why alhambra?

Posted on Posted in designing, lace/shawls, projects

it was a really smart idea to concentrate on WIPs yesterday and not think about a new design for a bit. in fact, i think i’ll keep that agenda going for today too; it’s a refreshing break and good for my brain.

even though it was gorgeous outside yesterday, and i did spend some time out there riding my bike, i managed as well to get lots done on my two scarves in progress.

pear and trellis (left in fearless fibers alpaca lace) is just about at the halfway point, so it’s a downhill ride from here with that one. yay. (and thank you for your comments on its prettiness; its self-esteem has been assuaged).

and in the evening i worked on my other new scarf (right, in dicentra alpaca lace), and got that to about the one-third point (it’s hard to estimate size with these, since they contract so much and will change so drastically in the blocking).

here it is with the light shining through; i think you get a better feel for the motif this way.
and what about that color?? in other photos it looks a lot more flat and i’ve been challenged to find a way to show off the incredible complexity of the color. it is a deep paprika with gorgeous highlights of copper and gold, which require some light to bring them to life.

and today, we have light galore, so out to the yard we went.

kim (who is test-knitting one of these scarves with her own yarn) asked me where the name came from, so i told her that the repeating motif makes me think of alhambra, an architectural wonder situated in granada, in southern spain. it is a palace and former fortress that features a startling amount of elaborate arabesque (the south of spain was dominated by islamic culture until about 1500), both in its architecture and the art and carvings which cover its every surface (again, click on the word alhambra to be taken to the page of text and photos about the palace). why, even the water springing from the fountains forms a repeating motif. it’s spectacular.

arabesque, the defining art form of this structure, is described (in wikipedia) thusly:

The arabesque is an elaborative application of repeating geometric forms that often echo the forms of plants and animals. Arabesques are an element of Islamic art usually found decorating the walls of mosques. The choice of which geometric forms are to be used and how they are to be formatted is based upon the Islamic view of the world. To Muslims, these forms, taken together, constitute an infinite pattern that extends beyond the visible material world. To many in the Islamic world, they in fact symbolize the infinite, and therefore uncentralized, nature of the creation of the one God (Allah). Furthermore, the Islamic Arabesque artist conveys a definite spirituality without the iconography of Christian art.

The arabesque can also be equally thought of as both art and science, some say. The artwork is at the same time mathematically precise, aesthetically pleasing, and symbolic. So due to this duality of creation, they say, the artistic part of this equation can be further subdivided into both secular and religious artwork. However, for many Muslims there is no distinction; all forms of art, the natural world, mathematics and science are all creations of God and therefore are reflections of the same thing (God’s will expressed through His Creation). In other words, man can discover the geometric forms that constitute the Arabesque, but these forms always existed before as part of God’s creation.

(i drew excerpts here, but really it is so fascinating, it’s worth taking the trip over there to read the whole entry and follow some of the links.)

arabesque has everything—art, science, math, history—and so beautiful. it is SO me.
now, my humble little scarf hardly approaches the magnificence of actual islamic arabesque,

but a phrase which caught my eye in reading about the art form pleased me enough to give it a name which echoes of the real thing:

For most Muslims, the best artwork that can be created by man for use in the Mosque is artwork that displays the underlying order and unity of nature. The order and unity of the material world, they believe, is a mere ghostly approximation of the spiritual world (which for many Muslims is the place where the only true reality exists).

i love that idea that what we make and see around us is a “ghost” of something far greater and more beautiful. one might say a mere ghost, but i prefer to think of it not as less than, but as a not-quite-developed clue or hint that more is possible, and to strive for it is to be on the right path.

ok, maybe that’s a lot to read into my own work, but hey, it keeps my mind busy while i knit. otherwise, i might be getting into more trouble than i do. hehe.

and now, back here on earth, i also worked on my new sock last night

i finished the leg, and in fact, i actually knit past the point that was good for it and had to rip back. i generally like my socks a little longer and usually knit a 7 to 8-inch leg before starting the heel. after 6 inches i thought the proportions of this was were perfect, but i decided to knit longer just to see. and well, it looked a bit snake-ey.

since this is more of a summery sock, i ripped back to the point i already knew was right, and felt happier. sometimes, i just have to prove myself wrong to be totally pleased.

i tried a couple of different slip-stitch patterns for the heel and i have to say, i’m not thrilled with any one of them exactly. i wanted to use something with a pebbly texture, and i found a couple of options, but when knit up, the scale was teeny-tiny and the pebbly part felt, well, like actual pebbles. not good at the back of the heel.

i then restarted a third (or maybe fourth time) with the eye of the partridge heel, which is cushiony, but a little wishy-washy in terms of the texture. hmm.
i left it that way at 4am, figuring i’d have another go at it tonight—maybe i won’t go with a slip-stitch pattern at all. there are some other textured patterns that are closer to what i’m thinking i want; they might not have the density of a slip-stitch pattern, but they are probably more dense than stockinette.

so you see?? once again knitting elevates me and then humbles me, all in the same twelve hours.

24 thoughts on “why alhambra?

  1. Alhambra oh Alhambra, such a magnificent place. I was there twice and am ready to go again tomorrow!

    Lovely looking scarves, so, what is the name of the green beauty?

  2. I suppose the meaning I’m about to blather about falls under ‘art’, though the arabesque excerpts you quote seem to be focussed on the more strictly visual/pictorial arts, but to me as a dancer, of course, arabesque is one of the foundations of dance. Fundamental to ballet and therefore to most modern Western dance forms which draw heavily on or play off ballet. And lace knitting and dance are very reminiscent of each other to me personally; the rhythms of the lace pattern as I knit across the row, once I have the pattern memorized and in my hands’ memory, are like dance steps: sl1, k2tog, psso, yo, k1, yo is like pas de bourree, glissade, step, grand jete (very rough translation: small triple step almost in place, leap, step, leap). It really is, that’s kind of how I seem to remember it, not really consciously.

    So arabesque, in addition to the wonderful, almost mystical meanings you’ve shared, has the perfect dance meaning to me that I already intuitively feel with lace knitting.

    And it does look like a dance in alpaca laceweight!

    By the way, I visited the Alhambra when I was a little girl. I remember it impressed me very much even though I was only 5.

  3. Ah arabesques. Truth must be said that muslim art forbids human representation, so early muslims developped a strong sense of abstract form. Also, coming from a nomadic background, art began by decorating everyday objects that had to be carried around: rugs, fabrics, guns, vessels… repetitive forms were easier to fit in the small areas allowed for decoration in those objects, I guess.Your lace is so lovely!

  4. Mmmm…. Alhambra. And those who don’t know the secret, liberating qualities of being awake on a regular basis in the wee hours have no idea why we like it so much. It’s just a bit incompatible sometimes with the rest of the world’s schedule though, huh.

    I’m completely salivating at that sock, Anne. Thanks for the extra thought about the heel. I like how you think.

  5. This was such a beautiful post, reminds me of when I was in Palestine and got to see some of the beautiful architecture there… That sock yarn is so darn pretty…

  6. Well, you get a an A+ on your concluding statement!! I really love that, almost as much as I love the relation of the scarf to its origins. Sigh…such a satisfying literary post! Yea! The work is all beautiful!

  7. Yes! I see Alhambra in the scarf! The color as well as the shape. It’s going to be so beautiful. Let’s go back and see Alhambra again. Oh, and I’ll be happy to wear the scarf while we’re there! Ha!

  8. I have a new admiration for the little scarf I will be working on today! I love where your inspirations come from!

  9. I echo many of the prior comments – what a wonderful insight you have given us. It’s fantastic that your travels have stayed with you in this way. I think we’re (commenters) probably “lining up” at your online store, patiently awaiting these patterns 🙂 Ah, thanks for staying up to the wee hours!

  10. Plato had a similar idea of the world around us as being a poor representation of the ideal.
    From wikipedia… Platonic idealism is the theory that the substantive reality around us is only a reflection of a higher truth.
    For him though it wasn’t that God had made a higher perfect reality and we are but a shadow, as much as the “idea” of a thing being a clearer more true truth than our imperfect attempts to create the material thing.

  11. Your scarves and socks are beautiful as usual.
    Will you put that pattern on the market and what
    size needles did you use? I have several of your
    patterns already and they are very beautiful.

  12. Pear and Trellis will have her day in the sun once she is blocked. It’s hard to compete with her showier sibling (wow, that color!…) but I think I might actually prefer the simple, understated P&T in the end. 🙂

  13. You’ve got to love our art — high philosophy and humble heels in the same day. This is why we knit. Of course, now I’m dying to actually see Alhambra! Time to head to Spain?

  14. A lot can be read into all works of art, and your work certainly qualifies as art! Besides, a source of inspiration wouldn’t qualify as such if you weren’t carried away by it, don’t you think?

  15. What a feast of lacy goodness! Thank you for providing so much background information—I love learning that almost as much as seeing your beautiful work.

    I understand about being drawn to all the blue tones you talked about in your last post—I find myself doing the same thing with all the green yarn in my stash right now!

  16. Absolutely gorgeous, both in the pictures and the writing.

    May I hope that the Alhambra scarf will have a larger sibling? I could really see an *amazing* shawl evolving from that stitch and your other ideas….

  17. Both your new scarves are fabulous.
    The changes that happen in blocking always amaze me.

    And the names… totally great. spot on. I always enjoy the naming of projects. Somehow it brings the entire process full circle.

  18. I have actually been in the Alhambra. We visited Granada last summer and spent a whole week in the Albaycin. From our little apartment we have a perfect view of the palace. It was amazing.

    So. I need that pattern. Need. It is a necessity. *nods sagely* =)

  19. Love the discussion and love the scarf. I too “need” the Alhambra pattern. I love the geometricality of it.

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