In the first of a new series, Sacha McNeil meets a busy bookshop manager who’s always got a knitting project on the go.
I have a romantic image of working in a bookstore. Flicking through the latest novel, picking up my knitting, busting out a row or two, and then wowing a softly spoken customer with the breadth of my literary knowledge.
This is, of course, fantasy land. I’m well aware of this, as I actually worked in a bookshop in Glasgow in my early twenties. It was on a high street and the foot traffic consisted of rowdy football fans stumbling into the wrong shop and customers who couldn’t understand a word I was saying.
So I’m not sure why I asked Jenna Todd, manager of Time Out Bookstore in Mt Eden, whether she has time to knit at work. But I did. “There’s no chance – we are too busy,” she replied. I thought that might be the case, but I figured she must take her wool to work, because I’ve seen the number of knitted and crocheted creations she produces.
If you are a friend of Jenna’s and have a child, you’ll know exactly what I mean. There’s Leno’s bunny, Mina’s bear, Obie’s rhino, Meadow’s monkey, Veronika’s deer, Mako’s lobster and a goat for Tilly. So many small people, with just as many special handmade friends.
“My favourite gift for a new baby is a knitted toy. I used to try and make clothes, but I find toys have more longevity and less time pressure for getting the sizing right for fast-growing pēpi. In some way, it’s my way of being close to someone, even if I can’t be there physically,” says Jenna.
Her love of handcrafts can largely be attributed to her 74-year-old nana, Sandy, who taught her to knit at the age of 25 in Dunedin. “I don’t think my nana would remember her life without knitting in it – it was something her mum and sisters all did together, talking and knitting.”
Knitting brings people together, says Jenna. “If you are wearing a garment that someone has made for you, it means you carry them as you wear it. I think it’s the most beautiful thing.”
Jenna’s nana now lives in Tweed Heads, Australia, which means the pair have had to come up with a unique way of continuing their knitting journey together. Collaborating over Skype, Sandy has passed on plenty of knitting knowledge to her granddaughter. “We have knitting marathons when we can be together.”
Generations of Jenna’s family have helped shape her raft of crafting abilities and provided an appreciation of a slower form of fashion. “My nana and my mum have both influenced me, with sewing skills leading to mending and making something last. I think they both found it quite amusing when I discovered my love of vintage, as they don’t dress like that at all. It’s been very nostalgic for my nana.
“I feel sad that some people feel they can’t be seen or photographed wearing the same item more than once – that can drive a need for fast fashion. It’s become more important to me to know where my clothes are made and, in most cases, I am lucky that I can make that choice based on ethics. I’m not perfect at it, but I’m getting there – visualising the workspace that a garment will have been made in helps make the decision.”
Jenna loves clothes with a story behind them, which is a big part of her attraction to vintage and handmade garments. “As I get older, I am being more considerate with fabric choice and practicality – especially as I bike to work – and I’m enjoying collecting some staple pieces from New Zealand designers.”
When it comes to making things herself, the finished product isn’t the only thing that appeals –the process of making allows time away from the regular pace of life.
“For me, making makes me feel productive. It’s active relaxing. Another bonus is it gives me a break from my phone. I’m often making items on holiday with my friends and family, so many people observe and kōrero as they come together.
“I appreciate the charming aspects of craft – slowing living, skill-building, whanaungatanga. However, I have an ulterior motive – keeping productive while watching terrible television, such as The Bachelor.”
In the evening, Jenna’s usually got something on the go. “The babies keep coming,” she says. “But I need to balance it with my reading too!”
Knitting, books, Nana and reality TV – sounds pretty balanced to me.
Jenna’s crafting know-how
Places for patterns:
My absolute go-to toy pattern maker is Yan Schenkel and her Animal Friends of Pica Pau. They are so cute, have great colours and each character has a hilarious backstory. She has published two books so far and also sells patterns on Ravelry. I love the timeless style of patterns by at knittingforolive.com. My knitting skills have been tested though – I’ve just finished a mohair silk, 1 ply double-stranded puff sleeve tee knitted on the round. One thing that really helped me with this pattern is looking up the #pufftee hashtag on Instagram to make sure my work was on the right track.
I have a wonderful book from 1947 called Practical Knitting Illustrated by Margaret Murray and Jane Koster. I tend to lean more towards the fitted style of this era and have been very lucky to have my nana knit quite a collection for me.I can also recommend browsing through vintageknittingpatternarchive.com.
Pro knitting tips:
Always go back and fix mistakes. Even if this means starting again. YouTube is a crafter’s best friend. I just type a stitch into the search bar and learn from there. It’s also good to keep checking your knowledge on stitches, as it can be easy to remember something incorrectly.
Journalist Sacha McNeil has tried her hand at knitting, crochet and ceramics and has launched a new website that features Kiwis’ creative passions, from sourdough to stitching, see ofsmallmatters.com.