doing.

There were a couple of false-starts along the way, and some minor mistakes that I had to tink back and fix, but I finally made it successfully through one entire pattern repeat. Phew. I absolutely love the way it turned out. The Nature Spun gives such terrific stitch definition. But this is definitely NOT a project to be worked on late at night or in an environment filled with distractions. Constant vigilance, constant vigilance.

Ever anon...

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