My Crafting Lineage: Meet Hilda

27 January 2021

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Ad description: Cover of the book Sheep, Shepherd & Land, and the words, "THE book about Canadian Wool, by Anna Hunter. Photos by Christel Lanthier. Buy now."

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When I first starting my knitting design career, I had in mind that I needed a Designer Name. At the time, I was working full-time in software, and I was trying to keep my two lives separate. I settled on Wise Hilda Knits. Wise was the last name of my husband’s (step-)grandmother, a wonderful woman who was an incredibly skilled knitter. Hilda was my grandmother, my mother’s mother.

Hilda Lowe, of Ashton-Under-Lyne, Lancashire, was born in 1903. When she was young, she worked in the textile industry that proliferated in that part of the U.K. at the time; if family lore is to be trusted, she was a carder. She didn’t stay at that job; when my mother was a child, the family ran a pet shop in Stockport. But textiles stayed with her—Hilda was a life-long expert knitter and crocheter. She passed the love for knitting on to both me and my Mum. The crochet didn’t take for either of us, though: Mum’s left-handed and Grannie was right-handed, and I understand that in that classic mother-daughter way, the lessons didn’t go brilliantly. For me, I remember trying to crochet, but just not feeling it. Even then, it was clear that I was a Knitter.

Grannie’s the reason that I make my living in craft. Not just because she taught me the fundamentals, but as a direct result of a story I was told. Apparently, she was a talented sock knitter, and when she was a girl she would charge neighbours a penny to turn the heels of their socks for them.

Not long after finishing university, I moved to Toronto for a job. For the first time, I had spending money and time on my hands. I also happened to live around the corner from a fantastic yarn shop with a jaw-dropping selection of sock yarn. If Grannie could do it, I thought to myself, I should give sock knitting a go, too. Long-story-short version: This lead to a gig at a yarn shop teaching classes, then to some articles for Knitty.com, and by 2010 I was able to quit my day job and do this thing full time. (It was then that I dropped the Wise Hilda moniker I had adopted—after all, I didn’t have to keep my knitting life secret any more!)

Here I am, more than a century after my dearest Grannie Hilda was born, continuing the family business by charging people for help with sock heels. I do it in the form of writing books and patterns and teaching classes, rather than knitting for a penny, of course. I am confident that she’d be proud of how scalable I made it…

This photo was taken sometime in the mid-1980s, not long after we moved to Canada and Grannie came to visit. Why on earth we though the winter was a good time for a holiday to Canada is a mystery lost to time, but we did the thing you do, touring all the key sights. This photo shows me and her at Niagara Falls, pretending we weren’t regretting the choice of day-trip destination. I would have been about fourteen or fifteen, and I was wearing a sweater she had knitted: a light purple turtleneck, likely pure wool.

Image description: Two women in winter coats wearing sunglasses, one with grey hair in a grey coat and hood, one with brown hair in a black sweater and coat.

Photo credit Audrey Atherley.

Copyright © Kate Atherley except as indicated.

About Kate Atherley

Kate Atherley (she/her) is a co-founder, editor and publisher at Digits & Threads and Nine Ten Publications. She has worked in the crafts industry in one way or another since 2002 as a designer, editor, writer, and instructor. She's authored eight books about knitting, from a next-steps guide for newbie knitters to the industry's only guide to professional knitting pattern writing. Kate lives in Toronto, Ontario, with her husband and their rescue dog Winnie.

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