I had an interesting experience recently knitting a shawl inspired by the author A.S. Byatt. I thought reading a book by said author whilst knitting would amplify the … Byatt-ness of the whole thing. First, I have to say that Byatt is one of my favorite authors, and that whenever I read her books, I dream and dream and dream at night, often having nightmares! Clearly they work on my subconscious and I need to sort things out waking and sleeping.
I chose Possession to read because I’ve read it so many times before, and I’ve already done lots of dreaming and nightmaring over it. Of course, things didn’t work out so simply. Do they ever? I noticed for the first time with this reading what a strong vein of — imaginative disobedience runs through the novel. I don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t read it yet, but through Christabel LaMotte’s actions, through the Fairy Melusine that Christabel evokes through her poetry (which evokes Lilith, which evokes…) and Roland’s abandonment of literary criticism for his lists which become his poetry — and so much more — creative rebellion is afoot.
This spirit of inventiveness and unruliness definitely bled over into my knitting. The large, asymmetrical section went along as planned. Then, I got to the next section where you introduce a contrast color and start slipping and twisting stitches in order to make a striped, chain link sort of pattern. Once I made the first repeat of that section, I realized that the stitches should have been slipped purl-wise instead of knit-wise in certain places (which I confirmed in an update of the pattern) but — I liked the twisting, ornate look of it so much I kept it, and decided to do the entire section that way! Wildness! Rebellion! It looks much more — baroque — and reflective of the twists and turns my mind was making whilst reading.
The next thing that happened is that I ran out of the main color two repeats in! I didn’t want to purchase yarn — the yarn I was knitting with was already in my stash and I didn’t want to spend any coupons. I also didn’t want to end the section with only two repeats — I envisioned the shawl as being large and grand! I had to find more yarn in my stash, and the vibrant blue and an antique gold were not easy colors to add another color to! I knew I had a grey of the same brand and weight yarn — neutral! safe! But when I started digging, I couldn’t find it. An auburn yarn kept on showing itself to me, and I finally relented. It’s the color of the hair of Pre-Raphaelite muses. It wanted to be included.
(an aside: after I started knitting with the auburn, I went into my stash for another reason and THERE WAS THE GREY right in front of my eyes! How mysterious is that?!) After I finished the slip stitch section, I was ready to start the lace section with a little garter stitch in between. I thought, now that I’m in full flight of fancy mode, why don’t I put that little bit of that blue I have left in for two rows of the garter stitch to tie it into the beginning of the shawl? And yes, that auburn. I (and perhaps the ghost of Dante Gabriel Rossetti) would like that auburn as the lace section instead of the antique gold contrast color, to give that one repeat of slip stitch auburn a raison d’être. Yes.
All that I had left of the knitting was the picot bind off. The pattern has it in the same color as the lace, but how fun would it be to go back to the antique gold for that to show off those little picot delights? Very fun! So I changed it.
Finally, it was time to block. I looked at the schematic in the pattern to figure out the final dimensions, and realized that the lacy part was not going to be the longest, diagonal portion of the shawl if I blocked it in that manner. So, I did it as I imagined it 🙂 I made the large blue section run across the top, straight, and made the lacy and picot section stretch out diagonally, and pinned out every fifth picot to a point.
I love it.
It’s sweeping and dramatic and not exactly harmonious — it’s a bit difficult with the auburn — but kind of like some dissonant classical or jazz piece, it works. Just like the book, it has a lot going on — and it’s all the better for it. A bit of rebellion against the pattern, just like Byatt plays with the pattern of “a romance” and what women are supposed to be and do. I now can’t separate the experience of knitting this shawl and reading Possession. Each were made richer by the other.
Many thanks to Karie Westermann for designing so wonderful and substantial a pattern to accommodate all this imagining!
P.S. Couldn’t stop at Possession. Read the Biographer’s Tale right after — warm and funny and exuberant and dreams, dreams, dreams! I’m now reading The Virgin in the Garden and dreams and nightmares and nightmares. Gosh I love A.S. Byatt. And knitting. Byatt uses lots of knitting metaphors by the way 🙂