Ever since I was about 11 I have done this. My aunt tried to teach me. She would never sit without her hands being busy. She made beautiful Arran sweaters with an ease that astonished. A small woman, sometimes it seemed that the jumpers were bigger than her. Loved to watch her hands move and the single strand be wound and built into an intricate garment. She tried to teach me but I could make no sense of it. As she grew older her arthritic hands and shoulders couldn’t hold the weight of the wool so for the last 20 or so years of her life her hands would be earily empty. How I wish I had claimed her old pattern books. I loved my aunt.
The one day I fell in love with a piece of Fairisle in beige and brown and then I magically just ‘knew’ how to knit. I think she was pleased. Obviously something of what she had tried to teach me had gone in and just waited for me to ‘learn’ it, as is the way with teaching and learning sometimes.
So, when I went to college I did a part of my thesis on the knitting of the Fairisles and Arran. I learned how the different patterns had a macabre reason for being, apart from the thickening extra layers of warmth given to the garments. It seemed that when the drowned bodies of sailors were washed ashore you could recognize their identity from the patterns on the sweaters. I also learned that knitting was not done as a ‘hobby’ but as a way to make new garments, and sometimes extra income.
I marvelled at pictures showing miners walking to work whilst knitting socks, wool and needles tucked under their arms. It seemed that at one time it was associated far more with both sexes. ( Good to see it making a strong come back with many male knitwear designers.) Now I learn that there were special tools to help people knit while walking. I knit in what I would call my ‘idle’ moments. In the past people couldn’t afford to have ‘idle’ moments.
So, recently I got the bug again.The desire to ‘take up the needles’ had been lurking ever since Little Beau Peep came into my mind when working on The Cat and the Fiddle. She is a petite knitting super hero with a quiver of needles, and she too knits as she walks ( it is funny how some images dwell in the mind’s eye) with her giant sheep.
(The artwork is for sale in The House of Golden Dreams, alongside prints and the book is available in libraries and all good independent bookshops.)
So, I went to Colourways in Whitland. Who would have thought that Whitland would have such a treasure as this amazing shop filled with gorgeous yarns from Rowan? There I bought some wool, a pattern book or two and set forth on a new project.
Little Beau’s knitting grew directly out of one of Rowan’s catalogues, from something I hope to knit myself one day.
Ever since I first found Rowan Wool in a shop called Shepherd’s Purse, now long gone, I have loved the texture, quality, colours and the patterns from Rowan. They took knitting out of the dark ages and into fashion, and their pattern books are just wonderful. I wish I had some of my old ones from 20 years ago. When I was at college I used to knit for The Shepherd’s Purse ( learning the true meaning of the phrase ‘pin money’). I couldn’t afford to buy the wool for myself, but loved working with it.
So now, while I think about dragons and book-worms and white bears and white ravens my hands move over a blue thread, winding and twining it with bamboo needles worn smooth by use, and a jumper grows slowly.
My needles once belonged to my friends’ grandmother and I love that connection to their family. I only knew her as a tiny, frail old lady, but once she was the most beautiful young woman, unaware of the man she would marry, children she would have, and grandchildren too. Now I am waiting for what would have been her first great grandchild to be born, any day now, and I wonder what this child’s life will hold, what adventures await. Perhaps when I have finished my sweater I will use her needles to make something for the baby. I think she would like that.
I drew Claire the other day. Not a brilliant drawing, I could never do justice to her beauty but I am so glad that I did the drawing. It has more faults about it than I would like, but it also has something that I do like. My beautiful, tired friend.
Looking forward to drawing the baby too.