Monday, 28 March 2011

A Plea for Knitting

Knitting has a hold on the modern mind as a quintessentially traditional craft -- something every great-great-grandmother did, with universal competence and devotion.

Given this assumption, it is surprising to find how often the "loss" of knitting skills were bemoaned in the nineteenth century. I am reprinting this article in its entirety, in part because I was amused that knitters 150 years later are still using the same arguments and justifications for their craft, and garnering much the same reaction when they knit in public (though probably no longer on a river boat).

What has become of the knitters? Genuine, old-fashioned knitters, we mean, who understand all the mysteries of "heel and toe," "narrowing," and "seam-needle;" and who can, if necessary, knit a pair of men's socks complete in two days? The crocheting and fancy knitting of the present day is, valuing it according to its results, unworthy of occupying the place of this homely and useful employment.

Now and then there is some old lady -- God bless her for preserving the traditions of our youth! -- who still clings to the four slim needles, and, mayhap, the knitting-sheath, and keeps the feet of her grandchildren warm and comfortable. But how few there are of the present generation who know anything about it! Not long since, to pass away a tedious hour on board a river boat, we took from our basket a tiny mitten we were knitting in the good old-fashioned style; and it was amusing to see the number who gathered around, interested in the manner of widening the thumb, and various processes in making the pretty toy complete. Such ignorance as they displayed! I was ashamed for them, and indignant at their mothers, who certainly had never compelled them to knit a daily "atent" of "twenty times round," until from the slowest and most irksome of tasks, it became a positive delight, and they felt lost if they sat down to book or paper without the ever-present knitting.

Knitting is not very profitable employment in one sense. Even when one is a rapid knitter, the result is slow -- still slower if the hand is not perfect master of the work. But knitting should not be considered as steady, daily employment. It is work to be caught up in a spare moment, and dropped as quickly; to occupy the hands at twilight, when it is too dark to see, and still too light to bring out the lamp. It is the work for odd minutes, half-hours and hours -- times when one would otherwise be idle. And when we consider, what is actually true, that we can thus do the winter knitting for a whole family, its results are not so insignificant after all. And every one ought to know, though probably few do, how very much longer hand-knit stockings last than those which are bought already made.

Then there is another argument in favor of knitting. Very many women, in the press of household duties, cannot help but have a half-feeling, whenever they sit down to read, that they are wasting time which might and ought to be otherwise employed; while, if they could call in the aid of the knitting-needles to keep them company, and have a comfortable consciousness that, even as they amused and rested themselves, the stocking for Tommy's chubby foot, or the mitten to cover Freddy's rosy fingers, was progressing in their hands, they would read oftener and longer, and be all the better for it.

It is a homely accomplishment, but a useful one; and, when once acquired, one that the possessor would be unwilling to lose. It is a judicious friend and companion, capable of occupying the attention when required; but ready, when it is desirable, to retire utterly to the background -- asking only the company of the hands -- leaving mind and thoughts free for other matters.

Arthur's Home Magazine, March 1869

1 comment: