Confessions of a ‘knitaholic’
A woolly obsession is sweeping the land. Harriot Lane Fox is hooked
My name is Harriot and I’m a knitaholic. There’s an embryonic scarf in my kitchen. Today I wasted hours making surplus mugs of Bovril in order to sneak in a few rows while the kettle boiled. Oh, that soft hand-dyed Welsh wool, the swishy glide of needle over needle.
Knitting lessons should carry a health warning. This granny-ish pastime is all the rage again, in case you didn’t know. Film stars clickety-clack away between takes, while young trendies are knitting in pubs and on the London Underground. But what nobody mentions is how addictive it is. Once you’ve got needles and wool, and know how to use them, you’ll have an itch that’s got to be scratched.
I blame Aneeta Patel. Until we met, I was a knitting ingénue with good genes – my mother makes Madame Defarge look like a slouch. I knitted one unwearable scarf under her tutelage, aged 14, and lost interest. Last winter, I tried again.
After several dull evenings going over the basics, I had a mutant practice square in acrylic, useless even as a potholder – hardly the prelude to a wardrobe full of glamorous knitwear.
In just two hours, Aneeta works miracles. Knitting nous pours from her. Dropping the right needle while winding the wool round the other one is not wrong, after all, but frightfully modern, she says. However I should be holding the loose needle with the finger tips of my left hand rather than resting it on my embonpoint. “Everyone can knit,” says Anita. “If you’ve never done it before but I see you two or three times every month, and you knit in between, I see no reason why I couldn’t start you with socks in four months – the sort you’ll want everyone to see.”
Aneeta is the Mozart of knitting. She learned when she was five and now writes patterns and holds classes at her flat in Stepney, east London. Pupils include City lawyers, school teachers from Australia and young mothers in burkas. “You can never tell who’s going to turn up,” she says.
Rather than booking a course, you join a class when you need one. Each lesson focuses on new skills – casting on, knitting and starting a new ball of wool in the first session – with a proper project, like my scarf, to practise them on at home. After three lessons, you tell Aneeta what you want to achieve (Brora-esque cashmere cardies, of course). Tonight in her sitting room, with Norah Jones playing in the background, the atmosphere is part How to Make an American Quilt (remember Winona Ryder at her grandmother’s quilting bee?), part secret meeting of knitting fundamentalist converts.
“I’m obsessed; I can’t stop looking at needles,” says Sam, a property entrepreneur, brandishing a new pair with toadstools on the ends. She’s only had one lesson but delves into a carrier bag to produce two beautiful scarves and a pair of baby bootees she taught herself how to make with Aneeta’s new book for absolute beginners, Knitty Gritty, the must-have accessory this winter. Sam is almost as big an inspiration as Aneeta. I’m going to teach myself to cast off and make a hippie fringe for my scarf, and then bootees for a new nephew, a wispy shawl for Christmas parties, and those wrist warmers. How many mugs of Bovril is that?