Mini rant

Death by scarf

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Recently I came across a newbie knitter and I was thrilled to be able to point him (yes, him) in the direction of all things Ravelry related. A quick glance at a few Brooklyn Tweed and TinCan Knits patterns was all it took and he was soon cranking out amazing hats and planning many more ambitious projects with gusto.

One thing that struck me though was the advice he had received from well meaning knitters in his circle of friends who, without exception, had recommended starting with some something simple like a "nice garter stitch scarf".

Now, I don't know about you but the thought of knitting 5 or 6 feet of plain garter stitch is enough to make me run for the hills. Why on earth do we persist in this well meaning advice and not accept that new knitters can handle a multitude of techniques. They don't know if something is 'hard' unless you tell them it is. Circular needles and knitting in the round aren't just the preserve of more experienced knitters. After all, if you can cast on and master the knit stitch you can work a rolled brim, stockinette beanie. Learn the purl stitch and you can add in a ribbed brim. Feel brave and try a cable - the possibilities are endless and sure to be more satisfying than slogging away on a flat, 6 foot garter stitch scarf.

It's been some time since I learnt to knit (putting it mildly) so it can be hard to think back to those scary days when you felt like you had more than your fair share of thumbs, and more awkward than a giraffe on roller skates. But as with so many things in life we learn from doing, not by slogging through an endurance event.

And, in my humble opinion, knitting 6 feet of garter stitch only teaches you about persistence and the strength of the human spirit - very little about knitting. So why not be brave and help a new knitter out - introduce them to some fabulous yarn, decent needles and a peruse of Ravelry. They will be eternally grateful and you could help save them from death by scarf!

 

Knitting and the gender wars

Pattern is Autumn Leaves by Nikky Van De Car

Pattern is Autumn Leaves by Nikky Van De Car

Unless you've been living under a rock in the UK this week you can't but help have heard the social media rumpus that followed an announcement by major retailer John Lewis. It was nothing earth shattering, nothing ground breaking. Just a simple statement that they were relabelling their children's clothing ranges and would from now on have a gender-neutral range.

To those parents who would dearly like to buy little dresses for their girls with dinosaur prints on, or trains this was welcome and long overdue news. I am parent to two boys but as someone who feels strongly about this issue I'm not averse to reorganizing the clothing racks in department stores and relocating the Space/Science themed T shorts into the "girls" section.

To others though, this move signals the end of the world and that time honoured catchphrase "Political correctness gone mad". Twitter feeds full of rabid, ranting objections and ill-informed opinion abounds. Those who are so quick to label others for taking offence seem to have gone off the deep end and are claiming to be morally outraged that the "left wing PC brigade" are trying to force little Tommy into a dress and won't be happy until the mandatory wearing of fairies and glitter is enforced across the genders.

As a child of the 70s this is all quite amusing. The vast majority of my clothing was bright primary colours (well the bit that wasn't brown corduroy, anyway) and much of it was unisex - often handed down from family and friends. Quite when we started to segregate Mothercare into pink and blue I'm not entirely sure, but surely it can't hurt to give people - and their children - choices.

As knitters ( and also as crafters, sewists etc) this debate can rage on but we are safe in the knowledge that we can create whatever we want. If we want to make a tunic dress for a little girl with a dinosaur motif or a rocket we can. If we want to make a rainbow coloured sweater for a little boy, we can. Our only constraints are our imagination and our budgets.

As an aside, I'll share an anecdote from a few weeks ago. I made a little purple cardigan ages ago and finally a baby girl arrived in the family who I could gift it to. I shared a photo on social media and some of the comments were pretty funny to me. Lots of comments along the lines of "oh, what an unusual colour for a girl". I truely hadn't given it a moments thought that it was in any way a controversial colour. I love purple and it goes with a ton of other colours. It's also dark enough to hide a multitude of baby-related stains and it was superwash yarn that I had in my stash - win, win.

After consulting with a few knitting friends it seemed that they had also experienced similar reactions. Some family members seemed to be of the firm opinion that it was one step away from pink and thus wholly unsuitable for boys. Equally others felt that it strayed dangerously close to blue territory and could not therefore be countenanced by baby girls.

How strange. That a colour can provoke such interesting reactions. So if a purple cardigan can cause ructions I guess it's no surprise that a dinosaur dress has people talking. The John Lewis PR department must be jubilant.

For me though, this whole debate is clearly missing the wider issue. Never mind about pink for boys or purple for girls. There is an urgent and pressing need to readdress the Great Pockets Divide. Now I know there is no rational reason why a baby boy need pockets - what after all is a 3 month old going to stuff in there? But why should baby girls trousers not have them? And for busy pre-schoolers who lets face it, have a wealth of interesting uses for pockets, why should little girls be denied them.

And don't even get me started on women's clothing. For me one of the chief selling points of a dress or skirt (beyond the fact that it's machine washable and non crease) is that it has pockets.

So bugger the colour or the print, let's start a campaign for Pockets For All. Or failing that we can just make them outselves.

We are not at home to the knitting police

Just the other day on a Facebook group I saw a comment which started innocuously enough but by the time I had read the thread to the end I had steam starting to come out of my ears. And so, another slightly ranty blog post ensues.

I hasten to add that it wasn't the Everyday Knitter facebook group where this thread happened and I'm not going to name it for fear of adding fuel to the flames. I think I've said enough over there for the time being. Anyway, it started out as a comment about people learning to read charts and whether there was any advantage in being able to do so.

There then followed lots of helpful advice with people merrily debating the pros and cons of each. There then followed a series of far less helpful and constructive comments which is when my right eye started to twitch ever so slightly.

"Knitters who read from charts are lazy" 

"There is no reason to use charts when all the decent designers provide written instructions"

And my personal favourite "Charts are antiquated"

By this time my blood had started to boil and I had to step away from the laptop. 

Seriously, why on earth do people think they have a right to criticise others for how they chose to assimilate pattern directions. If they think the use of a chart is lazy what does that say about the use of stitch markers, or heaven forfend, lifelines. Why not go the whole hog and insist that we all knit complicated fair isle in mercerised cotton whilst adhering to directions written over 2 pages of densely packed 8 point Arial font? Surely anything else is just bone idle?

As soon as people start asserting the viewpoint that there is only 1 way to do things I know it's time to back away slowly. Strangely enough, this 1 way, this solitary way always seems to coincide with the speakers way of doing something and they are never backwards at coming forwards with this view.

Faced with the Knitting Police - whether they appear in front of you in public and whip your sock from your hands, or whether they are behind a keybaord on a Facebook group I now employ the tried and tested technique which got me through many a visit from the Health Visitor when my boys were babies.

Simply *smile, nod, ignore. Repeat from * to end.

Disclaimer: In case anyone were to think I am maligning health visitors let me be clear. They do a wonderful job in difficult, trying circumstances. We had 3 HVs during our baby days (prem babies, lots of TLC needed - won't bore you with the details). 2 HVs were wonderful, sainted creatures who made me tea, dried my tears and told me that despite all my protestions to the contrary I wasn't the worlds crappest mum. The third was awful. Opinionated, bossy and never failed to make me cry. I learned to deal with her by employing the above advice and it worked a treat.