Hello and welcome to my very first post!
This week I’ve been drafting an article based on a paper I gave last October at the Motherhood in Post-1968 European Women’s Writing Conference. It was on labouring mothers in contemporary women’s writing (specifically, I discussed texts such as Polly Clark’s poem, ‘Beheaded’, and Margaret Drabble’s 1965 novel, The Millstone) and I was lucky enough to have some great comments and questions. The organisers made a podcast of the panel I was in, which you can see here. The other speakers, Katarina Carlshamre and Alice Podkolinski, were excellent and the whole conference was wonderfully stimulating and enjoyable. So this week, I’ve been grappling with transforming what I thought were fairly coherent thoughts when I expressed them back in October into academic prose. It turns out that this involves a lot of unpicking, development and reorganisation of ideas. When I’m writing academic work I always envision a big tangled ball of wool, which I then have to untangle and rework. In short, I’m knitting with words.
Which reminded me, that actually I’ve also started knitting with wool very recently, too. I’m making a cowl- or an infinity scarf, depending on which term you prefer (I like ‘cowl’; it has a pleasing vowel sound to it and rhymes with ‘owl’). It’s a project that I began because generally, I like to have something to do with my hands that doesn’t involve staring at a computer screen, and my friend Catherine has recently been knitting beautiful items of clothing around the university during breaks. So naturally, I became inspired.
The first thing I did was find a decent beginners’ project book (here) and pick out the cowl. I chose this on the basis that the model in the picture looks a lot like my mum (or at least the back of her head!). Then I went to John Lewis and asked a very nice lady to help me choose the right wool. And so it began:
Not bad so far, right?
Anyway, sitting down to knit reminded me about the knitting metaphor I use about my own writing all the time. And I thought, this is women’s work too- that is, knitting is knowledge that has been passed down almost exclusively by women. Both of my grandmothers taught me how to knit a simple plain stitch; it was my mother I asked for help when I was struggling to cast on. And that reminded me also of the etymology of ‘text’, which is ‘weaving’. Women have been weaving for centuries.
Finally, the other weekend I went to Leeds Metropolitan University to attend a career development workshop run by the Contemporary Women’s Writing Association. Among the visiting speakers was academic mega-star Professor Susan Bassnett, who talked about her career in academia, and shared the strategies she used to use to deal with the overt institutional sexism once commonplace in universities. The first she mentioned? Knitting. She used to sit in committee meetings and knit socks. It annoyed the hell out of her male colleagues, but they couldn’t do a thing about it. And with this one little anecdote, the entire room – full of academic women at the very start of their careers, and some established names also – was in stitches.