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Jules – ceramicist, writer and self-declared tragic knitter

I did manage to knit a jumper, but it came out microscopic.  I could barely squeeze myself into it when it was finished

Learning to knit: I think my mother taught me to knit when I was 9 or 10.  I remember her teaching me to chant ‘through, round, over and off’ and I still do it if I knit.  It may have been to do with being a Brownie and wanting to do badges and be seen as ‘good’.  I used to sit at her or my grandmother’s feet, and they would scratch my back with their knitting needles.  I only ever learned plain knit stitches, and never learnt how to cast on.  I knitted squares for a blanket, but they would get wider and narrower as I used to knit really tightly and drop stitches.  I remember the conservatory at my parent’s house sitting on the garden seats, or in the lounge at my mum’s feet.  The three of us would sit and knit together and you had this clack of needles going constantly.  There’s something quite warm about it and it says family to me.  I never got very far so I went onto crochet as it was quicker. It’s almost like I was on the fringes of it, I wasn’t fully there.  I dipped in when I was in the mood.  They were all knitters and I’d come in, try for a bit, make an attempt and then back off and do my own thing.   I see it as a very female bonding activity.

My Nan gave up work in her fifties as she had emphysema so she would sit and knit all day and make squares and sew them into blankets. Grandma made us jumpers and cardigans, you could put in orders for what you wanted. She also did lace and crochet and I’ve still got her tablecloths. They’re all similar processes, requiring similar dexterity. She was the best knitter, then my mum, then my sister and lastly myself who was tragic. I’ve still got a jumper my mum knitted for me when I was 17, she knitted one for me, and another for my sister. It was a nylon, ski type jumper with a patterned neck knitted in the round. She also used to knit cardigans for our dolls. I did have a pale blue bed jacket that she knitted for me when I was in hospital, but I couldn’t keep it as it makes me feel sick reminding me of the chemo treatment.

My sister took to it with great enthusiasm, she was better and more patient.  She knitted me shoes to an invented pattern in multi-coloured bits of wool.  She used to put it on the floor and then get me to put my foot on it and say ‘it’ll be a few more weeks’ madam’.  They were never finished, I was always being measured when she wanted my attention.  I think they were going to be some kind of flip flop. 

My Nan taught me to crochet when I was about 11 and I crocheted my mother a bikini.  It was a bandeau top and some bottoms.  It was very holey but I was really upset that she didn’t want to wear it, so she lined it and wore it in the garden a couple of times. 

My friend and I made teddy bear clothes for our boyfriends when we were about 17.  We tried to knit something, but in the end we made t shirts and leather jackets with chains made from an old necklace in our art class.  The teacher got quite cross with us and never believed we would make anything macho enough.  The boyfriends were surprisingly thrilled.  I bumped into one of them decades later at a friends’ funeral who said he still had his bear. 

I used to crochet and knit in my early twenties when I was suffering from depression and I did manage to knit a jumper, to a relatively straightforward pattern.  It came out microscopic as I knit so tightly.  The pattern looked nice but I could barely squeeze myself into it when it was finished.  Every time I needed to cast on, I used to get my mum to do it and post it to me.  I also knitted fingerless gloves for myself, rather than cutting the fingers off a full set.  This wasn’t on four needles, they were done flat.  I think my mum did the cuff, as I can’t do purl.

I also had this idea to make these cards with a sheep on them, so I got my mum to cast on using cocktail sticks so we had this tiny bit of knitting unravelling from the sheep.  It was in my early twenties when I used to work with special needs adults to raise money for the centre.  She was really worried as I’d seen something similar and she was worried we’d be done for copyright.

When my mum had early stage dementia she used to knit to keep herself busy.  She would knit baby jumpers in acid green or pink with complex patterns.  I gave one to my friend and she wrote a lovely letter of thanks, though I never saw the baby in it.  Mum was always anxious that she’d left pins in it and would hurt the baby so she would pat it repeatedly to make sure and ask me to check it before posting it.  She kept on knitting this one size of jumper, but she could no longer work out how to make it bigger so she couldn’t knit one for me.

My tension square: I inherited all the family yarns and lace making equipment, so that was what I used for the tension square.  I also used the ribbons that keep your clothes on hangars since I always cut them out, and then keep them for art projects.  I still don’t know how to cast on so I tried crocheting a string and then knitting into that, but it didn’t work.  So I had to start again, I tried wooden barbecue sticks as I gave away all our family’s needles, but they kept splintering, so I used the metal ones.  In the end I adapted the chant and did ‘through and round’ and rather than ‘off’, poked them on the stick.  The width is all over the place, as all the ribbons and odds and ends came from a drawer and were all different lengths and widths. I did quite enjoy the knitting but it made my fingers hurt.  Probably because I knit so tightly so I get dents in the ends of my fingers as I have to pull to get it off.  It’s a very tense process for me as it requires intense concentration.  I’m exhausted at the end of each row and have to have a rest.  I’m certainly not a natural knitter.

Current knitting: I’ve used my family’s knitting in my art practice ( I’ve slip-dipped the knitting and lace, and I’ve pressed it into clay to get the texture.  My grandfather (Dad’s dad) did embroidery.  He would mainly embroider peacocks and a few flowers onto cushion covers whilst smoking roll ups.  The roll up would be adhered to his lower lip, a bit like Pop-Eye.  They would all stink of smoke, yet people ordered them regularly.  He was the son of a Cornish miner, but became a cook in the Navy, and got into embroidery to fill his spare time. One time I used an old rocking chair and took one of the cushions and cascaded the feathers, using spray glue to hold them into place.  I used bits and pieces of embroidery in between them.  It’s very hard to get rid of these personal hand-made items, so this helps me to let go as the thing I make is not so important to keep.  Sometimes I feel very guilty if the original has to get destroyed in the making.  I had to cut up one of his cushions to make a different piece, but I justified it to myself as there are more cushions and no-one else in the family wants them anyway.   It’s better that it’s preserved and I value what he’s done . 


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

One thought on “Jules – ceramicist, writer and self-declared tragic knitter

  1. Loved this! Really poignant. Jen this is such a great project. Love to both. Jxx

    Jane Maitland 44 (0) 7771 822291

    Sent from my iPhone possibly using Siri voice recognition so please forgive any blunders. Content may be confidential. If you are not the intended recipient, please delete this email.


    Liked by 2 people

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