Sunday, January 14, 2007

The beat goes on

I’ve written before about how knitting in public gives people the excuse to talk to you. It’s partly about commonality of experience. The same thing happens when you walk the dog or do anything in public when visibly pregnant.

I met Mary (not her real name), a woman in her 70s, in a queue to buy veg at the CIT Farmers’ Market this morning.

I sat Mum in the shade, took out my latest Time Thief Watch Cap and joined the rather long queue. Mary was ahead of me. She smiled and nodded at my knitting and told me how she doesn’t knit much anymore, just booties for premmie babies at the hospital. Jumpers are too heavy for her hands now. We discussed needle types – she prefers the old torties and aren’t they hard to find nowadays? - and agreed how circular needles really do make knitting in the round much quicker. We discussed how booties are not the ideal opportunistic knitting project and agreed that beanies are just right. She didn’t think it was at all odd that I was knitting a beanie in the middle of a hot, dry Canberra summer.

It says something about knitters that initial conversations usually take on a similar pattern - what we knit now, what we used to knit and how we learned to knit. Partly it's about establishing bona fides in the subject under discussion and partly it is about the unspoken communication that goes on in these conversations. It is taken for granted in these communications, that we knit out of love. Love for knitting and love for the people we knit for. There is also an assumed understanding of the generational interconnectedness of our craft. I rarely speak of any of this to the strangers who talk about my knitting and theirs, but the knowledge is always there.

Mary’s grandmother taught her to knit when Mary was 4 years old. Grandmother also taught Mary’s younger sister, who was 3 years of age and desperate to be able to do what Mary could. Grandmother provided Mary with very large yellow needles (about 5mm diameter and 30cm long going by Mary’s gesticulations) and very fine baby wool. When Mary was 4, baby wool in Australia was 2 or 3 ply – laceweight really. Mary still has those needles at home. She told me they are among her treasured possessions.

By now Mary will have two of her granddaughters with her for a few days. The girls are 10 and 11 years old and, following our discussion, Mary thinks teaching them to knit and revealing to them the magic of pom-pom making might be something to keep them occupied while they visit and, incidentally, a way of connecting six generations of women.

The illustration is Jean McKenzie knitting in 1917, from the collection of the State Library of Queensland.


Bells said...

Nice post Taph. Very nice. What a lovely encounter! And I LOVE that photo! There are some great knitting photos and paintings around, I've found.

Jejune said...

Lovely story, Taph. Yes, I get that same sense of connecting with women (mainly) down through the ages... the commonality of experience.

What surprises me is all the people who watch you knit and say "I don't have the patience." What's THAT all about?

My niece loved the pom-pom maker that I sent for her 5th birthday - in the end I just bought the simplest type of 'machine' (just a couple of ridged plastic disks) for a few dollars, and spent more on balls of nice wool, in pinks and purples (of course!).

Taphophile said...

So pleased the pom pom maker was a hit. Another convert to the fibre arts, but you'd already started that conversion. Now let's hope she keeps away from her grandmother's version of "craft".

Holly Burnham said...

Until I read this post it never occurred to me to teach my granddaughter to make pom-poms. She's five and would love that. Thanks for the thought.

rooruu said...

Public craft is a good thing! The antithesis to the create-a-world-of-your-own of the iPod earbuds (although there's a time and a place for both).

Someone else remembers and likes Crossing Delancey?? It's such a charming film.