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Alison – a big fan of mohair jumpers

I used to like winding up the wool – there’s something that reminds me of boats; tidying up the ropes and sheets

Learning to knit:  I think I was shown how to knit by one of my Grandfathers, I’m not sure which one as they could both knit.  I can remember knitting with them, I didn’t think it was unusual at the time:  I remember being in a room with old fashioned furniture and knitting after lunch.  I had at least one grandmother who knitted the whole time, Grandma Trixie.  My sister and I would always get a hat or bobble hat for Christmas.  My mother was also a great knitter, as were most women of her generation.  All of our clothes were made by her or by one of our grandmothers. 

My grandfather was in the Merchant Navy and then he worked for Wendy Wool as a commercial traveller in the sixties and seventies.  He used to give us boxes of wool samples.  They were all different colours and weights.  His wife Grandma Trixie worked in a wool shop run by one of his customers, so there was a lot of wool around.

I still have a picture of my sister and myself on a beach with thick bobble hats made by Grandma Trixie. I grew up wearing knitted clothes, everyone did then. As I was a red head, I was always given emerald green or turquoise jumpers which I thought were too brightly coloured for me. I was, at best, disappointed by some of the knitted stuff I got from my grandparents, particularly when I was old enough to be seeing things that other children had that were thought to be fashionable. Cardigans with zips with pointed collars were very in, and I insisted on a bought one. It seems very cruel of me looking back as the hand knitted one would have been better quality. I always had to wear whatever I got, at least once, on Christmas day.

I don’t remember what I first knitted, but I suspect it was a scarf for my teddy, Clancy.  I always really liked knitting, I liked all the wool based toys – the spinning Jenny, a long wooden figure of a person with a hole in the middle and 4 nails at the top and you would just wind the wool around it and as you got further down it would create a sausage.  You could knit them together and make mats.  Then I loved making pompoms around a piece of cardboard, useless, but I loved it.  Crochet was too complicated.

I carried on knitting through my teens and into University and beyond.  I knitted mostly for myself plus I remember knitting a jumper for my ex-husband in my late twenties.  My mother knitted her own things, she had a great line in waistcoats and cardigans and such like.  In the eighties there was a great designer, Kaffe Fassett, I always wanted to knit those patterns but I struggled with them.  My sister could do that kind of knitting.  That was what I aspired to, but I didn’t have the patience. 

I still have a black mohair, crew neck, jumper that I knitted at university that I thought was fabulous.  I had two, one in black and one in mauve and I thought that was dead cool.  I also had a grey flecked V neck one that you wore with a t-shirt underneath as fashionable, casual wear.  I think I had a blue one too.  I never got complicated, doing cables or anything like that.  It was plain, or V neck or maybe a design with little ridges by alternating the purl and the plain.  I always liked raglan sleeves the best, they seemed to come out the best in terms of the way they sat.  I tended to favour chunky wool and big needles, for speed and lack of intricacy. 

I still have my knitting bag, I found it the other day when I cleared out a cupboard.  I used to like unravelling stuff and using it again to make to make something different.  My mother did that all the time.   You’d maybe fancy ¾ length sleeves or a V neck instead of what you had, but still like the wool, so you’d just unravel your jumper.  I’ve got a half-unravelled jumper underneath my bed that I might use to make a tension square for the Knitted Lives project.

I remember knitting at University, knitting with my friends whilst we talked about the lads we knew or what cassettes we’d bought, Depeche mode and such like. A friend of mine from then, knitted me a fair-isle sweater. I still have it, though it was just a little too fitted for me. It’s such a beautiful piece of knitting and lovely heathery kind of colours so I keep it in a drawer as I like to touch it. It makes me feel nostalgic, remembering how gifted she was. She could knit fair-isle, chatting away without seeming to look at the pattern. We would be drinking wine or G&T and that would have been fatal for me.

I did have disasters every now and then.  You got up to a certain point and could drape it around yourself and then realised that it wasn’t going to fit.  Then I would unravel it and start again.  I don’t understand why people don’t like unravelling it, I used to like winding up the wool – there’s something that reminds me of boats; tidying up the ropes and sheets.  There’s always that feeling when something goes wrong, particularly if you’re doing a bit of a pattern: wondering if anyone will notice, then looking to see where the mistake is, and if it’s under the arms thinking you can get away with it.  I’d carry on, and carry on but eventually I would feel guilty and unravel it. 

My (other) grandmother and my Dad’s sister used to knit on car journeys, furiously.  My grandfather used to joke about the clacking.  My sister used to knit on the train up to London and made friends with another knitter.  I always knitted at home; though when I was commuting regularly there was a couple on the train in the same seat each day and he would read and she would knit.

Wool is very tactile, each ply feels very different.  It’s given me a preference for woven or knitted objects in my home.  I have a kilim rug from Turkey that isn’t accurate and the whole point is the imperfections.  I love looking out for them in the pattern.  I like things that have texture, I realised that I’m quite kinaesthetic.

I loved using Jacobs’ wool, it was quite expensive and felt slightly oily.  I still have some under my bed.  I think it originates from a Fisherman’s jumper.  I have thought about knitting again because of the therapeutic side.  Lots of people I know knit in front of the television.  I don’t watch that much though, and usually do so from bed, so that isn’t conducive to knitting.  Now though I’m feeling that I should dig out the remnants that I have, maybe go and look inside my knitting bag again and see what’s what. 

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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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