Now that autumn is here I am busily preparing for the proper cold. Last year my mum decided I should learn to knit. Having left my sewing machine at home, she thought that I could give my creative side an outlet without needing large machines by using only two needles and a ball of wool.
I’ve never been a knitter. I tried to knit a scarf as a child which ended up looking more like a sock. I couldn’t get the tension right. So when mum sent me a ‘knitting for beginners’ book I thought she was barking up the wrong tree. After a few months of cold nights inside, however, my fingers were itching for something to do, so I took myself to the local knitting shop – Loop – in Camden Passage.
Loop is a knitter’s paradise. Housed over three levels (the top floor being their storeroom), wool cascades from cubby holes, and inspirational projects hang from under the stairs and drape themselves over you as you climb up to the second floor. I asked the lovely ladies there for some help picking needles and wool that wouldn’t get me into too much of a muddle.
I started simply: a scarf in thick, pale green wool, great for beginners. Teaching myself first to knit, then to purl, then to knit two, purl two, the scarf progressed quickly, foot by foot, until I ran out of wool. Darn. Back down to the wool shop for another few balls. Another few feet and I was done. Straight lines: mastered.
The next project was a baby blanket for whomever in my friends or family has the next baby, in a luxurious motley green wool, knit two together for warmth. The project progressed remarkably quickly for its size. With straight lines again the limit of my technique, I learned to seed stitch to create the lovely, bumpy edge pattern.
Tony had been watching all this industry happening on the couch next to him and decided he wanted to benefit, too. Off to Loop and we picked out wool for a scarf for him (accidentally in West Ham colours). I got through the first half foot before summer arrived, but then it was too hot to be working with wool and the scarf sat neglected in a bag until two weeks ago. In a flurry of industry I worked on it in the crowed train on the way to Gloucestershire and in the kitchen of our friend’s farmhouse. By Sunday morning it was as tall as Tony (apparently the way you measure the right length for a scarf) and cast off.
Time for another project for me! I had been inspired over the summer by a delicate shawl pattern I had spied in Loop. It was way beyond me (I hadn’t progressed to reading patterns that were more than two lines long) but I decided it would be the next challenge. Tony has dubbed it the ‘Frog shawl’ mostly because all he ever seems to see me doing is unravelling it. The pattern is so complex that I am constantly losing my place, making a mistake, and having to unravel the last four or five lines back to a point where I can pick it up again. It feels very much like the story of the frog in the well. After long stretches on the train in France I finally made it past the complex lace pattern at the end and into the simple body of the shawl and it progressed quickly from there. Bad news is that I have to complete two ends of the lace, so I have now cast on the other end and have already had to ‘Tink’ it back twice to pick up mistakes. It’s so complex I can’t do it when I’m tired or doing anything else, so there are only small windows where I make progress. I’m hoping I can make it past the lace this week, because once I’ve achieved that I can work on it while I’m on calls and in meetings at work.
I picked up some lovely, bright, hand-dyed Welsh wool the other weekend at the Spitalfields markets and have cast on my first free-form project (no pattern – eep!). It is a simple cowl scarf thing – you know, one of those circle scarves that are all the rage at the moment. Mine will be a single loop (not one of those really long ones that goes around twice) with a twist to give it a bit of interest. It’s a great, simple project to work on while doing other things, and thanks to a long week of meetings and calls has progressed to over a foot and a half !
I frequently knit on calls for work when I’m working from home. It means I concentrate on the call more, instead of getting distracted by emails or surfing the internet. I sometimes take my knitting to the office when I have a long day of calls to sit on, and a couple of people have remarked at how unusual it is.
This week I took it one step further and took my knitting into our monthly team meeting. At an hour and a half, the meeting can get a little tiresome. I felt the knitting would help me concentrate – and I can still follow the slides that go with the presentations. I was called out by our team leader when he noticed and everyone laughed (mostly with me). It is so unusual for people to be doing anything other than staring at a screen in meetings I don’t know that they knew what to make of it. Once upon a time you would have expected people to have something doing with their hands – knitting, embroidery, painting, sketching – and for women it was a measure of how accomplished they were. I am determined to keep it up. It increases my productivity, and gives me a sense of calm concentration at the same time. After the meeting many of my team members, including men, came up to me and said how much they loved the fact I’d been brave enough to knit in public, and wished they could knit.
I told them that 12 months ago I couldn’t and it’s never too late to learn.