twinkle twinkle

This post is written out of curiosity . . . do you ever suffer from terrible earworms that are directly related to what’s on your needles? Let me explain . . .

This is Mary Delany – our latest bluestocking and, being colourwork, one of my favourite club patterns to knit. I wanted to create a floral trellis for Delany (in homage to her botanical interests, and her famous “paper mosaicks”). This chart features a floral motif at the centre of a trellis whose simple, tapering lines have, for me, an eighteenth-century vibe.

Made up largely of ones and twos, with no long floats, it’s a great chart if you are new to stranded colourwork over small circumferences, because there are no long floats to worry about, (and maintaining an even tension is easier). The pattern is a repeat of twenty rows and fourteen stitches, and the centred flower and trellis motif means that each repeat is always divided into two pairs of seven stitches.

The pattern is incredibly rhythmic, and easy to commit to memory. The alternating structure of several rows are mirrors and echoes of each other. I dearly love a rhythmic knit, and as soon as I’d worked one repeat of the chart I knew I was going to enjoy this one – the pattern was such fun!

Sitting knitting my sock in my garden hut, the only sounds around me were those of the birds and the occasional clank of the gate taking walkers onto the West Highland Way. But soon I began to hear something else! The alternating shades that I was knitting (repeating over two sets of seven stitches) began to resolve themselves into a musical phrase, that repeated over seven simple notes.

As I picked out stitches with my right and left hand – two two, two two, two two, one – my knitting was playing “twinkle, twinkle, little star.” (Go on – sing it to yourself, and count it out – you’ll quickly hear how the phrases work in groups of seven, split into twos and ones, just like my stitches).

At first the fact that my brain had somehow picked out a series of notes from the rhythm of the stitches I was knitting rather interested me – was it just one row that sounded like Twinkle Twinkle? No, in fact, in turned out that several chart rows were worked over the same rhythm, and quickly resolved themselves into the familiar nursery tune. As I knitted, as I tried to commit the pattern of the chart to memory, my brain had spontaneously created its own melodic mnemonic – how fascinating!

This fascination waned quite quickly, however, for who really wants to hear this simple childhood melody, in their head or in any context – more than once? But I was most definitely stuck with it. I knitted on, but soon, I was unable to knit certain rows without hearing Twinkle Twinkle. I began to approach these rows in which the melody appeared with a mixture of horror and trepidation. I wanted not to hear it. Could I possibly avoid the earworm? But no, there it was again, ye gods. Many random demons may be sent to disturb an hour’s relaxing knitting, but surely few can be more irritating than a Twinkle Twinkle earworm.

Frankly, the only way I could knit my second Mary Delany sock enjoyably was to listen to music while doing so – music whose satisfying melodic complexity erased the evil earworm of the little star.

So, I want to know: does the rhythm of your stitches ever resolve itself into a melodic earworm? And does your brain ever conjure up things more interesting than Twinkle *&*%^%* Twinkle?

And if you have literally no idea what I’m whittering on about, just try knitting a Mary Delany sock and see. (But please don’t come back to blame me for your earworm. . . )