Knitting for Victory

Crafts, along with adjuncts to go carbon neutral, are being peddled in every magazine I come across. Whether it’s bee-keeping, bread-making or joining a ‘stitch and bitch’ class, it doesn’t matter – they’re all good for you, good for society and good for the environment.

This week a friend gave me the number for a free knitting class, and not just any knitting class – one held weekly at the haberdashery department of Peter Jones in Sloane Square. Who would have thought that any department store would bother to run free knitting classes in this cut-throat age? Not easy to see how that translates into a bottom-line.

I dialled the number. Preparing myself for the usual ‘for sales, press 5’ answermachine purgatory, I was greeted instead with a deferential courtesy reminiscent of a kinder, Edwardian era. “That’s right madam. Free classes are held here every day. What date would you like? Do you need directions?” It was delightful, to be made to feel as if one actually mattered.

Finding myself inside Peter Jones for the very first time, part of me was surprised to be allowed in. Looking around, it dawned on me that despite the name and the Sloane Square address, you don’t have to be rich to shop here; simply discerning.

Perhaps this is what benevolent capitalism looks like. Peter Jones is part of the John Lewis chain, a worker-owned company, and it shows. Staff are polite and eager to assist. On one of the higher floors, a large computer-filled office space is devoted purely to customer enquiries, peopled with staff despite the fact that this is a Saturday.

Up the escalator in the haberdashery department, I find three ladies seated around a small wooden table, with needles and wool in front of them. It all looks very congenial. One almost expects them to bring out afternoon tea.

I’ve brought two men with me and surprised murmurs go round. “It’s very rare for any men to come to the class,” remarks the teacher. Knitting may be trendy, but it seems not to have filtered to the male part of the population – and by the looks of the other participants, to be still favoured by the over-50s. As I sit here, I become aware of a strong smell of Anusol.

Teacher Eugenie hands us some needles and we select the wool. She shows us how to begin, or more properly, how to ‘cast off’. I’m utterly confused. The moves seem elaborate and complicated and I wonder how I will ever learn it whilst keeping control over the needles, which keep slipping out of my fingers. The older ladies stare at us. No doubt they find hard to comprehend our ineptitude, how completely alien it is to for us to hold a knitting needle. To them, it must be like watching a grown man learning how to use a knife and fork.

Slowly, slowly, by watching and doing, I begin to realise what it is I am supposed to do with the thread. A pattern is beginning to form, although my tension is all wrong. This is knotting, rather than knitting.

Like other things, knitting reflects one’s personality. I’ve created lots of extra work for myself, adding loops that don’t need to be there. I’m messier, and faster than my partner whose stitches are neat and tiny. “Are you a perfectionist?” Edwina asks him perceptively.

Shoppers seem intrigued by our little group. One male shopper stops right in his tracks and stares. Another woman comes up to us. “Is this a knitting class?” she asks. “I already know how to knit, thanks, I just wanted to be sure.” We are all relishing the same thing – an oasis of corporate generosity in this desert of bottom-line economics.

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