Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Real Meaning of Yarn Hunger

Just want to make a few observations about that Elann lace crop cardi. Was I a bit too upbeat, too confident last night? Yes. Is the project proving somewhat challenging? Yes! And confusing. YES! Let's update on the stitch marker situation. The instructions are very clear on this point. Place markers every time you think it's a good idea. Place a few more. Go out and buy an industrial-sized pack of markers just to be on the safe side. Have a stiff drink and shove in another dozen or so. Excuse me, do we actually get to do any knitting round here? Oh good, we're starting. Work the first row. OK, so far so good. Now increase either side of the increase marker. Hang on. WHAT increase marker? WHERE? Back to the already tired-looking four printed sheets of detailed notes. No - nowhere in the instructions is ANY ONE of those goldarned little monsters designated as an increase marker. How am I supposed to recognise them? Shout 'Hey - all increase markers forward one pace!'? Say in an icily controlled voice, 'Nobody is leaving this room until the increase markers make themselves known, and that is final.'? Or am I just being dense? Is everyone else laughing helplessly and saying, 'How funny, she really doesn't know that in lace knitting the 7th, 19th and 147th markers are ALWAYS increase markers, oh dear, ha, ha, ha.' I wonder how long into August this lace crop and I are going to continue together? Here's how it's looking so far.



No, it hasn't got very much down from the neck, has it? How can it when there are constant halts to check the pattern yet again, to wrench balaclavas from the heads of disguised stitch markers to see if they are really increase markers in disguise? Strewth, and they call this relaxation?

But I wanted to tell you about something else tonight, something I haven't actually shared with anyone yet, even though I'm a journalist by trade and make my living by telling people things.

A couple of years ago I was out in the Balkans on an assignment. The horror of war was over, but the picking up of pieces and the attempted repair of what could never be the same again was ongoing. I visited a refugee camp in a disused mental hospital - exactly where it was doesn't matter. Some very keen and committed aid workers had just arrived with supplies for the people there. These refugees were wretched survivors indeed, torn from the lands and homes they knew, deprived of everything they possessed, and now stranded like tragic flotsam and jetsam in an alien place among alien people. They stared at us with sunken eyes as we walked in. I for one was painfully aware of my confident Western step, my casual Western clothes, my inherent knowledge that I had a passport in my back pocket and could leave any time I chose. You don't realise the importance of these things until you're faced with people who have none of them.

Three young American women had brought several huge sacks, full of balls of yarn, donated by generous people back home, and with happy smiles at the thought of the pleasure the supplies would engender, they set the sacks down in an open green area. Slowly the women of the camp gathered round, their eyes watchful. The girls untied the necks of the sacks and spread them wide. One took out a brightly coloured ball of wool and held it out to the nearest woman. Then it happened.




One minute all was quiet, a charming scene. The next, everything was chaos. The three girls disappeared in a melee of bodies, arms, fists even. Scraps of black plastic sack were flung in the air. One elderly woman on a crutch disappeared underneath a pile of struggling figures, crying desperately for help. The yarn went everywhere, strands knotting and tangling underneath the shifting, slipping feet. The few men nearby turned their backs in rejection of the scene. Perhaps they were embarrassed, I don't know. They certainly didn't try to remedy the situation.



Women who had been standing close to each other in friendship were now locked in struggle over balls of yarn. Every single scrap of wool was fought over as if it had been pure gold. The aid workers scrambled out of the melee, dishevelled and deeply distressed. I wondered frantically what had happened to the woman on crutches.


She's in the middle of the picture here, on the ground.

Gradually the fracas died down. Women hurried off to their sheds, their tents, the little spaces they called their own, with their loot. I saw the disabled woman sitting on the ground, her crutch by her side and rushed to pick her up. But she was smiling! And as I helped her to her feet, she triumphantly revealed the several balls of yarn on which she had been lying, hiding them from her comrades.

If I had written that story up for a newspaper, readers might have sneered at the bad behaviour of refugees. They might have expressed incredulity that anyone would think yarn worth fighting over. I didn't want to lessen the strength of what I saw that day by writing about it, so I didn't.

Now, however, I thought I would share it with you, since we are all self-confessed, avowed yarn fiends. But that experience in the Balkans showed me just how much a simple ball of yarn can mean to someone who has lost everything else in life. It showed me the real meaning of yarn hunger.

19 comments:

Peg said...

What an amazing story. It brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat! Yarn hunger - deprivation of beauty and colour brought it on and we would probably have been in the melee if we were in their shoes! What became of the yarn? I can see them sitting in place stroking the yarn and dreaming!
I also loved the story of the request for the 'increasing markers' to stand up in place!
I was also trying to find your yarns on eBay!
Thanks for visiting my blog and I have no bookmarked (is that a new word?) your blog!

anne said...

long live yarn hunger! thank you for sharing that.
and on that elann pattern, i'm wondering—was it free? sometimes those free patterns are full of trouble. i just sat with a friend last night for an hour working out an elann free pattern. i showed her how to make a chart to help solve the problem (this time a lace shell that begins at the shoulders—???why, i don't know . . .).

are you still a journalist?

Julia said...

Thank you for telling that story. We have so much that sometimes we forget how meaningful those simple things are to others.

Annie said...

Thanks for sharing, we just don't know how lucky we are and what we have is so precious, it takes a story like that to think about it. I don't think I could stand not having my yarn and needles in close proximity to me all the time.

rho said...

I know how much knitting means to me and how I wish I had found it earlier - to me it is calming, meditative, and a connection to so many before me who have felt the same way. I am sure that the yarn represented hope, beauty, and a chance to do something that could take some of the horror out of their lives even if just for a little while. And the knowledge that they could still make something useful and beautiful. So much wrapped up in a ball of yarn. Thank you for sharing that ...

Rachel H said...

I think I'll knit a few more rows before I go to bed tonight and count my blessings. Thank you for sharing that with us.

lene said...

Thank you for the story!
Makes you really wonder what they knit out of the yarn, socks or mittens or hats for the dear ones, or maybe something soothing for themselves...

All the Way With Knitting said...

Peg said it all Jo ..it's just too moving to comment more.

Jo said...

Now I've got a lump in my throat all over again (when I wrote that bit last night, I was re-living every moment of that experience and it was as if it had just happened. I guess I had tucked it away safely and it hadn't even had the dust of the Balkans blown off since then.) Peg, I've been so busy writing up my weblog (and struggling with socks etc!) that I had completely forgotten to re-list my yarns on eBay. They're going back on tomorrow, Friday, promise!

All the Way With Knitting said...

Hi Jo...I now have a blog called "Hickory Pill" a play on R.F.K's house "Hickory Hill" and pilling .Try it http://hickorypill.blogspot.com/My original is still alive so I'll post on both for a while as I have the lovely job of adding links to this one !!

Stephy said...

What a great story! Good for the sly lady--I love it when cunning beats out brute force.

Kathy said...

What an amazing story. Boy, I think of my stash and these women are fighting over yarn.

carlarey said...

We take every lovely thing in our lives so for granted, and a story like this just proves that. I break into a sweat at the thought of sitting in a waiting room for thirty minutes without needles and yarn. I can't even imagine how important it would be to me if I had gone through a fraction of what these women have been through.

Peg said...

Hi Jo, it is me again. I read your comment on Brenda's blog! When in September will you be here? I am away from the 3rd to the 20th of September, but I would love to meet you if you are here when I return. Uptown Yarns is here in Courtenay - www.uptownyarns.ca and also Nanaimo has a wonderful yarn shop - New to Ewe - I think it is called. Brenda will know the exact name. Also Fun Knits on Quadra Island - a beautiful short trip on a ferry - walk on, as it is only a 10 min. walk up the hill to the shop! I am off to Nova Scotia to my 45th nursing school reunion - that happens when you are 66 years old!!
Oh yes, Beehive Wools in Victoria has wonderful yarns. They have Sea Silk which is made of silk and seawood cellulose - so drapey, beautiful and sinful. Just have to have some as a souvenir of Canada!!

pacalaga said...

That makes my eyes sting. Mostly with shame, when I look at my little stash and think about how much more I want, and how easily I can get it.

Kat said...

I am sitting here in wonder reading your story. What came to my mind as I was reading your descriptions as to their actions, one thing crossed my mind - all those women were missing the peace and sense of rightness with life that occurs when you knit. It calms you, soothes you, gives you a feeling of accomplishment, and for the minutes you are knitting - you can forget what day or time it is. Maybe these women were not so driven by beauty and stash improvement, but more by the knowledge of how knitting could make them feel. Thoughts to ponder most certainly. Thank you so much for sharing.

Angeluna said...

Very interesting story. Many of us knit for charitable organizations in farflung outposts, Afghans for Afghans, etc. I've always wondered if perhaps some lovely yarns might be much appreciated, which your story verifies. In knitting, the process means so much.

Judy S said...

This was such a great story. It shows how the simple things in life like a ball of yarn can be so important. It makes one think when we look at our stashes and see a yarn that we wonder why we bought it that maybe a stash reducing charity project would bring great joy to a group of women in the world.

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