I stood in front of the electric fire in my lovely hand-knitted school jumper and got all toasty warm and when I turned round it was burnt through
Learning to knit: I can’t remember learning to knit, which is interesting in itself. My Aunt and Uncle owned a wool shop in Reading and I do remember going into the shop and seeing the square shelving with the wool in blocks. That was a lovely shop, but unfortunately they didn’t do very well commercially with it. I can remember what I knitted first though, it was a peppermint green scarf for a toy dog. I think it was about an inch wide and about a ruler long, and the edges were all screwy. It was for my dog pepper, which I took over from my older sister, Bunny. The scarf used to help hold his neck on.
I’ve always enjoyed the feel of wool. One of my favourite dresses was in wide striped bands, when I was 3. It was very dense, and I loved it as it was so bright orange and blue. I also had a lovely peppermint green crochet dress when I was about seven. We had so many clothes that were knitted, but I don’t know who made them, apart from my school jumper which I think one of my Grannies made (Old Gran or Church Gran). I remember I was cold so I stood in front of the electric fire and got all toasty warm and when I turned round it was burnt through. I can’t remember flames, or being told off. I just remember the smell and then I had a hole in my nice jumper.
I also remember cards which had pre-printed animals and you sewed them through big holes. I do remember knit one, purl one, but I don’t know what it means. I used to think that it was for a jewel, like a pearl, and it was only when I looked it up recently that I realised it was spelt differently. I think I might have made myself a scarf at some point, but I never made a jumper or anything like that. That would be way beyond me. I’m not a real knitter, but I can celebrate someone who was, my brother Trevor. He is the real knitter, I’m just a dabbler.
Remembering Trevor: My brother Trevor had learning difficulties from birth and was dyslexic. He was born at home and it was a long birth. So he was always a bit different. He went to the same primary school as us, but for secondary school he went to a ‘special school’ with a whole variety of physical and mental disabilities even though he wasn’t severely disabled. He was really good at electrical stuff as well as knitting, but he struggled with other parts of life.
Trevor started knitting when he was about 10 or 11, we’ve got lots of pictures of him in tank tops that he’d knitted. It was an obsession with wool. He bought so much every week. The only other person who had an obsession with wool was our dad, with ready-cut rugs in pre-printed kits. There’s a company called Readicut that still is in operation. Trevor and I both did them as well, it’s very therapeutic. We didn’t see much of dad when I was growing up, as he did shifts, so when I got home from school I would wave him off to work. He used to take them on holiday to do. My mum kept diaries and she talks about him ‘doing the rug’. He’d sit there for hours at the dining room table in our small lounge diner and he was very content doing that. One of the rugs that he made for us was for a hallway that was 30ft long. Towards the end he designed his own as he had so much left over wool from the years of making. I’ve still got several rugs he made, though we did have to get rid of most of them when he passed on.
Trevor couldn’t just knit one of something. For Christmas he made everyone woolly hats, but not just one, he gave me five one year. They were all slightly different beanies, like Benny from Crossroads. Then we had a year of hand warmers (wristies). I actually used them at work for a game, where before you could answer a question you had to run into the centre and put one on then put your hand up. He also had a phase of knitting machines, but not too long. Then he went back to knitting and finally onto crochet. I’ve got six of his crochet blankets. We use two regularly. We sit upstairs watching telly and I have one over my knees and then I put it over my husband’s knees and I snuggle down and go to sleep. It’s just beginning to wear, but I have another four to replace it. It’s nice, many of my ornaments are gifts from family, or objects that I’ve inherited. So when I go round dusting I think of them. I’m still going to keep the rugs even after they wear out.
Trevor also made us jumpers. He made me a lemon jumper when I was at University but I looked so awful in it I couldn’t bear to share the photo. He wouldn’t start and finish a jumper, he would have three or four on the go at once. He did it for relaxation. He took his knitting box everywhere with him, when he was visiting family for the afternoon or weekend. He always brought his knitting, it was always by his side. We used to get on at him quite a bit, so maybe this was his way of phasing out. He would watch telly and knit. I don’t know if he was part of a knitting group, but there was a wool shop in Gloucester that he frequented. We’ve got woollen snowmen that we put out each Christmas and I think he learned how to do that through them. When Trevor died in September 2015, unexpectedly, we put one of his blue crochet blankets draped across his coffin. It made sense at the time. I wore a crochet flower brooch that he had made me. So even at the funeral we celebrated wool and Trevor.
Bunny and I went to clear out Trevor’s flat after he died– we knew he liked wool – but his bedroom, literally from floor to ceiling was stacked with bags and bags of balls of wool. A huge number. We gave most of it away, but I decided to take some and make something with it. So every time I came back to the UK, I came with space in my suitcase and took back huge bags of wool. As Trevor had always knitted presents for us at Christmas, I wanted to knit presents for family with his wool to remember him. Primarily I chose to keep black, red and white as I wanted to make Christmas decorations. I brought the needles from his box and everything too. But I kept putting it off, despite prompts from my sister Bunny.
My tension square: This project got me started, I went up and chose the wool that I had the most of, which was black. Then I had to look up what size needles as I had such a range from him. It was amazingly complex trying to understand plys. It was funny trying to remember, it was not like riding a bike. I thought I would be able to do it but it was a real challenge. YouTube was brilliant. I could not cast on at all, but finally I found a video clip which showed a really easy twisting technique.
I chose the easiest stitch, plain knit and I was almost quite sad that it was done so quickly. Then I decided that as I really wanted to remember Trevor I needed to incorporate crochet as he moved on to that towards the end, so I tried to make a red poppy. Which was all fine till I came to try and do it. I’ve never attempted it before. Trevor had a lot of books, even a ladybird book on how to crochet, which starts ‘first of all wash your hands’ but then it got too difficult for me. I’m left handed, but I knit right handed. I crochet left handed though and all the YouTube videos were the other way around. I soon ended up googling the simplest crochet flower for beginners and I found a really nice one. I managed one petal, and then I lost the circle and then I realised I could put one on top of the other and each one had a bit that was ok and it formed a nice 3D poppy held together with a button.
I enjoyed it, it was quite relaxing. I really felt a sense of achievement at the end. I liked the sense of the movement of the needles. It was only as I was looking at all the articles on the internet I realised that I was making a tension square, which was rather apt as I was quite tense whilst I was making it.
Now I’ve now put knitting on my ‘to do’ list which is a definite commitment, though I have put the wool back in the attic. I plan to get it out again in about June. I think a jumper might be a bit ahead for me, though I do have enough wool for a few. I’m wondering whether I could make little woollen tree decorations for a Christmas tree. I haven’t told Bunny that I’m doing this. I might surprise her with something woollen, but I might not be able to hold on, I might have to show her the picture and this blog.