Train knitting

Over the last month, I’ve received more comments that usual on my knitting. It’s fascinating the stories I hear.

A middle aged woman who emigrated from the Balkans some 30 years ago – she was a farmer’s daughter, she explained, and hadn’t been taught ‘indoor’ things only outdoor skills like fixing tractors. She wished that she had learned from her mother and grandmother, as I had. It was thrifty to knit for oneself and one’s family and it was a womanly art that she had missed.

An elderly woman from Eastern Europe who watched me knit with an expert eye as I placed the thumb gusset on a lacy wristwarmer being knit on two circulars. She declared that she thought herself a very good knitter but even THAT was too complicated for her! So we discussed technique, how we had learned, and the benefits of circular needles.

Greta, from the university club, who exclaimed that her mother-in-law from Europe had brought with her the ’round needles’ for knitting in the round and top-down and how this had not been seen before. Greta had not seen someone knit circularly for such a long time and nodded in approval and explained again what I was doing as each friend joined the table for an end of year drink.

The couple on the train this morning, ‘rough as guts’ you might say and living their life as cheerfully as they could and certainly with frankness. By the end of their journey, I knew that they had both experienced mental illness, had probably spent some time in Fairlea (the old women’s prison) or at Mont Park (a psychiatric institution now closed) and how Thomas Embley was a safe place to be (the new psychiatric institution built on or next to Fairlea). Their friend embarked a few stops after they and they talked of Thomas Embley, how this friend was no longer in a secure ward, the disorientation of psychiatric seclusion (how you might wonder whether the Russians had towed the moon away) and swapping notes on the economic stimulus package. All three were fringe dwellers and I came to know this because knitting and the knitting of a sock are a comfort and drew their thoughtful comments.

I’ve become accustomed to talking with strangers this way. I’m not a particularly outgoing person and at first I bridled at the intrusion into my privacy. Not long after I started knitting on the train, mental illness in our family reared its very large, frightening and awful head and knitting was a retreat and a solace. I didn’t like to be brought out of that any sooner than my stop. But through that illness I began to learn how to simply accept others, and maybe without fear or judgement. I’m still learning, but I’m more likely to respond with interest and develop a conversation. And when I hear conversations about psychiatric hospitals and women’s prisons spoken with the frankness and acceptance of those three this morning, I don’t fear it.

Train knitting is a good thing.

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1 Comment

  1. dancingwithfrogs said,

    December 30, 2008 at 7:32 am

    Knitting in front of classes is good too. (Only when they’re doing essays or tests, I hasten to add… not when they need active teaching!) Kids are intrigued to see something done by hand, instead of being made to think that only intellectual pursuits are valued.


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