Can a gentle soul ever be an ultra-cool knitter?

May 25, 2010 at 11:08 pm | Posted in Knitting morals, You and your knitting | Leave a comment
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An apprehensive non-knitter questions Gerty about whether she will ever be one of the band of super-cool knitters on the street.

Dear Auntie Gerty

Someone has offered to teach me how to knit. As I’m in my mid-30s and not terribly fit or aggressive, I’m not sure I’m up to ‘yarn storming’ and ‘stitching and bitching’. Should I leave knitting to the bright young things, or do you think it’s worth learning even at this late stage (maybe it would add to my ‘street cred’)?

Hope you can help
Gentle Jen, Junction Road

My dearest gentle one, I don’t know where you get the idea that knitters need to be aggressive or fit.  Why, the best exercise one can get is to lift a piece of lovely battenburg to your lips with one hand, and a nice gin and tonic with the other hand for balance.  And sitting down with a good knit is a great restorative, which can take away any aggression in your soul.  Why, if I had hands to knit with, I would be a fluffy ball of serenity.

Now, I understand that you may wish to be more aggressive.  Here I can help you, as your old Aunty Gerty can invoke good rage with some simple hypnosis. We’ll turn you from nervous non-knitter into something with hideous rage. Just look into the buttons …

Daily Fail

One, two, three and you’re under.

I want you to imagine yourself a generally irate individual who believes knitting should be done in the home and not enjoyed in groups at well-lit public venues.

You take a trip into town to visit the Royal Festival Hall. Look around you. There is a large group. They are having a good time.

You are not having a good time. Your polyester bootcuts are chafing and your packed lunch is sadly warm.

Yet they are smiling and laughing. Feel the rage! Feel it burning!

There is knitting in public. Feel the rage at the injustice! Feel the froth at the corners of your mouth!

Look more closely. Some of them are clearly young and some are older and some are older still. And yet they’re mingling happily. And some are new to knitting! Why is no one telling them off for making a spectacle of themselves? Why should they show their knitting in public when it is a private matter? Feel the rage! Feel it!

And look! Why are they not drinking cocktails like a recent misguided newspaper article says they should be? Why are they drinking tea and cider there rather than sitting in the pub like the paper said? Why aren’t they chic Sex and the City types that the newspaper writes about?! You feel confused. You feel the rage welling up! Can you feel your pulse raging?

There’s a man over there! What on earth does he think he’s doing? A man! Knitting! Among women!

It’s disgusting! Feel the rage! Feel it burn! Smooth down your fleece, approach them haughtily and tell them all to go away and have some shame! Growl! Show your anger!

One two three, and you’re back in the room.

You now know pointless rage. The path to aggressiveness is yours. But of course, unchannelled and pointless rage is a bad thing. So your next step is to find yourself a grrrr-ru.

Pack up a small bag and book yourself an Easyjet flight to darkest Tibet. Travel to the hills and raise your yarny flag.  One of the secret clan of ninja knitters will come and blindfold you to take you to their training camp, where they will teach you many things

You will learn that all knitting kind must live in harmony with each other and with non-knitters alike.

You will also learn how to use your DPNs as mini javelins and your circular needle as a garotte should the need arise for you to fight injustice. You will learn to channel your anger into furious speedy knitting to turn out garments at an impressive rate.

Once you have done this, you can go and learn to knit with pride having faced the pointless rage and won.

Holy knitting Madonna, Batman!

However, this will not add to your street cred or make you cool.  Why do you want to be cold, anyway? When you could knit lovely things to keep you warm.

Take Madonna as an example of how knitting will not add to your street cred.  Ever one to chase the trends, Maddy took up knitting. She knitted obsessively so that she would be taken seriously as a super-cool proper knitter. But look: she gained no street cred, only hag hands.

And my dear old friend Jimmy Hill. Tired of his one-dimensional career as a TV sports pundit, he took up knitting. He also adopted a mock-Jamaican accent, to show he was down with the kids. Did it do him any good? No, those pesky journalists just talk about Russell Crowe knitting backwards. And Jimmy’s bosses wanted a quiet word about his new presenting voice.

In all honesty, Gentle Jen, knitting will not increase or diminish your street cred, or make people look at you as being a different person. You will be the same person as before, only with excellent needle wrangling skills to impress your fellow knitters, who are the only people who really count.

It’s worth learning because it’s a creative, inspirational and fun thing to do. It’s also a lovely, welcoming and thought-provoking community to be a part of. Your age doesn’t change that at all.

And if you follow all my advice you’ll have an excellent armoury of stealth weapons and the power to kill from a great distance with a DPN. So it’s all win really.


Glamorous Jet-Set Knitting

February 8, 2010 at 1:23 am | Posted in You and your knitting | Leave a comment
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Worried about finding knitting opportunities while a mile-high? I turn my mind to creative ways of getting around airline security for lovely and sadly leaving S&B Londoner, MrsNeedles (we’ll miss you).

Chocks away, knitters!

Dear Aunty Gerty

I am about to leave these snow-bound shores for an (even snowier) life on the other side of the pond. It’s only a short sojourn you understand, at around four months, but the perils of packing for a journey such as this given the limits of modern air travel have put me into quite a quandary with two major questions.

Firstly, what sort of project would you choose as being appropriate for my initial journey, and secondly what level of knitting supplies would you consider taking with you for the longer term?

After all I need to consider any possible confusion by the powers that be at Heathrow between tools required to create fibre-filled joy and those required to create havoc and devastation, and even a slow knitter such as I will need more than one project for this kind of duration.

Yours in search of guidance,


My Dear Needles, what a pickle you have landed yourself in by leaving our lovely shores for distant lands.

Now, to address your first problem. In these cautious times, you need to find some way to disguise your knitting kit. After all, a shiny needle can be mistaken for a stiletto knife and a lovely set of interchangeable circulars for a deluxe garrotting kit by a short-sighted security man, and that ball of lovely merino, why, it’s rope for tying up the pilot.

No, you need to be more creative these days.

Your first point of disguise is when you book your flight. Emphasise to the booking staff that you are a high-class traveller and you have very specific dietary requirements. You can only eat Chinese food. With chopsticks.

Emphasise that they don’t need to worry about the chopsticks as you will provide your own. Write “Haha! These are knitting needles, you fools!” in Chinese on the ends of your best bamboo needles to complete the disguise.

Now to get your yarn on board. Knit your yarn into a lovely blanket before the flight. Nobody will suspect a thing as your classy air traveller likes to bring their own blanket.

When on board, take out your chopsticks and blanket and start knitting from the end of the blanket to create a lovely shawl to wrap around yourself as you step off your flight. A new knit and a disguise should you be on the run from Interpol.

As for taking knitting supplies, are you quite mad?! You will be in the home of Knit Picks and the brave. There is a wealth of supplies over there that you have no access to here so you should regard this as an opportunity to acquire lovely, lovely yarn.

This will also have the advantage of leaving more space in your luggage. Is that a Gerty-shaped hole I see in that bag?

Knit Year’s Resolution Shame

January 2, 2010 at 5:04 am | Posted in You and your knitting | Leave a comment
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I tell you how to turn Knit Year Resolution failure into stitching success next year in my own, slightly insulting, way.

Gerty gets wound up

Dear Gertrude

I’m writing to you in shame. I had four Knit Year’s Resolutions last January and I haven’t managed to achieve any of them.

My single sock is so saggy I daren’t begin the second. My jumper is really only one sleeve and half of the back or the front (I have forgotten which). I have yet to make a tension square before starting a project and am now cursed with a baby cardigan that the baby it was intended for will have to wait till it is well into its teens to wear (when I fear ducklings and teddy bears will not be very in vogue). I can’t even talk about the fingerless gloves. It’s still too painful.

How can I make sure I really conquer my Knit Year’s Resolutions this year? Should I cast aside my needles and take up a simpler challenge? Maybe some nice scrap booking or a bit of jazz flute?

Help me, Gertrude Woolsworthy, you’re my only hope.
Ashamed of Acton

Ashamed, you certainly should be. There is no excuse for slacking when it comes to your Knit Year’s Resolutions. Of course there are other pursuits in life that are worthy of your time but if you don’t make time to stitch then what kind of a knitter are you?

However that doesn’t mean that your Auntie Gerty doesn’t have a few tricks up her woolly sleeve to help you tick a few stash-crammed boxes this year.

Your first option is obvious: set yourself easier tasks. If you can’t bear the thought of suffering second sock syndrome or crocheting cashmerino undercrackers makes you quake then try something a little less ambitious.

Might I suggest resolutions such as “Buy myself lots of lovely yarn” or “Eat more cake between rows”?

Your knitting nemesis will help you become a better knitter or kill you. One or the other.

Your second option is to add the element of competition: get yourself a knitting nemesis.

You know that girl with the bob hair-do who sat opposite you at the Knit Crawl and looked at you funny when you said you actually thought eyelash wool had its uses? Or the fellow who dropped one of his stitchmarkers in your glass of Merlot at a meeting last October? Mentally wrap them in evil knitting nemesis yarn and make it your mission to outdo them with every project.

They’re making a pair of baby booties that look like bears? You make an entire outfit that makes the baby look like an actual bear complete with ears, growly teeth and a set of razor sharp claws. They’re making fingerless gloves? You make the same glove with fingers, and an extra finger in case nuclear war breaks out and you start growing extra digits due to the fall out. They organise their stash according to colour? You organise your stash according to texture ensuring that should your knitting nemesis accidentally poke you in the eye with a DPN you can still feel your entire stash and know exactly where your purple handspun alpaca is. HA!

Lastly there’s the old go to option: lie.

So you didn’t manage to do a single one of the tasks you set yourself? Who would know if you hadn’t told everyone? Buy a less saggy pair of socks from Etsy. Pay Quick Needles Chloe from down the road to finish your jumper for you. Knit a tension square with your leftover yarn after finishing a project just for show. Talk loudly and proudly about your fingerless gloves and tell the terrible tale of how they were tragically snatched from you by a nefarious glove troll the very moment you finished them late one night on the Northern Line.

Put away your sorry ideas of scrap booking and jazz flute for lesser mortals. You, Ashamed, have some serious knitting to do. I’ll expect less whining and more stitching from you in 2010. I’m watching you.

HELP! I’m a newbie and I have the fear!

December 16, 2009 at 11:19 pm | Posted in You and your knitting | Leave a comment
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Don't knit alone!

I sit scared newbies down and slap a bit of bravery into them as I’m asked for tips on how to brave a knitter’s first ever S&B London meeting.

Dear Gerty

I am an avid reader of the S&B newsletter, especially your column.  I would love to come to one of the meetings in the new year, but I am very shy around new people and also not able to knit yet. I fear that my lack of skills or my newness will show me up. What do I do?

Yours timidly,
Shy of Shoreditch

Oh Shy, for goodness sake stop worrying, take a deep breath and have a slice of Stollen cake and a nice cup of tea. Let Gerty calm your nerves. I was once an S&B London newbie too and now look at me!

Here are a few ways to help you avoid that first S&B London fear.

Option one: Steal existing member’s identity.

Quite simply all you need to do is wander along to the Flickr group and choose your target. The more they resemble you the better. Weeks of sitting in a tree with a pair of nightvison goggles strapped to your face will then be necessary to make sure you have all the facts. Knit yourself a nice set of woolly undergarments to keep you toasty while you stalk. Go through their wheelie bin, sit behind them on the bus reading their text messages over their shoulder, follow them to their LYS and peer at their picks.

Once you have enough information simply soak a handy ball of cheap acrylic in chloroform, lie in wait for them as they reach the meeting venue, leap from the shadows, put them gently to sleep, steal their WIP (work in progress) and stash them in a handy loo cubicle.

Then simply stroll into the meeting as them. Greeting old friends and adding a few rows to their knitting as a balm to the fact they will wake up with a chloroform hangover and the urge to call the police in a few hours.

A warning though: try it on me and you’ll have to remove a very spiky pair of DPNs from somewhere tender…

Option two: Pretend you’ve been before.

Appear at the meeting full of confidence, plonk yourself down with a chattering crowd and deal out highly offended glares to those who ask you if you’re new. Use the phrase “How very rude! Don’t you know I’ve been an S&B Londoner since the terrible cake shortage of 2006!” and grumble on about how back in your day people knew an S&B Londoner by the flick of their yarn-holding finger, donchaknow.

You too could be this stylish

Option three: Be prepared, you numbskull!

Our S&B London website has a lovely page which tells you what you need to bring if you wish to learn to knit. You’d do well to read it and bring the right tools for the job. It makes me weep when someone turns up with eyelash yarn and a pair of sharpened broomsticks. Oh the horror!

Option four: Knit or fashion a fake beard or moustache

Any kind of fake facial fur is the ultimate S&B London icebreaker. For some reason we can’t get enough of the hairy handsomeness that is face furniture. Check out pics of this summer’s Knit Crawl to see what we mean.

Turn up with a nifty knitted nose neighbour or a purled piece of great goatee and watch the eyes of your fellow S&B Londoners light up. It is allllll about the tash that you’ve made from your stash, Shy. Use the tash and you can’t go wrong.

I hope this has been helpful, my shy stitching questioner. As for lack of knitting skills you’ll be fine. All knitters newbie or old hands are welcome. You won’t be alone in taking your first set of stitching steps and your fellow knitters will be encouraging, friendly and sympathetic.

Take heart, pull a chair up to a table of knitters, and join the stitching storm. A life lived in fear of public knitting is a life half lived, take it from a giant pink ball of yarn who knows a thing or two.

I hope to see you at a meeting soon. Mine’s a pint of gin and a slice of Battenberg.

Do you feel like roasting your chestnuts of knitting rage on a giant ball of pink yarn’s fiery intellect? Email her here.

Curses and Stitching Superstitions

October 24, 2009 at 12:04 am | Posted in Knitting myths, You and your knitting | 1 Comment
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I get my knitted grey cells around the legend of the ‘boyfriend curse’ and other stitching superstitions.

Dear Gerty

I have heard tell that it’s bad luck to knit for my other half and stitching a sweater for him will hail the end of our relationship. He wants me to knit him a nice chunky knit aran. I can’t see the harm in it. Should I go ahead? Where did this curse come from? And are there other knitting no nos I should know about?

Superstitious of Streatham

Dear Superstitious, dearie me. How on earth you function in the real world full of black cats and ladders you might walk under is beyond me.

The Boyfriend Curse is well known to all seasoned knitters.

One dark night back in the 60s a young couple, a knitter and her beloved boyfriend, stopped along the M1 motorway to pick up a hitchhiker. The hiker was a silent yet twitchy man. He barely said a word as he climbed into the back seat. It was hot in the car with the heater running. The boyfriend, getting sweaty, removed his coat to cool off, revealing the lovingly crafted but utterly vile jumper that his girlfriend had spent months slaving over her needles to create. So disgusted was the hitcher by this display of handknit horror that it set off a homicidal rage.

The handknit horror

The handknit horror

Nothing was found at the scene except a pair of scissors, pools of sticky blood and fragments of the hideous jumper.

Superstitious, is it really worth risking death by scissor-wielding maniac for an aran sweater?

I think not.

And as for other myths I can help dispel some now:

Stabbing your needles though your yarn balls brings bad luck to anyone who wears something made from that yarn.
“What the…?!?! It’ll bring you bad luck if I catch you doing it!! What the hell are you thinking! shakes with rage

If you knit one of your own hairs into a garment, it will bind the recipient to you.
Knitting your own hair into a garment is something that’s just a hazard with long hair. If you do want to see if it works don’t go too far or you may end up completely bald. Not a look that is going to bind anyone to you, I fear.

Don’t stop knitting when you are only on the cast-on row, or the project will never be finished.
Lightweight! It’s one row! Where’s your knitting backbone!? Finish that row! Lazy swine!

Never hand knitting needles to a friend as they can stab the friendship. Put them down and let the friend pick them up.
Are your needles wooden? Is your friend a vampire? Unless the answer to both these questions is yes, then what’s a little stabbing accident between friends? Helps relieve the tension too. We can’t all get along all the time. Stab away, my dears, stab away.

How to hide my stash?

October 11, 2009 at 11:42 pm | Posted in From the Ravelry stash, You and your knitting | 1 Comment
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Woodstock hadnt noticed a thing

Woodstock hadn't noticed a thing

This week I answer a question I know all of us yarn-junkies are twitching to know the answer to, from one of our dear Ravelites:

Dear Gerty,
How do I continue to feed my yarn habit and keep the ever-growing stash hidden from my boyfriend? I am running out of room for both in the flat. I really do want to keep both of them, but one day there will be an explosion from my vacuum bag packed yarn and we will both be lost in a knotty web forever.
Many thanks

Well Hippolyra, my dear, what are we going to do with you. Your yarn habit is taking over your humble abode and you are on the verge of causing a yarn-based apocalypse or, worse still, drowing the one you love in wool.

The solution is really very simple: the yarn-ball pet.

Here is what you do: pop out to the nearest pet shop and buy yourself a hamster cage, in the cage place a couple of balls of yarn. Voila, the yarn balls become beasts. Remember to carefully empty and refill their food and water dishes at intervals to keep up the charade. Chocolate-covered raisins make excellent fake pet poo.

As your stash grows so can your pet. After a trip to a yarn sale you may want to purchase a litter tray and catnip toy for the yarn-cat look, or grab a collar, lead and frisbee and place your stash in a basket by the fireside for the ultimate in convincing yarn hound.

If things get really out of hand there are stables that can be hired in which your yarn-horse can be housed.

You’re not buying more yarn, Hippolyra, you’re adding a four-legged friend to your household. Admittedly it won’t fetch, purr or run on its wheel but with enough work on your part you could house an entire yarn menagerie without your partner suspecting a thing, and with less cleaning up after than a real beast. Everyone is a winner.

Knitting time travel?

October 11, 2009 at 11:14 pm | Posted in From the Ravelry stash, You and your knitting | 1 Comment
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The Doctor appreciates a fine scarf

The Doctor appreciates a fine scarf

A question from one of our S&B London Ravellers gets Gerty thinking about sonic screwdrivers…

Hello Aunty Gerty.
Would you like some cake ? I have a question for you. How can I make more time for knitting?

Hello AlpacaAddict and thank you for your question. A tricky one.

You have several options to make sure you have ample time to get your knit on:

a. The practical option – Give up housework and live like a slattern. Cockroaches may scuttle across your scummy surfaces, mice may make nests in your stash, and spiders may make cobwebs on your unused crochet hooks but what will you care when you have a fine knitted garment to take out on the town?

b. Lure passersby off the street using a friendly alpaca and cake spiked with obedience potion, then use them to do all the housework. Lots of knitting time and someone to make you cups of tea while you do so.

c. Find yourself a Time Lord and marry him. The tardis will take you wherever you want to go and they’re always rather dashing chaps to boot.

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