Saturday, 21 November 2009

OOOh This is One Student I'd Like to Get my Hands On

Ben FoglePublished: 1:15PM GMT 20 Nov 2009

Ben Fogle learns how to knit with Gerard Allt at his 'I Knit' shop in London

Despite the fact that I have put myself through extremes all over the world, I was out of my comfort zone with this one.

The closest I have ever come to knitting was 10 years ago on Castaway when I had to darn my socks. And I couldn't help thinking about the 7th Earl of Cardigan, after whom the knitted garment was named. He led his woolly-jacketed cavalry in the Charge of the Light Brigade and dropped much more than a stitch.

Today, knitting is largely considered a feminine pursuit yet hardy sailors, fishermen and shepherds were among the first knitters in history. As well as its purely practical benefits, knitting enhances motor skills and concentration, plus there's that sense of pride and fulfilment on completion of your creation.

Armed with these thoughts and a pair of size-8 needles, I turned up at I Knit, a small, welcoming London shop where knitters can chat, drink and relax late into the night.

The plan was to make booties for my newborn - for a novice like me, this seemed over-ambitious. But what are challenges about if not perseverance?

I eventually completed two neat(ish) rows, though I confess knitting is a lot harder than it looks; lose concentration and you lose your place.

As I got into my stride, my competitive edge came out. I found myself sneakily looking to see if my fellow knitters were progressing faster than me (happily, they weren't). I began to realise how therapeutic - not to mention handy - this skill could be.

I could use it on expeditions to patch ripped tents. People may laugh at the thought of James Cracknell and me sitting knitting in Antarctica, but you really have to make do and mend down there and it'd be fun to make woolly scarves in cold places.

These days there is a growing demand for hobbies that enrich your life, and research conducted by American Express has identified the rise of these "Potentialists", a merry band I count myself among.

Knitting is an art I could develop with time. I have this romantic notion of sitting at home, my wife feeding the baby and me knitting little hats. We'll be relaxed with the dogs at our feet. So I'd better put in more practice.

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