Date3 Jun 2020
My maternal grandmother Joyce McIntyre made this knitted rug for me in 2010 as a birthday present. The first rug she gave me was around 1985 when I went to boarding school. That one was crocheted squares, and was narrow and long to fit the dimensions of the hostel bed. I still have it. This one sits on the couch and I handle it every day. Nan, who is now well into her nineties, started making rugs for her grandchildren around 1983 when my big sister (the first grandchild) went to boarding school. Since then, she’s made one for each of her seven grandchildren, and 10 great grandchildren. She is still knitting, plying and spinning, and is also a keen and generous teacher of spinning as part of the Woodville spinning club (established. 1976) which she joined in 1981.
I grew up rural, my father a farmer, my mother a teacher - a typical parental work pairing in the family. It was also common to have sheep in the home paddock selected and kept specifically for wool. In my extended family I was surrounded by making from home grown wool which was shorn, carded, plied, spun, vegetable and chemical dyed, knitted, and woven. Much of it into numerous home-spun jerseys for everyone, and I’ve had some made by Nan.
Nan tells me, “the main colour in this rug is from [uncle] Kevin’s Romney fleece that was white with fawn patches. It was processed by Kane Carding mixing the two colours together.” The green that makes the chevron stripes is “white Romney wool soaked in a solution of Alum and water overnight then rinsed well. Wool was then boiled gently in a strained solution of ripe elderberries, plus a pinch of Panhue dye from the wool factory in Dannevirke. When dry it was spun and then plied with a commercial Angora thread (fawn I think).” Nan is an excellent record keeper. My favourite object in her home is the school exercise book fat with swatches of home dyed wool stuck down with old and failing cellotape, each accompanied by notes about who and where the wool came from, dyeing processes, and jerseys that were knitted and for whom. It’s a chronologically ordered index, a recipe book, and an aid to memory.
My rug is a very soft and elastic eight by eight squares stitched together. Nan said each square took about an hour to knit, though adding, “each square takes a lot longer to knit these days.” I feel fortunate to have this beautiful green chevron stripe pattern as she now knits the squares as blocks of colour because it’s quicker. Nan still enjoys knitting the rugs, she likes the creative transformation process from fleece to finished project; currently she is making a rug with Corriedale plied with fawn Alpaca.
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Charlotte Huddleston works at St Paul St Gallery, AUT. She has, since being born, shifted from living rurally where the public unsealed roads end at farmhouse driveways, to become a central city apartment dweller living above the ground. Homespun blankets, recreational table loom weaving, multiple houseplants, and a garden plot are antidotes to this.