Scottish Machine Knitters Association

A History of Scottish Machine Knitters Association A talk written by Frances Murray for the 25th AGM on 29th May 2010

Scottish Machine Knitters Association

In 1984 Nan Bain, Peggy Divorty and others were wondering how they could get Scotland’s machine knitters together to swap ideas and help each other. There were national clubs in England but none in Scotland.  The magazine To and Fro decided to have  a convention in Scotland. Nan Bain was delighted and sent off for tickets for herself and Peggy Divorty only to have their cheques returned a few weeks later because there hadn’t been enough interest and it was being cancelled. It turned out that the organisers had confused everyone by calling the hall they were going to use by it’s official name rather than the one everyone used and had planned the show for a Sunday which was not at all popular in those days.  Nan and Peggy decided that if they wanted to meet other groups of machine knitters they would have to set up an organisation themselves. They  knew there must be lots of clubs for machine knitters in Scotland and sent letters to all the knitting magazines they knew about asking for interested clubs and knitters to contact them. There was a very good response from clubs and individual knitters and they invited 2 members from each club to a meeting in Glasgow and SMK was born.

What do you remember about 1984?  I don’t remember much.  I had two small children and hadn’t ever seen a knitting machine. But to put it in context and in no particular order –

Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and President Regan was elected in America. It was the year that the IRA tried to blow up the Conservative Party in Brighton.

In India Indira Ghandi was murdered, there was the chemical explosion in Bhopal and the Indian Army attacked the Golden Temple in Amritsar .

Gorbachov became the Soviet leader.

The coal miners went on strike – it lasted a year.

700 year old York Minster was severely damaged by fire.

It was the year of Band Aid and “Do they know its Christmas” in aid of the Famine in Ethiopia.

The Winter Olympics were held in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia and the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Prince Harry was born, Eric Morecombe died, Bishop Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize.

BT was privatised, the space shuttle Discovery flew for the first time, the first Apple Mac was sold and the first CD players appeared. Mobile phones were much too big to fit in a pocket or handbag!

It was the year of the first woman to walk in space and to captain a Boeing 747

But back to SMK … …

The first meeting was held on 13th September 1984 at the Shawlands Hotel in Glasgow.  Present were Nan Bain and Peggy Divorty from the Southside Club, Glasgow (who were known, I am told, as Pinky and Perky) and who were always full of energy and enthusiasm.  Peggy Rourke, Margaret Marshall and Alison Gillon from Perth Knitting Club.  Isobel Bain (no relation) from Alexandria and tutor at Cardonald College and 10 others from 7 other clubs.  They discussed what they could do to set up a national organisation to get interested clubs together to exchange information, ideas and to help each other with patterns, demonstrations, selling machines and parts and just to have contact with other knitters. They planned a newsletter and they also thought that a national convention would bring everyone together. These were being held in England but, as you have heard, the only attempt in Scotland had failed.

Perth Club had been set up in 1971. It was one of the first in Scotland and had a large membership from all the surrounding villages and towns. They usually had guest speakers and soon after SMK was started Nan Bain and Peggy Divorty visited them. Peggy Rourke, the founder of the Perth Club, had arranged knitting shows, fashion shows, sales of work, displays by machine manufacturers and events in Perth for many years and consequently knew many of the suppliers of yarn and machines. There was a post card on the table about a possible Knitting Exhibition. Perth had decided not to do anything about it so Nan Bain asked if she could have the card and took it home and contacted the organiser.

By the next meeting in March 1985, when there were 40 people representing 27 clubs present  plans for The First Knitting, Sewing and Craftwork Show were well advanced. It was to be held at the Anderston Exhibition Centre, Glasgow from 7th to 10th November. SMK then realised that  the organisers didn’t know who to ask to come to their new show, in fact they didn’t know who existed and SMK were able to give them so much information about Scotland’s clubs and knitting businesses and also knitting firms from England that they were given stand 45 free and a generous prize for a knitwear competition. Bobby Dunn from Glasgow, who many of you will remember, also gave a generous prize.

It was decided that clubs should hold a competition for an outfit and the winners entered in the competition at the show. They would have a knitting machine on the stand and give advice about knitting and a list of the clubs they knew about. The badges we have now would be designed and  were to be ready to be worn at the show. They would run a fashion show and would produce the first SMK promotional leaflet. At the show there were a total of 96 stalls of which about 18 were yarn or knitting related. Cardonald College, who ran Machine Knitting Courses for many years, was there and so was Knitmaster.  On the back of the programme the organisers thank Councillor Jean McFadden, Mrs Nan Bain and Mrs Peggy Divorty for all their assistance with this event.  It was to be the first of many such events in both Glasgow and Edinburgh.  By the time of the meeting in September 1985 38 clubs had made contact and 21 had joined and there were individual members too.

The first committee was set up in February 1986 with Nan Bain as the First Chairperson, Vice Chair Alison Gillon, Secretary Peggy Divorty, Treasurer Margaret Marshall and Committee Isobel Bain, Vera Spark and Ann Wallace.  In April 1986 the first constitution was drawn up, with help from Alison Gillon’s husband and inspired by the constitution of the Caravan Club! There was insurance advice from another husband – the start of a tradition for helpful husbands in the club.  Area representatives were also organised.  By the 2nd AGM in September 1986 the numbers had grown so much that the planned venue in Perth had to be cancelled and they met instead at Stirling University. 250 lunches were ordered and the cost was £7 for the day. It was just an AGM (and lunch!) – there were no demonstrations or talks then. There was  a 2nd Knitting, Sewing and Craft show in Glasgow in November 1986.

In 1987 The British Guild of Machine Knitters suggested an amalgamation but SMK decided to stay separate. Numbers grew and so did activities. There were workshops all over Scotland and shows to attend in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. At the start of SMK it was decided that there would be club and individual membership but in 1990 it was decided to have individual membership only. At that time there were over 500 members.  Over the years the officials and committees have changed as people have left and others joined. I haven’t counted but a huge number of people have been involved with running SMK and all it’s activities – Pat Fountain is the 12th Chairperson.  The constitution has been amended a few times.  Over the years the nationally organised shows had less and less for knitters and SMK decided to run their own shows and the Knitting Only Shows were held at Ingliston in 2001, 2002 and 2003.  The first Scotland’s Knitting Only Show was held in Falkirk in 2006 and  others have followed at Perth Racecourse in 2008, 2009 and 2010.  SMK celebrated it’s 20th Birthday in 2004. Nan Bain and Peggy Rourke cut the birthday cake.

With all the changes in the way people communicate SMK decided to have it’s own web-site. The first was set up using profits from the first Knitting Only Show in 2001. As things have changed so has the web-site and we are now on our 3rd and most advanced version.  The newsletters continue to be produced and to inform members about knitting events and also to share patterns, hints, tips and even sometimes recipes.

Today we are celebrating 25 years of SMK and should be very grateful for the vision and energy of those who started it and for all those who have kept it going ever since. There were a surprising number of people at the AGM who had joined SMK right at the beginning – probably about 20. Two of them told me that it was Nan Bain’s husband who designed the SMK badges. I had not found that information recorded anywhere before.

Items displayed on the day:

The first appeal letter in a knitting magazine and the second letter

The first Knitting, Sewing and Craftwork Show – back and front

The pamphlet for the first stall

The list of Chairpersons.