(a) Rush to your nearest / favourite yarn shop and buy a pattern and accompanying yarn – because if you didn't, you’d have no knitting to take with you?
(b) Rush to your nearest / favourite yarn shop and buy a pattern and accompanying yarn to take with you?
(c) Raid your stash, looking for a new and interesting project to take?
(d) Raid your selection of WIPs ("Works in Progress") so see if any of those have become more interesting in the time they've been hidden away?
(e) Pick up your knitting bag with your current project – no matter what it is – and take that with you?
If you answered Option (a), then you're probably my mum, a woman of many talents but zero stash. (Hi Mummy- and thanks for checking in!). If you're not my mum then please do introduce yourself: It would be lovely to hear from you and your views on The Stash. We are open to all schools of thought here – and often at the same time!
If you answered (b), (c) or (d) then I'm keen to hear what stopped you taking your usual knitting? Was it the opportunity to (re)start something new in new company? Or perhaps your current project requires deep concentration so wouldn't be appropriate for knitting in company? I doubt any of you would be so insecure as to need to take something a little less ordinary for fear of say, Knitter's Judgement?
Mis-judgements can be terribly hurtful, regardless of its source or subject matter, but somehow seems even more so when from one knitter to another. (Stereotype: Knitters aren't mean to each other. Aren't we supposed to be some of the most inclusive, open-minded people you'd hope to meet?) But allow me to set the scene: Some friends and I were attending the grand opening of a new yarn shop. It promised a famous top designer and cakes. Free cake. (I was going for the cake. I had all the knitting projects I needed.) It wasn't until my mum phoned as I was en route to the yarn shop that a "need" for a new project presented itself: I needed to knit something for my sister's first child. As it happened, the famous top designer produced a lot of baby patterns so I was pretty sure that I'd be able to find something. Perusing the many patterns (and somewhat distracted by the absence of the promised cakes), one of the members of staff offered to help. She suggested a garter stitch jacket as it would be very suitable for the novice knitter. Just knitting and with very little shaping. How or why did she think that? Because I wasn't wearing anything hand knitted? Because I hadn't a complicated knitting project poking out of the top of my bag? Because I didn't then open my mouth to correct her? Would it really have been that hard to have engaged me in conversation prior to offering advice? Despite being hurt and a little upset (I thought I was a knitter yet this professional knitting-type person clearly didn't share this opinion - so who was I?!), I bought the pattern book and required yarn – I suspect it was the quickest way to close the conversation. I was in such a rush to get out of the shop that it didn’t even occur to me to ask the top designer to sign my copy (what would she write anyway? "Enjoy your first project"?!), or stop to eat from newly furnished plate of pretty little cup cakes. I'd had none of the positive experiences associated with buying a new project and I wanted out.
It's happened again – and not just to me, but friends too. And although it's not nice, I feel somewhat justified when they've reacted in similar ways. We all know that knitting can be an emotional journey – so why sully it from the start? Is there something that a Professional Knitter is looking for when engaging with other so-called "knitters"? If you're truly accomplished do you give off a slightly different aura, perhaps a haze of some kind? Or do you just never leave the house without something hand knit to complete your outfit? Or maybe you just have the ability to form a comprehensive sentence, gently informing the mis-informed that you've been knitting for a decade or two?
And although this incident happened years ago (Oldest Nephew has just celebrated his fifth birthday), you can tell that I'm still smarting. And it seems that it's influenced my behaviour when knitting in public, even if I'm knitting among close friends. It seems that I try to present an alternative – and fictional - version of Katherine-the-Knitter. One who often brings new – and exciting – projects to the group, not because she's bored (heaven forbid!) or embarrassed of the length of time spent knitting said projects (which has nothing to do with having too many on the needles at the same time) but because she's such a super fast and dedicated knitter. If only.
My friends know the truth, the absolute truth, of my project status, despite the charade I try to perform when out and about. Seriously, did I think that the Edinburgh coffee scene would be unimpressed if they saw me, week after week, knitting Husband's jumper? Unlikely. Turns out that I felt that had to be seen to knit something complicated otherwise perfect strangers might not think that I was a Good Knitter. And, of course, we all know how important the opinion of perfect strangers is. Yet even before these times of change (having my own children, giving up my own work), being recognised as a Knitter was important to me. It was part of what defined me.
It's now part of my job to help out at a knitting group ("Oh how tight are my diamond shoes" ) - "Woolly Wednesday" at the Bead Shop Scotland, Haddington, in case you're interested. But I don't usually knit. Instead, I spend the time admiring other peoples' work, listening, chatting, helping out with the odd problem. And I do my upmost to never, ever to judge.
Because I see it as part of my role (Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes), I think that I'm the only one who religiously attends wearing something hand-knitted. Of course others will at times too, but carefully chosen garments – not shout-out-loud "I'm a Knitter" garments. There are the sock knitters who might be knitting the same pair of socks over a meeting or two but given that they knit so many, I confess the specific designs have all become a bit of a blur. There are a few garment knitters who seem to rotate between a small number of projects – but return to each at frequent enough intervals so that you can watch them grow. There are the dedicated knitters who loyally work on a single project before starting something new – be it a jacket or a family of teddy bears. There are the small project knitters who flirt from project to project, often finishing what they've started with a most enviable speed. Then there are the knitters to be afraid of. Very afraid. These knitters tend to have a new project each time. A few might actually have completed the last project before starting the next but often these knitters are very comfortable having multiple, multiple projects on the go. And what projects. Look at this beautiful, entrelac blanket I'm creating from left over sock yarn. (I've got left over sock yarn, I could do that.) Yes, this is the second (second!) of Kate Davies' "Rams and Yowes" blankets I've knitted. (I've never knitted a blanket in the round, I should really try that. Plus, have you seen it? It's stunning.) So this pretty cardigan is knitted from side to side... (Ooh, that sounds interesting – I'd love to try that.) And so it goes on. Seriously, these knitters should come with a health warning.
And what have I learnt? Does it matter what you knit? Not a jot. Does it matter how often you knit the same project? Goodness no. This is a place for knitters to relax and enjoy themselves, to knit as and when they like. Knitting time is precious. And we all know that knitting projects require different levels of attention, which is why we can arm ourselves with relaxing stocking-stitch designs as well as thought-provoking cables or brain-teasing lace. And anyone who doesn't understand that, well, maybe they're not a Proper Knitter.
I've just been invited to a new knitting group, one where I can go as just Katherine. Question is, which Katherine will go? The one who works consistently on one project at a time? Or the one who thinks that she’s got something to prove, a need to justify herself by her many projects? My first meeting is in a fortnight – and I'll let you know.