Taking Time

In the last twelve months or so I have started to gain an appreciation for Taking Time. Although (hand-) knitting probably isn’t the fastest craft known to man as it is, I have never shied away from projects that take a particularly long time to complete, such as this holy communion shawl.

Shetland Lace Shawl Rose Trellis

A Shetland Lace Shawl in Cobweb weight yarn

However, I’m now more consciously slowing down. As I become more interested in using specific traditional techniques for specific tasks, I also feel an urge to take my time to to do the best job possible.

I think my interest in this started when I took up spinning. Working with wool is a tactile experience I enjoy, and now I’m seeking out opportunities to enhance this experience. Taking time to handle the fibre at the various stages allow me to explore its material qualities.

Of course, knitting in itself allows me that tactile experience by its very nature. But instead of using a skein holder and ball winder, I now prefer to use my knees to hold the skein, and wind a ball by hand. The rhythm of winding, going from left knee to right and back again, feeling the yarn glide through one hand, feeling the ball of yarn grow in the other, I can get to know the yarn I’ll be knitting up later. How smooth is the yarn, how bouncy is the ball? I dream about the project that it will become, contemplate how I can enhance the fibre’s inherent qualities.

Handspun yarn and handwound balls

Handspun yarns and handwound balls

But as a spinner I can create even more opportunities to explore these tactile qualities. I love getting a raw fleece and process it from scratch. Laying out the fleece, sorting it, scouring it, preparing it for spinning; this all requires a lot of handling. Raw fleece feels greasy and at places, dirty, and smells strongly of sheep. It takes me right back to my childhood, visiting my grandparents’ sheep farm. During the scouring and drying the fibre transforms through its contact with water and soap. This process can’t be rushed, and it creates space to think about what this fleece might want to become.

Consciously taking time when performing tasks makes them more meaningful to me. It clears the mind and allows me to contemplate the more esoteric aspects of my work. Preparing and spinning Shetland wool makes me think about the importance of wool in Shetland’s economy and society and particularly how it affected women’s lives (if you are interested in this subject, then Myth And Materiality in a Woman’s World: Shetland, 1800-2000 by Lynn Abrahams is a good place to start.)

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02a

Knitted darning samplers in the Fries Museum

When I’m darning, I think not only about when this was a necessity, but also about the amazing darning samplers I have seen at the Fries Museum, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. Young girls were taught to knit and darn and had to take time to create perfectly executed darning samplers. I also noticed during my visit to the Fries Museum, that the clothes in their collection were rarely repaired to the same high standard. I can only assume that the women couldn’t afford to spend a lot of time on this task, undoubtedly one of many when running a household, big or small.

Things become more personal when I take on a specific darning commission, the most poignant example perhaps being the repair of Bernadette’s jumper.

The Visible Mending Programme - repaired jumper

Bernadette’s jumper visibly mended

Just a normal jumper to most people, even if they recognise the good knitting skills that went into it, this jumper is very valuable indeed to Bernadette. One of the few items made by her mother that she still owed, and a botched attempt to turn it into cushion cover made this a very special mend.

As Bernadette had given me the background story of this jumper, her relationship with her mother, and why she attempted to turn it into a cushion cover, the repair felt very intimate. While preparing the pieces of the jumper for repair I let my mind wander and it allowed me to refine my repair approach. I wanted to show that this was not repaired by the person who originally made this jumper, and I used a variation of the cable stitch pattern to highlight this. Although I had never met her mother, taking my time to perform a beautiful repair, allowed me to contemplate this woman while I picked up stitches she had knitted many years ago; a very intimate act.

Shetland Lace Shawl for my Mother

A Shetland Lace Shawl for my Mother

In summary, giving yourself permission to take time has, I believe, many benefits. There is time for contemplation, exploring material qualities, and re-inforcing the connections between all the things I do. It makes my work a creative, deep and rich experience that I wouldn’t want to miss for all in the world.

9 Replies to “Taking Time”

  1. Tom, I’ve been following your blog for only a short time. I appreciate your perspective on valuing the resources and the effort that go into creating and preserving clothing and culture. Your blog is the first place I’ve heard mention of visible repair. I have some beautiful hand knit sweaters that are threadbare in places; I feel inspired to attempt their repair even though i don’t have matching wool.

    Thanks also for the link to Myth and Materiality…Shetland by Lynn Abrams. The review provided food for thought re: the organic morality at the core of the historical Shetland community and economy.

  2. Like so many others, of course, I agree with you. Only last night I was spinning the fleece of my favourite ewe. As I did so, I saw how healthy she was and watched the seasons as I looked at the staple and clearly saw the rise in her wool.

    Try weaving, then cutting your own cloth, to make a garment, or hand-sewing a quilt. So much more relaxing than machine sewing.

    Happy summer. x

  3. An excellent article after my own heart. I raise Shetland sheep and notes how unsatisfying it was to send all my fleeces to the mill. I figured if I am going to raise these sheep, I should get to know them in an intimate way. That means scouring each fleece and carding and spinning, at least part of it myself, offering the extra batts for sale. I explore, and take time to discover the wisdom of each fleece, maybe dying and blending some with angora, mohair or silk. I put on my outlander audio books as I card…flicking and carding…I am in heaven.

  4. Yes, how wonderful to scour, spin and knit with a special fleece. I just did that with a Herdwick, named sweet Pea, and I love it. Thanks for keeping this to the fore. And for the Lynn Abrahams link. great. Cheers!

  5. I also have only been following you for a short while but am always reminded of different aspects of my own life by your thoughtful posts. In particular you have sent me in search of the doll’s dress that my mother knitted for me 53 years ago. It has been washed many times and the wool has slightly felted but I peer very closely at the evenness of the stitches and feel a little closer to the woman I always wanted to be.

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