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High Five!!!

Originally published in Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 21, Summer 2017. Illustration by Evie Barrow, used with kind permission.

On ghost WIPs and knitting at parties

In case it hasn’t registered, Pom Pom is five years old and that’s cause for some serious celebration.

In an era when print is struggling and most magazines fold after their maiden issue, printing a 21st issue could be considered an achievement in and of itself. But Pom Pom continues to grow and flourish, building a community that supports both new and established knitters, designers and other assorted creatives. With sumptuous colour and enthusiasm to spare, Pom Pom lovingly advocates alternatives to mass-production and gently encourages creative diversity. Oddly, with the internet so ubiquitous, print now feels like a comparatively personal mode of communication, and buying a magazine is a conscious choice to be a part of something special. Damn, I’m proud to be a part of it! High fives all round!

I’ve been contributing to Pom Pom for more than half its life, starting with the Solja pattern in the Spring of 2014. My correspondence with Lydia and Meghan led them to invite me to contribute a regular column. The rest, as they say, is history. It is incredible to have the opportunity to write at length about topics that excite, puzzle and frustrate me, all viewed through a knitted lens. Sharing my thoughts is a responsibility I take seriously and enjoy immensely, but it is not something I would have realistically indulged in were it not for their invitation. The personal impact has been huge, so it is with great joy that I join in the celebration of these last five years. Time to party, before I get too emotional!

But what kind of party does this celebration warrant? From secret raves to intimate dinners, street parties to political parties (often doubling as sausage fests), baby showers to wedding anniversaries, somewhere among the many idiosyncratic configurations of gatherings that come under the giant marquee term ‘party’, there are knitting parties. They have their own special rules and associated behaviours, not least that they are parties where knitting is always acceptable. Quite frankly it’s what a lot of us would like to do at every party (and in more extreme cases, instead of attending parties).

So, let’s thank our lucky stitches for knitting parties, whether they rock up in the form of an exclusive, besties-only knit night, a special interest group retreat, World Wide Knit in Public Day or a giant festival.

But unlike many other wild parties, there are no associated illegal drugs. It is generally a case of wool sniffing, a good colour buzz and over-indulging in yarn, paired with wine, chocolate and tea. I’d like to think that’s partly because, rather than necessarily being straight edge or letter-of-the-law, we’re a decent lot who know you can get fairly-traded sugar, coffee, rum and fleece, but that most hallucinogens, opiates and amphetamines involve nefarious production and transportation modes intimately bound with so many forms of exploitation and the arms trade that in some cases they make blood diamonds look almost benign.

It’s all a question of scale and comparison.

Of course, knitting itself can be intoxicating. It certainly is addictive. It can be used for self-medication as an upper or a downer, and, just like other forms of inebriation, knitting provides some serious social lubrication.

Knitting parties are a win-win situation: all the celebratory companionship of a party, with less social awkwardness, AND you get to knit. As anyone who has attended a yarn festival or good knit night can attest to, it’s easy to feel part of a collective high. There is a warm, fuzzy feeling all round, and I don’t just mean from our woolly shawls.

At a knitting party, lack of eye contact isn’t an issue, there’s always something to talk about (knitting!), and there is the option not to talk (because you are counting). It’s more likely that you will have a crush on someone’s crafting skills than that you will be craftily trying to coerce them into sleeping with you (or vice versa), yet you still get to be intimate with strangers by stroking their knits and asking probing questions regarding the structure of their garment and yarn. Knitting parties are a win-win situation: all the celebratory companionship of a party, with less social awkwardness, AND you get to knit.

Plus, my fellow fidgeters, if I can knit at a party it means I’m not peeling labels off beer bottles, shredding coasters into confetti, making dollhouse lampshades out of wire champagne cork guards or poking my fingers in candle wax. I’ve considered adopting the Greek worry bead tradition of ‘komboloi’ or taking up one of the many religions that use beads. However, a show of such devotion might be equally out of place as knitting at a good knees-up (and produce less visually pleasing results), so I’ll stick with knitting. The truth is: if I am awake and am not engaging my digits in constructive use, I am fidgeting. I’m sure it must serve some sort of primal survival function, but I haven’t quite placed my finger on it yet. I like to think that my urge to craft is so strong that I can’t hang my busy fingers up at the door.

You’ve heard of phantom limb syndrome, the term used to describe the sensation amputees experience, feeling as though their missing limb is still present. I suffer from a lesser known affliction: ghost WIP. A WIP can become so much a part of me that it’s as if it’s still there even when it isn’t. There’s no RIP for a ghost WIP. In a sense it’s like when, after a day of strawberry picking, you close your eyes to go to sleep and can still see strawberries projected on the insides of your eyelids. Or how, after a day at sea, your body is still rocked by invisible waves, hours after disembarking. Whether it’s survival, a verdant imagination or your inner ear, it feels very real. When I’m experiencing a serious ghost WIP, it can be a big problem. Like being engrossed in a really good book, the rest of the world fades away in comparison to the all-consuming adventure I am on. I would rather not do anything else and all my conversations are with my spectral project, Talavera the Friendly Ghost WIP.

This can make going to parties tricky, unless I can knit there. If I have to attend parties where I keep my project tucked in a coat pocket, there’s always a little voice inside of me that says, “You know what would make this party even better?” Be that knitting or an extra shot (or 4) of tequila, there are always consequences and it’s important to weigh up the outcomes. When you go to a non-knitting party, caution is required. You must ask yourself if it is OK to whip out your WIP. Among folks who don’t know you can pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time (i.e. knit and converse AND eat snacks), you may need to make some concessions. Social norms must be constantly questioned and challenged, but they can also help things run smoothly and make most people comfortable. Unless you have pre-established that you are all knitters, knitting on a first date (whether romantic or with a group of new friends or colleagues) might not be the easiest path to friendship. As the sole knitter in a social situation, your actions risk being misinterpreted as disinterest. To the uninitiated, or those not blessed with the ability to multi-task, knitting appears like cracking open a book or spending time on your phone; a way to duck out of the proceedings and form a bubble around yourself to avoid being present.

Let’s be frank, while knitting at a party might help us focus and channel varying degrees of social awkwardness, it is most often about our personal pleasure and the opportunity to double up on fun stuff for a happiness explosion. It reminds me of an episode of Seinfeld in which George decides to do all his favourite things at once: eat a pastrami sandwich in bed and watch sport on a portable TV while engaging in foreplay. His sexual partner isn’t jazzed by this self-indulgent development (and to top it off, he later suffers from the inconvenient side effect of getting aroused whenever he eats). So can you have too much of a good thing? And can doubling our pleasure be inclusive to those around us? I suggest that as long as everyone is on board, why not up the ante by combining as many of our loves as we can. There ain’t no party like a knitting party!