"These Charming Knitteds Will Flatter.." - A Brief Look At Knitting & Language


When Caroline posted this photo to her Instagram account, I don't think she expected the discussion to revolve around the language usage in the caption.

Lately we have had some great discussions about knitting language at the great round-table of Twitter. What is the right past tense of the verb "to knit"; is it more correct to say "I knitted a hat last night" or "I knit a hat last night"; why"knit/knitted" but not "knat"? Susan posted a lovely poem from 1915 as part of that discussion.

Caroline's photo didn't spawn as big a discussion, but several people noted the odd phrasing. "Larger sized knitteds are so often.."


I was sure I could explain this odd word, but first let's cast an eye at the word itself. A Google search throws up about 10,600 results, most of which refer to an outdated way of referring to knitted items (particularly baby items). Geographically I mostly get referrals to Antipodean knitting sites. My favourite dictionary tool gave me many results, but all of them gave "knitted" as an adjective or as a verb - not as a noun.

So, what is my explanation for this curious language usage? I am not saying it is necessarily the right explanation but it is a likely explanation. Please add your thoughts in the comments!

First, we need to look at figures of speech. Everyone has heard of metaphors:

Martha is a gem.Martha isn't actually a precious stone, but the word "gem" is used so we can all see that Martha is precious and valued.

Knitting with this yarn is like knitting with butter. The yarn isn't actually a greasy dairy product, but its qualities are likened to the softness or pliability of butter. This is a specific type of metaphor that is called a simile (note: although I have seen the butter simile used often in knitting contexts, I must admit it still baffles me).

Then we move to a figure of speech that fewer people have heard of - metonymy. While metaphor draws comparisons between two very different things (Martha & a gemstone; yarn & butter), metonymy refers to something already associated or related.

Jane downloaded Arcade Fire last night. Jane did not download an entire Canadian band last night, you know. Here the band name does not refer to the actual, physical incarnation of the band but their music.

And via metaphor, simile and metonymy, we get to the figure of speech known as synecdoche. Synecdoche is when a part of something is used to refer to the whole. Confused? I promise you use synecdoches all the time without realising it.

I'll get my needles. Any knitter will know that actually means "hang on, I'll get my knitting project which comprises yarn, knitting needles, and possibly a pattern".

Harriet put on her woollies. This is a quaint British English phrase which essentially means that Harriet is putting on a woollen jumper. The jumper's material becomes short-hand for the jumper itself

Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song .. even the Beatles understood the value of a good synecdoche. They just want you to listen, not do a Van Gogh (and "to do a Van Gogh" is a metonymical figure of speech!).

But where does all that leave us? When Caroline posted her photo, I began wondering if "knitteds" is not a synecdochical noun phrase (!). Much like Harriet's jumper, the material quality of the item becomes short-hand for the item itself. A hand-knitted cardigan or hat become "knitteds" - the adjective "hand-knitted" is shorted to "knitted" and is turned into a noun which can become pluralised whenever needed.

And suddenly something that looked like very strange grammar in an old knitting magazine can suddenly look like charming shorthand for discerning knitters.

I love language.


Visual poetry: a poetry form in which the shape of the poem is as important as the words themselves. The Scottish poet and gardener Ian Hamilton Smith combined gardening, sculptures and poetry to great effect. The woods around Bennachie yield beautiful surprises as you walk around in them:  words carved in stone, sentences arranged amongst branches and trunks.  I live far from Bennachie, but I live very close to The Glasgow Arboretum (you can almost see my home in the photo) where you can also find fragments of poetry scattered among the trees. My winter mitts? A fairly quick, uncomplicated knit. I used a pattern I found in The Knitting Book and yarn given to me by my mother. I have tiny hands, so went down a few needle sizes and I also added thumbs. The yarn matches a cowl and a hat I made earlier, so I'm all set for winter now. Bring it on.

I am spending today swatching for a future project/design. I played around with charts in Excel earlier and now I'm trying to figure out which texture I like best. It is always fun trying to strike a balance between my personal aesthetics, an imagined level of difficulty, and the actual purpose of the pattern.

I had a quick Twitter exchange with a few people after I came up with a true lace chart (i.e. lace knitted on both sides). I loved the idea of the pattern, but when I started to work it up in 4ply I knew it did not work in such a relatively heavy yarn. Twitterati consensus was that true lace is scary. I don't think this is necessarily true, but I know that this is what many people feel. Honestly, this project is not one for 'scary' lace so that chart was shelved alongside many other charts. Hopefully I will find the right project for it at some point.

Meanwhile I have come up with another chart - or, rather, four different versions of the same chart. I am busy swatching trying to figure out which version works best. I'm using some leftover Old Maiden Aunt merino/silk for the swatches. I need more of this yarn, I really do. It's beautiful to work with on my new Addi bamboo needles.

Finally, the soundtrack for work: I rediscovered this album this morning. The light is pale and thin. Like you. Has it really been 19 years?


A linguist friend once told me about a second language acquisition theory: different people store languages in different ways. Some brains work like a giant filing cabinet: words, phrases, idioms and syntax are all neatly filed away so the brain goes to the cabinet, looks in the Spanish drawer, cross-references this with the English drawer and consults the syntax section before proceeding. Other brains have languages stacked on top of each other and perform advanced archaeological excavations every time they need to switch from one language to another. Guess which type of brain I have.

Ten days in Denmark. The longest I have been back since my big move some four years ago. Today I was standing in my local supermarket wondering why an elderly couple was speaking Danish. As it turned out, they were not - but right now my brain automatically assumes background noise must be in Danish and I have to makes a conscious decision in order to recognise the language as Scots English. Likewise, I'm searching for words: what's English for parabolantenner or 'Bare på beløbet, tak'? I know these words, of course, but I have to dig deep before they pop into my head.

Interestingly enough, I only have these problems with spoken language, not written. I'm sure there is a perfectly good (neurological) reason for this.

However, I refuse to believe there is a valid neurological explanation for the way the Danish language is being mangled by people who really ought to know better. Danish is being invaded by English - and it is not even correct English in many instances. I have never been a militant language purist (the way I acquire and use language prevents me from being too holier-than-thou) but I think I am becoming an old grumpy lady. WHY write "den perfect carwash du altid har drømt om" when the correct phrasing would be "den perfekte bilvask du altid har drømt om". WHY WHY did my gran's woman's weekly write about "en crunchy banankage" when Danish already has several words meaning "crunchy" AND most of the magazine's readers do not understand English in the first place? WHY WHY WHY would a major national newspaper gleefully write "livet er one long bundy jump" in the middle of an interview with a Danish designer thus mangling BOTH Danish and English? I nearly cracked when I was sitting next to a bunch of Swedish golf-buddies on the plane back to Scotland who kept shouting "EXACT!" but I'm told that is a valid Swedish expression which admittedly feels a bit deflating after I've been foaming at the mouth since Monday night.

Last day of my holiday today. I shall celebrate with some knitting and some tidying. I finished reading David Mitchell's latest novel last night but I need to mull over it before writing anything about it.

Something for the Weekend

My new autumnal knitting project. I started working on it last night whilst watching Digging for Britain, a programme about British archaeology. When I was a teen I wanted to be an archaeologist specialising in Neolithic sites (you get a lot of those where I grew up). Then I went out on work placement and realised that the majority of the job consisted in mapping the landscape and measuring soil depths. Clearly not my thing, but I still love learning about middens, neolithic settlements, and migration patterns. As you can imagine, I've always been a riot at parties. Anyway. Knitting.

I am completely smitten with the new Kim Hargreaves collection, Touching Elegance. It ticks a lot of my boxes: sumptuous colours, defined silhouettes, 1920s/1930s styling and copious amounts of warm fibres. I was torn between Eleanor, Ella, Nancy, Mae, Nellie, Isadora, Patsy and Delores - I told you I was smitten - and have sort of hedged my bets a bit (more on that later when I figure out if I'm right in doing what I'm doing). The collection feels a lot more grown up than my usual thing, but I think the colour palette has a lot to do with that. As you can tell from the photo, I have chosen a less than sombre colour - Rowan Baby Alpaca in Cherry Red, kittens.

Also in the photo: fabric. It's a long story but I have been roped into doing a public sewing demo next week. Don't ask. I'll be making an Amy Butler Barcelona skirt complete with lining and a hidden zipper. I'm petrified as I have not done any sewing for about two decades and all my sewing terminology is in Danish. Sewers everywhere, weep for your art and craft. On the plus side, I got to choose the fabric myself and I cunningly chose a design which matches my autumn knitting project. It'll be fine but I will be poring over sewing instructions and blogs the next few days.

Also on the agenda the next few days: a Joseph Beuys exhibition (I'm not huge fan of Fluxus, but I also have to step outside of my comfort zone now and then) and DK:KNIT, an exhibition on experimental knitting design hosted by the Danish Cultural Institute in Edinburgh (this means I'll be in Edinburgh on Monday, by the way. Give me a shout if you want to meet up for coffee).

Assorted linkage: Other Half loves this poster but I just cannot get beyond how Freudian it is. Or is it just me? Save the Words! is a beautiful application although most of the words are surely inkhorn terms. And this Icelandic jumper spotted at the Reykjavik Pride Parade is just about the best thing ever.

Careful with Words

I'm not a huge gadget fan, but I love my green iPod, Darth Kermit. It's an old model, but it does the job every morning as I'm going to and fro work. However, I am yet to figure a way to make suitable playlists for Darth Kermit. I tend to make my playlists in the evenings when I'm a bit tired, a bit dozy and generally comfortable and content. This results in chilled-out playlists. Unfortunately I am in need of wake-me-up music in the mornings - preferably of the sparkly pop variety. I have tried to steer my playlist making in that general direction, but to no avail. Anyway, I have been listening to knitting podcasts instead. I listen to a lot of different ones - both current ones as well as a lot of old ones. I was listening to a relatively current one when I was jolted out of my morning sleepiness by the podcaster describing someone as being a bit "spazzy". Now, I realise that British English and American English are two very different things. I also realise that whilst I find expressions such as "that's spazzy" or "that's gay" very offensive, these types of expressions are accepted among certain young people who do not mean to be derogatory or offensive. The question is: do I contact the podcaster and point out that I find her language offensive .. or should I just let it slide and get less serious about words and meanings? I'm reminded of Josh Rouse's The White Trash Period of My Life in which he sings careful with words .. they are so meaningful. It is one of those songs I should never put on my iPod morning mix and yet I do.

My inbox delivered some delightful surprises this morning - lovely previews of the new Kim Hargreaves book, Misty, and the forthcoming Amy Butler yarn range - so even though I was stuck with melancholy songs and surprisingly derogatory knitting podcasts, I could enjoy my morning coffee and scone feeling a bit cheerful.