Moving right along, we get to the knitting part. Of course there’s a knitting part!
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Chapter Four: Roza’s Secret
Roza awoke at 2:30 the following afternoon and lay in bed in the twilight darkness planning her next few hours. She would need to wash and fold laundry, replenish groceries, cook a soup for Nadya, and then – then she would have time to go online.
Roza had a secret. In this city in which survival seemed to require hard work and hard drinking, she had a passion for useless, frivolous lace knitting, an activity that she carefully hid from her co-workers. Of course most of the women in Norilsk and even a few men knitted useful items all year round – hats, scarves, mittens, and wool socks. Roza had knitted her share, starting when Nadya first taught her as a young girl. But these projects did not capture her heart. To Roza, lace knitting was the ultimate test of skill and art in knitting.
She had stumbled into the world of lace shawls knit from delicate, expensive, yarns during a visit to Ravelry, the knitters website. When she had checked the day before, Ravelry had over 8,000,000 members, but only 16 Russians were online at the time. For Roza, Ravelry was her window into the western world. It seemed to Roza that those who posted on its forums were generally white, middle class, and inordinately fond of their pets. They dithered online about which yarn to order for the next Knit Along – yarn that cost a third of Nadya’s monthly pension. They said “supportive” things when someone’s boss or mother in law was mean, and cheered each other on through health crises and knitting successes. To Roza these women seemed to live in a magical, childlike world, where there was money, time, and energy to wax rhapsodic about a ball of yarn that had arrived in the mail. Roza had studied English for years in school, but was never sure that she completely understood what these women were communicating.
And yet. And yet, Roza had fallen under the spell. She bought used, moth-eaten, sweaters at the second-hand shop, carefully un-knit them, and wound up the resulting kinked up, pilled yarn. She taught herself the stitches and short cuts, learned to read schematic charts, and puzzled out the American knitting slang. Last Christmas she had presented Nadya with a warm shawl. She added a little lace, but not too much, lest she have to hear Nadya’s opinion of “time wasting.”
Today she planned to visit a Ravelry forum devoted to yarn dyers who regularly led online mystery knitting events. The yarn dyers were in the United States, and the patterns for the knit alongs were named after children’s stories that were familiar to American or British women, although Roza had not heard of all of them. The Knit Along events all followed the same pattern. The dyers would announce the name and general shape of the next Knit Along – “Our next knit along is Little Women. It will be a long rectangle with optional beads.” There would follow several months of discussion and excitement among the regulars about which color yarn to buy. That was the catch – to participate, you had to buy yarn from the dyers. Roza couldn’t afford that, and she marveled at it all – the skill of the knitters, the availability of extra funds to buy yarn, the ease of their lives.
Roza had another secret even deeper than her fascination with this Ravelry forum, a secret that she had not shared with anyone. There was a French magazine called “Fil et Tricot,” or “Yarn and Knitting.” The magazine was sponsoring a knitting design contest. Contestants were required to submit an original pattern for a lace shawl with photos of the finished project. Roza had decided to enter, and had been working on a shawl that she considered original or interesting. Roza had knit her pattern using yarn she had salvaged from discarded sweaters. She liked the result – and here was the daring part – she had bought some of the soft, lovely, fine yarn preferred by the knitters on Ravelry. She chose a set of skeins that shifted from deep blue to an irridescent green, which reminded her of the aurora borealis. She was now ready to knit up her entry to the contest. After thinking for a few minutes about yarn, knitting, the prizes for the contest winners, and the women who had both the time and the self-confidence to post on Ravelry, Roza got up and went to the kitchen and living area.
In the kitchen, Roza first checked on Nadya’s garden and replaced a burnt out light bulb. Roza would have been ridiculed for spending money on fancy yarn; however, it was considered a good use of money to buy lights that simulated the natural light spectrum. The lights served the dual purposes of helping to ward off Darkness Lunacy (“seasonal affective disorder” she had seen it called in western websites), and to enable Norilsk residents to grow plants. Roza was happy to pay for Nadya’s expensive light bulbs, especially since they led to the production of fresh flowers and vegetables. After breakfast, Roza began to cut an onion and two potatoes for supper, which they would eat when Roza got home the following morning. When Nadya said that she would take care of meal preparation, Roza returned to her room and worked on her knitted shawl.
But, when Roza left the apartment, Nadya did not immediately turn to chopping or cooking. She waited until she heard the door slam on the first floor before going to Roza’s room. Nadya was small, no more than five feet tall, and she joked that she was starting to shrink. She crossed herself as she gave daily thanks for whatever luck or fortune had allowed her to live so much longer than others in Norilsk. At this stage of her life, Nadya seldom left the apartment during the long night. It was too cold, too dark. In the apartment, however, she was aware of every speck of dust.
Specifically, she was aware that Roza was interested in lace knitting. This had first come to her attention several months ago, when Roza’s daughter Savina had broken her wrist. Nikolai had called after their early afternoon breakfast and Roza had immediately dashed from the apartment. This had allowed Nadya to peek at what Roza had been looking at on her laptop. Nadya did not regard this as inappropriate or intrusive; her life had been one in which the concept of a “boundary violation” was unknown.
Moreover, now that Roza’s mother was gone, Nadya regarded it as her duty to keep an eye on Roza. Nadya respected Roza’s work ethic, sensible approach to most things, and her easy going temperament. Nadya was as fascinated as Roza by the discussion forums on the Ravelry site, and admired the intricate lace shawls made by the mostly American, mostly female, knitters on the site. She concluded that Roza’s interest in knitting lace shawls, although frivolous, was not harmful. Nadya also knew that Roza was intending to enter the shawl design contest, and silently wished her luck.
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