Written by Emma Mitchell


Making Winter

In the first of her monthly creative survival guides, Emma Mitchell explains how craft evenings can be the answer to winter blues.

Emma explains the ancient art of crochet to a dog.

I’m feeling much like a brown bear. No, I haven’t just visited the woods. It’s November – we’re on the verge of winter. I have an urge to eat my bodyweight in crumpets, make a nest from all the soft furnishings in the house and sleep until March.

At the sight of the first falling leaf I mumble a profanity or two. On a Tuesday afternoon in January when the trees are bare, the sky is grey and the garden is a muddy wasteland my contempt for winter reaches critical mass. All that poetic flimflam about “the earth’s sleep” and “nature’s renewal” can whistle Dixie. I don’t relish fossicking for my long johns in my knicker drawer, bulk buying ChapStick or feeling icy seepage through a hole in my welly. Winter can jog on.

In recent years I realised that I couldn’t simply hide inside my house scowling for three months and peering through the window in the vain hope of spotting a primrose. I needed a contingency plan: a means of surviving what is, for me, a reviled season. Having been blogging about creativity for some years I began to notice that making things could brighten a gloomy winter’s day. The process of stroking yarn (not a euphemism) was itself a sensual joy but then – lo! If I managed to crochet some wristwarmers there was the small joyous pang of satisfaction each time I stepped into the cold, knowing that my mitts were nestled in something I’d made myself. The nature of the creative project hardly mattered – it could be knitting a wonky scarf or throwing together Christmas cards using pictures of Nigel Farage and some holly. What became clear was that making things was the perfect antidote to the dreich days.

Then a friend of mine suggested we make things together. At first I thought, “Peh! I’m not someone’s gran. What will we be doing? Making doilies, sucking Parma Violets and examining our candlewick?”
I went to her house one dark Thursday evening in November. She had lit a fire and made a divinely comforting cake. She pushed a bottle of damson gin into my hands and invited me to sit under a blanket while I wrangled yarn. I felt as though someone had swaddled me in wool and Stollen. I was cocooned in a slightly twinkly wintry cake cave. It was brilliant. Then we watched Sense and Sensibility, the gin kicked in, we began to cackle at the thought of Regency breeches and I was hooked. I’ve been going round to the same friend’s house every Thursday night for three years but it’s during the winter when the crafty benefit is felt most. We knit bobble hats, scarves and blankets and the baked goods we eat between November and March provide us with a layer of essential blubber to help to fend off the biting winds that can blow across the Fens from Siberia. The laughter flashbacks keep my spirits buoyed between Thursdays. Craft nights are more than the sum of their parts and have become an immensely cheering winter lifeline.

It doesn’t matter if your knitting looks like a long-ago abandoned bird’s nest or you’ve never learned the hooky art of crochet. It’s really the companionship, cake and laughing over the woolly mistakes and PVA and glitter explosions that helps to make up for the grey skies and desolate flowerbeds. Besides, if you invite someone along who can do the loopy thing with yarn, then ply them with a fruity liqueur, perhaps they’ll teach you how. It seems as though the women who organised the sewing bees of yore were on to something.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve made things with other people while being adjacent to cake and wine. It’s life affirming. The cackling is like intravenous chocolate and it’s even better when things go awry. On a recent craft night I had to solemnly announce, “My knitting is broken.” My dropped stitches were lending a tragic moth-eaten look to my scarf. We became so helpless with mirth that the craft fail no longer mattered.

Meet friends. Make stuff. It’s the antidote to drear winter days.

Next month: Emma shares her crochet wristwarmers and tips for a handmade Christmas.

Illustration by Claire Jones

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Written by Emma Mitchell

I make things, mostly out of silver, sometimes out of wool. I’m never too far from a bottle of PVA glue.