It was late July 2021 and my phone pinged. A friend Whatsapped me a photo they’d seen online of a guy knitting by the side of a pool. I glanced at the caption long enough to see it was something to do with the Olympics. My phone pinged again. Different friend, same picture. Then it pinged again and again and again. Suddenly it seemed like everyone I knew was Whatsapping me pictures of this British diver at the Olympics who’d been photographed knitting while he waited to take his next dive.
By the 87th ping, I was really rolling my eyes. It turned out I wasn’t the only knitter getting tired of being told knitting is cool now that we’ve got a gold medalist bloke doing it. Messages from the more knitterly groups on my phone were getting increasingly irate.
“How many screen shots of Tom Daley have you guys received?”.
“Can I just say, if one more business posts a photo of Tom Daley knitting, I’m going to lose my sh*t.”
“What’s the bet it’d be a different reaction if Simone Biles was knitting?!”
Next I had newspapers calling me up for a comment and asking if his knitting was the real deal or if he was a charlatan, and I was waking up to features about knitting on national radio.
People began coming in saying they’d seen Tom Daley knitting at the Olympics and they wanted to do it too. They heard what he said about stress-busting. They saw the colour-work olympic rings on his cardigan. Basically they loved the whole idea that this dude with the gold medal was knitting. There was no denying this guy was influencing people to pick up needles, to buy some wool and to start knitting. And that’s my project too – right? I want more people to knit and discover how great it is. So I should be excited about Tom Daley too. Right?
So why the reluctant enthusiasm?
Because of something that sits somewhere in the middle of being irritated with the world for waking up to knitting because a male athlete was doing it, at exactly the same moment as being thrilled with the very same male athlete for waking people up to knitting and counfounding all their assumptions about who should be doing it. I know – this is a proper tangle of contradictions. But thanks to the various people who visited the the shop last week, I think I’m working my way out. They include..
- A pregnant palliative care nurse, wanting some wool for hat-knitting for the new baby before heading back to the hospice.
- A midwife who needed help with some stitches that had gone awry and who also offered reassurance to the pregnant palliative care nurse.
- A teacher of learning disabled kids needing some thick orange wool for a pumpkin knitting project.
- A lawyer who wanted some really soft yarn to make a chemo cap for his friend who was about to start treatment.
- A slightly nervous newbie who needed help with casting on, but who got the hang of it really quickly and left with an on-the-way scarf.
- A grand daughter who wanted thick wool to make socks that would only be worn indoors for her granny who couldn’t get out anymore.
- A nine-year old who needed wool for the 7mm crochet hook they’d taken home from school to make a phone cosy over half term.
- An olympic gold medalist diver who fancied trying out the mohair-DK mix thing in different stripes on his new cardie.
Hang on a minute. Did you say say Olympic diver? Was that..?
Yes, as a matter of fact it was.
And do you know what? He was great. He was good company, curious about colour and fibre, enthusiastic about everything. He asked me about teaching his little boy to knit, and how working with two strands together would work. The yarns made him smile and he really liked the good stuff. But the others were great too. They chose to swing by here and trust me with helping to sort out their projects. They filled the shop with their stories, ideas and colour choices and in their different ways, they each reminded me of why I opened the shop in the first place, of the creativity and warmth that makes knitting great.
So where does that leave you with the Tom Daley love?
Look, I’m never going to be very good at singling out champions when it comes to knitting. My world is rocked several times each day by the characters who walk through the shop door. I Iove the way that knitting loops its quiet magic through the ordinariness of all our lives, on sofas, park benches, bus stops and swimming pool seating areas. As a shop keeper I’m always going to get excited about people’s knitting stories and journeys. But in truth I’m as happy to hear about your triumph with finally conquering that cabled sweater that seemed like it would never end, as I am with hearing about the pouch you knitted for your Olympic gold medal.