Like many knitters I often knit it public places. My knitting bag and I go most places together and I knit whenever the opportunity arises. I arranged to meet a friend, Susan, at the cafe around the corner from our pilates studio last Thursday morning as she had asked for help with a jumper she is making – her first. She learned to knit about a year ago in one of our Shared Threads workshops and hasn’t stopped since. We have become good friends over that time, brought together by, it turns out, many shared interests. Knitting has been the glue that brought us together.
Since starting to knit she has been churning out scarves and cowls left right and centre but has decided it is time to step up to the next challenge. She has a great sense of design and colour but finds the conceptual side of patterns and pattern reading challenging. She was struggling to understand the pattern and wanted some guidance with shaping the back of the neck. We sat over our coffee and I looked over what she’d done and at the pattern and helped her work out how to move forward. She took up her knitting and I started up on my sock. The cafe was really busy – full of people on their way to and from their morning activities – business people looking crisp and smart, Mums and Dads with small children who had probably already been awake for hours and exercisers like us, stoking up before our class.
As often happens, our stitching provided an entree to conversation. Two women to our left asked what we were making and we started chatting. They had just finished their pilates class. They used to knit but not for many years. One of the women said that her mother had been such a good knitter that she hadn’t ever bothered to learn herself but now wished she had. The other said that she wanted to learn to crochet because her granddaughter was learning and it would be something they could do together.
A businessman in his 30s chimed in from the right and said that he really wanted to learn. He seemed fascinated by what we were doing. He talked about how he remembered his mother knitting for him.
Susan and I discussed what had occurred as we walked up the street to class. I was struck by the many layers of meaning that can emerge from the act of making: social connection ‘horizontally’ and ‘vertically’, across generations and within generations. She spoke with amazement and delight at the spontaneous conversations, commenting that it would never have happened in Singapore, where she lived for many years. Nobody there would dream of intruding on another’s privacy or admit overhearing a conversation and feel comfortable butting in, as has happened many times to me here. I wonder if anyone knits in public in Singapore? Probably too hot and sticky. I remember once knitting on the train in Hong Kong to open amazement from the other passengers. They seemed embarrassed by my actions.
I love the way that making helps to break down social barriers. I guess that a person knitting in public is fundamentally non-threatening and the act of knitting has warm and positive associations – reminding them of people who love them, who perhaps have made something just for them that, like a transitional object, embodies the warmth and love of that person. Perhaps it is the memory of sitting on a mother or grandmother’s lap (or grandfather’s) and having their full attention as they pass on a valued skill to you.
Both my husband and father have commented that they watching my mother and I knit. They find it soothing (unless they are being jabbed in the ribs by a knitting needle). It could be the rhymical action and sound of the knitting process, it could be sitting with someone who is relaxed – as a corollary to the very unrelaxing experience of sitting with someone who is not relaxed. When I am sitting with a group of makers, intent on their craft, there is perceptible almost pheromonal cloud of contentment and relaxation in the room.
What have your experiences of knitting in public been?