Some people thrill to see a blank notebook and dream of all the ways that they can fill it; a new skein of yarn gives me a similar yearning to sketch, design, calculate, and measure for a knitting project.
It is amazing to me that this skein of yarn came to me by way of a dyer in Ohio named Tricia, who hand-dyed over 1000 yards of lace-weight merino for me using only a mordant and natural, plant-based materials. I found her online shop on etsy.com, a sort of sales hub for craftspeople and do-it-yourself fiends.
In this case, osage orange helped create this rich shade of yellow, to which Tricia's photo doesn't do justice. But can any photo ever show the texture and heft of yarn, or the way the threads follow the same contours, giving depth to and contrasting one another? Most people agree that yarn on the hank is prettier than yarn knit up, but that's only a bad thing if you are fooled into thinking that what you see when you buy the yarn is what it will look like knit up into a pattern. As soon as you start knitting, that's the moment of disillusion, when the yarn becomes fabric, and thus is set in its ways -- the moment when you have to stop dreaming of all of the things that the yarn could be, and accept that the raw material has decided on one shape, and one alone. With so many thousands of patterns to choose from, and hundreds of colors, not to mention dozens of types of fiber, knitting brushes with the infinite. And yet every project is a step away from the absolute and towards the ordinary, the flawed, the one.
I think that the desire to keep the idea of the yarn, with its possibilities intact, is behind the tendency that so many knitters have to hoard yarn, often letting years go by before they find the project that is "worth it." This yarn-greed resembles other kinds of greed: the insatiable belly-hunger that no food is rich enough to fill; the hunt for the next sexual partner who turns out to disappoint; or the accumulation of books, CDs, newspaper clippings, recipes, and other cultural objects that one person could never enjoy in his lifetime.
What these desires have in common, I think, is the longing for the absolute: that fall into infinity that opens up before us when we contemplate the bottom of the wine bottle or the last dance before the nightclub closes at daybreak. We want never to stop, those of us with such appetites -- we'd rather fling ourselves up and up and up and keep searching, leaving our options open until the very last minute. Some nights I fall asleep with a knitting pattern in my mind's eyes, or two or three that I play with, switching back and forth between them in my imagination, unable to settle on the one I'll cast on with the next day. That's my sort of hunger now, an acceptable sort when confined to fiber and fabrics; it's a hunger that I can live with, and a far cry from the older sort of appetites that always ended in frustration, and emptiness.
Here's a new idea, one that I've had some luck with lately: choosing the pattern first, and not the yarn. Letting the form dictate the content, so that the pattern calls for its own yarn. In the case of Tricia's lovely osage orange, I bought it with a pattern in mind already, a certain "Bleeding Hearts Stole" from Interweave Knits, spring 2008. I have to admit that it doesn't thrill me as much now as it did when I first saw it, before I had made several other shawls and scarves and such of lace, and learned the gist of the technique -- the spark has dimmed. But the stole is an elegant and serviceable pattern, and will discipline me to stick to the plan that I had in my mind when I purchased the yarn, instead of losing myself in yellow waves and fans and fairy-leaves.