Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
The TARDIS wearing a Santa hat ... in the snow
Today is a snow day; most of Denmark is veiled in snow, and in parts of the country, driving is discouraged or even impossible. It isn’t too crazy around here; but still, my visit with friends in Aarhus was cancelled. We agreed that today was not the day to choose for driving 80 km and back, and that we will meet some other time, when the weather is in a better mood.
So I have only been out on foot today, which was fine. Now, of course, it is after 4 pm and so utterly dark outside; but it is light and warm inside, and I have my knitting – and you! Or, at any rate, my laptop and the illusion that I am writing to someone. So, there will be an update on the Christmas knitting, of course, and some musings about what people believe and how that is regarded.

The Apple of the Week:
I came across a Ravelry thread the other day about knitting superstitions: what you should and certainly should not do with your knitting. Examples ranged from ‘do not stick needles into a ball of yarn’ over ‘never knit with green’ to ‘never knit on a Sunday’; including such advice as ‘do not let your needles be empty: cast on a new project immediately’. This, it seems, is particularly important when working on socks: make sure you can cast on the second sock right after casting off the first.

All this got me thinking about superstitions, their nature and origins. After all, one person’s superstition is another’s religious doctrine; so what is it that we deem ‘superstition’ and not ‘belief’ – or even ‘fact’?
It seems that superstitions fall into several categories:
practical advice based on everyday observations and given a supernatural weight;
religious beliefs and/or practices that you do not yourself subscribe to, either because they belong to a belief system that differs from your own, or because the belief system they belong to has become obsolete;
instances of magical thinking based on intuition rather than evidence: the connection between the microcosm and the macrocosm or between substances that look alike or even whose names sound alike in a given language (time and thyme).

Examples of practical advice.
If we look at the above, knitting-related instances, the one about never letting your needles be empty is akin to the adage about idle hands being the Devil’s playground: it ties in neatly with the Protestant work ethic – which was very appropriate in a world where clothes were handmade, food had to be grown and/or killed, houses were built of timber that you felled with an axe, &c. Everybody needed warm socks, and somebody had to knit each and every pair of them. So of course you were always knitting.
The one about casting on the second sock immediately after casting off the first could be a specific instance of the above; I have also seen it interpreted as a means to avoid the dreaded SSS, second sock syndrome. This ‘syndrome’ is, of course, a modern, first-world problem – but hey, if it works. I did it myself the other night: I finished the first of the Christmas socks for my Dad, felt greatly accomplished – and cast on the other sock before I was tempted to feel that I was done. Allowing a pause at this point could make it harder to ‘start over’ on a new sock; better to stay in the I-can-totally-twist-those-stitches mode.

Outside of knitting, there is always the ‘don’t walk under a ladder’. Now there’s a piece of sound advice: by squeezing through the often tight space, you could knock over the ladder, including the guy who is probably perched on it, and his tools, paint, bucket of soapy water – you name it. And even if the ladder stays where it is, you risk having something drop on you. So, there is every reason to walk around it.

Of course, one could go into anthropology mode and talk about doorways and liminality: the junction of the ladder, the wall (or other vertical structure) and the ground underneath create a temporary door or opening, which by its nature will always lead to somewhere else. This is on the face of it rather obvious: doors and doorways lead to other rooms or to the outside. By extension, then, doorways are believed to lead into other worlds or other planes of existence. Around 1790, the poet William Blake spoke of the doors of perception, allegedly referred to by the 60’s rock band The Doors: there are things known and things unknown, and between them are the Doors. So, any opening, be it natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, is perceived to be a doorway into another place. And if you cannot see what may be on the other side, it is even more mysterious and magical. Standing beside a ladder and looking through the ‘opening’ to the other side – and lest we forget, this doorway is triangular, which imbues it with even more magical power – nothing may seem out of the ordinary; but that does not mean that it isn’t.
Rites of passage often utilise temporary portals to symbolise the passage from one stage of life to the next; think, for instance, of the blossoming arches wrought over couples at weddings.
Lots of literature utilises this concept of doorways into other worlds: first and foremost, we remember the wardrobe that leads to Narnia; Stephen King has a whole series of doors in the Dark Tower books, as has N.D. Wilson in the 100 Cupboards books; and Stargate is all about doorways to distant places.

The question of whether a certain non-rational practice is seen and respected as religious doctrine or dismissed as superstition is rather interesting and depends on the status of the belief system it is a part of.
Many people regard with a good deal of scepticism Ronald Reagan’s deferral to his wife Nancy’s astrologer; astrology is not these days generally believed to be ‘true’, whatever that may mean. There is no discernible scientific basis for believing in connections between individual persons and the constellations of stars – which are in themselves imaginary – or the positions of planets in the sky at the time of their birth. Astrology, as do many instances of magic, relies on the perceived interplay between the microcosm, the individual, and the macrocosm, the universe in general. So, those who set their stock in horoscopes are not taken all that seriously; people question, as they should, the decisions made by a president who consults, or at any rate is influenced by, an astrologer.

An altogether different matter is the eating or not eating of pigs’ meat; this is a religious and cultural tradition based on problems with food hygiene and disease in a certain part of the world around 3,000 years ago. If you repeatedly get sick after eating certain foods, you learn not to; and in an age when the supernatural was looked to for explanations, it would have been obvious to infer that Jahwe did not want you to eat those foods. As such, the rules surrounding foods that are found in Exodus, can be viewed by us methodological agnostics as instances of practical advice turned into supernatural rule.
But these rules are not generally deemed ‘superstitions’, though there is no scientific basis these days for following them. You can agree or disagree with the validity of them; but no one in their right mind will insist that Jews or Muslims eat pork, if they find it important not to. Please note here that I am for now only concerned with the religious argument against pork; questions of health, animal welfare &c belong in an entirely different discussion.

So, the difference in the respect afforded on the one hand looking to the stars for guidance and on the other following ancient and obsolete rules about cooking lies not in the level of rationality of the practice, nor in its age: Babylonian astrology is just as old as the texts of the Pentateuch. What is it, then?

It used to be that astrology and astronomy were two sides of a coin: the court-appointed Tycho Brahe made observations in the skies, not least discovering a supernova, a stella nova (new star), in 1572 and thereby challenging the Aristotelian concept of the immutable heavens – and he calculated the birth horoscope for the newborn prince who grew up to be Christian IV, King of Denmark.
During the age of enlightenment in the 17th century, belief systems were challenged by the search for scientific evidence – and the art and science of star-gazing were separated. Gradually, astrology as well as alchemy was relegated to the realm of magic and superstition, while the factual, physical and falsifiable became science.
So, astrology was demoted to pseudoscience; but what about the food rules?

Well, the Middle Eastern, Muslim world never had its age of enlightenment bringing with it the scrutiny and sometimes rejection of religious rules – or cultural rules with divine justification – that seemed old-fashioned. Hence the continued obeisance to practices long since abandoned elsewhere.
Jewish communities have historically been persecuted and threatened; being under constant siege from the surrounding world, a society tends to close in on itself and cling to tradition. Thus, the ancient laws have been upheld to this day.

In my personal view, people can eat what they like and believe what they want – as long as they do not insist on others doing the same. Of course, decisions concerning matters of state should not be made based on the position of the stars or planets rather than analyses of the political or socio-economic situation; but lots of people (including myself) read their daily horoscope, take note if it seems relevant and forget it otherwise. No harm done.

So, what else is new? I have opened an Etsy shop. Or rather, in the virtual market place that is Etsy, I have put up a parasol, spread a rug under it and laid out my – so far very few – wares. I have a handful of skeins of plant-dyed yarn there, and I will have more in future times; but as long as the temperatures around here are below freezing, I am not going to work with water solutions of anything out in my studio shed. So, when weather permits, and if there is any interest, I will put up more in the shop. We’ll see.

The shop’s name is Bifrost Yarns, in keeping with the whole Norse theme I seem to have going. As you know, my username on Ravelry is Ydun, as it is here; the Norse goddess Ydun provided the other gods with strength, health and longevity from her apples. So my offerings of chat & wisdom are named after Ydun’s basket of apples, in the hope that you all will gain something from reading them. Bifrost is the name of the rainbow, the passage between Asgard, the home of the gods, and Midgard (or Middle Earth), the home of the humans. In the Marvel Thor movie, that’s the one that is a wormhole generator. So there you have it.

nray ym yub
This is a subliminal message designed to creep into your subconscious and control your actions. Mwahahahaha ...

The Knitting:
If you were with me back in the summer, you may remember a certain huge Estonian lace shawl that I was planning to wear for a wedding in July. No? Well, it has been a while, I’ll be the first to admit that. It is the Regrowth shawl by Toby MacNutt; I am knitting it in dark purple Semilla Fino from BC Garn, a fingering weight organic wool, very soft. Anyway, this shawl was not finished for the wedding – which by the way was no problem, as it was 25 degrees that day – and I decided to repurpose it. No longer a wedding shawl, it became a Christmas shawl; a big woollen thing is much more useful in December, after all, and I had loads of time to get it done. After the Ravellenics stuff and the post-Ravellenic knitalong and the other stuff ... and then the idea of the knitting for everybody for Christmas entered my head, and took over my needles. I did at some point in September, I think, or October, tink back a few rows that I had had to do in another colour and knit several rows on it, but then it was put aside. So, now that the calendar says December, I felt I had to face it again and find out just how much needed to be done.

Nine rows.
That’s right, I had only nine rows left. Of course, that is at least ten hours’ knitting, because I have something like 1,200 bloody stitches per row by now, but still, if I can manage one row a day, I will have time to wash & block it before Christmas. So that is the plan; I have this week done a row nearly every day. Five rows in seven days. Impressive, eh?

And I have been working on the Elven Leaves cowl for the Knit 1 Geek 2 hobbitalong. That was done fairly quickly: the pattern was easy to memorise, and I even did six repeats in the round instead of seven, because I was using a heavier yarn. I even have enough yarn left over for fingerless mitts or handwarmers to match; right now I seem to be wearing a pair most of the time. Those will be for after Christmas, though. So early this week, two of my four active projects – I try to have four things on the go and do a bit of each every day – have been for me; which seems a bit weird given the whole Christmas knitting deal. But that didn’t last, of course.
Even before the cowl was finished, I cast on another gift – which I would love to tell you about, but I can’t just yet. Some sneaky people may be reading this.

The third active project is – still – the socks for my Dad; I am on the second sock now. These are the Farmer McGregor socks from Socktopus by Alice Yu. Not surprisingly, I have developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with this pattern; I know it well by now, though I haven’t memorised all 16 rows, and I set myself the task of completing one pattern repeat every day. Some days, it is all I can manage to get that done; other days, I happily knit ‘ahead’ of this schedule. I am looking forward to being done with them – I only hope he’ll like them and that they fit. I measured the first sock against Victor’s foot to see where the toe ought to begin, so it can’t be far off.

What else? Oh, I finished a little owl for my cousin’s little girl; this is the third little owl I've done, so now I am done with this pattern for now. And I cast on – finally – the Cassandra shawl for my mother. This being deadline knitting and all, I felt the need for a schematic to know how much I have to knit every day; so I counted the number of stitches in each row and added them all up, knowing from experience that a fitting ‘chunk’ of knitting is around 1,000 stitches. Or 1,200, if that is how many there are in a row ... Anyway, the total number of stitches in a Cassandra shawl is 22,580. Aren’t you glad to know that? That means, of course, that it won’t be enough to do one 1,000-stitch chunk every day, I’ll have to do 1½. Or something. Luckily, the WS rows are just purled, so as they get longer, I can read while I do them. Silver lining. 
And it will be pretty, and I may at some point learn not to do a yarnover with every k2tog, like I am doing on the Regrowth ... by the way, a quick guesstimate says that there must be about 100,000 stitches in that. The mind boggles.
So, that will be it for this week – as always, I have knitting to do.

I will be back next week with more chitchat and general weirdness. And knitting.
Until then, have a great time, and:
Happy knitting!

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