Stitch & Bitch
Knitting is making a cool comeback and its needle-toting fans range from A-list celebrities to girlies and grannies, says Charlie Dawson
In 1986, on my school trip to Paris, I stitched and bitched my way through my biggest handiwork triumph to date and knitted myself an electric blue snood (circular scarf). It took me three weeks and when I pulled it over my head it looked like Jaws had swallowed me. Simon Le Bon may not have snogged me in it, but my friend Ursula Hogh did ask to borrow it. Result! She later became a magazine fashion stylist.
More than 20 years on – and with no experience since – I am about to pick up the needles for a second time and join the “kniterati”. Apparently, knitting is the new pilates shoe, which was the new power plate, which was the new Bikram Yoga. In other words – it’s so hot right now that anyone who’s anyone is at it.
If you were to swing by Melrose in Los Angeles one Sunday you might find a knitting club made up of Hilary Swank, Cameron Diaz, Julia Roberts, Sarah Jessica Parker and Monica Lewinsky. Kelley Deal, guitarist with indie band The Breeders, released a knitting book called Bags that Rock with patterns for holdalls to stash your drumsticks. The Breeders had hits as big as The Ting Tings back in the day and the rock chick credits the clicking of knitting needles for getting her off heroin.
In the UK, Rachael Matthews, founder of knitting group Cast Off, has made headlines with a set of patterns to help you create woolly models of the world’s most infamous dictators, including Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot and a bandylegged Adolf “Knitler”. The limp figure was dubbed “A-doll” by the press and clearly some people were outraged.
Cast Off started a few years ago when the knitting group decided to boost its original members by advertising it would never knit in the same place twice. They were evicted from London’s Savoy Hotel for being too noisy, and one member, Mazz, was threatened with legal action by the BBC for coming up with knitting patterns for Dr Who villains then giving them away on Cast Off ’s website.
“A knitting circle to someone that doesn’t knit is quite frightening,” says Matthews. “Knitters are rebels. They don’t ask permission. They are practical people who can just get on and do it.”
Other designs you can buy from www.castoff.info include woolly cigarettes, grenades and lipsticks.
According to the Guardian newspaper: “There is a host of other rebel knitters: the guerrillas of Knitta, a group who ‘tag’ signs, cars and statues around the world with bits of knitting, frequently attract unwanted police attention.” Just type Knitta into YouTube and watch the group being told off by the law as they unfold some of their multi-coloured creations on the streets of Paris.
The edgy knitters of Sweden set tongues wagging when they decorated the railings of a bridge, well known for suicide attempts. The Stockholm group, called Masquerade, have even created a map for tourists (www.maskerade.blogsome.com) to help them follow their “yarn graffiti trail”.
Knitta, based in Los Angeles, began in August 2005, when a knit group were discussing their frustration over unfinished jumpers. That afternoon, they knitted their first impromptu door-handle cover. “It dawned on us – what about a tag crew of knitters, bombing the inner city with vibrant, stitched works of art? With a mix of clandestine moves and gangsta rap, Knitta was born!” says their spokesperson.
The crew includes a needle-wielding ninja called Granny SQ and MascuKnitity, who says: “My buddies really appreciate it when I knitted beer cosies for all of them for Super Bowl Sunday – even if they don’t feel compelled to show it.”
On the 60th anniversary of Bergère de France – the first manufacturer of French yarn – the company invited Knitta to Paris to “revitalise urban landscapes with knitted
CLICK, CLICK, CLICK AT THE STITCH ’N’ BITCH
It’s Wednesday night and the second birthday party for the I Knit shop in Waterloo, south London – a place where you can park your balls (of yarn) and stitch and bitch over a slice of cake and a can of ginger beer. Someone has made some flapjacks and a woman has just arrived with a “healthy” chocolate cake. “It’s got mascarpone and crème fraîche in the middle, and the raspberries on top are good for you,” the cake girl says encouragingly.
“Knitting can be a very isolated pastime,” says I Knit owner Gerard Allt. “When we first opened, I’d have to sit in the middle of the group and start the conversation because it was silent. At one point I was like, ‘Look, can somebody say something, I’m sick of the sound of my own voice.’ Now look at ’em.”
The shop is filled with about 30 women – from young, trendy types who probably ride Dutch bikes and have ironic bake-offs, to batty but irresistibly likeable older women. And they’re all looking forward to seeing the giant knitted aliens and the world’s biggest knitting needles at the I Knit Day, being held at the weekend in London’s Royal Horticultural Halls.
There are ambitious jumpers in the making all around me, and my talk of a snood project sounds pitifully amateur. But the crew agree my circular needles (joined by a wire) are far superior to the old-school wooden type, despite my protesting that I’d rather go classic. “The circular needles distribute the weight more evenly,” explains Gerard. “And they’re easy to fold up and stash in your bag.”
Yvonne, who is outreach director of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, is given the duff job of helping me to “cast on” (stitches used to start a piece off). She leans in and, conspiratorially, offers to show me the rock ’n’ roll way. Although I’m starting to feel overwhelmed by techy talk, I’m giggling about the number of nice ladies being forced into talking about snoods, and cheered no end by a debate about “wimples”. When Gerard says the line: “That’s the joy of knitting in the round”, it’s all too much and I reach for a slice of chocolate cake.
Knitting is a simple skill of two stitches: knitting and purling. For my snood, only the “knit one” move will be required, and it’s a matter of poke needle behind the other, wind wool over the top, hook it over. It turns out that, like the way a person drives, the way a person knits is a good indicator of who they are. My knitting is super-controlled and neurotic, and I get impatient and try to disguise tangles and dropped stitches by improvising.
After a couple of hours, I’m unravelling but it’s been a right giggle. With any luck the snood will be finished by Christmas – ready to inflict on some unlucky relative, perhaps!
For more details, visit www.iknit.org.uk and www.knitting-and-crochet-guild.org.uk
If you want to get your knit on, check out some of these groups at Ryanair destinations across Europe.
This funky yarn shop near Södra station opens as a “knit café” every Sunday. Head down there to stitch and bitch over a soy latte.
38f Rosenlundsgatan, Tel: +46 (0)86 682 840, www.knitlab.se
Curl up and purl at this American bookstore near Opéra Garnier. First opened in 1895, it sells everything from sciencefiction to craft books and hosts a knitting café in the basement.
37 Avenue De L’opéra, Tel: +33 (0)14 261 5250, www.brentanos.fr
K1 YARNS, GLASGOW
Meet up in Glasgow’s West End with Big Knit Out, a knitting group organised by K1 Yarns. Their stitch ’n’ bitches are held at North Star Cafe – home to “the best-tasting scones in Scotland” – on Wednesdays every fortnight, 7–9pm.
136 Queen Margaret drive, Tel: +44 (0)141 576 0113, www.k1yarns.co.uk