On the sociability of knitters (and spinners)

Knitters have gathered in friendly groups for years. In 1844, William Howitt described the knitters of Dent, high in the Yorkshire Dales, and their ‘sittings’:

‘As soon as it becomes dark… they take their cloaks and lanterns and set out with their knitting to the house of the neighbour where the sitting falls in rotation. The whole troop of neighbours being collected, they sit and knit, sing knitting songs and tell knitting stories. All this time, their knitting goes on with unremitting speed…’

Well, we tend not to wear cloaks or carry lanterns, but we certainly set out with our knitting. And we don’t meet in each others’ houses.

We meet in the pub.

Nor do we sing knitting songs, probably because we don’t know any rather than because of the negative effect they would have on the regulars. They’ve got used to us by now, anyway. Either that or they’ve learned not to tease a group of lively women equipped with sharp implements.

As for the knitting stories – well, we do talk about knitting, help each other with problems, discuss and exchange patterns, admire people’s work and encourage experimentation. But we also talk about other things, and last Monday the subjects ranged from one person’s amazing scone recipe to traditional music, computers and New Guinea penis sheaths. I’m still not quite clear how we got onto the latter, but I think it had a lot to do with BBC’s Human Planet series.

We have become very used to some things, like the place we usually sit. If someone else is installed there, we get confused and end up rearranging the pub (last week we managed to create Claustrophobia Corner and trap two knitters against the wall). It’s a great group, and I have learned a lot from them. And there’s the companionship, of course – where else would you go to discuss unusual aspects of male adornment on a Monday night?

Perhaps our knitting group actually conforms to a traditional Welsh knitting evening, as described by Hugh Evans in his collection of articles, Cwm Eithin (1931). He says, ‘To tell the truth, there was not very much solid work done at a noswaith weu, as so much time was spent laughing at the stories and picking up stitches…’


There’s a spinning offshoot too, now that two of us have obtained wheels. But it’s more intermittent, and slightly more sedate (pubs are not involved, which probably explains why). We get together at each others’ houses with our wheels and baskets of fluff.

And we go for it:

The skill range varies from experienced to beginner, taking in injured incompetents along the way (that’s me). And it is really inspirational; last time I learned how to make a hackle from six metal Afro combs, two waste pieces of timber and a couple of G-clamps.

I’ve even been seduced away from natural fleece by one spinner’s green gorgeousness:

Don’t get me wrong; I love the subtle shades of coloured fleece, and I like working with wool I have prepared. But sometimes a change is good, and so I looked out my supply of fluff and selected some that would be comparatively easy for me to work with (no merino, then). Some BFL – blue-faced Leicester – hand-painted in warm reds and oranges by Artis-Anne. Oh yeah.

I’ll be careful, I really will – just don’t tell my physiotherapist, OK?


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