Back to Square One

I can’t remember how old I was when my mother taught me to knit. She always had a knitting project on the go; each winter she knitted cardigans and pullovers for the family and, when my first son was born, presented me with a creamy knitted baby’s shawl. I wrapped my babies in the shawl when we brought them home from hospital and I hope one day one of my grandbabies will be swaddled in it too.

While I was never as proficient as my mother, by my early teens I could make simple garments: a lavender and green vest, a long line jacket that took ages to complete and a particular favourite, this shawl.   Shawl

Both the shawl and the pattern have, alas, long since gone. If anyone has a copy of the pattern and are happy to share it with me, I’d be very grateful.

Lately I find I need to do something with my hands at night, when my partner and I are watching television. I haven’t knitted anything for ages, apart from a scarf I started almost ten years ago, which still needs a fringe added to it. I have several balls of eight ply left over from the scarf so I decided to make a rug, nothing fancy, something fashioned from either 10 or 20 cm squares, or why not both? After playing about with tension and needles and visiting the local wool shop to buy more wool I’ve got this far: 

The small ones are really just tension squares (if you’re a knitter you’ll know what I mean by that). I’m not going to stick to garter stitch; once I’ve got a few plain squares under my belt I’ll branch out and try to remember how to do cable, basket weave and pennant stitch and maybe add a lacy panel into the mix. I hope the finished product will be a big, warm, knitted patchwork made up of different sized, coloured and patterned squares, so that each time you look at it you’ll see something new.

While knitting the first three squares, I’ve been thinking about flash or, my favourite name for it, hint fiction. Before the knitting bug bit I read two books of flash fiction; I’m still reading books about the history of flash fiction and creative non-fiction flash pieces. I become ever more fascinated with this kind of writing, not because it’s easy and quick to write. Far from it. Tara L. Masih says in her book The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction that ‘flash is simply a story in miniature, a work of art carved on a grain of rice—something of import to the artist or writer that is confined and reduced, by design or outcome, into a small square space using the structural devices of prose line and paragraph form with the purpose of creating an intense emotional impact.’  FF_Book

While knitting my little squares I’ve reflected on my new-found interest in small, intense, emotional packages of words and of wool. Is there a connection and what is it? Maybe it’s my age, maybe I’m finally settling into retirement and focusing on projects worthy of my time and energy, maybe it’s the intensity of life as it swirls around me. Perhaps it’s just the result of writing short bi-weekly blog posts.

I recently read that life isn’t really about plots (and, at my age we learn that sometimes the best of plans, or preferred life-plots, are all too easily undone). It seems life is more about moments stitched together to form some kind of pattern; even if that pattern is haphazard, eccentric, or out of kilter there is always some kind of meaning to be gained from it.

I’m eager to know  where this need to knit small squares and write elfin pieces of fiction will take me. Every day for the last week I’ve written a draft piece of flash fiction. As a writer still learning her craft, I find, when trying to write long form stories, I meander, lose focus, or sacrifice symbolism and imagery to the plot. I’m not saying hint fiction can’t hint at a plot but when I write shorter pieces every word, and where I place it, is significant and I’m compelled to find images, evoke one of the five senses or hone in on an idea in order to make my point. I’m enjoying the challenge. I also enjoy targeting the significant moments of my life, like an image I have of my mother, sitting in her lounge chair, knitting. She had a habit, when she finished a row, of taking the recently emptied knitting needle and tapping one end of it on her knee before starting the next row. I don’t know why she did it but I do know it’s the little habits and quirks, the things that make us who we are, that turn into cherished moments, the ones we savour when we think of our loved ones.

Your turn: Is life a narrative, with one main plot, or is it a series of moments? What moments from your past do you cherish?  Could you condense that moment to 100 words or less?

6 thoughts on “Back to Square One

  1. I’d have to think about the narrative/moments thing, but I can tell you I, too, have had the urge to let my hands be busy and drag out my cross stitch stuff lately. Used to be I had a piece with me all the time. Then I discovered tatting, which I forget how to do if I go too long in between projects. I didn’t learn from a book. someone had to take my hands and show me. I’m a kinesthetic learner. So when I forget, I can’t figure it out from the directions, I have to just pick up the ball and thread and shuttle, close my eyes and let my muscles remember. It’s a really odd feeling. Sometimes I think writing is that way for me. Maybe that’s why I’ve never warmed up to flash fiction or some of the other challenges floating about like the three line stories. I can’t learn how to do those things. I’m not good at “coloring in the lines.” When I write I just close my eyes and write.

    (That felt like a very odd comment. Hm…)


    1. I think ‘muscle memory’ was in play when I took up knitting after a long break, Calen. And cross stitch! My grandmother taught me how to do that, as well as embroidery. I have often thought about trying that again, but I don’t think my eyes could manage such close work. As for writing, how I wish I could ‘close my eyes and write’! I might try it; I can get too hung up on making sure every word is ‘just right’. Cheers, Janet


  2. Elfin fiction 🙂 I am all thumbs when it comes to knitting, but crochet. I even found instruction for crochet in cable, fisherman pattern, which looked just like knitting. So much easier than living in fear of losing stitches and then not knowing what to do ! I like to think of life as a series of moments created to make one great big beautiful patchwork quilt 🙂


    1. I can’t crochet, Raili. My mother tried to teach me but it was hopeless (which means I’m not sure how I’m going to finish of the edge of the blanket, but I’ll deal with that when I need to). And, yes, life is a patchwork quilt of moments! Thanks for your comment.


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