A knitting cabaret? As knitters, how could we possibly resist!? Last weekend some of our craft group trotted off to see Stitch in Time – a knitting cabaret, in which Canadian performer Melanie Gall explores all things knit (and crochet).

Excitement! Drama! Romance! And… knitting? A scintillating cabaret, featuring the lost knitting songs of WWI and WWII from Canada, Britain, America and France. Bring your knitting (or crochet) and stitch along to these funny, poignant, toe-tapping, needle-clicking tunes. Come out and have a ball! Stitch in Time presents over a dozen historic songs, including More Power to Your Knitting, Nell!, The Knitting Itch and Knocking at the Knitting Club.

It was a hoot! From her sensible heels, to her spangled dress and adorable knitting hat (!), Melanie rocked the room with rollicking tunes  and entertaining tales on the history of knitting. Most of us had brought along a knitting (or crochet) project and, between bouts of laughter, the needles flashed in and out of yarns of glorious colours and projects as varied as could be imagined.

My own knitting (and crochet) journey has been a rather bumpy one at times. From my first attempts in primary school – an epic fail that left me quite convinced that knitting was something other people did – to the community craft group I now help to facilitate, it’s been quite a ride.

My mum had knitted for us on and off our whole lives and, by the time I was making my first foray into the terrifying land of knit, she had acquired a knitting machine. This speeded up her production significantly and reinforced my notion that hand knitting was a waste of time. At about that time, my ever-busy mum taught herself to crochet. Unbeknownst to me, she bought yarn in four shades of green – from pale moss, though to the deep forest green of pine needles – and set about about making me the most amazing poncho.

This was in an era when ponchos were all the rage and many a mum, gran or aunt was conscripted into making one (or more). As often as not, the homemade creations were made from granny squares pieced together – very trendy! But not my mine. I’ve no idea whether Mum had a pattern or just made it up as she went along, but she crocheted the poncho in the round in alternating rows of trebles, popcorn stitch and clusters of trebles. The neckband was double crochet in the palest of the greens, with the tassels to match. It was perfect! The right length, perfect tassels and fabulous colours that showed how well Mum knew me. It also convinced me that crochet was yet another dark art that was beyond my abilities to conquer!

When I got to high school the following year, I found (to my horror) that students were expected to ‘volunteer’ to knit and/or crochet! At various times we were tasked with creating squares that would later be assembled into blankets and donated to a retirement home, and outfits for little cupie-dolls. The dolls were also for a good cause and many beautiful outfits were created – just not by me!

Not my work!

My output was slow and the quality highly variable. I did eventually conquer knitting a simple 6″ corner-to-corner square, but remained convinced that handcrafts weren’t  the best use of my time – or limited skills! What I didn’t realise it at the time was that these community service projects were aimed at teaching us the value of volunteering and to develop a sense of social responsibility. In my case what it really seemed to be doing was reinforcing the notion that knitting and crochet weren’t my thing!

A good many years passed before I decided to give knitting another try. Unlike me, my BFF has been a pro-knitter from an early age and I’ve always been unfailingly impressed by her fabulous creations. From time to time she’d offer to show me how, but I always protested that I was a hopeless case… until Dearest Daughter was on her way.

Then BFF (and DD’s godmother-to-be) suggested that I might like to try knitting something for the baby. She said that if I aimed at making just one small thing I might find it wasn’t so bad. I was dubious, but she convinced me that it was achievable. So yarn and needles were purchased and, although the project took ages and there was a fair bit of unpicking involved, by the time DD was born I had created a rather cute sky blue angel top for her. She did grow into it eventually… and it was passed down to BoyChilde in due course, so it was well worth the effort.

1983: BoyChilde & angel top.

It was also the foundation on which all the rest of my knitting adventures were based. With ongoing encouragement from BFF I learned to be more forgiving of my knitting mistakes and to not take it all so seriously. Gradually – and without me realising it –  knitting turned into more than a practical skill, it was fun! More than that, I felt ridiculously proud of my creations and of the that I’d become somewhat competent at something I’d always thought out of reach.

As the kids grew, so did the size and variety of jumpers. I experimented with Fair Isle and cables and intarsia – using multiple colours to add pictures to the jumpers. Hats, gloves, tea cosies, socks, toys, scarves and wraps all emerged from my needles at various times over the past 40 years – and I’ve enjoyed every knitting moment of the process.. even the undoing and re-knitting parts!

Crochet hit my radar only relatively recently, when arthritis started to impact my knitting enjoyment. The first step was to relearn how to make granny squares, with occasional guidance YouTube and from BFF – still my creative guru. As part of the learning process I went on to teach others how to crochet squares, dishcloths, Xmas ornaments and more.

One of my first granny square charity blankets.

In keeping with our early introduction to knitting as a community project, BBF and I started a regular community craft group a number of years ago; the group still meet up each month to chat and knit or crochet – sometimes on our own projects and sometimes making items for charity. And occasionally we go to things like the knitting cabaret, just for fun – but always armed with some sort of small project to work on!

This knitting (and crochet) cabaret of mine is far from over – although it still surprises me that I enjoy it so much (thanks, BFF!). My 12-year-old self wouldn’t recognize this version of me, but I think she’d be amused by the Loani Prior tea cosy I made this week – particularly the polo neck 🙂

Pot Sock Frock and Petticoat tea cosy.

Have you ever had one of those moments when, no matter how logical it may be, something you’ve heard or read or watched simply didn’t make sense? At our place we call it being ‘hard of understanding’ – it’s a polite way of telling someone that they’re being slow on the uptake.

This week I had just such a moment – or, more to the point, a series of moments. I tried using YouTube to learn how to do something called a provisional cast on. It’s a knitting thing – and is touted as being a most cunning cast-on technique with many applications. Whilst I’d heard about it from time to time from extreme knitters, I’d never found any need to figure it out. Until now.The fabled back room at Bendigo Woollen Mills

To make a short story long, I’ll rewind to July last year for some context. That’s when I trotted off to the Bendigo Sheep & Wool Show with my sister (an extreme knitter). She’d talked wistfully about wanting to go to Bendigo for a number of years and had waxed lyrical about the Aladdin’s cave of the fabled ‘back room’ at Bendigo Woollen Mills. I confess I was curious – particularly about the cave – and it seemed a good way to celebrate her retirement. So off we went for a few days of woolly, touristy fun.

On our second night we had dinner with a number of other knitters, many of whom were originally from Perth and stay in contact via email, Ravelry and the Bendigo weekend. I ended up sitting next to Nan Bray, the force behind White Gum Wool – and not from Perth. She told us a little about her journey from marine science to sheep farming and luxury wool production while we tucked into some local fare. Nan mentioned that the scarf she was wearing was an example of her new range ultrafine 12ply bouclé yarn. Although she explained that it was made from 14.8-micron lambs wool, I didn’t really grok what that meant until I felt it. It was silky smooth, delightfully soft and so squishy and touchable that if she’d had any for sale I’d have bought it on the spot – and I am not an impulse purchaser by any means.

So the next day I made it my mission to hunt down the White Gum Wool stand at a woolly-event. I was disappointed to find that the colour I’d fallen in love with (hawthorn) was sold out, but decided that I really needed some of that yarn – just to pat and cuddle. So I simply chose the next best option and bought a single 100g ball of Ultrafine Quarrystone Bouclé – and cuddled it all the way home 🙂

Now, a year later, cuddling the ball whenever I hunt through my stash of yarn is not enough. It was time to knit something that I could actually use. Luckily Ravellry came through (as usual) and  I found a pattern that uses exactly one ball of bouclé.

soft and swift cowlBut…. the starts with a provisional cast on… Fortunately there’s a veritable plethora of short instructional videos available on this topic online. I watched seven, yarn and needles in hand, pausing, replaying, pausing – until my brain overheated. It’s not that the technique is especially tricky, but it is fiddly – and the flying fingers and rapid instructions from the demonstrators, with no slow-down option available, made success problematic and reverse knitting my forte.

Much time, all (!) the videos and several scrapped attempts later, I eventually achieved success. But by then I’d concluded (a number of times) that I was a)definitely hard of understanding on the instructional video front, and b)never going to be an extreme knitter! Nevertheless, my deliciously squishy scarf is almost halfway there – although this does mean I’ll meed to revisit the land of scary how-to videos at some point to remind myself how to do Kitchener stitch to join the ends together… I see more hard of understanding moments ahead this week.

libraryI was chatting to our local branch librarian at our monthly knitting group the other day. Colleen reminds me very strongly of librarians of my childhood. They actively encouraged my reading exploits, turning a blind eye when I took out extra books on my Mum’s library card and never questioning the speed with which I returned books and claimed new ones.

In many ways the library was my second home when I was growing up, a source of endless entertainment. It never occurred to me that there might have been a time when libraries didn’t exist or – oh horror! – when people might think that they’re no  longer of value.

Librarians fight an uphill battle to ensure that libraries continue to be perceived as relevant. It’s no longer just about books. In order to keep up with the times, libraries need to lobby for extra funds and show statistics as to why they need to update their infrastructure. They introduce on-site coffee shops, provide play areas for littlies, computer terminals, Ebooks, video, internet access, talks and activities, as well as training courses. It’s all about providing what the customers need – or they simply won’t come through the doors.

Colleen isn’t at our library much at present as she’s been temporarily reassigned to one of the other branch libraries to get it up to speed. She’s started that process by clearing out a lot of unnecessary clutter, opening the space up and making it more attractive to users. This included getting rid of a truly dire decorative installation that had been in place for years, rehoming the old vhs recordings that nobody borrows anymore (old technology!) and updating the window displays to be interesting and inviting. The staff’s been given a bit of a shake up by all the changes, but seem to be coping pretty well.

I find the my loyalties are now well and truly split as to which library to use… particularly since Colleen has decided to introduce a once-a-moth daytime knitting session at library #2, starting on the first Thursday in April…

Luckily, the smartest card in my wallet works at both libraries – and going to both knitting groups just might result in my current project being completed by the end of winter 🙂


Remaining mentally active and maintaining strong and varied social contacts provides a surprising number of significant health benefits. It helps to reduce the risk of Alzheimers, promotes a longer lifespan and reduces stress, anxiety and depression. I’ve been thinking about this for a while – in fact ever since retirement later this year became an objective. How will I fill the many hours I will (hypothetically) have spare? I have any number of art, craft and writing projects I can finally fall upon like a starving wolf, but most of those can and will be done in isolation in my art shed or study. A little voice in my head tells me that I’ll need more than this, so a couple of months ago I decided I should probably start focusing on the issue now make life more fun for future-me.

I already do some volunteering and have no immediate desire to expand on that, but joining a couple of new social groups sounded plausible. Having decided this, the sociologist in me immediately started to think about the layers of complex verbal and non-verbal cues that would need to be decoded. Whilst many of these are resolved at a subconscious level, social encounters – particularly with new people – require a fair bit of interpretation. There’s always extra information that needs to be processed in any given situation in order to function effectively. This can be exhausting,  but in my experience it can also be stimulating, interesting – even amusing.

Of course, existing groups have their own dynamics, shared history, in-jokes and group behaviours and, as often as not, don’t actively reach out to include outsiders.  They are, after all, already formed and functional and very possibly don’t need to be outwardly focused. The more closely bonded the group, the more difficult it is to gain traction in it. A group of close friends who spend heaps of time together is generally a harder nut to crack than a social group that meets on a regular basis but doesn’t keep in regular contact between meetings – although this isn’t always the case. Either way, the need (of whatever sort and for what ever reason) is largely on the side of the person trying to join in – and it falls to them to do the running, to make the effort. This is obviously made easier if the group is at least somewhat accommodating, but the time and effort still needs to be put in by the wannabe participant.

So how does one go about cracking the code, finding the elusive cryptic clues or secret handshakes that will grease the social wheels sufficiently to promote easy social integration in new situations? In reality there is no one-size-fits-all solution to social interaction, no one thing that will simply make it happen. It takes determination, time, risk and the willingness to listen. Perhaps part of success in this also hinges on finding / choosing the right target audience.

After some thought, I hit on two options for my initial forays. The first of these was to join an aquarobics group at the local pool. This provides me with physical as well as mental stimulation, along with a fair bit of amusement a couple of times a week. My other selection, based on availability and ability,

was to join a knitting group with a friend. Settling in there has been slow going, but the assessing glances and pleasant (but distant) smiles became nods and smiles of recognition the second time round, then warm greetings the next time. We’re starting to fit in and I’ve started to remember some names – and some people seem to have remembered mine. I haven’t knitted much, but I do know quite a lot more about knitting projects that other people have completed (such as a wedding dress, jumpers, blankets, socks and knitted vegetables!) or have underway (just as varied). Common ground is slowly being uncovered – and I’m starting to look forward to the sessions – knitting, chatting, laughing, chocolate biscuits and all.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say mission accomplished, but I think I’m on my way.