I’ve long since stopped justifying my picture book acquisitions as for the benefit of the kids. It’s become all too clear, as some members of my family have justly pointed out, that these books are purchased for my own enjoyment rather than for the enjoyment of my children. (For the record, I say if the boys like to read them along with me, so much the better as then there’s enjoyment for all).
So, despite pushing forty, my love for children’s books remains strong and, given the opportunity, I will happily spend hours pouring over their words and images – savouring the seemingly simple cadences of their tales and the imaginative renderings of the scenes in which those tales unfold. Being a strong visual learner, my love for illustrated stories goes back as long as I can remember, but it’s only been more recently that I’ve come to understand the influence they’ve had in my life, more specifically, my life in wool.
I suppose this kind of understanding began when I chanced to hear a little bit of Thomas King’s Massey Lectures series, called “The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative”, broadcasted over CBC Radio. In that little part of the lecture I heard and later read in full, Thomas King presented a central idea that has forever altered the way I think about the power of words and images to create stories about truth, history and how these concepts, and our perception of them, influence our past, present and future lives.
I think this phrase, taken from the lectures, sums up the idea I’m referring to rather succinctly:
“The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.”
― Thomas King, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative
Of course, how Mr. King applied this idea in his lectures is particular to indigenous communities here in North America, but, truly, I believe this statement applies to all of us. The stories we hear, see and read become, in many different and powerful ways, intertwined with our deepest sense of identity, with how we express that identity to the world around us as well as how our identities are perceived, however rightly or wrongly, by that same world (that has its own set of stories). Now, I don’t want to I suggest that Thomas King was the first to examine this idea about stories, it just so happens that I connect his words here to my own, more personal, “aha!” moment and thought, hope, perhaps, his words might have a similar effect on you. (That said, if you have any interest in better understanding some of the issues surrounding indigenous communities, particularly those in North America, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Thomas King’s lectures, or listen to them here, or even go so far as to investigate his other works on the matter.)
By now, I imagine, you are wondering how any of this relates to knitting, so let me get to the point. Like many of you who are captivated by the discussion about responsible and ethical crafting, slow fashion and how to create a more conscious wardrobe, I have been inspired to apply many of the principals and suggested tasks outlined in these discussions towards my own knitting projects and their contribution they make towards achieving that goal. I have evaluated my present wardrobe, tossed (if no longer useful in any way) or recycled items that don’t work and created Pinterest boards to help me identify my personal clothing style and colour preferences (a practice, I admit, that works surprisingly well) all with the intention of creating and maintaining a smaller, hard-working wardrobe and eliminating any additions that don’t play well with the whole.
All things considered, it wasn’t until I began applying these very deliberate and conscious filters to my knitting project planning that I became truly aware of an another, unconscious filter at play. This discovery happened when I started recognizing that certain styles in my Pin boards were strikingly similar to those found in many of my most treasured storybooks. All the stories and pictures that I’ve been pouring over, loving and identifying my own person with since I was a child, have been very much informing my vision of an ideal wardrobe (knitted and otherwise). I will even go so far to say, I can now see how these stories and illustrations influence my vision of family, home, values, ethics and goals. For me, this discovery was startling but it serves as a kind of minor testament to the incredible power of stories that is so far reaching and at times, devasting, that Thomas King also says:
“you have to be careful with the stories you tell. And you have to watch out for the stories that you are told.”
― Thomas King, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative
In an effort to stay true to the knitting aspect of this blog, I will keep that quote directed to all things knit-ish today and highlight how I am cheered to think that a subliminal force in my knitting life is driven by my love for children’s book. However, I would do well to be aware that even the seemingly innocent influence of a storybook on the garments I wish to knit bears consideration given that I am, in reality, far from being a child myself. Garments depicted in fanciful storybooks are themselves fantasy. Such garments may very well work beautifully in the context of the story but how would they look decked out on me, on my less than childish or fantastical mid-life body in my everyday life doing everyday un-fanciful activities? So, as I approach an increasingly mindful practice of making my own clothes this coming year, I take with me Mr. King’s cautionary words and embrace the challenge of creating more knits inspired by the stories I love, ensuring that they fall in line with the vision I have for my wardrobe as one that works, in every sense of the word.
The first such project cast on this year with all that in mind, is a pair of traditionally inspired leg warmers that bring to my mind scenes from Elsa Beskow’s charming winter tale, Ollie’s Ski Trip, but can also be seen styled here (with pattern details) as part of an outfit that fits in as much today as it might have a hundred years ago.
So far, these Aspen leg warmers have been a fun knit that have already made me happy on many occasions given that both pattern and yarn have been heavenly to work with. As for achieving my practical storybook wardrobe goals, I’d say I’m off to a good start.
What about you? Have you had any major revelations in your own pursuit of a more thoughtful knitting practice? What is challenging and inspiring you to knit this coming year? Dare I ask, what stories influence you?
Thanks so much for stopping by, as always, your kind comments and insights are always welcome and appreciated. Wishing you a lovely week!