This is hard to write.
In June 2015, our dear friend Belinda Boaden, known to many knitters as True Brit Knits, died after a short and tough struggle against cancer. She was 46. Ann and I were together, at Shakerag Workshops in Tennessee, when we got the terrible news; we had been dreading it for a few days. Being together was a good thing, and had a resonance to it, since our long friendship with Belinda came about because of the blog. I cannot hope to do her justice, but the loss of this remarkable, generous person is too great for me not to remember her here.
Belinda could type and talk at a speed and quantity above even ours (imagine!), so her reach was wide. Her relationships with knitters around the world were deep. I know I am not the only one missing daily reports on the inner thoughts of Belinda’s house rabbit, Iman, and the doings of all the inhabitants of her street in Hackney.
I don’t remember exactly when Belinda first commented on the blog, but it was in response to one of my early arias about Rowan’s Denim yarn. (Indigo-dyed cotton. The best stuff ever.) Belinda had a degree in knitwear design. Her first job upon graduation was for Artwork, the brilliant design team of Jane and Patrick Gottelier, whom I had long worshipped from afar for their Whitby pullover and other gansey-inspired knits made of cotton denim yarn.
At a tender age, Belinda had supervised the production of hundreds of Whitby and other denim pullovers by hand knitters in the UK. The sweaters sold for exorbitant prices in London at Harvey Nichols and other fancy shops; some even made their way to Barneys New York. Belinda loved to tell how Japanese tourists tried to buy the battered and distressed sweaters that were decorations in Artwork’s London shop.
Although Belinda had moved on to a freelance career by this time, she still had professional and personal ties to the Gotteliers. She also had a huge cache of denim yarn leftovers that had come back to her from all those UK knitters with the finished sweaters, and she was knitting them into an all-denim Mitered Square Blanket. I was smitten. To say the least.
A little while later, we needed a tech editor for our first book, Mason-Dixon Knitting: The Curious Knitter’s Guide. Why not a tech editor who lived in London, and whom we’d never met in person? This was the exact correct decision. Belinda not only tech edited our patterns with skill and efficiency, she taught us about knitwear design. So many tricks of the trade. So much humor. So many stories. So much inventive language.
I first met Belinda in person when I was in London on vacation and wanted to deliver her fee for that job. We had agreed to meet at the Victoria & Albert Museum. When I got there, Belinda was waiting outside in her own ancient Whitby, faded to white-blue, with dark indigo peeking out from the cable crossings. The cuffs were gloriously ragged. Belinda was tiny, twinkly and resplendent. We talked and laughed so much that I forgot to give her the envelope, and I had to leave it for her at the front desk of the hotel later.
To Belinda, knitting was serious business. She grew up in Nottingham, home of the knitting mills that started the Industrial Revolution, in which her family had worked. She had been knitting since childhood and although she was an expert knitter, she was not precious about knitting. You just got on with it and did it. She was passionate about fashion and design.
When her friends gathered after her funeral, one of her fashion school mates told us that at parties full of stylish young fashion industry folk, Belinda would quietly be wearing the most amazing sweater in the place. She believed that fashion and good clothes are for everybody. That these things are about joy and art and expression. She always looked fantastic and smelled like the inside of a Lush shop.
Belinda’s own designs, for ready-to-wear or for handknitters, were imbued with a high fashion sensibility; they often had menswear-derived details. I invite everyone to go look at the handknitting patterns she did with her partner in True Brit Knits, Wendy Baker. My favorite—seated at the right hand of Whitby in my personal sweater pantheon—is the Highland Bling. To me, the HB is worthy of any catwalk, and belongs in the V & A’s permanent collection.
When Belinda and her husband lived in New York for six months in 2013 and 2014, Belinda wore her dark grey Highland Bling—navy blue sequins and all—throughout that cold winter, to Fairway and Trader Joe’s and also to the Angel’s Share for bespoke cocktails. I was taking notes: this is how you wear a fancy sweater; you don’t save it for special. I commissioned Belinda’s sample knitter to make my own Highland Bling, sized to fit loosely, the way Belinda’s fit her. This winter, I will wear it to Fairway and Trader Joe’s and the Angel’s Share.
Belinda’s funeral on July 17, 2015 was a beautiful day of remembrance. Among the many friends and family were a group of teary-eyed knitters. The funeral procession stopped on the Lower Clapton Road, and the funeral director, in top hat and tails and purple tie, stood in the road and bowed to Wild and Woolly. The yarn shop had been there for only little over a year, but Belinda had established a strong tie there.
Knitters of London and around the world had sent knitted flowers and pom poms that Wendy Baker made into gorgeous wreaths for the funeral home. The processional song was “Waterloo Sunset” by the Kinks. Afterwards we gathered for drinks and delicious food, sitting around the home of loving neighbors, and standing in the street, blinking in the beautiful summer sunshine.
(Belinda was always game for a high-concept photoshoot.)
(Models wearing Belinda’s Tamatori Cowl. Underwater shots made sense at the time.)
Belinda could be bracingly blunt in a way that knocked you back for a second but then made you realize that truth is not anything to be afraid of. While helping me shop for jackets at a time when I needed to look good and was nervous about it, she told me that we were looking for some “distraction from your middle,” and also that I looked fantastic in the jackets she’d picked out. Both things could be true—what a liberating thing to realize. I will never get rid of the Vivienne Westwood dress she talked me into buying at the Liberty’s sale in June 2009; it was the sartorial equivalent of opening a bottle of vintage champagne in your darkest hour. “You look amazing in it,” she said. I did not feel amazing, but I believed her, and that dress—she called it The Viv—has been a garment of courage for me ever since.
Yesterday afternoon, a box arrived from London.
It contained a selection of Belinda’s knitting library, kindly packed up and sent over to me by Belinda’s husband, Neil. I had requested some of the ones with bookmarks, notes and yarn labels stuck between the pages. Here they are, a stack of Japanese cable dictionaries and two Barbara Walkers. My little chunk of the Belinda arsenal. They shall not be KonMari-d; even applying the Kay Method, they spark joy. I miss her every day, and I know so many others do, too. She is irreplaceable.