I’m sure I was far too young to knit at 7 but I do recall receiving a set of miniature needles and some fluffy air force blue wool in a Christmas “set” from an auntie. There began my relationship with the clickety clack of knitting. At first all I did was to whizz up and down, up and down, or rather along and across and back again. I didn’t really progress from there and I never made anything that I could give an accurate name to. I knew it was possible to make a disco outfit for a sindy doll or a safari suit, because my grandma was always knitting me dolls clothes. The shop bought clothes were far more exciting, but I gratefully received what I was given safe in the knowledge that my sindy dolls were the warmest in town. I also knew that by the time I’d ever finish an outfit for a doll I’d have grown out of playing with dolls.
My subsequent, and probably last ever encounter with knitting was 9 years later when I was 16. The wool was yellow, a bright canary colour and the needles were quite thick. In order to impress my new boyfriend, or rather his mum, I thought I would ask her to teach me to knit. She was a great knitter, she could make anything and not only that, she could multi-task, knit, watch T.V. and talk at the same time. Amazing! Perhaps she was trying to impress me? I can’t imagine what I was thinking. I didn’t really want to knit, I just thought it’d be a good way to pretend I was a talented girlfriend and a great addition to any family. I began with a simple jumper (!) and it looked so easy. Yeah right! My cunning plan sadly backfired. The knitting pattern confused me, constantly dropping stitches simply highlighted my inadequacies as I could neither turn a corner nor increase or decrease stitches. Well, I could both increase and decrease, but not according to the instructions on the pattern. I failed miserably and ended up regularly asking for her assistance to get me back on track, pick up my stitch or “please, just do the next few rows?” I was hoping she’d offer to finish it for me so I didn’t have to look a complete failure. And she did – probably took her a couple of hours. I was suitably impressed.
I could never describe what I did as “knitting”. Technically it was knitting, I probably looked like I was, but surely you’re only a qualified “knitter” when you’ve knitted something and I never had the satisfaction of completing anything. The moral of the story. Never take up a “hobby” to impress anyone but yourself! That way if you’re not impressed you don’t have to wear it!
My story is about my dear mother, Brenda Burditt who was born in 1913. She was always knitting, even though she was an infant teacher. It was traditional in her youth in the 1920’s to be taught to knit. Also her mother was a top dress maker for Liberty’s of London in the 1880’s and I think my mum inherited her mother’s eye for design and colour and desire to create. She also knitted once she was married and had a young family because it was economical. She seemed to enjoy all aspects of it, choosing the wool, the colours and the patterns. She loved looking at knitting books to decide what to knit.
My fond memories of her are knitting for me and my two sisters, cardigans with people round the bottom, like little ‘paper dolls’ holding hands, and also Scottie dogs. She liked making up designs herself and knitting fair-isle jumpers and cardigans. In the 1940’s most women knitted and most of our clothes were hand knitted. All our socks and vests were hand knitted, as were our hats, gloves and scarves. We also had little knitted skirts which were buttoned on to a ‘liberty bodice’ to hold them up! Wool was bought in a skein and you had to wind it into a ball yourself. I remember well standing as a little girl holding a skein of wool outstretched on both arms while mum wound it into a ball of wool. How bored I was just standing still! We would call it ‘quality time together’ now, but then it was a necessary job to be done.
My mum was always careful with colours she chose. She loved colours but always wanted them to blend well together. She was also very particular about the feel of the wool she chose. It had to be soft and pleasant to touch, I guess because it was being worn next to the skin. I know my mother found much pleasure in seeing the satisfaction of a finished garment and especially when these garments were for her family. When she was 60 she knitted my two sisters, me and her grandchildren all large cardigans.10 of them!! All different designs and colours! A labour of love indeed. Mum knitted many jumpers for my dad right under his nose, clickety-clack, clickety-clack, and he seemed genuinely surprised to receive them!
I think to end this story I would say that my mother expressed her love for her husband and her children and grandchildren through knitting things for us. She was a very reserved person and did not express her feelings easily and I think this was her way of saying “I love you”, “I care for you”. In this way “the yarn that binds” is a true title for this story because more than anything my mother’s knitting bound us, i.e. my dad and myself and my sisters, to her emotionally. These garments lovingly hand-knitted, connected us to her and to each other. When we were wearing these garments we were reminded of her in a subtle way, without realising it, - so different from a bought garment. As sisters, even today, thinking of all these shared memories has reminded us of shared holidays and happy events in our childhood and how loving and caring she was. How precious that is.
To be honest I can’t tell you when I started knitting – my mum taught me, probably when I was about 7 or 8 – she was a fantastic knitter and always had something on the go. She was able to knit clothes for my toys without a pattern – I had the best dressed dolls and teddies in the village!
I took to knitting straightaway and can’t ever remember finding it particularly difficult – probably because I had such a good teacher. By the time I was 13 or 14 I was capable (with a little help sometimes) of knitting clothes for myself – the only thing I did hate was the making up of the garment. Mum used to take the Womans Weekly magazine and there were always plenty of knitting patterns in there. I’m afraid that by the time I was about 20 the knitting had tailed off – boys and nights out took over!
The next knitting phase began when I was pregnant and I took great pleasure in knitting baby clothes for my daughter and they were the pieces that I was most proud of. I did the usual fancy shawl and delicate little matinee jackets (do babies still wear such things these days, I wonder) One thing in particular I remember knitting was a babygro – black and red stripes – she looked like a chubby little bumble bee in it.
As Kate got older the knitting, once again, tailed off for a while but then I re-started it again when I began knitting toys, both for her and charities. These days, however, I’m afraid that I don’t do any knitting at all – other interests have now taken over.
I was taught to knit by my older sister and growing up on a farm she and I would spend evenings huddled together in the snug making scarves and leg-warmers while we waited for our parents to finish the final checks at the end of the day. I got serious about knitting when I moved to study at university in London. There was a girl in my first year class called Sarah who told me about a knitting group she attended in a local cafe so I went along hoping to meet interesting people. There was a good mix of ages, mostly old-ish ladies but more young faces than I expected. I attached myself to a little group of student types and we formed an unbreakable knitting alliance!
We called ourselves the Woollen Vandals and we were hooked on yarn-bombing, pledging to seek out grey-ness in the city and transform it with our colourful knitted masterpieces. Statues, lampposts, gates, fences, balconies, bins, absolutely anything that looks boring and permanent we wanted to turn into something bright and joyful. We spent weeks making our ‘weapons’ in that small cafe, then going out at night to transform our beloved city. I felt guilty sneaking around at night but I would visit the places in the day and see people stopping and laughing at what we had done and my guilt would ease. It was such fun and often quite moving.
The older ladies in our knitting group occasionally expressed their disapproval and weren’t keen on helping to knit what we needed. It was dangerous and silly, and we’d get into a lot of trouble they said. But you could see a glimmer in their eyes. It was excitement and pride. They were proud of us and we knew it.
My earliest knitting memory is my mum teaching me to knit at about 7. I think I wanted to learn because it was something my mother did. I loved it from the moment I started. I remember knitting a checked doll’s outfit when I was eight. The wool became very tangled, but I finished the project.
I also remember knitting gloves using a set of four needles. I continued to knit into my teenage years, often with my mum. Those are very happy, precious memories, especially as she became rather troubled in later years.
When I was at college I knitted my boyfriend an Aran sweater while reading Dombey and Son. Afterwards I knitted for friends as they became pregnant and I remember knitting with my sister when she visited weekly. Once we both knitted full length coats, using yarn which was on giant cones! I am sorry to say we never wore them!
I collected Phildar knitting pattern books, and my mother-in-law used to save me patterns from her magazines. When I became pregnant I really enjoyed knitting for the baby. In those days we did not know what gender the baby would be and I used a whole range of colours. I think it is a great shame the present trends have become so limited and stereotyped. As time passed my daughter no longer wanted knitted things. There were many other demands on my time and I did not knit for 15 years. When my daughter was fourteen I very foolishly threw away all my knitting patterns, I have since repurchased them from eBay.
Five years ago a friend of mine took up knitting again because she was expecting her first grandchild. It is hard to describe how much I wanted to take up my old hobby. We rushed off to a local store and bought yarn and patterns. I love everything about knitting: browsing patterns, choosing and buying yarn, the actual physical process and the completion. I am definitely an addict. I have a double wardrobe full of yarn and enjoy looking at it and anticipating what I might make. I love putting different colours together and adapting patterns. For my daughter’s wedding I knitted 150 flowers (bridesmaids’ posies and table decorations). We asked people to take home what they liked and it is lovely to see flowers displayed in our friend’s houses.
When my friend’s daughter married I produced a pirate groom and pirate bride. Shortly after this my daughter asked me to produce another bride and groom, based on the couple’s World of Warcraft figures. Her faith in me is touching! As a surprise for my daughter and son-in-law I also knitted wedding dolls for them. Other more unusual finished objects include several small wedding dolls, cats, dogs, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Star Trek hat and gloves, and a Babybel shaped crackling toy. I have knitted cushions for cats as well as many baby and toddler clothes, adult hats and mittens. I very rarely knit for myself.
Once, on the way home from Birmingham, on the train, I was knitting a child’s jacket. The guard came and was really interested. He said he remembers his mother knitting for hours just after the war. She often made socks using four double ended needles. They had a budgie and when she was knitting it used to sit on the end of the needle. The look on his face as he recalled his mother was really touching. He was obviously pleased to have remembered
One might think that a traditional craft would not have much in common with the world of the internet, but it could not be more different. I use an online website, Ravelry, to share my projects, research yarns and patterns and search for ideas from a huge group of very talented knitters. It is fantastic. One of the greatest pleasures is thinking of the recipient and their reactions. I knit while reading or watching television, but the greatest pleasure of all is knitting with friends.
Confession; I am a haphazard, forgetful, stroppy “Kevin the teenager” and ultimately dangerous knitter - dangerous that is if you are a knitting machine. It’s no secret I am all elbows when I knit with needles, but somehow my friends and family still have their eyes intact, which is more than can be said for my knitting machines!
I was first introduced to knitting at university as part of my Textiles for Fashion course. Despite my mum, grandma and nanny knitting I have never managed to learn from them. I just didn’t have the patience, no matter how easy people make it look (and this of course is the attraction) ….knitting is hard…. and requires a lot of concentration and time.
Knitting machines were my introduction to this craft. I was memorized by the speed and apparent ease that someone could turn yarn into a swatch, a length and ultimately for me a garment. If I am honest I think I was attracted by the possibility of minimal input for maximum output! The ultimate lazy teenagers dream on a very time consuming art course! Although when I took to the hot seat it quickly became clear that a machine did not make it any easier. It was too late though, I was hooked, I had never and still have not felt so much excitement and frustration at the same time.
These seemingly simple machines produce rows quickly and yet with one ill fated pull of the carriage across the machine, your hard work disintegrates to an irretrievable pile on the floor reducing one to tears - and that’s just what happens when I cast on. The determination not to let the machine beat the human is incredible, although in this relationship I am not sure who has come out on top. My loft is a graveyard for these machines, I have four, three broken ones and one still in its box that I am to scared to unleash (it’s computerised and the guilt of breaking that magical machine may be to much for me to bear). My intentions are good, the process goes…..knit, knit, knit…..then somehow it breaks, I have not been heavy handed, admittedly they have been some choice words thrown at it but surely this is not enough to end a potentially beautiful relationship? Ultimately I have no idea how to fix them….so I buy a new one.
As for hand knitting, don’t even get me started, although at least it is impossible to break the needles. Injure myself yes, (those things are sharper than they look) but not the needles. Maybe it is for this reason that I feel a more natural affinity to hand knitting. Not that I am any good, you would think that after at least 10 attempts at learning to hand knit something would have sunk in - apparently not! Immediate family members have tried to teach me again and again, especially in the art of dropped stitches but their wise words just seem to go in one ear and out the other. I don’t seem to remember anything. The only way forward for me is self teaching from a book stitch by stitch, with a little help from You Tube and of course my mum by my side to pick up those pesky dropped stitches - where would I be without her and her patience? Solitary knitting for me is therefore not an option! I tried on holiday last year and four evenings work ended up back in a ball when I dropped some stitches that then proceeded to run down the entire swatch when I tried to pick them up. I spent the rest of the evening in bed sulking having gone from a crafty high to frustrated low in approximately 5 minutes.
I guess that’s the thing with us weavers, we are happy making it up as we go along. When warps or wefts break you tie them in and carry on like nothing has happened. A mistake becomes a “happy accident” and even if you don’t like one side of the fabric you are producing quite often you can turn it over and find a little gem of a pattern on the other side! Knitting is much more controlled and precise. I think it’s time to face it; I am a weaver at heart and knitting will probably always be my nemesis. I may never master it; but I will keep on trying. And it will continue to bring out a side of me that I would prefer to keep hidden!
The only hope that both the machines and needles have is that I am now a mum and “yarn time” has reduced to virtually nothing. Even the tantalizing smell of a yarn shop is a luxury, let alone actually holding the needles in my hand. Maybe when my little boy is 18 and I sit up for nights at a time waiting for his key to turn in the lock after a “few drinks with the lads” I might have the time to give it another go… I just hope You Tube still exists!
I have been knitting for over 75 years. My mother taught me when I was about ten years of age and I find it a really good pastime. Apart from that, it is really useful to be able to make a new jumper of your own design and colour and maybe a fancy stitch such as cable- this is a really good choice for mens pullovers because it looks “chunky”.
I think it is probably cheaper to knit children’s items for school and hand-knits are warmer in winter. These days the yarns have changed so one has the choice of polyester, acrylic cotton or a mixture and some very pretty colours. Knitting needles too have improved- instead of being made of bone, that quickly became rather bent, they are now made of hollow metal so keep their shape and probably last forever!
I think knitting is a really nice hobby as I can sit down with all the family and I find it very soothing. Recently a baby great-grandson arrived, so I have been knitting pram covers, leggings, jacket and hat and booties, so I hope they will keep him warm next winter!
I have been knitting for as long as I can remember. I was taught by my mother and started with plastic needles about 4 inches long. I think that I must have been about 7 when I first started and may have started off making pompoms and tassels. My mother always knitted for all of her 4 children as a necessity as like most families it was cheaper than buying and lasted longer. As she knitted for necessity and not as most people do today for pleasure, as soon as we grew up she never knitted again not even for her grandchildren. I think that as she had taught me to knit that was her job done. I knitted dolls clothes following a pattern which again my mother taught me to read, scarves for myself and gloves for my brother. We had knitting lessons at school when we were aged 10 but I was a proficient knitter by then. I have NEVER forgotten my friends attempt to knit. The teachers assistant thought perhaps she was left handed as she was having such difficulty and I can picture the rib on the pair of gloves that she was trying to do. It went wrong so often that it looked more like moss stitch. I really must ask her if she ever did learn to knit. I doubt that she would have as this was a skill that for my age group you learnt off your mother and her mother died when she was aged 10. My husband and several other men of my age group admit that when they were young they also were taught to knit by their mothers.
I can remember the wool at school was like coloured string and when you finished you had to pay for the wool or what ever it was made of, which was never wool. Now as my mother knew that I was a good knitter and she wanted me to be able to wear the hat I was making, I was sent into school with a letter for the teacher and a ball of wool from home so that my mother would be happy for me to wear it when going out. What would you call that, wool snobbery?
Most of my knitting as I got older was baby clothes as when someone at work left to have a baby everyone in the office knitted a garment. They went home with a huge pile of woollies. I knitted for many years for my daughter when she was small, not totally for economy but for the pride and pleasure of seeing her in something that I had made and was different. It was also still cheaper to knit than buy and when I worked in Birmingham city centre Littlewoods used to have an enormous wool counter with a huge choice of different wools which was very popular. I did try to pass on the skill to my daughter but there were far more interesting things to do with her time and she got so annoyed with it that the skill was not passed on. Again she had knitting lessons at school, she knitted a square as a back drop with cut out trees etc glued on top. This was just as well as it was the holiest piece of knitting that I have ever seen! I tried to encourage her and said it was lovely but really it looked like a holey dish cloth!
As my daughter got older and was no longer dressed by her mother, I ceased knitting. I did keep a couple of old patterns that I particularly liked and after a gap of 20 years I am knitting for my first grandchild who is expected in September. I have bought 3 new knitting patterns and nearly died of shock when charged £9 for them. At present I am knitting from an old pattern which cost 9D which in todays money is approximately 4p. With the cost of the patterns today unless you use them several times it isn’t a cheap hobby. I am also finding that although I am retired I am finding knitting a very time consuming hobby. It isn’t like 20-40years ago, there is so much more to do with your time, I go swimming to aerobics and French lessons, complete with homework. I socialise a lot with family, friends and take many holidays as well as going to the cinema and theatre. I can see why children today find it too slow, although I understand it is enjoying a revival.
It is comical when my son-in-law asks, “can you knit that? and the hat?” And he particularly likes the tassel on the hat, “can I do that as well?” You would think that it was engineering, or perhaps we could call ourselves knitting engineers.