Over a year and a half since the last one, I’m happy to say that Absolute Beginner knitting classes are starting again on 3 October. Or maybe better to say that I’m utterly over the moon about it – which may surprise you given the website’s list of what I’ll be teaching: How to cast on, knit, purl, cast off, sew up. Radical new stitch techniques, this is not.
But what the website doesn’t tell you is that something much more extraordinary than all of that will also take place, and that there’s every chance that nothing will ever be quite the same again for the students who come. It can’t be explained as a class outcome or learning objective. Frankly I’m not sure it can put into words at all. It goes like this..
The students take their seats around the shop table, each with a ball of wool and a pair of knitting needles. I pour the tea, they share their names and some tell self deprecating stories of past knitting failures. I try and jolly things along with an introduction to the little hand warmer that everyone’s going to make. They exchange nervous glances.
And then we begin, carefully inserting the right needle tip, wrapping the yarn around, catching the strand, pushing the old stitch off.
“Yes, you’ve made a stitch—well done.”
I look around and see furrowed brows and the odd tongue poking out in concentration. The cups of tea go cold.
“Yes, catching the stitch can be tricky. Look at where the yarn wraps through—that’s the bit you want to catch.“
“Like this? Why doesn’t mine look like yours?“
“Nearly.. just make sure the tip goes into the loop of the stitch, and try and pull the yarn down a little before catching it—yes, you’re knitting!“
“Yes, look at the fabric, it wasn’t there half an hour ago. It was just a ball of wool. You made that.“
That’s when it starts. The student gazes, slightly awestruck, at the first few rows of garter stitch bumps that they’ve created. I leave them to enjoy the moment in privacy and make a fresh pot of tea.
This time they drink the tea while it’s still hot, and smiles are starting to replace wrinkled brows.
And then the stories begin to unfold—about last week’s night-shift in
the hospital; about the baby left with in-laws for the first time to enable coming to the class; about why the head scarf, and how much more treatment there is to go; of the loneliness and also relief of getting out of an unhappy relationship; of the grandchild who is going off to university, the first in the family ever to do so; of the blanket his granny knitted that tragically got left behind on a train.
Gently, and littered with interruptions, we learn about each others’ lives, and their hands learn the comforting repetition of inserting the tip, wrapping the yarn, and catching the stitch.
“22.. 23.. 24 rows. Yes, it looks like you’re ready to cast off now.. work as loosely as you can.. and lift the first stitch over the second… can you pass those scissors over. You need to cut the yarn, and pull it through the final loop“.
But first pause. There’s a part of me that wants to tell them to take a moment to savour that final stitch and it’s delicious feeling of accomplishment. But I resist. Because this magic needs no drum roll or popping corks. There’s a joy that bubbles and ripples around the table—as though they’d all had a draft of a magic potion to drink. But all they did was learn to knit.
They’d learned and mastered a sequence of new instructions that they didn’t know or understand before, which forms the foundation of knitting whatever they’ll ever want to make. They have a new skill which can shape some space for themselves, as well as join them together with other knitters. They can retreat into its reassuring repeating rhythms, or dive deep into complex new stitches.
One by one, they pack away their wool and needles to leave.
I wash up the tea pot and cups and wonder about re-writing the webpage that describes the content of the class, but somehow never manage to get round to it.