Anne – a prolific knitter of socks

…it’s not a case of where you get fleece from, it’s more a case of trying to stop it coming.

Learning to Knit: I was brought up by my Dad from a baby. My aunt taught me to knit, I used to go to them in the holidays; so she’d teach me then I’d go back home and forget.  I was only 7 or 8 and I was trying to knit a jumper for my teddy bear, but that took quite a while.  I did eventually pick it up.  In retrospect what was weird was I just wanted to knit socks. My Uncle was given a pair of hand knitted socks by a customer, I was an early teenager at the time.    I must have been the only teenager hand-knitting socks.  I would go to the department store and I would see all those garish acrylic wools and I would knit away, making socks.  I must have knitted myself jumpers in between, but it was the socks that grabbed me. 

I’ve knitted socks for years and years now.  I knit them on 4 needles.  I’ve been married for 30 years next month, and my husband just will not wear the socks that I knit.  But, when I moved to a sock machine he will wear them; I’ve no idea why, I don’t know what the difference is.  I’ve always liked ribbed socks as they held up.  In the early eighties I went to Whitby, going into Bobbins.  It’s a church converted into a yarn shop.  By then they were selling the German yarns with colour in.  Suddenly it wasn’t just grey and brown, it was all these different colours.  Nowadays I don’t like to use nylon in my socks.  So for the machine I’ve bought some yarn that is high twist, which is supposed to be strong enough to not need the nylon.  I’ve made a pair and I’m giving them quite a lot of wear to see if they last.  The plan is I’ll be able to knit them and sell them in the museum. 

Framework Knitters Museum: The first thing I saw about the Framework Knitters Museum was at a yarn festival in Bakewell in October.  Someone was asking for oddments of yarn to make socks.  I like industrial heritage, so it planted in my head.  Then I saw it in a book on industrial heritage, and eventually I went down.  I’m in the knitting and crochet guild and we went to the archive where they had their stuff, so I was expecting old knitting patterns and gadgets.  The minute I walked in, I loved it and wanted to volunteer, even though it’s 31 miles away.  One day I found I can get there by train and bus, and I like public transport as you can sit there and knit.  There’s no reaction to me knitting on public transport anymore.  No-one’s bothered.  You can go into Nottingham and see people as fairies or bears in fancy dress, so no-one cares.  

The museum has inspired me.  I feel very sad about the Framework knitters, they had a rough deal.  Everyone talks about the miners and people in the mills.  It was this huge industry and it’s just gone.  There are frames in other museums but none of them are working.  There are only a few people in the country who could even start to put them together. 

I started as a volunteer in the shop, meeting people, showing them around and all that.  Another volunteer (Mary) was up in the Griswold (circular sock knitting machine) room and she started showing me them and talking about buying them.  I didn’t want to buy one, I just wanted to be a volunteer.  But by the end of the week I was on eBay bidding on one.  In the end I found one in Worthing in West Sussex.  I got really stressed bidding on eBay, and missed out.  So I sent a message to the person selling it, who was a lovely lady suffering from heart failure, so she didn’t care about breaking the eBay rules as she was dying.  So I said to my husband, shall we just go now.  So we drove down, in the middle of August to a seaside town and got it.  Then I started playing with the machine and then I got moved into demonstrating in the Griswold room.  I really enjoyed it, I learnt a bit more about them.  I just enjoyed talking people through it.  One of the funniest things is when you get couples coming in, the men aren’t that interested when I’m talking about the knitted side of it.  But when I explain how it works and talk about the mechanics and suddenly the men wake up and they’re there.  The other nice thing is that we do get people who come in who worked in the industry, so there’s time when you’re learning from them.  It makes it really nice.  Then there are people who’ve looked into their family history and found FWK in somebody’s birth certificate which isn’t farmworker but framework knitter if you’re from Nottingham. 

I’ve done daft things on the sock machine, like I’ve knitted myself a skirt using flat panels.  I’ve also knitted myself an apron.  I had to back that with material, it was using some really thin yarn that we had at the museum.  I knitted them in circular, then laid them flat and sewed them altogether.  We didn’t get to have our own apron at the museum; they have a little pocket on the front, and I was convinced I’d leave a snotty hanky in it.  So I decided to make my own.  In winter, it can be quite cold in the frame shop so it’s quite nice to have a bit of insulation.  There isn’t another apron like that anywhere in the world. 

Then the main frame demonstrator left and the only other person was a student, so Matthew wasn’t available that much so I was asked to learn the frames.  I always joke to people that he was found under the Gooseberry bush as he was going there from such a young age.  It took me a year before I felt a bit competent.  Matthew was very patient, he must have regretted that I was asked to learn at times.  It’s not easy, it was hard work but I got there.  Matthew takes you through the movements with the foot treadles and carriage weights and getting it synched up.  Then he gradually built up what I was doing, starting on one panel to make it easier.  It’s all about co-ordination, even the slightest bit of deviation upsets it.  A proper apprentice used to take 7 years, but that used to include the maintenance.  I enjoy doing it, I really love it.  I can do plain knit, and manual lace patterns but not the lace bar.  I’d like to do some lacework; I’d like to tighten up the gauge which makes it harder to knit.  I’m just so proud to be part of that museum.  It’s the only place in the world where anyone does that.  I’m probably one of very few people who can do it, it’s such an opportunity. 

Since then I started spinning yarns.  I got chatting to someone at Chatsworth Country Fair and I just knew I wanted to do it.  It slows you down a bit as it takes a lot longer if you’ve got to spin the yarn before you knit.  I hand knit socks with hand-spun wool which makes them thicker so I use them for walking socks.  I very rarely buy yarn now for that now.  Once you start spinning it’s not a case of where you get fleece from, it’s more a case of trying to stop it coming, people give it you; or you get tempting offers, or you go to yarn fairs and you  can’t resist yourself or you’re in a guild and they have a speaker who brings lovely stuff.  It just seems to come at me, I go to visit someone and I come back with some fleece that I didn’t need.  There are loads of fleeces up in the loft, and I will work my way through processing them.  It all adds to the fun.

Knitted Wonders and Horrors: I’ve made a few things I’m quite proud of such as this patterned jumper which is probably in acrylic as that was all there was in the wool shops at the time.  It was a pattern in a book of Scandinavian knitting that I took out of the library.  I graphed out the design and then I used a normal jumper pattern and superimposed the design on top.  It was in my early twenties.  What I’m trying to do at the moment is spin some yarn and do it again in hand-spun.  I like knitting little hats, this one is hand spun and dyed by myself.  I love fair-isle.  I did a pattern called Beatnik from Ravelry, the fibre is from a lady called Katie Weston, she’s an independent producer of high fibres using a never ending gradient.  You sign up and you get 100g of wool each month and each ball blends into the next.  Most of the people make a shawl, but if you’re making a jumper that gives you problems with the sleeves.  So you have to knit it in the round and steek it when you get to the arms.  That tested me as it’s the first steeking I’ve done. 

My friend lives up in Scotland and she went to the Sanquhar museum and she sent me two glove patterns.  You knit your initials into the pattern as well as the date.  I started knitting them in 2018 but it’s not the sort of thing you can do if you’ve got a glass of wine, or you’re tired so they take quite a long time.  I put 2019 in as the date as I knew it’d take a while, but it got to 8.40pm on New Year’s Eve before I finished. 

There’s a jumper that I’ve mislaid that was a bit of a disaster.  It was a Kate Davies pattern for a lovely cardigan that I tried.  I spun the yarn in alpaca, but alpaca doesn’t hold its shape like wool does.  I knitted it first in the round but it was far too wide, which is the trouble when using hand-spun.  Then I knitted it again and I got a twist in it, like a Mobius strip.  The third time I was knitting away and I don’t know if it’s my spinning or the fact that I’m doing it for the third time, and it all got knotted up. 

Inspiration and Motivation: I’m in the Hallamshire guild of weavers, spinners and dyers and we have trips to Fibre East and suchlike.  I’m the programme secretary so I have to get the speakers.  I’m in a Nottingham guild too.  It’s just a nice supportive place.  I get inspiration from the other spinners, knitters and weavers.  It’s a good place to meet people and make friends without small talk about holidays and kids. 

I like physically knitting, I like that action so domestic flatbed knitting doesn’t appeal to me.  It’s that repetitive, meditative motion, but it’s also the challenge.  I’m doing a Japanese glove pattern at the moment in really fine yarn.  I can only knit them when I’ve got good light and proper reading glasses on. 

One of the reasons I started weaving was to get my brain active again.  That’s why I’ve gone into more complicated fair-isle patterns.  Spinning is the more easy, relaxing thing.  I wasn’t that bothered about weaving, but then I saw someone doing it, and that grabbed my attention and then a loom came up.  I’m not a good weaver, it’s taken an awful long time to understand it.  I was never very patient, but weaving has taught me patience.  I’ve just got a third, second-hand loom now.  I’m spread too thinly, there’s too many things I like doing.  I’ll not live long enough to even do a fraction of the possibilities. 

Visit: The Framework Knitters Museum in Ruddington is a unique surviving example of a 19th century framework knitters’ yard that has been lovingly restored as a living history museum.  The Knitted Lives project will be live at the museum in October 2021.  Come and join us in a celebration of knitted wonders and horrors.

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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