Posts Tagged ‘elizabeth zimmermann’

“What is your favorite way to recharge when you feel drained of energy?”

There’s a reason this blog is called “Muttonings,” and there’s a reason I post as “Mrs. Mutton.”  It has everything to do with sheep, to wit:  Somewhere around 1977, I suddenly got into knitting in a big way.  Up to then, I had divided my time fairly evenly between knitting and cross stitch, but in 1977, my daughter was two, and the thought of those little fingers and eyes around sharp, pointy objects was too horrific to entertain; so I turned to the less-sharp pointy objects known as knitting needles, and for many years afterwards, knitting was my sole handwork.  In fact, my son, born in 1979, has never known me to do anything else.

In 1982, I became acquainted with the knitting philosophy of Elizabeth Zimmermann.  The woman was an utter genius at combining art, math, and practicality, and her chosen medium was wool.  Not just generic yarn – wool, “from the simple, silly sheep,” as she put it in one of her books.  It was largely due to her influence that I gradually became a Wool Snob, and began accumulating wool yarn to such an extent that my family teased that I was becoming a sheep.  These days I have stuffed sheep, pictures of sheep, sheep calendars, books about sheep…well, as you can see, the thing has taken on a life of its own.

So I am “Mrs. Mutton” (actually, that is the name of one of my stuffed sheep, who began life as “Ms. Mutton” of the famous brokerage firm, E.F. Mutton, until my husband rescued her from a life of Ms.-ery), and the odd pronouncements I mutter to myself have become known, locally, as “muttonings.”  All of which I offer as background to my favorite way of recharging when I am drained of energy.  Which is only partially with knitting.

There actually is something very, very soothing and mindless about repetitive hand motion.  Mind you, there is nothing relaxing about learning to knit; like any other unknown activity, it’s very stressful to learn.  But the rewards of sticking with the effort are completely disproportionate to the effort involved in learning the craft; you can actually knit your way to lower blood pressure.  And while your hands are occupied, and your brain either goes blank or focuses on the intricacies of, say, Aran knitting, other, more convoluted knots are unraveled.  I daresay that many a mental-health issue could be successfully treated by teaching patients to knit.

But as I say, recharging my personal batteries is a two-pronged process.  Knitting – or counted cross-stitch – is one prong, having something to occupy my mind that is completely unrelated to whatever it is that’s sapping my energy.  The other prong is classical music.

I’m not talking about the Bombast, or the Searching-for-the-Lost-Chord kind of cacophony that has become associated with classical music.  That stuff has its place (I guess), once you’ve become accustomed to the very different tempo of classical music, so much slower and more thought-infused than what currently occupies most space on the airwaves.  But if you want to relax, or if you’re really new to classical music, you want Baroque – Vivaldi, say, or Handel.  Or Bach, who wrote the music that is the title of this post, Sheep May Safely Graze.  Bach’s music covers every range of emotions, from utterly sublime to rollicking fun to just plain funny (his Coffee Cantata begins with a father grumping, “Ain’t it a fact that our kids give us a hundred thousand different kinds of heartburn,” or the eighteenth-century Germanic equivalent thereof).  And Vivaldi is such easy listening that a friend of ours once joked that “Vivaldi wrote the same concerto 425 times,” there being 425 works listed in the “Ryom Listing,” the most commonly used catalogue of Vivaldi’s compositions.

Knitting to the Oldies.  Works every time.

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NaBloPoMo prompt from January 6:  “Do you wish the start of the year was in a different season?  Which one?”  Better late than never, I suppose.  (Note that the grammatical error “was” is a quote from NaBloPoMo.  In case anyone from that organization happens to see this blog, the act of wishing takes the subjunctive mood, which in this case would lead to one’s wishing that the start of the year were in a different season — as in, “I wish it were in September — but it’s not.”)

In liturgical Western churches, the First Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the Church Year; in the Orthodox Church, it’s the first of September.  (The Jewish calendar also begins the year in September, but on a different date.)  Many, many years ago, when the thought of becoming Orthodox was little more than the Impossible Dream, I picked up Knitter’s Almanac, by the incomparable Elizabeth Zimmermann.  This was a calendar of knitting projects, one or two per month, that covered the span of a year in a most chatty and engaging way.  I was relatively new to knitting then, and hers was the first book I had ever seen that encouraged “thinking knitting,” i.e., not knitting from a pattern but according to one’s own designs and whims.  Wow.  It certainly changed my life.

But I digress.  The first words for September were, “September is the logical beginning of the year.  Summer heat is nearly past, the weather begins to brisken up [sic], schools open their doors to siphon our beloved young out of the house for longer or shorter periods…”  At the time I thought, “She has a point.”  Nowadays, I think she was prescient.  September is the logical beginning of the year.  If summer heat isn’t quite past – in New York, it isn’t past until the middle of October – there is certainly a busier quality to the days of September.  It isn’t only the weather that “briskens up”; the indolence of the summer disappears as if on a wisp of wind, and the human brain stirs itself, as EZ put it, “… adult activity starts to stir, and Mother forms good resolutions and makes lists.”  And not only Mother; those first few days of school are so wonderfully New.  New notebooks, new pencils, new teacher, new subjects to master (or not), sometimes new classmates – it really does feel like a rebirth of daily life.  Even as a mother of school-age children, I could feel the newness of the year.

So why does the New Year fall in January?  It makes no sense.  I could see if people needed a little pick-me-up to get them through the dreariest time of the year, though even then, most younger folk I know welcome winter as its own sporting season (“Think Ski!”), and geezers like me are relieved to have an excuse to sit in a sunny window with books and crosswords and Sudoku, to which I have recently become addicted.  But even without these charms of winter, isn’t Christmas enough of a blood-stirrer to provide you with a sense of jollity and celebration?  Even atheists celebrate something at Christmastime; they must, or we wouldn’t be afflicted with the annual silliness of whether or not to put up public Nativity displays.  Like it or not, that Nativity scene is what Christmas is all about; if you don’t like it, don’t celebrate it.

But since such a large part of the world does celebrate it, in one form or another, I think we should abolish January 1 as the beginning of the year, and go with “the logical beginning” – September.  Perhaps that way, we could return to the custom of celebrating all twelve days of Christmas, from 25 December through to 6 January.  Or, in the case of Orthodox Old Calendarists, from 7 January through to 19 January.  Or, in one particular case (my own), with both an Orthodox Old Calendarist and a Western Christian in the house, from 25 December to 19 January.  Twenty-four days of Christmas!  Talk about Party Hearty!

Post Scriptum:  I would consider myself a disgrace to the world of knitting if I did not direct readers to Elizabeth Zimmermann’s most lasting legacy:  Schoolhouse Press, purveyor of wonderful wools, esoteric knitting tools, enough knitting books to begin a small library, and the incomparable wit and wisdom of the doyenne of the knitting world.  It’s usual, among Orthodox, to greet news of someone’s passing with the words, “May their memory be eternal!” but in EZ’s case, I think her name will last as long as there are knitters in the world; not just her memory, but her work, lives on.

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