It’s not often you get the opportunity to interview someone about knitting, but sometimes dreams do come true, as I’m sat opposite Melanie Gall at this year’s EdFringe.
A keen knitter, (mostly coerced by her sister it is revealed), Melanie Gall has managed to put together a fabulous show about knitting, as well as being Canada’s single-handed archivist on knitting songs. Intrigued? I caught up with the ball of vocal gumption between one of her three shows at this years Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
So hello, this is your second to last day at the Ed fringe? What next?
It’s been a great run, I was in York before here, after this I’m off to two different parts of Canada, then maybe back here.
What brought you here?
This is my fourth Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I have a lot of friends here, and I have a lot of knitting friends. Four years ago I came to promote my knitting CD of the songs that feature in the show. One of my friends is part of a knitting club and I went to that and she said you should do the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and, here I am. As well as A Stitch in Time, I perform with storyteller Eden Ballantyne and we do a kid’s show, Opera Mouse, introducing kids to Opera.
You have a knitting CD?
Yes, I have two now. Songs from World War 1 and World war 2
Tell us more, where did the songs come from?
These are songs that are written about knitting, by women, during the war. Some were written to sell sheet music, some were written by women missing their sons, some are patriotic anthems. They are all written for different reasons. I have found over 100 different knitting songs from Canada, the States, Britain, France, the Czech Republic, and Australia. These CD’s are the first 2 of the 100 knitting songs I’ve collected. The Canadian government gave me a grant to find them, so I’ve spent 7 years researching them and collecting them. I’m the only person who has done this, no-one else has a collection of them.
That is amazing, what inspired you to do this? Did you hear one and think, there must be more?
Yes, that is exactly what happened! My sister is a crazy knitter, she’s an obsessed knitter and we were living in New York, and I heard the first song, and I thought there must be more. So I found one, then another, and another, and the thing about knitters is that they are so well connected and when you ask them, they’re very helpful. So if you ask them for knitting songs, they send you ones they have or found in a state sale. A lot of these songs, there are only one or two copies left, libraries have some, the British Library has some and once they are gone, they are gone. So if they are accidentally destroyed or thrown out, they’re in danger of being lost forever. Often when people die, their houses are cleared out and the people clearing don’t necessarily go through their papers to see what they all are. Who would think a crispy piece of paper could be so important or be of value? Some of them have been written by famous people. For example, Glen Millar wrote a knitting song, they were quite the thing.
Have you written any of the songs?
No, I’ve arranged them, together with my pianist. Some were arranged for piano and voice, but they were played with a big band, so with the help of Bennet Pastor, we’ve arranged these songs to make them historically accurate but still interesting arrangements, keeping the elements, and making them relevant to today.
What about you? How did you get into knitting?
It came from my sister. She was born interested in scrapbooking, and bird watching and knitting. When she lived alone, she was a Canadian diplomat and she was living in Argentina where yarn production is huge. She bought one skin of yarn, and then another, then ten, then them all, every room in her apartment was full of yarn, and so she got me knitting. I quickly discovered knitters were surprisingly fun.
Knitting did receive a bit of a makeover, didn’t it? I’m quite surprised your show isn’t on in the evening, where you’d be full of younger people.
I did think about that. But I wanted something that could be for an older audience, something they would be comfortable coming to. Something just for them, accessible, historically interesting and fun.
Are you bringing the show back next year?
I’m not sure if i’m doing the knitting show as I’m doing Carmen next year. I want to create shows that are accessible to people and who doesn’t love Carmen?
I hear you also have a knitting podcast? Why did you start a knitting podcast?
Again it was my sister, I had never heard of a knitting podcast. Podcasts were just starting to be a thing. So we did one, and I thought it was just one, it took me 23 hours to edit, as I had to learn the software and I thought, “Great, we did it!”. Then a week later she said, “We’ll do the next one”, and I thought “What, another one?”. We have about 180 episodes now, they’re an hour long. We used to have about 30,000 listeners but it’s waned a bit now. She has babies now. But they’re all still there.
Podcasts are huge now, it sounds like you have the original knitting podcast?
We got in before they were huge, and now everyone has one. ours is called The Savvy Girls podcast. We travel all over the world, she travels for diplomat-ing and me for singing, and so we get to interview knitters we find all around the world.
What is your favourite thing to knit?
A hat! One ball of yarn, and size 8 needles, and if it doesn’t fit you it will fit someone else. You can put a pretty button on it too!
Do you have something that you said you’d make but haven’t yet?
There was a shawl that I promised to make, and someone asked me for a black hat but the black yarn is hard to knit with because it’s hard to see. Unless it’s very bright out, or there’s bits of grey in it, it’s quite boring to knit with.
Any advice to newbie knitters?
There are so many free YouTube tutorials out there so don’t be scared by a complicated pattern. It’s one step after another. It’s just twisted yarn in a certain way. Nothing is magic when you are knitting, so don’t be scared away by something that looks really impressive. And also, don’t just knit easy things, it’s fun to do harder things.
Can we expect a knitting tutorial from you?
Oh no, I’m not a knitting teacher, besides, I knit the Canadian way, and Eden knits but he knits the British way. There’s more than one way, we saw the Shetland way, where you put one knitting needle under your arm, so we couldn’t possibly do a tutorial. But we’d like to go to Shetland one day and do songs about knitting, as they have The Wool Week.
That would be great, we’d come and watch that!
It would be really great! This festival has been very busy, we’re doing 3 shows a day, and it’s been quite frenetic but a lot of fun. It’s always fun.
Last question, do you knit for relaxation?
Yes! It’s a great way to stay off your phone and be in the moment, unless you’re counting stitches, then you’re counting. Knitting is a good conversation starter, if you’re knitting in a public place everyone will come up and talk to you. For me, I find it interesting, you don’t miss out on life.
Catch up with everything Melanie Gall at her website, where you can listen to snippets of her knitting songs and order your own copy of her CD, and listen to her Savvy Girls knitting podcast here.