The Wee Small Hours Revisited

Yesterday evening I left the shop with a plan to sit down and write to you all with a rather marvellous centuries-old story about a wool maker in central Spain. But by the time I got home a bit before midnight, the plan unexpectedly got up-ended. 

In the intervening hours I found myself in an audience at the British Library listening to a conversation between the author, Malorie Blackman and the poet, Jackie Kay. The event was celebrating the publication of Blackman’s memoir, Just Sayin’ , that tells the story of how a book-hungry child grew to become one of the most celebrated YA authors of her generation, whilst facing off countless acts of passive, explicit, and always shocking racism. Blackman was funny, relatable, and above all hopeful. I can only imagine the book will also be a total tonic. 

So where does the knitting come in? 

Actually there was no knitting, wool or anything stitchy about the evening at all – both writers were elegantly dressed in satins and velvets. And in spite of being moved and delighted by Blackman, it was the sound of Jackie Kay and her lyrical inteventions and poetically phrased questions, that I went home with. I’ve loved her writing for longer than I can remember, but it was the sound of her voice that really prompted me to want to dig up a  memory that I caught in a blog post from a very long time ago to share with you all, written when a sleep-deprived and very anxious knitter was desperately trying to finish getting an abandoned hair-braiding salon ready to turn into a woolshop…

The Wee Stitched Hours:  a Wild and Woolly blog post from April 2014:

Tossing and turning again last night, I switched on my bedside light and found a little book of Jackie Kay’s poems on the shelf called Cherry Red, beautifully illustrated by Rob Ryan.  A CD fell out of a flap in the back so I slipped on some headphones and Jackie unknowingly soothed this too-tightly wound knitter and took me off to other night time lands..

The Knitter by Jackie Kay

I knit to keep death away

For hame will dae me.

On a day like this the fine mist

Is a dropped stitch across the sky.

I knit to hold a good yarn

For stories bide with me

On a night like this, by the peat fire;

I like a story with a herringbone twist.

But a yarn aye slips through your fingers.

And my small heart has shrunk with years.

I couldn’t measure the gravits, the gloves, the mittens,

The jerseys, the cuffs, the hose, the caps,

The cowls, the cravats, the cardigans,

The hems and facings over the years.

Beyond the sea wall, the waves unfurl.

I knitted through the wee stitched hours.

I knitted till my eyes filled with tears,

Till the dark sky filled with colour.

Every spare moment. Time was a ball of wool.

I knitted to keep my croft; knitted to save my life.

When my man was out at sea; I knitted the fishbone.

Three to the door, three to the fire.

The more I could knit; the more we could eat.

I knitted to mend my broken heart

When the sea took my man away, and by day

I knitted to keep the memories at bay.

I knitted my borders by the light of the fire

When the full moon in the sky was a fresh ball of yarn.

I knitted to begin again: Lay on, sweerie geng.

Takkin my makkin everywhere I gang.

Een and een. Twin pins. My good head.

A whole life of casting on, casting off

Like the North sea. I watch wave after wave,

plain and purl, casting on, casting off.

I watch the ferries coming back, going away.

Time is a loop stitch. I knit to keep death away.


Thankfully this poem was reprinted in our favourite Ten Poems about Knitting so you don’t have to trawl through old newsletters if you want to reread it.

As to the story of the Spanish wool maker? I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a bit longer for that, but I promise it will be worth it!

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