Knitting was a compulsory subject when I was a child at school in Shetland. I was therefore a reluctant knitter. The teacher, Mrs Barclay, would shake her head when I pulled my knitting out of my school bag: crisp encrusted with bent needles, never any further on than the week before. However, my dad could see my potential. My tension was so tight I could turn wool into sheet metal.
I can get lost in the rhythm of someone knitting. I would sit for what may have been hours with our neighbour, Peerie Mary Laurenson, watching and listening as she brought together the different coloured wools to make a glove.
I remember the sound of her wires – the needles – and her fingernails clicking against each other. ‘Ein, twa, tree…’ she would count her stitches, in time to the weighted tuck tuck tuck of the clock, her reckoning sometimes thrown by the unhappy whine of her hearing aid.
And then there was her breathing. A short pull of breath as she freed more wool from the ball. A slow draw through her teeth as she worked out where she was in the pattern. Three sharper intakes at the end of each row.
I sat with her again last autumn. She hears little these days but she still clicks, she still counts, she still breathes with every stitch. And then, a hesitant smile, the apology of someone who, lost in her strands, fears she may have missed something you said.
© Shona Main 2010