about Noël McGonigle

auntie oelRecently someone asked me how long I had been knitting. I answered as I usually do that I had learned to knit when I was four years old. My grandmother, Marion Arsenault, taught me to knit when I was four hoping, I think, to harness some of my restless four year old energy and curiosity. Later, when my knitting appeared with me at all family occasions, she would say, "You're always knitting." I would reply, "It keeps me out of trouble."

I still have the first thing I knit; a light pink sleeveless sweater for a beloved doll, made by knitting two squares of garter stitch sewn together to form side and shoulder seams. As I grew older I continued to knit. I spent my allowance on yarn and issues of McCall's Needlework and Crafts. I borrowed books on knitting from the library and taught myself pattern stitches. My mother, Joyce Arsenault, another knitter, encouraged me and taught me how to rib, decrease and increase. From her I learned to make mittens and socks. The pair of blue worsted weight socks I knit for my father when I was nine were big enough to be used as Christmas stockings, but undaunted I knit on.

By the time I was in junior high school, I was knitting sweaters for myself and friends. I continued to knit doll clothes and I tried a few afghans. After I graduated from college, I worked for several years as a knitwear designer for a high end women's clothing company owned by Susan Bourget. I often used old knitting patterns from the 1930s and 1950s as sources of inspiration. Graduate school led me to a career in teaching, but I continued to knit. At about that time I began to seriously study the history and technological development of knitting as a craft.

I moved to Buzzards Bay to be near the water, and went to work at Plimoth Plantation an outdoor living history museum of New England in the 17th century. There I reproduced 17th century English clothing, including knitted garments for the colonial re-enactors. The most interesting part of my job was researching textiles and how they were made during the 17th century. I also had the opportunity to explore knitting techniques rarely in use today.

When my daughter attended the Waldorf School of Cape Cod, my knitting took off in another direction. I learned to make the knitted animals and other toys that are used as part of a Waldorf curriculum. Through the wonderful teachers and staff at the school, I really began to develop my own ideas for children's toys and fantasy figures. Some of my most satisfying knitting has been knitting toys for my daughter, nephews and nieces. I am especially grateful to Debbie Eldredge White for her patient teaching both of the technique and the philosophy of Waldorf toy making.

Three years ago we moved to north central Massachusetts. We are living in the house I grew up in. My husband finally has a nice studio for painting. I home schooled my daughter through the third grade and she is now happily attending the elementary school I attended. It's funny how things sometimes circle around. I am now exploring the use of green fibers in my work and trying to use materials that leave the smallest carbon footprint, again a blast from my past. In high school, environmental science was a major interest.

I am almost fifty-three years old and it astonishes me when I hear myself telling people that I have been knitting for forty-nine years. I have been involved with no other activity as long, as continuously, or as passionately. I still take my knitting with me to family occasions and everywhere else I go. I always have several projects on the pin and countless ideas in my head. Recently I have begun writing patterns for my original designs. I still knit doll clothes whenever I have the chance, although my daughter is starting to request clothing for herself, like the cotton hoodie currently on my #5 circular needle. I recently designed and completed a special painting sweater for my husband to suit the needs of a painter in an often cold studio. I teach in a small local gallery and sell my work at craft fairs and to private clients. I taught my daughter to knit and so the skill will carry on to the next generation!