Knit One, Purl One

Week 49 OF 52 ANCESTORS CHALLENGE

PROMPT: CRAFT

I was at a talk recently when I heard the rhythmic ‘clickety clack’ of knitting needles. I looked around and, sure enough, an older lady was knitting. She was listening to, and watching, the speaker intently as her knitting needles moved furiously. I couldn’t help but wonder what she was knitting and more importantly, who she was knitting for.

The reasons people knit are as varied as knitters themselves. The main reason for many people is that it is simply fun. For others knitting is a creative outlet, a form of artistic expression that can be shared with others. Many simply enjoy making gifts for family and friends, knowing that their creations will endure for years and likely be cherished by the recipients. Some people see hand knitting as a form of rebellion against what they see as often shoddy, mass-produced goods.[1]

A cardigan knitted in a vintage
Fair Isle pattern

I thought of my own family and the hand knitted jumpers and cardigans that I had worn over the years. They were never perfect but somehow their imperfections made them special; made them mine.

There seemed to be a designated knitter in many families, perhaps someone like the lady at the talk. KerrieAnn CHRISTIAN, a cousin on the HICKS side of my family tells me that her mother Joan Lois Adams nee CALLCOTT was the go-to sewer and knitter in her extended family and also in the neighbourhood where she. were grew up.

One of Joan Adam’s specialties was the Fair Isle knitting, a style that originated in the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland. This style is a

knitting technique used to create patterns with multiple colours, traditional to Fair Isle and the Shetland Islands in Scotland. Traditional Fair Isle patterns have a limited palette of five or so colours, use only two colours per row, are worked in the round, and limit the length of a run of any particular colour.

The Heritage Crafts Association [2]

Like many mothers of her time, Mrs Adams handed down this skill to her daughters KerrieAnn and Julie. KerrieAnn remembers both she and her mother winning prizes at local shows for their Fair Isle knitting, including a 1st prize for the cardigan pictured above. They used Mrs Adam’s vintage Fair isle patterns from the 1950’s . They also used Patons, the must use wool in Australia at the time.

KerrieAnn Christian (l) with her mother Mrs Joan Adams (r). KerrieAnn is wearing a Fair Isle cardigan knitted using a Fair Isle pattern. [3]

Another of Joan Adam’s specialties was to handknit Pippy Shell Baby Layettes for grandchildren, nieces and nephews. The Pippy Shell pattern is a vintage one that is quite complex but beautiful. You have to wonder just how many babies in the Illawarra region of New South Wales had, as their first special outfit, a coat, a bonnet and booties knitted in this intricate pattern.

There are two photos below of KerrieAnn Christian’s daughter Katrina wearing her Pippy Shell layette knitted by her grandmother. The photos were taken in 1994. This layette was one of the last, if not the last, ones that Joan Adams made in the 40 years from 1954 to 1994. Family members still request the pattern today.

The vintage pattern for the “Pippy Shell layette set can be found here.

Katrina Christian wearing her Pippy Shell layette, 1994.[4]
Katrina Christian wearing her Pippy Shell layette, 1994. [5]

Like most avid knitters, Joan Adams had a knitting needle bag of vintage knitting needles. Hers had been used by her mother as well as her grandmother, Edith JOY nee HICKS and possibly by Mary Alice COOK nee HICKS, known as Aunty Biddy to the extended Hicks family.

The needles in this bag have been used by four generations of women to knit jumpers, cardigans and babies’ booties for family members. They now belong to Joan’s daughter Julie.

Perhaps Kristina will be one of the fifth generation to knit, using the patterns that her mother, grandmother, great grandmother and 2 x great grandmother loved so much.

l-r, Mary Alice Cook, Edith Joy, after 1915. [6]

Endnotes

[1] Phyllis McIntosh, Knitting: A craft makes a comeback. https://americanenglish.state.gov/files/ae/resource_files/49_1_6_feature-article.pdf, Accessed 7 December 2019

[2] The Heritage Crafts Association, ‘Kintting’, https://heritagecrafts.org.uk/knitting/, Accessed 7 December 2019.

[3] KerrieAnn Christian and Joan Calcott, photograph, n.d., original held by KerrieAnn Christian

[4] Katrina Christian, photograph, 1994, original held by KerrieAnn Christian

[5] KerrieAnn Christian with daughter Katrina Christian, photograph, 1994, original held by KerrieAnn Christian

[6] Mary Alice Cook nee Hicks and Edith Joy nee Hicks, photograph, Ancestry.com.au

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