SHOWING HOW IT’S DONE Mary Lavelle shows the tricks of the trade to Anton McNulty at the knit and stitch class at Turlough Park.
Fish out of Water
There are a number of things on the bucket list which you say to yourself I’d love to be do that or that’s something I’ll have to go a go. When backpacking through south-east Asia a few years ago, I did the compulsory thing to do and hired a scooter and loved it.
I said to myself I’ll have to learn to ride a proper motorbike when I get home but, alas, I’ve still not got around to it and, let’s be honest, it’s unlikely to happen..
Other things like learning to swim properly or learning a foreign language are probably more manageable and such more practical to tick off the list.
What hasn’t entered my radar is learning how to knit. In this throwaway society and ever cheaper clothing what’s the point in making your own socks or jumpers?
In recent years as the number of nieces and nephews has increased in my family, my mother has started to get the needles out and started churning out blankets and cardigans and all sorts. In the run-up to birthdays and Christmas, she has the sewing machine going ninety and would give a sweatshop worker a run for her money.
I thought ‘what is the point in killing yourself making something that a baby will wear only twice and probably get sick over it’? So, when I was asked to consider getting involved in something I would never dream of doing, knitting was top of the list.
I discovered that the good people in the National Museum of Country Life in Turlough have an education programme where they have knitting and crochet classes twice a month for all age groups. I contacted them and they said they would be delighted for me join.
So off I went and arrived in a room in Level C of the museum not knowing what I was getting myself into. The first mistake of the day was arriving with two arms as long as each other and forgetting to invest in a set of knitting needles and a ball of wool.
Thankfully one lady, Rose Geraghty, ensured my day was not a complete waste of time and lent me spare needles and a ball of wool.
The group has over 40 signed up members with an average of over 20 at the two hour long sessions but on this occasion only a dozen or so turned up.
As they each arrived with their bags of wool, I quickly noticed that I was the only man in the room.
“A man did come in one day,” explained Rose, “but we let him escape and he never came back. He had our measure taken.” Very reassuring I thought.
Rose, who is originally from Rathdowney in Co Laois, but living in Kiltimagh, agreed to show me the ropes and get me started. The other ladies were knitting slippers, toys, cardigans with all sorts of patterns but Rose said I would stick to the one pattern and try to make a bow tie.
Giving Jack a lash
As she started clicking away with the first line, the wool was moving so quickly from one needle to the next that it was hard to keep up. It was simple, she said, and added there was a rhyme which will help me remember what to do.
It went like this: ‘in through the front door and around the back, out through the window and off hopped Jack’.
It was my turn now. Just remember the rhyme and you’ll be grand, I told myself. Well I’m not sure if it was through the front door or the window I went in first but poor Jack was hopping from pillar to post in the first few attempts. Take it from me; it is not as easy as you think.
Thankfully, Rose has the patience of a saint and is a good teacher. Despite a few false starts I soon had Jack hopping in the right direction.
While not blowing my own trumpet, I have to say I wasn’t bad either and my new classmates thought I had it mastered. What I hadn’t mastered was the skill of holding a full blown conversation while knitting at the same time which the ladies had no problem with at all. It meant if I was talking I had to stop knitting and the progress was slow.
As I noted earlier, I was the only male in the room so it might be a surprise to hear the ladies generally agreed that the best knitters are often men – when they put their mind to it.
Breige Norris, who is originally from Donegal, said their family made Aran sweaters for Magee of Donegal and her two brothers were as good as the girls in her family. However, they didn’t want anyone to know they were knitters. They would knit on the stairs and if anyone came to the house, they would be able to run away up the stairs.
The group caters for national school classes and they noticed the boys often pick it up more quickly than the girls. “The girls are too flighty,” was Mary Lavelle’s theory on it and I’m sure there aren’t many men who’d disagree.
The two hours in Turlough House flew by and while I felt I did okay, my speed with the needles wasn’t the quickest and my bowtie was a long way from completion. I’m not saying I’ll be making my own socks soon but I could see in that short time why for many of the women, knitting is a form of drug. They have to be constantly at it and making something.
What I discovered is that the knitting group is a great social outlet and a place to meet up, swop patterns, share ideas, have the craic and well … gossip. But don’t worry, I won’t be divulging any secrets – what happens in knitting class stays in knitting class.