Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Whence ‘The Raveled Sleave’?

Anyone who has seen “Shakespeare in Love” understands that William often conceived his beautiful poetry by observation of the living going on around him.  He copied from life.  So I imagine:

One day in a fit of writer’s block, he repairs to the town square for inspiration.  There he sees a mother, care-worn, poor and tattered. Several urchins tumble in the dust around her skirts.  She sits waiting for someone or something to happen by.  As she waits, she mends a child’s guernsey.  Nor is she darning a hole; with sticks fine as toothpicks, she studiously picks up the fallen stitches of the raveled sleeve.  She frowns in concentration until she has them all and then she smiles victoriously.  She begins to reknit the little arm warmer, satisfied that she is improving her sorry lot with an industry of nurture and economy.

And William pens, “ . . .  knits up the raveled sleave of care,” and puts it in Macbeth. 

That’s a pretty story, isn’t it?  Of course, it’s thoroughly untrue.  In the first place, Shakespeare’s ‘sleave’ was not the sleeve of a sweater.  A ‘sleave’ was a silken thread.  But whether we think the thread of care or the arm of care, the sense comes through that the raveled part of care can be knitted up.

In our time, Elizabeth Zimmerman, renowned for her knitting acumen, told all to “Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises.”  She claimed that  “ . . . knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit either.” 

Knitting is a meditative activity.  It provides time to think, and thinking while knitting mends many a raveled concern.  For instance, as I knit, I might remember dear departed friends or long distanced relatives.  As I knit, I might ponder an idea I heard somewhere, and I might try it on to see how it fits into my pattern of beliefs.  I might figure out how to pay the bills or I might plan an outing.  Thoughts go better with yarn.

“The Raveled Sleave” is a series of essays reflected on or during knitting.  Knitting itself is the silken thread linking all the stories together.   I hope it will entertain, inform, inspire, and encourage.

© Karlin Allen, 2012

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Why “Tafferel”?

The name of a blog is very important.  It’s also hard to come up with. 

The name must be indicative of the philosophy of the organization and reflect the business at hand.  So we couldn’t go with “Tattler” because we’re not going to be tattling on anyone or spreading rumors.  “Tell-all” was scrapped because we don’t know all to be able to tell all.  After much deliberation, the word “tafferel” popped to mind.  Where had I heard it before?

Ah, yes!  It was in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden:  “Yet we should oftener look over the tafferel of our craft, like curious passengers, and not make the voyage like stupid sailors picking oakum.”   I had to look up a few words; for all I knew, tafferel meant map and oakum might have something to do with noses.

“Tafferel” isn’t spelled that way anymore; now it’s “taffrail”.  A taffrail is the rail around a vessel’s stern, the back part of the boat.  Evidently, Thoreau recommended that we should not only be concerned with where our craft is going, but also where it’s been.  What kind of wake is the vessel leaving? 

I don’t know how lexicographers in the 1850s spelled tafferel, but I think Thoreau was delighted to use this spelling because he wanted to direct attention to the original meaning of the word.  “Tafferel” comes from a Middle Dutch word, “tafereel”, which means panel or picture.  So, paraphrasing Thoreau, every so often we should review the picture of our lifestyle to check out what we did and how our passing affected it.

Well, if that were all of Thoreau’s statement that influenced me to name this publication, I could stop here.

Thoreau said there’s a certain group of folks who go through life “like stupid sailors picking oakum”.  Oakum is hemp fiber obtained by picking the strands out of old rope.  It was an automatic, mindless, yet all consuming chore of lint picking.  But the picking of oakum was a necessary endeavor.  When out of sight of land, the sailors picked oakum to caulk the seams of the ship to prevent its sinking. 

Needle workers often get lost in their projects.  We pick and stitch and drift on the sea of our imaginings, hardly seeing the task at our fingertips, focused -- and yet not!   And many a needlework project has bound the family together and kept it going.  Though I perform a lot of chores around here to keep me going, I’m getting up now and again to look around me, like a “curious passenger”, to see where I’m headed and where I’ve been and where I am now.   That’s what the blog is all about, Charlie Brown. 

It’s a tafferel.