In conversation with Knitter Pat Wilson
Pat Wilson is a local knitter with a keen eye for humour. If you pass her window on Griffin Street you might see knitted figures of politicians, olympians, royals or seasonal themed displays. She's also taken on weird and wonderful projects in aid of charity, we chatted to Pat about her knitting, projects for charity and of course, life in Deal.
How did you get into knitting?
I’ve knitted since I was a child. Like many people in my school, I made long Doctor Who scarves back when Tom Baker was the Doctor. Then I didn't really pick it up again until my twenties when I was pregnant and living in Scotland and made myself an enormous maternity jumper! I was much more into making patchwork quilts and sewing in those days which I did to commission. It wasn’t until my granddaughter Timi was born that the knitting began again. She was very premature, 27 weeks, so everything was enormous and I made her the teeniest cardigan just big enough for a doll.
Just after that, a woman called Fiona Goble brought out a book called Knit your own Royal Wedding in 2011. It just totally inspired my imagination. I made the entire collection and thought what shall I do with that now? My house is straight on the street and I thought I’d hang them in the window. The reaction was amazing everyone just stopped and looked.
From then on I started to commemorate all sorts of major events in the window. Everything from the Olympics, to the World Cup, and Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour De France and then Sports Personality of the Year. In 2013 I won two tickets to Glastonbury for my knitting. I recreated Julian Opie’s iconic Blur album cover for a competition in which you had to recreate an album cover in any medium. I found out the day before the deadline, I re-used some old heads, and with a bit of photoshop I knocked it up just in time. That was the year The Rolling Stones played - it was absolutely brilliant.
Then it went crazy during the general election in 2015. I knitted all of the politicians. I was only going to do the four main ones but my daughter Jessie said to knit Natalie Bennett of the Green Party. I tweeted her a photo and within 5 minutes it just went mad. The figures went viral and Buzzfeed picked it up, the BBC came down as well as Meridian (ITV) and the papers. It was manic.
I went on to knit all the local politicians, in the end they all came round to have their pictures taken. By the end of the election half the people I’d knitted were gone! Jeremy Corbyn then became leader of the labour party, so I knitted him as another famous JC, Jesus Christ. Then of course the next election came soon after. Theresa May became ‘Brexit Brittania’ or Brexittania’. Trump and Hillary featured later too.
What’s the most difficult part about the knitting?
Getting the faces and expressions right for the figures. It can be a matter of millimetres or the minutest thing. Prince Charles I got immediately, it’s the slant of the mouth and a slightly embarrassed smile. I do rely on cartoonists a lot, they manage to capture expressions in a few pen strokes. The body takes no time at all, but I can spend a whole day trying to get the face right. I do the heads separately now, so I can change their bodies.
What I love about it is people’s remarks and hearing people stop and laugh outside the window. When I did the Olympics and knitted all the medals. I would hear people tapping the window counting them. Or the twelve days of Christmas. People stood outside singing the song. I try to be humorous without being cruel. What greater pleasure is there than to make people smile and brighten their day.
You’ve done some interesting fundraisers, how did that start?
Martha Trust run an annual car challenge and they go to Monte Carlo, Rome, and Barcelona every 3 years. My friend Jill said they're doing Rome this year shall we do it? You have to drive to Rome over three days in a £200 banger and raise a minimum of £1500 per car. Jill found an ancient Astra dubbed Bessie by her previous owner and because of the knitting I thought why not knit a cover for her. On Facebook I asked on Deal Watch & Deal Watch Rejects if anyone had any bits of knitting, crochet, balls of wool or anything they didn't want. Swan Stitch collected them for us. We were deluged with it, blankets, unfinished bits, everything. It brought my old patchwork skills back into play. Two knitting friends, Sylvia and Jenny and I sat in a garage where Bessie was parked and for a week, we sat there and stitched. When it was done we took her on the pier on bank holidays, the Walmer classic car show, and to Solleys to raise money. By the time we got to Rome we’d raised £6000. Jill drove Bessie home who then promptly failed her MOT! But thanks to some amazing support from Perrys in Dover we’ve been able to continue raising money for Martha Trust with her.
The next year was Monte Carlo, and we decided to have a proper fundraiser this time. We held a fun casino night on Deal pier with a top London magician, Lee Warren and music from the Mayflies and local favourite, Pussy d’Amour. There was a Turkish theme with moussaka and dips and couscous. Local businesses were very generous and we auctioned off and raffled donated items like restaurant vouchers, wine and beauty treatments. My lovely neighbour Steve Thomas gave us a print to auction. It was a great evening and we raised just over £3500.
When we got to Monte Carlo we wanted the money shot of the car outside the casino. Everyone said you’ll never get it, they only allow Ferraris and Maseratis there. I went up to the doorman and explained what we're doing, we turned up the next morning and he kindly said “where would you like to park” and lifted the rope, it was amazing! We managed to raised £6500 in total that year.
An events company had seen our Facebook page and wanted us to bring the car to their craft show at the NEC. We got talking about how it would be fun to cover her my friend Jenny’s VW campervan sometime. We ended up taking it to the show as well with a heap of wool and the leftover bits from the car and 3 weeks and 4 days later the campervan was covered! It was quite a different prospect to the car because it’s so much bigger. Our neighbour, Andy devised us a system of blocks and ropes to help get the cover over the van and hold it all together. We hadn't made anything for the top, so that was made by people at the show knitting and stitching blue squares. It was hugely successful. Every inch of it was covered and we finished it in four days.
The Knit and Knatter was such a hit that we were asked to run sessions at all their 2018 shows to commemorate the centenary of WWI and women getting the vote. We’re working on that now. We dreamed up the idea of a giant pixelated poppy, it’s going to be 13 ft. sq and made out of 4 inch knitted and crocheted squares. 1568 red, black, and green squares and we’re stitching them together. We chose 1568, as it is the number of days that were fought in WWI. At the shows, we invite people to sit and join us knitting the squares. On the other side are going to be three stripes of green white and purple, a silhouette of a suffragette and a border of knitted and crocheted flowers. They will be two separate pieces, hung back to back.
Do you have a creative work life?
Pretty much! I left school and trained as a pattern cutter at the C&A factory working out fabric garment layout and pattern grading. Later I went to work as a paste-up artist for a litho printer. That was in the days of Letraset when every letter had to be lined up by hand, then I learnt how to use computers in the late 80s. I joined the BBC in Bristol and later Television Centre and worked there for ten years mostly in IT related jobs. It was an exciting time to be there as email was just beginning to transform working practices and I designed and built dozens of databases to automate many of the production processes. After I left I decided to set up on my own, making websites for small businesses. Twelve years on I still do the odd few, but increasingly knitting has taken over.
How did you end up in Deal?
When I left the BBC I was living in London building websites from an attic room in my home. There was no need for me to live there anymore. I started looking around and eventually landed on Deal. I love the community, the people the ease and accessibility of everything. You can walk or cycle everywhere and I don't need to use my car. I’m very lucky to have a garden, very few people in the conservation area have one. I love listening to the birds splashing around in my bird bath.
Team Es-car-go are going to Barcelona this year.
Pat's local picks
FOOD & DRINK
To Eat: The Taphouse and the Hoy do great pizzas. I love Kings, especially their pasta and ragu and just about everything at Hey Hey. If I want some posh nosh though, I love the ambience of Whits of Walmer.
WHAT TO DO + SEE
Cycling, along the promenade, it’s nice and flat. Or you could walk from Sandown Castle to Deal Castle and round the pier which will clock up around 10000 steps. We have an amazing high street and I am completely blessed with two wonderful knitting and sewing shops which complement each other perfectly. I truly cannot imagine living anywhere else!