Friday, 26 August 2011

There is a row of mice sitting on

a sofa. They are behaving perfectly and nobody is running away from them. There are a few squeals but they are squeals of delight.
"Come and look at these!" someone calls out.
We all duly admire "The Mouse Family". They are knitted. There are all sorts of little details - from the laces on the teen mouse's sneakers to the hearts on the back of the blue sofa. It is one of the best "soft-toys" the show staff have ever seen. It is lined up on the trestle tables ready for judging.
Other items arrive over the next hour. They are put out on the tables. Some are good, others are not so good. There are some which stand out immediately. I silently note these.
There are also quiet moments between the arrival of the entries and I am able to look at some of the sections which have already been judged and put on display in glass cabinets. The knitting is adjacent to the woodwork section.
I know a little about woodwork, not a lot but enough to appreciate the work involved. This year there is another extraordinary piece by someone my father knows from his days in a woodworking group. This man makes replicas of buildings in timber. Said like that they do not sound extraordinary but these are made to scale. He has made our local St Peter's Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament in London, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and other exquisitely detailed works. Everything matches. The mitred joints are almost invisible.
My father has explained to me the process of making the internal cuts. It is a very slow and painstaking business.
While I am looking at it someone else joins me. We laugh about the horrors of dusting it. (It is easier to use a hair dryer to blow the dust away.) Nevertheless I know her admiration for the skill involved is as great as mine.
More knitting arrives. There are two exquisitely knitted Estonian lace shawls. They are characterised by their "nupps" - small beadlike bobbles made by increasing and decreasing stitches five or seven at a time. The black shawl is made from particularly fine yarn and knitting the nupps would have taken great skill, patience and probably more than a few moments of anxiety. The cream shawl is made from slightly heavier yarn but it is still well done. There is a very fine white mohair shawl in a Shetland pattern. I would not knit complex lace in such fine mohair yarn. The pattern tends to get lost but it is nevertheless executed with great skill.
There is a full length coat which has an intricate many coloured design. I happen to know the knitter is 83. There are several other entries by the same knitter. Every entry displays a different skill. Her standard is high.
Then someone brings over the items that arrived by post earlier in the week. There are seven entries from one person. Every item is made with a skill most knitters can only ever dream of.
This knitter has sent entries before. They have always won prizes. We do not know who she is but there is a rumour that she is an elderly woman living in a nursing home. If that is true then it is even more remarkable as most of this work is made with very, very fine yarn.
One of the last items to arrive is something else I am expecting. The woman who has made it told me of her intentions last year. It is also a remarkably fine piece of work - the more so as the knitter in question has quite severe Parkinson's disease. I keep silent about this. I do not want to unduly influence anyone.
The judging begins. We have a chief judge but she never does it alone. We are all involved in the process because we have various skills.
I am pleased when the steward who has been keeping the names from us says that one prize has gone to the woman I mentioned several days ago. It is not a first but, against the exceptional competition, she will be pleased.
When it is done there is a decision to make. Which one will win best in show? The knitter we believe to be the elderly woman in a nursing home has won first prizes for all seven of her entries. Someone suggests displaying her work all in one place and giving her a special certificate. The overall convenor is consulted and agrees.
It means we can give the woman with Parkinson's disease the "best in show". She richly deserves this. Her garment is an original design. She has included a small explanation of what she has made and the history behind that type of knitting. The exceptional skill with which it has been knitted would have been sufficient but the extra effort she has taken has really lifted it above the other items we have considered.
The decision is made. I can then tell everyone what I know about the knitter. We know it has been the right decision.

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