In anticipation of Halloween, I knitted a tiny witch and cat. Making the bristles for her broom with jute string and glue was an enterprise in itself, but now she is on my mantel, as a tiny seasonal decoration.
Early in the pandemic, I went back to crafting. Over the Easter weekend I knitted a cardigan. It’s golden yellow, matching the returning Spring weather, and I hoped to be able to wear it when the restrictions are finally lifted. Of course, the saga of this stupid virus lasted longer than we had expected (I finally wore it in public last week).
I’ve been using the corona crisis to work on a few knitting projects, so I may end up with several new garments before this is over! I knit as a pastime anyway, but in this time of so many people trapped at home, I notice many are becoming reacquainted with traditional activities (my twitter feed for months was awash with people's first attempts to make bread).
Previous crises have also drawn people back to “traditional” practices. The tensions of the Cold War and oil shocks of the 70s helped encourage “back to the land” movements and the Whole Earth Catalog. As a result of our parents’ hobbies, a whole lot us grew up with macrame pot-holders and home-made yoghurt, as even suburbanites liked the odd touches of The Good Life.
Today, as our opportunities to do many of the things we would do normally are reduced, people have reached again for the traditional. “Making it yourself” can give us a sense of control in a situation in which we are otherwise powerless.
(Of course many of these hobbies are not so much about self-sufficiency as affectations of affluence: so efficient is today’s commercial food production that it would cost most of us more to try to grow our own than it does to buy vegetables)
But knitting lends itself well to an activity learned or rediscovered in these times. Wool is available online, as are patterns and tutorials: Youtube has videos for everything from beginner lessons to advanced lace techniques. Knitting also has very low start-up costs and takes almost no room (particularly helpful when one is staying home with multiple family members or housemates crowding a small space!).
The practice of knitting - creating fabric from strands of yarn - evolved separately in different parts of the world. This means there are dozens of different ethnic styles: from the thick cabled jumpers of the Aran isles, (made to keep fishermen and farmers warm in cold Atlantic spray), to the delicate laces of Estonia worked with cobweb fine yarn. The adventurous (and patient) can try to recreate a Fairisle cardigan (the less patient might want to start with socks).
Compared to the skill level needed to get started with other crafts, the barrier to entry for knitting is practically at the floor. The basic stitches can be acquired in minutes, and the simplest shape (the classic long scarf) can be started immediately. It is also an activity suitable for children, whose days parents are having to fill. Best of all: mistakes can simply be unraveled and reworked (not so much for the burnt sourdough bread….).
Knitting is portable – in warm weather, easily done in the garden next to a glass of Pimms. Indoors, it can be done next to a glass of brown liquor, while watching TV or listening to the radio. It can be a meditative practice in a stressful world, and allow us to feel connected with a tactile, non digital environment. With the bonus of a handmade product at the end.