As an eight-year-old in the 60s, two magical things coincided for Fairy Meadow’s Kerry Butt.
She became one of the first girls on the block to receive a Barbie doll, sent to her from an aunt in America, and her persistent efforts to master the craft of knitting as a left-hander finally paid off.
“I used my first finished item – a little wool oblong – as a scarf for my Barbie,” she recalls with a laugh.
Kerry was finally a member of the knitting dynasty she had been born into.
“Everybody knitted in my family – my mother, my sister, cousins, and aunts but it was my two grandmothers, both good knitters, who never gave up on me when I struggled to learn,” she says.
“My maternal grandmother tried to teach me by sitting next to me in front of a mirror in the hope it would turn the image around in my brain, but that flopped.
“In the end, I just worked it out myself – but unlike most lefties, I remained true to my dominant hand.”
At 65, Kerry is now one of the most proficient knitters in Australia with wins at several agricultural shows including Kiama and Albion Park. She also took out first prize at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show in Bendigo in 2009 with a circular cardigan.
Kerry, a retired nurse, estimates she knits about 60 hours a week which includes group sessions with Port Pearlers who meet monthly at Port Kembla’s Red Point Arts Centre, where much of her work is for sale.
She has also taught many lefties to knit without tears.
“I follow the simple but effective method that worked for me – I give them instruction and let them work it out. It is so much easier when you have somebody who has gone through that same frustrating process,” she says.
Knitting is Kerry’s meditation, and she believes she is a better person for it.
“We often joke in knitting circles that we knit because stabbing people is illegal, and it’s true in a way because it puts you in a peaceful zone.”
When asked about the maddest thing she has ever knitted, Kerry nominated the purple bra and panties she wrapped around a telegraph pole at Belmore Basin to promote a knitting event in Wollongong’s old courthouse.
“It was a seaside barbecue theme so I also knitted a few mushrooms to go with the prawns and kebabs, knitted by the other ladies.”
After nearly 60 years, Kerry has hundreds of knitting needles but the ones which hold most sentimental value are the two sets displayed in a box in her lounge room.
“They are made of steel and tortoise shell, and belonged to my paternal grandmother, Thelma Clarke, who was knitting well before plastic was developed,” she says.
“Both nannas were wonderful, but Thelma was more of a mentor. She was amazing in that she never worked with a pattern, and whenever I think of her, I see those needles going 10 to the dozen.”