What Not To Knit – or ‘instructions on how to mentally scar a child via the medium of knitwear’.
I love to knit, and I love knitted things, but some items should just never be made with needles and wool. Televisions, for example, do not function very well if solely composed of yarn. Knitted Boeing 747s just don’t posses the requisite structural qualities to get them up into the sky and keep them there. Worse than either of these madcap ideas, though, is the knitted swimsuit.
Circa 1964, a lovely and much missed woman by the name of Nellie Street sat down in her favourite armchair, fished into her knitting bag for the right sized needles and the yarn she had chosen, and cast on her stitches. She wasn’t knitting another bolero jacket, her garment of choice (though, of course, a matching bolero jacket would be coming later). No, she was casting on the stitches for a swimsuit.
Auntie Nell wasn’t my aunt (rather, she was my great aunt) and she wasn’t knitting the swimsuit for me (just how old do you think I am?!), but the knitted swimsuit is voracious in its appetite for mental destruction, and as such it transcends generations.
Now, I look quite happy there. I don’t look distraught at wearing my knitted swimsuit, and for a very good reason. Astute readers will notice the distinct lack of sea, or indeed water of any volume, surrounding me. I am in a doorway, dry. Probably quite warm, because my outfit would point towards it being a warm day, and I am dressed in pure wool, but at least it is dry wool. It was not usually this way.
This picture was probably taken before the torture of being lead down the road to the beach, where I would be encouraged and pretty much obliged to immerse myself and my woollen swimsuit into the English Channel, whereupon it would absorb the entire ocean and there was a time window of about 6 hours during which people could simply drive across the dry ocean floor as the channel slowly re-filled whilst my sodden swimsuit slowly drip-dried.
If I suffer from back pain later in life, it will have been prompted by being forced to wear the heaviest swimsuit in history. Wool, you see, is rather absorbent. If you’ve ever read the label on a sweater that says ‘dry flat’ there’s a reason for that salient advice; hang it up whilst it is wet and it will be three times as long when it is dry, because of the weight of the slowly escaping water.
This swimsuit was not a garment for modesty. If you were to observe a 4 year old Mimi emerging from the water you would observe that her ankles were now quite well covered and that she had developed an awkward gait due to the fact that her swimsuit weighed as much as a family car.
Firstly, you’ll see that it is basically a pair of short, woollen dungarees. Secondly, note that the relatively thin shoulder straps provided no resistance to the weight of the water. Next you might behold the lovely pink colour. Oh, and don’t forget the ever-present bolero jacket. The kicker, though, is the intarsia work of two little blue sea-horses. You can barely make them out on the photo, but they are what I remember most. It is my belief that they were put there to put people in absolutely no doubt that this was a swimsuit. It would have made a perfectly nice play-suit, but no, it is a swimsuit – look at the sea-horses!
Thank goodness for the bolero jacket though. As you spend six hours drip-drying in soaking, itchy wool, now full of sand, you might get a little chilly around those shoulders. You’d better cover up – don’t want to catch a chill, now.
Despite the years of misery caused by this swimsuit, I wish I still had it. Not to pass down to anyone (heaven forbid), but just as further proof that a lovely lady once sat down and knitted a swimsuit out of wool, and someone (two people spanning two generations, in fact) actually wore it.