In praise of ordinary

There’s a video clip circulating on YouTube at the moment, from a US talkshow in which Michelle Obama is telling the host, Gayle King, about her newly acquired lockdown knitting habit. King feigns surprise at Obama taking up such an old lady pass-time.

Let’s just park that hackneyed old lady knitting cliche for now. Whatever the case Michelle dismisses it with humour and good grace. And she moves on to say..

“It’s sort of me because I like creating something out of nothing…”

..before explaining that she’s recently made a sweater for Barack and some halternecks for her kids. 

This hugely celebrated woman leaves us with the impression that she has this ever so normal dimension in her life – a totally relatable (for us lot anyway) knitting habit. There are no wow-words that accompany it, no sensational detail about what she’s made, and happily no cliched self-deprecating comments about doing it. 

Every day since re-opening the shop, people have come in to tell me about their starting knitting during the last year and how its been, what it’s meant for them. Their stories are different but similar and carry echoes of that same comforting ordinariness that comes through from Obama in the video clip. 

In a recent SZ article about lockdown knitting, Mareike Nieberding writes at more length about the way in which knitting has helped her make peace with what she calls mediocrity. Her impulse was to try and be brilliant with her new knitting hobby, but she quickly discovered that she wasn’t. Her knitting was messy and mistake-ridden. But it nevertheless became compulsive and she loved doing it. After a lifetime of aspiring to over-achieve and stand out from the crowd in her work, she discovered through knitting, that it can be great regardless of whether you are great at it, which comes not just as a revelation, but also as a liberation. It leads her to a new found respect and recognition for all the ordinary women through time who didn’t create works of art, or leave behind a legacy of change, but whose knitting, love and creativity, ‘kept people warm under their thinning coats’.

Ordinary, normal and repetitive – it’s not a great marketing pitch. Especially with social media hounding us for the extraordinary, exceptional and amazing. Which brings me back to the talk show host’s Old Lady Knitting put-down. I think it’s time we celebrated that nameless old lady, who has carried the burden of our knitting image problem for all the hundreds of years that she has continued knitting regardless of the missing recognition, celebrity or respect. In some small way I feel like she has been there, quietly rocking in her rocking chair, looking on and smiling to herself as we all learned to love knitting for our own uncelebrated reasons.

Leave a Reply