It has been so warm here in the evenings that I have been sitting out on my holiday sofa by the back door until quite late, and last night I decided to carry on knitting as the light faded.
I lit some candles and thought of my old friend, the anonymous author of the Handbook of Plain and Fancy Needlework, published in 1882, and her comforting advice. She (I think it must be she) writes:
“Every woman ought to learn to knit, just as every man ought to be taught to swim. The latter accomplishment may save the man’s life. The former may save the woman from the kind of torpor that seizes the unoccupied, should any misfortune deprive her of sight, or should she live to an age at which other than purely mechanical works is labour and sorrow.”
Her gendered prescription is, shall we say, interesting, and I shall come on to the torpor in a moment, but my eyes aren’t what they used to be, the light was not too good outside, and I am not as young as I was. However, armed with the thought that knitting is what you can do when you are ageing, unoccupied and losing your sight, I set to with my needles with a will.
If you are tempted to do the same, all I can say to you is ‘Don’t bother!’ Unless, of course, you are a really skilled knitter, who can knit without ever looking at your work, and can feel your way along the rows. Unfortunately I am not. Candlelight flickers, and creates wonderful shadows, but I was doing moss stitch, and kept forgetting which stitch I had done last, and then couldn’t see which should be done next. So all those nineteenth-century writers (and the lady above is not the only one), who recommend knitting as a suitable occupation not only for invalids, the blind and those in the decline of life, but also for anyone who happens to be sitting in the gloaming, are completely wrong.
Possibly the yarn did not help – I was using Sirdar’s Luxury Soft DK Cotton, which does knit up into a beautifully soft fabric (I have knitted Princess Bunchy a couple of cardigans in it before), but it is spun with a very loose twist from very fine strands. So if you don’t keep your wits about you, it is very easy to split the stitches.
And this morning when I looked at my work I found I had done just that, even though I been wearing a super-magnifying pair of glasses, which normally make my eyes hurt just to look at them, in order to supplement the light of the candles. Proof that I am well on the way to being aged, sightless and torpid. So all that I had knit by candlelight, I had to unravel by sunlight.
And torpid I was this afternoon, as well. Here in the far, sunny south the heat was positively oppressive. Feeling those waves of torpor approaching, I sat down on the sofa to ensure that I was occupied with some knitting, but to no avail. Within minutes I was nodding over my needles, and nodded right off.
But you will be glad to hear this was not for long: we have a very dear Border Collie, who became alarmed by all this torpidity, and very kindly woke me up with a damp snout and dog breath in my face.
Possibly she had been reading the Handbook of Plain and Fancy Needlework, and was anxious that I seemed unoccupied. Or maybe she was expressing concern that I was wasting the hours of daylight. Whatever it was, a damp snout proved no real deterrent; torpor overcame me once more, I rolled over, and slept sweetly on the sofa. How was your day?