Monday, 26 April 2010

knitcroblo1 - Starting Out

How and when did you begin knitting/crocheting? was it a skill passed down through generations of your family, or something you learned from Knitting For Dummies? What or who made you pick up the needles/hook for the first time? Was it the celebrity knitting ‘trend’ or your great aunt Hilda?  

For the first day of Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, the topic is Starting Out. This is an odd one for me, because I consider myself to be a new knitter.  I picked up my needles in October 2009, which – amazingly – was six months ago.

But this wasn’t really the beginning of my relationship with knitting. I remember a set of little red needles I had as a kid, whining at my mam to put some stitches on them so I could copy what she was doing. She, no doubt, was knitting a school jumper for me, which I’m sure was far more common in the 80s than it is nowadays.

My mam only ever knitted out of necessity. It was cheaper to knit a school jumper than to buy one. These were the Thatcher years, and families in the small industrial town where I grew up didn’t have much loose change in their pockets. There were two types of school jumpers in my primary school. There were the ‘proper’ ones, which were sweatshirts with an embroidered school badge, and then there were those like mine. Hand-knitted in the approximate shade of red with a school blazer badge hand-stitched onto the chest. The badge was heavy canvas, so it made the jumper wonky on one side. Some of the girls had cardigans instead with cute buttons (one of mine had ladybirds).

When I was in middle school my auntie Lizzie knitted school cardigans for me and my sister. She got the colours the wrong way round – I got the red cardi, my sister got the blue – and I was silently relieved because by that time no one was wearing hand-knits anymore, and I didn’t want to be the odd one out. I’d already made a social faux pas on my first day at the new school by bringing a little tin Garfield briefcase for my schoolbooks, which stood out among the smart black business briefcases that everyone else had. (Briefcases, by the way, were not the best idea my school ever had. While it may have looked impressive to visitors, do you know how long it takes for a teacher to unlock a briefcase when another kid has changed the combination?)

So I came out of childhood knowing that knitting was something you did to save money. Plus you could put cute little buttons on if you wanted to.

As with so much that I do, I decided on a whim back in about 2002 to take up knitting. Up to that point I’d been a cross-stitcher, but I was getting bored. I remembered seeing wire baskets of wool in the shop where I bought my Anchor and DMC threads. As is so often advised, I asked the shop assistant what I should buy to get me started. After some hesitation, he sent me away with some aqua acrylic DK and a pair of size 10 plastic needles. I got a ‘vintage’ book from the library about techniques and sat down with a desire to learn and lots of patience.

Over the next couple of months I made swatch after swatch – garter stitch, stocking stitch, moss stitch – I even had a go at cables. I added some white, lilac and navy wool to my miniature stash – acrylic DK, since I didn’t know there was anything else out there – and got busy with colourwork.

This was quite exciting for me after the comparative monotony of cross-stitching. I got out graph paper and started making my own colourwork and stitch charts. I think in the back of my mind I had the vague idea of sewing all these swatches together to make a blanket.

This was knitting as far as I knew – as I had always known it. I don’t think I had any plans in mind – I just wanted to see if I could do it.

I was enthused, excited. But when I sat down to find a pattern for something to actually make, I gradually lost my enthusiasm. The only patterns I could find were garish or novelty, or just plain old-fashioned. It didn’t take long before I put my needles down for good. Plus, I’d never quite lost the feeling that knitting wasn’t something a twenty-something should be doing.

Fast forward seven years to Autumn 2009. I’d showed my DH a scarf in a catalogue that I thought he’d like, but he balked at the price. On a whim, I said ‘I’ve still got those knitting needles upstairs. I’ll make you one’.

It was partially a joke, but the idea took hold. I found some wool in a charity shop – they had quite a bit of choice, so I picked out a bag of 6 Rowan Damask in bluey-green (‘Serpentine’) for me, and some navy Jaeger Ascot for him. They also had some other lovely yarns, including some Debbie Bliss, which I left behind not knowing what a treasure trove it was. I kick myself about that now, since I haven’t seen anything like that since. Someone must have had a stash clearout!

I knit a scarf for each of us, and in searching the internet for a reminder of how to cast on, how to form the stitches, I discovered a whole new world. Knitting wasn’t just to save money – knitting could (as I’d suspected in 2002) be done for fun. It was also kind of cool – girls with tattoos did it (I have tattoos, but mine are cutesy and hidden).

And so it is different this time. I’m sitting here six months later wearing handknit socks and writing a blog post about knitting. I am knitting my current project on Knitpro circulars which are made of wood and have a level of multi-coloured prettiness that nowadays I take in my stride. Well, of course knitting accessories are cool, and cute, and funky. So are knitted things. So are knitters!

Knitting is no longer the same for me. Now that clothes are so cheap, it’s no longer something people do to save money. A knitted garment can (and probably will) be more expensive than buying something on the High Street. But, of course, there is so much more to the handknit – it will be one of a kind, made to fit you, embellished or minimal to your taste. Plus, once you’ve got the skills (I’m still working on that bit) it will be better quality than anything you can get off the rack.

There are wonderful designers out there, and with the internet you can find them all.

A major part of my continued interest has to be Ravelry. In this wonderful website I have found more information than I could have ever dreamed of, organised in a way that is so intuitive and inspiring. The members and project pages are an endless source of inspiration, and I have found all those patterns I wished for the first time around. I have made things I am proud of, and that I actually wear. I haven’t blogged about them all, but they include a shawl, fingerless mitts and – of course – socks!

I can wield a set of DPNs without poking myself in the arm (too often) and am currently test-driving the relative merits of metal versus wooden needles. I am working on my first full size garment – Cherie Amour.

I think my Nightsongs Shawl is the most beautiful garment in my wardrobe. I haven’t worn it yet – it’s been too cold – but I take it out and wrap it around myself just to feel it and look at it. There is no way I could ever have owned something this lovely if I hadn’t made it myself. It's not perfect - of course it's not - but I love every inch of it.

One of those quotes that pops up everywhere is by William Morris:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”

Knitting has always been a useful skill to have. What I have discovered is that it can also be a way of creating something beautiful. Because of that, I believe - I hope - that this story is just the beginning of a long journey to come. 


  1. Wow, what a great story. I've loved all the posts in the Knit&Crochet Week, but yours is my favorite by far. I love how you described the progression of your image of knitting, and how you completely rediscovered it. Keep strong! ;)

  2. Your shawl is lovely! I hope you are able to wear it soon. Your story is inspiring. It obviously is a very good thing you became reacquainted with knitting as something you can love and not just a way to save money. You do very well with it!

  3. Great story! Very inspirational! Your shawl is gorgeous!

  4. Hey - this is an awesome post - I remember those hand knit jumpers at school vividly !!! So impressed with your socks too - I've been knitting for several years and my first attempt at socks are still on the tiny dpn's and no more than 2 inches long - I hope they will be done this time next year !!! :->