Sunday, 17 April 2016

Knitting under protest


A protest knit on the Mound, Edinburgh

Protest knitting is well established in Edinburgh.  The pink scene above is from a few years ago now.  My daughter and I chanced upon this protest in action when we were in town one Saturday.  It was very striking, and an expression of soft power that made us stop and think.  My daughter thought from a safe distance while I took the standard embarrassing mum photos closer up.


Lamenting the failed appeal to save Canonmills Bridge from developers

And recently this sign appeared on a nearby bridge.  After a lengthy appeal process, local opposition to the forthcoming demolition of the current bridge and its hugely popular wholefood shop and restaurant has taken the form of a crocheted protest blanket.  I thought it was knitted, such is my ignorance, but I was kindly put right on Instagram that it is in fact crochet. 

Woolly creations are everywhere.  The floral panel below is on display currently in Braemar, having decorated a nearby bridge over the summer. 

Panels by Deeside Nitwits decorated the bridge in Braemar
 Sometimes I feel as if there's no escape from knitting.  It's even out there in sensible hillwalking sort of places like Braemar!  So many bloggers and Instagrammers knit!  And I don't.  I categorically don't -  I'm emotionally allergic to it.  The feel of knitting needles and wool in my hands drives me into a sort of fury.  There's a very good reason for this - the experience of being taught to knit in primary school.  In my small rural school, back in the 1960s, the girls were taught to knit in primary 3, at age 7.  I don't remember now what the boys got to do, lucky things.  Probably hammering nails into bits of wood.  The primary 3 teacher was stern, a noted disciplinarian.  It came as a shock after the two years of infant classes.  The same approach extended to the teaching of knitting.  You might think that the first attempt at this new skill would be something easy - a never-ending scarf, for example.  But we were launched straight away on a two colour tea cosy.  Five stitches one colour, five stitches the other colour.  We kept the balls of wool in jam jars, supposedly to stop them getting entangled.  Mine of course rushed together with a fatal attraction.  A dropped stitch was a major incident - of course I had many major incidents.  The result was that my tea cosy took shape very, very carefully, and very slowly.  Each stitch was pulled tight so that the whole tea cosy squeaked as I pushed it along the needles.  My slow purgatory continued all year, until a month before the end of the summer term when the teacher suddenly realised that if 3 terms = 1 side of tea cosy, 4 weeks was not going to = second side of tea cosy.  So my classmate Jane was deployed to knit side 2.  Jane was a very fast knitter.  Speed came at something of a cost, to my aesthetically critical eye, as her tension was very slack and loopy.  Those of you who are knitters (i.e. everyone) will know where this is going.  My inhibited, cowed half was somehow stitched together with a free and easy, letting-it-all-hang-out thing twice its size.  I'm not sure how it was displayed in the end of term 'show of work' in the classroom.  I remember that it kicked around in the bottom of the kitchen cupboard at home for a few years, along with the hot water bottles and dusters.  Oh, and it was blue and yellow.  Five stitches blue, five stitches yellow.

The following year I have no memory of what we had to knit, except that we had to knit something, and it was very boring and took me the whole year.  Towards the end of the summer term my mother suggested that I might bring it home and do some of it in the evenings (waste of time to my mind, when I could have been off up the hill with the dog, or reading).  This worked well for a few days, until the teacher asked how my knitting was coming along.  Naively I replied, 'Oh it's fine, I should be finished tomorrow night'.  For the sin of Taking My Knitting Home, I received 10 whacks on the hand with a ruler.

And so it continued.  Primary 5, 6, 7.  No memory of what was knitted.  All thankfully erased.  Sewing was a lesser torment at that point, as it involved stitching round and round a square of fawn cloth with holes in it. I'm sure my classmates were moved on to more interesting things - the apron that every 9 year old longs to wear, for example - but I was happy to be labelled 'remedial'.  From Primary 5 onwards I perfected having a book on my lap and reading while very occasionally jabbing the needle into the fawn square on my desk. Very risky, but worth it.

Age 12 and secondary school.  We knitted a polo neck inset.  Not a jersey, you understand, but a disembodied polo neck with a little placket.  This may have been 1971, but even that wasn't in fashion.  Surprisingly I managed it rather well, if slowly and still squeaking, but sewing now took over as the main torment.  We were started off on an A-line nightie.  I remained on the A-line nightie for the rest of the year, while classmates graduated onto the sewing machines and the mysteries of setting in collars.  The problem was the darts, sewn by hand.  I would sew my darts, take my work up to show the teacher, and be sent back to unpick the darts and re-do them.  Again and again. Of course by the end of the year the ghastly thing resembled broderie anglaise, there were so many holes in it.  It was also very, very grubby.  It too ended up with the dusters.  Meanwhile salvation came in the form of Latin the following year, and a timetable that was incompatible with domestic 'science'.  I daresay the domestic science department was relieved too.

So perhaps those of you who 'relax' by knitting will have some understanding of my violent hatred of wool and knitting needles.  I have a very long list of things I plan to do when I leave my workplace of 29 years shortly, and knitting is not one of them.  As to what is, that's for the next post.  And tell me - am I alone?  Are there any other knitting and sewing phobics out there?

18 comments:

  1. I tried to knit once years ago and it was a disaster! So I'm with you in the non-knitters club! :)

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    1. I didn't see you with knitting needles in hand as you swished down a ski slope, Linda! Glad to have found a kindred spirit!

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  2. Sorry, I am not not a knitting phobic, I find it quite relaxing. I, too had one of those stern teachers who made us make ridiculous things. In my case it was a sleepless vest made up of 20 stitch wide two coloured striped strips, when sewn together the vest was like a chequer board. It was traumatic. Luckily for me this particular teacher retired (it was a village party, this day) and the new one was a lovely sweet young woman full of enthusiasm and pity for us tortured souls. I learned to use the sticks and learned to love it, too. It is a shame how one teacher can ruin a childs natural creativity. If you are looking for something therapeutic and crafty, I can recommend soap making. It is fun and doesn't involve any sticks, unless you want to make a swirly pattern with a skewer that is. No yarn bombing in Glasgow, us Glaswegians are boring. x

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    1. Who thought up these bizarre items? And we must have had the same sort of teacher. Everyone in the village over a certain age carries the scars of having been through this primary class. I have a feeling that she was a very able woman, who might have been a quantum physicist in a later generation but was condemned to the only suitable and affordable career for a woman at that time. I do now feel sorry for her. Everyone should be able to follow their potential, regardless of gender or ability to pay for education.
      Thank you for the kind suggestion of soap making, but I fear I'm not remotely crafty. I dread to think what I might unleash on the world if I tried soap...

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    2. Hello Linda! I was taught knitting by my mother at about 8 or 9. We made clothes for a bear together. She was very patient! And I had the same issue with knitting too tight but I loved undoing as much as doing I think. My stitching career stopped at an early age but my mother also taught me to stitch and I still enjoy it very much as well as card making. Now I am an English teacher and I teach kids to cross stitch in the last few days of school. Most of them enjoy trying and I use easy mini patterns of cute animals, video games heroes or tiny letters.

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    3. That sounds a much better introduction, La Nouille. That must be a good diversion for your pupils at the end of term. Much better than being plonked in front of a DVD, which tends to happen here.

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  3. That's a good reason to dislike knitting. About the only sewing I can do is to fix a button, but that's it.

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    1. Yup, that's me too! Anything else I subcontract to the wonderful Christian of the nearby Polish tailors. I get a good dollop of gossip into the bargain, so it's well worth it.

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  4. An interesting essay - it's so sad that you were whacked for knitting. As you know, I love to knit, but I find that cooking makes me very tense, after many difficulties helping my father to cook the evening meal when I was growing up. (A dear friend remembers me getting into big trouble for having sliced the cucumbers too thickly.) I think anything that is "taught" so badly could become a source of fury - singing, reading, anything. From my perspective, it's nice to see knitting celebrated on the internet because in real life, people so often express surprise to see someone knitting, and comment that it's really out of fashion now. Sometimes I bother to correct them, mostly I don't. Luckily for you, there is no need at all to knit, or crochet, spin, weave, etc. You can finally go up a hill with the dog, or read!

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    1. Good teachers are so important, aren't they. I wish the profession was more valued, and that successive governments would stop fiddling. I am similarly incapable with numbers, and your comment makes me wonder if being 'given the ruler' in Primary 2 (i.e. age 6) for the sin of Rubbing Out With My Finger is to blame. I don't think so, however - I remember the disbelief in my young brain on discovering that we had to add pages of sums. I had a neat arrangement with the boy in the next seat who is now an accountant. He did my sums and I wrote his 'stories'. Until the day he was absent and I had to do my own sums...
      I wonder too how many boys would have discovered a talent for knitting/sewing/couture if they had been allowed to learn. Domestic science was unisex when my children were at secondary school more recently. I do remember a lot of tales about boys stitching their fingers to the garment they were making. Although only sewing was done, I think. Perhaps knitting needles are considered too dangerous in the classroom.

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  5. Thank you for the very good laugh at the end of a long day. I howled at the squeaky knitting as mine had the same sound effects. In sewing I was unable to sew a pair of pants without sewing the legs together - not once, not twice, but many times. Darts? Zippers? Button holes? I mastered none, and while my friends had graduated to pattern-making and tailoring I was as relieved as you were to take the option of Latin.

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    1. Oh a kindred spirit indeed! So glad to hear your tales of sewing things together that weren't meant to be sewn together! Thank goodness the Romans invented Latin for the express purpose of relieving us of our torment. There is still a very warm place in my heart for Latin.

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  6. Linda I honestly think you and I shared the same childhood! My knitting torture was an owl or should I say 'owl' made from two rectangles of plain knitting (thankfully no wool colour changes) which then had two felt eyes glued on. Mine was brown, and proper wool, but I envied terribly the purple acrylic my friend was knitting with. I took mine home and my mum felt sorry for me and finished it, and even made a little waistcoat and bow tie for it, saving the day somewhat. I quite like knitting, but rarely finish what I start, so stick to small projects. More in love with sewing at the moment. X

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  7. We do indeed! I am chuckling at the image of your 'owl'. And the purple acrylic of your friend was absolutely of the time. Do you still have your 'owl'?

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  8. So nice to have find your lovely blog! Beautiful photo´s...
    Have a great sunday!
    Titti

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    1. Likewise! Your blog is good practice for my Swedish - my husband speaks Swedish and I speak a little Norwegian, so I can work it out.

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  9. Linda - I share a similar primary school knitting story P5 I think - mine was a blue giraffe. One side was full of holes, tension all over the shop and barely recognisable as any kind of long necked or any necked animal. Working out fairly quickly that I was not very good at this knitting lark and found it pretty dull, I spent much of the knitting time chatting and giggling with my classmates . This resulted in a sharp finger prod in the shoulder region from the teacher ( she had bony fingers and this was her preferred method of dealing with modest misdemeanours ) . I was moved to the front of the class "right next to my desk where I can keep an eye on you" To be fair to teacher - the second side of the giraffe - where I was no longer able to chat and giggle was a much better effort and so, much like your tea cosy was a game of two halves ( or giraffes ). It did not instil a love or much of a skill in knitting, and generally I was pretty rubbish in all these craft skills save for cooking. But I retain a hopelessly romantic view of knitting, sewing and the like, meaning I embark on projects way above my skill level, and then abandon them half completed to a cupboard. Although I have rustled up a few decent costumes and fancy dress outfits for my girls over the years, and a beautifully knitted shepherd for the nursery nativity scene was probably the peak of my achievements !

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    1. Ouch, that shoulder prod! Loved your giraffe of two halves! And I'm mightily impressed by the shepherd.

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