Thursday, 29 October 2009

On Mapmaking

Knitting can be a scary place to be if you are the kind of knitter who relies on a pattern to tell you that at the end of the 27th row after the second decrease, your new sweater will fit you perfectly. Knitting can be a disappointing place if you don't know how to read its many maps.

Taking a class with someone like Sally Melville, is like working with a builder, geographer and master map maker, the kind who is as interested in teaching you how to do it yourself, as in making a beautiful map of her own.

The very first thing she taught us was how to recognize our own geography and how to record the salient facts of it. Then she taught us to recognize just where we could build bridges and which gorges were just to dangerous to cross. She showed us which things to think about before we begin, which are the considerations that will make or break our end product, where we want to stop and think a minute and when we could sit back and just let the knitting happen.

Then she taught us to recognize and use basic steps to build our own roads. She showed us the starting point and taught us to understand why we start here, and not 3 steps left, before we begin to build up a lovely garment.

The she taught us how to do the complicated things, the things that seem insurmountable when you just sit down to knit. She taught us set in sleeves and how to engineer our own. There were shirt tails too, but these were just the fun at the end of the game or maybe the beginning, and why and how.

Sally taught us to write our own maps. It is the map to our own form and the roads she taught us to build lead us straight to the heart of what we enjoy wearing.

There was a lot of math in these classes, always a challenge for someone who has a problem with the number two. But the math wasn't scary math. It wasn't hypothetical math. It was a math that somehow I understood deep in my soul. It may have always been there and I just needed a good reminder to bring it into the light and reveal its true form. I see it when I knit, math based on more than just numbers and operators, and weird little algebraic letters. It was math based on the little ridges and valleys that appear, age old, as things flow off my needles.
Sally said she sees herself as a technician as much as anything else but I see genius behind it. If no one else sees a thing, and none can explain why, the person who does see and figures out why, is genius. Sally said that she is just giving us what was lost, but this too, takes eyes that see something just a little more than what the rest of us see.

So here I sit, awakened to all sorts of possibilities, knowing quite clearly what I am going to do next, not even bemoaning the fact of it. I'll be putting mohair shirt one aside for now, and will start mohair two. I am absolutely confident that I can make it be what is going to work for me.

I've never been the sort of person who needed to have everything written in stone before I start to travel, who relied on the quality of my maps. I have not been afraid of getting lost in uncharted territory, butI have been stopped, more often than I am comfortable admiting, by barricades and roadblocks and signs saying end of road. I don't have to worry about that anymore.

I know how to build the roads, I see the gorges clearly, and I am not afraid when it comes time to build a bridge.

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