Saturday, June 20, 2009


Ever heard of nålbinding? It's so prehistoric, there are no known elementary or prototypical examples. Nalbinding looks impossible, especially when you realize it's done with one or two yard lengths of yarn and a single bone (antler, ivory, beechwood, etc.) needle about four inches long. You can make Viking socks that way; and while the technique seems closer to tatting than knitting, the results certainly look more like knitting. Some of these old fiber arts seem positively neolithic.

It's actually kind of fun to meditate on — even if your polyester polo shirt was woven on the air-jet shuttleless looms of the post-Industrial Revolution rag trade, the algorithm, the craft, of it is like being wrapped up in the love of your last ten thousand grandmothers.

Who are these "evil women who blow on knots," by the way, mentioned in the Qur'an, Surah 113, Al-Falaq (Daybreak), Aya 4? It's curious that the earliest known examples of knitting in Europe are a sophisticated pair of stockings from 13th century Islamic Andalusia which bear the name of Allah woven in bands of Arabic script.

Catholics have the same idea, but on the flip side — e.g., EWTN's Mary, the Undoer of Knots Catalogue offers relief from the curse of pesky mundane entanglements at low, low prices.

Modern Wiccans refer the practice of knot-blowing to Isis, for what it's worth.

The subject of knots in thread or cords has probably always been a mindbender, considering its antiquity, power and mystery. Aside from the importance of knots and cordage to weavers, sailors and mathematicians, there is even an argument (promulgated by IBM patent lawyers) that the Jacquard loom was a precursor (and hence, prior art) to modern computer programming.

If Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper and Anita Borg were accomplished women in the early history of computers, is it because evolution favored those clever girls who could firmly grasp the mysterious mindfulness of their craft, who could patiently weave the stuff at hand into the fabric of human existence — out of Under, Over and Repeat?

Just like 1's and 0's. Or DNA, for that matter! There's a lesson there. There are forty million shades of gray between black and white, and for all that, the entire world comes in living Technicolor.

"Sleep that knittest up the ravel'd sleeve of care" — Macbeth, Act II, Scene 2, Wm. Shakespeare

"Tend to your knitting." — Linnie Powell Philips (my grandmother)



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