There are many people I could blog about who got me started and then carried on in their own ways to inspire. So although this might be ever so slightly cheating I’m going to share the stories of the 3 women in the family who helped along the road from absolute beginner to someone who can create their own designs!
What was amazing about these women was that none of them saw what they did as special, they’d all knitted through WW2, inspiring my love of recycling. They all had various health issues and disabilities, but never let it stop them having a go, which in turn provided a “life saver” for me when my spinal problems deteriorated. And despite all these challenges and experiencing hardship and tough lives in many different ways none of them ever threw the towel in. Sitting and knitting or crocheting together was a great way to hear their stories too and as I’ve faced some of those experiences myself, I’ve been able to draw strength from knowing that they got through, without all the help and support services out there for us today.
Sadly none of these women are alive today – in someways this might be a blessing in disguise as I can imagine the “What you doing that for maid” and “The maid’s knitting with carrier bags” type comments I’d get! For those not used to UK dialect etc, “maid” is a Devon term of endearment for a young girl or woman – I wasn’t literally the maid. even if I sometimes used to feel like it as a somewhat stroppy teenager with a love of books and an very well developed aversion to housework! But I often wonder if they were what they would make of all the fashion yarns and the plethora of patterns and techniques we can use today that they would perhaps have never attempted…
Turbo Knitter Mum!
My Mum taught me to knit at 6 – there were tears, tantrums and multiple dropped stitches! And the mystery of why my work wasn’t growing – bascially Mum would have overtaken James Hunt at the time with the speed she went and I didn’t see her wrap the yarn around the needle so spent a good while passing my stitches from needle to needle! But Mum was a fantastic knitter, the family legend was she only needed to read the pattern once to get it and she’d be away – a skill I often wish I’d inherited. We’d spend afternoons playing in the garden, Mum in the background knitting. Out in the car, Dad driving, us squabbling in the back and yep Mum was in the front knitting! Sadly Mum died of a massive brain haemorrage when I was 7 – but she was the person who kick started my love of knitting, getting me knitting odd looking “squares” to make covers for dolls, full of holes and dropped stitches, weirdly shaped where I’d gained some. And she kept going with patiently casting on again and again.
Nan Field – who literally knitted blind!
Nan had glaucoma, and as a result lost her sight just after I turned 8 or 9. But she used to babysit on a regular basis both before and after and kept on knitting, despite not being able to see. One of the last things she crocheted was a cardigan for me in my then favourite colour pink. She also taught me the basics of crochet, despite me being left handed. I used to love listening to her telling stories of the wonderful work her and her sisters did before they were married, crocheting bedspreads in cotton for their trousseaux. I love visiting the antique pattern library and browsing through and choosing motifs and I often wonder if Nan and her sisters ever attempted them. But her heroism for me was that when her sight went completely she carried on knitting, through the local blind club. She made endless peg bags – Dad still uses his some 30 years on, and coat hanger covers. The partially sighted ladies then took her work and sewed it up and it was sold to raise funds to keep the club going. So many people give up hobbies and interests when they lose their sight, understandably so as it must be a huge mountain to climb, but for her sheer tenacity, Nan has to be up there in my “Hall of Knitting Heroes”
“The Trio – Nan Newman, Aunt Mill and Wilkie”
Whilst these ladies were elderly when I knew them, I’ve chosen an image of younger women knitting during WW2 to symbolise this group of heroes. These 3 ladies spent so much time together it almost felt as if they were one person, and it was nothing unusual to walk into Nan and Aunt Mill’s lounge and see a trio of ladies with their needles flying. After Mum died, out of all the family members who helped Dad out, these were the women we spent most of our time with. Nan had “nerve trouble”, Aunt Mill had been left lame with a short leg thanks to the polio epidemic in 1914 and had arthritis too and Wilkie was just a whirlwind – she lived over the road and was a whizz at anything creative. They were a mini production unit, turning out endless tanktops, jumpers and cardigans for the chapel bazzars – there was always a queue for their work too! They had cupboards of vintage patterns – oh what I’d give to have some of them now – needles made out of anything and everything that has ever been used to make them and loads of odd balls of yarn they would happily donate to my efforts to make a tea cosy – not sure any of them actually got finished but they were destined for the bazzar too. I spent alot of time with them, as a teenager we must have made an odd group, all sitting in the evening knitting but it gave me the female company I craved. They used to encourage me to change a design too by using a different stitch pattern. And they often talked about the past and how they’d recycle yarn in the war to make fairisle jumpers, knit for the troops, take their knitting to the “pictures” when the local travelling picture house pitched up at the village hall to do their 3ins of rib. To me knitting was just part of who they were and its odd that today I love knitting groups where ladies of all ages get together as its somehow a comforting memory of many an evening sitting in an armchair knitting with older ladies and listening to their stories.Like Nan Field these ladies lived and knitted into their 80’s and again apart from their patience and willingness to show me how to do things, again its their tenacity that puts them in my “Heroes Gallery”
There are so many knitters / crocheters out there who for reasons of their own are heroic, it might be their design skills, their ability to whip up a multitude of gifts for the whole family, knit prolifically for charity. For others even learning to knit is a massive triumph over adversity. Which leads to me to ask…….. who are your knitting heroes? And why?