By Beth Fullerton


In 1976, no lang eftir colour TV arrived in Shetlan, I knitted twa allovers. Advised by my mam ta acquire some cheap, nylon-based oo fir dis project (a sign o her confidence both in my ability and attention span) I med a broon an cream, geometric-patterned jumper fir mesel, an a blue an white Norwegian Star patterned wan fir my bridder. I did dis on Monday nichts ower at my freend’s hoose. Sho knitted fir her boyfriend in shades o green ta match his een. Wid I ivver have a boyfriend ta knit fir?

We watched Charlie’s Angels fecht da baddies in designer jump-suits, athoot a hair oot o place. Dey didna hae knitting waitin ta be completed - a bonnie allover for a loved wan or a box o feenishin fir da woolbroker. Charlie’s Angels hed better things ta do, makkin da wirld a safe place, an athoot da use o a knittin belt ta punish evil. Yes, A’m hed him ower me legs a couple o times. Weel deserved, I micht add. Der were some tired, harassed midders, trying ta get an item feenished in order ta mak dat week’s rent, wid threathen bairns wi it ta git dem ta settle doon fir da nicht so dey cud concentrate on der makkin.

Lace cardigans were in demand. Mam sat up aa nicht an knitted, washed an boarded. Sho got him selt, paid da rent an wis hame, makin wir denner, whan a knock cam ta da door. It wis da wife fae da woolbrokers haddin oot da lace cardigan an demanding da money be returned. A loose loop hed been discovered. Wi da money gone, anidder cardigan hed ta be made quickly in exchange. Whomsoivver, da rogue loop wis mended an dat garment sold ta a different buyer fir a slightly higher price. Well done, Mam! Quick thinkin as weel as quick knittin.

I marvelled at her ability, as wires clicked and wove wirset inta stars, ferns, fleur-di-lis, athoot gittin in a revvle. By da time I towt I shud mak a go o it, I discovered I hed neither vynd nor notion. I felt claustrophobic wearing da belt. I chose short-term projects - mittens and yokes in two-tone - items for my ane use dat widna stand up ta being scrutinised by a potential buyer.

I left skul durin da oil era. Jobs wir plentiful an wages high. I didna need ta knit ta eke oot da hoosekeeping, or provide warm claes fir family. I aften shudder at foo I widda fared hed I needed ta. I kent my fingers, each wan wi a strand o coloured wirset looped aroon da tip, wid nivver fly oer wires, da wye dey flew oer my qwerty keyboard. Pram coats for nieces and nephews followed closely fae a pattern wir da height o my expertise fir a time. I managed ta complete an Icelandic gansey for my husband. I cudna master da circular wire an hed ta resort ta da Shetlan three-wires method. It hed a sorry end whan, left ower lang ida washing machine, shrunk ta a bairn’s size! Fair Isle slipped aff my radar, da sam wye it is aften omitted fa da map o Shetlan. He has never worn anything lovingly planned an knitted by me, in blue, broon an gold blended ta match his hazel een,

My clunky efforts wir scoffed at by da aulder members o da Church Guild. We wir makkin tabbards fir Ceausescu’s orphans. My method, sans belt, loopin wirset aroon wire atween thumb and forefinger horrified dem. ‘Who taught you that?’ dey aksed. I admitted dis wis da only wye I cud manage, an proodly announced dat I didna hiv ta knit. Naebody had to knit nooadays! I wis presumptious of coorse. Der wir still some dat knitted ta eke oot da state pension, wha wid nivver sit doon athoot takkin der ‘sock’, a generic wird fir whatever dey wir knittin. My response wis met wi silent head shakes. I felt suitably ashamed.

‘I nivver learnt ta blend’ Mam wid complain. As da younger sister, her job wis ta mak ribs and bodies while her aulder sister and my Granny knitted patterns. I towt Mam produced some lovely colour schemes, bit ony compliments were swatted away. ‘Och it’s whit dey wanted’ referring ta da person wha placed da order. Knitting wis a necessity, not a hobby. Mam enjoyed school. Her hamewark was done wi a book on her lap and her makkin in her hands, fir nothing cud come atween a female an her chores. Wis dis why sho protected me? Whenever Granny aksed whan I wis goin ta take me sock, Mam wid reply ‘Sho’s ower young.’ Did I shun knittin becaz I kent I wid always have an ally in my midder?

Forty years on fae Charlie’s Angels, I am retired. A lady who lunches. A lady with time on her hands. I aksed mesel: shud I tak me sock? I recently med a cowl, knitted on size 10mm plastic wires, gerter-stitch, chunky wirset, eighteen loops wide, sixty centimetres lang, ‘Suitable for Beginners’ da pattern stated. I laid it up in February 2017 and finished it in February 2018. Wance it wis set aside, I wid forget aboot it until da corner o its orange, plastic bag taunted me whenever da sofa wis moved. I realised how long it hed been fae I knitted whan I had ta google foo ta cast aff.

It is as warm as any Shetlan wirset scarf. It sits on my shooders no unlaek da pictir on da pattern. It pales in comparison wi da beautiful Fair Isle wark o my mam’s latter years, whan sho was free ta choose her colours.  

I have a notion, noo, ta knit cowls fir charities dat bring warmth ta earthquake victims an refugees. Will dis plan ivver come ta fruition? Only I have dat power. Da rod ta hell is paved wi good intentions an rebel knitters.

rebel knitters, community, mother-daughter relationship