Growing up – The Knitters Way

I’ve been knitting and crocheting since I was around 7 or 8, and it’s still my very favourite thing to do.

My 1st knitted project was a round-necked jumper made with a 1960s stiff nylon yarn that mum had made something with, tired of, unravelled and discarded. Seduced by the vivid colour, I re-used it, wading in at the deep-end of knitting. No shallow scarves for me. It was a lovely green but a horrible yarn. It split horrendously. Difficult for my inexperienced and clumsy learners fingers, I wailed and spat. It felt horrible to wear – too tight, itchy and sweaty against my skin. So you could say my knitting-birth was pretty stressful for both me and mum as she guided me through it.

The 2nd project was, I think, a tank-top made from some dark brown Jacobs hand-spun mum had left over. This time the challenge was very twisty, constantly tangling up sticky raw yarn. I was fiercely determined; I had fallen in love with knitting!

After that was a voluminous stripey-thing made from yarn I bought myself. My first free-from-mum project. Either I didn’t get much instruction, or I just went my own way: ignoring advice, breezing over the boring rules of gauge and needle size. Secretively defensive of my work, I suspect the latter. It turned out HUGE, and became my most favourite item of clothing, hiding my body right through my teens and 20s.

I have made some beautiful and complex garments over my 50 year knit-career, some still going strong, others forgotten. Many stashed in my deceased-knitwear memory bank: the grey scarf I fancied made me look like a Tess of the D’Ubervilles that I lost in Scarborough while on a disastrous date; the intricately-cabled mustard sweater shared with my boyfriend-of-the-moment; a chunky cabled coat made in the months after my 1st marriage ended; my first hand-spun hat, left in a Northumberland pub in post-beer happiness haziness.

Most projects have incorporated at least one mistake, not always visible to anyone else but me. My disregard for rules, a propensity to miss details in my impatience and excitement to move on; I’ve been inclined to live with faults, rather than spend precious time unpicking. Dissatisfied but complacent. Complicit in my procrastination. Some of my knits were glorious achievements; others, not so much. And along the way, I’ve gifted a lot of knitting-time and knitted-love: babies clothing, blankets, jumpers, shawls, socks, scarves, hats, gloves, elephants. Things that were welcomed: warmed, soothed, pleased and pampered. Others rejected. Strands of my hair, my soul, woven in.

And it’s not been without its knitted-tantrums: hurling tangled expletives across the room, needles flying, ragefully declaring revenge on my own dropped stitches, abandonment of hope to the depths of a dusty basket. Realising the only way forward is to pick it up again, work out where I went wrong, and learn from my mistakes.

And it’s true that there have been abandoned messy knits, tangled and mangled. Beyond repair.

These are things that my knittings reveal.

In my mid-40s, I read somewhere that Islamic rug-makers deliberately incorporate a mistake in a pattern to remind them that only Allah is capable of perfection. I embraced this. It felt like a relief. A casting-off of something I hadn’t realised was mis-shapen.

My knitting career is a reflection of my journey through this life: picking a stiff challenge, the occasional tantrum, sticking at it, abandoning a lost cause; independent, ignoring advice and rarely asking for support, relying on my own resources; and in the end getting pretty good at it, but not able to claim perfection. A bit slap-dash here and there. Getting better at finishing well, but often juggling two, three or more projects at a time. Overall, providing love, warmth, colour, and usefulness.

In fact, the more I reflect on this the more I am aware of all that knitting has taught me. It reflects life in all its glorious castings-on-and-off, colour changes, and stitch counting.

And I notice as I get older that I’m more likely to unravel, take advice, start again. I often check my gauge these days before starting, even though it’s a bit tedious (though not always: a Wild Knit is refreshing). I’ve expanded my skills to hand-spin my own yarn. Stepped out of my comfort zone to try new techniques. And I make beginners mistakes and huff, then laugh. Sometimes leaving them be, content with the rug-makers humility. Oftentimes re-tracing my steps to re-make rather than make-do. Recently I took apart an uncomfortable not-right-for-me thing, re-knit it into a shape I can use. It feels liberating to make what I have in life a good fit, instead of putting up with.

And still my most wished for super-power is to be able to knit like Niggling Nellie on her Skylark. Conjuring save-the-day knitted things from my needles liberally for my world. There’s still time!