It is nearly June in England, and I am knitting, working, writing and living against an interminable backdrop of rain, rain and rain. We have had poor (actually indescribably awful) weather for the last 2 years (yes, I did say years) and the prospect of losing yet another summer to biblical rainstorms and freezing winds is making us all feel rather desperate. Those who can afford it are taking refuge in Southern Europe, the rest of us are making do the best we can, bustling around being ultra-English and trying to be enthusiastic about ‘staycations’, although camping lost its allure for most of us during last year’s mud fest. That said, our very late Spring has given us some brilliantly intense daffodils and amazingly pretty blossom, as if by holding it in for an extra month, they were finally able to finally let go with particular gusto. I live in hope that the sun will one day shine on my knitting needles.
Several years ago, at a reading group, it was universally acknowledged that some books are particularly seasonal. Personally, I couldn’t read Dickens in summer, or anything set in India during the winter (it just feels wrong), and I’ve been wondering if the same is true for knitting: certain types of projects (knitting jumpers in winter, shawls in summer), and actually knitting at all. Lots of people seem to drop knitting in the summer and replace it with a lapful of crisp cottons. I close my eyes and see women in deckchairs, their fingers sparkling across liberty lawns as they hand sew in the sunshine. It’s a lovely vision, but when I open them, I am still in rain sozzled Yorkshire, cherry blossom petals spewed at my feet, a beginner knitter challenged by lace. I am not ready to be a beginner sewer as well.
I think that there is definitely a ‘knitting year’, and that knitting projects are impacted by seasonal things: sunlight, holidays, colds and flu, temperature, darkness, Christmas. Spring of course is the stereotypical time for stirring and blooming and lurching into projects. I don’t think it a coincidence that I took up knitting again in the spring: the light is energising, causing us to feel more hopeful and positively poised to take up the challenges of a three needle bind off, a picot edge, the rudiments of intarsia. Or to simply (simply?) launch onto the beginner’s path with basic plastic needles, King Cole DK, and some level of belief (‘I can and will do this’).
I can understand that some people might not want to knit through summer, especially if they are lucky enough to be someone warm. Sticky needles and a pile of alpaca in your lap doesn’t sound appealing, but in Yorkshire, the mercury isn’t exactly going to pop off the thermometer. Most summer knitting magazines (I’ve been perusing the shelves on my weekly shop) seem to be including more and more patterns using cotton, although I’m admittedly intimidated by using it, as for many, it seems to be akin to knitting with gardening twine. Perhaps the answer is to just change the colours you knit in, with June ushering in: cherry red, strawberry, sunflower yellow. I especially like the prospect of knitting in a beautiful Grecian blue, which I wouldn’t feel pulled towards in winter. One conundrum is what I would actually make during a summer knitting spree. The squares for the blanket are being dropped into my basket, and I’m happy enough doing them. There is something so meditative about this sort of ‘straight forward’ knitting, but I know I don’t want to get stuck here, anaesthetised by knitterly comfort. However, wooly boleros and cropped tops really don’t do it for me. Scarves don’t fit winter (I mean, really!) and I’m not ready for the Everest level challenge of lace. I could knit toys (I love knitted teddy bears) or a simple, light cardigan, maybe. Yokes, button holes – can a cardigan ever be simple?
For me, I think Autumn will be a good time to gather patterns and identify projects, to visit yarn stores and get the measure of the latest colours and trends. I love the fact that people mirror the change in season by putting their sandals in the loft and wearing oranges and browns and dark green tights, using shades that mirror the plants in nature: stately Rudbeckias and tumbled oak leaves. I love the idea of immersing myself in orange everything and (at last) enjoying the simple pleasure of knitting against a background of flame, even if it’s only the gas fire.
That said, I suppose I do see knitting as a craft embedded in winter, of evenings by the fireside, toasting crumpets and turning a heel. When it gets dark at 4, then it’s comforting to turn to the softness of yarn, to projects that warm your knees with a weighty gentleness. For me, winter is about being indoors, being reflective and crafting by a low lamp, a la Little House on the Prairie. There is, I think, something of the out breath about winter, the ‘ah’ of relief after a summer running around and being social, that lends itself to the interiority of crafting.
But against this, I feel, as a beginner knitter, that I don’t want to stop. One scarf and a few blanket squares in, I’m barely in my stride, I don’t want to be felled by a trip to the beach or an invitation to a bbq, although admittedly I don’t want my yarn to smell of burning kebab. But of course, the truth is, this may never happen. We may not actually get a summer in the UK this year (just as last) and I won’t experience the luxuriance of sunshine sparking on my needles or be able to bemoan the weight of yarn in my lap, or collecting ‘bits’ from the lawn. It is still raining as I type this, although the temperature is now in double figures and daffodils still swaying. Strawberry coloured bamboo yarn anyone?
PS: A week has passed since writing this piece, and I never did find any blue DK that reminded me of those peeling doors/shutters on old houses on Greek islands. Instead I have purchased some very soft yarn of purple parentage, and committed to making socks. As homage to my grandmother (whose original ‘fat socks’ I still wear) and as a rite of passage, the next project has thus been chosen. I suppose I should have held off the intermediate realm of the sock for a bit, but I want to knit a pair so much (they seem an art form to me) that I’m trying to convince myself that my passion will get me through, along with YouTube, and a basic pattern. Summer socks, eh? I hope you will join me in this summer jaunt towards sock making masterly: dpns, bring them on, I say.