I started knitting during the Second World War, when I was about four years old. As part of the war relief effort we spent hours unraveling old wool garments and re-knitting the yarn into hats, gloves or socks. I liked knitting on four needles and found joy in watching as every completed finger brought me closer to finishing. Against the rules, when nobody was watching, I slipped into one of the fingers, a tiny piece of paper upon which I had written my name and address. The gloves were included in a Red Cross parcel.Many months later the Postman delivered a small envelope and inside was a thank-you letter, written in English, from a family in Holland. The document listed the full names of Father, Mother and all seven children. Unfortunately I do not have the letter, but the memory is timeless.


At Convent Boarding School we all wore wool socks. After breakfast on Saturday mornings we had the dreaded darning time. A teacher brought in the boxes of clean laundry and we were handed any personal garments that needed attention. Fortunately my Mother sent me away with mostly newer bedding and garments. But even new wool socks don't hold up too long. First to go were the heels. We used the wooden mushroom, part of our sewing and mending kit, to hold the heel in place, as we wove back and across to form new fabric. I worked the introduced fabric as densely as I could to avoid seeing the same sock appear in the laundry basket in less than a month.

This scene from the movie “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” shows my father’s red brick Grocery Store on Broadway. My bedroom was in the attic facing out to sea. You can see my view of the harbor in the postcard. During school holidays I spent many hours by the window absorbed in knitting.

Here is Edward Bear sitting in my bedroom in 2013. For seven decades we have survived together.

His scarlet jacket is the original one I knitted for him. He’s lost a lot of hair but his jacket did survive “the moth.”

When I contracted Scarlet Fever, he was my choice for the one permitted toy to take to the Isolation Ward of our local Hospital.

His eyes do not match because, during and after The War it was impossible to get replacement glass eyes. Mostly we used buttons. Edward Bear was fortunate. Our local Toy Store Keeper had saved one glass eye. She gave it to me.

As War restrictions diminished so did my childhood interest in knitting. I returned briefly to knitting in summer 1957 when I worked for an architect in Trondheim, Norway, as part of my architectural degree. A student friend translated this pattern as my work progressed. The sweater still fits!

Decades passed before I picked up a knitting needle. And when I did, I never worked from a pattern again.

So what brought back my interest in knitting?

I was a hiker and devoted to “performance clothing.” Still am, actually!

The prospect of sitting quietly reading for a month. A friend’s dog had knocked me down a flight of stairs and I broke my wrist. The doctor suggested knitting as helpful movement along with my twice weekly physical therapy. I found some needles and a bit of yarn but then I couldn’t remember how to cast on. So I walked to Strands and Stitches, our local knit shop and signed up for private lessons. Lisa, my teacher was highly amused when I announced I wanted to learn to knit again, but only if I could avoid using a pattern. Lisa was a dedicated, patient teacher, and very skilled at knitting. I progressed rapidly (plenty of time to practice). I decided to make hats because I love three dimensional forms, don’t like making a second item to complete a pair and wanted to see results fast.

For my first hat I selected some kind of man made fibre, bright blue with rainbow details. Laguna Beach has lots of sun, so a warm hat was not much use, until I wore it in the rain. Ha! Ha! In no time the hat became a wet mass clamped around my hair. An embarrassing lesson is yarn selection. So I looked upon my stash as fibre for learning, rather than wearing. Exploring fuzzy twists with flat Fair Isle is one example.

Finally I made a really nice hat that I still wear. Here you see my young neighbor showing it off. Heat from wearing has caused the main body, which is knitted with Alpaca, to naturally felt. No such felting from the Shetland wool used for the band. Moving to Humboldt County was a great boon for hat creation. I know how to knit fun hats for good protection in our cool, damp weather.

At Fiber Trade Shows, “designers” got preferential perks. Three published patterns were required to qualify as a designer. I wanted to be part of this “in-group.” Here are my three published patterns. Once sketches are accepted the company sends yarns from which to choose. The body of the blue and green sweater is knitted sideways. In front, the yolk creates a natural vee. In back, the vee is filled in with short rows. The waist, neck and sleeves are picked-up.

I was intrigued with America’s Alpacas logo. I thought they needed a garment to show it off. My submitted sketches were persuasive. I learned a lot about the mathematical purity of hand knit fabric when I actually came to make the sweater! But I got it done, and my neighbor agreed to model before it was whisked away by UPS.

Writing the patterns was like extended torture. Every detail has to be written exactly, and in the correct terminology. Companies have experienced pattern editors, and they help a lot. Still, I was anxious that each pattern would enable an experienced knitter to recreate my design successfully.

Here’s the original version of the Alpaca Hat.

Then I went back to knitting in a more free form way. Jackets interested me most because they are both useful and decorative. I yearned to expand my understanding of fibre beyond what I had already figured out. So I flew to Maine for a week of individual workshops with famous fibre artist, Katharine Cobey, with the intention of learning to spin. On our first meeting Katharine loaned me a Navajo spindle with instructions to practice when I returned to my guest house.

The next morning, Katharine enquired, “How long did you last?”

“Fifteen minutes,” I said.

“I thought you would only last five,” she said.

Now I was in a panic. All this way, from west to east coast and I was a failed student already. Katharine smiled, revealed how she knew I had no patience for spinning. And she was right.

“Why don’t I teach you diagonal knitting?” she said.

Katharine clicked with my impatience, determination and thirst for knowledge.

I returned to California full of renewed enthusiasm and a head full of ideas.

Here is a pair of hand knitted Peruvian Dolls I bought for $50 on the last day of a knitting tour of Peru in 2005. The stitches are so small it’s hard to believe even the fingers are knitted. Examples like this are almost impossible to find now, because the tourist trade governs most hand work and price is king. A sad fact for crafts, the world over.

My knitting basket got packed away when I was commissioned to design a challenging house on this steep lot near my home in Laguna Beach. Here you see me on the platform assessing how the views will be before I started imagining the three dimensional form or layout of the rooms.




Janette Knits

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