Sunday, July 16, 2006

My Family and Other Knitters - pt 1

Someone asked me recently if I came from a creative background. I didn't think my family was any more creative than normal until I started to think about it.

For example, my great-grandmother on my mother's side was a professional cook. This seems to have been passed on through the family - one of my aunts, the second daughter of my grandmother's six surviving children, was the cook at Harrow School for years. My mother, sister and I are enthusiastic cooks, who love to throw dinner parties, although Mum and I aren't up to the elaborate stuff any more.

Mum makes and decorates great cakes. She can do the traditional royal icing types (my wedding cake, baskets of roses and so on) as well as the Jane Asher type - she does a lovely butterfly.

She's also very good at pickles and preserves, although she deosn't produce as much as she did when we were at home to eat them. I can still smell the eye-watering combination of boiling vinegar and pickling spice from the making of pickled onions :)

My maternal grandmother was a talented dressmaker - just as well, when she had six children to bring up, and a husband who was away at sea more than he was at home. (He retired from sailing a year before my mother was born, when he lost a leg in a wreck.) She not only clothed the family, she took in dressmaking too. Mum can clearly remember her sewing into the small hours, to finish a party dress for the family or an order for someone else.

My maternal grandfather, as I say, was a sailor, and so was proficient at netting and sailmaking. Because of the netting, he also knew how to cast on with the thumb method - something he taught Mum, which she then passed on to me and my sister. He also loved to whittle wood, and carve toy boats, which Mum, her brother and their cousins used to sail on the local pond.

My mother's brother inherited Grandad's abilities with wood, and became a time-served carpenter, making furniture which is still in use in the family. (His wife, although not a blood relative, also deserves a mention - she was a trained tailor and upholsterer, and I remember her work as being amazingly neat and accurate.)

Mum and another of her sisters both trained in the workroom attached to a big upholstery/curtains/loose covers shop in Southampton. It was almost a rite of passage there to have the needle of the sewing machine go through your finger - Mum still has a rough section on the side of one nail, where the needle went in between her nail and her finger, while my aunt had it actually go through the middle of her nail.

Mum was also a great dressmaker, and could be amazingly inventive. After the war, when money was short and clothing was hard to get, she made my brother a pair of shorts and two plaid shirts from my father's old raincoat.

We all had handmade clothes as children, although we didn't always appreciate it! One of my favourite outfits was the sailor top and navy miniskirt she made for my twelfth birthday - I felt like a million dollars in that :)

She was also a prodigious knitter, and loved Fair Isle especially. She used to say that, if we won the Pools, she would sit and knit Fair Isle all day. She was also particularly inventive with her allowance of clothing coupons in the Second World War - she used short lengths of tapestry wool (for which no coupons were needed) for Fair Isle tops, and even knitted her own nylons, complete with seam, from the little cards of nylon darning thread!

(I'm using the past tense here, not because she has died, but because the other family legacy - arthritis - has curtailed a lot of her activities.)

My father, like Mum's brother, was a time-served carpenter, and made some lovely furniture. He could be very inventive - my sister still uses a long, low table which he made from the top of a piano! Although he eventually qualified as a chartered quantity surveyor, he never lost his DIY enthusiasms, and I can never remember anyone else coming to the house to do odd jobs. He's the only man I have ever known who could wallpaper a ceiling....

He also used to make hooked rugs, and could embroider beautifully. He was stuck in quarantine in a military hospital for a whole winter while he was in the Army in WWII (carrying, but not suffering from, diphtheria), and he passed the time by embroidering tray cloths and making a pink elephant for the Sister. He presented it to her when he left, explaining that, when it turned grey, she would know she had had enough to drink!

My brother is creative with words. He has written several series of stories for children, as well as a children's novel and several collections of humorous verse. He can compose long rhyming poems for any family occasion, and we all treasure the poems he has written for each of us!

My sister is a proficient knitter and a wonderful cross-stitcher. She especially used to like the big intarsia picture sweaters of the 80s, and used to add extra sections onto the charts to keep herself interested - more sheep, or more flowers. She made me a wonderful sweater with a country landscape on it - but she thought the back would be boring for her just done plain, so she adapted the chart from the front, and created the same scene by night for the back!

She can make clothes - she's just made a beautiful christening robe for her new granddaughter.

She's been a keen cross stitcher for several years now, and has designed lots of her own works. I particularly like the pair of samplers she made depicting events from the years in which she and her husband were born.

She doesn't knit much now, but I still treasure the memory of waking up one birthday to find that she had knitted an entire wardrobe of beautiful clothes for my Tiny Tears! Come to think of it, I still have the pattern she used :) And I really regret losing the green rabbit she made me....

Like me, she has dabbled in a ot of other things - macrame, plasticraft paperweights, jewellery making, tatting.

Ever since I was little, I've been making things: knitting, crochet (yarn, thread and filet), tatting, cross stitch, embroidery, blackwork, tapestry, bobbin lace, Ruskin lace, spinning, paper crafts, macrame, Fimo modelling, modelling with paper straws, watercolour painting, basketry, dressmaking..... But I keep coming back to knitting and crochet. I guess they're my thing.

Next week: Our amazing neighbour. Have a good one!

1 comment:

Mary Anne said...


it was so interesting to read your family history and see all the creative people in your past.
ps: I can remember the lovely but eye-watering smell of pickled onions being made too!