KNITTING TRADITIONS
  • KNITTING TRADITIONS

    KATHARINA HOGENKAMP JOURNALIST AND TRANSLATOR

    Katharina Hogenkamp, a German journalist and translator living in London, writes about fashion and sustainability in Europe and around the world. In her new column for the wearness, she reflects on the challenges of the throw-away society, the power of the community, and how to inspire other women for change.

    In her third column, she writes about her mother's passion for knitting and why she finds absurd that traditional handicrafts are held in great esteem in our society and yet are increasingly forgotten.

    Left stitch, right stitch: Lately I see it regularly in the subway on the way to work or in the afternoon in a café - people knitting in complete calmness. My mother also finds handicrafts relaxing. And if I have to be honest, I envy her for her talent and also for her patience.

    I used to watch my mom make or repair clothes and accessories for me and my brother by hand. Sweaters, caps, cardigans, scarves and socks, the whole range. Even today, she still knits regularly in a comfortable armchair in front of her own fireplace. In the process, very individual designs are created. Last year she gave me a pink knitted bikini - perfect for sunbathing. It's just a pity that the British summer rarely happens.

    The look was inspired by the 60s. My imagination: Françoise Hardy on the beach of St. Tropez. The Swinging Sixties have always been a fashion inspiration for me, this autumn as well. While outside temperatures are dropping, I long for cuddly knitwear pieces. I'm dreaming of a short woolen dress that actress Natalie Avelon wore in her role as Uschi Obermaier in one of the first scenes of my favourite film The Wild Life. The style of the 1968 icon is the reason why I have been clicking my way through online sales platforms like eBay or Etsy for weeks. I'm looking for the perfect second-hand mini dress. It should be knitted and in flattering A-line with slightly flared sleeves. In terms of fashion, I always knew what I wanted and what I didn't want. The search remained largely unsuccessful, I remembered my bikini brand Mama. I thought: What could be more beautiful than a selfknitted dress?

    I continued my research online. This time I was looking for sample books. There were dozens to choose from, and at some point I even found a magazine from GDR times. Yes, you've read correctly, in the depths of the Internet sometimes quite astonishing things open up.

    My principle is: whoever seeks, finds. This applies especially to everything that has to do with second-hand goods or environmentally friendly alternatives for everyday life. We don't have to reinvent the wheel every time we do a project, but rather return to traditional methods here and there.

    Knitting has a long tradition and a long history. It is still assumed today that the technology is older than weaving and had its origin in the Middle East in the High Middle Ages (11th to 13th century). It is assumed that the craftsmanship of handicraft was then brought to Europe via the Silk Road. However, it is not possible to determine the exact origin and time. This is due to the fact that high-quality knitwear made of pure natural fibres dissolves over time. Modern knitwear, on the other hand, is usually made from a blended fabric. This type of textile consists at least in part of synthetic man-made fibres. Natural cotton or mohair, for example, are often mixed with polyacrylic or polyamide. This achieves additional fibre properties and makes the yarn more robust, but also more difficult to degrade. Added are some toxic chemicals that are used to bind the color pigments in clothing, including halogen compounds or heavy metals such as lead. Sounds creepy? I agree! And I don't even need to mention the consequences for our health.

    For my knitted dress in the 60s style, my mum and I therefore looked together for a more environmentally friendly alternative. Ideally, it should be pure cashmere yarn that had been naturally covered, processed and dyed if necessary.

    But unfortunately it is extremely difficult to find nowadays and it's certainly not cheap. In addition, only a few brands are one hundred percent transparent as far as the manufacturing process is concerned.

    Cashmere wool has its roots in the high Kashmir valley in the North Indian region of Jammu-Kashmir. Nomadic peoples already covered themselves over 3000 years ago with the extraordinarily warming fur of the cashmere goat until the luxurious fabric began to spread to the western world. It is luxurious because there are still only a few places where the cashmere goats can be kept. China and Tibet as well as Mongolia and Nepal are at the top of the list of countries of origin for the fine fibre. Breeding is expensive and the transport routes to Europe are long.

    For a completely sustainable knitted dress I would probably have to run my own small cashmere goat farm. In London? Difficult. In the family garden? Hardly. I can imagine my mum knitting in an armchair, but not as a shepherdess.

    Especially in the cold season, knitting is an activity that can be done on the sofa alone or with friends. We can help shape the future ourselves and pass something on to our children. My dream dress is not just a dress, but the (Christmas) wish to rediscover the magical connection between man and nature. In a well-known fairy tale it says: "Do you know what the problem with this world is? Everyone expects a magic solution to their problems, but nobody believes in magic." Perhaps for this reason alone it is worthwhile to continue knitting old traditions in the future and to encounter the miracle with open arms (or with a knitting needle).

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