It started quite randomly – a proud photo of an impressive garlic harvest sent by my sister to the family Whatsapp group. A slightly absurd word association game began playing out in my head: garlic… stalks… plaiting… bicycle.. BERET!
Now out of the ground, those alliums’ gloriously long green stems plainly needed braiding. And if she was going to be plaiting garlic stalks she better bloomin’ well be wearing a beret while she was doing it and if there was any beret-wearing going on with those garlics I had better be the person who’d knitted it.
The last strange year of separation and distance has created new perspectives on relationships we previously took for granted – particularly the ones built on an unspoken love that comes from familiarity and shared history. Previously we had any number of ways to express it: popping round for tea and a yakkety yak, an unsolicited hug, meeting up for a movie, a gossip.. these everyday acts of normalcy were so ordinary, it was easy to miss what lay at the bottom of them, and their capacity to soothe, comfort, tickle and sort us out. Finding new ways to express that love when being together was forbidden, and we didn’t necessarily have a habit of putting it into words, wasn’t always obvious.
So in a funny kind of way, I think that knitting offered me another way of saying the things that don’t always fit into words. Even as I cast on the beret, I was aware it would probably take a while, it may run the risk of not being right, it would have no receipt for a refund or exchange.
But something in the thinking of doing it in the first place, combined with all those rounds of stitches, the undoing and redoing of any that went wrong along the way, checking it as it took shape and thinking about where it was going when it was finished, imagining it in their hands (or in my case, on her head!)… something about all of that made knitting for giving-away, into a way of making up for some of what got lost.
Being a knitter gave me a way to express something in stitches that I couldn’t say in words. Mine ended up as a neon pink beret, but my days in the shop mean I get to see how other knitters’ knit messages into stripey baby blankets, lacey hand-dyed shawls, self-patterning socks, chunky beanies, sleeveless sweaters – all different, all saying something in stitches about a love that’s between the knitter and who they’re giving it to, and no one else. It’s intimate and unspoken. And as long as you give clear washing instructions it will endure through pandemics, and much much more besides. Make no mistake, what a love letter from a knitter lacks in words, is absolutely made up for in warmth.