Meet The Designer

Doonan knitter the tea cosy queen

winter 10

LOANI PRIOR DEFIES THE STEREOTYPE that tea cosies are only reserved for use by your sweet old grandmother Dorothy who offered tea and day-old lamingtons when ‘company’ came to visit.

Self-confessed queen of the tea cosies and author of Wild Tea Cosies has just launched another offering – Really Wild Tea Cosies.

I meet Loani (pronounced Low-ar-nee) at her subtropical Doonan home and am struck by her height (she stands at 180cm) and warm, welcoming manner.

“Tea or coffee?” she asks. I choose tea (of course) and Loani reaches for one of seven-odd canisters filled with loose leaves sitting on the kitchen bench. It is obvious from the get-go that this is one woman totally and utterly devoted to tea – drinking it, blending it, and of course, making cosies to warm it.

After perusing Loani’s extensive ‘wool stash’ – neatly colour-coded and packed away in various plastic storage boxes – we move to the timber deck overlooking the rainforest. I sip my perfectly brewed Russian Caravan and we begin to talk cosies.

Having been taught to knit as a six year old by her Greek neighbour Mrs Theodosiou in Port Moresby, it wasn’t until Loani moved from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast eight years ago, on a ‘knit-change’, that she got well and truly wrapped up in knitting tea cosies.

“I’ve always done a little bit [of knitting] on and off in my life but only with a vengeance really in the last eight years,” she says. Previously working as a consultant in Brisbane, helping businesses ‘spring clean and restructure their electronic filing systems’, Loani now spends her days knitting cosies, planning book tours and holding knitting workshops. Talk about a knit change indeed.

“I moved here for love,” she blushes, referring to partner Julian, a marine scientist, whom she affectionately calls ‘The Bloke’.

According to Wikipedia, a tea cosy is “ a cover for a teapot , traditionally made of cloth or wool , which is used to insulate the tea, keeping it warm while it brews”.

Ok, so why the interest in knitting them? “You get to this stage in your life and think everyone has everything they need and you wonder what you can get them,” Loani says. “So I started knitting things for people as gifts.”

Not all knitted gifts are well received.

“If they have to wear it – like a jumper or socks – it can be a bit dodgy. They might not like the colour or the feel of wearing wool or it might not fit quite right. You can spend a lot of money on a gift like that and it might not be appreciated, whereas a tea cosy … everyone loves tea cosies! Even if they’re really stupid,” she laughs.

If the popularity of Loani’s first book, Wild Tea Cosies is anything to go by, then Really Wild Tea Cosies will surely be a success. Loani explains how her first book rated in the national newspapers.

“It landed number six on the national best-seller list for independent book stores one month after its release,” she says.

It just goes to show there must be a tea cosy knitting ‘underworld’ out there. It seems Grandma Dorothy was clued up well ahead of time.

“Yes, tea cosies keep the tea warm,” Loani says. “But I really didn’t understand in the beginning what the success (of the book) was about.”

While she admits there is resurgence in knitting, she doesn’t put the books’ success solely down to that.

“I’ve had a lot of people write to me and say they haven’t knitted in 20 years and now they’ve seen my book, they’re going to start knitting again,” she says. “But more importantly they tell me their tea cosy story. At book events people will bring me their 100-year-old tea cosy that’s ragged and tannin-stained and really quite horrible but to them it’s imbued with these memories of their grandmother, who owned and made that cosy. And then their mother had it and now it’s been passed down to them, so it’s become this social history object that’s filled with nostalgia and love.”

What a beautiful sentiment.

“And I think that has been the success of the book, the interest in it, especially for so many people with a sense of humour!”

Loani herself wasn’t passed down any tea cosies, but she understands the significance of the tradition.

“I think it’s part of the Australian and the English psyche. It’s a part of our genetic memory, the iconic tea cosy,” she says.

Asked to judge a tea cosy competition recently to raise money for breast cancer research, Loani was faced with 400 entrants (and not a grandma in sight) eager to sell their hand-knitted cosies for charity. It then became clear she wasn’t alone in her love affair with cosies.

“There are all these tea cosy fetish-ists that are coming out of the woodwork, being empowered to celebrate the tea cosy!” she says.

Launched on April 1, Really Wild Tea Cosies is a collection of 21 cosy patterns for readers to knit. From the colourful ‘Coral Punk’, a sea coral-inspired cosy in bright punky hues, to ‘Burlesque Betty’ (think Dita Von Teese made from wool), Loani’s creations are sure to make people smile.

And speaking of smiling, the book is dedicated to her son and late mum: “To my mother Kate who would have smiled so wide and my son Benjamin who makes me smile so wide.”

Really Wild Tea Cosies is available from all good bookstores.

Check out Loani’s blog at www.grandpurlbaa.com It’s full of witty knitty comments that’ll have you in stitches (pardon the pun).

The queen of the tea cosies is holding a ‘Wild Knitting Retreat’ in Noosa from 16 – 20 August. To book your place, phone Eumarella Shores on 5449 1738 or visit www.eumarellashores.com.au 

words candice gregor 

 

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