My mum taught me to knit when I was a teenager. I picked up the basic knitting stitch but little else – I never had the patience to persevere with learning casting on and off. So, any time I wanted to start a new project I had to ask my mum to help me start and finish. A couple of decades later, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I knitted her a very basic blanket (in garter stitch, because that was all I could do) and it ended up full of holes – dropped stitches here and there, which I darned in a clumsy way. It wasn’t pretty but I still treasure it, with all its flaws, because it will always remind me of that time – expectant, excited.
Six years later, during the very hot days of September 2016, I found myself getting really stressed. Not just hot and bothered, but with an excess of nervous energy. It was too hot to exercise or work at my allotment. I tried those adult colouring books that are said to soothe grown-up minds, but I found mine still working overtime even as I worked away with the felt tips. I know these work for some people, but I hated the idea of doing something supposedly “relaxing” with very little to show for it – I had achieved little other than staying inside the lines. The finished picture was a garden with garishly coloured flowers.
So instead, I started knitting. My very basic and slow technique took all my powers of concentration – unlike the colouring, which was too “auto-pilot” for my racing mind, I had to focus on every stitch on the needle. I have never really grasped the idea of mindfulness (maybe that is part of my problem), but with knitting I would find an hour had passed and I had knitted several rows without thinking about anything other than the rhythm of the four moves of yarn around needle.
As before, I got my mum to cast on for me. I started knitting, garter stitch again, in lilac wool, and just carried it on everywhere as London continued to swelter in 30C heat: on the tube, where people sitting in shorts and vest-tops holding bottles of water to their foreheads to cool down looked at me with exhausted bemusement; on the after-school club circuit, from the edges of tennis courts and swimming pools and piano lessons; and sitting on the sofa till late in the evening. But then the lilac yarn and garter stitch got boring, so I decided to start a new project – and for that I would need to learn how to cast on and off. This time I had a reason to persevere with mastering these basic techniques: knitting was rescuing my mind from stress.
Next, I learnt how to purl (an inverse knit stitch) – from my very patient mother, but also from watching the same clips on YouTube over and over again. Now I could do stocking stitch (knit one row, purl the next). My first completed project (without mistakes) was this green scarf, in stocking stitch (double knit Sirdar Snuggly yarn in Little Gem, using size 5 needles):
Stocking stitch is lovely and smooth but, maddeningly, it curls at the edges, particularly if your tension is a bit tight (as mine is). For my next scarf, I worked stocking stitch but started and ended each row with four moss stitches (knit one, purl one, in alternating order) to stop the edges curling and also giving it a smart border:
The wool is Sirdar Baby Crofter DK in Elsie, which has a wonderful Fair Isle effect ready-made in the yarn and so is perfect for beginners like me.
For extra warmth I knitted the scarf twice and sewed the edges together, adding pom poms at the ends:
By the time I’d finished this, it was well into autumn and the heat was long gone. I knitted it for my daughter, and this time there are no holes, dropped stitches or mistakes. But it wouldn’t matter if there were: by making this, I have knitted away an awful lot of stress.