Disclaimer – non-fibre related ramblings ahead for at least half a dozen paragraphs – scroll down if you’re only here for the photos of knitting!
Of all the musicians I enjoy, Kate Bush has a knack for putting her finger on the peculiar like few others; though it’s the contradictions rather than the precise sentiments of this particular song that this month brings to my own mind. December has always been an odd month, and gets no less so the older I get. It’s a month when emotions run high, and in all directions – there are times that I find myself more stressed than I’ve felt the whole year, and times when I find myself connected with a stillness that only December can summon up. It’s a month I’m immensely fond of, and yet wary of at the same time. And it’s most certainly a month of magic, being one of the few times of the year that en masse, we recreate what feel like ancient rituals, dragging bits of evergreen into our houses and feasting amongst the twinkling lights, to bring some life and light into the darkest month of the year; making wishes, and making them come true, where we can.
For the last ten years, the beginning of this month has marked the anniversary of the loss of my mum. It’s not something that stops being hard on you, though the extreme rawness of that initial grief is, thankfully, something that seems less able to affect in quite the way it first did, in the years that follow; there’s something about a ten year anniversary, though, that gives you an extra knock. I always visit my dad at this time of year, and the weekend nearest to that day is always spent having our first Christmas dinner of the year. This might seem like a strange thing to do, but it always seems like a fitting way to remember my mum – she loved to feed hungry people, and she loved a celebration, and as kids, we always had a good Christmas.
Last week I had a little catchup read of some of my favourite fibre blogs, including that of the Yarn Harlot, who lost her own mother relatively recently. Her most recent post (the day after the solstice) began with a poem by Susan Cooper, written for the Christmas Revels, a yearly tradition in some cities in the States which I’d never heard of before. Quite coincidentally, I’ve been (re)reading The Dark is Rising since the beginning of the month, a book from my childhood that has stayed with me nearly forty years (and also the reason I first decided to give one of my favourite bands, Mercury Rev, a listen – that, and the fact that they’d collaborated with members of The Band).
I bought a second hand copy from ebay back in October, to read in December, the month in which the events of the book take place. It’s part of a sequence of five books that goes by the same name, and draws upon British mythology (most particularly, Arthurian legend) to tell the story of the battle between Dark and Light, for dominion over the world. It’s a far more complex series than this description might suggest, though, and once I’ve reread my favourite one I’m going to chase up the others in the series. I already own one of them (The Grey King), although I’ve not read that one for many years either – once I’ve got hold of the first, I might see if the kids want to have a bit of a read-along with me.
It turns out that this time last year there was a bit of a revival instigated on Twitter (dubbed #TheDarkIsReading) and I found quite an interesting little essay on this site, which focusses on the themes of remembrance and tradition that run through the series, themes particularly associated with this time of year more than any other. I think the last paragraphs, whether or not you agree with the political analysis running through it, describe what makes the series something other than a retelling of the aforementioned legends (maybe don’t click on that link if you want to read the books without any hint of what’s to come).
I’m currently less than halfway through the book, though with the dashing about and organisation involved in the run-up to the 25th over, I think I’ll have reached the end of it by Twelfth Night. I’m enjoying it immensely, it’s very much as I remember it and there’s surprising little I’ve forgotten in the intervening years. I don’t remember the details of the resolutions of the chapters, but when I’m immersed in reading them, the scenes feel very much like old, familiar surroundings. The whole thing is imbued with the spirit and the magic of Christmas, and particularly, its link to older traditions – Yule, the celebrations of the shortest day, the turning of the New Year.
This latter, bookmarking the end of the December, always gives me the shivers, especially the old tradition of opening the front and back doors of the house to ‘let the New year in, and the Old year out’. As a child – particularly if I found myself sat in a line between the two doors – part of me imagined I might catch sight of a hoary old man on his way out the back door (not something I relished at the time). The singing of Auld Lang Syne also unsettled me; I think that the remembering of those that aren’t with us was something that I didn’t fully appreciate, but most of all it seemed at odds with the general revelry of the events of the evening, leading up to the chimes of Big Ben at midnight (Andy Williams on the telly, martini and lemonade all round, cheese and pineapple on sticks etc).
I don’t know if getting older will necessary ease that feeling, but I’ll be continuing these traditions with my own children (though hopefully without unnerving them too much – at least one of them is as easily spooked as I was!). Along with the anticipation of Christmas Eve and the excitement of Christmas Day, I feel that’s always been the best way to remember mum at this time of year. The details of my childhood Christmasses aren’t something I can recreate, nor would I wish to (Rupert annuals and Scalextric sets notwithstanding!) – but the feeling of those Christmasses is a gift from my parents that I want to pass on. After the racing about (and several mishaps) in the run-up to the big day, our Christmas Day this year turned out to be a relaxed and happy one, which is all I could ask for – and tomorrow we have New Year’s Eve to look forward to, without the Cinzano bianco and the cheese and pineapple, most likely, but with everything else intact.
And so, onto another tradition which comforts me – and for which I have to thank my mum, and her mum – the Knitting. Where are the pictures of half finished socks, I hear you cry? I’m pleased to say that this year, I finally managed to finish my eldest’s Christmas stocking ready for Christmas Eve (albeit only with a few hours to spare). Don’t be too impressed though, as this was mostly due to having put the gifts that didn’t make the last post deadline to one side, once I knew there was no chance of getting them away in time.
I’d been storming through the two I’d been working on – my sister in law’s yoga socks, and the Second Sock for my Sister – and feeling quite pleased with my progress. The yoga socks went well, and were posted away to Aberdeen in good time. I even remembered to take a photo, but sadly, that’s on my laptop which currently isn’t talking to anyone, so I can’t show them off. I was quite pleased with how they came out but I’m yet to find out from my sister in law if they actually fit – maybe next time I see her I’ll be able to get another pic.
I was feeling good about the progress I’d made on the Oh Deer! socks, having done the most time consuming bit well in time, but as I neared the end of the panel, I started to wonder if it didn’t look a little wide. The first had seemed wide to me until I tried it on, though, so I got that out to compare the two.
Lo and behold, somehow – and I don’t know how, because if you were to ask me I’d have said that deadline stress would be more likely to have the opposite effect – my tension/gauge has come out quite considerably looser than on the first sock. They don’t look wildly different, even if you put them one on top of the other –
but it’s more evident when you line them up along one side, rather than centrally –
I’ve heard that it’s common for stranded knitting to be tighter, and I never have this problem – generally, I find that my stranding is looser than any single colour stocking stitch that precedes or follows it. This, however, is a first for me, having one panel of stranding so very different to another. And this is particularly a problem for socks, because who wants one sock tighter than the other? No one, that’s who. Bearing in mind that the sock is folded material, that little extra sticking out the side is at least half an inch of difference, which could well be the difference between a sock staying up and falling down. And of course, the other effect of a larger gauge is generally on the length of your stitches, and this sock is no exception –
So, having tossed that one aside in despair (at least until I’ve decided I’m friends with it again) and finished the stocking, I’m now onto the other two projects which, had I thought about it, I might have had more success with had I started them instead of trying to complete that sock – namely, the gloves for my uncle, which now look like this –
and the socks for my future brother in law, which are decidedly less done than the gloves.
I’m hoping to have the gloves done by next week, and the socks shortly afterwards. Which sounds like a lot, but the gloves are a super fast knit (that first glove took one evening and one morning), and while I’m contemplating a little bit of colourwork – possibly – for the socks, it won’t be anything complicated.
This does mean that I’ll probably be able to deliver both socks and gloves in person, which isn’t a bad thing. I’ve an idea of shoe size for the socks, but I’m not 100% sure on the sizing for my uncle’s gloves, so it means that if he tries them on and the fingers turn out to be a little too big or small, I can offer to tailor them so they fit perfectly (like a glove, you might say), while I’m visiting down at my folks.
I didn’t manage to get a photo of the stockings all hung in a line on the mantelpiece on Christmas Eve, because with kids that particular night is always a little hectic and excitable, and as the culmination of several weeks of shenanigans, I tend to be nothing if not exhausted by the end of it. I do, however, have a photo of them stuffed with good things, post-Christmas morning (mostly sweets, which is why my youngest’s is looking fairly depleted compared with the other two).
As we’re now the other side of midwinter, the days are lengthening, not that you’d know it here just now. Here’s hoping that Christmas brought a little light into your life during this darkest of months, and sincerely wishing you all the best for the New Year!