Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Knitting lace and US politics...

Note: the first draft of this was written about a week after the US election, the second draft a few days later. I liked the second draft, but it wasn’t properly saved before my computer crashed. I tried writing a third draft a day or two later but it was too painful, and then I came down with a nasty sore throat. So, here’s the third/fourth draft…

I don't like knitting with lace weight yarn. I like knitting and I like knitting lace, but preferably with at least sock weight yarn, preferably bulky yarn on big needles. The last (and first) time I tried knitting with lace weight yarn I was so frustrated by the amount of attention it required and that the ply seemed to untwist with every stitch. I took the work off the needles, rolled up the yarn and promptly hid it in my stash, deciding that I didn’t like lace weight yarn but acknowledging that I was not ready to part with the lovely yarn.

Fast forward a few years and I have been reunited with my stored yarn stash and knitting patterns and quickly discovered that somehow I have not one but four skeins of lace weight yarn. Oh dear… My preference really is for socks or things with lots of stockinet or garter stitch – the sort of things that are mindless and can be done while watching movies or the news.

And then the recent US election happened, and suddenly mindless knitting was just not cutting it. It provided no relaxation, no joy. Not even the challenge of creating a koala motif using yarn overs and knit-two-togethers for a vest for Jimmy was enough. I needed a distraction; I needed something to focus on that was not bad news or job hunting. I needed to make something.

Once we left the US, I almost stopped following the US election, until about a week out from the big day. Even though it seemed like Clinton had it in the bag (thank you algorithms), 44.4% of eligible US citizens did not vote. I’m not sure what upsets me more: that the US president it not elected through the popular vote or that nearly half the population did not vote in one of the most important and historically significant elections in their history.

Sometimes I am sick to my stomach and sometimes I am hopeful. Trump may actually improve employment and manufacturing in the US. Yet, deep down, I am glad we are no longer there, and my heart goes out to all my friends there, especially those who are foreign nationals. My relief is mixed with guilt and I hope they are alright.

With my stomach in knots, I turned to my stash and knitting patterns for something. I wasn’t sure what, but nothing easy. Nothing straight forward, but also something small enough that I would see results and receive some sort of satisfaction before the middle of next year. A lace pattern kept calling me. I wanted to use the lovely lace weight yarn for a shawl, but the one I had had in mind required 400+ stitches to be cast on (and I couldn’t find the beads I’d bought for it). A simpler shawl or at least something with few stitches to cast on was needed.

And it was there, in a different magazine – the one that I had tried to knit all those years ago, but had decided that the yarn was not right for the pattern. “Cast on 17 stitches” was almost enough to have me hooked, but I still needed to think about it. Would my yarn produce the same kind of fuzzy, lofty and light shawl? Was the colour mine or someone else’s? A few days later I cast on those 17 stitches and haven’t looked back since.

But I kept looking back at the US election, and kept reading articles about why Clinton lost or did not inspire or that the establishment was the problem and Trump will change that, because he’s (apparently) anti establishment. In some ways though, whoever was chosen as the Democrats nominee would have been highly unlikely to win this election. Why? Because for the last 8 years the US president came from the Democrats and like a yarn over following a knit-two-together, Republican follows Democrat. Not always, but the pattern is there and it would have taken a Democrat candidate even more extraordinary then Clinton to keep a Democrat in the White House. 

How the Trump years shape up? Only time will tell. Like blocking lace work (soaking, stretching out, pinning in place, and allowing it to dry before removing the pins), the work has been done but the result (how good or bad) will only be known after the work has been soaked, pinned and dried. One hopes it will turn out alright.

Unlike life (or a Trump presidency), knitting can be undone and reworked. A dropped stitch can be picked up easily - a person who falls through the cracks is harder to pick up. And it is easier to forgive the wonky stitching of an early piece of lace work because it all takes time and practice. Usually a presidential candidate has cut their teeth working their way through various political pathways, i.e. independent senator or Secretary of State. A brash businessman with no experience in the political realm? Hopefully he has as a good (or better) team than Regan.

It’s hard to frog lace (frog: undo at least one row to correct an error) and it’s hard to wind back legislation one it has passed – although at least one Australian government has done so in recent years. It’s hard to know if the result will be as one hoped – only history or blocking will reveal whether or not it was worth it.

So much of this election had made me upset and angry and sick to my stomach, yet I am more determined than ever to be the change I seek in this world. Knitting lace with lace weight yarn has helped keep my calm, helped focus my mind and cleared my head when anxiety (job hunting and US election related) might have consumed me.

The therapeutic nature of knitting is well documented, but, for me, the therapeutic nature of knitting lace with lace weight yarn has surprised me: given that I nearly threw the yarn across the room in frustration last time I tried it. Now, all I want to do is knit this shawl. It’s coming along nicely and, as mentioned, it is the opposite of frustrating. I have less than half of it to go, and the ball of alpaca and silk seems to still be the same size as when I started – it’s not, I had to weigh it to make sure that it wasn’t a magic ball of yarn, somehow related to Norman Lindsay's Magic Pudding.

I am hopeful that it will be a nice shawl and that I, or whoever receives it, will like it. I am trying to be equally hopeful that Trump makes an alright president.

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