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Common Threads: Knitted memories

As someone who has knitted almost every day for the last 15 years, I have a wonderful collection of sweaters, hats, shawls and mittens, however I also have a collection of items that remind me of some of the significant moments of my life.

The huge grey shawl that was my first knitting project and was made during the breaks I took from revision for my first year exams; the bright yellow ‘Elibelinde sweater’ that I started in the sunshine on a farm in the Isle of Wight and the sparkly blue socks with flashes of rainbow that I knitted in the park when the rules of the first covid lockdown were easing.

A transitional project

However, it wasn’t until 2017 when I left what I thought was going to be my ‘career for life’ in the NHS, that I deliberately chose a knitting project to accompany this period of my life. This was not a change I had planned for, and many tears were shed in the process of accepting that this was the best way forward, and I felt a needed a big project to take me through this transition. I chose the ‘Starting Point’ shawl by Joji Locatelli which had been released as a mystery knit along a few months previously.

I had seen many beautiful versions on Instagram, and I felt the scale of this project meant that it would accompany me through my 3 month notice period and into setting up my new business in private practice.

The shawl is knitting in two pieces which are then knitted together in the centre right at the end – which I felt was a great metaphor for the two parts to my career. As psychologists, we talk a lot about transitions being challenging times, and I feel that having a big project to associate with this change allowed me to take the time I needed to adjust to the transition, and to allow myself not to have all the plans for my new business to be figured out on day one. I love that I now have a beautiful warm shawl that reminds me not only of getting through a difficult time in my life, but also of the skills I learned in the process.

A comfort blanket

During series one of the podcast, many knitters spoke about projects that reminded them of a particularly poignant time in their lives.

Betsan Corkhill, James McIntosh and LJ all spoke about items that they had made during periods of grief. They spoke about how the process of knitting was soothing during their bereavement, but also that they maintained this relationship with the finished item. For example, Betsan referred to the blanket she knitted following her mother’s death as her ‘comfort blanket’ and said that she continues to feel comforted by this many years later. James, however took a different approach and felt that his grief blanket had to be given away, in the same way that he had ‘given away’ his mum.

A container for emotions

Both Ros and James spoke about the idea of their knitting projects as somewhere they could put their difficult feelings.

Despite these often being very painful emotions, it seemed that their relationship with the finished item was a positive one – perhaps a sign of having felt all the pain and survived, and made something beautiful in the process.

An intentional souvenir

Other knitters spoke about knitted items being a souvenir of their travels, and also of staying at home during the recent lockdowns. Both Atia Azmi and Lauren Brennan spoke about intentionally selecting projects for their travels in order to then associate the finished items with memories of those trips in future. They also both mentioned the importance of knitting in navigating the periods of lockdown. Atia said ‘that Penguono project that I mentioned, just have a like a concrete like a souvenir of lockdown. Like because it was just a whole winter when I just spent with that project’.

Psychological theory suggests that sometimes when things are difficult a ‘transitional object’ can make us feel safe – like when a child takes their favourite toy with them on their first day of nursery. In a similar way, as knitters we are comforted by the projects that accompany in both the difficult and the joyful times in our lives, and once they leave the needles they continue to offer us comfort and a remind of how far we’ve come.

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