In 1972, craft pioneer Anna Templeton published a book of knitting patterns called “Operation Homespun.” The goal was to inspire and enlighten knitters across the provinces with written patterns for traditional local items — trigger mitts, vamps, and sweaters.
“This book is designed to be helpful,” she wrote, the emphasis her own. “All the items in it have been made, tested and exhibited in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
“Tested” was an understatement. Similar patterns had been used for years and years, on the ocean and in the woods, generally passed down from one generation to the next and never written down until “Operation Homespun.” The book was updated and reprinted in 1980, and the original was printed again by the Anna Templeton Centre for Craft Art and Design in 2010, as a way of honouring its namesake and inspiring a new crop of knitters.
As a way to keep the momentum of the book going, the centre, in collaboration with the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, is presenting “Operation Homespun: The Next Generation,” an exhibit of contemporary knitting based on the patterns in the original “Operation Homespun” book.
“The book was Anna Templeton’s project because she wanted the traditional patterns of Newfoundland to be standardized and for people to use homespun wool, because it was just at a time when synthetics had started to come into being and she was opposed to that,” said Susan Furneaux, a member of the exhibit’s organizing committee and instructor of textile studies at College of the North Atlantic. “The book itself is very traditional. It’s great, but we wanted to, where knitting has become so trendy and contemporary now, create patterns that had a more contemporary flair.”
The committee put out a call for exhibitors, with the criteria that their work had to be inspired by the book or one of its patterns. They received a plethora of knitted goods, both functional and not. There are stylized hats, socks and trigger mittens — one, by Amy Todd, holding a knitted gun — as well as sweaters, including a tiny fairy sweater, knit by Christine LeGrow, featuring a snowflake design from the book. Batticatter, a group of lady knitters from Jackson’s Arm, knit individual pieces using hand-dyed wool, which they submitted as a group.
There are non-knit items in the exhibit as well, including pencil drawings, glasswork and other pieces of fine art, each inspired in some way by the “Operation Homespun” knitting patterns.
Once the pieces were juried, judges chose winners in three categories. The Overall Judges’ Choice prize went to Gillian White for “Wave Over Wave,” a shawl knit and crocheted from hand-dyed cashmere yarn, inspired by the waved welt, wide chevron and zig-zag traditional stitch patterns in the original book. The Non-Wearable Judge’s Choice award went to Krystal Randell for “Skinned Hare,” a piece she hand knit, machine knit and needle felted, inspired by a pattern for a toy rabbit in the book. Two Publication Prizes were presented, one to Andrea Babb for “Wreckhouse Wristers,” knitted fingerless gloves in a traditional design; the other to Laurie LeGrow for “Republic Jacket,” a hand-knit, 100 per cent wool sweater inspired by a pattern in the original “Operation Homespun” book called “Shirley’s Homespun Jacket.” LeGrow included the pink, white and green Republic of Newfoundland colours on her sweater’s hood and buttons.
“I’m very pro-republic, I love putting the colours on everything, whether it’s hats or socks or whatever,” LeGrow, who’s been knitting since she was six years old, said. “I did the sweater in a medium gray, which is a traditional Newfoundland colour when it comes to knitting. Instead of just a collar I decided to do a hood, and the style of the hood is almost like a flag itself, so it sort of fell into place.”
LeGrow comes from a family of knitters, and said she had wanted her own copy of “Operation Homespun” since she was a child. One of the interesting things about the book, she said, is it has no photos of finished patterns, only pencil depictions, which are quite rough and not accurate in details. She had no idea what her sweater was going to look like until she started knitting it.
“In the picture it shows the pockets and the collar with lines, and to me, as a knitter, that’s ribbing,” she explained. “Looking at the pattern, the entire sweater is ribbing. I knew it wasn’t going to look like the picture, but I just didn’t know what it was doing to turn out like.”
The latest book reprint and the exhibit are timely, both Furneaux and LeGrow agree, since knitting and a general do-it-yourself movement are globally trendy at the moment. In this province, a younger generation of knitters is deeply involved in the craft, with knitting groups happening in St. John’s almost every night of the week and stores like A Good Yarn and Wool Trends carrying unique and varied selections of yarn. Online knitting chat rooms and websites like Ravelry.com have contributed to a renewed global interest in knitting, Furneaux added.
LeGrow sees knitting as a way of preserving her heritage.
“It’s a really important part of Newfoundland culture, and everybody had a nan or an aunt that would knit socks or mitts. It was a part of life,” she said. “Now these older folks are passing away and people are realizing ‘Where am I going to get this stuff?’ and they’re starting to understand the value of all those people before us. I think it’s important to keep knitting alive in Newfoundland because it’s something we’ve been doing for so long.”
“Operation Homespun: The Next Generation” will be shown at the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador Gallery, 59 Duckworth St., until April 29.
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