– Imagine each word is a loop.
I hold two threads in my hand, a grey one, and a blue one. My needle pulls the blue yarn forward, loops and slides. A stitch. The grey yarn remains loose at the back of my knit, stranded. A float. In a few stitches, I will switch the two.
I loop an exponential pattern of yarns and words, intertwined to form a wave of matter and tales. Entangled.
Penelope weaves during the day, while her suitors await. She sits by her loom and moves her hands with precision through the tensed network of aligned threads. Her shuttle travels back and forth through the vertical warp. Inexplicably, she is always half-way through the tapestry.²
Bernard walks towards the still water. He is determined with his choice.
Carefully folded, his clothes rest behind him by the creek. The horizon is quiet, and he faces in stillness the obsidian surface of the lake.
At night, Penelope unravels what she wove during the day.
She stretches time for Ulysses to return to her.
The blue sweater is laying on my bed. Its resistance to keep shape demonstrates years of wear. Soft and textured, nonchalant garment. A faded label reads New Port.
– Vous trouverez mon corps au petit port.³
I should have asked for permission, but my friend is not here. Did she leave the sweater behind by mistake? I pass it over my head in a quick pull-over.
It is dark and wet for a lukewarm summer night. Wearing a slip and his sandals, Bernard let himself float at the water surface, and gently strands away.
– what a peaceful way to go…
– When mermaids die, they turn to seafoam and bubble up to the surface of the ocean.⁴
Since I was young, I found soothing in wearing my father’s sweaters.
Wrapped in a fragrance of his milky skin, cold tobacco notes, and the acid warmth of his sweat. But his scent is now long gone.
I have worn a few dead men’s clothes over the years.
How do you drown yourself to death? Are your pockets filled with stones to fight your own buoyancy? Do you shiver feeling the water cold? Do you feel the sand crisps whisper under your soles? Do you stare at the horizon as your lungs fill with water? Do you smile at the moment your last reserve of oxygen vanishes?
The blue sweater belongs to Bernard and is now my friend’s relic of her deceased grand-uncle. How could I go on holidays, borrowing his sweater without asking her? I honestly don't know, except that I can be thoughtless sometimes. Nevertheless, it was a perfect sweater for a ski vacation, a Fair-Isle pull-over.⁵
– Fair Isle. Fair well. Fare well. Sail well.⁶
There were always skeins of yarns and needles lying around the house. My mother was a knitter and my aunt was a weaver. Two sisters with pointy noses, sharp tongues, and dexterous hands. Needle tips rubbing onto each other and shuttle roaming the field of lines; clik-clak goes the gossiping chant of stitches.
Stitchery sounds like treachery. The witch.
sends Ulysses to the Underworld.
Liminal encounter with the seeing blind; Tiresias prophecy goes as follows:
– you will die, from the sea.
Unlike weaving, knitting can potentially expand to infinity. Does infinity mean eternity? Knitting is mobile, and when you begin, you never know where it's going to end. Over the years I have begun many knitting attempts that never reached an end. Resembling fragments of texts, the aborted textiles pile up in my drawers, still looped around their needles. The thought was never fully formed. When I give up the prospect of finishing, I swipe the loops off their needle and gently pull the loose yarn away. My left-hand winds the yarn back into overlapping loops of 8. Lemniscate, the infinity ribbon.
The study of historic knitted textiles is rather elusive, as very few pieces remain — a credit to its utilitarian nature. Objects were worn until worn out, and often unraveled to be reworked.⁷
Knitting relics vanished. Palimpsests of yarns.
– And there is not one myth about knitting?
When my mother left our house she left behind all the sweaters she had ever knitted. One day, I found them, stored on a high shelf of my cupboard. Succumbing to a wave of anger, I violently shove them in a large plastic bag; if you leave, take all your crap with you please.
– The emperor scrubs the records of his mortal enemy. He wants him off from history. Erasure, destruction, obliteration. Scratch the frescoes. Melt the coins. Do not even whisper his name. Damned memory...
– Melt and dissolve. Disperse and scatter. Damnatio memoriae.⁸
But iconoclastic vandalism entails subtle expressions of ambiguous remembrance and, rather than effacing memory, such acts of de-commemorating effectively preserve memory in obscure forms.⁹
– Don’t forget to remember!
–You need to forget to remember
My friend ships an envelope with the sweater of Bernard. I observe, I grope, I poke. The sweater is predominantly blue, size M, ribbed collar with a zipper. Acryl chenille yarns and wool bouclette.
A Fair Isle knitting.
I account for every stitch and thoroughly translate in visual records. I transcribe, I translate. Punching holes in punch cards; I rewrite the sweater’s original matrix.¹⁰
On those perforated partitions, voids create information.
Finally, I reverse the pullover. Inside out. The upside down. The pattern of stitches is replaced by interrupted lines in a muted tongue of stranded stitches. Textile as encrypted language, connecting strings when every word fails.
But Philomela’s tongue
does not die. Shards of memory fall through
her, finding muscle at the shore where blood
meets vein, cutting the string that’s kept
her sanity tied to the root. In its place,
mute swans lie dormant beneath frozen
lakes of scar.¹¹
– Don’t get your fingernails caught on a stranded stitch.
– Deafen your ears to not hear the mermaid’s scream.
At last, I landed on the sea’s lowest floor. The sand was so cold it burned my feet. All was silent there, the water utterly still. [...]
I cried out: ‘Great lord of the deep, I have come from the world to challenge you.’
I heard no sound. Around me stretched the blind expanse of salt. Then the darkness parted, and he came. Huge he was, white and grey, burned onto the depths like an after-image of the sun. His silent wings rippled, rills of current flowing off their tips. His eyes were thin and slitted like a cat’s, his mouth a bloodless slash.[...]
This creature was older than all the lands of the world, old as the first drop of salt. [...]
‘I come to win your poison tail.’¹²
Adorned with the poisonous stingray tail, at the hands of his frail son with Circe, a stinging spear. From the sea, from its venom and his own blood, Ulysses dies. Stroke dead by a fluid trinity.
– Unravel, Untangle, Untie – but never mystify…
Refusing to leave his action unexplained, Bernard writes a final note.
Je ne peux plus supporter ma surdité, donc ma solitude.
On peut me trouver petite plage port nautique.¹³
– We are knotted beings, says Donna Haraway.¹⁴
So let me spin again a string to connect u&i together.
– Re+solve and release
Eaten by moths, chewed on by his cat, the sweater of my former lover is full of holes and I relentlessly patch it.
– Did you ever hear of the sweater curse?¹⁵
– Never knit a sweater for a loved one!
Lover burns his sweater to dissolve the spell. Doesn’t he know curses can only be unwinded?
Shall we part with a last tale about a string? The Athenian hero meets the daughter of a king, who fosters a hideous beast. The infamous minotaur. Hidden at the pit of an inextricable labyrinth, the hero must slay the monster. Ariadne loves Theseus, and out of love, she will help him. In return, he must take her away with him. She brings a coil of yarn, and knots its end at the entrance of the maze. The string will bring him back safely.
Unwind / rewind.
Spun back to safety, the narcissistic lover forgets his vows. Ariadne gets abandoned on an island, stranded. Blinded with tears, she finds the last piece of string in her pocket and knots it in a spell of heartbroken revenge. Theseus’ father throws himself to its death in the sea.¹⁶
Swimming in clear water, so limpid underwater contours are distinct. Weightless, I pause to look. I see my two white legs gently undulating below me, and salty bubbles wandering at the surface of my skin. Behind goggles, I blink and slowly discern a large shadow moving towards me. I stare, immobile. Flat, flapping wings, gaping mouth, she comes closer and closer; majestic queen of the ocean, the Manta Ray. My endocrine levels fail to rush, natural beta blocker - spiritual ecstasy; submerged with bliss from my fingertips straight to my heart. I feel her immensity as she swims in circles around me. Time stops, I am one with her, she is one with me. I regress, her large wings hug me through the salty fluid, I feel the softness of her white belly, tender like rotten flesh. Slowly drifting away, I hear her whispers softly :
– it is time to forgive your mother.
The positive white circles I perforated out of punch cards have disseminated across my apartment. I spot them gathering at the dents of the steps of my stairs, nonchalantly laying on my kitchen floor, or stuck between the grooves of my wooden parquet. Proofs of resilience, a tide of negative spaces forcing their ways through. The void cannot be explained, the holes will not be filled, but we can learn to co-exist.
One string of yarn is pulled continuously and winded back on a rotating shaft.
Clockwise, time elastic as twisted flax, forward goes backward.
I have to run now because my Swiss friend is always on time.
I ask, what do we learn from myths?
– Text by Marie Ilse Bourlanges
published February 2021 in Simulacrum magazine Myths
¹ In knitting, a stranded stitch is a method of colorwork wherein the yarn not being used is held on the wrong side of the work, creating strands or ‘floats’ in the back.
² Inspired by Homer’s Odyssey. In Odysseus’ absence, his wife Penelope and son Telemachus must contend with a group of unruly suitors who compete for Penelope's hand in marriage.
³ Vous trouverez mon corps au petit port is the title of the exhibition of Virginie Rebetez in collaboration with Marie Ilse Bourlanges at Forma contemporary art gallery in Lausanne from 30 October to 28 November 2020.
The exhibition takes as a starting point the suicide of Virginie’s great-uncle, Bernard Rebetez, then 80 years old. On the night of 13th of June 2010, Bernard took his life in the lake of Bienne (CH), leaving his clothes carefully folded on the beach.
⁴ Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid (Copenhagen: C.A Reitzel, 1837).
⁵ Fair-Isle knitting is a type of stranded colorwork from Shetland, using only two strands of yarn per row.
⁶ In Dutch, ‘farewell’ can be translated as ‘vaarwel’, which translates back literally as ‘sail well’.
⁷ Apryl Zarfos Anderson, “History of Knitting: The Paradox in a Pair of Socks”,
accessed 12 december 2020, < (1) (PDF) History of Knitting: The Paradox in a Pair of Socks | Apryl Anderson - Academia.edu >
⁸ Damnatio memoriae is a Latin phrase meaning "condemnation of memory", indicating that a person is to be excluded from official accounts.
⁹ Guy Beiner, Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).
¹⁰ A punched card is a piece of stiff paper that can be used to contain digital data represented by the presence or absence of holes in predefined positions. Digital data can be used for data processing applications or used to directly control automated machinery (such as Jacquard loom or knitting machines).
¹¹ Excerpt from the poem by Melissa Studdart, “Philomela’s tongue says”, accessed 12 december 2020,< Philomela’s tongue says by Melissa Studdard | Poetry Magazine (poetryfoundation.org) >.
In his Metamorphoses, Ovid recounts the terrible tale of Philomela, who was raped and her tongue cut out so that she could not speak about her violation. Her loom becomes her voice as she encrypts her story in the woven pattern for her sister Procne.
¹² Madeline Miller, Circe (Wilmington: Little, Brown and Company, 2018), 243-244.
Circe is an enchantress in Greek mythology; she is the original witch. Using her vast knowledge of potions and herbs and a magic wand, she would transform her enemies – or those who offended her – into animals. The best known of her legends is told in Homer's Odyssey when Odysseus visits her island of Aeaea on the way back from the Trojan War. On that occasion, Circe transforms most of his crew into swines.
¹³ Suicide note of Bernard Rebetez. It would translate as “I cannot stand anymore my deafness, therefore my loneliness. You may find me, little beach, nautic port.”
¹⁴ Donna J. Haraway, When Species Meet (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), p.5.
¹⁵ The ‘sweater curse’ or ‘curse of the love sweater’ is a term used by knitters to describe the belief that if a knitter gives a hand-knitted sweater to a significant other, it will lead to the recipient breaking up with the knitter. In an alternative formulation, the relationship will end before the sweater is even completed.
¹⁶ Inspired by the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in Greek mythology, described among others in Sophocles' tragedy Oedipus at Colonus.