A.L. Kennedy’s 21 Revolutions piece ‘Stitches’ is evocative and poignant, while also displaying the writer’s trademark humour and political awareness. The piece is inspired by knitting patterns from GWL’s collections, and Kennedy comments on the nostalgia that surrounds the process of knitting in the 21 Revolutions podcast (available here). Although ‘Stitches’ isn’t typically nostalgic, the sense of memory — both good and bad — is evident through out the story, as the narrator reflects on her difficult relationship with her mother.
The unnamed protagonist examines knitting patterns contained in a biscuit tin and this seemingly mundane object holds a great deal of meaning for her. Upon opening it, she thinks: ‘Here is the scent of her hands. I’ve opened that, too.’ Her mother has recently died, yet her presence is strongly felt as the narrator expresses fear at the possibility of seeing the tin’s contents because of the memories attached to them. These run through out her life; she remembers dressing in knitted tank tops for school discos in the ‘carnival of ugliness that was the 1970s,’ and as a university student, she wears brown polo necks which ‘catch and hold the sent the smell of marijuana’.
However, as she tries to assert her independence, the narrator starts to give the knitted items to charity shops. She finds her mother’s gifts controlling and doesn’t want to be ‘her kind of woman’, describing her as ‘breakable’. Her mother conforms to traditional views of femininity by baking, having arts and crafts as a hobby and throwing dinner parties. Behind this exterior, she is abused by her husband, and to her daughter’s anger and resentment she doesn’t retaliate or leave him. The story highlights the complexity of domestic violence; to an individual outwith the relationship, the action an abused person should take may seem simple but the reality is often very different. The narrator’s sense of alienation grows, and it’s clear that the violence in her parents’ marriage has had a lasting impact on her relationships with men: ‘I realised that comfort and tenderness were unbearable, terrifying, and so I would leave them’.
‘Stitches’ is about the complicated nature of human relationships, particularly the one between a mother and daughter. The narrator pays a company to clear her mother’s house which illustrates the sense of distance she feels, yet she keeps the tin which is one of her mother’s most personal belongings and decides she will work on the knitting patterns that her mother didn’t use. By doing so, the narrator remembers her mother, but it is also a means of asserting her own identity.
21 Revolutions: New Writing and Prints Inspired by the Collection at Glasgow Women’s Library is available to purchase here on our website or at the library.