31 May 2006


I am knitting a scarf. I am doing it with a very bloodyminded attitude, and in fact it is giving me satisfaction for that alone. I am an adversarial knitter.

All I need now is a curly moustache and dark opera cape to go with domineering utterances such as "Aha!" or "Pay me the rent or out in the snow with you!"

During a phonecall in which my mother declared that I had no purpose or discipline, she pretty much ordered me to take up knitting. To the uninitiated (and the forgetful, ie me a few days ago) this sounds incredibly similar to "Hey, you need to get a life, try standing on your head and twiddling your toes, it has to be an improvement." A purpose with no purpose for those determined to live purpose free.

Not so.

In actual fact at one time back in the seventies, knitting was fashionable. It was a matter of churning out product, of showing ability in that or crochet or tatting. Yeah, I know, kittens and pearls. "Oh don't mind me, I'll just get on with my knitting", or in other words, I grew to feel, "Give me a basic political or scientific construct to dissect and watch my brain behave like wet space dust / popping candy."

Once I willingly used my knitting 'skill' to create a Doctor Who style stripy scarf for a boyfriend; however after I'd gone through the delight of watching him accept and wear it, I found a bitter aftertaste in my mouth; a smouldering resentment of myself that I should fall into the trap of 'performing' for a man, like a puppy at the homeless shelter. I may as well have made him cookies it seemed - it all appeared to be part of a horrific, ritualistic dance in which the female tries to purchase security (and by that accepts it is unattainable on her own) by displaying her ability to serve a man and generally be Suzie homemaker.

I guess I suffered for watching my Grammar girls school change into a Secondary Modern, something which irked the remaining bastion of intellectual teachers and magnified their show of distaste toward anything less academic. I was damaged by the revelation that sewing and home economics, as certified courses, were only open to the girls who had no hope of a CSE and 'had to leave school with something'. The kind of girls who also got babycare classes, presumably because they were:
a) likely to get pregnant at the first opportunity and
b) likely to immediately drop the baby on it's head /into a bath of scalding water, barring the benefit of two years' concentrated practice.

We were taught, no, encouraged, to see such people and subjects as less than ideal. Aiming for University was everything. Reach that goal, they implied, and you may spend the rest of your years postulating in a laboratory or lecture hall, whilst lesser people do the 'menial' tasks. The underlying message genuinely was that those sorts of skills were for thick people.

I wasn't alone in falling for this - there are a whole generation of us who were in our most formative years when feminism reached its most aggressively militant phase. Feminist predecessors got us the vote, then we got equal pay, then we got to wear trousers (wow!) and then, still charging full steam but short of a target, the generation we were supposed to look up to began burning bras and talking about the clitoris on television.

They lied. They said this was intellectual freedom, and it should have been, it is now (thank you ladies) but for them there was fear when they claimed none. They expected ridicule and on the basis that the best form of defense is attack, they belittled men at every opportunity as a way to belittle everything that their own insecurities told them was wrong about their actions. Alright, society had given them those insecurities, but that's just peeling onions.

Needing a seemingly solid and rational reason to attack men, they pointed to family hierarchy and caricatured it. In the same way that every comedian had a mother in law who was fat, ugly, bossy and stupid, so it seemed every feminist was escaping a family life of indentured servitude and misery.

Men even played along - magazines and newspapers all deliberated on whether or not a man should hold a door open for a woman, when and whether it was 'acceptable' to 'go Dutch' on a date. After that there were years of discussion on what it involved to be a 'new man', a whole genre of movies and bad pulp fiction came out based on a heroine having to choose between Mr. Macho chauvinist and Mr. Acquiescent doormat.

I guess the whole of society was ready to say 'yes household skills are menial and demeaning' because we all, male and female, absorbed that message and moved straight on to the other stuff. Men did a number on us, so belittled what they called 'women's work' that when we stood up for ourselves we forgot to stand up for our skills at the same time. Instead we sacrificed them.

What did we teenagers know? We just sucked it up like little sponges, watching from the sidelines; too enamoured with the sparkly gifts of freedom to notice that in grabbing those we unquestioningly took on board the prejudices used to justify them. We downed tools on any 'home' skills we had acquired and neglected to pick up any more.

The after effect is that we now have several generations running around who completely fail to value home management as just that, management, and who have no idea how to do anything from scratch. Despots are remembered for massacring the intellectuals. Will our generations be remembered for doing something incredibly similar?

Go on, tell me what a woman's knitted cardigan would cost in the shops. In Monsoon it would set you back £50 to £70 ($93 to $131), even if it was a lacy one full of more holes than wool.

What would your wardrobe look like if you could sew silk?

So here I am, knitting with a fury to prove to my forgetful mother that I did once, and still can, and all the while working out what I think about it and why.

I admit I chose a fancy wool (more like sewing thread with tassles on it) to hide any mistakes, but I haven't made any yet.

I admit I am only doing plain knitting, not even stocking stitch, to keep the thing reversible. I think if I wanted to do a purl stitch I'd have to sneak off on the web and look for pictures, anyway.

I admit I have forgotten how to slip the loose wool over to make a stitch without completely letting go of the right hand needle, so its hard going, and at approximately ten rows to an inch even on large (4mm) needles, its taking shape very slowly indeed.

And I hate it. With a passion.
But I'm going to win. So I guess, for that, I love it too - this small but despised item will be controlled and created and forced to conform to my will.

Like I said, I really need a fake moustache.


And yes, my apologies, I have updated this a hundred times in five minutes and probably have more mistakes to find; it doesn't seem to be my day. I do not, however, ascribe that to the consequences of knitting, as its almost certainly more to do with this being half term. I wish kids had batteries - I'd take them out.


Badaunt said...

I had the most wonderfully freeing experience from 'all that' when I was about 20, and met a slightly older and extremely cool guy in my political science class, who had the greatest clothes of anybody I knew. One day I admired his coat and asked where he got it. I wanted one, but was pretty sure I couldn't afford it.

"Oh, I made it," he said, as if that was something all the cool guys did. A coat! He made his own coat!

It turned out he made ALL his own clothes - sewing AND knitting. He'd taken lessons. Plus he was a gourmet cook.

(Not that I ever became good at any of those things, but at least I stopped regarding them as particularly 'women's work.')

She Weevil said...

Knitting is my secret sin. I don't mean that I do it all the time, more that I can't walk past a wool shop without buying something and that I have two binliners full of unfinished projects.
If I see wool in a charity shop I have to have it and I even have a bond knitting machine that I bought on Ebay. I just don't have anywhere to put it at the moment and it's in the loft.

zilla said...

Bravo! This is what the magazine should be about.

I can knit cables :-D And I can crochet. I don't know how to tat, though. I should probably learn.

So the scarf -- a gift for your mum?

Miss Cellania said...

I developed all kinds of "womanly" skills over my life... sewing, knitting, quilting, gardening, canning, carpentry, etc etc. So now that I am home all day unemployed, what do I do? Surf the net and let the house go to hell. No matter how you live your life, you yourself or somebody else is going to find fault with it.

Jo said...

I'm very impressed.

Post feminist politics through the lens of knitting?

Recapturing that which was trampelled underfoot in the pendulum's mad swing of the 1970s and 1980s - for women at least.

Virtuoso writing hon.


Stegbeetle said...

Coo, what a coincidence! An ex of mine knitted me a multi-coloured "Dr Who" style scarf back about 25 years ago. I still have it and still wear it in inclement weather.
I have this tremendous vision of you sat knitting with a look of grim determination on your face, muttering profanities under your breath!
I have the utmost admiration for anyone who knits - I can sew well enough to repair stuff but the act of creation is beyond my capabilities. "Useful" stuff like sewing wasn't taught to us boys under the Grammar School system. No, instead I was taught how to do stuff like cut grooves in pieces of wood (groovy!) and carve scrap wood into animal shapes. An essential skill I think you'll admit. I did once make a small bookrack which I still have - I believe Elder daughter is using it.
As to the battery issue, no unfortunately they don't but much the same effect can be achieved by treating the slightest cut or abrasion with an entire roll of bandage. Temporary mummification slows them down a little!

Cheryl said...

Badaunt - I'd have married him and volunteered to go out to work.

She - its not a sin its a rare budget management/project planning/quality control and family promotional skill. :-)

Zilla - I admit the magazine was probably the trigger for the self analysis. I am so proud I natch the focus you are thinking about, A gift for mum? Absolutely - she's 100+ miles away so when I say I did it, I need to send proof! xx

Miss C - it doesnt matter - if there was a disaster you'd be top of everybody's employment list - a skill is a skill.

Jo - wow! You realise you perform the role of ultimate voice of reason here - ombudsman if you like. That sort of praise from such a non-sexist person is high praise. I am very pleased!

Cheryl said...

Steggie! You posted whilst I was composing thanks.

You have the picture almost right - profanities definitely, but think sour look and half moon glasses to stop me poking the loose needle through a million wrong holes. :-)

I threatened and threatened once that if eldest son (young then) didn't sit still for one dinner, I would tie him to the chair. In the end I had to do it, threading teatowels through the chair back.

I felt so guilty.

And then I finally undid him.

And he said......

Do it again!

Lifecruiser said...

Oh, knitting... that was ages ago... I always hated to finish the work, so I ended up knitting sweaters for my siblings kids when they were small, because then I could always finish them. And I was always knitting both sleeves at the same time, because otherwise I felt so bored after one of them so the other one were never finished! *lol*