Knitting for misfits

Oh, you knit in a funny way, you’ve got the wool in the other hand!’

I’ve tried and failed to knit with wool ‘the other way’. I know it looks odd to people I’m teaching, but muscle memory is a strange thing and my hands have stubbornly refused to give up their old habits and knit the way folks round here knit. I weave the wool around the fingers of my left hand and hook the yarn with the right needle to make a stitch. 

It happened like that because my Austrian immigrant granny taught me to knit. She knitted the  ‘continental’ way, known as hooking. I chose for her rather than my mum  to teach me, precisely because of the way her needle tips seemed to effortlessly dance along the row, whisping each loop through the next. By contrast the wool in my mum’s hands flew across the needle tips with fingers and needles flicking and darting – of course I wanted to knit like my granny! My mum meanwhile was deliberately taught not to knit that way. 

It was 1949 and in spite of being settled in England for 10 years, my granny was clearly marked as a foreigner by her heavily accented English. This was a different kind of otherness from the one which had caused her to flee Austria, but it was nevertheless something else to make her feel separate.  So when it was time for her then 5 year old daughter to learn to knit, she sent her to Mrs. Kendal, the friendly English lady next-door, to make sure that she would knit like the other English girls and not like a foreigner. Mrs. Kendal taught my mum to wrap the yarn around her right hand and throw the yarn around the needle tip before pulling the loop through. It worked. To this day my mum throws her yarn the English knitting way.

In Austria my granny was marked by being Jewish, in England, by being a foreigner. She spent a lifetime living with the awkwardness of feeling like she didn’t fit and wishing that she did. Now I feel like my way of knitting simply marks me as being her granddaughter. More than that, I feel like the way we knit here as a community – formerly in the shop on Wednesday nights, lately in the park on sunny Sunday afternoons, and incidentally around the table in the shop, makes our common act of knitting – in all its different misfit-ish ways – enough to say that everyone belongs. I wish my granny could have joined in. I think she would have loved it too.

Oh, you knit in a funny way, you’ve got the wool in the other hand!’ I’ve tried and failed to knit with wool ‘the other way’. I know it looks odd to people I’m teaching, but muscle memory is a strange thing and my hands have stubbornly refused to give up their old habits and knit the way folks round…

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