Margaret Crabtree has dressmaking in her blood. Before she left primary school she was able to make a dress and as a twelve year old was making clothes for family and friends, skills and traditions carefully passed down from her talented mother Bernie and her Aunt Sally.
“I don’t know if I’d let a twelve year old make my clothes now!” laughs Margaret.
But Margaret grew up in an era where it was vital to be thrifty and she’s noticing a renaissance in that way of thinking in the Derry of 2014.
“People just don’t have a lot of money to spend and they’re looking at ways of upcycling and reusing and getting back to repairing clothes. It’s definitely something that people have returned to.”
Because of that return to a more budget conscious way of living Margaret has never been busier. Her name is one of the first mentioned when you mention the world of stitching, crocheting or any kind of craft in the city. Working in a voluntary capacity for years helping local organisations she still can’t believe that crafts and crocheting is now her main job.
“This is something I’ve always loved doing and in recent years it had become a hobby. I’ve always loved crocheting and passing on new skills and now it’s something I get paid for.”
Margaret is part of the generation of Derry’s famous ‘factory girls’ and it’s an era she looks back on very fondly.
After leaving school, Margaret’s mother was determined her daughter wasted no time in getting a job.
“If I wasn’t going to be at school, I had to start earning a wage,” says Margaret.
“But from day one in the Peter England factory, I loved it. My first job was pinning shirts to the cardboard but it wasn’t until the second week in the job that I realised you got paid according to how many you did so I started working a lot faster then!”
Margaret, like most women who earned a living in Derry’s factories has happy memories of the social side of life there and the friendships made, as well as the work that went on.
“It really was great, Each section on the floor was like a family. It’s hard to explain that feeling but that’s genuinely the way it was. People looked out for one another and like many others I had so many happy years there.”
During her career as a factory girl, Margaret gradually worked her way up through the ranks and eventually reached a level where she was able to train others. Like most workers, she also found time, together with her husband, Peter, to raise a family. Margaret is a mother to five daughters, Deirdre, Grainne, Mairead, Fionnuala and Bronach.
It was when her daughter Fionnuala was studying at home with a friend that the idea for Margaret’s most famous venture ‘Keep her Knit’ was born.
“It was around four years ago and my mother had a knitting machine in her house which wasn’t working,” explains Margaret.
“When I was working in the factory, I would have been familiar with most of the machines so I brought the knitting machine here to the house. When the girls were studying they got interested in the knitting machine so I taught them how to do it and they made two scarves for themselves. Then, my daughter’s friend Gemma put a sign up on the door of the sunroom which said ‘keep her knit.’ We all thought it was a great name.
“I’d already taken classes in Steelstown and Gareth Stewart had approached me to do something at the Gasyard, so that’s where it all started.”
Since then Keep her Knit has gone from strength to strength and has once again made knitting a hobby for many in the North West.
“The things people have made at the Keep her Knit classes have travelled to Norway and even as far as Australia to family members there. It’s nice to think that at a time when more young people are living away from home that they can have something with them that was made here in Derry.”
Back on home soil, Margaret’s delighted that Derry’s eventful August Craft Month has taken off.
“It’s great for me because I’m actually getting to go to a few classes and take part in what’s going on. For the next few weeks, I’ll let someone else teach me!” she laughs.
For more on August Craft Month and what’s going on here in Derry visit www.derrycity.gov.uk/Crafts/August-Craft-Month