Pumpernickel Blue

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Eleanor Ingbretson

New Moon Rising - Worsted
Photo Credit: Brianna Mewborn

“Isn’t that a distinctive blue?” asked the owner of the yarn shop.

“Very,” I said, admiring the wool.

“The dye came from the exoskeletons of beetles that destroyed the Westphalian rye crop three years ago. There was no pumpernickel bread the next year,” she sighed, “so out of respect I named it Pumpernickel Blue. Very short dye lot.”

“I’ve seen this yarn before,” I said.

“Highly unlikely. I had only enough dye for seven skeins!”

“Maybe so, but I have seen it before,” I said, and ran the yarn through my fingers, envisioning a sweater for what, my mother’s dachshund? “How much?”

“Two-fifty a skein, and only two left. That’s two-hundred-and-fifty dollars,” she added, cutting short the beeline to my wallet. “It’s costly because of the dye.”

“Then that certainly was an expensively dressed tree I saw.”

“What do you mean?”

“Last autumn I participated in a yarnbombing. One in daylight, not one of those clandestine guerrilla knitter hit groups, though some masked knitters did attend. Anyway, we decorated such a pretty little grove of trees. I wrapped a fair isle design in grays and greens around a young ash.”

I was invited to sit and have some iced tea.

“You were saying you saw my Pumpernickel Blue there,” she prompted me.

“Oh, yes. In the center of the grove, a slender aspen was enrobed in a trunk length wrapping, in this very Pumpernickel Blue,” I said. “There is no question in my mind that the two yarns are identical.”

“It’s not only the color, it’s the exoskeletal bits in the fibers that make it so unique.”

“Don’t see them everyday,” I agreed.

“Especially not ones that glow under infrared light.”

We both laughed. She had to be kidding.

“I didn’t really look at the yarn until the artist left, but I think her mask might have had some of the same blue,” I said.

“Are the trees still wrapped?”

“Maybe, if the puffins haven’t carried the yarn away for their nests.”

“What town is it in?” she asked, ready to go.

“The bombing was in Reykjavik. Where the puffins are?”

“Oh.” She sounded disappointed. “There’s no way I can account for any of this wool being in Iceland. I sold two skeins to a woman who made a gorgeous vest, and I gave three to my daughter. That was a waste.”

“Hasn’t she made anything yet?”

“She finished a beautiful sweater. She blocked it and put it in her garden to dry. For the scent of the flowers you know.”

I nodded, sucked into knitter nattering.

“Going out to check, she found someone trying to steal it! Can you imagine?

“What did she do?”

“Lizzie tried to stop the woman. They each had hold of the sweater and were pulling it all out of shape. When the thief brandished a pair of scissors and began to hack at the sweater, Lizzie instinctively let go; she didn’t want to get cut.”

“Oh, my.” This was rough stuff for a knitter.

“She fell backwards and hit her head on a rock. Knocked unconscious! The thief escaped.”

“Is your daughter all right now?

“Yes, she is, thank you for asking.” She leaned in a little closer. “She and I are doing a covert yarnbombing tonight. Would you like to join us?” She asked this shyly; after all, though we’d spilled our guts, we were still strangers.

“I’ve never done a covert before.”

“We could use someone to help stitch the pieces together on the trees. Come. It will be fun.”

“What time?”

“We’ll rendezvous here at twenty-two hundred. Are you in?”

My new friend seemed sincere, and her kindly attitude belied the sinister terminology, so, though I had to be up at 5 a.m. the next morning to get back to Boston, I agreed to go.

“Wonderful! I’m Ethelina Zarkowski, by the way. Call me Lina,” she said.

“Very happy to meet you, Lina. Mary Warner.”

I bought five skeins of a lesser-priced yarn and was about to leave when some new patterns caught my eye. I browsed, and Lina took care of a customer who had come in with two little boys. From the next aisle, I could hear the boys whispering and laughing. One bet the other he couldn’t say ‘that word.’

“Can too.”

“Can not. Prove it.”

The dared sibling said quite clearly, and correctly: “Eyjafjallajokull!” followed by a juicy raspberry noise.

“Joey! Don’t make bad noises,” said their mother, without turning from her conversation with Lina.

I brought a pattern to the counter and was introduced to Judy, who would be yarnbombing with us.

“Excuse me, Judy, but how did your son learn to say that?”

“Eyjafjallajokull?” She smiled. “The au pair taught us last year, and we want to surprise her when she returns this afternoon for the summer. You’re familiar with the name?”

“I was taking a knitting class in Reykjavik when the volcano erupted. At the time I kept wishing it had been Mt. Hekla.”

I left the shop, wondering what to wear to my first covert yarnbombing. There were six of us: three teams of two, all darkly dressed. Lina, my partner, handed me scissors, ten large-eyed needles threaded with different colored yarns, and a pair of infrared night vision goggles.

“Very necessary piece of equipment,” Lina whispered, and, at her signal, we all switched on.

Each team had a large bag filled with pieces of knitting and crocheted granny squares. Our objective was to yarnbomb the three oaks in the town square. Lina held pieces up to the trunk of our tree and I laced them to each other as snuggly as possible. We went up as high as the lowest branches, and covered them also.

I was astraddle a low branch, sewing the last pieces together, when I heard the sound of a car coming and ducked. We’d had to do that several times, always remembering to flick our goggles off till the car drove by. This time it was a van that slowed and parked not ten feet from me.

I watched as four women in form-fitting black clothes jumped out of the van leaving the driver, balaclavaed in red, in the van with the engine running. The four on the ground, also wearing balaclavas, adjusted their night vision infrared stealth goggles over their eyes and went to work yarnbombing a maple in the middle of the square. In ten minutes they had finished, jumped back into the van, and sped away. One of them dropped her balaclava. I climbed down and snatched it.

We regrouped at the maple to critique their work, unfavorably if possible, when Lina’s sharp intake of breath startled me.

“Put on your goggles and see what they’ve done!” she said, pointing to the knitted snowflake design low on the trunk.

I personally never yarnbomb that low because of dogs, but this group was different, very different. I looked at the design through my goggles; some very tiny bits glowed when the infrared light hit them. Carefully working out a strand of yarn from the snowflake, I gave it to Lina.


The exhibits were on the table: a balaclava knit in an Icelandic pattern, the points done in Pumpernickel Blue wool, and a ten-inch strand of the same. Lina and Lizzie were distraught; both pieces evidenced the carnage of Lizzie’s beautiful sweater.

If I ever expected to get any rest before my drive to Boston and a full day’s work tomorrow, I’d have to leave this happy group now. I tried uselessly to interject my adieus into the conversation.

“Did they know we were going to bomb tonight, or was it just coincidence that they showed up?” asked Lizzie, and added, “I hate them.”

“Who were they?” asked Esther, Lizzie’s partner.

“The only other group who yarnbombs on the Cape claims to use only old salvaged knits,” said Lina.

“One of them pointed at me, and I know I was hidden,” said Judy.

“If you saw them, your face was showing,” said her partner, Louise. “How many of us mentioned where we’d be, or what we’d be doing tonight?”

“My husband and I talked about it while we were doing the dishes,” said Judy. “The kids and Sigrid came in then, but none of them care about this.”

My hand was almost on the doorknob, but I went back to the table. “Lizzie?” I asked. “Didn’t you see the face of the woman who stole your sweater?”

“I must have, but I hit my head when I fell and can’t remember more than a blur for the face.”

“Do you think she might have been wearing a mask, or a stocking pulled over her face?”

“I remember everything else; maybe she did have a mask.”

“Judy, dear,” I said kindly. “You need to match some of Sigrid’s hair with any you might find in this balaclava. If there is a match, you really should get a new au pair. Pulling apart a newly-made sweater for the yarn is not recycling. It’s a crime.”

I went to the door and opened it. “Goodnight, ladies. It was fun, but now my pillow is calling.”


Formerly a denizen of N.Y.C and then Boston, Eleanor Ingbretson now lives in the backwoods of New Hampshire with her husband, two cats, a goose and a duck. That information she only dreamed of one day being able to append to something she’d written! She’s a brand new writer; “Pumpernickel Blue” was only the second story she’d ever sent out. The first got her a very lovely rejection notice. She was intrigued by this Toasted Cheese contest. To write a story in forty-eight hours, premise unknown, word count to be announced: what a great challenge! She is so curious to read what the Gold and Silver authors did with their yarnbombing stories! Email: s3misw33t[at]gmail.com

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