A stitch in time - my personal knitting memories
Every month we will feature a newsletter reader's own account of the place knitting has in their lives, special memories, first attempts, funny or heartwarming stories. If your account is published in the newsletter there will be a small prize (different each month). To kick off (or cast on) Colourway's internet admin Maggie dips into her earliest memories of the craft she has loved for almost her whole life.
It all began with the clicking of needles. I was one of seven children but there were only three of us I think when I have the first vague knitting related memory. It must have been about 1956-7 and I recall the cooking smells and cramped quarters of the adapted (and stationary) double-decker bus we all lived in during the post-war period. At that time East London families like ours (often made homeless by the blitz), were still living in caravans and other temporary housing while vast new council estates were being built to accommodate them.
Anyway, almost all of my earliest 'indoor' memories include the close physical proximity of my younger sister Teresa, who now owns Colourway. We shared a bed for years in the old days, (first with each other and later with the addition of my two younger sisters - and the welcome arrival of a double bed) and every memory of such times seems to include having freezing cold feet and the sound of mum's knitting needles clicking away as she told us bedtime stories. Whenever she had a free moment she would knit, or crochet, sew or make potato sack backed rag rugs, and despite not having two brass farthings to rub together her output was prodigious.
As the family grew, and moved into our council house with the luxury of an indoor loo and a tiny patch of garden, mum rarely got to sit down, but when she did, out came the knitting. Every new baby had pass-me downs from older brother or sisters (or both) but always their own new cot blankets, christening layette, and whatever else was needed for the wardrobe. As they grew, school jumpers came onto the list. In those days every run of shops serving a community in our area seemed to boast a little store which sold basic yarns, either DK or 4-ply in a range which included local school colours (my catholic primary school cardigan was bottle green and much loathed).
New yarns were rare in our house, and normally reserved for school jumpers when knitting 'big' meant we hopefully got at least a couple of years wear out of the garment, per child. Or for occasions like weddings (I had loads of older cousins and weddings were always popular because there was exotic food like sausage rolls and coronation chicken) when mum whipped up matching cheap cotton dresses for myself and three younger sisters and topped them with toning cardigans or boleros. For everyday non-school wear, and for the blankets and rugs for our small but freezing cold council house, there was the jumble sale. These were frequent in my day, and ridiculously cheap, and my job (when I wasn't sneaking off to find toys, or better still books, for my threepenny bit pocket money) was to find hand knits which could be unravelled for mum's projects. If I had a pound for every hour spent unravelling sweaters I would be rich by now!
I started to knit and crochet myself when I was about six or seven. I had problems handling the knitting needles and 'throwing' the yarn as mum taught, so I grew up unable to relax with my knitting when she was there. Until her death a couple of years back I still avoided it because I could sense her watching me critically..my technique was always wrong as far as she was concerned. Crochet was simpler, just one hook to deal with and I had no problem mastering how to handle the yarn, so I often found myself adding the latest yarns from the jumble sale finds to a seemingly endless stream of blankets. These were usually worked in stripes or rectangles increasing in size from the centre (mum loathed granny squares because of the additional making-up time). We did our best to create pleasing colour schemes, but basically you worked with what you had, and the ultimate aim was to keep warm. I am often reminded of those days when I am in the shop, we have a stack of lovely blankets, knitted and crocheted to showcase some of our yarns, and think what luxury they represent...new real wool with colours selected to work together, and all unfortunately destined for pockets (and beds) other than mine.
I wondered what happened to all those old crochet blankets I made!!
Colour was definitely critical for the first full garment I ever knitted however, because I was given some birthday money by aunts and uncles one year and begged to be allowed to buy new yarn from the little local knitting shop. It was to be DK for speed, I had chosen a simple round necked pattern with a fitted sleeve (drop shoulder lines were a trend many years in the future) and in pretty colours. I couldn't decide on which shades of the lightly brushed synthetic yarn I liked best, so eventually agreed to a soft creamy toffee colour for the back and sleeves and framing, with broad stripes of pale pink, pale blue, and lilac for the front. It was a bit like the pick'n mix stand in Woolworths and we must have been at least an hour in the shop before returning home, poor mum.
I remember that sweater so clearly, mainly because I had the attention span of a flea, and it took at least two years to complete. Mum did the actual making up for me after I had shed blood sweat and tears creating a cobbled mess myself, but I was so proud of it. True, it wasn't long before we were back to the knitting shop for more of the base yarn to add length to the body and sleeves because it had taken such an age to complete, and to this day I can still remember the way the slightly brushed pastel yarns scraped over my sweaty plastic knitting needles.
The knitting and crochet bug had really bitten by the end of primary school, then, 'big' school was to dramatically change many aspects of the crafting journey, but I'll save that for another day. In the meantime I would love to read your own personal crafting memories and any which appear in the monthly newsletter will receive a surprise prize! Just send them to firstname.lastname@example.org (subject line 'A stitch in time') and you will receive an acknowledgment straight away and an indication as soon as we can of when we will be using it. By all means attach pictures, and if you prefer to write or type your submission and pop photos in the envelope we will return the originals once they have been processed.
Bye for now, I need to get the scent of cooked cabbage and stuffy double-decker bus out of my head. Time for tea (and knitting).