Beautiful to Me

Himself had heard about Gentner Commission Market, a flea & farmer’s market held in Springville NY every Wednesday morning since 1939, so yesterday we got up at sparrowfart to make a trip down there to see for ourselves. It’s only about 45 minutes away, but the strain of getting up so early made it seem much further to me; sloth-like, I am slow and grumbling the early morning light, unlike a certain other person in this house who greets each dawn with a song on his lips and a jaunty spring in his step. It’s fortunate for him that I’m too weak and uncoordinated to commit murder at that hour; I confess to considering it on more than one occasion when the alarm rings out in the darkness and I realize that very soon I’ll be trudging around on a cold dew-covered showfield so he can beat all the other blacksmiths and tool collectors to the rusty bargains.

Springville is fantastic if you’re looking for a farmer’s market; there were rows of tables overflowing with harvest bounty: ripe fruit, bushels of veg, local cheeses, apple cider, homemade bread and pies. As you wander the outdoor booths, keep a wary eye out for farm trucks trying to back up to the building to unload chickens, goats and calves for the afternoon livestock auction – the market has grown faster than the space available for it, and it’s crowded and busy.

The flea market sprawls up the hill behind the auction building. It’s not the best one I’ve been to for antique hunting; booths of bulk-purchase t-shirts, tube-socks and sunglasses, birdhouses, yard-sale cast-offs and tables groaning under the weight of cheap Chinese tools. There are treasures to be found, but you have to dig for them.


A few handsome flea-market finds

Nowadays, I don’t collect just for the sake of collecting; I buy things that I’m going to use. The laundry mangle is fully functional and in good condition – a bit of cleaning and oiling and it’ll be ready to go back to work; the lovely graphics on it are a bonus. I’ll use it to squeeze the excess water out yarn skeins when I’m dyeing. The sock blockers were an irresistible deal: $1. The dangerously pointy thing that’s sitting on them is a rug-hooking tool – yet another textile craft that I’ve been collecting books on and planning to try.

The best find of the day was buried in a stack of random textiles on a tidy table at the very back of the showfield – a lovely rectangular shawl, knitted closely from fine wool on small needles. It’s in quite poor condition, moth-eaten and yellowed with age. Though it’s generally difficult to put a date on textiles, I’d guess that this is pretty old – the pattern is garter-stitch based, typical of Victorian knitting. Subtle variations in the yarn and the colour of the wool make me suspect that it’s handspun, but I can’t be sure; if it is, the spinner was very skilled.

flea market shawl

Lacey ends, a plain garter-stitch center

shawl pattern

Close-up of pattern










The knitting is perhaps less skilled; there’s an obvious mistake down one side of the border in the middle section, where a vertical row of zig-sag eyelets is missing. If you examine the end section very closely, you can see where the pattern fails and somehow ends up with the borders out of sync – when the knitter got to the middle garter section, I can imagine her coming to a horrible realization of the error, and that her two choices were to carry on with no eyelet row, or rip hundreds of rows in the patterned end and start over.

She went the same way I would have: no way, we won’t be ripping all that out. It’s not an error – it’s a modification.

I felt an immediate sympathetic bond to that long-ago knitter; I’ve seen written patterns from the Victorian era, and they’re often hopelessly vague and riddled with errata. I can almost feel her frustration echoing down the years, and I admire her for carrying on and completing her shawl anyway. That mistake is what makes the thing most beautiful to me.


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