“Let me show you how it’s done,” the knitting woman said. She knitted a series of stitches before she came to a point where she slipped one stitch from the needle. While the single stitch sat untethered, she knitted the one just beyond it before slipping it back on the needle creating the twist in the fabric.
In a small shop on Inis Mór (also known as “Inishmore,” or ‘big island”), one of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, the woman showed me how to do the honeycomb stitch, a pattern I liked so much that I included it in a scarf I’m knitting. The difference between my knitting and hers is that when I’ve done similar cable stitches, I’ve relied upon a cable needle to hold those loose stitches in place. I prefer a hook that keeps any stitches from unraveling before I bring them back to the needle. This woman, a skilled practitioner, didn’t knit the piece too tightly to put the single stitch at risk. She had the confidence to simply let the stitch stay apart until it was time to bring it back into the design.
The Story Behind the Designs
The Aran Islands are known for their knitters. Anyone who appreciates a beautiful sweater know of the Aran designs. The women have traditionally designed sweaters unique to each of their families. The men of the family fish its rugged coastline. When one of those men does not return from a day of fishing because he’s been washed out to sea, he can be identified by the design of his sweater if his body washes on shore.
A Brush with the Famous
After I bought from the first knitter a cloth that described the meanings behind the different patterns, I went next door and met another knitter who talked non-stop while sorting through her sundry items. “I’d rather you knit your own sweater than buy one from me,” she told me when she heard that I had started knitting one that I’d left at home. Then she went on to describe the celebrities she’d met: Amy Adams and Stephen Spielberg, and Sharon Stone who was taller than the first two. All had bought the woman’s work, she said. She told me of rescuing two newborn baby lambs in brutally cold weather by slipping them inside her sweater, grateful that the ewe hadn’t given birth to triplets as she had before.
Designs of My Own
At a third shop, I bought yarn that left the feel of lanolin on my skin, two needles and a quick suggestion as to how to knit a hat. When I returned to the ferry, one of the drivers milling about before the next schedule trip thought it was funny I had purchased yarn there. “There aren’t any sheep on the island,” he told me. I just smiled, thinking about the woman, the ewe, the two lambs, and all the sheep I’d seen along the way. I continued to roll the thread into a ball and waited to begin the trip over the water to return me safely to the dry mainland.