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.