Rothbury's Avril Graham - from a life of adventure to an accomplished knitter

Avril Graham, of Rainbow Yarns, Rothbury.Avril Graham, of Rainbow Yarns, Rothbury.
Avril Graham, of Rainbow Yarns, Rothbury.

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Katie Scott’s latest feature in the Creative Coquetdale Folk series focuses on Avril Graham, of Rainbow Yarns, Rothbury.

Rainbow Yarns is a delightful little shop on Bridge Street, Rothbury, and Avril is one of those people who are always busy, usually knitting, weaving or spinning.

Why ‘Rainbow Yarns’? I ask. “Well,” Avril explains, “it shows that I stock lots of colours and signifies that everyone is welcome in my shop.”

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Avril was born in Leeds. Both her mum, and her sister, Hazel, were avid knitters. Surprisingly, Avril was not.

“I couldn’t get the hang of it,” she says. “My sister was talented and was knitting cardigans by the time she was seven.”

It wasn’t until Avril settled in Rothbury, after a life filled with adventures and foreign travel, that she learnt to knit.

“I have been lucky enough to travel extensively and experience some amazing customs,” says Avril. “I am fascinated by the different costumes and colours that people from other cultures wear.

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"I have enjoyed learning through people I have met in my travels about how their culture is expressed through their clothes, literature, and music.

"I taught English in Taiwan and enjoyed travelling throughout the East. I loved teaching English and I also learned to speak Chinese (Mandarin).”

After returning from her travels, she went to Durham University to study Chinese. Avril has lived in China, and her children were taught there for a while.

However, Avril decided to make her home in Rothbury 17 years ago: “I love being surrounded by nature and the countryside here is so beautiful.”

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So how did she end up with a wool shop and knitting these beautiful designs, when she couldn’t knit as a child?

Avril explains that it all began with a trip to Thropton Show, many years ago.

"I met a lovely lady called Meg. She was spinning and I said, ‘Oh I would love to be able to do that!’ Meg invited me to Powburn Village Hall where a group of spinners meet each Monday.

“I went along the next Monday, and she sat me down at a spinning wheel. For four long hours, she made me move my foot like this: (moves it up and down) and I thought ‘oh God I wish I’d never come!’ After a break, she said, ‘ok, I think we can start you with some fleece’.”

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Because Meg had made her do that for hours, she didn’t have to think about what her feet were doing but could concentrate on what her hands needed to do. Avril attended the meetings every week from then on.

Eventually, she had spun a great deal of wool and needed to do something with it. “That is when I taught myself to knit”.

Avril turned her dining room into a small shop and makes brilliant use of her space.

I spot a particularly attractive wool called Alegria.

“It’s Fairly Traded,” Avril tells me, “from a women’s cooperative in Uruguay.

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"I try to support women when I can, because I know how hard their lives can be.”

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