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Radio: A Gripping Yarn takes knitting seriously

If you're the presenter of Woman's Hour you're effectively radio royalty, so a programme fronted by you is likely to be worth taking seriously. Even if it's about knitting.

But taking knitting seriously was exactly the point of A Gripping Yarn (BBC Radio 4, Wednesday, 11am), Jane Garvey's peek behind the lace curtains wherein Britain's knitters dwell. Before long Garvey was rummaging around in an East London yarn shop called Prick Your Finger in the company of its owner, Rachel Matthews.

Garvey asked about some of the odder things from which you can make socks, hats, gloves and jumpers. Banana yarn and crab fibre were my favourites on the list until Garvey asked the inevitable question. "I have spun my own hair," said Matthews in response, "but it's not very nice. It's very prickly." So now you know.

Proof of knitting's revival came at Alexandra Palace, where a knitting fair was in progress.

Christine Kingdom of the UK Hand Knitting Association told Garvey that knitting's newly acquired cool was a result of the rise of the make-do-and-mend culture and continuing appeal of vintage.

She also opined that in the UK there are "at least" half a million male knitters, though she admitted that figure was arrived at through a combination of guesswork and hearsay.

Some men who definitely do knit are the convicts Brazilian fashion designer Raquel Guimaraes persuaded to help her create clothes for her label. For every three days spent knitting one and purling another, the lags get a day off their sentence.

For the historical overview bit - you always have to have that - Garvey turned to fashion historian Joanne Turney. And so we heard how all-female knitting circles were actually a cover for making clothes for soldiers during the American War of Independence, and we learned about "yarn bombing", which seems to involve knitting scarves for lamp posts. Mostly in Canada.

We ended, as any radio programme about knitting should, in Scandinavia, where an Icelandic composer has used knitting patterns as the starting point for a musical score and the Norwegians have taken the idea of "slow TV" to a new low by devoting a whole day's output to knitting.

"Could this," said Garvey over the metronomic click-clack of a set of knitting needles, "be the sound of prime-time Saturday night telly in the UK some time in the future?" To her credit, she did answer the question in the negative.

Contextual targeting label: 
Hobbies and general interest

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