I was knitting on the train the other evening on my way home from work. Three women in their seventies or so sat in the adjoining seats and conversation soon turned to the rarity of seeing someone knitting these days. We got chatting. They had all been prolific knitters before the advent of machine knits and, for one, osteoarthritis in her hand. They told me stories of wartime knitting, which was part of the primary school curriculum with compulsory homework in the evenings. They made sweaters and long socks for soldiers, the wool laden with oil that left their hands rather rough. Each evening they had to complete a required length of knitting for inspection at school the following day. The soldiers, never previously known to the children, would write to say thank you, sending notes about the sweaters and socks from the battle zones and postings. They also talked of soldiers going through recovery and rehabilitation who were taught to knit (though this may predate WWII, from the look of the photo I found).
This had been utilitarian knitting at its utmost, and there I was, with my ball of fairly high-end wool and a half-formed sock, knitting for no other reason than pure luxury. I don’t need any more socks, and already have far more than is sensible. Knitting with yarn imported from Japan is hardly a frugal option; for the price of one ball of wool I could probably buy five pairs of mass-produced socks from a chain store. I could not think of a single reason other than luxury, creativity, relaxation and entertainment for what I was doing. A sign of the times.