Tuesday, 15 April 2014

I need to write something

that I have not written before. I need to write some explanatory material and captions for someone else to use as part of an exhibition.
There is an international conference of Lace Makers being held here in the middle of the year. I am peripherally involved because one of the organisers brought some lace knitting and knitted lace for me to look at. (Yes, there is a difference between lace knitting and knitted lace although the lines are blurred.) What, she asked me, could I tell her about it?
The person who asked me is a woman who recognises fine craftsmanship when she sees it. She is a world renowned teacher. Her own work is exquisite and her knowledge of embroidery far exceeds anything I will ever know. But, although she knows how to knit (and does it well) she does not know much about the history of knitting or the finer points of the craft.
I am not sure how much I know but I do know more than she does - and so I was given the task of trying to identify the pieces if possible. That proved, as I suspected it might, almost impossible but I have learned a good deal more in the process.
And while I have been learning I have also been puzzling about history. What is it? I showed one of the pieces to someone else.
"Find the pattern and we could re-create history," she told me. Can you re-create history? I don't think you can.
In this instance you could knit the pattern again - but the thread which was initially used would not be available. You would be making a present day copy of something that was probably made about seventy years.
It was made when there was no television here, when radio reception was poor in rural areas. I don't know whether it was a written or charted pattern. Possibly it was charted because the pattern looks to be German and, by then, the master craftsman Herbert Niebling was producing complex charts for knitters to follow.
Not many people do that sort of knitting now. Not many people do the fine Shetland knitting either. That was once a cottage industry in the Shetlands and it actually helped to feed families.
Fortunately people have realised the historical and artistic value of this extraordinarily fine knitting - and yes, you really could pull a shawl gently through a wedding ring. It was that fine. I would very much like to see one of those on display for conference goers to see.
Making lace of any sort is a slow business. A neighbour used to do it. She used to say if she managed an inch in a day she had done well. I don't think she would have said she was recreating history but perhaps she was making it - just as anyone else who leaves a permanent legacy of craftsmanship.
And what I do know is that I feel awed by the capacity of the knitter who made the pieces I have here. The skill and concentration they required are immense. The only greater thing would have been to be the person who originally designed the pattern.
And history? Yes, I think it is history. I don't think we can recreate it. I think we can look at those examples and create it. Or can we? What are we doing when we make something like that?

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