There are more similarities between fountain pen users and knitters than you might think and one of the main ones is that, being human, we each develop strong beliefs about the ‘right’ way to undertake our hobby. In the knitting world you have the camps who like to knit items from the top down and those who think bottom up is better, or more correct. There are those (I’m in this group) who want to knit garments in pieces and then stitch them together and others who very strongly oppose this and want to knit the garment all in one piece without any seams. There are the pro-wool and the anti-wool brigades, groups who look down upon humble (cheap) yarns and only want to knit with yarn from exclusive artisan hand-dyers. That isn’t even touching on the really contentious issue – whether you knit on two straight needles or one long ‘circular’ needle.
And, yes, we knitters may smile to ourselves and know in our hearts that none of it matters, but somehow we feel strongly about ‘our’ way of knitting and will defend it against all comers. And so it is, too, in the fountain pen world.
Discussion points on the fountain pen side of things range from the breadth of nib that is ‘best’ to whether you prefer pens that have resin bodies or those mainly composed of metal (usually aluminium nowadays). The number of pens you own, and also the number of inks, is a fair gauge of how seriously you are into this hobby; and, of course, no pen is any good without paper and your choice there is a source of endless discussion. The nib characteristics, ink, and paper choice form a triumvirate which defines your whole writing experience in much the same way that the trinity of yarn, needles, and pattern dictates the success of your knitting. In both cases, of course, the end result is entirely subjective – success or failure is in your eyes alone.
There is one issue in the fountain pen community which seems to be most fervently argued and that is whether or not it is ‘right’, or acceptable, to post the cap of a pen. Posting simply means shoving the lid onto the end of your pen whilst you are writing rather than laying it down on a convenient surface. There are plenty of people who favour posting and, I think in the fountain pen community, slightly more who deem it an afront to nature. So I’m going to say it loud and clear, I post my fountain pen caps. There are two circumstances under which I don’t post – if the pen design means the cap won’t fit comfortably onto the end of the pen (in which case I probably won’t have chosen to keep the pen), and when ink which has seeped into the lid whilst the pen is resting gets transferred to the bottom of the pen’s body. I have one pen that is exhibiting that second characteristic at the moment and I’ve got to say not being able to post the cap is so annoying, but nobody wants a messy bottom.
The biggest argument against posting the cap is the issue of length/weight/balance. Now, weight and balance will come into play with some pen designs more than others; even smaller pens can have heavy lids which do annoying things to the centre of balance. I favour smaller, lighter-weight pens over larger, heavier-weight ones and I can fully understand that my stance on posting might not be practical if I began to gravitate towards what I will call the ‘statement’ end of the market. For those among you who don’t really ‘do’ fountain pens, a smaller, lighter-weight model would be what you think of as a normal pen; you may not even be aware of the awsome size reached by some designs.
I’ve dealt with weight and balance, but I think length is the real issue because those who prefer not to post sometimes remark that only people with enormous hands benefit from posting their caps. My hands are not enormous, they are not even large; they sit somewhere on the scale between small and medium – small and medium for a woman, that is. So I don’t need to post, yet to me it is what feels right. To me, there is something a bit off about the way a pen sits in my hand without the cap on the end. One reason for this is most surely nothing other than habit. If you have always posted the cap of your pen then your writing style will have developed based on that, and to change it is bound to feel every bit as odd to you as suddenly posting a cap will feel to someone who never does that. However, there is another thing at play here and this is where we get back to the connection with knitting.
When I knit I like to use two long, straight needles. For me, 30cm length needles are just right. I am used to the weight of the piece of knitting sometimes being towards the end of the right-hand needle and then slowly transitioning as I work a row until it’s mainly towards the end of the left-hand needle. The balance feels right to me as I work, and the main reason I avoid working with a circular needle (for you non-knitters, this consists of two short rigid tips connected to a length of flexible cord like a coarse fishing line) is that the weight of the knitted fabric sits in a different place. The balance as I work feels slightly wrong, it disquiets me. So, it seems likely that being used to working with a longer instrument and weight towards the back of it in my knitting has an impact on how I like my pens to feel. Or vice versa. No, I think I was right first time – I learned to knit when I was 5 and only started using fountain pens when I was, what, 8 or 9?
The most compelling argument that I’ve seen against posting is the danger of sharp edges on the cap damaging the pretty finish of your pen. However, it’s not something I’ve noticed on any pen I’ve owned so I don’t know how common it might be. I would hazard a guess that it’s more likely if you gravitate towards pens with screw-on caps where potentially sharp edges of the threads inside the cap could cause damage. I don’t own a single fountain pen with a screw-on cap, although I am not averse to trying them.
All of this has me pondering how much your choice of pens revolves around the unique set of parameters that develop into your style of writing. The pens that attract you, the pens that you buy, are being pre-judged by your own rules and even you may not be aware of what those rules are. It hadn’t occurred to me that I don’t buy pens with screw-on lids until I wrote it here and now it seems clear to me that, much as I might like the design of some of those pens, the ones I gravitate to all tend to have a push-on cap. It makes me wonder if I will ever own a fountain pen with a screw-on cap. I do own circular knitting needles, though; perhaps there isn’t room in my life for too many things that I don’t really like.
If you fancy oggling some fountain pens that run a little bolder than the ones you’ll see here, or just want to gawp at a perfect Suffolk holiday home, I can recommend this post on the UK Fountain Pens site.
If you’re in the mood to see some serious fountain pens, you could always watch Penultimate Dave’s latest “Currently Inked” video on YouTube – his collection blows my mind!