Artist and knitting supremo Kate Caie talks to Katherine Robinson, about the stand-out appeal of giant knitting.

“It’s the size – it’s so wacky and out-there, and so instant. When I first saw it in a magazine, I thought, ‘oh my word, this is it’. I knit blankets as gifts for family and friends all the time so knitting on giant needles is just like magic really,” she says.

A life-long knitter, it takes Kate just three hours to whip up a large woolly throw. Beginners may take two or three times longer but it’s still the blink of an eye compared to normal knitting. 

No wonder then that Kate’s giant knitting workshops have been among the most popular at Martinborough’s Ventana Collective. As an art form, it’s not only accessible, it can also keep you warm.

Kate makes a point of sourcing all wool used in her classes from Wairarapa sheep. It’s softly coloured, and a mix of neutral creams, browns and greys.

“I like using the local product because it’s very tough times for the wool industry. It’s odd really because as a craft, knitting is really coming back into its own. And wool is both natural and sustainable,” she says. 

Having said that, Kate jokes that she is doing her darndest to singlehandedly revive the industry by knitting a massive art installation for her masters degree. When complete the artwork will include eight two-metre panels of knitting and almost 25kg of wool.

Originally from the Chichester on the south coast of England, Kate sees this as literally weaving her family story, and its threads back to England.

“It shows how past and present can be one continuum through knitting. I come from a family of great knitters so I feel like I have a connection with all of them through knitting. I have three sisters and a brother who all knit so for me it’s a connection with the family.” 

As part of the installation Kate is knitting and weaving stories through different types of stitches. Eventually she will have a soft textured canvas on which she will project images that will add to the story.

Monumental as this project is, Kate says the hardest thing she has had to knit was a replica of the jersey knitted by her grandmother and great aunt for her father, an 18-year-old boy called up for the Royal Navy towards the end of World War Two.

“They knitted the jumper to keep him warm, of course, but it was also to do with comfort and protection. They were knitting pieces apart from each other with different tension, so when they sewed it up it was slightly skewed. I tried to reproduce that and it was very difficult  because I didn't have a pattern. There is an awful lot of memory in that garment. My father wore it first, then my mother, then my middle sister and my brother wore it. Finally, it came to me and my daughters have worn it. It’s an amazing memory jumper really.  It’s been through a war and across the world.”

Kate is currently teaching art at Kuranui College, and has already introduced students to the joy of knitting.

“They love it. The interesting thing is that they said it made them feel really calm, and that it helps them with maths. I think it’s also appealing because although it can be quite laborious at times, knitting always grows and that can be so satisfying.”

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