A feature on yet another revival of homely hand knitting reminded me……. At primary school, the girls’ craft classes were the bain of my life. Could I knit as a seven year old? Much as I tried, sitting at an old wooden desk, with oversized knitting needles and a well re-used ball of wool, made the whole experience a clumsy affair with little to show for it. There were some loops on the needle and maybe I managed to put some wool through a loop or two, I don’t really remember. I do know, that there were some stitches, on the needle that did not seem to be very productive. I was glad when the tortuous efforts came to an end and another lesson began.
Then there was the class where the better little hand-stitchers made bunnies with lovely fluffy cloth already cut to shape, probably by the teacher, a grandmother figure, who took that girls’ class. Once stitched to the required point, busy little hands had lots of fun stuffing the bodies, arms, legs, hands and ears of their creations, through a small open seam, with what I believe was Kapok. Polyester fibres were not in use all those years ago to stuff things. The opening was then closed up with even and neat little running stitches. We, the ones relegated to the ‘untalented’ corner, (the majority of the class) had a bit of rag each plus a needle and thread to practice with. I cannot say what others may have thought, but it seemed to me the three or four bunny-makers looked more than a teensy bit smug. Just a bit of me would have liked to have been with them bathed in their success.
A couple of years later I discovered the Grandmother figure, really was granny to two of the girls in her ‘better’ group. Also, another teacher in the school, who was French, was her daughter-in-law. By then, I was old enough to understand that a big war ended not so many years before, so, it was likely that the girls had no dad. Mum and granny were supporting each other and the two girls on prescribed lower women’s salaries, much lower than their working male teacher counterparts.
From the amount of time we spent in church and on religious education, I wonder if there wasn’t some hope of recruiting future nuns and priests. This primary school was certainly schooling the girls, for at best, domesticity, sweat shops, or, subservient jobs and the boys, to be unskilled. We weren’t seen as having much potential.
When we all divided up to move on to our next secondary stage school experience, it was really surprising how many children started to thrive in a different educational environment, even though the development of domestic/service skills was still a major theme for girls. Many of us as schoolchildren, were undervalued. Notwithstanding, most of my school friends, both genders, broke the expected mould.