Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Winter is Coming

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
This week, I talk about the weather; the Apple of the Week, as promised, deals with hubris; we have a bunch of pictures and a list of The Christmas Knitting. So, cosy up with a nice hot drink, and let’s get on with it.

Next week, I will be posting on Thursday at the latest – I hope, or not at all. Because: I am going to England for the weekend! I think I may have mentioned a while ago that I am going with my eldest son, Andreas, to the Black Library Weekender in Nottingham. So we will be away from far too early Friday morning to way late Sunday or, technically, Monday. No blogging for me, since I will not be lugging my laptop along; I simply can’t be bothered, and I haven’t got a smart phone. I will bring my new camera, though, and take some pictures to show you how Nottingham behaves in November ...

But baby, it’s cold outside! The temperature here has dropped about 6 degrees Celsius in a few days – beautiful days they have been, with sunshine and clear skies, and the stars out at night, and the nearly full moon shining. On Saturday morning, I took some pictures of the frosted lawns and trees; and I could take more today, if I wanted. It melts during the morning, when the temperature climbs above freezing – but winter is definitely coming. 
Oh, and it snowed on Friday.

So, out come the knitted goodies, and of course I want to make even more hats and mittens and socks and, in general, lots of woolly comfort and guards against the cold. But more about that; now it’s time for the

Apple of the Week:

I mentioned hubris the week before last, as in ‘the suitors are repeatedly described as being hubristic’. Now, if you are familiar with the term, fine. You can skip this part – or read it because it’s vaguely funny and there is knitting involved.
But let me just explain what hubris is and how it works in Greek mythology and literature.

The word hubris basically means the stepping over a boundary, moving out of your designated area; doing or saying something that you are not supposed to. It would be hubris, for instance, for a human to attempt unaided flight. That is in the province of birds. It is also, to the ancient Greek mind, hubris to ignore the warnings of prophecies and oracles, in other words to think that you know better than the gods.

Let’s break it down: hubris is not the part where you drop a stitch in your complicated lace pattern – that is human fallibility. Hubris is not the part, either, where you forget to put in a lifeline – everybody forgets stuff. Hubris is the part where you cast on for your First Ever lace pattern, consider the concept of a lifeline and decide that you do not need it, because you are not going to screw up. (When I say ‘you’, it is strictly in the generic sense, of course – you are wiser than that, right?)
Now, you may have knitted a whole bundle of beautiful lace shawls and never had to frog the whole thing because of an irreparable mistake. That is probably because you are a great knitter and you know what you are capable of doing and, more importantly, what you are not.

But here’s the thing about hubris and the Greek gods – they can decide to let you get away with something for a while, to let you think that everything is just fine and dandy and that you can just carry on.
You, the beginner, knit your first lace shawl without frogging disaster, and it is lovely. All is well. You decide to try Estonian lace – after all, how hard can it be?
Kidsilk haze?
This blindness is called ate, and while you are afflicted by it, you are unable to see the impending doom ... In the above lace knitting scenario, that would be making a mistake, not discovering it until several rows later, and having to frog, or rather, laboriously unpick while swearing like a pirate and reaching for the whisky, Kidsilk haze. You get my point, I think.

So, hubris is doing something wrong and/or stupid, when you really should know better, and getting the wrong kind of attention from the gods.
The punishment is nemesis, often personified as the goddess Nemesis. Now, nemesis always matches the hubris in some way, being in the same category and perceived severity.

Now that we ‘get’ hubris, let’s move on to a classic example: Oedipus. We all know the term ‘Oedipus complex’ coined by Freud to describe a boy’s hatred of his father and love of his mother; according to Freud, this is a faze that all little boys go through and should move past to be able to form healthy relationships in later life.
The girls’ equivalent is the Elektra complex, named after the daughter of another Greek hero, Agamemnon, who was murdered by his wife / Elektra’s mother. But that is another story for another day.

(Just for the record: I am aware that my transcribing of the names of characters is not wholly consistent: some of them I spell more like the Greek, some more like the Latin equivalent that is common to English. It’s a compromise between my own desire to be close to the Greek and the need to be understood.)

The story of Oedipus really is the stuff of tragedy – as told by the great playwright Sophokles: he is encumbered with not only hamartia, the fatal flaw that any tragic hero must have (and, let’s face it, that most of us do have), but even more a Fate that dooms him to kill his father and marry his mother. Now, Fate is unequivocal and inescapable; even for the gods. There is no room for bargaining, no short cuts, no running away.
Fate is revealed to the participants through the voice of the Oracle at Delphi, where Apollo speaks through a priestess. This institution was a major player in ancient Greek society and functioned for at least 2000 years, from sometime in the Bronze Age up till 393 CE, when Christianity became the only legal religion of the Roman Empire. Ordinary people, kings and governments sought the aid of the Oracle in matters of everyday life events, wars and crises.

So when king Laios of Thebes and his queen, Iokasta, have a son, they ask at Delphi about omens for his life – and are told that Laios will be murdered by his son. Trying to avoid this, they give the child to a shepherd – to leave out for the wolves or lions to eat, probably: they cannot kill the baby outright without incurring the supreme wrath of the gods, and this roundabout method was the way, then, to get rid of unwanted children.
The shepherd, though, gives the baby to a colleague from Korinth, and the boy grows up in the royal household there, not knowing that he is adopted. As a youth, Oedipus (‘Lumpfoot’, so nicknamed because of scar tissue after severing of the ankle tendons when he was put out) overhears someone saying that he is not his father’s son and decides to go to Delphi to ask the existential question: ‘Who am I?’ The answer he gets is certainly not the one he expected; the words of Apollo are: ‘You are the one who will kill your father and bed your mother.’
Not surprisingly, Oedipus wants to avoid this, and instead of heading home to Korinth and the people he still believes are his parents, he takes the other fork in the road and heads towards Thebes. On the way there, he encounters on the narrow mountain road an old man with an entourage; neither of them wish to move aside for the other, and the quarrel ends with Oedipus killing the old man and most of the entourage. And I just know that you have already guessed the identity of this old man, right? Yes, of course: king Laios was on his way to Delphi to ask for help in a new crisis.
It so happens that a sphinx has set up camp just outside Thebes and spends her days asking riddles of travellers and then proceeding to eat them, when they cannot answer. Which is rather bad for tourism. Oedipus is clever and solves the riddle – the sphinx promptly loses her will and reason to live and throws herself into a gorge. Crisis averted. The town of Thebes is delighted and honours the saviour by electing him king; because, incidentally, their old king was murdered recently by a band of highwaymen. Part of the job as king is to marry the widow of the former king ... and the stage is set.
For years, everything is great: Oedipus and his lovely wife Iokasta have four children, he is a good and caring king to his new home, all is well. Then blight hits: crops fail, livestock and women deliver stillborn young – something is rotten in the state of Thebes. The Oracle at Delphi in consulted again: Thebes is plagued by the continued presence of the unpunished murderer of king Laios all those years ago. Oedipus immediately launches an investigation – after blaming his brother-in-law Kreon for not solving the mystery at once; but they were busy with the sphinx problem at the time – to find and exile this evildoer, and threatens harsh punishment for those who hide him or fail to reveal their knowledge of him. Can you say tragic irony?
The blind seer Teiresias is summoned: he ought to know something. And he does, but refuses to talk at first, warning Oedipus that he really does not want to know. After being accused of murdering the king himself – we see a pattern emerging: Oedipus tends to blow up when crossed, one of his flaws – he says outright that Oedipus is himself the man he seeks; his sons are his brothers, his marriage is tainted. Oedipus understands nothing. He cannot see what is going on with his life.
Next, Oedipus accuses Kreon of having conspired to murder Laios; to which Kreon very sensibly replies that he would much rather be a trusted adviser to the king than bear the burden of responsibility.
Further facts come to light about the time and place of the attack on Laios; and Oedipus begins to wonder if he can be the killer – after all, he was there, on the road, at the time. But he is not a ‘band of highwaymen’; a witness report is needed. This is bad, of course: if Oedipus is the regicide, he has to exile himself; but it is nowhere near as bad as we know it to be ...

In the middle of all this, a messenger arrives from Korinth to say that the king there is dead, quietly, of old age. This is a great relief to Oedipus, who is thus, he thinks, acquitted of patricide – he is still, however, worried about bedding his mother. Iokasta tries to put him at ease with the famous line (that Freud made so much of) that ‘every man dreams of bedding his mother’ and that Oedipus shouldn’t worry too much about it.
Now, Iokasta has very good reasons for dismissing dreams, prophecies and the like: she believes that the Oracle was wrong so many years ago about Laios’ fate, because the son who was supposed to kill him died in the mountains, and Laios was killed by robbers – or possibly this man Oedipus who came from another city.

The messenger knows that Oedipus need not worry about his mother who really is his adoptive mother: he turns out to be the shepherd who brought Oedipus to the palace in Korinth instead of leaving him to die, when he got the child from a local shepherd. Iokasta slinks away into the palace (she knows at this point), while Oedipus chuckles at his wife’s ‘snobbery’: what does it matter if he were the child of slaves? If only ...

Next to arrive on the scene is the one surviving member of Laios’ entourage on the day he was killed; this man had been a shepherd, was promoted to bodyguard, but requested a transfer back out of town, when Laios was dead and the new king took his place (he must have recognised the attacker). He is here to clear up the matter of whether Laios was killed by one man or several: if it were several, then Oedipus is in the clear. The messenger from Korinth recognises him as the former colleague, and despite the poor man’s reluctance, the story of the boy who lived is gradually unveiled. And finally, Oedipus sees himself for who he is: the man who killed his father and bedded his mother.
He runs into the palace, finds Iokasta dead by her own hand, hanging from a rafter, and uses her dress pins to gouge out his eyes, the eyes that have seen what no man should see, the eyes that no longer have any right to see the sacred light of the sun or the faces of his accursed children.

From this blinding, we can get an idea of what Oedipus’ hubris is: not the killing or the bedding – that was all down to Fate and just his bad luck – but the mental blindness and the arrogant mistake of trying to avoid his Fate. This arrogance began, of course, with Laios and, to some extent, Iokasta, who tried to avoid being killed by his own son. By their very actions, they created the circumstances that made the whole thing possible: Oedipus did not knowingly or willingly kill his father and bed his mother – he killed an arrogant old man on a mountain road (ironically, they were both equally hot-headed and stubborn), and he did his duty by marrying the widowed queen of the city he did not recognise as his home.

Now, what can we learn from all this? The religious reasoning and morality expressed in the tragedies of the 5th century BCE can seem rather heavy-handed: the inescapable Fate, the hubris-nemesis symmetry; all that was being challenged at this time by the natural philosophers who sought material explanations rather than theological for the way the world works. And the citizens of the new democracy in Athens may have relished the thrill of this tragedy, but not taken it literally once they left the theatre and went back to their lives, which they believed to have some control over.
The question of free will versus preordination has been much discussed over the centuries, with religious and philosophical camps lining up arguments on both sides. This is not the time to enter into that discussion, unless perhaps to point out that it is not over; only now science has entered the field bearing DNA evidence that leads some to suggest that everything we think and wish and do is determined by our genes.
That may be so; but Fate or genes can only stack the cards – it is up to every one of us how to play them, and we retain the responsibility for doing it the best we can.

The Knitting:

The owls all have their eyes now; I got a bit of a shock when I threw the sweater in water (gently, of course): all of the yellow beads turned green! That was quite odd, though not a disaster, since the green beads looked fine on the green sweater. 
The effect was temporary, though: the semitransparent glass beads apparently are fully transparent when wet, and now that they have dried out, they are almost to being a slightly greenish yellow.

And I finished the Owl Cowl; I put buttons on this time, which turned out to be a lot quicker.

I am really enjoying this Hitchhiker thing; before starting the first one, I saw several comments on Ravelry to the effect that it is a fun knit and thought: ‘Fun? How come? I mean, I get that it’s an easy, accessible knit, being all garter, and the construction is kinda new (to me, at least). But how can it be fun?’ But it is fun. Turning the corners on the tooth-edge is very satisfying, with or without the beads. And now that I’m working one in some of the Trekking sock yarn that I dyed, I have to say again that I love this yarn: it is so great to work with. So, everything is shiny on that front.

The Bowtie socks are moving along, or rather, the first sock is; not very quickly right now for reasons cited below. But they will be good when they are done, and I’m still liking the wee little bowties.
And the Trekking yarn is nice, have I mentioned that? This skein seems softer than the one I used for the Watson socks; I think it may be because of the iron modifier I used to get the khaki colour. Something to note for future reference.

The Hitchhiker has been put to one side for now, however: I decided late on Tuesday that I want to bring my Carnaby skirt for the trip to Nottingham next weekend – and seeing that I’d done about a third of it, and once it’s knit, it needs to be washed and rinsed a gazillion times and dry and then have buttons sewn on, I thought I’d better get cracking.
So now, I have only a few pattern repeats to go, maybe just one more short row section and the box stitch panels surrounding it. My last ball of yarn is getting smaller by the minute, though – and this is only my own fault (it being the last, I mean): I’m knitting with Aran weight yarn instead of Worsted, and apparently I did not adequately take into account how much more yarn I would need. From the pattern, I calculated that 3 skeins would be enough, maybe a bit more, and so I dyed 4 skeins. Well, those 4 skeins might just do it, otherwise I’ll have to improvise some stripes down the buttonhole band with the walnut-coloured yarn, perhaps, or the undyed.

So ... the Christmas Knitting: I have done the 4 cowls, which leaves me with
6 hats, 
3 pairs of mittens,
2 scarves (including the Hitchhiker),
1 pair of socks,
6 little animals
and a partridge in a pear tree – uh, no, I mean a bunch of stitch markers.
That list looks rather daunting, all put together like that and not forgetting the skirt and the socks that are on the needles right now, and the cowl that I’m planning to do for the Knit1Geek2 hobbit-along ... and a few tree ornaments, and I really could do with a pair of flip-top mittens, and a Jayne hat would be fun, and ...

We’ll see: I will begin at one end and see where it takes me, and if it is too much, I’ll just not do it. No knitting for 40 hours a day to make it all in time; that way lies madness.

Oh, and here’s a tie-in to the serious business: if I were to declare that all of the above would certainly be finished in time for Christmas, no problem – the knitting gods would notice, and I would be very likely to trip over a ball of yarn and break my wrist. See? Hubris and nemesis in action.

Today being the last Sunday of the month, I went to the local knitting group this afternoon, bringing with me three blue projects: the Carnaby skirt to work on until I ran out of yarn, the Bowtie socks, and because they need to be tried on when I’ve done the gusset increases, I packed the Hitchhiker as well. Just in case. The crocking from the yarn in the Carnaby led to me talking about plant dyeing – and the pattern led me to advertising Ravelry. Nobody there had heard about it, so maybe there will be new users :o)

And speaking of travelling: I need to decide what knitting to bring – apart from not forgetting passport, tickets, toothbrush and other minor stuff, of course. It depends on the next few days’ knitting, so I will get back to you on that, before I leave.

That’s all for this week! I hope you have a wonderful week ahead and some glorious autumn weather to enjoy – or spring weather, if you are so inclined.

Happy knitting!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Answer

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Basket once again! I hope you have had a great week and, if you’re in Denmark and have kids, that you have enjoyed the vacation. I have; being not actually working, I haven’t had time ‘off’, but it has been good not hauling the boys out of bed and off to school every morning. And something tells me they enjoyed it, too ...
I did dye a bunch of yarn, I’ve been knitting (of course), played with my sister’s little ones – oh, and went to a new knitting group. More about that later.

Now, this was supposed to go out yesterday (Sunday) at the latest; hence the title (last week was week 42 in the calendar; have you noticed, by the way, that Mulder’s apartment number is 42? That cannot be a coincidence) – and then life happened. I’ve been writing bits and pieces over the course of the week; I usually make a Word document and then copy it into Blogger, it’s easier to work with. So, I was going to continue the tale of Penelope and her wiles, and then the text somehow morphed into an explanation of hubris, and I wanted to use Oedipus Rex as an example (in addition to the knitting bit) – but jumping from the Odyssey to Oedipus and back again seemed rather messy, so I’m saving the hubris for next time. Assuming, of course, that the gods allow me a next time :o)
So here goes the

Apple of the Week:

We discussed last time the way Penelope keeps the suitors at bay with her weaving; this time, we will look at the way she greets her returning husband.
The situation in the home is this: Penelope’s ruse has been discovered, and the suitors are pushing for her to make a decision. Telemakhos has gone away for a week or two to try to find some news about his missing father; to do something towards becoming a man rather than just staying at home with the women, as he has done all through his childhood. The suitors set an ambush for him, but their plans are thwarted. Still, events are in motion.
Bronze age axe head (from
Penelope decides (Homer tells us that Athene puts the idea to her, but remember, ‘Athene’ is Penelope’s own clever mind talking to her) to have a competition: she does not want to marry just anybody, she will tell the suitors, but only the man who can string Odysseus’ bow and shoot an arrow through 12 axes lined up on the floor. This is no easy task: back in the day, only Odysseus himself could string the bow and shoot that straight with it.

At this point, Telemakhos returns safe and sound from his travels, bringing with him an old beggar he has met in the country – Odysseus, of course, who thus sneaks into his own home to get the lay of the land, observe the suitors and gauge the fidelity of his wife. The suitors mock him, the beggar who is already there does not appreciate the competition and is sent off with a thrashing, Penelope shows up, looking lovelier than ever, and reminds everybody of their duty towards the poor. So far, so good. No surprises there.
Oh, and while she is at it, Penelope reminds the suitors of their gentlemanly honour (while all they can think of is sex) and so their duty to give a lady some pretties – and they immediately send off home for jewellery and fine clothes. Go, girl!

In the evening, Penelope requests a talk with the beggar to see if he has news of Odysseus; he (who claims to be the bastard son of a lord from Crete) says that met him long ago and even describes the clothes that Penelope made for him. She weeps a bit and then tells him of a dream she has had: an eagle swooped down from the rooftop and killed her flock of geese, and she wept for them in the dream. Don’t worry, the beggar says, this means that your husband is coming home to kill the suitors (but why would she weep for them?). Next, she divulges her plan for the competition and is commended by the old man.

Now, the big question in this section of the story is whether Penelope sees through the disguise of Odysseus: does she suspect or know that it is him sitting there? I think she does. I think that she is almost certain that her husband is back, cleverly disguised, and knows that he has his reasons to be so. They are playing a game to lure each other out: he needs to know if her loyalty has shifted – and she needs to be absolutely certain that this man really is the Odysseus whom she has not seen in twenty years. There is too much at stake for both of them to risk accepting each other at face value: if Penelope has found a new lover, Odysseus is a dead man walking; and if she throws herself at the wrong man, her reputation is shot, and her fortune in ruins. So they circle around each other carefully, giving convoluted messages. There is no reason, for instance, to think that any old man passing through is a reliable interpreter of dreams: Penelope wants to see if he has anything useful to say about it. Which he does. And then she can warn him of the upcoming competition.
The next morning, Penelope demurely draws her veil up over her face before addressing the suitors: she has decided how to decide on her new husband. The bow is produced and the axes lined up (which by the way tells us that the floor of Odysseus’ house is made of dirt). The suitors try and fail to string the bow, the beggar tries and succeeds, Odysseus reveals himself and kills them all, including the 12 ‘unfaithful’ maids, yada, yada.
Anyway, later – after the cleaning up after the carnage and a much-needed bath for Odysseus – Penelope is invited downstairs again to officially meet her husband; and she is cold. She keeps her distance, claiming to be unsure of his identity, while Telemakhos is jumping up and down like a kid in frustration with her. Finally, she relents and tells this stranger who claims to her husband that he can spend the night in Odysseus’ bed: she will have the servants put it out into the hall for him. Odysseus is flabbergasted: he carved this bed himself out of the trunk of an olive tree, still attached to the roots, and built the bedroom around it. How could it be moved? And so, he passes the final test – because apparently nobody but Odysseus himself and Penelope knew about the properties of the bed.

So, all in all, we must conclude that Penelope really is both clever and strong: were it not for her, Odysseus’ property and life would be lost to a lesser man. She keeps going for years and years and then, on top of that, keeps her cool under pressure to protect herself, her son, her status – and her love, let’s not forget that.

During the vacation week, I have been watching quite a few dvds. Victor and I went through the whole of X Files (over a few weeks, though), threw in Season 4 of CSI, and then followed Thomas’ repeated demands recommendations to watch Firefly & Serenity. And a good thing we did! Joss Whedon-fun all around.
We knew, of course, several of the actors from other stuff. Nathan Fillion from Buffy (scary), Gina Torres from Angel (scary), Alan Tudyk from A Knight’s Tale (not so scary), and Adam Baldwin from X Files (scary again).
So, coming straight on top of X Files, the beginning of it was a bit weird: ‘Knowle Rohrer’ appearing with big guns and being not altogether trustworthy, and then the guy who gave up years of his life and a promising career to find and rescue his sister from an evil government conspiracy to experiment on her. Hmm.
Anyway, great show; I highly recommend it :o) And now I know the provenance of the ‘I’ll be in my bunk’-phrase that I’ve heard so often on Knit1Geek2 ...

For those of you who have not come across it: this is a one-season, one-movie TV show about, well, space cowboys. Nothing like Cowboys and Aliens – for one thing, there are no aliens – more the classic western featuring bank robbers, smugglers, gun fights, saloons and whores, cattle, isolated settlements and all that. In space, on and between various planets and moons that have been terraformed (possibly by Weyland-Yutani, by the way). The ship, captained by Nathan Fillion’s character, is a Firefly class ‘boat’ named Serenity; hence the titles.
True to any Joss Whedon-show, we get the strong female characters, the sarcasm and one-liners in the face of death, the killing off of at least one central character (don’t worry, I won’t say who), the band of very different and not always compatible people who nevertheless stick together and defend each other against the bad guys.

Knitting heritage
Over the past couple of weeks, I have had several occasions for reflection. Well, I have that in any week, of course, but these have been connected reflections, so to speak.
At Sunday knitting group two weeks ago, the little old lady there, the one with the not blue, but jet-black hair (and eyebrows) and the pastel-coloured acrylic knitting suddenly says: ‘My mother died when I was nine. So my father was alone with the four of us for a few years, and me being the eldest, he taught me to knit socks, so I could knit them for my brothers.’
How do you even begin to respond to that? This must have been in the 30’s or 40’s, in a time when people died of things we have mostly forgotten; and in a time when some skills were ubiquitous that now are mostly forgotten.

A couple of days later I was proudly showing my seamless Watson sock toe to my mum (no, I haven’t outgrown that need), and she says: ‘My mother could do that.’ Well, of course she could, and my father’s mother as well, and probably everybody who knitted socks, including the father of the black-haired lady, who must have been not much older than my grandparents, come to think of it.
A lot of knowledge about techniques and materials and how to treat or not treat them was common knowledge once, imparted as an integral part of bringing up your children. There are so many little – or big – things in cooking, cleaning, how to get particular spots off, you name it, that I do not know, and then my mum will say, again: ‘My mother knew this.’ I can’t help thinking about the abundance of knowledge I might have got from my grandmothers, if I had thought to ask for it.
This old knowledge, these same techniques, are now put on the internet and dubbed ‘magic’ or ‘surprising’ – and they do seem like magic when you come across them for the first time.
This makes me sad and happy at the same time: knowledge shouldn’t be forgotten, it should be kept alive and thriving – but then, that is what the internet does. And in the absence of an extended family filled with aunts and grandmothers – and uncles and grandfathers – to teach us all the skills, we modern crafters turn to our extended virtual family for help and guidance. Ravelry, for one thing, is an invaluable source of patterns, techniques, tips & tricks, yarns, ideas, and general chat about knitting, and crochet, and dyeing, and ... you name it.

The Knitting:

Now, what have I been up to knitting-wise?
Well, the Hitchhiker with the beaded teeth (that does sound a bit silly, doesn’t it?) is coming along nicely; I’ve been working on it while reading the first Discworld novel, thus mixing Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett for a big slice of crazy pie :o)

And the o w l s is done – well, nearly, I still have to sew on 18 more beads for eyes ... So, I did it top-down which meant reversing the pattern; I gave the short row shaping at the back of the neck a lot of thought and afterwards realised that I could probably have looked it up in, say, Modern Top-down Knitting. Ah, well, my brain can always do with a little exercise.
The owls chart itself was pretty straightforward; I ended up doing two extra sets of decreases and increases on the back to get the snug fit; and the length is just fine. Not very long, but fine. And then, all that remained were the 34 owl eyes.

So the next logical step was of course to cast on an Owl Cowl using the same chart, with 100 stitches / 10 owls. It will be a Christmas present for my cousin who loves green – and owls, I hope!

In honour of the season, I made a handful of pumpkins using hand-dyed yarn – finally, a use for the madder orange! The pattern is the Jack be Little, found for free on Ravelry. I made two big ones with an aran weight wool from Greenland and three littlies with fingering weight wool; you can see the size difference in the pic.

And I am working on a pair of socks for Thomas: Bowties are Cool by SheepytimeKnits, also found for free on Ravelry. Gotta love Ravelry. And those little bowties are so much fun to knit!

I think that’s it – no, wait, I did a bit on my Carnaby skirt on Thursday, when I went to the new knitting group. The group itself is not new; it meets at a LYS, Garnshoppen (which, not surprisingly, means The Yarn Shop), once a month. Nice, friendly people, some new chat; I didn’t say much, perhaps, just getting to know people – again, all women. But I’ll go again; the boys will have to get used to me going out once in a while.

And that really is it for this week – or rather, last week, it being Monday and all. I will be back later this week with updates on knitting and life and the bit about hubris. Until then: have a great time; I hope your autumn isn’t drowning you, as it seems to be trying to do here (and they’re threatening frost this week!).

Happy knitting!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Smart Cookie

Hello, everybody, and welcome again to the Apple Basket. This week, I have an actual Apple of the Week for you! I realised that it has been way too long; there have been slivers and bits, but not a proper Apple. But fear not, it’s coming! After all, it is my duty to provide health, strength, and longevity to all :o)
I will also give you, of course, an update on the Knitting and some musings on dyeing. I am desperately trying to get as much dyeing done as I can, before winter sets in and my workshop freezes over. Well, gets too cold for comfort, anyway.

I have mentioned before that I listen to the CraftLit podcast with the fabulous Heather Ordover – I am continually amazed at the amount of work that she does: teaching, home schooling, writing, researching, podcasting, knitting, spinning, weaving, dyeing, ... Wow. Anyway, I have lived under a rock until – well, pretty much until I discovered Ravelry and through that a whole new world of crafting-related activity, not least podcasts. So, in May this year (I think) I started listening to CraftLit, ‘the podcast for crafters who like books’, from the very beginning in 2006 – because greedy me wants All. The. Books. With Heather’s commentary, too. This podcast is brilliant.
This week, I finished listening to Tristan and Isolde, the Medieval romance of star-crossed lovers. Very sad, very tragic. But also very reminiscent of the Odyssey: the whole oral story-telling tradition, the travelling and monster-fighting hero – and, as Heather points out, the heroine who is ‘a smart cookie’. Towards the end of the story, Tristan returns home in disguise (like Odysseus, by the by), and Isolde pulls off some very clever scheming to keep Tristan – and herself – from being killed.
And I, of course, being a classicist, had to note that there is a precedent for this female cleverness and guile: Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. Now, Odysseus is famous for being clever, wily, and always able to sweet-talk himself into and out of all sorts of trouble. But his wife is his match, make no mistake about that. She is crafty. There are several instances of this in the Odyssey; I will give you one this week and another one next week.

The Apple of the Week:

We all know the basic storyline, right? Odysseus goes off to Troy, leaving his wife and newborn son behind. After ten years of war, he sets out on his journey back home – which also ends up taking ten years, mainly because he gets on the wrong side of Poseidon by blinding his son, the Cyclops. And having the god of the seas as your enemy can seriously hamper your sailing. So Odysseus and his men are blown off course, meet various monsters, giants, and sorceresses, suffer shipwreck and hardships, until finally only Odysseus himself is left.
We may note here that he left Troy with twelve ships, each crewed by 50 men. Not an outstanding record for an officer, losing 600 men on the way. But, we can blame the gods. Or Fate.
Anyway, after the final shipwreck, Odysseus is rescued by the goddess Kalypso, who keeps him on her island for seven years (so much for ‘toiling on the seas’ for ten years!) and would have kept him forever as her immortal husband, had Zeus allowed it. Or Fate. But no, Odysseus is supposed to go home. So, off he goes again in a little boat, suffers shipwreck – or boatwreck, in this case – is rescued by a princess, tells his tale to the court on her island and is sent off home laden with gifts.
Back on Ithaka, he is reunited with his son, disguises himself – with the help of Athene – as an old beggar, and sneaks into his ... well, palace is too grand a word ... homestead to kill off all the suitors who are competing to marry his wife. He wins the battle, obviously – with the help of Athene – and is reunited with Penelope. A happy ending for a great hero.

I know this is a very quick and somewhat flippant telling of the tale. Bear with me, please: even attempting to give a comprehensive analysis would keep us here all week. And if you don’t know the story and the above is all gibberish: go read it! Seriously, this is a great story in itself, apart from being the inspiration for lots of later stories and literature; this is one of the founding tales of European mental history. So read the book.

Meanwhile, Penelope is left at home to manage the household and to bring up their son, not knowing when or, indeed, if her husband is coming back. Ten years pass, and news of the end of the Trojan war reach even the remote island. But no Odysseus. And in these days long before Skype or facebook or even a reliable postal service, news only travel with sailors and merchants who may happen to have heard some third or fourth-hand rumour. So still, she knows nothing of his fate, and still, she waits, patiently and loyally.
After a further six years, the local nobles decide that the chief ought to have been back by now, if he is coming back at all, so they begin to move in on the assumed widow. This is not only, and not even mainly, because she is a good-looking woman (though she is: all high-born individuals are good-looking) – they want Odysseus’ title, his power and position.
Penelope does not want to marry again; her heart belongs to Odysseus, her home is Odysseus’, she has her son and her life here, and re-marrying would mean not only getting a new husband, but having to move to a new house, a new set of in-laws and rules, a new position. As Odysseus’ wife, she is at the top of the social order – and being left to take care of everything for so many years means that she is also left to make the decisions and run the place. And she is not stupid: she is very capable of managing.
So, she does what she can to keep the suitors at bay. She tells them that, before she can leave the house of Odysseus, she feels obliged to weave a shroud for her father-in-law. Now Laërtes, the father of Odysseus, is not dead yet, but he is liable to die at some point in the not too distant future; he is old, weighed down by the prolonged absence of his son and the sorrow of his wife’s death (Odysseus’ mother died from the grief of missing him) and has taken to living in a little cottage in the country instead of reclaiming his place as head of the household, while Odysseus is away.
Anyway, Penelope claims this filial responsibility, which the suitors cannot argue with – she is a dutiful woman, which in and of itself is part of her merits. And Penelope weaves: every day, she weaves a length of the shroud – and every night, she unpicks her work so as to not finish it. She keeps this up for three years. Yes, you heard me: three whole years of weaving and unpicking, before one of her maids gives away the game and her ruse is exposed.

I have a few comments here as to how this can be: either these suitors are exceptionally dumb, which they are not; or they know nothing whatsoever about weaving and how long it is supposed to take, which on a practical level seems unlikely, given that all of them have grown up with mothers and sisters and maids who did these things; or they are blinded by some divine intervention and so incapable of judging the passage of time in correlation to the weaving. This seems more probable: the suitors are repeatedly described as being hubristic, and in the latter part of the narrative, Athene at one point forces them to laugh until their jaws nearly break, thus condemning themselves further.

The important thing to remember here is that this divine blinding of the suitors does not in any way detract from the value of Penelope’s ruse. The Greek gods of the Odyssey help those who are worthy of it, those who help themselves. It may be useful to regard the gods as manifestations of inner traits and skills; so that when we are told of Athene putting an idea into somebody’s heart (these people think with their hearts; the notion of the brain being responsible for anything comes centuries later), we may view Athene as a personification of that person’s reason or wisdom.
The same goes for the role of Fate: sometimes we are told that something is foretold or fated – like the homecoming of Odysseus and the killing of the suitors – but at the same time, the suitors are still guilty of wrongdoing. They deserve their fate; the foretelling of some event or other is no excuse.

As for the maids: we are told at one point that Odysseus’ household has 50 maids, 12 of which are ‘unfaithful’, i.e. sleeping with – or being raped by, Bronze Age mentality doesn’t really distinguish – the suitors. The numbers themselves are obviously not to be taken at face value: 50 means ‘many’ and twelve is a much used number for a band of people.
We may imagine that relations are formed between some maids and some suitors or their people, over the nearly four years of presence in Odysseus’ house, and that the betrayal of Penelope’s secret is pillow talk.
‘But they are wooing Penelope!’ I hear you cry. ‘How can they be sleeping with other women?!’ Well, Bronze Age mentality again: a man has his needs – and they are obviously not being met by Penelope. Odysseus is getting something, too, out there; remember Kalypso who wanted to keep him? And before that seven-year ‘indenture’, he and the at-that-point-remaining men of his crew hung out with the sorceress Kirke for a year.  Ancient sexual morality is a case of double standards, if there ever was one. Penelope was hailed all through antiquity for being the ultimate Good Wife, for waiting faithfully and chastely, until her lawfully wedded husband came back to her.
Of course, there are practical reasons behind this morality (even though we can and should argue with those, as well): the society was patriarchal; inheritance of property, fortune, position etc went from father to son – and the only way of being sure about who is the father of whom is to control the sexuality of the womenfolk. It has been this way from the invention of social hierarchy until – well, the invention of birth control. It would be so much easier to let inheritance work through the female line. After all, there is seldom any doubt as to who the mother of a child is, right?
But I digress.
With her weaving ruse exposed, Penelope is pushed to make a choice between her suitors ... and that will be our topic next week.

But now to something completely different –

The Knitting:

I have finished a couple of things since last week:
The Watson socks for Victor! He is wearing them at this very moment, and they look so much better on his feet than while they were flat. I made a few changes to the pattern – all recorded in my project notes on Ravelry. I reversed the cables on one side of the foot to mirror the others; it was either that or reverse all the cables on one sock so that the socks would mirror each other. What can I say, I’m particular about those things. Also, I made fewer increases in the gusset and decreased a few stitches above the heel, all to avoid the sock growing too large.

Everything turned out fine in the end, with not too much Second Sock Syndrome along the way. SSS usually hits me when I’m just over halfway done on the first sock, after the heel: I still have a ways to go on either the foot or the leg, depending on the direction – and there is a whole other sock to do after that.
But I suppose this is just a variant of my regular getting-bored-with-a-project-after-a-while. There comes a point in every project – for me, at least – when the initial excitement is wearing off, and there is still a long way to go before it begins to resemble something that might actually be something. If it has a stitch pattern, I’m thinking ‘I know this repeat already, give me something new! A new colour, increases or, even better, decreases, anything!’
This is one reason I always have multiple projects on the needles, so I can put the temporarily boring thing down and do something else. I am no Penelope ... no, wrong analogy; that would be more like letting a wip hibernate and not knit for a very long time. Shudder.

Anyway, I also finished my Hitchhiker – and I love it! It has just the right size for a scarf, and the ends stay where they are supposed to, when I wear it ‘cowboy-style’. I don’t know if it’s the slight curve on the hypotenuse that does it, but the ends hang down in front and don’t stray to the back or anything. Great.

I decided to make one for my mum for Christmas. I know, I said I was going to do the Wisteria Arbor shawl ... let this be a lesson to you: do not ever believe I have finished changing my mind and am actually going to do what I say I’m going to do, until I am doing it. There is reasoning behind this decision; there has to be, I have to explain to myself that it is not a cop-out to knit a garter scarf instead of a lace shawl ... so A: I made her a Haruni for her birthday in June, so I’ve done the lace thing, and B: the denser fabric is better for winter. I have actually cast on and knit 4 teeth, so you can safely believe in this project; I’m beading the tips to add a bit of interest, both in the making and in the wearing.

And I cast on the owls! After some measuring and swatching and counting and calculating, I’m doing a top-down, sleeveless version. That way, I’m sure to have enough yarn – if I run a bit short, the vest will be a bit short, but so am I, so that’s okay :o) And the owls are so cute ...

The dyeing is happening – so far; I am feeling the cold out there today, squeezing water out of skeins that have soaked overnight ... I want to get as much as possible done now, before winter sets in.
And I want to play with colours and colour combinations; but I can easily dye much more than I can knit with, and I can’t really justify the expense in it – after all, I wouldn’t go out and just buy 10 skeins of sock yarn for no reason. 
So, I’m toying with thoughts of selling hand-dyed yarns: that way, I can enjoy the process without adding hugely to my stash or going broke.
I don’t want to be one of those people who ‘dye three skeins of yarn and open an Etsy shop,’ as someone put it; but I think I’ll try it out. If I can get the habit to support itself, that’s fine. If not, I’ll have to cut back, at least until I’ve learnt some more.
Anywho, I’ll let you know how it goes ...

That’s all for this week – thank you so much for stopping by once again, and I hope you have a great week!
My boys are home from school next week, so we are already relaxing and watching Firefly; I will be going to a new-to-me knitting group on Thursday – and hopefully, the weather will behave, so we can get a few of those glorious, shining autumn days when the sun lights up the trees in their multitudes of colours against a deep blue sky ...

Take care, and Happy Knitting!