A right good listening to….

Zoom (other videoconferencing products are available) is all very well, but it’s no substitute for seeing people in the flesh. Yes there are advantages, I can wear my scruffy old gardening kecks and multi-coloured paint-spattered Crocs with my Reiss blouse and jacket. And I only need bother to re-colour the front of my hair, hey, no-ones’s going to see the back, not unless I flounce out of a meeting in disgust – and that’s not happened before, well not very often anyway.

But when it comes to knitting and nattering, only the real thing will do. The clicking of needles and clinking of china cups on saucers, the gentle chatter and of course the scoffing of cake. Usually this happens in our village library, but nothing’s been going on there for months. Leeds City Council abolished fines for late book returns late last year, so at least the books we all borrowed before lockdown won’t be costing us, but we are desperate for the doors to be opened again, not least because there’s a stockpile of wool in the store room. It’s not just a library, you know.

With an average age of about 80, the Knitwits knitters have been confined to home, and I’ve missed their company and the stories they tell about our village and the people in it. For me, the fortnightly get-togethers have always been an entertainment. Not gossip or scandal, heaven knows social media can spit that out 24/7, but good old-fashioned stories. I’d take my knitting needles along and give them a right good listening to. Sometimes I’d be the youngest there, but only sometimes as young Violet would often join us after school, bringing her knitting bag and a keen ear to hear stories from what to her must seem like another world.

It had been too long since those days in the library. Chief Knitwit Bev had kept an eye on them all, especially those living alone. But while solo knitting had been going on, there was no nattering. Bev and I agreed, nattering was needed.

Fortunately, as manager at the allotments stores, I have keys, which means we could put the kettle on and set out a socially-distanced tea party outside. Bev insisted on adding a touch of class and bringing a tablecloth and the best china, she even brought a milk jug and cake forks. All we needed was good weather, a few cushions to pad out the wooden benches and cake, knitters would bring their own wool.

It was the best afternoon I’ve spent for some time, just sitting around and chatting (or in my case listening). Betty, our oldest member and best baker, brought two cakes, orange and lemon polenta and chocolate raspberry meringue. We wanted to photograph them for the virtual village show, but she wouldn’t let us, saying they weren’t up to standard. I had to have three slices of each to test them out, I’d have given them first prize, Betty’s cakes are the best. It beat Zoom hands down for company, content and cakiness though I couldn’t hide my half-coloured hair.

Coloured collars for the columns

Column collar under construction

Column collar under construction

Where has all the colour gone? I thought this as I walked into the office the other day to be met by a wave of black. Black jackets, black skirts, black trousers, black blouses, black scarves and black looks as it became clear I hadn’t just thought it, I’d said it, possibly screamed it.

I was in my usual red and orange combination, and that was just my hair. Why are people so reluctant to embrace colour? I suppose I’m biased, I spent a few years as a colour and image consultant so delighted in helping people to cast off the blacks and greys and find the shade of red that suited them.

In my book, there should be more colour everywhere, especially to brighten up our dull British winters, and especially in dark buildings. I’ve spend quite a bit of time at the very impressive Left Bank centre here in Leeds.  It’s a former church, turned arts and music venue. Fabulous space, wonderful acoustics but attractive though the Yorkshire stone is, rather dark and most definitely colourless. It’s also very very cold in there.

Left Bank is huge, its vaulted ceilings supported by massive columns, so I thought what better way to bring a bit of colour and warm the place up than knit collars for the columns?  It will be a garter stitch sensation, a moss stitch magnificence, a knit one, purl one art installation radiating colour and warmth.

So I’ve enlisted the help of my friends in the Calverley Knitwits who are knitting squares which I’m sewing together to make as many collars as I can. That’s the deal, they knit, I sew. I’m also accepting knitted squares from anyone else prepared to put yarn to needle. With each column 370cm in circumference, that’s a lot of 15cm squares, but they can stretch a bit, hopefully a lot.

We’ll keep on knitting and sewing until winter, bringing a splash of colour and, as the collars are taken down and made into blankets, some extra warmth.

A right good listening to

So much listening to do!

So much listening to do!

Dorothy and Betty have seen life, each has run, skipped and now sedately walk this earth for more than seven decades and they have a lot to tell. So the very least I could do is give them a good listening to.

We met up today to eat cake, it was tough, but someone’s got to do it. It was in a good cause, as cake was scoffed all over the country to make the world’s biggest coffee morning in aid of the Macmillan cancer charity. I did my bit by having two massive slices of lemon polenta cake. Dorothy had a wedge of Victoria sandwich while Betty confessed she was partial to a jam tart. Or two.

I got to know them through the Knit Wits at Calverley Library. It’s a group of – ahem – mainly older ladies with a couple of younger hangers-on like me. They meet, get their knitting out and talk until all the donkeys in a five-mile radius limp. The pair of them always have tales to tell and pithy comments on the state of the world, along with suggestions about how it can be improved. I feel humbled in their company, they have seen so much life and have such a richness of experience. In fact, I’m usually lost for words, so I just get on with my knitting!

Knitting up a yarn

Knitting and nattering in the library

Knitting and nattering in the library

What with electronic faffery and bargain basement supermarket paperbacks costing less than the price of a bag of sugar, it’s little wonder that folk have fallen out of love with local libraries. All I can say is thank goodness for knitting, because it could turn out to be their salvation.

We have a lovely library in our village, it’s open at rather random hours, due to council cut-backs, some days it doesn’t even open at all and I’m left pressing my nose against the glass and leaving an unsightly smudge. The books are a bit dog-eared and, how shall I put it, classic rather than modern, but it’s ours and we love it.

It was a couple of years ago that the then librarian at Calverley had the idea of setting up a knitting club. I’d like to say she was an inspired and gifted knitter, daughter of King Knit himself Kaffe Fassett, but it would be a great big lie, told in attempt to make my blog more interesting than it is. I’m afraid I don’t even know her name, but I do know that what she has started has become a thriving community of clicking needles, wool creations, new friendships and a remedy for loneliness. It is also a repository of knowledge of all things local, I won’t say gossip, because it isn’t, it’s more of a local history resource.

I popped along yesterday to join in and give them a right good listening to. It’s not often I can’t get a word in edgeways, though I was glad to sit back and hear the stories of remarkable lives, the goings-on in the parallel cat universe where pets have weird and wonderful adventures and somewhere in there the stark reality of getting older.

As the needles clicked, plans were made. The Knitwits (their name, not mine!) have made blankets for the Dogs Trust and teeny tiny jackets for premature babies. Their latest woolly challenge was knitted mince pies to throw at Santa. Don’t ask, but you can be sure I’ll be there with my camera to record it. They also set up stall and sell their creations using the balls and balls of donated wool – look out for them at the  Festival of Light in the Methodist Church Schoolroom on November 30.

The Knitwits meet every other Monday in the library, on a good day, there’s cake, real, not knitted, and there’s always tea and good company. And visitors to the library looking for books will always be able to find a good yarn. I’ll get my (knitted) coat.

Getting knitted out

Cat casts a critical eye over the new jumper.

Cat casts a critical eye over the new jumper.

The first thing I ever knitted was a dishcloth. It was at junior school,  the stern-on-the-outside but soft-on-the-inside Mrs Elliot cast caution and health and safety to the wind, and without so much as a warning about the pointyness of needles and their potential as playground weapons, thrust knitting needles and a ball of thick grey string into our hands, and told us to get on with it. Those were the days.

Fortunately dishcloths do not need to be a prescribed shape, though it’s best not to have too many holes, as I found out when I did my first wash-up and tied knots of unknitted string around the Sunday best fruit dishes, failing to scrape away the residue of Del Monte fruit cocktail and Carnation Milk.

Along with baking and sewing, knitting is making a come-back, we’re all finding our creativity again. Personally I’m glad, I like making things to eat and wear, it feels somehow more satisfying than writing a solid strategy or project plan with milestones and critical paths. Though of course it doesn’t pay as much.

Living near Bradford, which used to be the wool and textile centre of the world, you’d expect to find a few good yarns, even though most of the mills have long since gone. The best of the best is Texere, a quirky mill-cum-shop open just a few hours a week, packed with every colour and weight of wool possible. There’s even  coffee and comfy sofas to spend those few hours browsing patterns or, in my case, talking to anyone and everyone, listening to tales of knitting derring-do with chunky needles the size of rolling pins and near misses with the stitch-holders.

I went to look at the colours and get ideas, after all, I hadn’t knitted since just after dishcloth days. The orange mohair in the bargain bucket was calling to me. Why on earth wouldn’t anyone want to knit an orange jumper? And at £1 a ball, well it was criminal not to buy it, even though I hadn’t a clue how much I needed or how to make it into something I could wear. Still, a bargain is a bargain.

It turned out there wasn’t quite enough for a whole jumper, I worked that out before I started, so in my usual make-it-up-as-I-go-along fashion, I added extra colours and twisted in some fine yarn which I’d bought on an impulse with the vague idea of knitting Noel a tie. Still, it’ a one-off, and the cat seems to agree, though he was more interested in sitting on the balls of wool. Maybe next time I’ll use a pattern, I might even stick to it.

Not small, not far away

Giant pom pom stalks hat

It’s been a while, I confessed to myself as I picked up the knitting needles. I could probably measure time elapsed since my last knit-one, purl-one in decades. But there’s some things you never forget, like which way up the needles go and how to cast on with a deft movement of the thumb.

I’d bought a couple of balls of screamingly bright rainbow wool to take on holiday, making sure the knitting kit didn’t go into the hand luggage. They take exception to that kind of thing these days. I can’t think why, the coffee they serve in-flight is far more sinister and lethal than my innocent hobby.

Fellow occupants of our chalet were mesmerised as they watched a wonky scarf grow before their eyes. Then it shrunk as I unravelled it to uncover the mystery of why there were more stitches than I’d started with. Then it grew again, then it stopped as I ran out of wool.

It grew and shrank again a couple of times once I got home and re-supplied. Finally the starting number tallied with the finishing number, which is more than I can say for my bank account – maybe I should knit my statements.

Scarf completed, I was itching to do something else. I decided on a matching hat, but with no pattern, I made it up as I went along, pretty much like my career, but that’s another story still well short of completion. It seemed to work, but was missing something, that extra touch that would mark it out as unique. Of course, I declared to the cat in a lightbulb moment, a pom pom. The cat’s getting on a bit so doesn’t do that frisky running around chasing bits of wool thing. He’d slept on my lap and the half-completed scarf as I’d knitted without so much as a twitch, but as soon as the pom pom making started, he looked interested.

I can measure the time lapsed since my last pom pom in multiple decades, but again, it all came back. Two cardboard rings with a hole in the middle. The hardest thing, I seemed to remember, was fitting the wool through the rings, so it was important to make them large enough.

In my defence, can I say the wool was very very thick? So the emerging pom pom was more like a demolition ball than a dainty decoration. The first time I wore the ensemble and trotted down the road, I nearly concussed myself. The huge great pom pom smacked me on both sides of the head, then changed track to hit me on the neck and forward to the nose. If I’d ever been a physics student, I could probably have worked out how to harness the huge amount of pom pom energy generated. But I didn’t do physics, or maths. I did journalism, so while I didn’t know what was happening, at least I knew how to write about it.

The hat was a huge hit with my staff, I’ve threatened them with matching team hats before my contract’s up. They liked the idea, though with just one caveat. No pom poms.

Getting knitted out for the slopes

What to do after a day of hard skiing? The chalet will be warm and welcoming, though the only screen will be in front of the fire and won’t have a channel changer. Books are for bedtime and can be a tad anti social and I for one will be in danger of falling asleep and embarrassing myself in front of the six strangers we’ll be staying with, by either drooling, or snoring, or both.

So, inspired by a trip to Texere yarns, a converted mill in Bradford city centre housing an explosion of coloured knitting wool, I bought needles and enough coloured stuff to knit an apres ski scarf. Now, I’ve not picked up knitting needles for ages, years, decades, so the predicted two days estimated to finish it may turn into 20. But still, if it keeps me from snoring, it’ll be a relief to the rest.

Coffee and knitting and coffee

So off we trot to the alpine slopes where there’s been so much snow they’ve closed most of the lifts. A great end to a week where I was thrilled to be chosen as Eccleshill Road Runners’ Member of the Month.Gosh!