It's that time of, err, year? life? when people are starting to make noises about Oldest Child and his contemporaries starting school. You probably don't need to be told that it's turning me into a bit of a wreck.
Please don't get me wrong, I'm not of the mind to keep him at home: Oldest Son, like most children his age, is keen to learn and explore the world and for me, and for my family, we believe that school is an appropriate place to do this, amongst children his own age and under the care and guidance of a team of motivated and professional teachers. But that doesn't mean that this sometimes over-emotional woman and mother can't mourn the dawning end of this current phase of our lives.
This isn't to say that every one of our days together has been Enid Blyton perfect. Daily mysteries of "where did the time / shoe / car keys go" continue to plague us and despite forays into baking and cordial making, my boys still prefer chocolate over fruit cake and have yet to be introduced to the delights of ginger beer. But there's time. Even with proposed changes to the teaching week, school attendance isn't all day every day – and we, like the millions of others before us, will come to value our evenings, weekends and holidays together.
I'll miss him. That's the honest truth of it. I'll miss our freedom, whole days doing something or nothing, as the mood, wind, rain, sunshine, our interests and energies take us. I've just about got used to the few hours that he spends in nursery but both Youngest Son and I are always delighted to see him at the end of his session – and this is regardless of any baking that he might have been involved in.
I also can't knit for him. Okay, yes, of course I can, but from August, Oldest Son will be wearing a school uniform and one that doesn't include hand knitted jumpers. I'm aware that this sounds extremely hypercritical given, as we've previously discussed, the jacket I currently have on the needles for Oldest Son probably won't even fit him, but there would have been a whole lot of comfort in sending him to school in a jumper that I'd made for him. Comfort for me, obviously. This is all about me. In case you're in any way uncertain about the degree of this fixation, I have even considered knitting jumpers for all of his classmates just so Oldest Son didn't stand out - his class is likely to comprise four children so this isn't quite as ridiculous as it sounds. However, that idea was soon quashed – not because it's nonsense (and of course it is), but because all of his class mates are likely to be in receipt of jumpers from older siblings - so anything from me would be totally and completely surplus to requirement. For a brief moment I considered knitting him socks, but seriously, plain black socks? I'll stop right there.
So he'll just have to go to school in the knowledge that I love him even if he can't wear anything I've knitted for him to prove it. Because clearly that's how love is measured, by the quality and quantity of hand knits. But before we know it, autumn and winter will soon be upon us and then my needles will be free to knit, knit, knit away. At least for the five minutes before he starts rejecting anything and everything that I create for him. Mummy's knitting isn’t always going to be cool.
In the meantime, I’ll get used to it, obviously I will. For one thing I have to and for another, it is a wonderful opportunity to have some quality one-on-one time with Youngest Son. Whole days to do something or nothing……..
My wake up call last night was at 02:47 (I'm nothing, if not precise) – Youngest Son does like to mix it up. After popping into his bedroom, and expecting to be in for the long haul, I came downstairs, stoked the fire, put on the kettle – by which time, all was silent upstairs. I hadn't even completed a single round before the timer went off (no, you're not really surprised) and all was still quiet. Trouble was, I was awake. So, too, was the cat imprisoned in the utility room, no doubt for crimes again the sleeping (one of the side effects of "clearing" all the local vermin is that said cat is bored and sleeping more during the day; this makes him restless at night. His midnight prowls might even have been contributed to Youngest Son waking – though last night, it was definitely the other way round.)
So you can imagine my pleasure at being up, wide awake, listening to the cat scratching away at the door like some crazed, well, animal, in the wee hours. I also know how easy it can be to programme your brain: You wake up in the middle of the night; you "reward" your awake self with a cooked breakfast / episode of your favourite programme / chapter of your favourite book; you eventually go back to sleep. Noting the pleasure of the night's activities, you wake again at approximately the same time the following night for more culinary / cultural delights. Advice is to do something so monotonous that your brain is sooo off-put at the thought of doing it again, you sleep on through. Examples include arranging all of your food tins in alphabetical order or reading sections of the dictionary. No pleasure, no (tangible) achievement, no reward. Examples do not include sock knitting or, indeed, knitting of any kind, blogging, perusing Ravelry or staring at any other bright screen.
And so, anxious to avoid any further night-time nonsense, I downed tools and drank my "Sleepy Tea" in the darkness in front of the fire before heading off to bed.
As for the knitting progress that you can see, well, I cheated. Sorry. I have to be honest, I had never in my wildest dreams thought that this bed-time "re-set" would last long enough to allow even a single, let alone a pair, of socks to be completed. So the socks were going to have to be knitted at some other time, I just hadn't really considered when. Turns out that once I'd started, I found it difficult to put down the needles, to release myself from the pure pleasure of round upon round of meditative socking stitch. And although stopping is exactly what I did on Night One, yesterday evening no other knitting appealed to me – to the extent that I started whiling away the hours online. And then, sensible head engaged, I carried on knitting the sock. Sorry, again.
As for tonight, note to self: Go into Youngest Son's room and then GO BACK TO BED. Simples.
It's with some surprise that I'm able to write to tell you that the night wasn't nearly as bad as I feared. Despite helpful comments from Husband along the lines of 'and if Mummy gets any sleep...", I did, in fact get some sleep, in my own bed and without Youngest Son for company!
The expected shenanigans kicked off a lot earlier than usual (20.53 to be precise) but were all done just over an hour later. And, much to my disbelief, lasted the entire night. In terms of my knitting, I did complete a couple of rounds past the cuff "target" but it turns out that was okay. Much more so, in fact: I really, really enjoyed it – and it was difficult to put down the sock knitting when Youngest Son has settled (I love knitting socks!). In fact, those plan stocking-stitch rounds were probably formed just to be sure he was asleep, to be absolutely sure.
But you know me, I'm a stickler for the rules – and note how I stopped knitting just before the glorious blue colour hit the needles. Now that's control! (Though I suspect I'll get plenty of opportunity to continue this evening.....)
For reasons too boring, too mundane and too predictable to mention, we've got into an unhelpful night-time habit with Youngest Son: We put him to bed at bedtime, he goes to sleep and then, usually sometime between 11pm and 1am, he's awake and crying. For the aforementioned reasons, and in a desperate attempt to get some sleep, any sleep, the next part of the routine is as follows: With head hung in tired and almost hopeless resignation, one of us collects the child – who is by now, standing expectantly in his cot, his little bag all packed and ready to go – and bring him back to our bed. Where I, particularly, can look forward to a night where any sleep I can snatch will be nose-to-nose with said child, with my hair firmly wound around his lovely, little fingers and 'enjoy' a periodic role-call just to check that I'm still there. Obviously the thought of escape has never occurred to me.
But not tonight. No, tonight it's all going to change. Tonight when Youngest Son awakes demanding his bed upgrade, well, I'm afraid it's not going to happen. Tonight Youngest Son will spend all night in his bed.
Yes, brave words, the kind of words one might expect to hear hours before the drama – and associated emotional battle - but I have a plan: I'm going to knit socks through the crying. In a few minutes I'm going to cast on, grabbing these last moments of semi-functioning brain to at least get the stitch count correct, and then I'll continue the knitting while Youngest Son and I "negotiate" the new rule. The fire will be stoked, I'll have cats to keep me company, plenty of hot, decaffeinated drinks to the ready and the wonderful, re-assurance of sock knitting. (If this were to occur, say 12 hours earlier / later in the day, it might actually be a treat! And as much as I'm trying to put a positive spin on this, don't even think of suggesting that this is "me time".)
Tomorrow, I'll show you the progress I've made with the first sock. Any more than the cuff and I'll probably be really, really tired.
In my previous life, as a non-mother, I'd heard tales such as these and, although verbally sympathetic, had silently wondered how it was possible for such a thing to have occurred – surely the person had to be "challenged" in some way. And as a mother, I reckon I was right: They were probably sleep challenged.
Take today for instance. Today, Youngest Son and I were going on a bike ride. Well, alright, I was doing the cycling while he was going to be providing extra "ballast" and, if I was lucky, a rolling commentary. Preparations for this adventure had started last night when Husband very kindly inflated bike tyres, checked the seat and attached the bike to the car. Then came a message from A, a friend with children of a similar age to mine: Would Youngest Son and I like to join her and Youngest Daughter (and another, mother-and-daughter combo) for coffee and a play at the exact time I had planned to be furiously pedalling around East Berwickshire. What to do? Well, I'm a 21st Century girl so the answer was obviously "both": I'd cycle to A (along a route I'd never even driven but my map and trusty yarn measurements had suggested it was do-able), have coffee, play with children and then cycle back in time to collect Oldest Son. A was even thoughtful enough to propose a Plan B whereby her husband, who was assisting with the morning of Christmas Crafts, would – by car – reunite us all together again. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, for starters, we could be the latest ever leaving the house, so we were over five minutes late for nursery. So much for the get-there-early-to-get-bike-off-car-then-calmly-deposit-Oldest-Son-before-Youngest-Son-and-I-could-cycle-off-into-the-sunrise. And I could forget my coat (the forecast assured no rain but I do get more than a little chilly). Nevertheless, on we went.
Then I could leave the map in the car, the map which I had, only moments before, used to check the route with A's husband. But still we proceeded.
Then, as I changed gear to ease the impact of the rising incline as we left the village, the chain came off and both Youngest Son and I found ourselves in the ditch. Unhurt (aside from maybe a bruised ego) but not overly happy. Our dramatic fall from grace was witnessed by C and, given the "what if", I am glad that she was there as we might have needed proper help. As it was we didn't, so her presence helped to calm my nerves and onward we went. Straight past the turning we should have taken.
Now to say that I missed the required left turn wouldn't be all together honest. I had just plain forgotten about it. Up and up we continued and then relaxed along the straight. Only the "straight" wasn't as "straight" as it was supposed to have been, as was represented on the map. Since I didn't have the map with me, I put this down to mis-remembering the finer details of the road and carried merrily along. Well, maybe not-so-merrily but along, and up, and then down. A's husband had told me that this would be a "nice road to cycle" but you know men and their oblivion to hills, especially when they don't have a toddler on the back of their bike. And then we reached a junction, signed to places I wasn't expecting to see. To both my right and left were undulating roads and absolutely no sign of my destination. I cycled a little to the left, turned and cycled a little to the right, and then found myself at W's house. W lives in a completely different village to A. Obviously something had gone wrong. Really wrong.
As this point, I finally – oh finally – decided to cut my losses and head back to the car. And the map. Once all safely installed, we set-off again, turning left just after "the place of the ditch", as we should have done the first time, driving along a relatively flat lane with open views on each side that yes, would have been nice to cycle along.
I believe being late by 90 mins is by far my best (or worst) time ever – slashing my previous record of 30 mins to my own wedding. But A and J were very kind and plied me with tea and sympathy. Given the timing of my appearance, Plan B was activated and A's Husband duly brought Oldest Son home with him. Politeness forced me to reveal to him the full extent of my morning's adventures and to say that he looked "bewildered" would be putting it mildly. See that's the face, that's the face that I probably pulled all those years ago. And to those who experienced this, please accept my heartfelt apologies. I just didn't understand.
Actually, this current episode of not sleeping is purely self-inflicted and apparently, in a similar vein to hang-overs, deserves no sympathy. You see, on Saturday night – or, let's be honest, the early hours of Sunday morning – the day (few hours) before our Open House, I tried to finish knitting my jumper. Wouldn't it be lovely to wear my new jumper to our party? And then have it all ready in time for Christmas. With only the collar left to do, and working in Big Wool, I thought this would be a matter of minutes. It transpires, however, that knitting 32cm of roll back collar takes a few hours and at a 5am, I abandoned the knitting and made soup for our guests. Leek and potato soup, now that does take minutes. And is probably better appreciated.
In this particular phase of our lives, our sleep patterns are out width our control and so it'll take longer than "normal" to recover from this particular episode of stupidity. And until then, I'll knock over a few cups, struggle to finish sentences, be a little less tolerant of toddler behaviour, rigidly enforce early bedtimes and cycle in completely the wrong direction. And for those around me, I beg your forgiveness.
So today you sold your house, your home for 17 years. Mine for nearly as long, though maybe, deep down, just as long. That could explain the tears. Goodness only knows how you feel. As an adult myself (not a "grown-up", you understand, I was climbing trees only yesterday), a mother and a home-owner, I think that I can say that I am a little more understanding - although I in no way claim to have got all the bases covered.
The move into Maison Lymer signalled the end of an extended period of part-time separation of your husband, our father, from us - "us" being you and your five children - as he commuted from our home in Essex to his new job in mid-Wales. As you know, my Husband is sometimes away for work but never have I had to cope with such a long-term separation. Never during the sale and purchase of a house. And never with five children. And whilst the permanent family reunion might have provided some relief, you left behind your mother and sister – both had been within an hours reach in the car; now you were looking at least four hours of driving and without the convenience and informality that comes with geographical closeness. That can't have been easy. Quite the opposite, in fact.
And then you swapped a (seemingly) full and vibrant life, where everyone and everything was within walking distance, to not knowing anyone, not having a school gate at which to converse (since we, and many others, used the school bus) and having to get in the car for everything. Given our recent moving into the countryside, this, this I'm "getting" a little. It can be oh-so-isolating. Yet also oh-so-wonderful.
We moved when I was, crickey, how old was I? 15? I'd been there at the auction where the farm was divided into its designated five lots, "our" lot being the farm house and a small field. I was with Daddy at the auction, as he bided higher than the amount that you'd both agreed. I remember the conflicting emotions: Guilt that he'd done so and I hadn't stopped him; a solid sense that I was betraying you; excitement in the adrenaline-filled auction room; annoyance and despair at the opposing bidder; the sure teenage "rightness" that we should get the house, that it was clearly ours and only ours. As you know, we lost the house that day but through a series of legal twists and turns, what we thought we lost, we found. Or rather, it found us.
The house itself was a wreck. Of course, I didn't realise how much work needed to be done until I look back on it now – and I'm sure that I don't remember the half of it. I can visualise the photos of a corner of the house being supported by a "jack" as foundations were rapidly replaced. I remember floor boards, lots of bare floor boards and then floors with no boards. Vaguely I remember these things but what I most remember is that way that you very quickly, almost instantaneously, made it a home. Our home. Despite working full time (and have I mentioned the five children?), you produced curtain upon duvet cover upon cushion upon blind. You hung wall paper and you painted. I have no idea how long it was before the house was decorated but in my memory, it doesn't seem that long. Children moved bedrooms, ceilings fell down (okay, only one), yet life carried on. We went to school, we played, we did our homework, we had friends round, visitors came and went and came again. It would have been mayhem in my home, but not yours.
I was trying to think of my happiest memory from this time, and I can't, there are too many. There's the time we went to visit a new friend / neighbour at the top of the road and came home with a horse. (Borrowed horse, but even so.) Selecting the wall paper for my bedroom (I felt so grown-up!) and the joy and delight at how you made it all work. Right down to the vase – which wasn't appreciated as a moody teenager but is now treasured. The pride in bringing Boyfriend, now Husband, home to meet you for my 21st Birthday (even if this included a twisty drive to the hospital in Aberystwyth to visit my grandmother – excellent first introduction to the family). And then, of course, there's my wedding. The first of three that you've hosted - such wonderful, generous gifts you have given to the three of us who have married from home. And not just the day itself, but the preparation. Oh my goodness, the preparation. The laying of concrete, installation of a temporary kitchen, the cleaning and cleaning and cleaning (the receptions were held in a barn, a very old barn). And I know that I don't know the half of it. How you "saved" the wedding dress I'd made (who else was going to tell me that it was too big?), the stunning dresses you made for my sisters to wear as my bridesmaids and your stunning, oh-so-gorgeous outfit. My mother do things by halves? Never. Ever.
And then, of course, there are the every day things that mean so much, especially when you think that they're being taken away. I can picture you in your sewing room but I can't count all the finished projects that have come out of there. We've knitted together in that house. In the kitchen (do you remember ripping out that entire black cardigan because I'd made it too big?), the sitting room, the garden. At least you don't have a stash to move. But we've knitted together in many other places too. My home, Rowan HQ, New York... The important thing is that we've been together and we're still together now. Our relationship has been woven in ways that I would have never have dared hoped and continues to grow, and grow stronger. That house may have provided the backdrop, but the people were, are, its focus. You've always been people-orientated, it's one of your most beautiful qualities.
So I just want to say thank you. Thank you for the giving us the opportunity to grow-up, as individuals and a family, and thank you for giving us such a magnificent home in which to do so. I know it hasn't always been easy and I thank you for the sacrifices and hard-ships you have endured to make it work. I pray that these will not re-visit you in your new house and I wish you every joy in your plans to make it your home. At the beginning of this next chapter in your life, I send you all my love. I look forward to seeing you in your new home (though before then too) and being allowed to contribute. Have I mentioned to you my new love of quilting?
Yesterday, I was one of the fortunate few to attend Edinburgh's first ever "Stitch Gathering
", organised by Jo Avery
. Contrary to my usual stitches, this was a sewing, more accurately a quilting, event, and so this definitely counted as being "fun but outside my comfort zone" - having never quilted (!). But it was during Edinburgh's first ever YarnFest
that friend, K, and I were "recruited" and, given the absence of complicated prerequisites (and I did make my own wedding dress, after all), we signed up just as soon as we could.
Preparation for the big day started long before the gathering itself: We were sent fabric tickets accompanied by a suggestion to embellish them in whatever way we desired so that the resulting pieces could be combined into a quilt to mark the event. Given that my preparation didn't actual start until "not enough time before" Sunday, I'm ashamed to say that my ticket was one of the few naked ones. (Maybe I should I ask for it back so I can contribute more fully?) I did, however, produce the required name badge: This was a community event so we were asked to make a name badge for a designated partner – and pretty much the only criterion was to use stitches. Unsurprisingly, my first instinct had been to knit something but in keeping with the spirit of the day, the name badge I made was created using fabric (Liberty Lawn and silk left over from my bridesmaids' dresses, in case you're interested), needle and thread. Given Jo's blog
on the subject, I guessed that my effort was going to be atypical – and so I was extremely relieved when my name badge buddy, Nicola, was seemed pleased with the corsage.
I'm absolutely delighted with the badge that she made me! Nicola had googled me and, on discovering that I'm a knitter, she thoughtfully embroidered a ball of wool and some knitting needles on the piece she made using the remains from a quilt she made for her daughter. I shall treasure it.
As well as the opportunity to improve my skill base, I have to confess that one of the retreat's elements that I was looking forward to was the goody bag. Not normally high on my list, but from the outset we had been promised a "goody bag to die for". I was not disappointed. As you can see from the photo, we were given a Liberty bag (mine was in blue – perfection) filled with almost countless delights: A roll of fat quarters, a box of sewing threads, a thread and yarn cutter, a button tin, some needles, a hexagon flower block set, a fabric pen, more fabric including some Liberty lawn, buttons, embroidery silks, broach, pen, oat cakes and water. Happy days.
After distribution of the goody bags, swapping of the name badges, the real business began with the first workshop of the day. We'd been given a choice of three and K and I were both learning how to make bibs with Julie Rutter
. From its description, I'd assumed that this was a beginner's class (I remember some comment about this being a good place to learn how to sew curves), but I thought that it would provide a good reminder of machine patchwork – and I was in no way disappointed. Julie is lovely: A great teacher, very personable and extremely talented with a good eye for colour and design. She is also a very good baker of cookies (and thank you so much for those!). I felt that her workshop was perfect: Interesting, enjoyable and with a completed bib at the end. A whole class of completed bibs
, in fact - brilliant!
Lunch followed the first workshop and with it came the opportunity to admire what some of our fellow "retreaters" had been creating. My badge buddy, Nicola, had made a beautiful pin cushion with Jo whilst others had been experimenting with some crazy patchwork. Jo hosted a "Show and Tell" where a few of us presented some previous work – embroidery, quilting and so on. I didn't think I had a contribution until fellow attendees Lesley and Catherine persuaded me to show the bag
I made with Poppy Treffry
. And I'd like to thank everyone there for their generous and kind comments.
After the fat quarter swap and lucky dip, the afternoon session began with our second workshop. I had opted to learn how to do paper piecing – something that I hadn't even heard of until the workshop programme was released! (See how brave I was!!) In the beginning, this was more than a bit of a brain teaser and I struggled to see how any of the teeny, tiny pieces of fabric that I'd lovingly cut were going to form the finished mat. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one. I think that Jonathan Avery accurately summarised our feelings when he said that "this was taking cutting up bits of fabric only to sew them back together again to the extreme". Still, under the guidance of our able tutor Katy Cameron
, we progressed - inspired somewhat by the delicious cupcakes that she provided as a reward for completing our first section (yummy, yummy – thank you!). As you can see, I didn't complete the mat – but then none of us did so I was in very good company. After the morning's euphoria of a finished project, I was disappointed that I hadn't achieved similarly in the afternoon – particularly since in finishing the mat we would have quilted our work. As it transpires, somewhat belatedly, this had been something that I'd hoped to learn. I'm guessing that a "Beginners Guide to Quilting" might not have had the appeal to some attendees as the specialist workshops offered – though that said, I've attended conferences where there have been sessions teaching the basics alongside expert presentations. Interesting.
On the whole, I thought it was an excellently organised event. The day flowed without interruption from welcoming coffees to the after-show party at Jo's shop. The class rooms were well arranged with appropriate numbers of tables, power points and communal equipment (such as irons and cutting boards). The workshop topics were varied and interesting. Jo was supported by an excellent team of friendly helpers and my colleagues-for-the-day were wonderful. Thank you all for a super time!
Do you ever have those weeks / months / years when it can all get a bit much? When a day firmly planted in front of the "Sound of Music" with your knitting and a box of chocolates should be medically prescribed? I seem to be in the middle of one of these: My sister is emigrating to Australia. A life long ambition of hers realised so big tick – although this, obviously, isn't about the excitement of a new life ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD with her husband and her new job, this about the people she's leaving behind and, specifically, me. Now other sister can't claim to be innocent in all of this either as she's going to be moving "down South" (us residents in Scotland don't have to be any more specific about locations south of the border - although I can tell you it's Kent and that's the OTHER END OF THE COUNTRY) some time soon as her husband has a new job and it's only logical that she and their children should go with him. Apparently. Then there are my parents, selling the ol' family home to live somewhere more suited to couple-dom. And Youngest Son has decided that he only needs to sleep for part of the night - so if I sound a little less robust than normal, you'll know who to blame.
Then there's the usual, every day stuff: Attempting to give my all into being a good "stay at home mum" – while at the same time secretly plotting new workshops and blog entries; building a swing / slide activity centre thing – but forgetting that I might like somewhere to knit, I mean sit, while the fun ensues; ensuring that the cats keep their freshly caught "take out" out of the house; teaching the kittens to be yarn-friendly; confining one of the chickens as she's starting to eat the eggs – a habit that can easily spread to the rest of the flock unless quickly curtailed; knitting for a craft fair; homing a lorry load of furniture from my parents (did I mention that they're moving?) – which, with their generous help, has mostly been achieved but for a few remaining boxes; starting to prepare for the "Modern Quilting Retreat
" I'm attending on Sunday (as in a few days time)...
Now you know me, I like to knit in such unsettled times. Not for craft fairs. Not for work. Not because "I should", but for fun. Pure pleasure. The disappointing news that my sock workshop in Manchester has been cancelled means that the deadline for completing the second sock could be moved to October when I'll be in Sheffield. Now someone more akin to my mother's sensibilities would continue knitting and finish the sock regardless. However, someone like me is more likely to be panic knitting in the week up to the workshop (despite this never being a good idea with lace) or taking the "pair" (one sock finished, one not) as a teaching aid. It also seems that, unless I get my skates on, the jumper that I'm knitting Oldest Son will not actually ever fit him. And whilst there is a Youngest Son, he wasn't the intended first recipient of this garment. So there are at least two projects I should be knitting. And with quite imminent deadlines. So I'm not sure that I can justify the fun knitting.
That said, the new Rowan Magazine is out (have you seen it?) and so I should be knitting something from there as part of my "uniform" (this "should" is said with a definite twinkle in the eye). I was sorely tempted by some of the amazing colour work but have since been persuaded that in the interests of meeting my aim of not just knitting but actually wearing a current garment, I should try something that knits up quickly. Big Wool here I come!
You'll realise, of course, that all of this knitting-related over-thinking is just me seeking a distraction from the rest of my life, as I haven't actually knitted in days. Tis strange that this is one element of my life that I can control, and yet I haven't got the energy or will power to do so. So time continues to pass and the rows remain unknitted. If I could knit my sister or my brother-in-law a more locally based solution, would I? No, of course not. Okay, maybe not. This is part of the rich fabric of our lives, the opportunities sought and taken, the fresh starts, the abandonment of eldest sisters in deepest, darkest Scotland('s Borders) – there'll be tapestries depicting these tales on walls in homes for years to come. I did it, for goodness sake, and everyone supported me.
It's just that I find the build-up to a big, emotional event difficult to cope with – possibly even more so than the occasion itself. I find these times exhausting, the near-constant anxiety of having to face the appointed day head – and heart - on. The last time I see my sister before she leaves; saying goodbye to my other sister and her family, mine and our best friends and playmates. Turns out that I've probably already been to the family home for the last time and, I confess, there is some relief in knowing that. But take a creative journey, and quite the opposite is true: The excitement in planning the details of the project, it's exact design, style and colour; the thrill of casting on; the anticipation as the fabric grows; the sense of accomplishment as the first section and then others, fall off the needles; the pride in finishing.
So this truly is a time to be knitting. A little positiveness might help to off-set some of the other. There's no harm in trying. And, who knows? Oldest Son might actually get his jumper.
Yesterday, I had to throw away a pair of red shoes whose soles were anything but whole; today I put my knee through my last pair of jeans. In terms of my wardrobe, things weren't looking good. As I was verbalising as much to Husband, I happened to mention the invitation I'd had to share a friend's stall at a local craft market. I'd initially declined as the stall is next weekend and I don't have any surplus (completed) projects and nor do I have any surplus time to knit some. I'd barely even finished telling Husband of my D’s response to this – "What? Not even three things?" – while wondering which school of motivational techniques she'd gone to, before I found myself banished upstairs to the studio to knit.
For other reasons, this probably would have been a very welcome action but his enthusiasm for my possible money-making threw me into more than a little of a panic: What on earth was I going to knit? Something small, that didn't take too long to complete and that I could sell for lots of money. And three of them, obviously. Just pass me the golden yarn and I'll get started then.
I think that most knitters will agree that the above wish list is just that, a fantasy. Knitting is not a fast craft (and you crocheters keep quiet, please!). Even small things take a surprisingly long time to knit. And when selling them, I don't believe potential customers are anywhere near ready to pay even a half reasonable rate for the time taken to produce said knitted item. So what was this golden nugget going to be?
Husband suggested a corsage. I thought that this was rather predicable and boring, and rejected the idea (although – and don't tell him just yet – the idea of making a couple is starting to appeal). I quickly scoured my books (see, I always knew they'd come in useful) for ideas, but unfortunately, I'd neglected to purchase "How to Get Rich Fast in Knitting" – but who knows? Maybe after this latest adventure, I'll be writing my own.
Having no idea of the market (literally – I've never been to this craft market) or a full itinerary of the items on the stall I'd be sharing, we (oh yes, I'm sooo sharing the responsibility of this venture) decided that I should start with some smart phone covers. Knitted in the round and with a bit of Kitchener at the base, these should knit up in next to no time. Well, if you call between 90 and 120 minutes "no time", then yes, yes they do.
I presented completed cover number one to Husband who, while generally positive, suggested a few adjustments – which have been included in subsequent designs. As I said, this is a joint venture. Then arose the tricky subject of pricing. It being my knitting, and a project that I just knitted off the cuff (= trivial / easy / simple / absolutely nothing special), I was at a loss to think that anyone would pay anything much for it at all. Husband pointed out that even for mass produced covers, you could easily pay between £5 and £10 – and this was without the beautiful yarn, the hand knitting and the almost seamless end result. In projects such as these, it isn't the raw materials that cost the most it's the (wo)man power and even if you take an optimistic estimation at the national minimum wage, is anyone seriously going to pay £9.29 for a woolly phone cover?
Somewhat sceptical of this venture, I nevertheless decided to continue knitting. After all, I had promised D, who had sensibly made her contribution on a sewing machine, that I would indeed be providing three of something knitted. Husband thoughtfully took the boys out to play so that I'd have just enough time while dinner cooked to have a good stab at cover number two.
Cover number two, I decided, would be nice is a different colour way. In order to do this, I needed to wind the skein into a ball. In our house where we don't have those whirly-twirly winder attachments, this is a two man job. My men were outside having fun so rather than wait for help, I decided that the quickest thing to do would be to wind it myself. Idiot, that I am.
In the hour it took for dinner to cook, I successfully wound a single and very small ball of wool. In the magic that is winding a skein solo, very, very quickly the yarn became a complete mess, a series of tangled knots. There was nothing to do except sit on the floor, find the other end of the yarn, take a very deep breath, not reflect on the stupidity of the situation, and start winding. Looking up, I caught sight of the jumper that I'm knitting for Oldest Son and even in its incomplete state on the needles, it mocked me. For if I wasn’t going to be making phone covers, this time could have been used to continue knitting its back. I begged it to stop and, praying that Husband wouldn't return before the winding was complete, I continued. Obviously we'll be pricing this cover at a mere £15 – and whilst it doesn't include any blood or sweat, there might be a few tears.
Trying to remain positive, I am still knitting – I try, after all, to be a woman of my word. But I have no confidence that even if I can price them, the covers will sell. I imagine a series of expert knitters perusing my handy work, pointing out all the defects and carelessly dropping them back onto the table. I can hear the embarrassment in my friend's voice as she rings to tell me that nothing of mine sold but the whole of the rest of the table was cleared. I can feel my anxiety levels rising and, not for the first time, wish that I'd just knitted myself a patch for my jeans and been done with it.
I'm only a quarter of a way through cover number three so I'd best get back to the needles. Then there's some packaging to consider. And maybe the corsages. To say nothing of the "real" knitting that I'm supposed to be / would like to be doing. Thankfully I only have until this "Woolly Wednesday" to complete my work as I'm meeting D to relinquish my contribution – any longer and I suspect that I'd go properly insane. So watch this space. This time next week I may be addicted to craft stalls – or wrapping up my current efforts Christmas presents for my nearest and dearest.
When you go to your Knitting Group, do you:
(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.