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NZUKnitter – a technical knitter

I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t correct a mistake. I blame my mother for that, she was the church organist sitting at the back row. She would see everybody and look at them from behind and would notice if they had a cable pattern the wrong way around in their jumper

I do about 4 hours of hand knitting every day.  I’ve got a special knitting chair, beside the TV in the lounge.  I had to choose that chair because it suits my back, leg length and elbow width.  We’ve got sofas I never sit on, as I need to be sitting higher with my elbows at a comfortable level.  I went to John Lewis testing out all the chairs, with the assistants rushing round trying to find me an appropriate one.  I’m usually listening to something such as Radio 4 or Country Hits Radio dependent on how upbeat I’m feeling.  I have to be careful to keep my posture right, I do find that I get hunched so I see a chiropractor to get de-cricked.  It’s also easier to knit with circular needles than with straights as if I knit with straight needles I tuck one under my elbow/armpit and I get even more hunched.

Learning to knit: As a child of the sixties and seventies, if you couldn’t knit it you didn’t have it.  Mum knitted everything that we ever wore.  It was only when I got to secondary school and uniforms that I was allowed to buy my first cardigan.  I picked up mum’s knitting when I was quite young and thought I was knitting by adding a few stitches around the needles.  After mum disentangled it she gave me a brief run through; I really started knitting at primary school, we actually had classes in it.  We would knit Peggy squares for the missions.  Each kid was expected to knit an 8” square in garter stitch which were sewn together to make blankets whilst we sat around nattering out of the teachers’ hair.

What do I knit? I’ve always been interested in pattern.  The first thing I made a conscious effort to knit was a fair isle tank top.  It was a bit ambitious and I’m not convinced that I ever wore it more than once as it was absolutely ghastly in terms of its colour scheme, but then again it was the seventies.  Since I gave up work 10 years ago I’ve not really gone for any length of time without a knitting project on the go.  I’ve moved down to a smaller size in needles and do bigger projects so it can take me a month or two to complete a shawl or blanket.  Some of them are decorative for the ends of beds and occasionally I do cushions.  Each winter I will do at least at 2 yoke jumpers as I like colour work and knitting in the round (eg fair isle).  I use up my spare wool for knit4peace who are always looking for items for the homeless.  I do that over the summer, so at the end of the season St Mungos gets a pile of shawls and scarves and things for homeless shelters or women in distress. 

What’s great about knitting? I get a lot of pleasure of the sheer repetitiveness of it.  I’m not great at doing 300 tons of stocking stitch, but if it’s got a bit of pattern that I can get my head around then I will just keep on going.  I just love techniques; I’ve got a library of books of knitting and knitting stitches.  If there’s a new book on a new technique then I get it, and one day I’m going to do something adventurous but at the moment I’m just collecting the books

You never stop learning when you knit.  There’s always a new technique, something that you haven’t thought about.  One of my pleasures is taking a pattern and making it better, in my mind anyway.   I loathe a seam if it can be avoided.  I made a poncho once which had a circular garter stitch neck seam and two shoulder seams which to me was an affront as the seams were on the most obvious places.  I worked out that you could knit it as one long piece with stitches left out of work for the neck that you could pick up.  For the neck I used helixes using one ball of wool for the knit stitch and following with another ball of wool in purl stitch so you work your way up without ever having a side join.  Then I put that on Ravelry and got a bit of positive feedback, by sharing the hint.

If I make a mistake I unpick – tinking – knitting backwards, taking out one stitch at a time.  Literally the word knitting backwards.  If it’s a few rows back I’d rip it, and pick up the stitches 3 or 4 rows down and start again.   I couldn’t live with myself.  I blame my mother for that, she was the church organist sitting at the back row.  She would see everybody and look at them from behind and would notice if they had a cable pattern the wrong way around in their jumper.

My Tension Square: I hadn’t tried this technique before but I knew it worked very well on hats – and a hat is just a round square so to speak.  The middle bit took me quite a while to work out particularly getting the striping right.  I took 2 different balls of wool; knitting two sides with one, dropping it, then knitting the next two sides with the other, following it around in helical stripes so you don’t get jogs at the beginning and end of rows – you hide the joins as you go around corners.  It starts with 8 stitches, one for each corner and one for each side.  Then on every row you increase a stitch at either side of the corner stitch, so only ever adding 8 stitches each side.  You begin with 4 needles, but after a few rows you can move to 2 double ended needles, side to side/back to back.  I was quite lucky, there’s a certain amount of blocking that you need to do to avoid ruffles and keep it flat, but this particular yarn just happened to work very well.   It was left over from a knit along project.  I liked these two colours but they didn’t have enough contrast for what I originally intended.  It’s so soft as it has yak hair in it, a blend of linen and yak and wool.

Increasingly now, I always do tension squares.  I used to just wing it but I had so many big, baggy old jumpers as even though you buy the right wool for the project, everybody’s tension is different.  I’m not neurotic about it so I don’t do a massive one. I always reuse the wool and cannot bring myself to waste it as I live in horror that I might be short for the piece by that amount of yarn. 

Magic Moments: It’s nice when someone wants to use one of your pieces like on Ravelry when they ask to put it on their pattern page.  I do make things for family or friends which is positive, but they know better than to like it too much or they get swamped.

My sister had a ginger tom cat (Jim) with white ears and white face who had developed skin cancer.   She became very good friends with the most amazing vet whilst he was being treated.  Jim had to have both his ears and nose removed, making him look like Voldemoort.  He lived on for a couple of years but wasn’t allowed out during the day as the sun would cause more growths.  So my sister would take him for walks at night, to make sure that he wouldn’t get into fights.  When finally Jim died my sister wanted to do something for the vet, so I made a grey shawl with little ginger cats all over it.  I made one of them look like Jim, with all his ginger and white patches but no ears.  The vet just cried when she got it.

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Published by jencableart

Jen Cable is a mixed media textile artist who loves to draw attention to the outmoded, fabulous, awful and bizarre aspects of culture and everyday society

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