True to form, a drop in temperature accompanied the arrival of the August bank holiday. We may yet enjoy an Indian summer but with chillier days and nights on the way, it is time to unpack the woollen cardigans and jumpers. Or, as I feel the cold about 46 weeks a year, just move them to the top of the pile again!
Wool is a staple in my life. Having grown up in a damp country and moved to an even damper one, it is my armour against the chills that no amount of heating can banish. In fact, even on a summer’s evening, you may spot me wearing a light woollen cardigan and my fingers turning some sumptuous yarn into a sweater for the winter.
I rediscovered my love of knitting several years ago when I stubbornly refused to give up on a favourite cashmere cardigan that had been darned once too often. So I bought some black 4-ply yarn, knitted elbow patches and got another 18 months of use out it. With that simple act of make-do-and-mend, my love of knitting was not only rekindled; I was set on the path to warmer woollies, a more creative life and… elegant rebellion.
Upon trying on my first hand-knitted sweater in 20 years, I realised how little warmth most mass-produced knitwear offers. Since then, thanks to the stylish patterns of Kim Hargreaves and Louisa Harding and skeins of gorgeous wool, I am slowly replacing perishing woollies with truly cosy cardigans and sweaters.
As with home-grown vegetables and home-made bread, I enjoy the process as much as the finished item. The steady clickety-click of the needles is soothing. Even after a long day, I will knit a few rows before going to bed. As sensuous yarn slips through my fingers, the worries of the day start to ebb away.
However, knitting is not only a form of stress release. It is also an act of rebellion against a throwaway culture born out of an endless pursuit of growth. And nowhere was that sense of rebellion stronger than in client meetings. I felt wonderfully mischievous wearing home-made tops when negotiating with bankers. As accountants droned on about economic efficiencies, I delighted in knowing that my knitwear was the complete opposite, and probably warmer because of it.
On the face of it the economists might be right. Handmade cardigans make no sense! For the cost of materials and the ‘price’ of my time, I could buy myself several. In the past I did. Nowadays, thanks to ignoring the principle of market efficiency and knitting my own, I enjoy warmer knitwear in a style, colour and yarn of my choosing, free from the dictates of the fashion industry (like 3/4-length sleeves).
This wet and cold summer my rebelliousness went a step further. Mr M came home one evening to find my hands clutching what looked like bamboo torture instruments. He watched intrigued as I manoeuvred stitches across four double-pointed needles and chuckled when he learnt I was teaching myself to knit socks. His first reaction was why? As socks are so inexpensive, did it really make sense for me to knit my own?
Of course, Mr M knew my reasons were not financial. He has heard me lament the ever-decreasing quality of clothes many times, usually when I am tut-tutting shoddy finishes or repairing something that has been, to quote my mother, “thrown together”. And our sock drawer, with its fibres that barely survive 12 months, is a case in point.
Although charmed by my old-fashioned thrift, it was not my desire for socks that are capable of and actually worth darning that ultimately swayed Mr M. As he knows how icy cold my feet get (even inside socks), the feel of the alpaca/cashmere yarn persuaded him that knitting my own toe-warmers was not just a stubborn refusal to accept the ‘way of the world’ but an act of constructive rebellion!