Thursday, 10 July 2008

Knotting - knitting and narrowboats.

Why knotty knitting? My sister and I took our narrow boat from Furness Vale on the Peak Forest Canal to Chester a couple of years ago. It took us a week and we had lots of fun and adventures on the way - some of them will never be revealed. On arrival in Chester we, metaphorically, ran into a boat with several Dutch people on board. Both my sister and I had been knitting at various stages of the journey; I was steering into moorings and my sister was standing beside me knitting. We heard a shriek from the other boat: "There's a woman over there, knotting. Look, on that boat, she's knotting!" And so knotty knitting was born, in memory of that linguistic error which seemed so apt. My interest in the women of the canals grew when I was looking for books about narrowboats and the lives of the people who lived and worked on them before they became part of the leisure industry. There are very few books written from the perspective of the women but many from an engineering or industrial view point. I wanted to know what it was like to live and work on a narrowboat, to bring your family up in one tiny cabin, to steer the boat, look after the horse, cook, clean, wash, have babies, all with a husband who was off brokering the next deal or loading cargo. At last I found a book and loved it for its tales of just this sort of life. The contrast between the lives of these women in the first half of the 20th century and my own where narrowboating is a leisure activity prized for its peaceful and gentle way of life couldn't be greater. What woman toiling away in all weathers, losing her children to the multiple accidents of a very dangerous life, and destined for an early grave, would ever have imagined that one day people would do this for fun? One occupation which ran alongside everything else they did was knitting. Women steered narrowboats with the tiller tucked under one arm, a baby swaddled or feeding under the other, and both hands occupied with needles and wool. As I struggle into a tight lock or between moored boats I realise that for these women multi-tasking was not just a way of life it was a necessity. And so in tribute to these harworking, talented and forgotten women I knit whenever I can. Yes, I have managed to do it while steering, only for a few minutes and only when there was a perfectly straight stretch of canal and no other boats in sight. But my knitting and my love of narrowboats is intertwined and knotting is shorthand for this.

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