Knit one, purl one, sing one... Jackie's life of creativity finds a fresh twist
Most of us know that folk star Jackie Oates has the most beautiful voice and an extraordinary emotionally-charged flair on the fiddle, but it's a surprise to discover that she has a rather special talent for knitting too.
As she sets out on a UK tour with her exquisitely soothing Lullabies album – starting with a show at Dartington Hall, Totnes on October 4 in aid of Save the Children – Jackie's essential kit, aside from her trusty violin, comprises needles in assorted sizes, and a treasure chest of wools, threads and buttons in a myriad hues so she can conjure up the unique little 6in character dolls that have become her off-stage passion.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Show host Mark Radcliffe, singer and broadcaster Cerys Matthews, fiddle maestro and folk queen Eliza Carthy, pianist Belinda O'Hooley, the massed ranks of supergroup The Imagined Village and her Morris dancing fiance Jack Worth are among her subjects to date – not forgetting Royal couple William and Kate and baby George.
"I have always been into crafts, and because my musical hobby is now my career, as a creative person you are always seeking something to create; it makes you feel like you are achieving something," explains the award-winning Jackie, who taught herself to knit after a three-week tour of Austria last year with three male band members, no Internet connection and no TV.
"I set myself the task of knitting a racoon in a Chelsea football strip for the little boy of one of the guys in the band; since then I've been dreaming up all these weird and wild things to make. They have morphed into little sculptures of people with wire inside so you can model them in position," she adds. "It fills that dead time between soundcheck and the gig."
She works from a basic pattern – sourced online – for the body of each doll, then develops it with fine attention to detail, into the individual she wants to portray, usually based on a photograph of them in their most recognisable or most typical outfit.
"When I made Mark Radcliffe it was based on the iconic photograph of him in a suit with his arms folded; I took a lot of care getting the right buttons for the sleeve."
This new obsession isn't as far removed from Jackie's musical life as it may seem. She has a strong love of the folk tradition and storytelling, fuelled and nurtured while she was a student in Exeter. And her latest 15-track LP, released two weeks ago, represents the tip of a very deep iceberg of English lullabies that she uncovered during extensive research into the genre.
Like the craft of knitting, they were passed from generation to generation on the knees of mothers and grandmothers, and it's this warmth and connection that she has been sharing as she has toured the country giving performances and workshops over the summer, also visiting nurseries.
"It has been lovely because there have been lots of new mums as well as grannies coming; the music does connect and it has a very interesting effect on the children. If you watch them being sung to it's as if they go into a trance. They become very focused and attentive. It's a primitive and timeless bonding thing."
Her hobby also ties in with her latest download single, which is already attracting a lot of radio airplay. It's a pretty song she discovered while researching and archiving for the Lullabies project called The Housewives' Lament.
"It's from the Appalachian mountains, around the time of the Civil War, and it's about the monotony of everyday life from the perspective of a housewife; man or woman, to survive as a human, I think we all have to do the same thing over and over again," muses Jackie. Having said that, on this tour she is ringing the changes by concentrating entirely on Lullabies rather than a wider set of the songs she has made her own over the past ten years. "I wanted to do songs that people hadn't ever heard before."
Would you like your own bespoke doll knitted by Jackie Oates' fair hands? This is your chance to win just such a collectors' item in our exclusive competition. Tell us the character you would like her to knit and why – it can be yourself, a friend, a relative, or a well-known person. Email your entry to firstname.lastname@example.org, with Jackie Oates Competition in the subject line, to arrive by Friday, October 4.