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The Click

Recently I’ve taken up knitting. Anyone who knew me in primary school and witnessed my epic battles with a pair of plastic needles and a ball of cheap wool would no doubt be horrified.

I was a dreadful knitter. I despised it. Many a night I spent in mute misery not being able to sleep from the sheer terror of knowing tomorrow morning I’d have to uncover my efforts from inspection. None of the neat, careful rows of pretty woollen squares carefully folded up in the tidy, sweet-smelling old Quality Street tins of my classmates for me, mine was a tear-stained, grime-smeared, twisted and tortured rag of knots stuffed in a Dunnes Stores bag.

The needles were that foul ‘bathroom’ shade of pink with large knobbly tops which I used to chew so much that the top part had faded to a milky white. They also made excellent accessories for cat poking and were covered in scratches. I’m ashamed to admit I still chewed them even after the cat had.

The wool was justifiably cheap – anything else would’ve been sacrilege in my paws. There were two colours, a ‘school paint bottle’ red (remember how that smelled?) and a dull navy. And yes, I chose them myself. I believe the plan was to knit a scarf for a doll or something equally basic but I simply never could get the hang of it. The woman with the unhappy job of teaching me was a lady by the name of Mrs Shannon and a kinder, more motherly woman may never have entered the teaching profession before or since, but nevertheless those Wednesday afternoons were torturous. Every week she would take up my knitting in amazement, sigh and with a gentle admonishment of ‘But how on earth did it get like THIS, Jude’ would calmly riiiiiiiiiiip back and ‘start me again’.

Years later while careering into adulthood, I joyfully set about putting my knitting needles and childish ways behind me. But somewhere along the line something changed and I found myself inexplicably looking at the delightfully goodie crammed craft shops with more than a little interest.  And then one summer, the combination of being unemployed and laughably cash-strapped resulted in my actually completing a wildly coloured, extraordinarily long if slighted wonky scarf.

But odder still was the realisation that not only could I remember the stitches with relative ease, finish the project without abandoning it in an almighty huff,  I was actually enjoying knitting.

Recent attempts at double point knitting (woolly sock time!) have been slow, but slowly successful having roped in my mother to teach me the basics. The poor woman gave up an entire weekend to teach me to turn a heel. And in glorious biting-off-more-than-I-can-chew form I’m slightly worried at just how many people I’ve promised to make socks for.

I’m still only learning, have monstrous problems following a pattern and am constantly undoing something I’ve worked on for an entire month but stick on Coronation St, hand me my needles and wool and I’m a happy girl. I don’t understand what exactly has fallen into place for me to enjoy knitting, but am heartedly glad something’s ‘clicked’ into place.

Oh yes, I did just go there.

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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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