A GLASS OF BEER AND A ROW OF KNITTING

by Jeanne Hambleton  © 2008
NFA Leader Against Pain-Advocate  

When I decided to write this story I had no idea just how popular knitting had become until a read an article in the Daily Express just before Christmas. My idea was to recommend this pastime as a way to occupy the mind, keep the fingers busy, while watching TV and to help forget the fibromyalgia pains. But to my amazement not only has it taken Much Wenlock by storm when they have tea, chat and knitting, but it would seem it is the biggest thing since sliced bread in London when men knit in a licensed wool shop.

My story began with an email from an old school friend, Olive, now living in the small town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire, the birthplace of William Penny Brookes, founding father of the Modern Olympic Games, where the first ever Olympian Games were held in Much Wenlock in 1850. They are still held here annually.

While some of the locals limber up and get in training for the annual Olympic event, others are engaging in a less active but fast growing revival sport of knitting. This old fashioned pastime enjoyed by our mothers and grandmothers, began it’s renewed popularity in Much Wenlock in 2006 when Lesley and her husband Paul, opened a little shop called IPPIKINS, named after the famous Wenlock Edge rock.

With a window full of bright new blends of yarn and colour wools, patterns and inviting crafty things to do, the shop began to attract those who had not knitted since childhood as well as the new trend setting knitters keen to create new designs using a few fancy stitches and new fangled patterns downloaded from the Internet.

Lesley and Paul, who does not knit but is said to be very knowledgeable, started with a sort of ‘open evening’ once a week.

Olive, my knitting friend who opened my eyes to this new craze, said,
“We all sit there, in the shop knitting and chatting like mad – much to the amusement of passers by. We make quite a din in the quiet little High Street and quite honestly all really enjoy ourselves…… All kinds come, young and old, new knitters and experienced ones and people who happen to be spending a holiday in the area, intrigued by the shop, which is quite unique, and get invited along.  

“We have endless cups of tea/coffee biscuits and sometimes cakes if someone has the time and is in the mood to cook.  It is only a tiny shop and usually some of us have to sit on the floor – some bring their own fold-up chairs.  I must admit, unless knitting something very simple, not a lot gets done without mistakes (!) but it is a great melting pot of ideas, inspiration and so on.  

“Some of the girls are very clever, designing, colour coordinating, blending etc, rather trendy, very with it. It has resulted in me knitting a couple of garments that would have been unimaginable a few years ago………  one I made up as I went along – just off the top of my head. It is one of those shrug/cape sort or things, looks rather elegant – and what is more it is being copied!!  Feather in my cap (not yet knitted). The chickens will contribute the feather!  I can’t imagine you ever having time to take it up again Jeanne, but it really is quite therapeutic.

“There can be any number of ladies who come to the evening ‘workshops’ and it seems to be open to anyone,” she said.  

Olive, who is now a fully-fledged designer knitter, tells me age is not an issue among the knitters – neither is being a skilful knitter. One of the youngest members is a young woman expecting her first baby.

“Anyone venturing into Ippikins is soon able to knit, crochet, felt or whatever. It is all very casual and friendly and there are no lists of members or anything formal like that. We just enjoy ourselves knitting, talking about knitting, helping each other and socializing. Now quite a number squeeze into the shop – there were probably about 15 this week with several of us seated on the floor!  To date we haven’t been so tightly jammed we’ve had to lock the door.  It is pretty full, but room enough for our arms to wield the needles……..  

“I spend an evening a week at a knitting group in the wonderful little shop that opened last year. They stock the most fabulous yarns imaginable.   Lesley is a really ‘with it’ knitter, and produces the most amazing garments, mixing all sorts of yarns and colours – and stitches – NOTHING like the knitting we used to do…” said Olive.

KNITTING FOR A GOOD CAUSE

Meanwhile down in sunny Worthing, in West Sussex, there is a different kind of knitting going on. My other school friend (yes I have two) Gwen, who is the social secretary for a number of elderly folk who live in flats in the seaside town, told me, “Actually I can add a tiny scrap to your knitting Olive.  I try to bring a few residents together as otherwise people just sit in their flats.  So on a Monday afternoon we have a tea and chat for a couple of hours but you will laugh because unlike Olive’s lovely designers we knit squares to be made into blankets for African babies. They are all colours of the rainbow just to use odd wool donated.  I do knit but my sight is not good so a stitch is dropped occasionally and I have trouble picking it up (the knitting is fine – sort of automatic from years ago) but I do hope the babies will not mind!” 

Gwen you are doing a stirling job – keep up the good work and keep those babies warm.

LONDON KNITS

But in swinging London those that knit are offered film nights with knitting, a book club with knitting, workshops and classes with knitting and on Friday night knitting with men but anyone is welcome.

A new flourishing knitting organisation called Iknit.org was started by two men in 2006. Craig Carruthers writes on knit website http://www.iknit.org.uk
“I Knit started life as a small group of friends who met one night at The Beehive pub in Vauxhall, London and who shared a common thread – knitting. Gerard Allt wanted to meet other knitters who didn’t mind dropping a few stitches over a pint or two, and who wanted to get out and knit instead of sitting in front of the TV at home. Since that first meeting the I Knit London group has met in over 50 different venues across the capital and continues to meet every week, attracting knitters of all ages and abilities for a social, creative, and sometimes drunken experience. (Dropping a few stitches I should not wonder!) The knitting group is still the fundamental driving force behind everything we do.

“Shortly after the first meeting, we opened a small market stall at historic Old Spitalfields Market in London’s East End. Driven by a passion for more exciting yarn than the average department store, and encouraged by fellow knitters, we sourced a few gorgeous yarns and needles and cycled across London every Sunday with rucksacks full of Sari Silk and Lantern Moon! It was here we met hundreds of like-minded knitters, crocheters and creative types who shared their ideas and experience with us. Each Sunday was always worth that long cycle ride and very early start – even on the days we didn’t sell anything; we met some lovely folk, and ate loads of organic cakes.

On September 2nd 2006 the I Knit London shop and sanctuary for knitters was opened in Bonnington Square, SW8 by Gerard Allt and Craig Carruthers. IKnit is also a licensed to sell alcohol until 9pm.

Knitting has now become the new social pastime, with groups of all ages getting together for a drink and a gossip as well as exchanging a few hints and tips about new yarns and fancy patterns. The new breed of knitters now log onto the Internet to find the latest pattern, and what is new in wools and yarns. They blog, chat and even have classes.

Such is the success of the I Knit organisation that there are evening meetings several times a week including film night, book club night, and men who knit meet on Friday night, although anyone is welcome.

Together with their knitters the lads have raised large sums for charity, held their first successful Stitch n’ Bitch conference with workshops and exhibitors and on January 2 held a big knit-in on sofas in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall. There is no membership fee, email newsletters are available if required, and there are various events going on through the year.
If you are in or around London or maybe just visiting with your wool and needles, look up www.iknit.org.uk and join in just for fun.

If you have fibromyalgia and want to join in the new craze free patterns and instructions for would-be knitters log on to:

www.knittingpatterncentral.com/directory.php

www.learntoknit.com/instruction_kn.php3

Why not start with a long scarf with some fancy itchy wool? They say socks are easy on four needles. No maybe not! I drop stitches on two needles, not to mention four.

Now knitting a Norwegian sweater on a round needle using red, white and black wools (will it run when I wash it) and cutting the tube to stitch the sleeves in – now that is an adventure. I am still on the tube. I will let you know if I get to the sleeve bit. I will have to write to my Norwegian au pair for instructions. She left before I finished it.

Talk soon – quietly please I am knitting. Jeanne

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