Above: Esmerelda and a Soft Love cardi. Photo / Annabel Hawkins
Before phones were invented, people did things with their hands. Built things. Carefully fixed things. Slowly, quietly crafted something out of nothing. These people still exist. But less and less so. And I hate that I'm not one of them.
My mum is. And a beautiful one at that. Throughout my life, especially when things have been bad, there she's always been; her knitting at her side, on the couch next to me or through the other end of the phone line, the clicking of her needles stitching something together through the dark.
I get all afraid when I think about it - that if I don't learn to knit now, I never will, and this will break the lineage of women who came before me, who walked up hills in the teeth of the wind, raised families in tents in the rain, and spun wool until their fingers bled. All because I can't put my phone down long enough to learn.
Despite my misgivings, every winter when the sky covers over and I'm not tending to my deep need to spend every spare moment by the sea, I set my intentions to learn and fail every time.
I ask Sally, my mum, how it started for her, "I come from a lineage of strong farming women who spun and knitted for their families. It was about being practical, kind, and resourceful when there was often nothing. Knitting's always just been something I do, a part of me," she says.
I've always been in awe of it. The way, as kids, we had quilts and jumpers and all this soft love made by hand. The way mum's women would come with their boxes and rolls of wool and fabric and sit in our lounge for hours talking, stitching, sewing.
"I share a deep affinity with my knitting gals. It's a safe kinship when we come together and help one another with what we're working on. I ferry my knitting everywhere I go - it's always with me," she says.
There's a ritual to it too. We moved a lot growing up, but when I go back home to visit, it's what's most familiar to me. Pouring a brandy and dry. The fabric on the floor. The criss-crossed sheet of pattern paper with mum's knitting spilling onto the carpet. It's slow. Gentle. Cathartic. It always makes me want to make something.
"When I knit, I go into a sort of dreamlike state," Sally says. "It's fast, and slow at the same time - it's very healing and meditative."
It makes me think about my own rituals: home, yoga (good day), dinner, message message, scroll scroll, sleep sleep, repeat repeat. I wonder if it's this that's lacking. The time, the space, the making. It makes you want to go to Spotlight and spend your Sunday scrapbooking all your memories together with a hot glue gun if you're not careful.
Are we losing time to make or just try things? Our intense need to be productive feels so shit and capitalist sometimes. I think it makes me reluctant to spend time on things I won’t get quickfire validation or enjoyment from. This reminds me of epiphanies about ‘living simply’ I’ve had backpacking or Courtney Barnett's album title which I love and think about often, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit.
But perhaps after all this time (read: the pandemic) existing solely on the internet or digitally, we’re feeling a collective affection towards making things again. Ceramics, cross-stitch, and even cuter, funnier trends like cottagecore or the coastal grandmother. Give me something wholesome. Give me something handmade. Give me something to do with my goddamn hands while I wait this next bit out.
Perhaps it's because it just feels good to have something to touch. That you've made. Or someone else's mum has. Something that's imperfect or wobbly or just tangible and real.
Last Christmas I got my friend to design a Soft Love label for Sally’s knits and sometimes we sell them on Instagram and save the money to go to the gin bar together when I make it home, when we’re not too busy, when there’s enough time.
I've thought about my failure to knit and this sweet art a lot since leaving my 20s. On what my mum (and her mother, and her mother) have passed down to me and whether I have the same capacity to love someone (children) in such an endless and physical way. To keep making, to keep giving. It seems tiring and deep, and something you either have a desire and talent for or you don’t.
Yearnings and lessons aside, the thing is, we use our hands to cope with things. We drink, we touch, we reach out, we make. Out of the nothingness in front of us, if we can persevere through the feelings, we assemble things together, unafraid of making mistakes or something that isn't useful or beautiful, simply for the process of doing. That's the thing worth holding onto, whatever we choose it to be.