O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
Romeo and Juliette, Act 2 William Shakespeare
I grew up near San Francisco and have many fond memories of enjoying that beautiful City by the Bay. Among the many, many sights are the gorgeous Victorian houses, lined up side-by-side in an array of colors from soft pastels to the intense colors of the rainbow. They are often called “the painted ladies” by locals. Hearing that term brings vivid images and whistful memories of visits to The City to mind, so imagine my reaction when I saw a yarn in a gradient colorway from Fresh From the Cauldron called, “Painted Ladies” custom dyed for a a Bay Area fiber event.
I do not need any yarn. After years of reading evocative names, my resistance should be strong. Before letting a skein of Painted Ladies leap into my Etsy basket, I asked if there were any example projects knit with this yarn. There was. It was nice, a gradient yarn going from gray to yellow to white with speckles of color starting to appear midway through. Gray to white, nice neutrals in the would-be-nice-to-have way. But with a name like that, it came to represent the lovely Victorian Painted Ladies peaking through the fog as it rolls across the many hills of San Francisco. It became my memories, my childhood, my youth. It became a must have. It became an item in my shopping cart, a package on the way, and finally it became another skein of yarn in my stash awaiting the perfect project.
As George Santayana famously said, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. So it has been with many a skein with an evocative name, attracting me to the idea but in the end bringing me varying amounts of satisfaction. Perhaps my first capitulation was a knit-along (KAL) using a skein of “Christmas at Downton” from Lorna’s Laces. It was every rich Christmas color one could think of, all joined together in one skein. The accompanying mystery pattern emerged week by week, bit by bit, finally revealing a pair of lacy gauntlets. As open minded as I am willing to be about the concept of gauntlets, if my hands are cold I do not want the openness of lace in my golves. They were frogged before gauntlet one was completed and turned into a shawl that went with every winter sweater, blouse, and jacket I had in my closet because it had every winter color I ever owned, and then some. It served me well for winter travel–but it was not a shawl I loved–and it soon found its way to a more winter color loving owner. It is a colorway that may still be available, and there are many lovely projects made with this yarn, but my love for Downton Abby just did not align with the colors attributed to the holidays at said Abby.
Abby holidays forgotten, I swooned and succumbed to “Winter is Coming,” another Lorna’s Laces colorway and another KAL timed with an upcoming season of Game of Thrones. This time the colors were a dream, so much so that I bought the KAL yarn weight plus a fingering weight in that colorway for good measure. The KAL pattern was nice but…not something I would wear. So as I pondered over what I should do with the KAL yarn–and the auxiliary yarn for that matter–I was contacted by someone who was part way through a sweater and in desperate need of a couple more skeins to complete it. So desperate, she offered to drive 3 hours each way to meet in a cafe close to where I live with cash in hand. Knowing the OMG-I-am-going-to-run-out panic and desperation, having met it once or twice before, I was ready to run to the Post Office and send it to her immediately, no questions asked. She could not wait that long. We met the following morning for the emergency exchange; like an ambulance bringing a donor organ, I transported the precious yarn to find her anxiously seated and awaiting her delivery. Having experienced first hand the value of this precious yarn, one would think that I would have immediately returned home and put the auxiliary skein to work. Not so, as of yet no project has presented itself that calls out for this yarn.
Sometimes the marriage of idea and yarn is a happy one. When I had to knit Lara Smoot’s “Mother of Dragons” because, well, who can resist donning a shawl and imagining herself as a mother of dragons, happily I found the perfect yarn by Dream in Color Smooshy in Cashmere (those words alone would make me want to wrap myself in the yarn) in a colorway called, “Naughty Royals”. The royals in Game of Thrones are pretty naughty, and with a few beads for imaginary dragon scales, I was on my way to the perfect set of dragon wings in a deep naughty royal blue with sparkles.
Oh there have been others that sang out to me, such as the yarn that recalled Princess Bride in the colorway “Prepare to Dye”. That turned into an infamous and rather clunky pair of socks. Another limited edition Downton Abby colorway Yorkshire Skies in lovely shades of aqua and blues that sent me back and forth, back and forth, and back and forth until my internal voice that said, “You do not need another skein of yarn in shades of blue” was drowned out by the, “But it is Downton Abby!” By the time I gave in the yarn had sold out, saving me from adding yet another skein yarn in shades of blue to my collection. A yarn with a great name, but still just another skein of yarn similar to ones I already have. I have heard my rational voice speaking, telling me to close my ears to the name and fall in love with the sight of the colors and the touch of the fiber; love the yarn itself not the idea of it. And sometimes I do heed that voice. It recently stopped me from buying a yarn that evoked Jane Austin as well as a yarn that referenced Princess Bride. It stopped me, after much internal deliberation, from buying a yarn dyed exclusively for a retreat I attended. It has reminded me that names referencing beloved authors, books, series, or movies should not prejudice me to love a yarn that I otherwise would at best like somewhat or at worst not consider at all.
It did not stop me when I read a name that captured me the moment I read it, “Jamie’s Kilt.” A set of mini-skeins in the muted colors of an old Scottish kilt are nice enough, but put that name to it and that yarn was in my cart and checked out minutes after reading the yarn’s name. It did not stop me from telling my knitting group about it, all of whom loaded their carts and checked out within the next 24 hours. Each of us are embarking on our own personal journey in our group’s KAL; each choosing her own personal way of being wrapped in Jamie’s kilt. That name silenced all our rational voices, thoughts, and restraints.
For all the hours that are spent knitting, perhaps the joy felt from inserting myself into a story, or a place, or a time, or a memory, stitch by stitch, is reason enough for allowing rational thought to give way to imagination. If the very idea of the yarn increases the pleasure of seeing and touching the yarn through its long journey from selected skein, to wound cake, to yards of fabric, then that long journey is just that much more enjoyable for the knitter behind the sticks. With over 600 yards of Jamie’s Kilt to knit, there is a lot of enjoyment in my near future. And in the end, having made that journey, I will be wrapped warmly in Jamie’s Kilt long after the Visa bill is paid and forgotten.