Likewise, at dancing lessons every week, the mothers (except mine who saw knitting as a chore) would sit there knitting at phenomenal speed, and at family gatherings, my aunts would sit together knitting and chatting, completing fiendishly difficult patterns without even looking at what they were doing. Or so it seemed.
Before artificial fibres arrived and the New Zealand import markets freed up in the 1980s, the most cost effective warm winter clothing were layers of home-knitted jerseys (sweaters in US lingo). In a nation of sheep farmers, it made sense to use the plentiful, high quality wool. As I said, my mother was not a keen knitter, so she bought a knitting machine. My father liked gadgets, and knitted quite a few of our winter jerseys on the machine in the lounge on wintry days when the weather was too bad to be out in the elements.
Girls tended to learn to knit (whether we wanted to or not) at primary school, and we knitted scarves and mittens and jerseys for ourselves. My mother still wears a jersey (with a lovely lacy yoke done on a circular needle) I knitted at university in the 80s. And it still looks good. The most fashionable girl I knew at university, a model and honours student, knitted a beautiful blue, slash neck jersey which she wore with jeans tucked into cute ankle boots. I thought she was the height of fashion, and as soon as it was seemly knitted a similar shaped jersey of my own. I knitted a delicate lace white outfit for Sharon’s first child, and posted it to Delaware. I remember sitting in my apartment in Bangkok, air-conditioning on full, knitting a fairisle jersey to wear on our mid-tour leave in Europe, as I had neglected to bring any cold climate clothes with me to Bangkok. I have a favourite photo of me wearing it on the Isle de la Cite in Paris.
Bridgett spoke of the debate between left-handed and right-handed knitters, the advantages and disadvantages of both, the labels these styles are given. This debate is all new to me. I didn't know knitters were so conformist! I think of those women at my dancing lessons and my aunt and grandmother, who were so very fast, fingers almost blurring with speed as they flicked the yarn around the needles and clicked them in and out to create beautiful patterns. In my recollection they all had very different styles, needles under different arms, hands holding the needles underneath or from above, winding the yarn with different flicks of their fingers, etc. I can’t quite figure out how Bridgett knits, but that’s because I can’t see her. I wish I could.
There's something comforting about knitting though, getting into a quick easy rhythm and seeing a garment grow. I haven't knitted for a long time. Fashions changed, imports became cheaper, and suddenly knitting became a more expensive option, especially as work pressures grew. The convenience of throwing something in the washing machine and then drier smashed that old protestant work ethic of making our own clothes. Plus I remember knitting my last jersey, when Cleo and Gershwin were just kittens and thought that the ball of wool on the floor was there for their entertainment. It irritated me enormously. Cleo is now 15 and still loves to chase things. I don’t knit anymore.
But I do smile, thinking of Bridgett knitting for herself and her family. I’m glad that the tradition still lives.