Back in April, during my recuperative break in Brittany, I spent quite a lot of time crocheting. I find it’s a good Zen way of relaxing, and my energy levels were so depleted that it was about the only form of exercise I took in that fortnight, apart from shifting my bottom from the armchair to a dining chair and back.
I was fortunate to have been given several large skeins of lovely yarn by a dear friend at Yarnsmithery and some more by my eldest granddaughter, so I had quite a stash to play with. The colours very much reflected the hues of the pink granite coast, different shades of blue for the sea and sky, yellow for the sun etc. My five-year-old great-granddaughter, M, clearly blessed with a poetic soul, was very taken by the idea and immediately started associating each coloured stripe with something she could see around her: the greens of the grass and hedge, the ochre of the sand, the red of the camellias and so on.
We noticed that we had virtually all the colours of the rainbow, so when my blanket was finished I made a cushion cover in rainbow stripes.
M also pointed out that the brown pattern against the blue in my granny square looked like the fence at the beach with the sky and sea.
Later, I found this photograph (below) and realised exactly what she meant, especially as from her perspective the sky and sea are directly behind the palings.
All the women in my family have traditionally been good needlewomen, and my daughter and granddaughters are no exception. Hopefully, M will follow in their footsteps, and become as adept as her grandmother, mother and aunts.
Watching M reminded me of myself at that age, or maybe I was six. All the girls in my class at school were issued with small brightly-coloured knitting needles and a ball of yarn. The basics of knit and purl were explained to us, and we all eagerly set to work. One girl in particular, called Maureen, was amazingly good, but it turned out she was the middle child of a large family, with older sisters who had already taught her to knit, and she had baby siblings who needed all the knitted garments the girls could produce. Where we were struggling to make squares in garter stitch, stocking stitch, moss stitch and rib, Maureen was given 4 needles and shown how to knit socks. Wow! I was very impressed.
To my dismay I found knitting extremely difficult. I have always been somewhat dyspractic – in my youth it was just called clumsy – and my motor coordination has never been good. In fact, in later life it took me nearly 3 years to learn to drive and 2 years to learn to swim, simply because of my inability to coordinate the various parts of my body. I tried very hard to knit, helped at home by my mother and her friends, who were perplexed and frustrated by my failures. In the end, the needlework teacher excused me from knitting altogether and I concentrated on sewing and embroidery, which I managed quite well.
Now back to the present. It may be due to my recent birthday that I am currently very sensitive to the passing of time, and aware that I need to learn new things if I want to stay reasonably alert and not sink too rapidly into senility. Last week I recalled my laborious efforts as my daughter and granddaughter were discussing their various knitting projects, and commented that they appeared to use a different technique to the way I had been shown. Since Swiss boys also learn to knit in school, my grandson-in-law joined in the conversation at this point, wondering how I could have found it so hard.
Yes, said my daughter. The continental method is simpler than the English method. And she demonstrated. It does indeed look much easier. Could I really learn to knit, at this advanced age and after so many years of accepting that there are certain things (like paragliding) that I will never get to do? Why not? My daughter patiently showed me, guiding my clumsy attempts, so when I left I had two brightly coloured knitting needles and a ball of raspberry-coloured yarn in my bag, and instructions in my head.
I haven’t counted the hours I have struggled this week, nor the number of times I have undone my work and started again (oh yes, I did remember how to cast on!). I started with 20 stitches and after several rows, I had 29 on my needle and something lacy and lumpy that looked exactly like the “squares” I had produced when I was six. I tried to unravel it, but it turned out to be more knotting than knitting so I left it.
Today I cast on 20 stitches and tried again. In the back of my head I could hear the voices of my teacher and my mother reciting “in, over, under, out” but that was unhelpful. In continental knitting, where according to my daughter you “pick” the yarn instead of “throwing” it, the yarn doesn’t go over and it’s just “in, under, out”.
At least this time I had the yarn properly wrapped around my index finger, under control, and the tension was steady. Suddenly, at about the sixth row, I realised that it was working. I was knitting slowly but smoothly, and it was coming out in regular rows! Okay, so by the ninth row I again had 30 stitches on my needle instead of 20, but I’ll surely figure that out and – watch this space! My square will actually be a square!
Next time: I’ll be learning to purl! Seems you can teach old dogs new tricks after all!