It’s the age-old question: what came first, the chicken or the egg?
For crafters, the question seems to be: what came first, the crafting ability or the crafting passion?
Having looked at my first piece of knitting recently, I think I must have had the passion first. The stitches are so huge – I can remember struggling to co-ordinate the needles and work the yarn into a fabric that resembled what my gran had just done.
It’s a uniquely satisfying feeling to look at an item you made yourself – and even more amazing when you remember being so young when you did it.
I remember the day my gran sat down with me and my brother and showed us how to knit. We’d seen her doing it plenty of times and her speed and concentration seemed magical to us.
I think it was the summer holidays and she’d run out of games to keep us amused. I think I was eight or nine, my brother was 10 or 11.
Whatever the year, I remember the important crafty facts: using blue yarn for my brother and pink yarn for me, she cast on 12 stitches, knitted six rows for us both and then showed us what to do.
In, round, through and off: that was the mantra she repeated over and over again. Even now, her voice still echoes round my mind when I form a knit stitch.
My brother was instantly brilliant at it (as he was at most things), but I was not. Perhaps that’s where my passion kicked in. While he knitted a few more rows and then gave up – a technique had been mastered and now he had other things to move on to – I stuck at it.
I wanted to be at least as good as him, and some day (in the far, far, distant future, like when I was 12!) I might be as good as my gran.
She must have had huge patience with me because looking back at the narrow strip of knitting I created, it was a good couple of metres before my stitches started to resemble ‘proper’ knitting. I think she must have distracted me from my dire knitting skills by making me change colour several times, over the course of several days (if not weeks!).
I remember that between each knitting session with her, I would carefully roll up the strip around my needles and lovingly place it (alongwith each little offcut of yarn she’d given me) inside a small, crisp, white plastic bag.
At some point, the craft passion led on to craft ability and I mastered the technique of knit stitches. Then I got into the rhythmic flow of knitting a row, turning and knitting back. Then I became fascinated by different sorts of yarn my gran had given me – the fat woolly lengths made a bulkier fabric that was much more satisfying than the fine cotton I’d used up until then.
By this time, the narrow 12-stitch strip was around 3 metres long and had almost outgrown my small plastic bag. Time moved on, the summer ended and I went back to school. My mum packed the bag away with her own long-neglected crafty projects, inside a small, fluffy orange dumpty, with ears, eyes and a nose that was supposed to look like a dog – it just scared me!
It wasn’t until I was 30 that I saw that strip again. My mum had a clearout and found the fluffy orange dumpty dog. My strip of knitting was still on the short white plastic needles – I’d never cast off because I didn’t know how! The joy of being reunited with this crafty friend again is indescribable. All those memories came flooding back and I promised not to neglect them any longer.
So I decided to use these strips as part of a knitted blanket.
I had returned to knitting in 2006, after the launch of Simply Knitting magazine reignited my interest, and I’d been thinking about making a knitted blanket using some of the tension squares I’d accumulated and other pieces that had not turned out as I’d expected!
My old strips became the focal point of the blanket and once my family heard about my project, everyone seemed to want to help knit squares – my mum, my gran, my aunty and my sister-in-law.
It’s taken a while but I’ve now finished weaving together the blanket and I’m so proud that by being handmade, it’s an item with history, memories, stories and love.
It’s brought together my childhood with my adulthood, my successes with my failures, my family with me, my old skills (knitting) with my new craft abilities (I learned to crochet to join some of the squares).
Only hand-crafted friends can have that sort of power.