Sunday, 19 August 2012

Yesterday I was given two

skeins of yarn the colour of the sky shaking rain off and leaving tiny flecks of cloud behind. The yarn is made from merino and reminds me of plunging my hands into the fleece shorn from a prize merino sheep. It comes from Ireland and was an unexpected gift from a friend who has just been there.
The Irish know about wool. Like my Scots ancestors they have been using it for centuries. Wool has amazing properties and they have made the most of it. 
There are all sorts of myths surrounding the thick, heavily patterned, cream coloured "Aran" pullovers - myths about being able to tell where a drowned sailor came from by the patterns and what the patterns themselves mean.  The heavy patterns were not there just for decoration. They added to the warmth of the garment.  Garments might be recognised as someone's work. Some patterns might be favoured in some areas rather than others but there was no common pattern for one village and then another for the next. Like other knitting for fishermen the knitters worked without written patterns and put in what pleased them. The patterns themselves might be given names but to say that they were placed in a garment to convey a message is not correct.  Unlike other fisherman's jerseys the Aran garments did not normally include even the initials of the person it was originally made for. Nevertheless the myths are perpetuated and,  if nothing else, they help to maintain an interest in the garments and their rich rope-like cables, twists and turns so reminiscent of Celtic knotwork.
       "What will you do with it?" I was asked as I stroked it.
       "Mmmm... mittens?" I could see the back of the mittens with one of the complex cables I have stored away for use, "I need to think."
Whatever I end up making I know I will enjoy knitting it. I will enjoy it because of the long knitting tradition behind such yarn - and because it was given to me in the even longer tradition of friendship.

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