Yesterday was the monthly meeting of the Blue Mountains division of the NSW Knitters Guild, and, as usual, I went along. The very first meeting of the guild I went to was last year and coincidentally was straight after I had recorded the essay talking about the knitting group I attend on Sundays which meets at a pub in Newtown. In that essay I had spoken about how the group was fairly informal, that there were no minutes, no one had a ‘position’ in the hierarchy, and meetings just happened, and that that was different from many of the meetings I had attended in the past. Well the guild is different, it has a formal structure (sort of) and people with positions, and if there’s one in your area, you should go out and join them.<br/><br/>
Knitting guilds have been around a long time. But there are a few differences between the way they started and they way they run now. The first knitting guilds were exclusively male, now they are almost exclusively female. One of my continuing sources of amusement at the meetings I go to is that while there might be sixty or seventy people in the room, no one asks “Which one’s David?” if they’re trying to find me. And, of course, knitters guilds were originally professional organisations, today’s are largely for amateurs, although many have retail and other professional members too. Originally too, guilds were created to set standards and ensure people were competent to practise their craft, and that’s something that hasn’t changed too much.<br/><br/>
So why, when all the ‘hip’ knitting books are extolling the virtues of café and pub knitting, would you want to join an organisation that has its origins over 500 years ago? Because it’s fun.
Most knitters like to experiment. Yes there are many who contentedly knit scarves in garter stitch, and derive great enjoyment from it, but there are others who are always looking to try something new, boldly to go where no knitter has gone before, those who, when they find a new technique, want to try it out.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced it to some extent. When my copy of Victorian Lace Today arrived, I started making plans to knit some of the designs in the book (the lack of Knit-Picks needles is the only thing holding me back). It wasn’t just because of the stunning photographs and interesting designs, it’s also because I’d like to try that style of knitting, the lace work and knitted on border. The Icarus shawl is still on the needles, my first attempt at lace work of any size, but that doesn’t stop me wanting to start more. I’m guessing that it’s one of the reasons many people have so many unfinished objects – we start because we’re excited about a new technique, or a new yarn or pattern, and then something new comes along and we’re off again.<br/><br/>
And why? Because everyone likes learning something new. That’s where the guild comes in, as an organised way of learning things, it’s hard to beat. So far this year, the guild has had short workshops on short-row shaping, and improving garment making, and a full day workshop on feral knitting, with the short workshops being completely free and the full days very reasonably priced. That’s the advantage of the guild structure, because of its more formal procedures, it’s much easier for someone, in our case Raelene, to plan a set of workshops and organise speakers – something hard to do with the more casual format of Stitch ‘n’ Bitches.<br/><br/>
Guilds, probably because they started as a form of de facto industry quality control, also have more formal education and certification roles too. The NSW guild, and I’m sure many others have a curriculum of knitting techniques that will certainly improve your skills and ensure that you end up with a much better understanding of what you’re doing as you work on a garment. Our guild has a series of certificates you gain as you work through the levels of the curriculum (each costing less than $10). In the US the Knitting Guild Association has a very detailed and demanding curriculum that leads to the title of Master Knitter. I don’t think the NSW Guild awards titles, because Australians, as a rule, tend to play down visible signs of elitism. It’s the only place I know where “He’s an academic” is used as a term of derision.<br/><br/>
It’s not, however, the courses or even the library of a guild that has the repository of the knowledge, it’s the members. If you really want to learn how to do something, or how to fix a mistake, or how a yarn will work in a particular pattern, ask the other members.
Each meeting everyone is expected to stand up and show what they are working on, and say a few words about it, and of course, that is usually one of the highlights of the meeting. The breadth of things being knitted and the skill shown by so many of the members is amazing, it’s not surprising that so many of the ladies have one prizes in various shows.<br/><br/>
Now I don’t think there’d be many who disagree that the majority of members, at least in the Blue Mountains division, are older than the typical crowd you’d get at a pub knitting group. When people stand up, it is common for garments to be destined for grand children or even great-grand children, (although we do have some very young looking grandmas), and rarer for a garment to be destined for someone’s own child – so the wealth of experience in the room is enormous. And it’s a wealth of experience that the owners are happy to share.<br/><br/>
Now I know it can be a little daunting walking into a room of strangers for the first time, especially when you’re just starting out in a field that they’re experts in – but they won’t stay strangers for long. Start up the knitting and the conversation just flows (probably why the little bell gets such a work out trying to get people’s attention for the small amount of formal business that goes with the meetings). From a feeling of trepidation when I first walked into the guild last year, to knowing that I can sit down pretty much anywhere in the room and be accepted, has been a couple of meetings. And don’t be afraid that the topics of conversation will be “little old lady talk”, the conversation is just as diverse as at any pub knitting event.<br/><br/>
So get out there and join your local guild, share in the wealth of experience that these talented knitters have accumulated, get involved with the organisation. The guild is another example of the old adage that you get out of an organisation what you’re prepared to put in. Share the fun of just coming together to knit, and being a little part of history that goes back 500 years.