It’s the beginning of spider season here in Caithness, so I’ve just been down to the Post Office to get my official hunting permit, and to stock up on a few necessaries (safety goggles, pith helmet, cartridges).
The little devils are everywhere just now: we have high ceilings and you can see them lurking up there, cocooned in grey webs, pooling in the corners like cigarette smoke. The house now has so many webs that a simple trip to the bathroom resembles Indiana Jones unearthing a lost temple.
And then there’s the matter of, ahem, spider spoor. (We had a visit at work from our conservator recently. He was examining an old ledger of 19th century parish accounts for insect infestation; at one point he gripped it by both side edges and banged the bottom edge down hard on the table – when he lifted it, grains of black dust lay in a heap. “Ah, frass,” he said, in the tone of Sherlock Holmes decrypting a cipher. “What’s that?” I asked, trying to place the word. He smiled: “Insect poo.”)
I’ve had a bit of a thing about spiders ever since I woke up once as a child with one crawling across my cheek. (We lived out in the country, and our walls were about as porous as the US-Mexico border.) I’m not afraid of them, as such: but opening your eyes to find a little hairy face regarding you with a sort of detached curiosity, as if wondering which Tantalising Nostril of Mystery to explore first before laying its eggs in your brain, certainly teaches you that we are not put on earth for pleasure alone. (Well, that, and not to sleep with your mouth open.)
Spectacular gansey progress this week, with the front completed, the shoulder straps joined, the collar done and dusted, and the stitches around the first sleeve picked up. Of course, this is the fun bit of knitting a gansey, where there are lots of short tasks that can be knocked off in short order, giving you a real sense of achievement.
While I was on a roll, I picked up the stitches around the first sleeve too. As regular readers will know, generally I find this about as much fun as hacking off my little toe with a tomato knife, but it has to be done. (The trickiest part for me is keeping the stitches even along the entire length, and not leaving myself too much, or too little space, at the end; it’s hard to judge it right since I knit 12 rows vertically to c.9 stitches horizontally, so if I’m not careful I end up picking up one stitch per row, resulting in 25% too many stitches.)The collar is 1.25 inches high, or 15 rows, and the neckline at the front is indented by 9 stitches, or 18 rows (decreasing every second row), about 1.5 inches. (I know indented necklines weren’t traditional, but this way I don’t feel like I’m being slowly strangled by a giant hairy caterpillar.)
For a change, I thought I’d try Lynne’s technique of using two circular needles, instead of four dpns. It worked a charm on the pick-up row, though because I wasn’t using stitch markers I kept having to recount the stitches.
But perhaps I’ve been going about all this the wrong way. I’ve been thinking of breeding an army of tame spiders to pick up the stitches for me; or, why stop there, to knit entire ganseys out of spider thread. Initial tests have been discouraging, however, as they have a tendency to kill and eat anything they wrap in silk – not really a successful business model (this never happened to Snow White). But I’m determined to persevere: we’re in a recession after all, so the little beggars can jolly well work for their rent.