Knit’s my Life: Casting On…

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Knits my Life

In which I attempt to write about my life in stitches

Casting On…

Knitting is something that has always been there. I’m not really sure when I first remember it. But it was there. With my darling craft-crazy Nan. I remember the way she neatly held the yarn over her index finger, bringing it forward, over and over. Sitting in the house that contained enough hoarded treasures to satisfy a curious child for a lifetime.

There were button boxes in one cupboard, balls of wool tumbling from a washing basket in the next. In another, piles of fabric carefully gleaned from jumble sale dresses, cut and ironed and folded into neat squares that somehow smelt of actual iron. The giant endless spool of crunchy nylon yellow ribbon living in the oak dresser, used countless times for gift wrapping, doll hair tying, securing plants. So much ribbon…it lasted nigh on ten years before we got to view the shining white card central pillar of the reel.

Nanny would sit and knit and knit. Mostly she would create squares, in lurid eye burning acrylics, making pieces that she would put together in ungodly colour combinations to suit nobody’s taste, not a human alive, no lie! Luckily they weren’t intended for humans, but for the sausage dogs. It’s a little known fact that the Dachshund is the greatest lover of a knitted blanket in the entire dog universe. So there were blankets for Badger to wriggle under and play tug o’ war with, for Buttons to growl beneath, for both dogs to grow old in and for the new rescue pups to enjoy after they had gone.

Every so often the never-ending knits of the blanket squares would be set aside and something glorious would emerge in their place. A toy! A doll, a snowman, a scarecrow lady, a set of knitted jelly babies in authentic jelly baby colours, later packed into a massive plastic sweet jar, to make them look even more real.


Nan's Sally Scarecrow (restored by me)
Nan’s Sally Scarecrow (restored by me)

She wasn’t the only knitter in that house. From the corner, there would emerge the rhythmic clicking of heavy metal needles. From the high backed chair of my Great Nan. There she was, a permanent fixture, listening to the noise of her brittle yellowed plastic radio or the snooker on the TV.

Great Nan couldn’t see. She could barely hear. She had lost her sight to glaucoma for as long as I could remember. She hardly ever put in her false teeth (not even to eat toast, pulling off the crusts to crumble into pieces; “put ’em out for the birds…!”), let alone her hearing aids. Every conversation was conducted in a loud blast, in case we were all as deaf as she. If she needed something, she’d bang her stick on the floor loudly and yell, like an abominable Grandma from a Roald Dahl story. For a small child she was both terrifying and interesting, all at once.

When she was quiet and lovely was when she was knitting. She couldn’t see, yet she would knit as well as anyone sighted, she did it by feel. Counting out stitches and rows with her fingers, calm and happy, feeling the wool beneath her fingers. I’d lie on the floor and look up at the chair, watching her old scary loving hands glide happily over her work. Always making something mysterious in white, always something soft, with holes…intentional ones…I think! Something that I don’t recall ever seeing finished, but to me looked beautiful.

I knew she knew I was watching her, she could feel everything that happened always. She knew who was with her and when. And I felt too. I felt she liked me being there with her, while she touched and counted the stitches and I silently watched and counted them out in my head with her, the love between us lying right there on the needles, between each stitch.

I made this for Nan, I think with Great Nan in my head...
I made this for Nan, I think with Great Nan in my head…

So that’s where it all began for me. The watching of the knitting, accompanied by several barking blankets shaped suspiciously like wriggling sausages.

The two ladies, the makers.

One keeper of wondrous crafty treasures surrounded by high voltage bursts of colourful strings.

One formidable stubborn old lady with an airy white woollen cloud tumbling from her hands…