At the risk of becoming repetitive, here’s another one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, Night Watch (first published 2002), in our Lit Knit series…

Like Jingo, it features Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch as the main protagonist. This time, however, Ankh-Morpork isn’t at war with a foreign superpower but, so to speak, with itself: There’s a revolution sweeping the city’s streets, and as it unfolds into a full-blown civil war, Vimes and his watchmen realize that their allegeance lies with the people rather than with the regime that pays their salaries. Oh, and there’s also a psychopatic killer on the loose…

But among all this chaos and confusion, there’s also yarn and knitting. The first reference occurs on page 145* when Vimes has to arrest a young woman called Miss Battye who claims to be a seamstress. The problem here is that, like in Victorian England, in Ankh-Morpork the term seamstress is generally used as a euphemism for prostitutes. So when Vimes is informed that Miss Battye “also specializes in crochet”, he wants to know what crochet means, assuming it to be code for some sort of sex act. Only when Miss Battye replies, somewhat irritated, “It’s a kind of knitting (…). Fancy you not knowing that”, does Vimes realizes that he’s dealing with a real seamstress.

A second knitting reference comes towards the end of the book. When Vimes and his men are attacked by archers during the street fighting, they seek shelter from the arrows in the nearest shop. What they find in there comes somewhat unexpected for Vimes:

” ‘Can I help any of you gentlemen?’ said a thin, querulous little voice behind him. He turned and saw a very small, almost doll-like old lady, all in black, cowering behind her counter.

He looked desperately at the shelves behind her. They were piled with skeins of wool.” (p. 430)

They’ve ended up in a yarn store! And there’s even a customer in the shop, another eldery lady called Mrs Soupson just about to buy “four ounces of grey two-ply” (p. 431). A few pages later, though, we meet her again, in a much more agitated state, waving a knitting needle among the revolutionary crowd out in the streets (p. 437).

So, as in some of his other books, Pratchett employs knitting in a very stereotypical way by essentially associating it with the realm of the female, especially with elderly ladies. But, of course, employing stereotypes is what Pratchett does, and his use of over-exaggerated clichés is part of what makes his Discworld novels so funny. In Night Watch, too, the yarn store episode has great comic potential, especially if you try to imagine it as a movie with sound and everything: First, there’s the hectic scene of the street fighting, full of noise and movement, with carts dashing by and people running around, shouting and singing revolutionary songs. And then the sudden change of scene as Vimes and his men barge into the store and find themselves immersed in a place of peace and quiet, with two eldery ladies calmly chatting over a counter, and the walls stacked with soft, cosy yarn. It’s like going from this…

Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Image © Wikimedia Commons

… to this

Georg Friedrich Kersting, Woman Embroidering (First Version), 1812, Schlossmuseum, Weimar. Image © Wikimedia Commons

… in the blink of an eye. And yes, in terms of clichés the contrast created here by Pratchett is also a contrast between things denoted as male – e.g. fighting, the outside – and things denoted as female – e.g. textiles and needlework, the domestic interior. And, by the way, a similar contrast may even be found in the character of Miss Battye, the seamstress: As it turns out, when she’s not busy crocheting or darning socks, she’s working for the revolutionary forces, smuggling weapons which are neatly hidden underneath all the yarns and threads in her sewing basket. Here, in a manner of speaking, the “manly” arms of war are not only in contrast but even in direct contact with the utensils of “female” needlework.

Ok, I could go on, but I guess I’ll better leave it at that – I’m afraid not all of our readers are as keen on Pratchett as I am myself ;-) Seriously, I almost feel guilty about bringing him up here so often and practically turning our Lit Knit series into Knitting with Terry.** The thing is, however, that among all my favourite writers, Pratchett appears to be by far the most knittophile – I believe that, from our previous Lit Knit entries, you will all have noticed how knitting comes up surprisingly often in his novels. As I found out only recently through Ravelry’s Ankh-Morpork Knitter’s Guild-group, there appears to be a simple explanation for this: Terry Pratchett is a knitter himself and, allegedly, even has his own sheep and spins his own yarn. Sadly, though, I may have to rephrase that last sentence in the past tense and say that Pratchett was a knitter. As you’ll probably have heard, in 2007 Pratchett was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s and since then his manual dexterity has been severly affected by the disease. By now, he even finds it too impossible to type his own books anymore, so I assume that knitting’s out of the question, too. As for the books, he now dictates them to an assistant, so in spite of his condition, he still keeps them coming. Well what can you say to that? Hats off, Terry, and thanks for all the joy you continue to give us!

_______

* As usual, all page numbers given refer to the Corgi paperback edition of the book.

** Don’t worry, though, the emphasis here really is on “almost”, so I’m far from castigating myself or anything…

Near Solstice

(C) Schoolhouse Press

Remember, some weeks ago, I posted the picture of a beautiful skein of yarn accompanied by a lovely wintery haiku? Those knitters among you who follow me on Ravelry of course noticed that the post marked the beginning of a new and very challenging knitting project: Near Solstice, a beautiful and very unusual lace shawl designed by Bridget Rorem for Schoolhouse Press. The design features the imprints of lace bird’s feet dancing on garter stitch snow, and is complemented by an intricate lace rendering of the aforementioned haiku across the top border. For several reasons I was hooked immediately. I had been pondering for some time over the beautiful airy and ethereal lace projects all those talented Ravellers knit and design, and I was wondering  how it would feel to learn something so new and so different, and to knit something complicated and fine myself [being, as you might know, a great adorer of ‘boring’ stockinette stitch projects on 4mm needles…]. However, although one can find the most amazing lace shawl patterns all over the internet [and in books, of course, as well], there was no design that actually spoke to me as immediately and directly as Near Solstice. Apart from being so much more than a simple knitting pattern [actually, I think one could consider this as a real piece of conceptual art…], it also complements my usual dress style perfectly: clear and simple lines [garter stitch lace! no need to go too experimental, right?], but nevertheless some little twists or unexpected details included. So there it was: my first lace knitting project…

And then I stumbled over this beautiful skein of Fiberspates Nef in ‘water’ – such a beautiful and luxurious yarn [merino, silk, and alpaca!] and such a perfect colour for a pattern playing with the idea of snow…or so I thought. Confidently I began the Herculean task of casting on 599 stitches on 2mm needles, and after several tries I finally got it right, but immediately was confronted with the sheer impossible challenge to knit with something that actually felt like thread.

Fiberspates Nef

So I knitted, unraveled, knitted, unraveled, knitted, unraveled and knitted again, and after a week or so I was looking proudly at six [!!!] rows of garter stitch that actually did look like garter stitch and not like some experimentally knitted fishnet. So far, so good. Then, the knitting of the haiku began, and I was confronted with the next hindrance: the huge problem of me being an extremely impatient and impulsive person, which, after much unraveling, knitting, unraveling, knitting [you get the idea..],  resulted in a very ‘creative’ rendering of the beautifully designed letters – actually, one could also say they looked like the aforementioned fishnet, but certainly did not form words, let alone a poem. Even though I had gotten the pattern right in the end, in between all the looking and thinking about the chart, I completely had forgotten about how to maintain an even tension when knitting with such a fine and delicate yarn. Additionally, I believe the yarn’s fuzzy alpaca content, although so very lovely and soft, certainly did not help. So, after much thought and consideration, including little doubts about the colour choice as well [it is a lovely colour, and goes so well with the spirit of the pattern, but it is not very me], I decided that it was time to unravel…

Fiberspace Nef

…and to start anew. A new yarn has been ordered, and while impatiently waiting for it to arrive, I’m beginning to suspect that this project, apart from being my first lesson in lace knitting, will teach me some things entirely different as well, among them, of course, patience…

But while I really try to do the waiting for the new yarn parcel as good as I can, my hands are already exploring other new territories. Let’s see what will become of this…

Crochet Hexagon