Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 21 - K for Knitting

 I have just returned from Britain Yearly Meeting where I observed several people knitting during sessions, although usually only during introductions and reports. I sat next to one woman and asked her why she was doing it. She replied that having something to do with her hands stilled her mind and stopped her becoming distracted. That seemed reasonable to me but unfortunately others found her hands' constant movement distracting and asked her to stop.

Illustration to QWG Swarthmore lecture
I have never knitted in meetings, partly because I am not proficient enough to knit without giving it most of my attention, but I do have some history with Friends and knitting. I was part of the Quaker Womens Group who were asked in 1983 to give the Swarthmore lecture. Over the next three years we read, researched and wrote. We met together to talk, edit and make decisions. During that process some of us also knitted and in the end we joked that we had produced not only a lecture and a book but several sweaters. We even used two of them to punningly illustrate part of a quotation from Mary Elson about the London women's meetings ' blessed be the name of the Lord who hath quickened and made alive unto himself and hath knit and tyed and bundled up and hath united us together in one spirit.'
An Ackworth School pin-ball with ribbon

Historically Quaker women and girls have sewn and knitted useful things, such as stockings. Pupils at Ackworth School sewed distinctive 'plain' samplers with geometric designs and subdued colours. They also made round knitted pin-balls (pincushions) in two halves, sometimes with a strip between to make them fatter and with a ribbon attached as a handle. Their designs often included mottos and initials and there are examples made to promote the anti-slavery cause.
Anti-slavery pin-ball front

Anti-slavery pin-ball back

Shetland knitting sheaths

The pin-balls were knitted in silk on very thin needles or 'makkin [making] wires'. To protect the knitter from the sharp ends of the needles and to make them easier to handle knitting sheaths were sometimes used. The narrow end of the knitting sheath was tucked into the right side of the knitter's skirt or apron, and the knitting needle was inserted into the open end among the quills.

Modern finger loom
When Rebecca Jones visited England from1784-8 she kept a memorandum book with a note of her expenses among other things. In Birmingham in 1787 she bought 3 pairs of ivory knitting pins for 2 shillings and 3 ivory finger looms (another way of knitting) for the same price. Rebecca also notes the 'Tokens of Love' which she was given by the Friends she travelled among. These include 'silk for knitting' from Elizabeth Hoyland, a 'Tin Case for knitting' from Esther Tuke and a 'Knitting Sheath' from S. Baker. Rebecca was an accomplished needlewoman so perhaps on her travels she was knitting pin-balls to give as tokens of love to others. She visited Ackworth School too and shared her experience of running a school so there may have been some cross-pollenation of ideas going on there!

Knitting then and now has both practical and spiritual aspects, as the introduction to the Woodbrooke course to be held in October this year called Knitting your Peace reminds us. 'Knitters know that the knitting process is a short cut to the bubble of inner peace. Whilst hands carry out the steady, rhythmic, repetitive movement of making each stitch with needles and yarn, hearts and minds are released to reflect on the here and now within ourselves, within our day, within our lives.' 


Anonymous said...

I was one of the people who was knitting in sessions. I've done this now for the last 2 years and on each occasion have asked permission in advance and explained that because of my ME I have concentration and processing difficulties and knitting makes a huge difference to how long I can stay in session. For me it is just as much an access issue as allowing my wheelchair into the premises. If I am knitting I can usually manage a couple of hours which feels wonderful. I make sure I use bamboo needles as they make no noise (well unless they hit my name badge) and often knit with my eyes closed as that also helps me to focus on the speakers. I also sit on the balcony where I am less likely to disturb people in the main body of the meeting and the clerks.

Robyn said...

The Friend, july 8, 1927
Knitting in Business Meetings
To the Editor,
When all Friends learn to speak briefly and to the point, busy women, who have left urgent duties to attend business meetings, will feel less need of the above mechanical activity to assist their powers of concentration.
Untill that time, I remain,
Thine Sincerely,

I have read this into minutes on several occasions.