What my knitting means to me: Lousie Tilbrook

This summer while I take my break I asked other bloggers to answer the question “What does your knitting mean to you?” Answering today is designer and teacher Louise Tilbrook. Louise specialises in socks (and rather stunning ones at that!) find out more about her on her blog on or visit her designer page on  Ravelry. In this post she talks about her knitting memories and how we show love by knitting.

Over to Louise:

Fuss Free baby cardi 3

Louise’s Fuss free baby cardigan – the ideal baby gift to show your love. Free with the option to donate to Bliss

Like many people, my formative years as a knitter were spent with my beloved Nana. Squished together in her comfy armchair she patiently spent many hours teaching my eight year old self to knit. The chunky red plastic needles and the squeaky cream acrylic yarn entranced me as I learnt to make small scarves and slightly mis-shapen squares whose purpose was unknown. My Nana was also an auxillary nurse and had a wonderful array of bandages and gauze which could be pressed into action on wounded bears. My ‘blankets’ were important too in this rather alternative version of a teddy bears picnic.

Thinking back, knitting was an important way for my Nana to express her love for me and my sister. Every year would come the consultation for what colour cardigan we would like (I don’t recall being offered a choice in anything else – it was always a cardigan). Every year in the autumn my sister and I would spend a few days in Blackpool with my grandparents – seeing the Lights (aka the Illuminations), the Zoo and the Tower. And every year, we would make the trip on the train each proudly wearing a new handknit cardigan.

My Christmas present one year I remember being a Ladybird ‘Learn to Knit’ book along with more of the ubiquitous squeaky acrylic yarn and I learnt to ‘go it alone’ with simple sweater patterns. I was strictly a process knitter then, and whilst I remember many hours making ‘things’ I have very few recollections of actually wearing any of them.

As a teenager in the 80s sweaters were boxy, loud and colourful and I cringe at memories of a particularly vivid blue mohair batwing jumper. Thankfully in those pre-Facebook days no photographic evidence remains. I took up knitting again some 15 years later when, as a young mum, I was struggling to cope with the demands of a young family. This time, knitting was less about ‘making things’ and more about community. The rise of Ravelry has enabled knitters to share their love of the craft in new ways and has encouraged people to think beyond the traditional knits to learn new technqiues and skills.

For me though, knitting has and always will be an expression of love. Knitting for oneself is wonderful but nothing beats the joy of knitting for someone else and having it become a treasured possession. Knitting for babies has to be my favourite thing in the world – welcoming a new arrival into the world with a knitted blanket and watching that blanket become a treasured ‘blankie’ never fails to bring a warm glow to this knitters heart.

Thanks so much Louise for sharing your memories. 

Do you show your love by knitting? DO you have any heirloom knits made for you by someone special?

And remember, if you have an interesting answer to the question “what does your knitting mean to you?” do get in touch via the contact page.

What my knitting means to me: Tom West

When I asked the open ended question “what does your knitting mean to you?” I received some very interesting answers. In today’s post Tom West talks about knitting and gender. 

Tom West is a designer-maker based in Southsea, Hampshire. He’s soon launching the creative practice blog Teapot Magpie and an online shop of the same name, selling crocheted, knitted and stitched accessories for people and places. You can follow him on Twitter here

Over to Tom.

tom west

Image by  Matthew Cleveland

I was sitting, knitting, on a train. That sounds like the start of a Pam Ayres poem, but it’s not; it was simply an average commute for me. The train stopped at its next station and a white-haired woman in a business suit got on and sat down next to me. It wasn’t until we’d pulled away from the station that she appeared to notice what I was doing. She shuffled about in her chair and turned towards me.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m knitting.”

“But you’re a man.”

Resisting the urge to frantically pat my crotch whilst screaming, ‘WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN?! WHERE DID THIS THING COME FROM?!’ I simply said ‘yep’, smiled and went back to the watermelon-themed Kindle cover I was working on. She gathered up her belongings and changed seats.

It’s 2014. The gender binary is steadily falling to bits. Women work on building sites, men stay at home with their children and this year’s Eurovision Song Contest was won by bearded drag phenomenon Conchita Wurst – but God forbid a man should break out a pair of knitting needles and K1, P1, *YO, SKPO; rep. from * to last 2 sts, P1 K1.

‘But I’m a man.’ That’s the kind of comment that suggests I shouldn’t be knitting because I’m a man. What should I be doing instead? Fixing up old cars? Drinking real ale? Pottering around in a shed at the end of the garden trying to get a broken 20-year-old lawnmower to work again? Would people rather I spent my time playing darts down the pub or arguing with my friends about football over a curry? You know – men’s stuff?!

Despite the existence of many well-known male knitters over the years, such as James Norbury, Kaffe Fassett and Stephen West (no relation), a worryingly large number of people assume that being a man means that you have neither the creativity nor dexterity to engage with knitting. Once these people get over the shock that you do in fact know your oxo cable from your Oxo cube, they do tend to praise you for your work, but it feels more like a pat on the head than a handshake. The following may appear crass, but I argue that it’s fair and accurate: many people see ‘man’ as a disability that I’ve managed to overcome in order to be able to knit. More than that, they don’t understand why I’d do so to start with, for am I not happy with my ‘man’s stuff’?

I always try to get these people to understand my relationship with knitting by asking them why they think women knit. The answers at each end of the spectrum are: the simple pleasure of making loops of yarn with pointy sticks, and the reclamation of the practice from the domestic sphere as both art and craft – for feminism! I always ask why I shouldn’t enjoy it for the exact same reasons. Whilst those two have become two of the many and varied reasons I love knitting, I do it simply because I love the process. I love making something. That’s why I love designing my own patterns so much – I can take a thought and turn it into something I can hold in my hands. I am a human 3D printer: the knitted item is a physical manifestation of my creativity. That’s when these people raise an eyebrow and pout. They just don’t get it. I try to dumb it down.

‘I feel like a spider making a web. Everything feels so natural, like it’s coming from within me.’

‘So you feel like you’re pulling your yarn out your bum?’

For a second, I’m overwhelmed by the thought of a never-ending, naturally-occurring source of instant yarn. All the same weight, all the same colour, all the same dye lot. Can you imagine?

Happily, the majority of people I speak with whilst knitting in public will experience a sudden realisation – that I’m OK. That the fact that I’m knitting is OK. That the fact that I’m a man knitting is OK. Then, they’ll be quite positive about it. Most of the time, they’re reminded of their mother or grandmother knitting when they were little. They’re reminded of countless itchy jumpers and blankets made of multi-coloured squares (of course). They like the fact that I’ve reminded them of something often from so long ago in their lives. They ask me what I’m making and why I’m making it, and are often supportive, if that’s the right word, of the fact that most of my creations sit outside the gamut of typically reproduced items. They wish me well, thank me for my time and pop off into the distance.

I never thought that one of the principal outputs of me knitting would be a series of challenges about the presumptions made about why I knit. I am both happy and proud that the fact that I knit, what I knit and where and when I knit it does challenge people’s preconceptions of both knitting and knitters. For a long time now, people have readily acknowledged that it’s no longer ‘women’s work’, but many don’t question what it is now; what has the craft become? Who does it and what does it mean to these people?

As more people knit in public, post photos of them and their work and blog about what they do, the chances for people to ask the right questions to get the answers to these questions become more apparent. You just need to be open-minded and ready to see beyond what’s between people’s legs, focusing more on what’s in their hands and what’s between their ears. The answers to these right questions will inform often, challenge sometimes and shock more often than they’d think. For both the person knitting and the person curious about them, it’s a brilliant conversation to be a part of.

But when I tell people that I crochet as well? Don’t even get me started.

Thanks so much Tom for this interesting perspective. 

Are you a male knitter, can you relate to Tom’s observations?

Have you been guilty of gender stereotyping? Would you like to see more male knitters? (they do seem rather under represented at festivals and classes)

If you have an interesting answer to the question “what does your knitting mean to you?” do get in touch via the contact form.

 

What my knitting means to me: Sarah Knight

I hope you’ll enjoy my new blog series – What my knitting  means to me – where I ask the open ended question and receive a wide range of answers.

First up is Sarah Knight, the designer blogger behind the popular Crafts from the Cwtch. Over to Sarah!

The day Joanne and I had been talking about this guest post, my seven year old son came home talking about ‘kennings’. He explained they are figurative expressions (usually a compound of two words) that replace a name or noun. I hadn’t heard the term before, although I use various examples everyday.
When I set about writing some notes for the post, I thought it would be fun to try out some kennings of my own. I had planned to write about what knitting is, what it has done for me, and how it makes me feel. As you’ll see, I’m no poet, but the phrases I scribbled down actually said it all, and so (with some trepidation) I’m sharing it with you – after all Joanne said she wanted something different!
sarah knight
Thanks so much Sarah.
What does your knitting mean to you?
If you have an interesting perspective you’d like to share with my readers get in touch via the contact page.