Yarn talks to me. Its colors tell me stories about time, place, and memory, and sometimes it tells me about the Big Issues in Life. It doesn’t happen because the colors are pretty. It happens because the colors have a message.
In fact it’s more likely to happen when the colors are strange, even unappealing to me. A few years ago, purchasing Wollmeise lace multis was addictive because it was a gamble. There were very few named multi colorways available at the weekly updates, which took place at 2 a.m. my time, and they mostly went to people in Europe with fast internet connections. There was another update at 11 a.m. my time for “We’re Different grab bags” in unidentified colorways, and the lace bags also went in the blink of an eye to people who wanted the yarn enough to take their chances on what they might get. Generally my computer was too slow to get even these bags, but once I managed to snag not one, not two, but three of them, and afterward I felt like I might as well crawl under my desk and await something terrible, because I’d used up all of my good luck for a long time. When the yarn eventually arrived from Germany, the package contained two of my three skeins, and one was a colorway that I loved and the other was one that I hated. Well, those were the odds. I had to go to the post office the next day to pick up the third skein, and all the way I prayed that it would be the colorway I loved and not the one I hated. And since I had used up my good luck for a long time, it was the colorway I hated. It was a red-black gradating into black-red, and now I had two of them. I could hear the Luck Goddess yucking it up at my expense.
What on earth was I going to do with all that red-black/black-red yarn? It looked so dark and ominous, like a cavern of hell. I started thinking about a project that would use up as much of it as possible, such as a dress in a stranded pattern, because I like stranding. I needed colors that would contrast with the gloomy red, so I took a good look at my stash of yellows and oranges. I decided to build a gradient of yellows and oranges, and that made me think about the colors in the hell scenes in the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.
And there was my story. Flames of hell. Imagery of societal concepts of death and the afterlife came to mind, funeral flowers, chains, skulls, Victorian rectitude concealing damnable sinning, along with the flames. Grateful Dead album covers. The Rolling Stones song Dead Flowers started playing on my mental soundtrack.
Take me down little Susie, take me down
I know you think you’re the queen of the underground
And you can send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flowers by the mail
Send me dead flowers to my wedding
And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave
This dress was my first major foray into what I call improvised stranding, in which I decide the course of the many of the motifs I create right there on the needles, although I also rely on bits and pieces of other people’s charted motifs, since I’m not wonderful at drawing. I had an idea of filling my knitted canvas with Hell’s Angels flames, but I decided not to refer to a chart or picture of Hell’s Angels flames. Instead, I would just plop stitches onto my blank canvas and see what happened. So after I’d made a folded hem at the bottom edge of the dress, in a deep cold blue the color of Elsa’s dress in the movie Frozen, I sat with that blank canvas in hand, and… froze. I had no idea what I was going to do. Eventually I forced myself to randomly alternate 2 to 7 stitches of the multi with the first color in my yellow-orange gradient rota. It looked awful. It looked like nothing at all. I kept thinking of shapes I was going to make at specific places in the knitting, and I’d forget what I was thinking of by the time I came around to those places on the next round.
The litany of negative romantic symbolism continues: Roses, the commercial expression of feelings that don’t actually exist except in wishful imagination. Roses with broken stems, with skulls embedded in the center. A daisy with loves-me-loves-me-not petals falling from it, and loves-me-loves-me-not daisies with skulls in the center. A big sugar skull incorporating much of this symbolism. Traditional Scandinavian patterns of male and female folk dancers, altered to separate the figures and put them in boxes. So many negative images, but the work reads as pretty! I used to take it with me to knit at the yarn store, and people would always compliment me on its prettiness, and then I’d draw their attention to the details they’d missed on first glance. The expressions on their faces would grow worried, and then they’d ask what my husband is like. Fair question, but the most I want to say is that I got very, very lucky. Without getting into my personal life, I’ll say that whatever the negative symbol may be, my real life is the opposite.
So I’m knitting along, remembering the frustrations and anxiety of my youth that I have gratefully left behind in decades of security in my happy marriage and the ebbing of my hormones, smugly relieved that I’m no longer young and that my life worked out pretty well after some rocky early years. Well, hooray for me. Aren’t I special. Love stinks, but I’ve transcended it. From my happy little perch above it all, I can enjoy being so smug. So condescending. So obnoxious.
There’ll be the breaking of the ancient
Your private life will suddenly explode
There’ll be phantoms
There’ll be fires on the road
and the white man dancing
You’ll see a woman
hanging upside down
her features covered by her fallen gown
and all the lousy little poets
tryin’ to sound like Charlie Manson
and the white man dancin’Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St Paul
Give me Christ
or give me Hiroshima
Destroy another fetus now
We don’t like children anyhow
I’ve seen the future, baby:
it is murder
I’ve seen the nations rise and fall
I’ve heard their stories, heard them all
but love’s the only engine of survival
The triangles of the yoke connected visually with the triangles at the waist to give the piece coherence. I chose the triangle motif because I wanted to make pockets in a simple stranded pattern that wouldn’t tax me too much when I had to do wrong-side stranding, using my contrast colors of acid green and coral. I was thinking of the triangles as a symbol of jealousy triangles, but I asked my husband what he thought triangles symbolized, and he mentioned the delta of female anatomy that writers who he reads, like Philip Roth and John Updike, frequently refer to. That was OK. I asked Melissa, from the yarn store, what she thought triangles symbolized, and she said gay rights. That was OK too. Then I googled triangles and symbolism, and got pretty much everything under the sun, including the sun itself. It was all good, it was perfectly all right with me for the triangles to mean anything the viewer was inclined to see. After the text at the base of the yoke, I was done with explicit romantic imagery, and the repetition of the triangles at the yoke served many functional roles. In addition to its open-ended symbolism and the visual coherence connecting the little triangles at the waist with the large triangles at the yoke, the numbers were really good for shaping the yoke. I started off with 28 12-stitch pattern repeats, which enabled me to decrease 56 stitches per decrease rows, two stitches per triangle for five decrease rows, resulting in smoothly diminishing triangles and a neckline that is neither drafty nor tight.