Escape to Fair Isle

Last Saturday, I rose early, grabbed my knitting project—a Fair Isle poncho from Vogue Knitting Holiday 2014—and set about finding a movie available on Amazon.  I selected Le Weekend, a film summed up as follows by Rotten Tomatoes: 

“In Mr. Michell's magically buoyant and bittersweet film, Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan play a long-married couple who revisit Paris for a long weekend for the first time since their honeymoon, in hopes of rekindling their relationship-or, perhaps, to bring it to an end.” 

As I plied my needles while the movie unfolded, I had to pause the streaming video at one point to call my husband to come watch a scene that struck me deeply with its dark humor.  On a Parisian street the sixty-plus husband runs into an old friend from Cambridge.  The friend, played by Jeff Goldblum, is a whirlwind in action, an author, with the right artsy and intellectual friends and gamine French wife (number something), May to his December, who adds charm to the soiree he hosts, one to which he invites his old school chum and his wife.  At the dinner table at the party, Goldblum waxes poetic about his old friend Nick, a “college professor” and elaborates on how his chum encouraged him to read good books and to think about the world.  Nick rises to speak, but, rather than gush his thanks, unleashes a litany of woe, how his son is a “pothead” who watches TV all day, how he is a mere teacher at a polytechnic institute that “perpetuates idiocy,” how he is broke, how he has been asked to step down from his job for making an insensitive comment to a student, and how his wife is about to have an assignation with another man later that evening.  Goldblum and the other guests are nonplussed, but Goldblum’s teenaged son, visiting from the States, smiles broadly and says, “Awesome!”

I had to laugh at this scene, as its irony hit awfully close to home.  Since early August, my husband and I have been going through some stressful life situations and disappointments that have left us defeated at times and, at others, struck in wonder by the absurdity that sometimes characterizes human existence.  The son’s insouciant attitude in the scene from Le Weekend also perfectly illustrates the seemingly Teflon exteriors of teenagers (an age group with whom I spend most of my time as I teach high school English and my own sons are 14 and 17), as all too often they seem impervious to the serious nature of what is going on around them—as well as to their parents’ admonitions about the long-term consequences of their actions. 

Nick’s dinner speech also reminded me of a Christmas letter sent out by my father years ago.  A book publisher and bon vivant, my father was an omnivorous reader and consumer of culture with an unquenchable appetite for life's pleasures.  As he reached his seventies, however, he found himself ailing with plenty of time to ruminate.  He began his Christmas correspondence by including Lord Byron’s poem “So We’ll Go No More a Roving,” a work which aptly expresses the sentiments of a man who must forsake satisfying earthly desires as “the sword outwears its sheath,/And the soul wears out the breast.”  Then, like the husband in Le Weekend, my father proceeded to share his host of woes:  his brain tumor, prostate cancer, temporary paralysis due to injuries incurred during a car wreck, detached cornea, etc., finishing off his catalog of complaints by relating how wife number four had recently left him when he was in the hospital!  The note included lots of wry witticisms to break the tension, but I’m sure many of its recipients were as taken aback as the dinner guests in the Paris flat in the movie. 

Sharing personal ailments and upsets in the manner of Nick, or my father, isn't appropriate for a knitting blog, so, instead, I’ll discuss how I’ve found solace.  After a particularly emotionally draining Friday, I woke up at 1:00 a.m. plagued by troubling thoughts, so I reached over to my nightstand for a neglected volume a friend had given me months ago.  I flipped open to a random page of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (described on the cover as, a “Toltec Wisdom Book”) and proceeded to read the chapter where the author tells the reader, “Don’t take it personally,”  and then elaborates on this concept.  His words were so apt, that I relaxed and went back to sleep.

The following night at my friend Elizabeth's birthday dinner, I recounted to Maria, a woman next to me with whom I’d been chatting, how a co-worker had rebuked me in a harsh tone the day before and how I’d been trying to tell myself not to “take it personally.”  Maria smiled and said, “Have you read Don Miguel Ruiz?”  I had to laugh at another situation with an odd synchronicity and decided I needed to read a bit more of Ruiz’s volume, to see what other wisdom it could offer me.

Elizabeth, Maria, and Me

Aside from Toltec wisdom, I have used another method to navigate recent stormy situations, including one this past week where my Marmaduke-sized hyperactive dog ate half of a ten-dollar bill belonging to my husband, Dennis.  A very frugal person who can find creative ways to serve the same ham four nights running, my spouse was deeply disturbed by the dog’s devil-may-care action and blase attitude towards chastisement.  Dennis had difficulty easing his distress, but I found solace in knitting--Fair Isle in particular (a method with which I was inexperienced until attacking my recent project).  I found that this working using this technique provides excellent stress relief for the following reasons:

The colorful patterns and clear and easy to see, so mistakes don’t go unnoticed and are, therefore, not able to cause major trouble rows down the road;

Only two colors are worked at time on any given row, so the tangled nightmares of Intarsia or other color work are avoided;

The craft has a long history, one with mysterious and romantic origins, so when working Fair Isle patterns it’s easy to forget the everyday routine of cinder-block school, modern sub-division, and surly teenagers in both places and imagine oneself in a flowing gown in a windswept cottage on the rocky coast of Fair Isle;

And, finally, the vibrant colors are mood boosters, and one works with alacrity in anticipation of color changes, in anticipation of seeing how the next hue will play off of the others in the design.

I'm using Cascade 220 Fingering for this project.  

I hope I am done with my Fair Isle poncho by my next blog post and that my future writings are a bit cheerier.  Despite current problems, I am truly grateful for the blessings in my life this Thanksgiving.  Without trials and tribulations I might not appreciate these gifts. 

My Thanksgiving turkeys are enjoying their yearly freedom from the cupboard.  

While I have been trying to be very frugal, this lovely pink colorway named "English Rose" was too pretty to resist.  My cat thought so, too, and had to check out this new addition to a basket he has claimed as his own. I have to hurry and finish my Fair Isle project, so I can cast on with this yarn.   

I finished this cropped sweater about a week ago, using Adriafil Knitcol yarn.  I was eager to get started with real Fair Isle knitting after seeing the colorful results shown here using self-striping yarn.  


  1. Life's struggles can sometimes get the best of us.. I am glad you are finding solace in your lovely knitting. <3 I, too, am embarking on teenage years with my kids (16. 12. 12).. I hope things start looking up for you and yours. :)

  2. I'm going to get that film and watch it over the weekend! this made me smile with recognition on a number of fronts. Your knitting is, as always, absolutely fabulous and if what you make comes out as well as this, will help keep the less felicitous events of life at bay! The whole "don't take it personally" thing is not easy - it's very hard sometimes not to take it personally when it feels personal. D always quotes "Eastenders" (the English soap) to me by saying "it ain't worf (sic!) it, Liz!" This has to be said in a strong cockney accent for best effect and never fails to make me laugh partly because unlike you, I am never known as "Liz". I find that the ability to ride things out that I might take personally are very strongly affected by circumstances - tiredness, lack of creative time, lack of exercise and fresh air make me much more likely to take something personally and be unable to put it down while conversely if those things aren't a factor it's easier. I have to say I do sympathise with Dennis about his $10 bill and if he's feeling circumstances are up against him forgive and forget for bad dog may be more difficult to come up with! Anyway I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving today - I adore your turkeys! found a pattern for a knitted one the other day but it looked rather big! Sending you a hug. E xx

  3. Hello Liz - it's been a long time since I've been in touch. I'm just admiring your fairisles - where do you get the time? I've been thinking about doing a yoked fairisle jumper for a while so I can't wait to see how yours turns out. I think that Eliot was wrong - it's not April but December which is the cruellest month; it's dark, cold, the pressure of Christmas coming around YET AGAIN (how dare it) with all the costs that are involved and the expectation to be as blissfully happy and excited as a 5 year old would be are fairly reasonable reasons for feeling stressed. I kind of love Christmas but hate it too, for the aforesaid reasons. I find myself looking at the calendar and thinking "It will all be over this time next month" and I look forward to the optimism of January. I'm not sure if this helps or not. I don't think it's about not taking it personally - how else do we interact with the world if not on a personal level? Oh - nearly forgot to say, have started a new blog - you can link to it from my old one. I'm not sure if this helps or not. I'm not a great one for self-help books but sometimes the only way I feel I can get through things is by adopting the traditional British 'Grin and Bear it' approach, or as the penguins in "Madagascar" say, "Smile and wave boys, smile and wave". I'm thinking of you - times are tough here too - having issues with one of my sons but I'm trying to look at things in the long-term, despite felling, like you do, that they don't seem to realise how important are the choices they make now. Being a parent is a life-long job and it's bound to have its ups and downs.
    I'm loving the cat in the basket! love Judy.


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