It was stress that brought me back to knitting, as it likely did some of you. Stress triggered by the crazy burnout no-time for me default of contemporary life. It was, on deeper consideration, fuelled by a desire for slowness, a craving (however unconscious) for connection with the moment, instead of living a life in fast forward or unconscious reverse. Knitting seemed to represent a route back to a simpler time and to a me who had been lost along the way. I contemplated sewing but soon acknowledged my desire to escape from the intricacies of machinery, given that I sit in front of a computer every day, and instead articulated the need to become involved, in a more sensory way, with my chosen materials. Also, and however wacky it sounded, I needed to find a craft where I was fed. Feeding is about nourishment, and the quiet, nourishing virtues of yarn and stick are legion. But it wasn’t a display of hand-painted Japanese yarn (called Noro, I have just discovered) or a delicious heap of cheap cashmere that finally drew me in, instead it was a much simpler and more homely vision: a young woman knitting on a train.
She was engaged with a long scarf in crunchy wool, which looked as if she was knitting with porridge, wholesome yet renegade. I whiled away a normally yawn inducing Birmingham to York commute, my eyes surreptitiously assessing this train knitter, allowing the rhythm of the rolling stock and the rhythm of her bamboo needles to lull me, feed me. Knitting on a train indeed, I liked her style. In between observing the meditative movements of the needles and the ball of lightly flecked wool that rolled pleasingly on the surface of the British Rail table, I remembered my grandmother: her ample bulk in long sleeved overalls, her precocious ability to make things without a pattern, the outpouring of socks in extraordinarily mismatched colours that found their way onto my growing feet. As if bewitched by ancestral powers, I resolved then and there, to return to knitting. It would be a major return, as beyond teaching me the rudiments of casting on, my talented grandmother hadn't made much progress with me. A short sprint into the terrain of garter stitch and then knitting silence for 35 years; a quarter of a century spent yarn-less, it was obvious I would have work to do.
But it was time to commit to something. How many projects (tapestry, cross stitch, patchwork) had I begun in the throes of adolescent level excitement, only to throw aside a week later? I admit it, I'm a perfectionist, and learning to knit, now that my grandmother is no longer around to help me, fills me with a tinge of fear. It not only requires some financial outlay, the possibility of failure and a confrontation with math, but demands commitment. It requires a mature outlook reliant upon patience and basic hard work. Taking on the knit in a dedicated way, is tantamount to becoming a grown up. Oh my.
But looking back to that seminal train ride, I remember that the last stage of the journey passed by in a silt of late afternoon raindrops and a sense of anticipation I hadn't felt in a long while. I was going to do it, I was going to become a knitter. It was time to extend beyond the fractured existence of a freelance writer dependent upon lattes and outmoded 1990's indulgences. Instead, I was going to learn a craft and express myself, slowly, piecing my mental health back together in the process.
So here I am, starting on my journey as a knitter. I hope you will join me, I don’t relish doing this all on my own. After a brief survey of the terrain – yarn (apparently we don’t call it wool, wool is a type of yarn), local yarn shops and a tumble of knitting books – I am reeling. The excitement remains but the sheer vastness of the knitterly terrain – what on earth is I-cord? how do you do short row shaping? – is a tad intimidating. If you like, you can breathe with me – in with the intarsia, out with visions of glorious, intricately constructed sweaters that took us just a week to produce from our own patterns. We’ll get there… But maybe better for now, and if you are anything like me – gabbing ahead – to take an indulgent minute to smile at those wonky garter stitch rows, acknowledge the achievement rating of your first trip to a yarn store, nod at the fact that you are going to change your life. Then take time to lull yourself with grandma’s simple little knitting spell:
In there, wool round the needle, under and off
Because really, that’s all any of us beginner knitters have to do – progress, one stitch at a time.
Lee Ronald likes to begin things, in fact it might be one of the things she’s best at. She is a beginner knitter, beginner dressmaker and beginner cross-stitcher. However she seems to have forded the river of beginning in terms of words for she earns her living as a freelance writer and editor, www.thewordgarden.co.uk. When she is not writing or beginning things, she is usually partaking of her national (English) sport of tea drinking in her home office in the quirky and historically inspiring city of York.