Monday, 3 October 2011

Feather Quills - the only way to learn to knit

When I was at primary school around 7 years old we were asked who in the class could knit.  There were only two of us who could and this is the story of how I learned.
My Aunt Catherine taught me to knit during one summer on holiday in Cruit Island, Donegal.   Catherine was my Dad’s sister and she lived on the farm looking after my Grandfather and doing all the usual tasks like feeding chickens etc.   During the summer the house was always busy because other uncles and aunts would come back and visit especially to help on the farm taking in the hay; tending to the cows, gathering crops or fixing up the house.   One year my uncle Dominick caught this huge salmon which was the first time I had ever seen and tasted salmon.   I remember it being divided up so that it could be shared with everyone and the feast enjoyed - with potatoes of course!
Anyway back to the knitting.   Catherine was a professional knitter; big boxes of wool would arrive which she would turn into jumpers, cardigans and shawls which were then posted off.   The type of knitting Catherine did was of course Aran knitting and some of the names of the stitches I remember her telling me about were blackberry stitch; the diamond pattern; cable and moss stitches.   
I must have pestered her about learning or more likely she tried to keep me still and in the one place.
At that time in the late 1950’s the knitting needles were made of steel or some other metal because I remember the clicking noise they made as Catherine knitted away.   I’m sure she didn’t trust me with the real thing and not surprising since I would have only been 5/6 years old.  
Catherine made knitting needles for me from stripping the long tail feathers from the Rooster – I’m sure he was not best pleased with losing a couple of his tail feathers.   The feathers were stripped back leaving the white quill.   These were to be my knitting needles.  
I have shared this story before with friends and always get a quizzical look and I'm sure that using quills was the way Catherine was taught and so this was the method she passed on to me.
I can’t remember the trial and error of learning to knit and I’m sure there must have been some – either it was something I just ‘took to’ or Catherine was a really good teacher.  
Catherine never used a knitting pattern and had a great knack of just looking at someone and knowing what size to make the jumper or cardigan.    In fact many years later when my own daughter was about 2 years old I sent up to date pictures over to her and she presented me with a beautiful cardigan which fitted perfectly.
So when it came to that day in school – imagine my disappointment when the first thing we knitted in class was a dishcloth out of some grey material which was not even wool.
Now – to answer your question do I still knit?  
Well I still have my knitting needles (you'll be pleased to read that I've graduated to using the real thing) and have knitted for friends and family when the mood takes me.   I did lots of knitting when my children were small and knitted for my nephews when they were growing up.   Yes I love Aran knitting however I follow patterns and for me it’s a winter pastime which means the time is now right for passing this skill on to my own grand-daughter.    With quills or not with quills - that is the question???


  1. Hello Celia:
    Well, first find a rooster.....!!

    We cannot knit for toffee so we are completely in awe of your knitting skills either with or without quills. What a lovely idea to pass on your knowledge to your granddaughter and as we are sure that she will be as all children seem to be so much more sophisticated, best she learns with the real thing, we think. And, what fun you will both have. Roll on those winter days and nights!!

  2. Celia - I never knew! All those years we spent together (OK, we must have been talking about work..) and we never discussed our shared love of knitting. What a wonderful way to start - definitely with quills!!


It's always lovely to hear from you.