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Pulling the wool over the eyes

Sarah Dean

It was when I went through the second elbow of my work jumper, that I realised I didn't have a single item of winter clothing that could be described as smart. Post-Christmas I was too skint for fully fair trade fashion, and a visit to a charity shop proved fruitless: the winter stock consisted of shorts and summer dresses. I was left with a choice. Either I could purchase cheap knitwear from the high street, (made by the bleeding fingers of small children in a sweatshop in Cambodia) and live with the guilt (and the change from a tenner), or I could knit myself a jumper. I logged onto Ravelry, which is like Facebook for knitters, except instead of people posting pictures of their babies and cats, they post pictures of their babies and cats in knitwear. The site hosts thousands of knitting patterns and I chose a simple crewneck, inspired by comments from other knitters who had finished it in a weekend. A new pullover to wear to work on Monday morning! The yarn I bought wasn't exactly what was specified but I figured I could work out some modifications, especially as it cost less than £10. 'Take that Primark!' I thought as I cast on. I was taught to knit by my Nan when I was little. I took it up again as friends began to have babies, churning out hats and cardigans for new-borns. I love it, the calming steady process, proven to lower heart rate and relieve stress. I like how if you make a mistake because, for example, you were knitting while tipsy on the bus on the way home from the pub, then you can unravel the yarn and reknit - the ultimate recycling or resurrection. Very satisfying. The most frustrating thing though is that the slightest variation in weight of the yarn or the tightness of your stitches compared to the written pattern can result in the garment being massively too big or too small. This is something you might not fully appreciate or learn until, like me, you decide to modify a pattern to match the cheap yarn you bought in a sale. My jumper did not take a weekend to knit. I cast it on three years ago and it still isn't finished. When I set out to make my own slow fashion, I hadn't expected it to be this slow. To date I have unravelled and reknit the pattern five times due to too-small neck holes, weird twisty sleeves, and versions that were wearable provided I didn't want to move my arms or breathe. Still, the re-knitting time gave me chance to reflect on my initial smugness and acknowledge that the yarn I bought was so cheap it is unlikely to have been dyed with flower petals or spun in a solar-powered factory. In fact it is likely to come from the sweatshops I was trying to avoid. In the end I couldn't wait any longer and I relented and bought a jumper for work on the high street. (BTW www.thegoodshoppingguide. com is a great resource that compares the ethical and green credentials of all the major high street stores so you can work out who to buy from.) They say the secret to a happy life is taking the time to enjoy the journey rather than striving for the destination. Likewise I have found that the joy of knitting is in the steady process of making the stitches rather than the wearing of the final too-tight pullover. Still here's hoping jumper number six actually fits.