Umbagollah, in a comment the other day, contributed this quotation from George Eliot's Felix Holt:
"A little daily embroidery had been a constant element in Mrs Transome's life; that soothing occupation of taking stitches to produce what neither she nor anyone else wanted was then the resource of many a well-born and unhappy woman."
Although I spin wool and knit, rather than doing embroidery, I instantly recognised myself in Mrs Transome. I too am a person who takes 'stitches to produce what neither she nor anyone else' wants, churning out all manner of impractical and unnecessary garments, mainly so that I can give myself an excuse to watch tosh on the television, without worrying that I am 'rotting my brain' (thank you, mother, for embedding that phrase in my mind).
Still, apart from allowing me to indulge my passion for The Mentalist and Agatha Christie dramatisations (both vapid, I know - but I am the person who, on realising that I was going to set off on a journey through Cultural Revolution Communist China, across the Gobi Desert, to Ulan Bator, said to my mother, 'Oh, I don't want to go tomorrow, I won't be able to find out what happens on Number 96'), my craft activities do, just sometimes, turn out to be not completely futile.
Perhaps the most notable occasion on which they did in fact serve a useful purpose was last year, when a close relative who had developed the habit of being nasty to me gave birth to a little girl. As soon as I heard the news, I set to work with wool and needles. Taking infinite pains, I fashioned the most useless garments I could think of to give to the new-born infant - a pair of pure white, lace-fine handspun booties, threaded with the best silk (dry-clean only) ribbon that money good buy.
I wrapped these exquisitely impractical items in the most delicate tissue paper imaginable, and I tied up the package with an extravagant velvet bow. At the christening, I handed over the present with a show of great warmth, grinning with pleasure as my relative gritted her teeth and expressed amazement and appreciation at the time and care I'd taken. She gushed her thanks for my unexpected thoughtfulness and gushed again on paper a fortnight later, praising my efforts and describing her surprise and delight at the trouble I'd gone to.
Of course, I go out of my way now to see my relative as often as possible. After all, each time I do, she has to fish out the dratted booties and either waste precious time hand-washing them or pay good money to have them dry-cleaned. She knows as well as I do, that, should her infant ever appear in my presence with her feet uncovered by my creations, it would be a faux pas that could not be overcome - not a throwing down of the gauntlet, exactly, but certainly a tossing aside of the bootie.
I should point out that I never stay long when I visit. Somehow, I'm always in a rush. 'I'd love to have a proper chat but I can't this time,' I tell my relative, 'I'll just have to come back again very, very soon'. And I do. I keep my promise to my relative faithfully. I come back time and time again.
And I think the only thing that keeps my relative going through all this is the idea that there's light at the end of the tunnel. Soon it will be the baby's first birthday and not long after that the booties will become too small. What she can't know though is how hard I've been working. Each evening I've been busy with my needles, 'taking stitches to produce' something even more intricate than the booties - and also fiendishly difficult to clean. I'll have it ready in time for the baby's birthday. I expect that the instant that she tears off the wrapping my relative will be utterly overcome.
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