Bobbi (our ace secret pal organiser) is running a little contest, in fact it’s been going for a while and I am finally attempting to come up with an answer to her seemingly simple questions with 55 minutes to spare. I am making this attempt because the prize is Socks that Rock. Seemingly simple questions have a way of making me give long, rambling, decidedly not simple answers. I have a very good memory, but I don’t seem to think of my life as a series of distinct incidences. So, you have been warned.
How old were you when you learned to knit? and Who taught you? (I told you these seemed simple)
When I was 5 or 6 there was a jumble sale of some kind, that involved a lot of old ladies (old probably being relative, I asked my 30 year of mother what being middle aged was like around that time) who made things to sell. On the way into the hall this sale was being held in there was a doll sitting in state. She wasn’t a cute, cuddly doll with a soft body. No she was much to proud for that. She had curly hair, and most importantly, a lacy handknitted outfit. I wanted that doll, but I didn’t win her. I was very good at winning tomobola and raffles as a kid, very good at winning alcohol and hankies that is. Her clothes inspired me, however. I wanted to go home and knit my dolls those pretty outfits.
Inside the hall there were kits for sale: little drawstring, handmade bags with a few balls of wool and some plastic needles. So I convinced my mum to buy me one, and at some point I convinced her to teach me to knit. I remember sitting with her, and my friend who I didn’t like very much, trying to copy what she did. Tugging on the tight, knotty stitches on the bendy needles, while my friend showed me that she could do it. Knitting a row took forever, and the bumpy, misshapen teddy scarves and blankets my friends had made, or worse had been making for weeks and hadn’t finished, didn’t look anything like the doll’s clothes. I stuffed the needles back in their bag and made finger crochet chains with the yarn. My teddy bear got some striped pyjama trousers that I’d carefully designed to fit his awkward shape (tiny stumpy legs and a very large bottom) and I decided that sewing was a much better idea than knitting.
A few years later my mum was knitting an intricately cabled red jumper for my little brother, and although it seemed to be taking forever, I was intrigued by the way she could work on it while watching tv with me. So I took one of her balls of wool, and the finest needles she had, stubbornly insisting that I wanted my knitting to be fine, and she reminded me how to cast on and knit. I jammed the point into my first stitch, picked up the already sticky wool, wrapped it around and pushed it back through – without that wrapped wool. Next time I clung even tighter to the wool and eventually succeeded on making a stitch.
A few more years later I wanted to knit a jumper for a minature doll I had made. I had a dollshouse book with a pattern for a baby dress, but that required needles that could only be got by mail order. So I rummaged around and found some darning wool, some darning needles, a pattern in a vintage crafts book for a chunky sweater and some basic how to kit instructions – and started knitting it. I made the back, but it took a long time and seemed a bit small for my doll, and other things got in the way. It’s also very easy to loose your knitting when it’s about an inch and a half square. But it was the most successful thing I had knit so far. I realised that if I could do that, knitting something larger might be easier. Especially if the needles were appropriate for the yarn.
When I was sixteen, my friend Keava turned to me and asked ‘can you knit?’ – ‘umm… yeah?’. So she showed me the devil hat on the kittyville website (this was before it was in Stitch n Bitch) and asked me to make it for her for Christmas. So I did, and it was easy except for picking up the stitches – a direction I took literally and jammed them all onto my needle. It looked right, and it fit. After that success I decided to make myself a jumper. I found a pattern in a book that fascinated me because it had vintage patterns re-printed as they originally appeared in magazines from the 30s – 50s, complete with surrounding articles and adverts. In Jenners, I selected my yarn (black 4ply) and needles and went to pay for them with most of my allowance for the month. The sales lady asked if I had checked the dyelot numbers, I had no idea what she was talking about, but I was already feeling nervously out of place so I nodded. Big mistake. I wasn’t quite sure what all the instructions in the pattern meant, but I found a knitting encyclopedia in a charity shop to help me figure it out. Some of my figuring out was more succesful than others. ‘Inc 1’ – must mean increase, flip to section on increases, oh dear there are a lot of them, ok pick one, this will do, yarn over! I was certain I could knit and purl at least, so all of my knit stitches are twisted. But I still wear my crazy 40s ribbed jumper with it’s huge puffed sleeves and front with two different shades. (And in getting the link to that post I realised that I’ve told part of this before, differently. I told you – asking me seeming simple questions that involve memory is doomed to a rambling reply).
That is probably how not to learn to knit. Typing out those memories, though, seemed like a good reminder that learning to knit is hard, instructions are often confusing, and it can be really frustrating, but eventually it clicks. I have always, always been crafty, I have done so many different crafts, and I was always good at learning practical things from books, but I wasn’t always a knitter. I became a knitter gradually, but the year I lived in Aberdeen with a slightly frustrating life I started knitting to give myself something that at least felt productive to do. That summer I moved home, ordered Stitch n Bitch from Amazon (I had a subscription to Bust, the book wasn’t widely available here then, but I think I must have read about it there) and figured out how knitting worked. I discovered Craftster while working in an office, and designed the skull illusion scarf to send to a pirate loving girl in a swap. Less than a year later I submitted Arisaig to Knitty, and set up my blog because I needed somewhere to host the skull illusion scarf pattern. The rest is here. I guess I’m a knitter now. Now I have seven minutes to add some random pictures and post this in order to qualify for the prize.