Today I lost a mitten. Not just any mitten, though. These were the
Ysolda Snapdragon mittens that very nearly defeated me. Several years ago, when I began them, I found the combination of knitting in the round and cabling so fiendish that after several attempts with the chart, then the written instructions, then both at the same time, I was ready to give up. In the end I struggled on and then, a year later (!) had the mental strength to struggle through the second one.
This morning I must have dropped one after I scraped the ice off the windscreen. I had that funny ‘something’s wrong’ niggling, but was in too much of a hurry to stop and look if I’d dropped anything, so I didn’t realise until I was at work. Turned out that the niggle was right. Boo!
Thankfully I didn’t have enough time to grieve the loss of my handiwork before I was back at home and found the missing Snapdragon draped over the fence. You’ll have seen these sad but hopeful little tributes to good citizenship before I’m sure, but in this case lost item and owner were reunited.
All’s well that ends well and all that. But this, along with a conversation about C’s need for new socks the other day has got me thinking about how our relationship with handmade items must have altered over the years.
When C was talking about needing new socks, I reflected that there must have been a time when, if you weren’t in the income bracket that allowed you to buy socks knitted by someone else, the mother in a family (and quite possibly anyone else who could handle needles) would have had to have been knitting socks more or less constantly to keep a family’s feet warm. Either that or making other garments, or mending them. With fewer clothes per person, and with time and labour needed to replace or repair them, people must have known their clothes better and forced to value and care for them more than we do.
That said, while our age is one of ‘throwaway fashion’, where dubious ethics in manufacturing and cheap synthetic fabrics allow us to spin through the buy/wear/bin cycle with alarming speed, handmade has retained or perhaps regained its value. With ideas of hippies crocheting waistcoats out of hemp or grannies knitting hideous acrylic Christmas jumpers now recognised by many as outdated and inaccurate ways to view handcraft, the quality, integrity and individuality of items made by hand is now valued by a growing number of people.
Time is an increasingly precious and rare resource in this world, so the time that’s taken to make something by hand is part of what gives it this value. In addition, where once skills such as knitting, sewing, darning and so on would have been as normal for someone looking after a family as being able to switch on a washing machine is now, these days they are a rarer trick and that rarity gives more value.
While we may have lost a more widespread knowledge of these handcrafts, it appears to me that increasingly we are finding (or re-finding) our appreciation of them. Hurrah!
There comes a point, maybe when you see your name in a magazine you’ve been able to buy in your local supermarket. Maybe when you get your first cheque through for a published pattern. Maybe when you find yourself being told to ‘drop an email’ to someone for yarn support, someone whose enough of a knitting ‘name’ that you bought a stitch dictionary edited by them the previous week. Anyway, at some point you realise that the game has changed.
Anyone who does anything creative daydreams about making it their living- digging the escape tunnel from the daily grind so that one day they can drop through the trapdoor and exist in a world with fewer alarm clocks and pairs of work trousers and more cups of tea and beautiful views from that studio you’ll need, of course. Depending on who you are and what you do, these might range from out and out fantasy to hard and fast plans. It’s funny though, despite my love of knitting, I’d never thought I’d ever make anything from designing- owning a yarn shop was my favourite daydream, as even in the realm of make-believe I was too aware of not having the design background I felt sure was needed for writing patterns.
I imagine I’m among quite a number of newbie designers who have Ravelry to thank for getting them to venture, or in my case, pretty much stumble, into the world of pattern writing. The chance to post your pattern for free or for sale is a lot less daunting than the prospect of sending off a proposal to a magazine, all the while imagining them howling with laughter at your rank amateurism. Of course, toe dipped, and even with the sort of mediocre response my ideas got, confidence grows, a new magazine’s call for submissions caught my eye, what I assumed would be a one off turned into a series of commission and suddenly I was looking at my hobby in a whole new way.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not preparing to give up my day job, especially since it took a year of tears and struggle to get one. At this moment, I’m quite happy if I’ve found a way to pay for my yarn habit, not to mention the fact that it’s added a whole new dimension to my relationship with knitting.
It’s a relationship that keeps me on my toes of course. There’s the sinking feeling and subsequent sorting out if you discover an error, or worse still have it pointed out by a knitter keen to get on with making your design. There’s the self-doubt about whether you’ve got any ideas, or whether any of your ideas are good enough, when you look at the latest moodboards of a call for submissions. There’s the waiting for a response when the deadline passes. There’s the pressure to get a sample and pattern complete when you’re up against a deadline (or in my case this month, four samples and patterns, which is why this space has been neglected lately).
But for all that, you’ll hear absolutely no complaints from me about this new phase in my knitting life. The buzz of getting a ‘yes’ via email? Fantastic. Justifiably saying ‘I have to knit?’That’s hardly a chore. Getting gorgeous yarn sent to me for free? Wonderful- I’ve been up to my ears in projects for the last four months and hardly bought any yarn at all. The deep satisfaction of the journey from idea to submission to making and writing? Love it. The thrill of seeing my name in print and getting nice comments about my design on Ravelry? Yes please! Getting money I can justifiably spend on knitterly things? Well, it’s no bad thing really, is it?
Progress is definitely being made in my knitting life at the moment. Thankfully, that includes progress on those projects with a deadline, but also in other ventures, all of which I hope to share news of very soon. Knit on, my friends!
Wool. If it’s good enough to keep sheep warm in the fells, then it should be good enough to keep me and mine warm up there too, right? On a recent quest to find enough daylight to take reasonable photographs of projects and blow the holiday cobwebs away, we found ourselves in a favourite spot- Blea Tarn, on the Wrynose Pass near the Langdales. The wind was blowing a hoolie, as it has been on and off for what seems like weeks now, and up there it was strong enough to knock a certain small boy off his feet- luckily he found it hilarious.
We had a blustery, slightly shortened walk and managed to get a few nice shots and I also took the opportunity to test out Kate Davies’ exhortations to wear wool as an alternative to the usual synthetic fleeces to keep the chill out here. Her daily walks take place in Scotland, for goodness sake, so if she maintains that woollen layers are an effective way to keep warm then I believe her.
You don’t just have to listen to one of my admittedly favourite designers though. A project a few years ago proved that the clothing worn by early Everest explorers, which had a strong wool element, was in many ways as effective as the ‘smart’ fabrics of today. You can read more here. The rising popularity among outdoor clothing companies of merino for base layers also demonstrates the recognition that nature is pretty good at creating her own ‘smart’ materials.
So, on a normal walking day you might have found me wearing a handknit hat, scarf and gloves at most. This time I added a pair handknit wool socks over my normal socks, a merino base layer with a cotton long sleeve t-shirt and a handknit sleeveless vest over that (my 1st-prize-at-Great-Eccleston-Show-winning Fyne Vest to be precise!), knitted wool mittens and a wool beret. Everything else was synthetic fabrics, which probably put me at about 50/50 wool to synthetics.
Without any fleece involved, it felt a lot less bulky than normal. As I didn’t exert myself very much I can’t comment on the breathability, but I didn’t feel the need to strip off so many layers when we retired to a cafe in Ambleside for cake afterwards. As for being warm, well, the wind blew fierce and the wind blew wild, but I was just fine, and I’m a cold bones sort.
It’s made me realise that despite all the knitting I do, I don’t actually have that many woolly things I can wear for this sort of thing. Whether through knitting or shopping, it’s something I intend to rectify this year.