Nerve fibres

Today’s wool comes from Wales. A story told to me by a colleague, today, as he admired the hat-in-progress.

When he was a child and Barry was the biggest port in the world, when he went round to his friend’s house he was always fascinated by his friend’s great granny – tiny, nearly 90, “a relic from the previous century” he said, “and I don’t mean the last one”. She wore black bombazine mourning and the traditional Welsh apron.

Wherever she was, he said, she was always knitting. Chatting away, not looking at her hands which were held high against her chest. Sitting, standing, walking, she was always knitting.

Still physically spry and eternally cheerful she was, however, beginning to lose the plot. And the way they knew this was because whatever she was knitting – a scarf, a cardigan, a hat – there would come a point when, entirely without any visible change, pause in the conversation or other indication, the hands doing the knitting would, of their own accord, turn a heel.

My colleague and his friend would watch, fascinated, as the complex process of turning the direction of the fabric through a right angle while manufacturing a pouch for the back of the foot appeared in the most inappropriate garments like a sleepwalker pushing through the fabric.

She had been one of a large family in rural Wales in the second half of the nineteenth century and in common with many women of that time and place had spent most waking hours knitting woolen socks and stockings both for the family’s own needs but principally for sale.

Like water running down a hill her hands, unguided, ran along the accustomed channel worn deep over time. When, eventually, she glanced down and saw the unlooked for appendage hanging like a mutant excrescence below her needles she was, he said, always completely astonished.

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