After making my first pink jumper in my late teens I stuck with the chunky yarns, but after graduating from university I had more time for knitting and, having got my first job, decided to (was able to!) make more of an investment in my then-hobby. This involved buying Rowan Big Wool – then something like £6.00 a ball! Infinitely better than Denim Ultra, which was by now showing signs of wear and becoming the mild exfoliator it is now.
I also discovered the wonderful, indomitable Mrs Jones of Honor Parry’s Wool Shop, Battersea. She was a very special lady, and it was from her that I bought the goods to make the cardigan below. They included six balls of Big Wool in a lovely burnt orange shade called Pip, which were destined for the Laura cardigan from the now-extinct Big It Up brochure:
Mrs Jones and I hit it off straight away, and she became my very first mentor. By this point my mum and I recognised that also having support and guidance from someone outside the family would be good for me: the difference of opinion and experience would be a positive influence. And what experience and influence! I must have spent hours in her shop, asking questions, listening eagerly as she scattered many pearls of wisdom, trying to gather them all up, hoping that I’d remember everything, and that anything that I didn’t fully understand now would make sense later. It was from her that I first learnt about different types of fibre used for knitting yarn, how they could affect tension and the properties of knitted fabric; different types of knitting needle – circular, plastic, metal, wood; histories of knitting, how yarn was produced… Mrs Jones was a font of knowledge, and looking back I think she must’ve seen just how keen and dedicated a novice I was!
So it was with pride that, some time after buying what I needed for my Laura cardigan, I got on the bus and arrived at the shop modelling my finished garment. Here it is:
It is fortunate that I even have photos of this cardigan to show you, because I was to experience heartbreak during my first attempt at washing it. Yep, you’ve guessed it: I felted my beloved cardigan. And yes, there were tears. I’d accidentally made the water too hot, and coupled with handling the cardigan during handwashing (needless to say, I’m MUCH more careful these days and have NEVER felted anything else!), I sealed the cardigan’s fate. It was over.
I then had the difficult task of telling Mrs Jones what had happened, and she listened and understood with sympathy. “We’ve all been there dear. It happens to just about everyone.” And in short, she helped me back on my feet.
Even now, the loss still haunts me, but not primarily because of the felting mishap. As I write, it would’ve been lovely to show you close-ups of my improved tension and my improved finishing; and I do invite you to zoom right in and take a good look at the right shoulder and side seams – my first attempts at mattress stitch, which I discovered thanks to Mrs Jones. What really gets to me is the colour of that cardigan: I loved it! As an aside, this reiterates the importance of making something that you truly want, in the best materials you can afford. Any colour-loving knitter will understand how difficult it is to find a really good shade of orange, and even now, nearly ten years later, I haven’t seen anything quite as nice as Pip. One day, maybe. Currently, the closest contender is Manga in Erika Knight’s Maxi Wool. You never know.
But here’s what I did in preparation for my second knitting project:
- Spent a bit more money on good quality yarn – but only after MUCH practice, making sure I’d ironed out the kinks and creases highlighted by the all-important first project
- Found a lovely, charming knitting shop
- Found a lovely, charming lady running the knitting shop
- Asked lots of questions, listened carefully and got the benefit of another experienced knitter’s help and advice.
It was another series of lessons learned, but the most important thing I took away from knitting my second major project (and first ever cardigan) was having created something that was good enough to earn compliments. People told me how nice it was without knowing that I had made it myself, or that I knew how to knit. The unsolicited praise meant that all the effort had been worth it, and I was buoyed by the fact that having done it once, I could do it again. I now knew exactly what it took to make something lovely. And in much the same way, your second project will be better the first: the improvement will be undeniable, and the experience more relaxed, fluid and enjoyable. Then you’ll really begin to realise for yourself why other knitters enjoy it so much, and how they felt when making the things that inspired you to learn. That, along with a gorgeous garment, is yours to keep.