19 December 2009

day 19:: christmas pullovers

Behind the door today we have a little something for knitters - a tale of the Christmas pullover - prompted by a flick through Modern Knitting Illustrated by Jane Koster and Margaret Murray, and some winter re-reading of Barbara Pym's "Some Tame Gazelle". This is the story of two middle-aged spinster sisters, respectable and steady Belinda and the slightly more racy Harriet. Poor Belinda still harbours inappropriate longing from her undergraduate days for Henry, (now Archdeacon) Hoccleve. This is what happens in the run up to Christmas.

"She entered the wool shop, kept by Miss Jenner, who was also a Sunday School teacher. She always liked going to Miss Jenner's as the attractive display of different wools fired her imagination. Harriet would look splendid in a jumper of that coral pink. It would be a good idea for for a Christmas present, although it was impossible to keep anything secret from Harriet owing to her insatiable curiosity. And here was an admirable clerical grey. Such nice soft wool too... would she ever dare to knit a pullover for the Archdeacon? It would have to be done surreptitiously and before Agatha [the Archdeacon's wife] came back. She might send it anonymously, or give it to him casually , as if it had been left over from the Christmas charity parcel. Surely that would be quite seemly, unless of course it might appear rather ill-mannered?"

When Miss Jenner tells her that "eight ounces was the amount of wool that ladies usually bought", Belinda senses the need not to expose her ambitions:

" 'It will go very well with my Harris tweed costume' said Belinda firmly, 'I think that I will have nine ounces, in case I decide to make long sleeves.' After all, she might make a jumper for herself, now that she came to think of it she was certain that she would, either that or something else equally safe and dull. When we grow older we lack the fine courage of youth, and even an ordinary task like making a pullover for somebody we love or used to love seems too dangerous to be undertaken."

The vexed question of whether to knit Christmas presents or not. Love and loss and longing . All part of life's rich pattern.

PS Also pleased that my calendar has included at least one lamb.

6 comments:

Val said...

" 'It will go very well with my Harris tweed costume' said Belinda firmly, 'I think that I will have nine ounces, in case I decide to make long sleeves.' I love that line. The whole extract you quote reminds me of a passage in an Elizabeth Von Arnim novel "Elizabeth in Rugen" I think..? I'll have to look it out in the new year.

Rattling On said...

8oz is about 227g. Ladies were obviously somewhat smaller then-a-day. Wouldn't even make a decent sized scarf these days.

kristina said...

Perfect weather for reading and knitting. 'Some Tame Gazelle' is on my to-read pile at the moment... K x

Liz said...

Ah yes, knitting Christmas presents. I went to an all girls junior school and we were allowed on the last day before breaking up for Christmas to take in "something to do" instead of having lessons. Knitting, board games, sewing, that kind of thing. (And, for some strange reason, you could also take in slippers to wear). One year I took in my knitting, something I was making as a Christmas present and had been working on for about a week. My teacher asked me what it was. I remember telling her "I haven't decided yet".

JoannaD said...

I absolutely love this. I can feel the ache of longing to be allowed to make something for a person you love, to give away something of yourself, all the time pretending that it doesn't really mean that much, when deep down you know that it is actually as impossible as flinging your arms around them in public.

Weeping Sore said...

Pym's book sounds nifty, except I don't think I like the bit about avoiding risks as we age. In my case, I make up for that by doing more "unseemly" things. Probably just as well I can't knit. Maybe I should make some potholders out of those yarn loops using that square metal frame I remember from my childhood. Nah, probably too risky...