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Be cool: be a knitter

19 January 2010

by Cally Hammond

BE WARNED. This subject is not for those afraid of losing their street cred. Knitting has a reputation as fit only for grannies. At least, that’s how it used to be, but a revolution has quietly taken place. I think it has some­thing to do with two heroes of modern literature: Rubeus Hagrid, knitting “what looked like a canary yellow circus tent”; and Albus Dumble­dore, skulking in the lavatory enjoying Muggle knitting patterns. I suspect that J. K. Rowling is a knitter.

I have been knitting since I was eight. My first effort was a square for a patchwork blanket for my Brownie pack. At secondary school, it was Starsky jackets (from the TV show Starsky and Hutch) that tempted me. At 16, I made my first pair of socks, and, as a student, I knitted “model” gar­ments for a wool shop to make ex­tra cash.

In the 1980s, designers such as Kaffe Fassett revolutionised the craft. No more boring plain and purl; and now there were shetland wool, re­cycled cotton, and mulberry silk to tempt first-time knitters.

At university, I started experi­ment­ing with intarsia — working colours together to make patterns, or even pictures. I also tried lace knitting, which is still my favourite. I made “ring shawls” (worked in wool so fine that the finished shawl can be pulled through a ring) and wraps. The huge choice of yarn and pattern available ensures that no one else has anything quite the same.

In the 21st century, the internet has revolutionised knitting again, and most wool shops have gone from high street to web. Outside the UK, knitting is not uncool, nor is it ex­clusively for women.

Anyone who wants to take up knitting, or to revive an old hobby, has many choices. Magazines such as Simply Knitting, Knit Today, and Designer Knitting are easy to get. The Rowan advisers at John Lewis stores will help new knitters. They point out simple patterns or nice yarns to work with, and help correct mistakes. I find that just bringing out your knitting, on the train or in the café, can be enough to get people talking and comparing notes.

Helpful websites are too numerous to mention, but for a huge selection of free patterns and guid­ance, try www.knittingpatterncentral.com.

There are so many reasons to give knitting a go. I get rid of the stresses of working life the moment I pick up my needles and yarn. The rhythm of the needles is unbelievably soothing to a frayed temper. Over the years, I have knitted millions of stitches, working both anger and love into something useful and lasting.

I have argued here that a renais­sance of knitting is under way, and that the hobby of grannies is now the height of cool. I tried pointing this out to my son last December, so that he would let me take knitting on the train as we headed for a football match at the Emirates Stadium. He was not convinced.

You may not be convinced that knitting is cool either, but you should ask yourself whether a craft that allows for endless creativity and practicality ought to be lightly re­jected. I am with Molly Weasley on this one — hand-knitted jumpers rule, OK?

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