Saturday, June 4, 2016

Ashley Sterne The Knitting Habit

A light article from Ashley Sterne published in The Bendigo Independent (Victoria) on 18 September 1915.  The topic is the knitting of articles for the war effort.


We are now a nation of knitters.  Never since this docile and gentle industry was invented has it enjoyed such wide popularity.  Not so very long ago it occupied a very lowly place in our estimation; we were wont to regard it as the peculiar prerogative of maiden aunts, and the results of their toil as only fit to be thrust upon simple, trusting, non-critical heathen.  But to-day all is changed.  Young and beauteous girls have taken to the work as a teetotaller takes to water, and go where you will, you see naught but agile lingers transforming the virgin wool into articles of martial attire.

I got into a train the other day, and with difficulty managed to overcome the wool entanglements with which the vehicle was filled.  In one corner a lady was knitting a scarf with two needles; on the seat facing her, another lady was knitting a sock with four needles;  while next to her a lady constructing a complicated and intimate garment with a perfect scaffolding of needles.  On my left sat a curate, who was holding in truly clerical fashion a skein which his fair companion was winding into an oblate spheroid; and next to them was a mere child, who I at first thought was playing a one-handed game of cat's-cradle, but who, I subsequently learned, was crocheting a nice warm woollen watch chain.  The respective balls of wool continually kept falling on to the floor, and I served my country by filling the post of honorary wool-gatherer to the assembly, an office to which, I venture to think, I lent a certain amount of distinction in spite of my erroneously retrieving .and disentangling a string of what I took to be black wool, only to find that I had unwittingly unlaced the boots of hitherto entirely inoffensive passenger.

You will find the same zealous industry maintaining in the railway trams.  If any man a year ago had the temerity to travel to town in a carriage containing a large percentage of women, as is sometimes necessary, he did so with the full knowledge that he would have to endure a ceaseless flow of local gossip covering such widely diversified topics as the chameleon-like changes in the color of the youngest Miss Blithers' hair and the disgraceful fit of Mrs. Bodgers' new teeth.  But now, so engrossed are the ladles in their work that he may travel in a silence which is only occasionally broken by the dull thud of a dropped stitch.  There is no fear of his suffering an annoying distraction just as he is about to enjoy a picturesque description of how the Austrians evacuated Jlrovkzav and fell back upon Pklymelzwy; and the only interruption to which he may be liable will be an entirely voluntary excursion under the seat to capture a ball of wool seized with a too eager anxiety to get to the front.

In view of the excellent example the ladies are setting, it certainly seems a great pity that men are not more skilled in the Minervan arts.  Occasionally one encounters some ancient mariner at the seaside engaged in the task of knitting a jersey, a guernsey, or even the more complicated sark.  But as a general rule men look as awkward handling knitting-needles as would Colonel Newnham-Davis attempting to absorb a clam chowder with chopsticks.

Nevertheless the knitting knack is not difficult to acquire, given the necessary knitting-needles, wool and perseverance.  In default of the first-named requisite, meat-skewers may be used, but it is usual to remove the joint before using them, as otherwise it is apt to hamper your movements.  Wool may be obtained either direct from the back of a sheep or from a fancy-goods shop, the only difference being that in the former case the sheep will be fleeced, and in the latter — perhaps — yourself.  I may mention, however, that when purchasing the raw material over the counter it is not advisable to commence the transaction by asking "Have you any wool?" because it is more than likely that the damsel attending you will be unable to resist the temptation of replying. "Yes, sir. Three bags full"— an answer both flippant and evasive.

But, assuming that you have been able to conduct your purchase satisfactorily, your next step will be to cast stitches on to one of the needles (I forget which) by an exceedingly simple process which I regret I am unable to explain without losing my temper.  Having, then, cast on as many stitches as the needle will hold without bursting, you proceed to cast them off on to the other needle in the following manner.  Insert the unoccupied needle (a) into the stitch (b), wind the loose wool (c) round the end, pull (c) back through (b), when you will find an entirely new stitch impinged upon (a). Repeat the process till (a) is quite full, and then re-transfer to the original needle (d) until your — let us say — scarf has attained the desired proportions, or until you have got it into such a hopeless muddle that you are left with the alternative of unravelling it or buying a ready-made article.

Personally, I have adopted the latter course, as the scarf upon which I have been working since the beginning of November will not be finished, I am afraid, in time for the war; and, entre nous, it has twice been mistaken for a very open-work hammock.

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