For those of you who don't know, "Body Combat" is my most favourite exercise class and our teacher, Laura, is superb: The perfect combination of fitness and strength, grace and balance, care and humour – and she bakes. Yes, turning up to the last class in the week before Christmas with a selection of home baking is going to win you a place in my heart – especially when I might have been afraid that such goodies would never pass your lips, let alone have a home in your kitchen.
For a class that I claim to love so much, you'd be perfectly within your rights to ask why I had let my attendance lapse for so long. Firstly, there was the school summer holiday, half of which was spent enjoying the company of my parents followed by a fortnight away in North Wales. And then it all fell apart. A combination of Husband being home late / away soon allowed those feelings of apprehension and self-doubt to re-seed and grow. I remember when my friend J took me to my first class: She may not realise what trust I had in her and our friendship to allow her to witness the potential humiliation that might have occurred in that first session. She had been going for months; I had done no formal exercise for a long, long time – and yet I survived and with every subsequent week, my fitness and co-ordination improved and I grew to look forward to my weekly kick (and punch) of combat. And it was these memories of that pure pleasure that finally took me back.
Such feelings are not only restricted to combat, I know – and it's been particularly helpful to ponder on such emotions as I begin another series of "Learn to Knit" classes. Let me premise this by saying that I do know that not everyone thinks in the same way I do, but let's assume that if they did, we'd be close to covering the worst case scenario.
It can take a lot of courage to attend a first class of anything and I hope that I never underestimate the journey that it may have taken some to reach the point of stepping through the door. Sometimes it's easier to come alone; sometimes not; everyone is different. May I reassure you that I am delighted to see everyone who attends my classes and genuinely believe that it's a real honour that you have decided to spend some of your precious time (and hard earned cash) learning or developing your craft. So thank you, thank you for coming.
As an adult, learning anything from scratch can be intimidating. Sometimes, we burden ourselves with the pressure of past failed attempts or the expectation that since we're "grown-up", we should be able to do this (whatever this is). That's not very kind to yourself. You're speaking to the knitter who refused her own mother's patient attempts to teach her to knit – so please don't even try to compete with me in the arena of missed opportunities. That said, I now have great joy knitting with my mum or, because of the miles between us, talking about knitting – it is most definitely one of our binding common interests. So try not to focus on the past, embrace your newly-found interest and see where it leads you.
My learn to knit classes are small in the hope that I can give you and your class-mates the individual attention that you may need. Learning to knit is not a race. With most that we do, we do at a different pace and style from those around us – and knitting is no exception. Some will find the first pair of needles work for them; others will find them heavy, alien and uncomfortable. Do not fear: Like shoes, there are others we can try. Some will find the actual holding of needles clumsy and child-like. Don't worry, relax – and, as you do, you'll find that your shoulders drop, some of the tension will leave your back and your arms will find their own natural position to rest. Some won't understand the pattern or instruction – and that's for me to sort out so please do let me know if I've been unclear. It is my absolute aim to help you reach your knitting goal so please, please let me know of any way that I can help.
Like any other endurance task, in order for your body to remain alert and energised, you need to keep hydrated and fuelled. Yes, I'm serious – and no, you're not the first person who doesn't believe me. Consider this: Before you attended my class today, when did you last (ever!) sit down and knit for two hours solid? Indeed. This is particularly significant when learning to knit as your brain is probably in over-drive trying to remember all the details of the new methods I've been showing at you, not to mention the names of your class-mates, the important task you remembered that you hadn't completed as you travelled to the class and the inspiring comment that one your colleagues has just thrown into the group. And so I recommend sugar, water and perhaps caffeine. In what form is entirely up to you, but I tend to find that a nice cuppa and a biscuit work and don't get your hands sticky.
And then there's the fatigue, both physical and mental. Particularly anxious knitters may have an acute case of "knitter's claw" where their exhausted fingers are rendered immobile and curled up into the palm of their hand. Know that one. The neck and shoulders of other knitters may ache from rigidly sitting around their needles. Yep, experienced that too. And then you may be completely wiped out from the effort of single-mindedly concentrating on a new task for two hours. Oh yes – and I don't need it to be new to make me tired. And again I say: "Be kind to yourself". If it were a yoga class, you would be advised to take a few breaths in child's pose to help recover and, although you're very welcome to do the same in any of my knitting classes, you might prefer to down tools for a few moments and relax in your seat. Perhaps take the opportunity to flick through some knitting books or magazines, squidge some yummy yarn or unwrap that chocolate that's been calling to you for the last hour? Better to pause or even stop for the day that make a mistake because you're tired and putting yourself under unnecessary pressure. We're just learning to knit – and I'll see you again next week.