So, I had intended to get some nice pictures of me wearing the cardigan I had spent over a year making. These very nice pictures would have been taken outside, amid trees and fallen leaves, during a time of day when the light is golden autumnal and super flattering to my well-rested and made up face. But this is not my life. My life is more grit and mess and blinding light than that, thanks mostly to a three-year-old who has gotten his hands on the camera again and has switched the flash to his favourite setting, on. It’s just like a renegade Marc Jacobs ad campaign around here.
The story of this cardigan, like a lot of things, started back when I was pregnant. For the first time in my life, I was struck by the urge to knit. The last time I had knit (or knitted? or knitteded?), I was in primary school and I hated it. For one, I had the hands of an eight year old that cooperated with neither needles nor yarn, but mostly I hated it because while we, little housewives in the making that we were, stayed inside, knittin’ and sewin’, the boys in our class got to go outside to play hurlin’ and football. Thankfully, by the time I was in sixth class, a bit of enlightenment had crept in and we all had to do both knittin’ and sewin’ and hurlin’ and football but I’m fairly sure the sports won out, and that’s what we ended up doing for the rest of the year. I never knit again.
Almost thirty years later, though, as my belly got bigger, my hands got itchier to knit something, anything. Well, I say anything but I mean booties, whatever they’re for these days since don’t most babies wear babygros? Anyway, I bought a book called Vintage Knits for Modern Babies (pixie hats! booties! baby bunny rabbits!), a lovely book that sat looking lovely on my bookshelf for about a year and a half until the day it occurred to me that I really was a housewife now and maybe I should really be a stereotypical housewife and take up knitting. So, I signed up to for a class. I think I was half hoping that I wouldn’t like it that much, that I’d just take these few classes and then drop it because the whole idea was really only based on cultural conditioning and silly hormones. Wasn’t it?
As it turns out, not only could I knit but I loved it, too. There was the occupation of my hands, the following of a pattern, the checking of YouTube tutorials, the keen level of concentration. None of it was relaxing, and I could never understand when other people in the class said that it was. I knew that what they were referring to was the cosy image of the granny with her beatific smile sitting in her rocking chair, a pot of tea by her side, maybe a few cats as well, her needles click clacking away. My reality, however, was very different; I found it stressful, the skin on my fingers became dry, sometimes to the point of bleedy, carpel tunnel was always a threat. But in time, the act of knitting did become therapeutic, the oddly automatic working of my hands tempering the spinning in my mind.
This left room for me to get really ambitious. (And watch telly at the same time!) After knitting Boone a hat (pixie, of course), a stripey jumper and a few other baby things, I got really, really ambitious and decided to knit something for an adult, that adult being me. After a few awkward attempts, I eventually landed on the designer Kim Hargreaves and ‘Bud,’ the boyfriend cardigan in these pictures.
Now that it’s finished, I can see this past year knit into it—all those hours of anger, loss, love, and grief. I can also see other things, too, like the odd strand of hair, a possible flake of snot, as well as Home and Away, Coronation Street, Strictly Come Dancing, Downton Abbey, X-Factor. And ok, ok, I’ll admit it, Xtra Factor. Hours.
It’s strange but after all that time and effort, I almost don’t really care how it looks. When Doireann first saw it, she said, aaah did you make that yourself? Delighted, I responded yes! Then she said something about it being ‘Topshoppy.’ I know what she’s talking about—those big, borderline dowdy cardigans that only the very young can pull off because they’re contrasting it with cropped tops or shorts and knee-high socks and their youth. So, on me, there’s probably no borderline when it comes to the dowdiness but I’ve always had a granny mushy side so there’s that. At any rate, I love it and I feel wrapped in love whenever I wear it. I look down on the sleeve and think I made that, I knit those stitches that made the fabric that I sewed up together to make this piece of clothing for myself. The pattern may be off in several places, the collar may be wonky, not to mention the seaming, but it just adds to the wabi-sabi charm of it all and makes me love it even more.
Besides, the fact that I have something to wear is really just a bonus. The real joy was in the making of it and the things I learned along the way. I couldn’t knit a cardigan and not learn a few things, now could I? And I’m not just talking about knitting but the creative process that is life itself. So, here is a list of advice, addressed to you but the you is really me because what is advice really for but the person giving it?
Knitting and drinking don’t mix.
You will have to restart a project at least four times, especially if you attempt the above.
The first row is always the hardest.
You’ll look at patterns and think, pah! I’ll have that done in no time. You’re wrong. It will take loads of time and possibly several months more than that.
Related: you’ll look at knitwear in shops and think, pah! I could knit that. You can’t. I mean, it’s possible, but life is short.
You will get stuck on one little thing and the whole project will have to be set aside for an indeterminate amount of time. Sometimes, it’s good to start something else and then go back to it later.
You’ll never get the yarn you’re looking for in one outing.
Throughout a project, you’ll oscillate between I love it/I hate it in a maddening way for quite some time.
You will knit all of the pieces and then leave them in the bag for weeks, possibly months, because you just can’t face sewing them up. Remember that you come from a line of tailors and that you get a terrific sense of rightness whenever you are sewing up.
Whenever you get the idea to knit a scarf, don’t. It’s beyond boring, like reading a book with no chapters.
If you push or force it, you will mess up.
Just one more row is never just one more row.
If you do knit one more row, know that one day you’ll do yoga and feel all fine and well-oiled and then two days later something in your left shoulder will go grrrrik and you won’t be able to turn your head. Then later on in the day, something in your other shoulder will also go grriik and you’ll be in such pain that you won’t be able to do anything, least of all knitting, for over a week.
When it’s finished, you’ll find a way to wear it every day.
You’ll get good simply from the doing.
You will forget everything you’ve learned and will have to reiterate this advice to yourself again and again.
Self-portrait, flash on