makkin-wires — jenny elliott
The Shed Press, Lucklaw Farm Cottages,
Balmullo, Fife KY16 0AL, 2015
The potency of patterns
This little pamphlet, tall and small, is hand stitched in the middle, as is wholly appropriate, because it’s about hand-made things, of which poems are only one. The ‘makkin-wires’ are the Shetlandic knitting needles. The Shetland sheep on the front cover are set against the pattern of a lace shawl, a ‘hap’ shawl (you can see all the individual stitches). The end papers are translucent, like tracing paper, but the same shawl pattern is there. The poems inside are punctuated by four pages in full colour, showing designs for knitting or lace work.
The pattern of the words alone will haunt you. Names for natural wool colours:
Black, shaela, emsket,
grey, light grey, white, musket, fawn,
moiget, moorit, brown
Then the two types of Shetland fleece:
Kindly for infants,
it’s there in the crimp, beaver
for living and toil
The paper itself has a faint glitter, like fairy dust. Beautiful to hold and read. And only ten poems in all, some personal – about the poet’s Shetland origins; others about the patterns and traditions of the knitting. You can learn a lot from this little pamphlet.
My favourite of the personal poems is ‘Granny’. It has a wonderful opening line (‘Let me tell you about my other Granny ...’). What Jenny Elliott goes on to tell the reader is part of the pattern that has become part of her. Knitting is about more than knitting, and the thing it makes lasts longer than a garment.
This pamphlet, which in itself is more than a little collection of poems and Fair Isle patterns, won the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award in 2016. You have only to pick it up and hold it to see why.