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Gill – a modish and up-to-date knitter

My first experience was with French knitting on bobbins with nails hammered into the top when I was about five.  I used to use them as horses reins galloping around the playground .

Learning to knit: Mum taught me to knit. Being born in the fifties, knitting was all around you.  People produced cardigans, jumpers, scarves and socks, it was something that everyone did.  My first experience was with French knitting with bobbins on nails hammered into the top when I was about five.  I used to use them as horses reins galloping around the playground.  When I was 10, the Barbie doll craze was in, so I knitted jumpers for my doll.  The first one was lime green on the front and then chocolate on the back, two pieces joined together.  In the sixties, when I was about 11, polo necked jumpers were in and I wanted to make my own, rather than my mum making one for me.  So I got my mum to teach me ribbing.  It was in terracotta, except for the polo neck which was white and terracotta stripes.  I must have done about 7 polo necks after that.  Then when we were living in Norway, I knitted my first Norwegian jumper.  This was on round needles which were what was used in Norway, where we were living at the time.  It was a plain coloured body, then with a traditional star pattern yoke.  I wore it almost every day for about 3 years in Norway and it probably lasted me until I was about eighteen or nineteen. 

Now I knit projects when something gets me going.  I come across new products and wools at craft fairs.  A couple of years ago somebody had a Jacob sheep and they were offering all sorts of shades of grey and beiges that they were making into blankets in beautiful tones. I have a ball of camel wool, which I’m keeping for weaving, that fascinated me as you don’t think of camels as having wool.  Then in York we have an old-fashioned knitting shop, so I go and look to see if they have anything interesting.  For example I’m currently knitting with a very bobbly thread that was designed specifically to make shawls.  It’s in variegated colours, and I’m knitting it on round needles in plain knitting.  The effect is very holey.  Before that, I was inspired by Sirdar Glam wool – in charcoal with a silver edge.  When you knit into it, it opens out and makes very fluffy (ruffled) scarves for evening wear. 

What do I knit? I’ve knitted myself lots of garments over the years.  I made myself a summer jumper about 20 years ago that I’ve only just thrown out.  It was a textured white, slubby wool with peach ribbing along the bottom, neck and wrists.  I’ve made several Norwegian style jumpers, as well as cardigans in a honey comb stitch with matching buttons that is knitted on the side, and gathered up to make the design.  I also made a lined angora jacket, in black with bright striped and geometric patterns.  I did another one in Alpaca, in black and white intarsia.  I used to wear them when I started teaching.

In the eighties there were a lot of characters to knit like Andy Pandy or Beatrix Potter rabbits.  My sister knitted me a donkey in turquoise blue with a purple saddle and a black muzzle.  It was from a pattern called knitted Ned.  I had him for years, it was lovely and he travelled round with me well into my thirties and forties.  He was on my bed. 

Knitted Wonders: I taught a class of 44 when I was head of 3D design in a primary school in Newcastle.  Most of it was weaving on bedframes and these sort of things.  I started by showing some of the children how to knit on their hands, it’s a bit like French knitting.  I’m left handed, so people have to mirror me.  You get a long wide piece of fabric in a fairly loose stitch and it’s fun to do.  After that we knitted on needles and we made knitted scenery and countryside in shoe boxes.  The class built up hills and shapes with a mixture of newspaper balls covered with Modroc (plaster bandage).  Then we knitted fields to cover them.  We also made knitted sheep and trees by winding wool around pipe cleaners and added woven or knitted leaves.   We also did some 3D scenery for a drama project; making giant mushrooms with knitting over the basic form. 

My Tension Square: It’s a Yorkshire sheep, reflecting where I live.  In my bedroom at the end of the bed I have a sheep sized footstool.  The person who made it called that Ethel, so I named this project Ethel too.  I’ve used different blues and greens to create the pasture, with the middle body from a fluffy, textured wool.  These are all remnants from the Newcastle school project, forty years ago.  I got the wool originally from Hugh MacKay’s in Durham – a big factory that made carpets for the Gulf.  You could go to the factory and choose skeins that were weighed on the scales.  It was just £10 for fifty skeins.  Its 4 ply carpet wool, I’ve given away a lot of it this year as I’m retiring from school.

This is my second attempt at making Ethel.  The wools were all different thicknesses, so I had to double up some of them to make them thick enough.  In the end I had to use a metal ruler to ensure that every row didn’t pull the knitting out of shape.  I didn’t have a pattern and the face came out too big, so I had to pull it apart several times and I couldn’t get it to work.  I had to lose the ears in the end.  I decided it needed a whole re-knit and I had to reduce the background pattern to keep within the 10cm square size.    Then I just stopped before I embellished it too much.

I weave more than I knit now. When you’re painting with wool, it really doesn’t matter at all whether it’s perfect or not.  So if I was making wool scenery I wouldn’t bother correcting it.  I’m fascinated by colours and textures.  I add or take away as I go.  If I think there is too much I just change colour to get the balance I like.  It’s not a science and I don’t write the pattern down.  I don’t have any knitting patterns at all anymore, though I do have a couple of Golden Hands magazines from the eighties.  I just tend to pick up wool and knit with it.  Colours affect me enormously.  It’s good for the soul and mental health.  The cat can sit on you and you can get on with the knitting when their paws aren’t in the wool.    

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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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