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How to Become an "Expert Knitter"   *Buy this book on CD for offline reading!

table of contents » epilogue

How I Became an "Expert Knitter"

Thanks to my mother, as a young child, I learned how to knit stitches and then (no) thanks to a ho-hum craft teacher, I tried to knit things. Each child in the class had to knit a face washer. We had face washers at home. Matched to our towels.

I decided to make a jumper. Hectic green yarn, cables trimmed with knitted-in cherries, bright red, and pine green leaves. This was the only time I ever tried to follow a pattern. Very soon, the teacher avoided looking in my direction. I struggled through the whole term and got as far as the armholes. I think my mother eventually threw it into the bin. I know I never wanted to see it again.

The next inspiration was an advertisement in an American magazine. Part of it was a photograph of a bit of knitting, cream, with the head of Mickey Mouse worked in three colours. Well, I thought it was wonderful! I was going to make a jumper (that’s what we called them, then), and finish it, and wear it, and show everyone that I was a wonderful knitter. I gazed and gazed at the ad, working out where to put the stitches and colours. I knitted tiny stitches and so tightly that I could hardly get the needle through ready for the next stitch. When I gave that up as a bad job, I thought that was it with knitting.

I got stuck into sewing. My mother had a Singer sewing machine, my father was a clothing manufacturer, I always had access to fabric, so making my own clothes was natural. Whenever an “occasion” like a family wedding, a religious holiday, a party or a very important date was heralded, the first thing I had to organise was… WHAT TO WEAR!!!

It was obvious where my interests were. I wandered around fabric shops and mooned over button displays. I devoured fashion magazines. My French teacher loved me. I was so diligent. The high marks weren’t the primary reason for my interest in her lessons. I wanted to understand the captions in French Vogue magazines.
When I left school, I dived into a year-long flirtation with the denizens of the graphic design and advertising department of the main technical college in Melbourne, of course, wearing all my own creations. On holiday in Sydney, I was pestered on the beaches by women asking where I bought my swimwear. I had made it myself. I quickly saw that I had to change my direction, so I stopped all the art stuff and switched to dress design.

I started haunting wholesalers in Flinder’s Lane, the rag trade area of Melbourne, looking for zips and fabrics and buttons and trims. I found a box of reels of something called mohair. I had never come across it before and in fact, mohair only appeared in knitting shops five or six years later, in a completely different form. Smoky grey blue, very fine and a bit furry, I didn’t know what it should have been for, but I decided to buy the whole box. I knitted with three reels wound together and made a V neck sweater. I only had enough yarn to make the shape, and the sleeves had to be shorter than I had intended, so I edged it with matching gros-grain ribbon. I was all of seventeen, but I felt very adult when I wore it. I felt chic. My mother thought the hairy mohair was awful and the ribbon edge just plain wrong, but this was my first finished thing, and I nearly wore it flat.

That was that for a while. No more knitting. The closest I came to needles was a strange but very influential event. I had been given a cashmere twinset. A friend’s mother decided that the colour, olive green, wasn’t good for her very tanned skin, and I was in the right place at the right time. It was a treasure. Thick, soft, silky cashmere, in fact unusually thick, and with stitches about the same size as if the garment had been hand-knitted. I eventually had to wash the two pieces after constant wear and I hung them sideways over a towel on the line to dry. My beloved labrador dog, Animal, thought I had given him a new toy, and when I went to check on the drying, I found he had shredded all four sleeves. What fun.

In tears, I decided to unpick what remained of the tops of the sleeves, make the sweater into a sleeveless sweater and try to re-knit the cardigan sleeves with whatever yarn I could salvage. As I unpicked, I counted the stitches and made notes. That introduced me to the shaping at the top of the sleeves, and I realised exactly how all that worked. The important bit was the position of the shaping. Not on the edge, but a few stitches in on each side, so that the seam would be on a straight line. I was terrific at starting things, but with all my other distractions, like life, I wasn’t great at finishing projects. The sleeveless twinset and the two balls of wound–up cashmere hung around for ages, but they had done their work. I would make good use of the experience in the future.

Selling painted cards to make extra summer vacation money, I met a genius, a wonderful woman, who owned a shop packed with incredible homewares and a huge home workroom. She asked me to work for her. I was sick to death of being a student. I hated the slow pace as the less involved held back the rest of the class. One girl took three terms to construct a horrible, amateurish camel-hair coat. Who would have employed her? I jumped at the chance of practical, yet creative work and left the tech school. I beavered away day and night, painting designs, gluing things on things, decorating boxes, applying vivid lacquer stripes on to sprayed white bottles and vases on a whizzing pottery wheel, colour, style design, never the same thing twice. If I could have slept there, I would have, but it was too intense to last.

I spotted an ad for a position as the display artist at one of the most beautiful and elegant department stores in the world. “Georges of Collins Street” in Melbourne. I was amazed and thrilled when my application was successful. What I did could not be described as work. I played every day with the most fantastic merchandise. I examined the secrets of building couture garments, admired the perfection and revelled in the glory of extravagant luxury clothing, exquisite accessories and inspired homewares. The brilliant people I worked with, and the generous display budget allowed me to devise dream displays. All the techniques I had learned at art school came in for a showing. I painted, and modelled, and arranged, and sewed, and glued to my heart’s content. I bought heaps of the marvellous clothes in the store, but still liked to make and wear my own.

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