Look at what I made.
As you may have guessed, I’m a (dedicated, enthusiastic, obsessed) knitter. I’ve been knitting seriously since I was about 15. I have no idea why I started, just that my Nana gave me needles, yarn and a book for Christmas and it seemed good manners to do take it up. I have a sneaking suspicion that Mum had something to do with it. At 15 I was still doing what my family referred to as ‘running around’ while watching television. Undiagnosed ADHD sucks hard, and not only for the person who has it. It seemed to be understood that occupying my hands would curb my now annoying and “childish” habits.
It did. I sat through entire programs, unheard of before, knitting myself and family wonky scarves. When I went to France in 5th Form I knitted a 6 ft (approx) scarf in rainbow variegated wool. Mostly because I had no idea how to cast off. In 7th form I knitted something for most of my friends. When my first (totally unexpected) boyfriend asked me out, I was wearing a hat I’d made. The hat probably didn’t have anything to do with the asking out, though.
Knitting’s pretty much been a constant in my life since my early teens. I find it both soothing and invigorating. The repetitive motion is relaxing, but relaxing in a productive and creative way. For the most part I do follow other people’s patterns but for me that does not make it any less creative. It’s rather like playing a piece of music; someone else has written the tune down but you, by making the music a physical reality, make it yours in some way. Knitting’s seen me through university, two separate mental health related diagnoses, arguments with friends, break downs of relationships, extended periods of depression and self harm. My attachment is emotional as well as physical.
I’ve pretty much kept out of the feminist arguments about knitting.* I certainly wouldn’t tout it as a cure-all or a necessity. I wouldn’t say it’s an attempt to regress to historical gender roles either, or a hankering for a domesticity that doesn’t really exist anymore. Knitting as a hobby has changed over the last one hundred years, which is what I’m going to discuss in a future post. It’s totally OK for people not to enjoy it, or to even want to do it.
My attachment to knitting is also historical. My Mum and both my Grandmothers knit. Mum couldn’t teach me, though she tried, because she was left handed and found it too difficult to explain. My maternal Nana ended up teaching me. Knitting for me is a continuation and celebration of a skill that has been passed down through the generations. It’s one of those things that gives me roots.
I should explain that I’m an odd sort of third generation immigrant to New Zealand, despite my Kiwi Dad. My Mum’s family moved here from England in the seventies, I think. My Mum and Dad moved back to England after they married, and my older brother and I were born and spent about four years there. Then we came here. Let no one tell you that England and New Zealand have the same culture. Due to my paternal Grandparents living up North and my Dad working a lot, I was bought up in ‘English’ culture. So I don’t feel like a New Zealander, but then I’m not really English either. I needed to find alternate ways to make an identity.
My family doesn’t seem to have strong local ties to any place, in New Zealand or England. But I do have a familial skill that helps me, in some small way, to make a home anywhere. It’s a skill that’s survived trips back and forth across thousands of miles of ocean. Picking up my needles connects me to my Mum and my Nana, and probably my Great-Nana too. It’s a part of the history of my family; both Nana and Mum talk about things they made. (“Remember that jumper? I knitted it from a Vogue pattern. I wore it to…”) For many women, knitting was an economic necessity rather than a pleasure, but for Nana it seems to have been both. The women in our family have been makers: not only knitting but dressmaking and embroidering. Now I’m one, too. It’s an identity that feels authentic and is not reliant on location.
My thesis supervisor pointed out that Knitting is an ‘intimate labour.’ You (should) really only knit things for people you care about. Over the years my family’s been the recipient of some truly awful items, but they’ve always recognised the effort that went in. Even ‘selfish’ knitting is an act of love. All that labour for yourself, which seems a bit decadent in this day and age. Especially since you can often buy an equivalent item in a shop for a cheaper price. Right now, I’m sitting in my room in a sweater I made myself. It’s massive and frankly rather eighties looking, but I made it, with my own hands. I’m not going to say I’m not proud of myself. Another aspect of ADHD is the tendency to not finish projects, but here is something that is absolutely and definitely done. I made something and I beat one of the worst aspects of myself. It’s a small victory, but I’ll take it.
Cardigan I made for my Mother. It took me a year.
Colourwork bag, made for friends.
Just some of the things I knitted for my mates in 7th form.
French trip scarf.
My latest Creation.
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