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Strangers #14 & #15 Jamo and Matt - Australian Yarn Show

‘Sometimes, people come up to me when I am knitting and they say things like, "Oh, I wish I could knit, but I'm just not the kind of person who can sit and waste time like that." How can knitting be wasting time? First, I never just knit; I knit and think, knit and listen, knit and watch. Second, you aren't wasting time if you get a useful or beautiful object at the end of it.’

The weather has turned.  Warm sun with a cool breeze, cooler evenings and nights.  The trees are doing their thing and turning shades of red, orange and yellow.  Now is exactly the time I start to think about making more blankets out of crochet.  I have one ripple blanket I started in September that had got to the stage it covered my legs as I worked.  It has been too hot in our apartment to bear having such a heavy, large and warm thing over me.  I will get back to it as soon as I have finished the current project.  

All crafters I know, and probably all the crafters I am yet to meet, have far more in their stash than they are ever going to use.  The beautiful, attractive and tempting balls, skeins and threads on offer in most outlets are too tempting for most of us.   The inaugural Australian Yarn Show, here in Canberra, is offering all those temptations on steroids! Stalls of makers, producers, dyers, growers and producers of accessories for makers (think stitch markers, notions, tools and bags, every crafter needs these things)  There will be standard wool and cotton but also fibre made from gum leaves, from recycled fibre like denim, from rabbits, alpacas and silk.  I am attending to wind skeins to balls with the Canberra Knitters and Crocheters as a fundraising exercise for a local charity.  

As we walk in the venue my friend, Lucy, and I can feel the excitement.  A queue of jittery people, mainly women, of all ages, are just itching to get in.  Once inside we set up the swifts and winders needed to do the job and we have a queue in no time.  Most people do not want to wind their own balls, it seems.

Part of the Australian Yarn Show is connecting people.  Industry to buyers, makers and designers to industry and buyers, and all makers to each other.  Caterina Sullivan and her husband John Suvalez started planning this extravaganza on their honeymoon last year.  They have a big dream of connecting makers and producers and growing a community, at the same time as lifting the profile of fibre arts in the political arena.  People who craft spend money and vote!  

Usually seen as the domain of women, and carried out in a domestic setting, fibre arts have never been given the recognition they deserve.  Fibre arts and the people who love them are a growing number.  Last year National Seniors ran a story about Anne Stewart and her business pivot during Covid.  Stewart tapped into the growing makers market to offer a tour to New Zealand to visit makers and producers and speciality shops.  The tour booked out in record time.  

The evidence for this growing market is the number of people who not only buy yarn, but join groups to connect with others who do the same thing.  Maybe it was a way of finding things to do to fill time during Covid lockdowns? Or a way of connecting with something from the past?  Members of Facebook pages, like the 21,400 members of the Australian Knitters United, have a common story about learning how to knit when young but not continuing when life was busy.  They can now see the benefits of the social connection, the practical items and the increase in well-being such activities bring.

While winding and untangling yarns at the show, I stand close enough to hear the panel discussion about well-being and craft.  Mark (aka Jamo) of Jamo Designs talks about his journey from non-crafter to maker and designer.  Jamo went from an illness that required him to rest to a skilled knitter in some months. He and his partner now run Jamo Designs while holding down other jobs.  

When my winding shift is finished I seek Jamo out.  Born in the UK, with a Newcastle-Scottish accent that has been tempered with his years in Adelaide, he is wearing a denim kilt with proper kilt pins and buckles, one of his shadow knitted shawls and a flatcap.  We head around the back of the stall for a chat.  Jamo tells me his partner instructed him to sell his garments as they were in danger of drowning under a weight of shawls, beanies and jumpers.  Jamo has a day job which involves a commute from outside Adelaide to the centre.  The train ride is now fun as there is a growing group of commuters who chat with each other, share their stories and craft and really care for each other.  This group grew from a few people interested in Jamo’s craft.  He was taught how to knit by a friend as he was bored when on rest for medical reasons.  It only took 20 rows of plain and purl for him to become addicted.  It is the meditative, repetitive but at the same time creative aspect that thrills him.  We return to the stall so he can restock the shelves.  

I chat to Matt, his partner both in business and in life.  Dressed in a fitting, classy floral shirt, Matt tells me he crafts too and has recently got into dying.  He points to the neatly arranged rows of bright colours hanging on a stand.  Matt gets distracted and chats to a woman holding a granny square bag her brother in law has made.  He has a matching design in different colours.  He is choosing new yarn for a brioche jumper.  Matt is assisting with the choice of colour and instructions about a safety or life line. (Broiche knitting is complicated; a safety line can prevent having to frog an entire garment).  Matt returns to me to point out the shawls on the wall, above my head, to spruik the pattern.  I know how to knit but don’t; too many stitches, and you have to follow a pattern.  I explain this to him.  

Once over the initial stress of learning how to knit or crochet the repetitive action induces a meditative-like state that can be done in most places, if the project is not too big.  It is estimated that one third of the women aged between 25 and 35, in the US, now knit or crochet.  I know that I crochet so I don’t stab people.  The action lowers heart rates and cortisol levels and, unlike meditation or mindfulness practice, gives you something tangible and useful to look back on.  I always photograph my finished articles so I have some inspiration for later and for others.  I usually post my blankets on social media groups and am often overwhelmed by the response I get.  My last blanket got over 400 likes and over 100 comments telling me how wonderful it was, how clever I was, and my colour sense is wicked.  That has got to be good for self-esteem.  

The benefits of knitting go beyond wellbeing though.  A therapist in Canada uses knitting classes to assist people give up smoking and in her Knit to Heal classes she brings people together who have had a cancer diagnosis or other serious illness.  Knitting is used in prisons and youth justice centres as a meditative practice and the staff report enhanced social skills amongst the participants.  Complex knitting patterns can also be used as a way of teaching maths skills to school children.  A therapist in Bath, UK, Betsan Corkhill, set up a webpage Stitchlink to explore the therapeutic benefits of knitting.  The website reports that people who knit have better short term memory, can deal with chronic pain better and have enhanced social skills.  Other research has investigated if knitters have less decline in memory as they age.

The intention of the Australian Yarn Show was not just to bring buyers and sellers together but to bring together a community of fibre arts crafters who could share their joy.  I sat next to Sally Johnson of Society Knits during the Community Dinner on Saturday.  Johnson’s shop, located in Wagga Wagga (said Wogga, to those who are unfamiliar) aims to “Showcase fibre businesses that thoroughly trace the origins of their products to Australia”. She is also a GP and has two pre-school children.  Johnson had spoken on the panel about wellbeing in the morning.  She pointed out that although crafting is good for wellbeing there can be hazards: carpal tunnel syndrome, increase in back and hand pain.  She offered ways to overcome this: pay attention to posture, sit up straight, in a comfy chair that supports your back.  Take breaks, use different hooks or needles to change your hand position. Stretch.  

At the dinner, Johnson and I, do the planned get to know you activities together.  Her pleasant manner suggests to me that she would be a great GP; gentle but with gravitas.  I wonder how she manages to fit all these things into her life.  Bringing together family, business and work seems like a complicated knitting pattern that would defeat me.  She explains she has divided her week into separate days so she never does the same thing two days running.  It is working for the time being, or until someone, usually a toddler, gets sick.  Then everything shifts to accommodate that.

In the North of England in a time when most people knitted; men, women and children, knitting was used as a way to supplement income.  So more time could be devoted to knitting, sticks or sheaths were carved to hold the needle.  Often given as love tokens, they were hand

Image: Northern Echo

carved by the men of a village.  They are a piece of carved wood with holes in for the needle(s) that would be tucked under an arm or threaded onto a belt.  This enabled the knitter to knit faster and to be able to use one hand to do other things if required without putting down the needles.  The knitting sticks allowed for knitting while walking to lead mines or woollen mills, while going to church or in the evenings with family around a fire.  

Knitting sticks have gone out of fashion now but there is still a vestige of them in the Knit and Natter Group I attended in Askrigg in 2016.  Each Monday afternoon at the Crown Inn, Askrigg, a group of women would come together to chat, knit, crochet, pass on skills and admire the huge talent of each other.  Many of the women were born and bred in those parts and tucked their knitting needles under one arm, just as their mothers and grandmothers did. 

At the end of the dinner I emerge from the Rydges Hotel into the dark but still warm Autumn air of Canberra, moving away from the cocoon of the crafters.  I have much to ponder and a project to get on with when I get home.  Maybe knitting sticks will come back into fashion and we will see them at the stalls of accessories at the next Australian Yarn Show?

Note: For the record I have four works in progress (WIPs) on the go.  I am currently doing a Crochet A Long (CAL) by Insomnia Crochet, a temperature blanket, a Tetris blanket and a ripple blanket by Attic 24.  I did not add to my stash at the show but I did buy some lovely stitch markers by Eleventyone Windmills, and was given a skein of Myrtle eucalyptus yarn, “Sustainable and Compostable Vegan Silk” in my favourite colour at the moment, pillar-box red.


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