Edna’s lockdown blanket shows close-knit nature of family store in Ballymena

A long-serving member of staff at a Ballymena department store has been getting well-deserved plaudits for a unique item she created to mark lockdown.

Edna Alexander outside McKillens department store in Ballymena where her knitted quilt is on display in the window
Edna Alexander outside McKillens department store in Ballymena where her knitted quilt is on display in the window

For every day that McKillens store in Church Street was closed, Edna Alexander knitted a square for a patchwork quilt commemorating an event relevant to the lives of a staff member.

Edna, who has worked in McKillens for 23 years, said: “We have a Whatsapp group through the shop, we’ve great craic on it, sending each other pictures of what we’ve been baking or what’s happening in our gardens.

“We keep up to date with each other – birthdays, anniversaries, things like that. I tried to include all of those on the blanket.

“It was probably into the second week of lockdown I started thinking I probably should be knitting a square a day as a sort of memory.

“For a birthday I would knit a balloon shape and a letter on for their name or a number for their age. We had a wedding so I did confetti, for wedding anniversaries I knitted bouquets of flowers.”

She said: “I enjoyed it, I like to knit but I never thought lockdown would go on for so long.

“A square wouldn’t take very long, maybe an hour. That’s been my release from the boredom of lockdown.

“I’d always have something on the needles, I love to knit for my wee grandson.”

Edna, who is originally from Larne but now lives in Ballymena with her husband and daughter, said working for McKillens was like having a second family: “I’ve got my own brothers and sisters, I describe my work colleagues as my McKillens family.”

The 67-year-old added: “I never thought I’d be here for 23 years. I only do two days a week at the minute, it’s nice to get out and meet people.”

Managing director Thomas McKillen said: “Edna has created a work of art. She’s managed to weave into it all the wee stories about births, deaths, marriages, anniversaries of staff members.

“My birthday is in it, our daughter was married on June 10, it’s there.

“Edna is a great lady, a brilliant shoe fitter in the ladies department. She’s brilliant at that and equally as good at knitting.”

McKillens employs 40 members of staff and has been in business since 1926. Johnnie McKillen, who runs the kids store, is the fourth generation of the family to enter the business.

In light of Covid Thomas said measures had been taken to keep staff and customers safe while an appointment system had been introduced in the kids store to ensure families shopping for back to school shoes, clothing and other items aren’t waiting around to be seen. The appointment number is 07561651784.

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