October is blue yarn month by personal decree. Look closely at bowl and you’ll see a silvery blue merino/silk cowl that shimmers in the light and spiral socks for a friend who looks radiant in teal. And then there is the indigo alpaca, a serendipitous find on the sale rack, which is earmarked for a cuddly warm sweater for me. Pullover or cardigan? That is the question. The gauge is no help because it is spot on for both of the patterns under consideration.
I have been trying but not always succeeding in buying yarn for specific patterns. Yet it’s not just about the pattern, and the luxurious texture and deep color of this yarn were irresistible. In my knitting file there is a pullover pattern saved from a magazine six years ago; I justified buying the yarn to knit the pattern. But then I found a pattern for a cardigan that would match nearly all my fall and winter long sleeved shirts. My hope was that by the time I settled down to start the sweater, a clear sign or intuition would have tipped the scales one way or the other. Well, last night I had a dream about yarn. It was about a skein of blue and white 100% Portuguese wool sock yarn spied in a yarn store a few doors down from where I recently took a shibori workshop. How should I interpret that?
Shibori is a Japanese technique for dyeing fabric by binding or tying it so that the dye does not penetrate the entire cloth. The result: an infinity of patterns. Though indigo is traditionally used, the workshop made use of synthetic dye. Still, it was interesting to try my hand at dyeing and see the patterns that emerged. The artist conducting the workshop complimented me on “my” patterns. This is odd, because what is there of “me” in the cloth samples that remain? The real work was done by the dye, wasn’t it?
I have had indigo on the brain since I read Catherine E. McKinley’s Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World this summer. McKinley spent time in Africa on the trail of cloth traditionally dyed with indigo. Along the way, she learned that a respectable woman has cloth, which is second only to children in importance and even more valuable than land. What most people don’t know is that indigo-dyed cotton cloth was part of the transatlantic slave trade, leading American abolitionists and Quakers to boycott indigo and cotton cloths.
Cotton still remains a controversial fiber today. Its cultivation has led to the disappearance of the Aral Sea, which I first learned about in Tom Bissell’s excellent Chasing the Sea. Buying organic cotton is better than buying conventionally produced cotton, but it is still a thirstier plant than linen or hemp. Like many people today, I am trying to be more deliberate in my choices of what clothes to buy and make, going for fewer, high quality items that I can mix and match. That is one reason my choice of pullover or cardigan is such a strategic decision. In the meantime, the spiral socks are finished and there is no danger of cold feet.
May it be easy to make any decisions you face!