You see that there? I did that. It’s a circular or maybe nonagonal shawl, made from Icelandic lace-weight wool. The pattern is based on a Victorian pattern for a baby’s cap, but scaled up. It took me about a month and a half, but remember the weather in the first half of this summer was terrible and also I don’t have a job. There’s eighty thousand stitches in it, or slightly over.
As you might imagine I had a bit of time while knitting to think about why I had chosen to do this.
I do like the result. Knitted shawls are not really a thing right now, nor likely ever to be, but this is both good and bad. No one I come across is likely to have one of these* and you won’t be able to buy anything similar that easily**. On the downside, this also means I am likely to be the only weirdo swanning about in a huge circular shawl, and it will take half an hour of a very stern address to myself before I get over the self-consciousness enough to be able to wear it out of the house.
I think it is beautiful – but really, I can’t tell. I’m not generally a wearer of lace or frills. I am a huge idiot for teal or turquoise or greeny blue or bluey green. It is a month and a half’s worth of patience and hope in woollen form, and I can’t see it without knowing that I made it and that makes it beautiful enough.
Given that I’ll hardly wear it – maybe indoors while gazing into my crystal ball – and I knew this before I’d cast on a single stitch, why bother?
Knitters asked that question are likely to get defensive, and I’m no exception. Here is a Guardian article that uses ‘crochet classes’ as sarcastic shorthand for ‘things that women do that are thought too trivial to bother with’. It is actually against the law (Regulation of Journalistic Clichés Act, 1978) for any article to be written about the resurgence of hand knitting without using the phrase ‘knitting isn’t just for grannies any more‘ There’s no point in my protesting too much about this: you’re as likely to be persuaded as if a train-spotter gave you a ten minute talk on how his hobby is excellent for developing long-term memory or attention to detail and that some really hip people spot trains these days.
I do think, however, that the ability to create and shape textiles is undervalued. Textile work generally – because they could do it from home while caring for children – has been women’s work and I’d argue that that in itself has contributed to textiles being under-appreciated. But less contentiously, the skill and craft of thousands of years of women is badly preserved and badly understood largely because wool and flax rot while pottery and bronze don’t. What isn’t studied or collected isn’t valued, and still now we don’t see the skill and ingenuity that make up many things that are regarded as just one step away from disposable.
But even so, it would be madness to take this on because I think people should seriously think about knitting and its gifts.
As you’ll have spotted above, I don’t have a job. This has been an enviable state of affairs, one certainly not to be pitied, but it has had the side effect that I came to believe that I was useless at absolutely everything. Could not do a single thing right. I needed something I could achieve, and I needed it to be as administratively simple as possible. Here it was, something I could do well, something that I’d be quite – though not overly – proud of when I finished, something I could see through to the end. Though I had banned myself from knitting anything in blues or greens, when I saw this yarn in a shop in Reykjavik, it shouted at me, and it had to be this colour.
Knitting tells me I can do things that are long, and sometimes boring, and I can get to the end of them, and it will not kill me. It allows me to sit still and pay attention to films or to the radio without getting distracted by Twitter – I listen much better while I’m knitting. I end up understanding something of the film that’s been on, and I have a physical object that I made at the end. Sometimes the enforced mindfulness that comes from counting stitches and following a stitch pattern is its own reward – particularly on lace patterns like this shawl.
By the time Autumn rolls round I hope I’ll be a bit more brazen about heading out into the streets in my Victorian shawl. If it only ever serves its current purpose though – padding out the back of the chair I’m sat on – it will still have been worth every stitch.
Last word should be aimed at my knitting comrades: if you want the actual gory details about this thing, my Ravelry project page might have what you need.
*Actually, a glance at Ravelry tells me that someone I know in real life has actually knit this pattern. They gave it to their Mum, though, so this still might be the only Cap Shawl in south east London.
**I note that you can buy Shetland lace shawls here or here for prices that I do not understand at all. The Crishia shawl from the first link is closest to what I’ve done here and is available for £210. For the knitter to achieve minimum wage if the materials cost nothing and for no profit to be taken that shawl would have to be finished in around 42 hours. Shetland knitters most likely are much much better at knitting than I am but I am still sceptical that anyone could knit fast enough to be paid a fair rate for that sale.