Plain one, purl one

Enniscorthy Guardian - - NEWS - WITH JOHN J KELLY

I wouldn’t call it a to­tally lost tal­ent, nor a dis­ap­pear­ing way of life, cer­tainly not yet, but I guess in the mod­ern throw-away world we’re in, it is be­com­ing rarer and rarer.

A sight less com­mon, a vi­sion or mem­ory fewer and fewer will, in the fu­ture, be able to draw upon. Of what do I speak? To what es­sen­tial, dra­matic, hu­mankind life­style, habit or pur­suit am I ad­min­is­ter­ing the early stages of the last rites?

What is it we have lost, or, are start­ing to lose? Well, it’s noth­ing epic, ground-shak­ing or mega-dra­matic. Rather, a thing of sim­ple el­e­gance and beauty. A vi­sion lodged in the wit­nesses soul. It is the art of needle­craft! Knit­ting and sow­ing and stitch­ing. Em­broi­dery, darn­ing and cro­chet.

In­dulge me to­day, as I try il­lu­mi­nate all the gen­er­a­tions of ladies with balls of wool bob­bing un­der their feet, with click­ing nee­dles and hooks, with pa­tient hands be­neath fabric, go­ing blind in the fad­ing light. From all of us who can still see in our mind’s eye, our moth­ers hands, busy as bees, pro­duc­ing some­thing from noth­ing, here are some bits and pieces of po­ems, like scraps of fabric and wool, with words im­mor­tal­is­ing and pay­ing homage to the mem­o­ries you made for us all. For the fu­tures you all cre­ated with your fin­ger­tips.

A few years ago, at the Cork Arts Fes­ti­val, I was lucky enough to hear Greg De­lanty, back home in his na­tive city, re­cite a poem he wrote about his mother, sow­ing, and how, even though she was get­ting older and her eye­sight was fad­ing, she still had stitch­ing to do, but needed him­self, as a chap, to thread the nee­dle. He told me he never felt more im­por­tant in his life. It’s a lovely im­age.

( from) To my Mother, Eileen ....I raise the nee­dle to the light and lick the thread to stiffen the limp words, I peer through the eye, fo­cus, put ev­ery­thing out of my head I shut my right eye and thread I have the eye, haven’t I, the knack? I’m Prince Threader. I missed it that try Con­cen­trate, con­cen­trate. Enough yaketty yak. There Ma, look, here’s the threaded nee­dle back.

Or the short an­them to knit­ting, ‘Mrs Moon’ by English poet Roger McGough, who trans­ported the art be­yond the lim­i­ta­tions of our Earth, out to the ex­tra-ter­res­trial worlds!

...Mrs Moon sit­ting up in the sky, lit­tle old Lady, rock-a-bye with a ball of fad­ing light and sil­very nee­dles, knit­ting the night.

What a de­light­ful short lit­tle poem that yet cap­tures the bound­less lim­its of cre­ativ­ity pos­si­ble to she who knits. (Woolly) hats off to the busy group of ladies I saw last Satur­day knit­ting away at Olann. And in Wex­ford town, the fu­ture is mul­ti­coloured bright!

But I’ll leave the fi­nal word to re­mem­ber the Darn­ers, for I won­der if we have seen the last of them? I don’t know when I last saw a grey sock with a char­coal-coloured re­pair job! Now that was an art of a dif­fer­ent sort, risk­ing life, limb and fin­ger, wield­ing a sow­ing nee­dle as large as a tooth­pick! I doubt many of to­day’s school chil­dren wit­ness that past time of a win­ter’s evening dur­ing X-Fac­tor? This is from a poem of my own for the best darner I knew when I was a chap.

( from) At the Darner of the Sock

...In the fad­ing light she held and checked for flaw and snagged loose threads, cut free, to lap de­scend at the darn­ing of the sock I knelt in awe

At last with cra­dle free, she would me draw just us and some old cho­rus in­ter­twined, be­side tin of spools and but­tons, pins and coloured cloth.

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