Clearer than Clear Water

“Hey! Come merry dol! derry dol! My darling!
Light goes the weather-wind and the feathered starling.
Down along under Hill, shining in the sunlight,
Waiting on the doorstep for the cold starlight,
There my pretty lady is, River-woman’s daughter,
Slender as the willow-wand, clearer than the water.
Old Tom Bombadil water-lilies bringing
Comes hopping home again. Can you hear him singing?”

Painting by the Hildebrandt Brothers, from the 1978 Tolkein Calendar. Image via The Golden Age; click for link.

After their near escape from the Black Riders, our four hobbit heroes cross the Brandywine bridge and into a long section not covered in Jackson’s films. If you have only seen the movies, you might assume that the village of Bree is to be found just on the other side of Buckleberry Ferry, but there is in fact a long stretch of the East Road between. That is a road the hobbits must avoid, so they take a long detour through the Old Forest. That forest is a mysterious and dangerous place for hobbits, who have an ongoing feud with the trees. Frodo and co., led by Merry, are guided by the shifting trees down to the Withywindle, a river that is said to be the center of all the strange goings-on in that strange forest.

Film interpretations have never quite known what to do with this excursis, but it has become a favorite part of the books for me just for that mysteriousness. Middle-earth is full of old magic. This bit of the story reveals that the oldest magic is not far away, over the Misty Mountains, shrouded in lavender-blue mist. The very oldest magic is so odd that it looks almost ordinary, so un-self-conscious that it is fearlessly funny. The wisest people I know are like that: too profound to take themselves too seriously. There are only a few things and characters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy that go all the way back to the first age: among them, the light of Earendil and the Palantiri, the Ents… and Goldberry and Bombadil. So they talk in stressed meter, and Bombadil bounces about the forest, but Bombadil is completely unaffected by the One Ring.

I’m not exactly sure why I decided to knit the “Goldberry” pattern before “Bombadil.” It wasn’t the most logical decision, honestly. I think the reason I did it is that before the hobbits encounter either, they come to the river, which is even older than them both. Goldberry is strongly associated with the river, as is the pattern (as you will see shortly).

“Tolkien based his mythic personages on Eurasian myth and cosmology. The Great Goddess who is mother of all things was, before Time existed, the element of water, undifferentiated. Time begins when her first offspring is born, and, according to Tom Bombadil, he is the Eldest, the firstborn. The River is the local manifestation of the primal Great Goddess, and Goldberry is her daughter, the spirit of all local waters existing in Time, alive and embodied.” – From the LotR wikia


Now, for the knitting. After some delightful spinning, I ended up with a graded cake of yarn that looked precisely like the Fiber Optics roving whence it came. I started with the light end, for no particular reason, and cast on listening to my husband read the hobbits into the Old Forest, on the last frozen Saturday night of January.


Then the rest just sort of happened. Here is my work after twenty-four hours:


Thirty-six hours:


And forty-eight hours.


Now, at this point, I was starting to get concerned about the quantity of yarn I had left. I knew my scarf would be shorter than the pattern called for, because my handspun yeilded just over 400 yards, while the called-for yarn had 560. But I had no qualms with a shorter scarf; I calculated I should be able to get 15 pattern repeats instead of 20, and a 4-foot scarf instead of 5.5 feet. A 4-foot scarf is reasonable.

But after only 3 repeats, I had already used a quarter of the yarn. After 5, I had used nearly half. I could deal with a short scarf, but this might not even make an ascot! Should I rip it all out and make the scarf two repeats wide, rather than three? Should I be prepared to make it into some sort of cowl-thing?




Naomi looked unconcerned, and I should have trusted her instincts. As I continued, the yarn got thinner and thinner – a hazard of my spinning taking place over a couple separated periods of time, during the latter of which I apparently had more patience. In other words, half the yarn by weight was only a third of the yarn by yardage! After a week of the lovely knitting time known as “going to class,” I had fourteen repeats under my belt.



I wasn’t sure I had enough for a fifteenth repeat, so I knit half of it. Then I did something that I don’t think I’ve ever actually done before: I used a lifeline.


That probably makes me sound like a snot, but despite teaching several people how to do it, I don’t think I’ve ever used a lifeline myself. Not because I didn’t need one, but because my technique is largely determined by laziness. If a safety measure is going to require that I (a) go upstairs and find some waste yarn, and (b) locate a tapestry needle, then forget it. I’ll teach myself to fix lace by eyeballing it if it means I don’t have to get off my tush. But this time, I looked at my wee ball of remaining yarn, and figured it wouldn’t be enough, but couldn’t bear not to try it. So I found some lace and a darning needle (conveniently located in a bag next to me, so I did not in fact have to get off my tush), and threaded a scrap through all the stitches on the needle.

Anyway, I did end up needing it, as I ran right out of yarn three rows into the border. Out came the last half-repeat, handily back onto the needles, eight rows of border and a bind off, and Bob’s your uncle, I have a scarf!


There is something very amusing about putting unblocked pieces on the baby. She looks ready to traipse through Russia in her fluffy oversized stole.

A simple blocking job, and Goldberry is home.



Roving review: Fiber Optics Merino/silk rovings are a dream to work with. This spun like butter. I bought another one at last Sheep and Wool, because a substance so delightful merits being collected. I was surprised, though, at how much the colors separated into blocks, almost stripes. I’m not bothered, but surprised, as it didn’t look that way in the roving. This was a chain-ply, so I might try something different next time.

But oh. So bouncy and cushy. I couldn’t stop knitting it. It was like home-spun crack.



The dark end is noticeably thinner, but I’m not fussed. I will call it “character,” and chalk it up to a consequence of not actually paying attention to what I’m doing while spinning.


Pattern Review: Goldberry by Susan Pandorf is a surprising lace pattern. It is definitely knitted lace, with action every single row from cast on to bind-off. The three rivers wind clearly up the middle, flanked by funny bits of lace that are simple to do, but have an unusual look, due to a factor I’ve never encountered before: I’m used to seeing yarn-overs placed smack-up against decreases, for whatever reason. But in this pattern, the yarn overs and decreases have one plain knit stitch between them. This has the intriguing result that those intervening knit stitches take up all the slack in the yarn overs, spreading themselves across the line of holes that would normally be created. So the holes are shrunken down, and a column of expanded knit stitches stretches across the gap. I’d not seen an effect like this before.


I didn’t have a real river to photograph Goldberry with, so I settled for a blue comforter. I am glad I stuck it out with all three repeats, since after all, I live in the city of three rivers. Couldn’t pass up a home association like that.


After a good blocking, Goldberry is a little scarf, but a respectable length. I will likely tie it in a wee knot, or keep it in place with a shawl pin. I will have to find somewhere suitable to wear it on St. Patrick’s day. (Forgive the picture below; I had just been out for a vigorous walk, and taking a selfie with a big DSLR is difficult.)



On to Bombadil!

3 thoughts on “Clearer than Clear Water

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