My first knitting memory is from when I was about six or seven. I was in bed with a sore throat knitting a piece of stocking stitch – maybe a scarf or blanket for a doll. I could do knit stitches but not purl. My mother came into the room every so often and sat on the bed to do the purl rows for me.
Later we did knitting in my Scottish primary school. One afternoon a week the boys went off to do something mysterious with wood and nails while we girls did sewing and knitting. After the first rudimentary sewing trials – cross stitch on strange fabric with holes in it – our first important project was making a ‘lap-bag’. This useful item was basically an apron with a deep full-width pocket. Mine was cream. The teacher had a half a dozen dark brown shiny card templates and we were all able to choose one as a motif to embroider on the pocket. She traced round the template onto the fabric and we sewed running stitch in one colour of stranded cotton and then laced another colour through it to make a solid outline. Mine was a rabbit.
Once we had a lap-bag we could do knitting.
Knitting lessons started with us tying on our lap-bags. Our ball of wool remained in the pocket while we knit. When the lesson ended the knitting on the needles was stowed away and the lap-bag rolled up with our work safe inside, and tied into a bundle with the waist ties, ready for the next week.
The first school project I knit was a pan holder from two contrasting squares of DK garter stitch sewn together with blanket stitch. Mine was red and green. My mother was unimpressed when I gave it to her. ‘Red and green should not be seen, except upon an Irish Queen’ she said.
I don’t know how we got from pan-holders to socks, but we did. A later memory is of knitting socks in 4 ply on 4 needles. We had a choice of grey or fawn wool. When we finished the cuff the teacher sat at the front of the class and read the instructions out and we simultaneously turned the heel. I don’t remember what we did about the toes. Perhaps the teacher grafted them for us. I do remember they were gathered in at the end because when we came to claim them my pair, in fawn, was missing and a grey pair was left on the table. Classes were big in those days – there were 42 in the whole class so there must have been about 20 girls so I expect finding the right home for 20 grey or fawn pairs of socks was always going to be a bit hit and miss. I was miffed though.
The lap-bag was an important piece of kit for us girls. I often think, as I retrieve my yarn from under my chair, how useful it was. Mine has been lost in the intervening years. I think of it fondly from time to time.
Q. Do you remember learning to knit? And does anyone use a lap bag any more?