Friday, 27 May 2011

Maeve and the Knitting Sailors

Actually, this title sounds like the name of an Irish folk band. Or the name of a good old raunchy sea shanty!

However, I was rather just musing about things when I was cycling into town this morning, and here are the results of my musings.

While my wheels went round and round, I was thinking of a short story I read a few days ago by Maeve Binchy – and an Irish writer is always a very suitable topic for an Irish online site. Yes, I confess I do like Maeve – she’s a great storyteller, and even I  do read some good chick lit sometimes! I hadn’t read any of her books for years though, and only recently picked them up again. Hardly remembering her stories from Victoria Line, Central Line (1978) when re-reading them, I was surprised how good they were! I think these stories have some ‘bite’, something which – while you expect nice and easy chick lit – makes you startle and think ‘oops, not quite what it seems here!’

One of the stories, ‘King’s Cross’, was about a secretary whose aim in life was to help talented women up the career ladder – those who were always pushed aside by less talented male managers who were just better in ‘playing the game’. No, I am not starting a gender war here, but what was so fascinating was that – at least in the story – it only needed a few changes for the woman in question to suddenly make her bosses take notice of her. It started off with improving the outer appearance: look more business-like, re-organise your office, use the benefits you are entitled to (like a clothing allowance or an office allowance) but then went on to self-respect. Once the woman in question realised that people respected her more when she actually claimed what was rightfully hers anyway – this also included her ideas which had been claimed by other people – she didn’t feel the need to make herself smaller no more.

Basically, it was all a question of how to market yourself, but of course it was so much more!

And I was musing about crafts and how it is often belittled, because for a long time it was seen as something that women just did – mostly for no rewards. Of course, that wasn’t always true, because traditionally, weavers were male, crocheting derived from fishermen mending their nets, and many sailors knitted during the long days at sea, but somehow, crafts were seen as either a female pasttime (think of Jane Austin’s women always embroidering or working on some hat) or a female necessity (making clothes, knitting, mending).

We haven’t quite marketed our crafts right yet. So do we need an ‘Eve’ (that was the secretary’s name) to give us the push to claim what is rightfully ours and gain respect?

How often do I hear the words ‘my granny knits’! It evokes an image of a benign elderly lady (complete with lace cap) who sits by the turf fire, balls of wool on her lap (or a cat or both), knitting an Aran jumper.

Now think of the knitting sailors. ‘My grandda used to knit while working on a ship’ just sounds different. I get a sense of adventure – sailors crossing the seven seas, sitting on deck and knitting, maybe singing raunchy sea shanties – one can nearly feel the wind on one’s face and smell the sea s, spray. Pure adventure!

So, thinking of Maeve and the knitting sailors, it is time we market the craft sector better and revamp its image. How much I may love sitting by the turf fire and have a purring cat on my lap, I rather have my knitting evoke a sense of adventure, crossing the seven seas, or even just crossing the channel tunnel in the Eurostar – as I’ve done many a times with my knitting.

Crafting is an adventure, not something we just do!

(The hat in the picture was actually knitted on a boat…ok, it was the Stranraer-Belfast ferry, but never mind…)

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