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Archive for July 26th, 2008

I hate it when I fit into a cliché. I like to think of myself as being, I dunno, vaguely individual. And yet, sometimes I find myself fitting the early-30-something settled-down middle-class former-teenage-riot grrrl cliché. To give but a few examples: I still have a huge pile of Sassy magazines in my wardrobe. I shop at Buy Olympia and Threadless and wish I could afford Marc Jacobs. I have subscriptions to Bust and Bitch. And yes, I knit.

And even worse, I actually started knitting for the first time since primary school thanks to Bust. In my feeble “I’m not a sheep!” defence, this was about ten years ago, long before the publication of Stitch and Bitch and the media hype and many copycat “hipster knitting” books that followed, but still, it’s true – in the late ’90s, Bust going on about knitting so much reminded me that I had, many years ago, rather enjoyed it.

My knitting heroine

My knitting heroine

In fact, I had knitted a platypus (yes, a platypus) at the age of about nine. If my nine-year-old self could fashion a platypus out of wool, surely my 24 year old self could, well, not knit another platypus, because frankly one knitted platypus is more than enough for anyone, but knit something? So once lunchtime (I’d just started my first ever post-college job) I went down to that yarn shop at the top of Dawson Street that’s now a preposterous whiskey shop and bought some glittery blue lurex yarn with which I planned to knit a scarf.

 

I am not lying when I say that now, nearly ten years later, as I write this at my kitchen table, I am looking at a bag on a nearby chair containing that unfinished scarf.

In fairness, it hasn’t been sitting there for a decade (I’ve moved house several times since then and besides, I’m not that scarily undomesticated). I just unearthed it in a box of knitting stuff the other day and have been trying to decide if the blue spangly stuff is worth keeping. But it was a reminder that scratchy lurex and tiny needles wasn’t the best starting project for a nouveau knitter. I had better luck with my next project, which was – you’ve guessed it – another scarf. By then the Dawson Street knitting shop had closed down so I had to go to Hickeys on Henry Street, which had a pretty crappy selection. But I found a rather nice russety velvety yearn and, lo and behold, made a scarf out of it. The feeling of satisfaction (and, let’s be honest, smugness) was huge. As was the scarf – it was about six feet long.

Since then, I’ve made scarfs, socks (I love knitting socks), jumpers and hats (no unusual animals, though). I find knitting both stimulating and relaxing – if, like me, you find it hard to concentrate on one thing for a long time, knitting is sort of grounding. It gives you something to do with your hands while you talk, or watch TV, or listen to the radio (knitting while reading is much more tricky, but it can be done). It’s a great stress-reliever – like worry beads, except you get a jumper at the end of it! And while when I started knitting again it was very hard to find patterns for cool, fitted, non-boxy garments, these days it’s not hard to find lots of patterns for stuff you’d actually like to wear. And after the death of decent yarn shops in the early ’00s, there’s been a bit of a knitting shop renaissance in Dublin, with the wondrous This is Knit in Blackrock and a new yarn café opening soon in Santry, so it’s possible to buy gorgeous yarns and get helpful advice from the friendly knitting enthusiasts behind the counter.

Today’s Guardian featured a tiresomely titled but rather cute Guide to Rebel Knitting, full of easy, kooky but practical patterns perfect for the beginning knitter. If you’ve ever been tempted to pick up the needles, it might just give you the push. And you never know, some day you might end up with a knitted platypus of your very own.

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To kick off our inaugural Blast From the Past spot, I’m cheating a little by picking not one, but two acts, because I can’t think about one without the other. Back in the day when my little flat looking like it was being slowly eaten by a large record-shaped vinyl monster, I discovered the Dynamite compilations. Made up mostly of reggae and its spin-offs, they were also home to various ska, dub, rocksteady, breaks and soul classics. Genre golden boys Barrington Levy, King Tubby, Toots and the Maytal, the Upsetters and Lee Scratch Perry all featured, but crucially they gave a platform to some of reggae’s most influential women, from Sister Charmaine to Marcia Aiken and Phyllis Dillon (who along with Marlena Shaw recorded the seminal ‘Woman of the Ghetto’ *) and switched me on to some of the original reggae queens.

A fuzzy memory of seeing the booty-shaking Top of the Pops turn by a teenage Althea & Donna resurrected itself (check out Donna’s awesome ‘fro!). I was part confounded, part charmed by the lyrics to ‘Uptown Top Rankin’’, and these ladies were ridiculousy young at the time (Kate Bush was the same age that year when she hit no. 1 with ‘Wuthering Heights’). By coincidence, A&T popped up on 300% Dynamite, where I first discovered Sister Nancy. Her track ‘Bam Bam’ (listen here:*) became the standout on the compilation; the song I lifted the needle back on to over and over again. Tracking down her other work has been tricky, but I have a fuzzy tape of her 1982 album One Two somewhere. ‘Bam Bam’ is on there, and as much as I love the name, it can’t beat the sassily-titled ‘Only Woman Dj With Degree’.

Live footage of Sister Nancy at a dancehall in 1996:


* I used youtube clips to avoid anyone having to download stuff.

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