Monday, November 8, 2010

Granny Funk and the Crochet Hook VS Miles and the Screwdriver

When I was a kid, my parents read us a story called Miles and the Screwdriver. It follows the antics of an obsessively inquisitive child named Miles who acquires a screwdriver and begins taking things apart, just to see how they work. It begins with a simple pencil sharpener and quickly escalates into screwdriver-crazed destruction, until Miles by some means unclear makes it to the north pole and the very big screw which holds the whole world together. He is interrupted at this point by God, who points out the obvious impending consequences but overall turns out to be a good sport and gives Miles a chance to atone for his sins through a goodly dose of the Protestant work ethic, repairing everything he has thus far disassembled. No minor task, since that included much of the known world (even as a kid I was skeptical about the importance of screws in so many major historical buildings, but my construction-adept father said nothing).

I recently found myself in somewhat the opposite position to Miles – trying to put something back together to see how it worked. I was repairing this beautiful crochet blanket.

It was the first time I have attempted a major repair on a piece of someone else's work, and an interesting experience since the ability to “read” stitches is pushed to a whole new level when you have a disintegrating tangle before you and have to work out how to rework sections that have unravelled and yet still have other stitches trying to attach themselves to whatever's left. I had assumed I would have to add in extra cotton, but didn't since what had unravelled had initially been enough.

It's interesting trying to puzzle out a construction technique that's different from the form of crochet I know. In the end my work was a good approximation but not the same method, since the original stitches seemed to be trebles with some kind of double-twist in them I couldn't explain (if anyone knows the name of this, let me know!).

It felt good to repair something so beautiful, and it made me reflect upon our tendency to throw things away rather than repair them. Despite a common assumption that materialism underpins consumer capitalism, the prolific generation of material objects – often of dubious quality – trains us to not value any one thing in particular, since everything is replaceable and in fact, consumerism depends upon our desire to replace what we have. Reconstructing another person's handiwork is a kind of participation in, and renewal of, a creative process started by someone else, a kind of passing of the baton of beauty. The labour of restoration says “This is beautiful, and it is enough”.

I'm unclear about the final moral of Miles and the Screwdriver. Certainly in my own family, the tendency to take things apart has always been linked to the the quest for understanding in order to repair and create. But certainly deconstruction is easier than repair or creation, on the moral and intellectual planes as well as the material one.

I hope whatever I choose to pull apart is eventually in the service of repair – repair of blankets and of human society. Post-industrial visionary that I am, though, I am uncomfortable with the idea that the world is held together by a screw. I would suggest instead a dovetail join, right in the centre of the earth.