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Needles, Yarn & Thread
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
Needles, Yarn & Thread

“But I can’t get it right!” protested a voice in Westron.

“Yet,” said a feminine voice firmly, its tone blending amusement and exasperation.

Following Galadriel’s conversation with Gandalf after they had met with Saruman and Elrond in the Peredhel’s private study, she had slipped out, finding her way to one of the smaller gardens.

The accent of the speakers was slightly different than that of the Elves of Imladris; curious, Galadriel moved forward until she could see into a small alcove where a bench had been built against one wall out of the wind this sunny spring day. A woman of the Dúndain was seated upon it, her dark hair neatly braided except for an errant strand teased loose by the breeze, hands busy with something in her lap. At her feet, on a large cushion, sat a boy with similar glossy hair, head bent over something.

“Ow! It bit me!”

“My son, a needle cannot bite you. Where is your thimble?”

“I lost it.”

“Then until you find it or get another, you will either have to watch more carefully what you are doing, or suffer its sting from your haste and inattention.”

The boy glanced around, then up at her. “May I use this instead?”

The woman laughed. “Yes, you may, for now. But I think that thimbles were invented by the Lady Iolande of Dol Amroth—and she used a seashell, not acorn caps.”

“Really?”

“Well, that’s the tale that my mother Iorwen told me when I was a girl not much bigger than you are now. But I can see that you have honestly tried, so you may put it up now and run see if Elrohir and Elladan are back yet from their hunting. Go out through the other gate, please, and don’t forget to close it behind you.”

“Yes, Mother. No, Mother,” said the boy, put the cloth he had been struggling with into her outstretched hand, and kissed her cheek. “May I clicket the stickets instead of doing this tomorrow?”

She smoothed it out on her knee. “You only have one more side to fix, and that won’t take long. When you’ve finished this task, you may do the other.”

“Oh, good! It’s much faster!” He bowed to her and ran off, waving one hand as she called after him, “And don’t slam the gate!”

The woman looked down at the cloth and without looking at where Galadriel stood asked, “Would you rather I withdraw and leave you some privacy, lady?”

Galadriel stepped more fully into view. “Not even many of my own people would have known I was here. How is it you did?”

Rain-grey eyes twinkled, although Galadriel detected an underlying sadness. “Ah, I was raised by a Ranger, and knew a couple of Hobbits who gave me a few pointers. And I am always alert when my son is with me.”

For the first time, Galadriel noticed a large pair of beautifully-wrought shears laid on the bench beside a work-basket, and a long bodkin in its lining. She suddenly realized that some of the larger pins in the ivory needle-keeper were long enough to work as throwing-knives, all within reach. “You are well-armed in the Last Homely House,” she said.

“I knew Lord Elrond was expecting visitors, although not whom he would be entertaining, and while I have no fear of my son’s safety most of the time, outsiders are sometimes quick to take offense that we are even here, two simple mortal folk.”

“I am Galadriel of the Golden Wood. May I know your name? And I doubt there is anything simple about you, lady.”

The Dúnedan woman rose and curtseyed. “I am called Gilraen daughter of Dírhael of the North, my lady, at your service. Shall I leave you?”

“I think it is rather I who invade your domain,” Galadriel said tentatively.

She received a smile, and a gesture inviting her to sit; automatically sweeping her skirts into graceful order, she sat on the other end of the bench. “What was your son doing?”

“Estel likes to pretend he is a squirrel, and while all boys his age need to play at times, he keeps forgetting not to do it while wearing his best new trews. Having mended them twice already this month, when he tore them again today, I decided he should learn to do it himself.”

“Surely there are those who would care for his clothing,” she said.

“Certainly there are, and most kindly, but he must not grow up to be thoughtless, nor to expect others to drudge for his comfort. And sometimes keeping an active small boy decently clad can seem like it,” Gilraen said wryly. “The child will grow; his clothes will not, as the old saying goes. I dread those growing periods; he seems to sprout inches almost faster than I can spin, weave and sew—and while the folk here are most generous and kind in helping, any mother wishes to clothe her own children as a matter of pride and skill. Have you any children, Lady Galadriel?”

“One daughter, now in the West,” she said, surprised that this odd woman living there did not know. “She is Elrond’s wife, and the mother of his children.”

“The Lady Celebrian?” A swift indrawing of breath, and a sympathetic glance. “Ah, forgive me for asking! You must miss her so much!”

“We shall meet again, in time,” Galadriel replied by rote. No, it had not been sympathy, but empathy in the mortal woman’s look. She said softly, “I had not expected the Chieftain’s son to be fostered here so young.”

“Why should you think of him at all?” asked Gilraen matter of factly. “I know that you are among the great, Lady Galadriel, and have many important concerns to occupy your time.”

Galadriel was well aware of it—and suddenly wondered at the subtle note of….was it irony? She had a sense of being dismissed, for the first time in at least an Age. But Gilraen’s head was bent over her basket, folding and tucking the trews inside it, so she couldn’t see her expression, and for a human, she was remarkably hard to read. Instead the elleth asked, “Do you play chess?”

“Occasionally, although I am a poor player compared to most here,” Gilraen answered.

“You probably would improve with time—I beg your pardon!” she added. What was wrong with her, giving such an unprovoked insult!

Gilraen flashed her a smile. “No offense taken, I assure you! I probably would, if I were moved to play more often, and with more concentration, but all my lifetime would not equal that spent by an Elf in the same pursuit. I spend my time on other tasks I enjoy more.”

Seeking safer ground, Galadriel asked, “May I ask you a question?”

“What is it?’

“What did your son mean by ‘clicket the stickets”?”

Gilraen laughed. “Why, this,” and lifted something woolen and tubular out of the basket, holding it up for better viewing. Four polished sticks bristled from its top, each sharpened into points at both ends, and bright blue and red yarn trailed from them, unwinding from balls that fell out; she stooped and picked them up in her other hand.

Galadriel looked at it with interest. “What is it?”

“Have you never seen knitting before, my lady? Oh, I forgot; Elvish hose is seamed cloth. In the North we knit our stockings, and oftentimes hats, scarves, mittens, tunics and other things as well. These stitches are fairly easy, a way of looping the yarn into cloth.”

“A kind of weaving.” Thank the Valar, she had managed not to say the word primitive, for she had no wish to be patronizing.

“Oh, there’s an even more basic way than that, called finger-weaving, for narrow things like garters and sashes and such,” Gilraen said. “And a variant using thin wooden cards or a dowel, to make more elaborate patterns, mostly for trimming. But where I was raised, all learn to knit, boys as well as girls. Even the poorest can thereby create fabric of a kind, and my son is learning. He likes bright colors best now.”

“Those are bright,” Galadriel agreed.

“Much as I dislike the sight of them close together in stripes, it is helping to keep his interest in making them,” his mother said. “And when he is a Ranger, and Chieftain, out in the wild on patrol, he may very well wish to make more of them—although I daresay the shades he chooses will be quieter by then!”

“We Elves usually think of such cloth crafts as female work, and I had thought it true as well of Men,” Galadriel ventured.

“Mayhap in other lands,” Gilraen agreed. “But my boy will spend at least part of his life among us, and while he could not receive a better education than Lord Elrond is generously providing, I shall provide him with other skills he will need, including the use of needle, yarn and thread! Small crafts, I know, but useful.”

Gilraen of the North was not one whit awed by the Lady of the Golden Wood, Galadriel realized. Strangely, she found that knowledge a relief. “Do you enjoy doing it, the knitting?”

“How not? It is creating something almost out of the air, with yarn and knitting-needles, something useful and in some instances, pretty as well as warm. Sometimes I find it very calming.”

“Calming,” Galadriel repeated. She had not felt very calm at all that day, until she paused for this conversation. Oh, she always appeared imperturbable and serene; to be otherwise would be not only unseemly but detract from her appearance. What had once been an effort of will had become habit.

“The recipe for sleeping on difficult nights, my lady,” said Gilraen, “consists of a cup of chamomile tea, plain knitting, and a purring cat curled in one’s lap.”

“Is it difficult to learn?” she asked.

A quarter of an hour later, the Lady of the Golden Wood rose to her feet, a ball of purple yarn and one of white in her hands along with a pair of polished wooden sticks. “I shall practice this evening,” she said.

“And I shall challenge Lord Elrond to a game of chess,” Gilraen said, also rising.

“You would be welcome in Lórien, Gilraen, you and Estel.”

“My thanks, lady. You must go now?”

“Regretfully, yes. Thank you for the grace of your homely wisdom,” Galadriel said that truth without any irony. “Estel will do well, having both Imladris and the North.”

“I hope so. You are most welcome, Lady Galadriel. May the Valar guide and guard you!”

“And you as well.”

Gilraen looked up from her deepest curtsey; the garden was empty, save for a dropped clipping of yarn from the golden lady’s first attempts to duplicate what she was shown.

~~~

My blind grandmother began teaching me embroidery stitches when I was 4, determined I should be initiated into the family tradition of needlewomen. I adapted a Breton legend, “Lady Yolanda’s Thimble” for the reference, because while I didn’t learn that story until long after Granny’s death, our sewing times included many proverbs and folktales about cloth-making crafts.

Mother taught me four knitting stitches when I was 9, but after making hats as gifts in college 40 years ago, I stopped doing that until a few days ago. Because my husband gave me a terrifyingly intricate lacy harp shawl pattern for Christmas, I am now embarking upon the matching arm-warmers pattern in the hope that making them will render the shawl less intimidating, so have now taken up the sticks again. As a young child I loved saying, “Clickit the stickets,” for the rhyme and feel of the words in my mouth. Aragorn decided it’d be fun too. It was customary for many Highland Scots, of both genders, to knit stockings, particularly to usefully beguile long hours spent in solitary herding on the hills, and as a means of earning some extra money. My father (1907-1997) once helped me untangle my first knitting efforts, explaining that he had learned to knit in school during WWI, when all American schoolchildren contributed to the war effort by making balaclava helmets and scarves.

The saying about children but not clothing growing is a Welsh proverb.

I envision Gilraen deciding to adapt her parenting skills to help her son navigate part of his future; as a Ranger, Aragorn must learn to be fairly self-sufficient in caring for himself on patrol, and while they were considered vagabonds by Hobbits, they were not ragged and down-at-heel if they could help it. In those cold climes, a tear or insufficient layers could lead to illness.

I have never wanted to write about Galadriel because of her perfection; it distances her from me in ways that Arwen does not. So the meeting between the mortal woman, who after some seven years among the Elves may have found more self-confidence than at the beginning, and the legendary Elf-woman, who may be somewhat lonelier than she realizes because of her lofty status and cares, grew out of that contrast. Aragorn–and Dawn—provided the way to thread them together.


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