This is a natter about knitting; a bitchin’ about stitchin’. Yes, during woefully inadequate research for this knitterly post I discovered that here in the UK we have sedate groups of women (knitting is predominantly a female passion) who like to Knit and Knatter, whilst in the US they like to stitch and bitch. You can also think of this as a knitting yarn (or yawn if the thought of picking up a couple of pointy needles and doing something with a ball of wool leaves you cold.)
I started knitting after the birth of son No.1. I can’t even remember why I thought that knitting would be a good thing to do. I’d hated needlework at school (back in the day when needlework and domestic science were actually part of the school curriculum.) Mind you, you’d be hard pressed to find many 12/13 year olds champing at the bit to learn about the importance of an invisible hem or a straight as a die seam. And we had a battle axe of a teacher who was forever complaining that I didn’t take the subject seriously enough (which I didn’t.) That I had a dangerous tendency to muck about with the sewing machines and produce clothing nobody would be seen dead in. Visions of a lurid purple skirt are coming to mind. There was no knitting involved in needlework class, but I do have a hazy early memory of knitting via a strange cotton reel thing and ending up with a long cord of wool dangling from the bottom (most unattractive and what were you supposed to do with it?)
Desperate to find out what this cotton reel memory might be, I consulted Google and found ‘French knitting’, which is done via a spool with 4 nails in it, or a cotton reel. I was then gobsmacked to find that there is currently a very misguided bloke living somewhere in Kent who started a bit of French knitting in 1989 and seemingly couldn’t stop. His piece of French knitting reached 20 miles in length, a year ago, which means he holds the Guinness world record for the longest piece of knitted yarn ever, beating the previous record holder (himself.) We shouldn’t be surprised he held the previous record should we, considering there could only be one such loony knitting knut out there but no, out in Australia he has a rival, who’s foolish enough to stop knitting for just long enough to go on golfing holidays allowing our UK hero, who’s at it 24/7, to hold on to the self-given title of the world’s ‘biggest knit.’
I’m not sure what it is I particularly like about knitting and why I keep coming back to it, when other hobbies take place in sporadic, short-lived bursts or die a very short death, as happened with the colouring in mania – turns out the she-devil Ms Burchill may have a point – (see “colour me your colour baby” post – my insert link function refuses to work) Still, it’s something I’ll probably go back to, being I forked out on two Basford books which are currently lying idle, full of pages not coloured in. My brief foray into Sylvanian Families world (see “Welcome to Utopia” post) also left me with no desire to explore Sylvanian land ever again, which is a bonus for the husband’s wallet. The paintbrushes and acrylics might make a re-appearance now that Joan and Frank are back on the telly.
(You’ll note in the above paragraph that I used a tactic most often seen in American Sitcoms, where they create a whole ‘new’ episode by re-playing bits from the old ones.)
What I think I like about knitting is the completely handmade nature of it all and the fact that, as your needles click away, this piece of knitted fabric seems to miraculously appear. It’s like you and the ball of wool share a mystical connection, putting you in touch with knitters from long, long ago; back to a time of artisans and rural idylls. The process is also meditative, soothing and therapeutic.
I’ve often wondered (well, I’ve thought about it once while writing this post) which genius thought that maybe it’d be a good idea to go out and relieve a sheep of its winter coat, then fashioned a spiky comb to soften the wool, before spinning that wool into a handy ball; attaching this to a couple of pointy wooden sticks and making the world’s first pair of socks. But apparently knitting was not the idea of just one woolly minded genius but followed on from the ancient crafts of spinning, weaving and something called nalebinding, a medieval Dutch technique using one needle rather like crochet.
Knitting probably came into being circa 1300 when cotton and silk were used, rather than wool, and it suddenly made incongruous appearances in medieval paintings depicting the Madonna knitting a jumper for the baby Jesus (I thought this was a joke but apparently these paintings are bona fide, and I’m guessing it was a jumper.) Despite the feminisation of knitting via the Madonna, knitting was once a male only occupation when it was followed as a profession and was taken very seriously indeed. Trainee knitters attended Knitting Guilds where they spent a few years as medieval interns and runners, learning the ropes (or yarn) before being forced to knit a carpet (well, a very big rug that hung on a wall) before they could call themselves a Master Knitter. God knows how long it took one bloke to knit a carpet when it was roughly 9 ft long. Of course, to our French knitter in Kent a 9 ft long cord would probably take a couple of weeks but it would look nothing like this, which is an actual knitted carpet.
Knitting has a high job satisfaction factor. There’s nothing like gloating over your finished piece of work (particularly if it’s a gigantic carpet) and thinking, I did that all by myself with just a couple of needles, aren’t I a clever, crafty sort of person. And then forcing various family members to look at your knitted thing, all of whom are male and have no interest whatsoever.
I learned at the feet of the great Jean Greenhowe. Having no interest in making knitted garments (I tried a cable cardi once and decided you’re better off just buying one from the shop) I gravitated towards knitted toys after spying a Jean Greenhowe toy book in Smiths many knitting moons ago. Over the years I knitted nearly every one of her dolls until the arrival of the internet when I discovered Mary Jane’s Tearoom, a blog providing patterns for more aesthetically pleasing and more intricate dolls. Best of all I could purchase patterns over the internet via email – a small miracle in knitting terms. And just lately I found another blog called Little Cotton Rabbits, which has set my knitting heart racing all over again.
I have seriously spent hours just ogling page after page of Flickr photos of Julie’s (the woman who writes the Rabbits’ blog) knitted creations. Julie studied graphic design and also produced some lovely illustrative artwork for books but the birth of her severely autistic son means she now works at home producing her little cotton rabbits/bears/monkeys/elephants/foxes and writing up the patterns.
Julie uses only the best kind of wool/cotton (it’s true that the quality of yarn used in a knitted toy can make or break it) which has meant I’ve had to source my wool from the internet, being that my local haberdashery round the corner only stocks your bog standard DK in cheap acrylic. Which is the next best thing about knitting. The yarn itself.
Yarn is tactile and nowadays it comes in extraordinary colour palettes. I’ve just knitted a couple of monkeys from Little Cotton Rabbits, using wool/acrylic blends, but for my next project I aim to use cotton as the finished article is smoother, shinier (in a good way) and less ‘fluffy.’
Here are some blurry pics (via iPad) of the monkeys during their various stages of making.
This is the boy monkey’s head. The scar to the side of his eye on the left was my attempt at patching up a mistake in the intarsia bit of the face. I should really have knitted another head, being that the knitted pieces are so small, but couldn’t be bothered. Now I know how lovely these patterns are, I’ll be putting in much more determined effort.
Here are bits of him looking like a monkey Frankenstein about to be brought to life.
It’s A-L-I-V-E !
And the girl monkey’s head, dress and legs.
Miss Monkey with her non-matching legs but these are my first ‘go’s’ at the cotton rabbit collection and I’m hoping practice will make nearly perfect.
You’re supposed to block knitted pieces, which I never do, hence the girl’s dress is curling up at the edges.
Anyway, I’m off to do some knitting.