Stitches in timeless pursuit
Jennifer Saunders' blanket designs play with geometric patterns and subtle lines of colour. Photo: Eddie Jim
JENNIFER Saunders has held down a number of jobs: arts manager, circus plate-spinner, curator, gardener. But now she has turned to the art of the blanket - knitted blankets with ornate crochet edges like the gilt frames on old masters.
Saunders grew up knitting, crocheting and making batik in her father's garage (it was the '70s) but returned to such crafty pursuits only about five years ago. Her first later-life knitting foray was helping a friend restore second-hand blankets for a market stall. Saunders enjoyed tinkering with the wool so much that when she next went on holiday, she found herself taking balls of wool and a crochet hook.
Then, by coincidence, her mother won a knitted blanket at a local bowling club. Together, mother and daughter pored over the prize, analysing its stitches, patterns and feel and looking at the way it draped. They knitted another blanket along similar lines, after which Saunders, by now quite addicted, continued making them alone.
Her blankets are composed of uniform-size squares and there is something of the Amish quilt about the resulting patchwork effect. Each knitted square has a crochet edge and all the squares are stitched together, with the entire blanket then rimmed with more crochet detailing.
Saunders plays with geometric patterns and has subtle lines of colour travelling from one square to the next so that they run over the whole blanket. In some of her earlier blankets, she also made patterns - albeit more random ones - out of the knots created from joining different strands of wool.
She first took to recycling wool from jumpers bought from op shops. It was quite a process: she would unravel the clothing, wind the wool into skeins, dip the skeins into water and hang them with a weight to remove the kink of the previous knit. ''It was my grandmother's technique,'' Saunders says.
''All through the Depression, wool was recycled like that and went from garment to garment. I am really interested in that aspect of it.''
But the time required to complete the process means Saunders now buys her wool new, though she still combs the op shops. And her mother is now one of a small troupe of women who helps with the knitting of squares.
Saunders is increasing her output, selling blankets where once she made them only as presents. She has a blog and, until today anyway, a pop-up shop.
But she is ''absolutely insistent'' that the making of her blankets - in a wool-acrylic blend that she finds softer, more durable and easier to look after than pure wool - stays fun.
For herself, she knits when she wakes up, during the day when she meets friends and at night in front of the television. And if she is not knitting, she is doing her crochet edges.
''Knitting is the perfect activity,'' Saunders says. ''It calms and centres you. It's like meditation. When something is so time-consuming, it can't feel like a chore.''
■To Have & To Hold ''Pop Up'' is at Husband, 377 Malvern Road, South Yarra, until 4pm today. toholdblankets.blogspot.com.au
■This is the final The Art of … column.