Mohammad Saleem Shahid

With the passage of time, there comes a lot of change in people’s lifestyle. Modernity has vanished traditional hand knitting as youngsters prefer wearing modern machine stitched dresses and shy away from wearing traditional hand-knitted dresses made of wool. There was a time when old souls—grandmothers, mothers and aunties—remained busy in knitting sweaters, caps, socks, mufflers, stoles, gloves and shawls for their near and dear ones to beat the chill. Before the advent of television, it was a major leisure time activity in winter. However, over the years, the craft has lost its shine as the winter wear such as sweaters and cardigans are available in the market in mind-boggling designs and people prefer readymade sweaters to hand knitted ones.

Just as the chill has settled in the twin cities, there is a glut of leading brand names in the premium knitwear segment. Perhaps for want of time and the busy regimen, hand-knitted woolens are now out of fashion. There is a whole lot of acro-woolens and woolens to choose from. Besides, higher purchasing power and greater fashion awareness have accelerated the trend. Lamb’s wool, although inferior to cashmere, is a soft quality yarn and very popular with all age groups. The prices are determined by the yarn. So a blended yarn, say 50 per cent wool and 50 per cent acrylic, would come cheap. As the percentage of wool goes up, so does its price.

“If the sales figures are anything to go by,” said Mr Mateen of Chitrana Wool House in Moti Bazar, Rawalpindi “there are not many takers for cashmere. This yarn is popular where winter is harsh and the temperature dips real low. So there is no point stocking it here.”

Mr Tariq of Tariq and Sons in Bano Bazar, Rawalpindi opined that maintaining pure, soft yarn was not easy as it had to be dry-cleaned every time. Fancy yarns (more in vogue) are not as soft and are blended with acrylic. They lose luster easily, whereas, magna and micro wool, high-twist yarns, can be hand-washed,” he said.

Knitting is the second most frequently used method of fabric construction after weaving. Hand knitting is an efficient and versatile method of making a sweater. Although, mothers of young children especially toddlers, still prefer the soft hand-knitted sweaters for their young ones yet many of them do not know how to knit. On the other hand, there are many women who are interested in knitting but do not have many children at home for whom they could knit.

When asked about choices of mothers while purchasing their babies’ clothes, Shaan Sheikh, a roadside vender of readymade woolen garments in Moti Bazar, Rawalpindi confided that mothers preferred baba sets, pullovers and cardigans made in soft and smooth textured wool. Colour preferences varied according to the type of garments—navy blue, red and pink were popular for casual wear while formals were made in baby blue, baby pink and cream or white colours. Mothers liked to embellish their babies’ sweaters knitted with embroidery, ribbons and readymade motifs. Among the accessories caps, booties and socks were preferred, he said.

Creative hand knitting was an effective medium to express aesthetic individuality. There was no limit to the number of patterns available and the variations to these patterns. The possibilities in hand knitting extend from clothing to household things like rugs, bed-spreads, cushions, table cloth etc. In this craft, a hand knitter would combine the skills of a weaver and the practical knowledge of a dress maker.

However, the latest to have come in the market is velvet knitted with wool (for both men and women). Sweaters for women in the sporty look, heavy knit cables and zipper knitwear are selling well. Fashion statements aside, nothing really beats a hand-knitted sweater and the love woven therein.

Mohanpura in Rawalpindi is hub for hosiery products, which caters not only to local but domestic markets too. Starting from sweaters, pullovers to warmers, leggings, jackets, shawls, mufflers etc. everything is manufactured here and buyers place bulk orders every season. Going by the present scenario of COVID-19, hosiery manufacturers in the city do not expect more than 50 per cent business this season. They do not look enthusiastic either.

“COVID-19 has adversely affected our businesses and markets. Less weddings and closure of schools and colleges besides other functions, the overall business has witnessed a decline. This winter season started with baby products, which do business of around 55 to 60 per cent and keeping that in mind, the season for men/women would be around 50 per cent,” said Abdul Waheed, owner of Waheed Hosiery House in Mohanpura, Rawalpindi.

Mahmoodul Haq, a wool wholesaler in Mohanpura, Rawalpindi, disclosed that according to some estimates, one pound of wool can be spun into 20 miles of yarn. As wool fibres are crinkled, they trap air. The trapped air makes wool warm without being heavy. Thin wool fabrics are cool because they carry body moisture away from the body and, as the moisture evaporates, it cools the body. Wool can be extended up to 70 per cent of its natural length if it is stretched. When the tension is released, it returns to its natural length. Wool fibre actually has tiny pores. When it is dyed, the pores open and the dye gets absorbed. That is why wool garments look and stay so rich in colour.

–The writer is a freelance contributor.