Knit, Purl, Knit, Purl…

I could not tell you know what possessed me, that autumn in 2016, to take up knitting. I cannot fathom why I chose knitting, rather than say sewing, or weaving, or pretty much any other craft-type activity. But knitting is what I landed on. Knitting is a hobby with both a relaxing element, and a community attached, so I took the idea and held on tight.

I used to knit, you see. Not well, or fast, and nothing more complex than a basic square. My Ngonu taught me to knit, using small, red plastic needles that I can picture holding while sitting in one of her oversized armchairs. At school, we used to knit squares for blankets every year. There were competitions for knitting the most squares and charity drives to create blankets each autumn. But that was the limit of my knitting. (I also couldn’t increase properly so my squares were always weird and had a tiny line of holes where I had increased incorrectly.) Knitting was never ‘cool’ when I was young. Or at least, it wasn’t cool in the circles I desperately wanted to be part of… Plus things like knitting and sewing (I still am unable to sew anything more than a button) felt terribly unfeminist and far away from the world of high business we were all supposed to be aiming for. We were Sheryl Sandberg’s girls, leaning in to an intensely patriarchal culture and future, being shaped to run a man’s world. So knitting was totally not.a.thing.

I discovered that Nottingham has an (entirely awesome) indie knitting shop, Knit Nottingham, and they did basic beginner courses. The lightness of being I had felt while being at home in South Africa started to dissipate again as October set in that year and I returned to the office, so I signed up for two sessions on basic knitting. I carefully wrote down the dates (I still have a physical, pen written diary because otherwise I never remember anything) and started to dream about hand-knitted jumpers.

On the first Sunday of my two-day course, I wandered slowly towards Knit Nottingham for the first time. The shop is located down a small side street in the centre of town. As it was Sunday, the city was quiet, hardly anyone was about, the remnants of Saturday night strewn and blown about the streets. It was early October, an autumnal nip played with my hair and ears. I pushed my hands deep into my coat. On the street, all the shops were still shuttered. Knit Nottingham, the window steamed up from the cold, had a ‘closed’ sign in the window. I was early so I lingered, nervous. A person came down the street from the opposite end and walked purposively into the shop. How did they know to do that? I sneaked in behind them. Knit Nottingham is a small shop, and wall to wall with wool. It is a colourful delight and Eleanor, the shop owner, is a welcoming force.  

But I was confused. Everyone already seemed to know each other. Wasn’t this the first day? How is everyone so easy already? I was shy, nervous, never good at making myself known when feeling so. I took my spot at the table and as Eleanor began to explain what we would be doing today, I realised I was entirely out of my depth. What was going on? “Okay everyone,” she said once she had explained the hat we were going to knit, “cast on 30 stitches and knit the first ten rows in a two by two rib.” Um, what? “Eleanor,” I whispered quietly, “I do not know how to cast on.” Eleanor looked mildly panicky, possibly horrified, at my confession. “Can you knit?” “Well yes but…” “Can you purl?” “No?”

Bless her, Eleanor rallied around me, casting on my stitches and showing me how to knit and then purl the rib pattern for the base of the hat. By some miracle, the whole rhythm of knitting came back to me like a muscle memory, long ago forgotten but still embedded in my bones. I easily found the rhythm of the rib stitch and then, yes! This was easy! I discovered that a pattern is like a recipe, you just have to pay attention to the instructions. Within a few hours of being in Knit Nottingham, I had found something I could do easily, and more importantly, enjoyed. 

After class ended that first day, I explained to Eleanor what I thought must have happened. I’d written the days down wrong and shown up for class two, missing class one because I’d written the classes down a week late. I jumped off into the deep-end of magic loop knitting and hats. Eleanor was easy about my mistake and let me choose another class in April – one on problem solving, which we both agreed would probably be useful by that point.

I left the shop elated, my tiny, sample hat alongside several new balls of wool in my bag. That month, and the ones that followed to Christmas I knitted hats, a series of oddly shaped, oddly patterned hats. I went back to Knit Nottingham and bought a pattern of four hats and more wool. Hats, it seemed were my thing. None of the hats was perfect. Plenty had to be started over several times before I ‘got’ the pattern. They all had weird head shapes. They were not quite the right size ever. There were dropped stitches and odd bulges where I had changed the stitch by accident.

But none of that mattered. I was doing a thing that was not work and it was satisfying, sometimes even joyful. And probably most importantly, it was slowly teaching me a lesson about perfect things… and the ways to live with a life imperfect…

[Before I go this week, I just wanted to say a heartfelt thank you for all the feedback on my first post. It was a hard one to write, and harder to publish, but your response has been awesome. I really appreciate it, from the centre of my heart. x]

Thanks to the models in these photos! These are the first hats I knitted. I can now manage more complicated things but more on that another time.