Thursday, January 1, 2009

Knitting - my New Year's Resolution

My relationship with the art of knitting has been a complicated one throughout my life. The experience of trying to learn to knit as a child was mainly an unhappy one yet I have always enjoyed watching others knit and harboured a desire to be able to master knitting myself.

My first exposure to knitting was the knitting sets an aunt used to send my sister and me. They comprised of a plastic container - more often in the form of a beehive (what else, bees are known the world over for their knitting prowess) - bendy plastic needles and some yarn. I would diligently try to learn but was hampered by my innate cack-handedness. Another aunt was an extremely good knitter, one of those people who take knitting to a more artistic level. However, not a patient teacher, she was frequently frustrated by my lack of dexterity. Her own daughters were, and are, very talented needlewomen and my aunt could not understand why I couldn't get it. The only person who could show me was my little Welsh grandmother. Her knitting was functional at best but she had the patience to show her awkward granddaughter what to do and found my clumsy attempts amusing rather than irritating.

What really put me off knitting were the knitting lessons at school. In hindsight, I suspect they only went on for a term but to me they felt interminable, an ordeal of humiliation and stress to be endured rather then enjoyed. The lessons were run by a stern old teacher called Miss Lyneham, who seemed extremely tall and rather forbidding to me at the age of nine. We were first told to select some yarn. I was a jolly but not terribly pushy child and found myself at the back of the queue for wool so that by the time I came to choose, all that was left was something stringy and off-white.

I gamely tried to knit my first square but it was clear from day one that I possessed no natural ability, unlike my friend who was on to a teddy while I was still trying to knit a decent teacloth! The lessons were purgatory, with Miss Lyneham inspecting our work and stalking around the room in predatory fashion as we sat there clicking our needles in silence. We were allowed to take our work home and every week I would bring mine to my mother who would undo my raddled knitting, wash the wool in a saucepan on the stove (I found the lessons so stressful that my clammy little hands would turn the already off-white wool a delightful shade of grey) and then knit it up again adding a few extra rows, though she herself was no great knitter. Every lesson, Miss Lyneham would look down her glasses at me and ask if my knitting was my own work. One only needed to look at the difference in quality between the my mother's knitting and the work I did in class to see that it patently was not! However I guiltily said it was and prayed not to be found out.

It was in my twenties that I really fell in love with the idea of knitting. Kaffe Fassett appeared on the television and I had an epiphany. Knitting is transpired could be artistic, edgy, a mode of self-expression far removed from my awful knitting lessons at school or the booties my aunt churned out for the latest baby. Kaffe may have been somewhat ambitious role model for a woman of my limited abilities but, optimistically, I was soon asking my grandmother to help me learn again. Inevitably my old knitting problems resurfaced. As I started to knit my work became tighter and tighter until only a pneumatic drill could move the stitches off the needle and I dropped so may stitches that quite often it looked more like crochet than knitting! I took to taking my knitting around with me, fancying myself as Kaffe of course. The result? Complete strangers would take pity on me and take my knitting from me to sort it out. So even if I didn't quite master knitting, I had some good conversations and quite a few rather nice rows added to my knitting. It was like Miss Lynham's class all over again!

In my thirties, my desire to knit resurfaced and again my grandmother tried to teach me. This time my knitting was a little better although still very tight. Eventually though I became despondent and gave up. So here I am a month shy of my 44th birthday and determined to knit once again. My dear Nan died a few years ago so I can't ask her to help me anymore. Last night my mother's friend, a very accomplished knitter, helped me. I was pleased to see that some of my Nan's lessons had stayed with me but it's clear I'm going to need plenty of practice, not least to loosen up a bit. I'm also taking advice from other knitting friends. Knitting has had a bit of a renaissance lately and is actually rather trendy. So again, I am seduced by the image of me sitting there with my knitting looking rather boho and folksy and in with the noughties zeitgeist of shabby chic and making your own. Anyone hoping to see me make something though will have a long time to wait. So far my knitting is a lumpy affair, all in garter stitch with a fair few holes! But who knows, by the time I'm 50 I might just be a proper knitter. Send your orders for scarves now but don't wait up!

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