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Mei – a straightforward and colourful knitter

I’m a knitter, that’s what I do. Deal with it.

Learning to knit: I was taught in school, I was about 7 or 8.  Thinking back, one of my teachers was a bit of a hippy.  We had her for two years in a row and we did so many textile arts; weaving, knitting, sewing, tie-dying.  The first thing we each knitted was a tea cosy.  I remember mine being cream and black like a chequer board.  I was quite good with the tension and was really pleased with it.  But when I took it home, my parents didn’t know what it was.  Culturally we just don’t use them.

I was a bit more arty/creative than others in the class so once I finished mine, I was helping everyone else sort out their tension and needles.  As a class we didn’t do much more knitting, but there was always a stash of wool in the classroom so I used to ask the teacher if I could have some to take home.  We’d go to the library as a class every fortnight and I got out books on knitting.  I taught myself how to do intarsia.  I remember making purses, with initials of my friends.  I gave them to my friends as farewell presents at the end of primary school when we went our separate ways.

I didn’t really knit after that until I finished Uni. I needed a distraction from work, something to relax me, something a bit more therapeutic. I tried a few things like yoga but I needed to do something with my hands. Watching films are great but I’ve got nothing to show for that time, I need to have something, knitting is a way of showing I haven’t wasted that time. I went through a phase of knitting baby blankets, things that are straightforward. They tend to be flat, not too many complicated stitches, I’m not a technical knitter. I like patchwork, or combining different colours, designs when I can knit and watch the TV at the same time. Things that don’t take too much brainpower.

Every blanket is different, I’ve had so many friends who’ve had babies, so they each get one. Occasionally friends ask me to replicate one, but I do it grudgingly. Sometimes it’s intarsia, sometimes it’s crochet, it’s always different colours or different stitch patterns. I don’t like doing the same thing over and over.

My mum used to knit.  Growing up she used to knit us Arran jumpers and bobbly hats or scarves that I thought were absolutely horrendous as a child.  I used to put them on as I left the house, but took them off when I got to school as I didn’t want to be seen dead in them.  But now I’d love for her to knit me one.  But she decided that she doesn’t have the brainpower to knit anymore.  I remember her knitting with my aunts all gathered around; whenever there were no customers in our Chinese takeaway she’d get the knitting out.  I did ask her to teach me to crochet, but that didn’t really work out.  She couldn’t explain it to me, she didn’t know how to slow down enough. 

Friends are curious and pleased that I have something creative, but very few have engaged further than that.  I post a lot of my work on Instagram, I’ve made it my thing.  I’m a knitter, that’s what I do, deal with it.  There was definitely a stigma a few years ago, when I started knitting again in my early/mid 20s – an implication that knitting was what old people do.  But soon afterwards things like stitch n bitch and artisan yarn shops started popping up and it became a lot more acceptable as a craft, not just for old ladies. 

What do I knit? I tend to knit things that have utility.  I want to knit for a purpose, but not endless scarves.  Every project has been fun at some stage.

When I used to commute to work I used to knit on the tube, elbows out.  The last seat in the last carriage by the wall was my favourite seat.  Usually if people see you knitting, the seat next to you stays empty for quite a while.  People ask what you’re making, or occasionally they have something which they show me that they’re making too – usually women.  I was trying to knit a pair of socks on the Eurostar once, and the guy opposite wanted to take a picture.  His girlfriend was just learning and he wanted to show her what I was doing, I was knitting on 4 double pointed needles in the round.  People find circular or double pointed needles fascinating.  I prefer them, I’ve got a whole box of them.  It’s easier on the shoulders as my hands are lower. 

My tension square; I wanted to bring in some colour.  The cotton is left over from some ear savers I was crocheting for someone who worked at a hospital.  I liked the tonal colours, I wanted something that would sit flat so I chose seed stitch. 

I don’t usually do tension squares; if I’m making a baby blanket there’s no point. I recently made a hot water bottle. I just drew out the design on knitting paper and worked out as I went along what the dimensions need to be. Usually that means I make loads of errors, but if it’s gone too far before I notice, I just live with it. If the colour combinations have gone wrong I will unknit the whole thing and just start again. I’ve got so many abandoned projects, things that just get really boring. I can’t be bothered with sleeves. So I tend not to knit any garments as I get bored easily.

Why do you love knitting? When I was growing up my parents discouraged me from art, they wanted me to focus on academic subjects so I could become a doctor or a lawyer.  My mum saw no future in art, so I wasn’t allowed to pursue it outside of the set curriculum.  I almost feel like I’m rebelling now.  I’ve gone down to 4 days a week and spend a day doing more creative things.  So far it’s just for friends and family but I’d like to be able to sell my works.  That’s why I’ve taken up machine knitting. Machine is so much more technical, I feel that I have less control.  Maybe it’s because I’m still learning, but maybe it’s because there are so many things I need to pay attention to.  Whereas with hand knitting it’s all in your hands.

I love the endless possibilities of knitting.  I spend a lot of time browsing and looking for inspiration, and only 20% of time knitting.  I’ve got a shelf of books but I mostly use Ravelry and come back to the ones I’ve favourited.  I also use Instagram to find ideas, to keep up to date with what other crafters/knitters are doing.  There’s a whole trend at the moment with posts about how crafters started and where they are now; their first granny square and what they’re making now.  I’m no more technical than I was, so I can’t do that.  The styles and colours and the range of wools that are available have definitely moved on.  I like looking at what people from other countries do – I especially like the colour combinations from knitters in Australia, they’re quite eye catching and bright.  The styles definitely vary by culture: you can immediately tell if someone’s an American knitter – it’s the yarn, more pastels and less adventurous colour combinations. 

I’m glad knitting is becoming more popular.  With Covid people seem to be embracing more traditional crafts.  I follow some of the haberdasheries and they seem to be doing a good trade with people panic buying craft supplies to avoid boredom. 

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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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