Knitwear, Nostalgia + Olfactory Memories

Knitwear, Nostalgia + Olfactory Memories

Leanne Cloudsdale introduces the new Jennifer Kent Knitwear Refresher

My grandmother Sadie was a prolific knitter.  She was so skilled at her craft that it only took a quick glance down at the pattern before she was off, needles clacking away at such a speed that, from my vantage point on the settee, they looked blurry.  Her pals at the bingo hall were forever putting in ‘orders’ for baby booties, bonnets, dresses or cardigans which she gratefully accepted and never asked for payment.  There was no stitch she couldn’t master; anything made by her freckled fingers possessed a special, meticulous quality that her community couldn’t get enough of.  I’m not sure my kid sister and I felt the same though – we always kicked up a stink when mum forced us to wear the pastel-coloured creations Sadie had lovingly made for us (which we teamed with stonewashed jeans and jellybean shoes - this was the 1980s, remember).

All that changed when I left home at 18 and pinched a few of my grandad’s big sloppy jumpers.  Magnificent Arans she’d created in the softest wool with fern coloured melange yarns covered in flecks that looked like lichen on a dry-stone wall.  My first flat didn’t have any central heating so those oversized thermal layers were a godsend in the winter months.  I’d break all the rules and stretch them over my knees when I curled up in an armchair to read or wear them over my pyjamas for bed.  Chunky, gigantic and tremendously comforting, they were my slice of familiarity, a cocooning hand-made emotional security system riddled with the smells of two people I loved dearly.  Let’s be honest here, hefty knits are a pain in the backside to wash.  Aside from my adolescent laziness, I didn’t want to rid them of the aroma of happy days sat in front of the gas fire watching quiz shows with a box of Maltesers.  Or wash away afternoons in my grandparents’ back garden, weeding the borders whilst they planted bulbs and manicured the lawn.  Those mighty V-necks were my grandad’s go-to garments – no wonder he spent years asking for them back!

The magic of wool, I guess, is its ability to really lock in the memories.  A naturally nostalgic fibre, it seems to hold onto smells like no other material.  It grips the olfactory past with both hands and never lets it go, which could be why we are all so reluctant to wash away the odour from gifted or hand-me-down knitted souvenirs.  Humans are hard-wired to store smell-related reveries – they’re stored in the deepest vaults of our brains.  One whiff of something, or someone familiar and we’re immediately transported back to a time or a place.  Whether it’s a jumper borrowed from a friend, left behind by an ex-lover or handed down from an elder sibling there’s that automatic, universal sniffing thing that we all do.  It seems that by smelling the essence left behind by the previous owner we can once again become close to them.  It’s our way of remembering the person – caveman style.  Powerful stuff.

Jennifer Kent has harnessed this topic very sensitively with the introduction of her self-titled knitwear scent.  Kent understands how only a few of us can say that we really enjoy the ritual of hand-washing our knits or don’t struggle with the idea of the crazy chemicals involved in dry-cleaning.  With this in mind, she’s worked with Clara Weale, scent designer and founder
of A Library of Olfactive Material in Glasgow, to devise a unisex spray comprised of hay, cedarwood, black pepper and cardamom that refreshes (and reinvigorates) knitwear in between wears.  This not only increases the lifecycle of our beloved knitted favourites, but also helps to safeguard against moths.  With a quick spritz you breathe life back into a knit that you might have had ‘in circulation’ for a while – without masking your own delectable notes.  Seems like the ideal compromise; you’re simply freshening up the memories.