Like most small Irish girls in the 1980s, I learned to knit at an early age. At some stage in early childhood, a pair of plastic needles and some acrylic wool were thrust into my paws and I was told to knit a square, or a scarf, or something similarly basic and boring. As time went on, I progressed to knitting teddy bears (with square heads and rectangular limbs – I was still confined to shapes with right angles), but later I got more adventurous, and when I was about ten I decided to knit…a platypus. And I did.
However, this glorious achievement clearly took a lot out of me, because after knitting the platypus I stopped knitting altogether and didn’t take up a pair of needles for about fifteen years.
But in my early twenties, I found myself yearning to give it another go. Not because I was hankering after another woolen platypus, but because of Bust Magazine. Bust, for those who don’t know, is a gorgeous glossy feminist magazine co-founded by a passionate knitter called Debbie Stoller. Stoller often advocated knitting in the pages of Bust, and it was this, combined with hip feminist craft webzines like Get Crafty, that made me want to give it a go. So I went to the wool shop that was then situated at the top of Dawson Street (it’s now a ridiculous touristy whiskey shop) and got, for reasons I can’t explain, some sparkly lurex wool, with which I was determined to fashion a scarf.
Well, I never did finish that scarf, possibly because sparkly lurex wool, while it looks quite fun, feels horrible when you’re knitting with it. But I did get hooked. First it was scarves, then it was simple finger-less gloves. Then a hat. Then complicated lace scarves. Then jumpers. Then socks. Then more jumpers. I just couldn’t stop.
Because the thing about knitting is that if you like it, it’s addictive. And unlike most addictions, it won’t seriously damage your heath (well, you might get RSI if you spend too long at it). It’s also soothing. By giving you something to do with your hands, knitting forces you to slow down and focus, taking one step at a time. Knitting is, as a friend of mine, a bit like meditation, except that at the end of it you get a jumper. And also, you can do it during Coronation Street.
A lot has been written about the knitting revival of the last decade, a revival which was, to some extent, kicked off by Stoller when her 2003 book Stitch ‘n’ Bitch became an international hit and brought her love of knitting to a much wider readership. It’s sometimes presented as a faddy thing. But the fact that in the depths of a recession, Dublin’s best yarn shop This Is Knit is not only thriving but has gone from strength to strength shows that there are loads of people who love creating clothes and not just consuming them, and who love the comforting feeling of needles clicking between their fingers as they sit back on the bus or watch TV or hang out with their family or have a drink down the pub (yes, you can knit and drink. Thought I wouldn’t dare try anything complicated after a pint).
So what about you? Have you joined the knitting cult? Are you tempted to give it a go? Or did you have your fill of it back at school?