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Sarah – an award winning basketmaker who hit old lady pursuits quite early in life

Perhaps I’ve just got a different taste level to most people

Learning to Knit: I can knit thanks to my Aunty Elsie, who taught me when I was 5 years old.  She was in service so she didn’t like anyone to be idle and I’m incredibly grateful to her.  It was in my Grandma’s house; Aunty Elsie must have cast on and I was very keen to cast off and as soon as I’d done that I wanted to know why I couldn’t carry on; so she had to pick up the stitches to let me knit.  I think it became a scarf for a doll.  She was an amazing knitter; when I was little all of my tiny tears dolls had beautiful layettes and blankets.  I think she was trying to inculcate me.  I’ve knitted on and off ever since. 

My brother wanted to knit as well, so my mum taught him, much to my Dad’s chagrin as he didn’t think boys should knit.  I remember knitting things for my Snoopy.  I couldn’t understand why my mum’s friends thought it was so funny when I knitted him a tail-warmer. 

I picked it up again in my thirties when my friends started having kids.  I’d done bits and bobs in between, such as the typical oversize cardigan when I was a student.  I must have relied a lot on my mum for help, to pick things up if I missed or dropped stitches, but I don’t remember much about it.  I always liked knitting as there are only 2 main stitches and you can make all these different textures. 

Knitted Wonders: I’ve got a fantastic 1980s cardigan with clowns on it with knitted bobbles for a nose which a friend of my mum’s made for me.  I still wear it with great delight.  Maybe some people would think it’s awful but I love it.  Perhaps I’ve just got a different taste level from most people.  I’ve made quite a lot of horrors for small children, all sorts of things: lots of hats and bootees; a few quite bad animals including a memorable wonky Donkey and a couple of sheep, and some rabbits.  I made a little cardigan, (the first since my own oversize one) with cows on for my friend’s son, and I seem to remember that the arms were very different lengths.  Rather strangely that same friend asked me to knit her daughter’s christening gown.  It was probably the best thing that I did ever knit.  I found a sixties pattern in a charity shop.  It was on tiny needles using glacé cotton that I had to keep clean because it was cream.  She asked for it to be christening gown length so that took ages.  I also knitted a coat, the same length to go over it.  I just about got it done in time, but she didn’t get any matching bootees.  Sadly neither of us have any pictures. 

I did find a picture of a dress that I knitted for my god-daughter with a lace stitch at the edge.  Her brother got a rather questionable looking Arran jumper.  If I make a mistake I always undo it.  I’m not a perfectionist, but I hate being able to see where it’s wrong.  There’s something quite calming about the pattern when it works out right.  I don’t like a dropped stitch.  I made quite complicated baby blankets for my god children and I hated when I could see where the rib/cable went wrong.  When I was working in London there was a little Debbie Bliss shop, and I could walk there and bother Debbie Bliss herself to fix it when I had a problem. 

After a while, everyone’s kids grew up to an age where they didn’t want to be knitted for.  So I had phases of knitting hats, or gloves and a phase of egg cosies.  I’d think that I wasn’t going to knit anymore and then I’d get tempted by yarns.  I used to take my knitting with me quite a lot, such as on aeroplanes.  I got shouted at by an air stewardess once.  I guess she thought that I could bring down the plane with my bamboo needles.  I was knitting everyday then.  I lived by myself in a one room house with a bed up a ladder.  I didn’t have a telly and I worked from home so I spent quite a lot of time knitting and listening to the radio.  I hit old lady pursuits quite early, far happier knitting than gadding about.  

Current Knitting: Knitting is always on the edge of my mind.  I knit for comfort and enjoyment.  Recently, I went to Uist and I really liked their wools and patterns, so that got me knitting again 18 months ago.  My lockdown calming measure was knitting dishcloths.  I’ve knitted far more than anyone could need in a life time.  I’ve still got piles of them that I’m sending to friends who might use them.  It’s a simple square and I don’t like sewing up at the end, you don’t have to turn a corner and so is numb thinking knitting.  You can do it whilst watching RuPaul’s drag race. 

Knitting is partly responsible for why I moved up to the West of Scotland.  I’d intentionally booked a holiday cottage to be really close to Croft Wools.  It’s this amazing little building on the side of the road and then six months later I moved just up the road, so I needn’t have bought all the yarn.   The woman who runs it laid on the first basketry workshop that I did, so she’s got a lot to answer for. 

When I first moved, I participated in knit and natter groups.  It means I meet a different group of people who I wouldn’t have met otherwise.  It started in a church hall then it migrated into people’s houses.  It could get quite controversial, not the knitting, but the chat.  It was on weekdays so it tended to be older folk, associated with the church.  Recently it’s tailed off as one of the main participants died and she provided a lot of cake as well as a venue, so that was very tempting. 

Knitting Vs Basketry: When I’m basket making I’m often working with a theme in mind, trying to resolve something as I make quite unusual baskets for the catwalk or exhibition.  I’ll try different materials, techniques and forms; there’s no pattern to follow as no-one else wants to make a basket out of maps or corsetry boning.  With knitting I’ve never been that innovative, I’ve mostly followed a pattern, so I can give myself up to the higher power of the person who wrote the pattern. 

I’ve just finished a project with Jennifer, a Canadian maker from Halifax, Nova Scotia.  It was a Shift Canada/Applied Arts Scotland project.  We were focusing on identity and place, so decided to make a piece based on a woman who left Applecross and travelled for 5 weeks by warship to Nova Scotia in 1803.  When she got there she scythed the grass to feed the cows, made a big tub of butter and she was taking that butter across the river in exchange for shoes but she drowned.  So we re-imagined the boots that were waiting for her in exchange for the butter.  Jennifer made her shoes out of laser-cut birch bark and wove it into linen.  I sent her hair-moss cordage to go round the edge.  My pair of shoes was made out of maps of Applecross laced with Nova Scotia maps.  Both pairs are now together as part of Meet, Make, Collaborate, Inverness Museum

I’ve got a bit of a taste for hair moss which I make baskets out of by plaiting it, then stitching it together with linen.  So as moss stitch is my favourite knitting stitch, I thought I’d make a moss stitch square out of hair moss for the Knitted Lives project.  I first had to make the yarn and then find some enormous needles.  They don’t quite match, coming to me from a friend attached to a birthday card.  It’s not the nicest thing to knit, it’s kind of springy.  I only needed 7 stitches to get 10cm and I’m not sure how good my tension will be. 

Want more?  You can listen to my full conversation with Sarah Paramor, an award winning basket maker, on IGTV on Knitted.Lives  Sarah’s work is on show in 2021 in Inverness museum or in Rhythm, Renewal and Reinention at Ruthin  Alternatively catch her work on Instagram or on her website


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

2 thoughts on “Sarah – an award winning basketmaker who hit old lady pursuits quite early in life

  1. I have been listening to Gathering Moss, by Robin Kimmerer. The last chapter I heard discussed historic and current uses for mosses. No mention of weaving yet. I hope that the author does know about hair moss though, as it beautiful and functional. Thank you for sharing.


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