Plain one, purl one
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.