Sunday, 4 March 2012

Casting on

I was sixteen, tall, skinny and awkward; still trying to work out what clothes suited my gangliness, still wanting a style of my own. I wanted originality, but nothing too scary, something that would make people look, but not comment and never laugh; I wanted something more than Topshop but not quite punk.

Of course, I knew how to knit, I’d made squares for charity blankets at school, ungainly mis-shapen objects that really gave new meaning to the idea of casting off. But I’d never attempted something that was actually meant to be worn, not until I saw a pattern for a sloppy joe jumper in a magazine.

So I took the bus to Brixton, to the old Littlewoods store, where I'd seen shelves of wool stacked up high. The pattern told me how many balls I needed, but I hadn't yet learnt about yarn weights, or plys, needle sizes or tensions, so I simply picked the colour I liked best, a soft flecked grey, and some thick metal needles that felt smooth and cool in my hands.

I started knitting as soon as I got home, no messing about with tension squares, I just launched straight in. The two T-shaped pieces of knitting were thrown together with much more enthusiasm than expertise  and, of course, the yarn was too thin for the needles. My joe was very definitely on the sloppy side, but that didn't matter; I’d experienced the irresistible alchemy of taking a long straight piece of yarn and turning into something else. And since then, there’s never been a time when somewhere in the house I haven’t had a bag of wool, a stack of needles, a pile of patterns and a half finished piece of magic. 

I've often wondered what it is about knitting that captured me all those years ago, and has held me ever since. No doubt there's an element of pride in making something myself, a genuine pleasure in taking months to make a gift for someone else.  There's the way the continuous action relaxes and soothes, even the knowledge that I'm continuing a craft that's been around for hundreds of years.

Recently though, I've realised there's something else.  When I knit, I watch something take shape and grow. I have a picture in my mind of how it will turn out, though I'm never quite sure till it's finished. There are a limited number of stitches, but I can use them in a thousand different ways, and it's up to me which ones I choose and how I put them together.   I can work on it a little at a time, make it shorter or longer, bring together different threads, or try a different style. And if I'm not happy with how it's turning out, I can unpick it all and start again.

It's really just like writing a story.



38 comments:

joeh said...

Years ago when I conmmuted to work by bus or train 75% of the women on board would be activly knitting.

THis activity has since been replaced by Ipods and cell phones.

Cranky Old Man

Gail said...

You're very lucky to be able to knit. My mum and gran were always knitting; they tried to teach me but I was, as my gran described it, "like a cow handling a musket."

"As We Speak" said...

A half finished piece of magic...what a great line! I didn't know that you are a knitter.
I do crossstich and feel the exact same way. Each piece, so special and the anticipation of the finished product is exactly like hitting the period on the last sentence in a story.

OpinionsToGo

Bobby Stevenson said...

Hey lovely Sharon and I guess very true. I was great to see you and Philip last night, I hope you enjoyed yourselves. Keep Knitting, Keep Writing.x

Starlight said...

Years ago I wanted to learn the art of knitting but I soon gave up. It seems that I was an inpatient teenager.

I liked this story, very well written, as always.

Sharon Longworth said...

Joeh - Oh how I wish I could sit on the train knitting! I commute by car and even with my advanced driving skills I know that knit and purl at 70mph is just asking for trouble...

Gail - "like a cow handling a musket" - that's an expression I've never heard before, but one I'm definitely going to save for future use.

Opinions to go - I like that we're gradually finding out little things about each other. Do you think Judi Dench knits?

Bobby - it was great to see you too, if only to be called riff-raff! I thoroughly enjoyed the play last night, made me itch to get back up on stage... x

Tamara - knitting's like writing - never too late to start, or have another go.

Bill Dameron said...

And for the past year or two, who knew that I had been knitting?

Another lovely story, Sharon. You wear it well.

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

so nice to have a creative outlet or two or three.....I knit occasionally but you wouldn't want to see the outcome. It's more of a stress catalyst for me than a stress remover.

terlee said...

My gran taught me to knit when I was a young girl. I've been doing it ever since, though hit or miss lately; not enough time in the day it seems.

In Scotland this past Fall I bought some beautiful yarn that I fondle regularly, pondering my choices, wondering what I'm going to create.

Loved the knit/writing analogy; so right.

Mary-Colleen said...

I've always envied knitters who can lose themselves in complicated projects. I have to be alone with no distractions to focus on the most simple of projects. I gave up a while back, but have thought of trying again because however poor a knitter I am, I realize the value of how it got me "out of my head" while I did it. Pure focus and action. Counting and rhythm. A break from words.

Debbie said...

I was reunited with the yarn a few years ago and taught myself how to crochet. It was berets galore! Then I started knitting too. It's fun, relaxing and there's an end product. I tend to do it in the winter and end up with presents for everyone.

Raymond Alexander Kukkee said...

Sharon, well written again! Everyone should know how to knit--better than I can. ":)

p.s. I actually can knit. Almost. I just have to learn to actually make something with that skill. Maybe I'll just stick to writing. ":)

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Knitting, cross-stitch, crewel work, quilting...all very rewarding creative outlets. I've been thinking about knitting again; it's been 35 or 40 years since I did it. My mother did the casting on and I never learned how, but I'm sure I could learn from the Internet. Nice post.

Sharon Longworth said...

Bill - isn't it amazing that the blogging world is so full of knitters...??

mybabyjohn/Delores - 'stress catalyst'- now there's a lovely phrase to knit a story from.

terlee - finding the time is always a bit of a challenge isn't it? I've often chosen wool / yarn just because it feels great.

Mary-Colleen - counting and rhythm - so right, I swear people think I'm mad as I sit there mumbling quietly, counting the stitches and rows.

Sharon Longworth said...

Debbie - well I've never crocheted a beret -so there's a new challenge!

Raymond - and my challenge to you - knit something and then knit the words around it!

Blissed out Grandma - I'd thoroughly recommend it - and then you can teach your grandchildren.

IJrdn said...

Knitters had never failed to intrigue me with their magic. Nice post.

Nicole said...

I'm ridiculously terrible at knitting, sewing, anything that includes needles, thread, yarn, fabric.

But I love the idea and envy those who can. I see the power of it.

Yumna said...

"It's really just like writing a story."

They call it spinning yarns because stories are intertwined with those standard words to create intricate patterns, plots and pictures. And knitting is no different.

The first thing I ever knitted was a tiny 3 color striped sweater for my newborn cousin. A few not so successful projects later...i lost the patience that is so necessary for knitting. May be I should give it a second shot :)

Olga said...

There is one tip about knitting - take a minute; add some more minutes; then add hours to hours, and you might end up with a hat :)
My husband has a sweater that I had knitted for him fifteen years ago. He loves it so much that he still wears it. The horror!

theplantgardener said...

Love knitting! Love the feeling I get when I'm in the knitting zone and I disappear into my wool~

The Elephant's Child said...

It is not a skill I have ever learnt, but this post made me regret it. I love the description of the process and the magic in creation. Thank you.

Whirlochre said...

A story you can wear sounds like a great use of two stones, even if the bird didn't like it.

The Idiot Gardener said...

I've never knitted (I know you are shocked by that fact), but I feel the same about building stuff. I just get lost in it, and when it's over I have a moment of satisfaction, but then I am already planning the next project.

Stacy said...

Your last full paragraph sounds very much the way I feel about gardening. I do find the waiting phase about 3/4 of the way through a project to be painfully tenterhook-ish, though, right before the moment of truth when you find out whether everything's going to come together or fall apart. And yes, very much like writing a story!

Cle Reveries said...

I was 10 when I started and I've been knitting since then.
Like you, when I was about 16 "I wanted a style of my own" and something to be eager too.: I made a dress, and it was my first masterpiece.
It has always given me more and more self confidence in myself: I consider it like a brain training and an exercise to relax, "just like writing"

ND Mitchell said...

I've not been into knitting since I failed to knit a teddy bear shape in primary school! The way you write about it makes it seem quite therapeutic!

caterpillar said...

That's one thing I know I will never learn, however hard I try...because, 1) I am a very impatient person and 2) more importantly, I am equally clumsy with my hands as well.

Susan Cooper said...

What a great correlation between knitting and writing. You are so right about the process. I am not a knitter but I have done some crocheting with some limited success ...LOL. :-), Susan Cooper

Sharon Longworth said...

ljrdn - Thank you!

Nicole - I think the idea of needles, thread and fabric has the same effect on some people as the idea of maths has on others. We could probably all do either if we set our minds to it, but sometimes we just think there are other things to do.

Yumna - isn't it just too easy to lose patience - with knitting and writing too? Give it another go - and send me a picture of your creation!

Olga - you're so right about the way time disappears! I love that your husband still wears the sweater you knitted him.

theplantgardener - I now have a lovely image of you cocooned in a huge skein of wool!

Sharon Longworth said...

the elephant's child -it's never too late to learn!

whirlochre - I think we probably all wear our stories!

The Idiot Gardener - sorry, can't comment on your comment, too busy reeling with the shock that you don't knit...

Stacy - it's all a bit scary - wondering whether something you've spent time and effort on will end up the way you wanted it to. It's a wonder any of us put ourselves through it!

Cle - do you still have your first masterpiece - it would be great to see it!

Sharon Longworth said...

David - a teddy bear shape? - that sounds horribly difficult, no wonder it put you off!

caterpillar - I'm sure you won't want me to say this, but it really isn't ever too late to learn!

Thanks Susan - I've tried crochet myself, but I'm not nearly so confident, so it takes much more concentration. A bit like writing in another language!

Sandra said...

I was an obsessed knitter for over a decade. I couldn't quite describe what made me love it so much. I think the rows and rows of perfect stitches and the OCD in me had something to do with it. Last summer, I stopped knitting, cold turkey. It was because I started reading again on a regular basis, and I started writing. I've completely fallen in love with writing, just like I did with knitting years ago. But I had to put one down in order to have time for the other. I'm sure my love for knitting is still and always will be there. I know because every time I see a new skein of yarn peeking out from a pile of craft items in my closet, my heart skips a beat, and I start to imagine all the things I can make with it. But for now, knitting has been put on the shelf for me to pursue another interest. But I shall be back. Your piece reminded me so much of why knitting was such a big part of my life, and it was just so dear to my heart, like the experience of having my fingers run through warm, textured, fluffy wool. Thank you!

Pat said...

I can see the fascination when you write about it like that but occasionally one has to face facts and I can't knit anything without having to darn it after it's completed.
Well done you.

Nessa Roo said...

I remember when My daughter was born, I crocheted a diaper bag and kept it through all four babies. My mom taught me. I loved that ratty, old bag.

Mickle in NZ said...

A single ball of yarn has had me knitting then un-ravelling several times, then trying several crochet patterns with the same results. Finally this red with orange and bright pink yarn has succumbed to a knitting pattern, is behaving on my needles at last and finally looking okay.

Thank goodness for the 2 or 3 other knitting projects I have going or the beautiful red/orange/pink 80% merino yarn would have been tossed out.

I hope your un-ravellings and re-knittings and any required reverse-stitchings are less frustrating!

Suburbia said...

I wish I could knit, my granny taught me but I have forgotten how to do it now.

Sophie Holiday said...

This is great! It brought out memories of my Mamaw (except she did crochet instead of knitting). She would make homemade sourdough bread and it would smell so delicious and we would cozy up in her old farm house and she would crochet these beautiful ornaments for her Christmas tree. Thanks for the flashback! :)

Natalie V. Whales said...

"just like writing" ??? How about just like life...full of fits and starts. That's what makes it all interesting.