Withered Stones

January 30, 2011

Although my professional occupation with medieval art has always had a very strong focus on wall and panel painting, I have been quite fond of late gothic architecture as well. Especially the beautifully constructed rib vaults and high ceilings that can be found in so many Central European late medieval churches, never cease to amaze me:

Kutná Hora, St. Barbara Church (c) Bernd Janning

I just love the rich and imaginative repertoire of forms and shapes and the intricate and complex patterns of looped vaults and ribs that form flowers, trees as well as beautiful abstract curves and geometric patterns. The rib-vaulted ceiling of St. Barbara’s Church in the Bohemian city of Kutná Hora [Kuttenberg], begun in the year 1512 and created by the famous German mason Benedikt Ried [1454 – 1534], surely represents one of the most intricate examples of this particular late gothic style. Apart from this just being one of the most gorgeous late medieval ceilings known to me, there is one specific  reason why I wanted to show you the vaulting of St. Barbara’s today:

Pattern: Fenimore by Jared Flood
Yarn: Green Mountain Spinnery Maine Organic[Colour: Grey]
Needles: 3,5 mm and 5 mm
[More project details on Ravelry]

Isn’t it just amazing how the cables of this lovely tam correspond to the forms of late medieval vaulting? I just became aware of this coincidence whilst in the middle of the knitting process, and I must admit that I find it really fascinating [although I still do not know what to make of it].

What I do know, however, is that I enjoyed knitting this little project very much. It is perfect for knitting some rows in-between work or in the evening before going to sleep, since the fabric grows very fast and the cable pattern is very easy to knit, although it may look complicated at first sight.  The yarn is very lovely, too. It is spun from untreated organic wool, and I think the natural colour consisting of white, gray and brown fibre adds a very interesting quality to the pattern and goes very well together with the cables. All in all, a very lovely project! And: I will have to think some more about those rib vaults and cables …


The problem with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels is that they are highly addictive. Having read six of them over Christmas and New Year, I sincerely thought I’d be good for a while. Then, last week, I made the mistake of blogging about them and right away my interest in them was kindled once again. Since then, I’ve read three more and, guess what, there’s knitting in all of them. So, at the risk of over-stretching it, here’s more knitting from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series…

(Oh, and remember how, last week, I said that all our Lit Knit entries would follow a fixed pattern? And how, as an afterthought, I added that we might, however, occasionally “decide to un-fix the established pattern and do something else entirely”? Well, let me just say: I’m really glad I added that afterthought!)

1 The Last Continent

Through a link in the discussion forum of Ravelry’s Knitting in Fiction group I found Wool Works‘ list of Knitting References in Books. It includes Terry Pratchett’s The Last Continent, one of the few Discworld novels I hadn’t read before. First published in 1998, it is set on the continent of XXXX (or EcksEcksEcksEcks, or simply FourEcks), the Discworld equivalent of Australia: There’s crocodiles and kangaroos, beer cans and a folk hero named Ned, endless stretches of red desert and an opera house that looks like a ship about to set sail. Also, the yarn aficionados among you might be pleased to hear, there’s lots and lots of sheep and even a sheep shearing contest in the book.

And, of course, there’s also the wizards of Unseen University, one of whom, quite early on in the story, is wearing red woolly hat :

“It was jolly. It had a bobble on it. It had been knitted by Mrs Whitlow, who was technically an extremely good needlewoman, but if she had a fault it lay in failing to take into account the precise dimensions of the intended recipient. Several wizards had on occasion been presented with one of her creations, which often assumed they had three ankles or a neck two metres across.”*

Mrs Whitlow is Unseen University’s housekeeper who appears in several of the Discworld novels – most of the time she seems to be busy doing the wizards’ laundry. She appears to be a middle-aged to elderly woman who, according to Equal Rites, has survived four husbands and is “in random pursuit of a fifth”**. Also in Equal Rites we learn that she’s an amateur clairvoyant who keeps her crystal ball under a pink frilly tea cosy. Indeed, everything in her room is described as being pink and frilly. So, once again, it’s a homely, female character who is depicted as a knitter.

2 Reaper Man

Pretty much the same holds true for 1991’s Reaper Man. I was inspired to re-read this one by indigocraft naming Death as her favourite Discworld character in her comment on last week’s post. In Reaper Man, Death is forced into retirement because the powers that be want someone younger and more efficient to take over the job. In the end, that plan doesn’t quite work out, but in the meantime Death has to find a way to make himself, er, a living. So he takes on a job as a farm hand for one Ms Flitworth – after all, he sure knows how to handle a scythe. His new employer, Ms. Flitworth, is an elderly woman who remained unmarried after her fiancé died the day before their wedding was supposed to take place. One evening, she invites Death to sit with her in her richly adorned parlour:

“First, there were the ornaments. More teapots than one might think possible. China dogs with staring eyes. Strange cake stands. (…)

In fact, the ornaments almost concealed the furniture, but this was no loss. (…) The floor was layered in rag rugs. Someone had really liked making rag rugs. And, above all, and around all, and permeating all, was the smell.

It smelled of long, dull afternoons.”***

And, sure enough, once settled in this room, Ms Flitworth starts to knit. Again, the knitter is an elderly woman with a penchant for domesticity, home textiles and rather tasteless interior design.

For the sake of completeness let me add that a little later in the story a little girl shows Death her new socks, explaining: “My mum knitted them out of sheep.”****

3 The Last Hero

So, guess who’s doing the knitting in this one? Yes, an elderly woman by the name of Mrs McGarry. When she was younger, however, she used to be known as Vena the Raven-Haired and hang out with Cohen the Barbarian, the greatest of the Discworld’s barbarian heroes. In The Last Hero she is actually reunited with Cohen and his infamous Silver Horde, having decided to resume her own Hero-ing career after the demise of her husband.

We first meet her as she’s solitarily sitting by a fire high up in the mountains, and a party of robbers is just about to sneak up on her:

“She had a blanket around her to keep out the cold. She was knitting. Stuck in the snow beside her was the largest sword the robbers had ever seen.

Intelligent robbers would have started to count up the incongruities here.”*****

Unfortunately (for them) these robbers aren’t the intelligent kind and soon end up lying dead and mutilated on the snowy ground. The twist in the tale here is that Vena doesn’t fight the robbers with the sword – but with her knitting needles. Now, I guess we all agree that the idea of using knitting needles as a deadly weapon is totally unrealistic and simply ridiculous. Well, try explaining that to airport security, next time you want to take your knitting on a plane…

Ok, that’s it for now – so much for knitting in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. I’m really beginning to suspect, though, that there’s a lot more knitting yet to be discovered in Pratchett’s work. If you can think of any, feel free to chime in and leave a comment…

* Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent, London: Corgi 1999, p. 35.

** Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites, London: Corgi 1987, p. 185.

*** Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man, London: Corgi 1992, p. 122.

**** Ibidem, p. 134.

***** Terry Pratchett, The Last Hero. Illustrated by Paul Kidby, London: Gollancz 2002, p. 41.