Geographies of Skilled Practice

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RGS-IBG 2014 is done and dusted. It was a hectic few days, but I saw heaps of great talks and met some lovely fellow geographers! The session Merle and I organised on skilled practice went really well, and we thought we would put our introduction up on our respective blogs for those who couldn’t make it on the day. Without further ado – here it is!

 

Introduction to Geographies of Skilled Practice and Co-production Joanna Mann and Merle Patchett 

These two sessions stem from our shared interest in skilled craft practices, in both historical and contemporary contexts. Independently and collaboratively we have been attempting to theorise and practice a range of skills, repeatedly coming back to questions concerning how to define, recognise, and witness skill.

Skill is an inherently conflicted subject, with a myriad of definitions, applications, and understandings. The accepted OED definition is taken as ‘the ability to do something well’, with an etymology lying in the Old Norse word for discernment and knowledge. This older conception understands reason as a faculty of the mind, and speaks to the orthodox view that skill is the application of knowledge, serving to reinforce the sense of a mind-body spilt. More contemporary understandings quoted by the dictionary, however, speak to skill as a form of practical or embodied knowledge. Rather than foreclose understandings of skill and skilled practice, this session is a forum for exploring conceptions, characterisations, and applications of skill within and beyond geography.

Broadly situated, we understand these two sessions to fit in with the growing interest into the geographies of crafting, making and mending. To date much of this scholarship has sought to underline the social, economic and political potentials of craft and DIY ‘making cultures’ for responding to post-capitalist relations in a messy post-disciplinary environment. However, our concern with the focus on DIY cultures and ‘make do and mend’ philosophies is what happens to the place and relevance of skill?

If skilled practice is defined as the ability to ‘do something well’, are these (often) quick-fix solutions, combined with the availability of new technologies and learning platforms, leading to an impoverished conception of skill in the 21st century, whereby anyone can learn to become a plumber, coder or a taxidermist in a day?

Or is it simply the case that we are becoming skilful in different ways, in different settings and through different means?

Our specific interest in skilled practice emerges from a concern to move beyond interest in short-lived making and learning cultures, to instead think through the more long-term and committed geographical and bodily dynamics involved processes of enskilment. Yet rather than perpetuate romantic and static conceptions of skill, we seek to draw attention to the ways in which skill has always been dynamically co- and re-produced in both the past and the present. Furthermore, taking account of David Pye’s assertion that the crafts have no unique purchase on the matter of skill, we have compiled this session to showcase how research reaches areas as diverse as music, contemporary art, and digital technologies.

As geographers our understandings of skilled practice are shaped by a wide range of work, both within and outside of our own discipline. However the work of anthropologist and long-time theorist of skill Tim Ingold has perhaps been the most influential in terms of rethinking skill in recent years. Ingold’s body of work has steadily overturned the orthodox view that skill is the mere application of knowledge, by demanding instead a perspective that situates the practitioner, right from the start, in the context of an active engagement with the constituents of his or her surroundings.

grown

According to Ingold’s ‘dwelling perspective’, skills are neither innate nor acquired, but are rather ‘grown’: “incorporated into the human organism through practice and training in an environment” (Ingold 2000: 5). Ingold’s focus on practical enskilment, conceived as the embodiment of capacities of awareness and response by environmentally situated agents, has therefore helped us to overcome the overly rigid divisions between mind and body, and ‘art’ and ‘technology’ that have plagued prior theorisations of skill.

Moreover, by arguing that skills are ‘ecologically’ rather than ‘culturally’ produced, Ingold has highlighted that skills are not static ‘cultural traditions’ that are passed on by processes of learning from generation to generation, but are rather ‘regrown’ in each, responding to the specificities of particular ‘ecologies of practice’. 

As such, the essence of skill for Ingold comes to lie in the improvisational ability with which practitioners are able to disassemble the constructions of a craft or technology, and creatively to reincorporate the pieces into their own walks of life. François Sigaut goes so far as to call this the law of the irreducibility of skills (cited in Ingold 2011:62), whereby even the emerging technological work of the digital age demands that skills are, in Ingold’s terms, ‘re-grown’. 

However, while theoretically Ingold’s pronouncements on skill do not sit uneasily with the ‘ecologies of practice’ of the digital age, when selecting ethnographic material to substantiate his arguments he has tended to focus on the comparative study of hunter-gatherer and pastoral societies, drawing particularly on his early research on northern circumpolar reindeer hunting and herding peoples. As such Ingold’s work has be criticised at best for having little or nothing to say about the skills required for the digital age and at worst for putting certain ‘ecologies of practice’ in aspic. Moreover, although Ingold has helped us to overcome the overly rigid division between the works of human beings and those of non-human animals, the fundamental focus in his work, unsurprisingly for an anthropologist, is the role of the human in the development and practice of skill. 

By contrast, a particularly exciting move in geography at the moment is the way in which this human focus is being de-centred by theoretical influences such as non-representational theory and new materialist currents of thought which are increasingly changing the way we understand and interact with the world. For example the re-focusing of cultural geographic concerns on bodily-practices has turned attention away from cognition and representation to issues of embodiment, performance, skill and affect understood as relational and distributive forces and competencies that cut across human-nonhuman divides. These geographic arguments thus promote a modest and inclusive approach to understanding the social which depends on: ‘a philosophy of epistemological detail’ (Deleuze 1994: xix), the foregrounding of tacit knowledge (Rheinberger 1997), and ‘knowing interestingly’ through the development of rich and original articulations (Latour 2000).

A number of interesting and exciting studies have emerged of late, many picking up on these prevailing theoretical currents and empirical orientations. These include, for instance, Caitlin DeSilvey et al’s stories of menders in Southwest England, Richard Ocejo’s examination of cocktail bartenders, and Tim Edensor’s study of stonemasonry. In all of these instances, the work carried out is seeking to access knowledge which is rooted in deep practice and elucidate it for means of preservation, theoretical exemplification, or the passing-on of techniques.

These examples all highlight the way geographers work with skilled practitioners to co-produce knowledge. Arguably, they also showcase the way in which geographical research is a skilled practice in its own right. There are a plethora of methods available to the geographer, all of which require practice, refinement, and engagement to employ successfully. 

Conventionally, geographers have used techniques such as ethnography, interviews, archival research, and participant observation. Auto-ethnography is favoured by Erin O’Connor as an invaluable tool to understand ‘learning by doing’ in the realms of glass blowing. Similarly, Merle’s research into taxidermy practice highlights how the position of learner or apprentice can be a highly instructive context from which to enquire into the decidedly more-than-human sensory, bodily and affective registers of certain forms of skilled practice. Joanna, meanwhile, has found material-led interviews useful, going beyond a straight-forward question-and-answer format into a series of demonstrations, lessons, and experiments within practitioner’s workspaces.

Kenward(Picture from Steve Kenward’s ‘Made not manufactured series’)

All these techniques broadly encapsulate the recent turn towards practice-based inquiry that has witnessed academics using and honing their own skills, new and existing, as part of their research. James Ash, for instance uses his existing skills of video gaming to theorise affect, temporality, and technicity, whereas David Paton applies his experiences with stonemasonry to address materiality. Furthermore David Bissell has drawn on his experience of witnessing skilled performances in golf to challenge the ‘slow-creep dynamic’ through which skills and proficiencies are understood to evolve and become refined over time through repetition and habit. Following a decidedly anti-humanist logic Bissell has gone as far to argue that skills ‘might be better understood as competencies that temporarily possess us: fragile proficiencies that evolve in ways that unsettle the predictabilities inherent to more slow-creep understandings of practical refinement’ (2013: 127). The emergence of skill for Bissell therefore becomes less about trust in the narrowing and perfecting of movements through the drilled repetition of practices and more about the supple exposure to more volatile forms of life that just might develop the skill in a new direction.

Problems arise, however, when we want to access skilled practices of the past. Although the studying of embodied practices and skills of the past should be a central concern of the historical geographer because ‘as one of the chief sources of renewal of social systems… practices and skills are, in a sense, a motor of history’ (Glennie and Thrift 2004: 154) and therefore historical geographies, there is often very little in the historical record to mark them. As Gagen et al (2007:5) point out ‘the passage of time erodes the ‘presence’ of past practices and we must, by necessity, forgo any claims to the possibility of recovering in fullness realms of lived gesture, touch, and emotion’. This is especially so for skilled practices given that many skills were ‘passed-on’, or rather ‘re-grown’, largely tacitly and performatively, as in the case with craft guilds and apprenticeship schemes.

One method around this problem has been to use archival fragments in an attempt to reconstruct and reimagine the past. Increasingly, researchers of historical geography are finding that the notion of historicising does not need to mean deadening what has gone before. Instead they are enlivening the archive in ways which reveal the dynamic and distributed nature of past skilled practices, and are even showing that the leftover pieces of a craft or technology can be creatively reincorporated into the research process and their own walks of life. 

We have devised a few questions to act as a shared touchstone over the next two sessions. They are by no means the sole focus for what follows, but hopefully a good starting point and a basis for a larger group discussion at the end of session two. 

  1. What is the relevance of skill in the 21st Century?
  2. What is skill? How do we co-produce it?
  3. As geographical researchers, how do we witness skill in the past and present?
  4. How do we understand and trace the ‘passing-on’ of skill?
  5. How do we theorise skill as a collective endeavour?
  6. What is the relationship between skill and technology, historically and in the present?

These two sessions will showcase contemporary research into skill, as well as the skill of research. We’re interested in placing/grounding skill – not necessarily as something that is locatable in one particular body, but in the entanglements through which it comes into being and is sustained, lost, and recovered. In turning towards a notion of skill that is simultaneously embodied, placed, tethered, relational and distributed, we look forward to learning more about the practices, politics, histories, and futures of skill. 

Key References:

Adamson, G. (2007) Thinking Through Craft Oxford: Berg.

Ash, J. (2010) Architectures of affect: anticipating and manipulating the event in processes of videogame design and testing Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28(4), 653-671.

Bissell, D. (2013). Habit displaced: the disruption of skilful performance Geographical Research 51(2), 120-129.

DeSilvey, C., Ryan, J., & Bond, S. C. (2013) 21 Stories Cultural Geographies

Edensor, T. (2012) Materiality, time and the city: the multiple temporalities of building stone Spatialities: The Geographies of Art and Architecture 35-52.

Ingold, T. (2000) The perception of the environment: essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill Psychology Press.

Ingold, T. (2011) Being alive: Essays on movement, knowledge and description Taylor & Francis.

O’Connor, E. (2005) Embodied knowledge The experience of meaning and the struggle towards proficiency in glassblowing Ethnography 6(2), 183-204.

Ocejo, R. E. (2012) At your service: The meanings and practices of contemporary bartenders European Journal of Cultural Studies 15(5), 642-658.

Patchett, M. (2014) ‘Witnessing craft: employing video ethnography to attend to the more-than-human craft practices of taxidermy’, in Charlotte Bates (ed) Video Methods: Social Science Research in Motion Routledge.

Paton, D. A. (2013). The quarry as sculpture: the place of making Environment and Planning A 45(5), 1070-1086.

 

RGS-IBG 2014: Geographies of Skilled Practice and Co-production

RGS-IBGThe RGS-IBG conference is a mere two weeks away (where did the time go?!) so it only seemed right that I swing by to plug the sessions I’ve been organising with Dr Merle Patchett – ‘the geographies of skilled practice and co-production’. The two sessions that we’ve put together stem from our shared interest in skilled craft practices, in both historical and contemporary contexts. We had a great response to our call for papers back in January and I’m delighted to announce that the line-up is as follows: 

Session 1: placing skill 

Introduction to Geographies of skilled practice and co-production – Joanna Mann (University of Bristol) and Merle Patchett (University of Bristol)

Simplicity, soul and skill: new folk geographies of hut and bothy – Rachel Hunt (University of Glasgow)

Suffolk and The Suffolk: 21st Century Co-production of Heavy Horse Skills - Kim Crowder (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Machine-made lace, the co-production of knowledge and the spaces of skilled practice -Tom Fisher (Nottingham Trent University) and Julie Botticello (Birkbeck, University of London) 

Binding Us Together: The Artist’s Line for Skilled Co-Production – Elizabeth Hodson (University of Aberdeen)

Session 2: Rethinking skill 

The craft of musical performance: creativity as skilled practice – Emily Payne (University of Oxford)

 A tradition of becoming skilful? – Joanna Mann (University of Bristol)

 An ethnography of image making practices in Hyderabad – Fiza Ishaq (Heidelberg University, Germany)

Struggling over skill: materiality, embodiment and contestation in the surfboard industry – Andrew Warren (University of New England, Australia) and Chris Gibson (University of Wollongong, Australia) 

Re-thinking redundancy in crisis: materials and skills beyond excess – Chantel Carr (University of Wollongong, Australia)

Both these sessions will be on Thursday 28th August, the first starting at 14:40 and the second starting at 16:50 in Electrical Engineering room 403a. We’re also hoping that independent artist Jethro Bryce is going to run a drawing exercise for us during the break between the two sessions, so it should be a jam-packed afternoon. 

I’ve had a quick look through the online programme of events as well, and can already spy lots of sessions that interest me. On Wednesday there’s a discussion on ‘performing geographies’, and three sessions on ‘making geographies’. ‘Postcolonial geographies, political ontologies, and posthumanism’ sounds like it might be a good way to start Thursday morning, and I’m totally intrigued by the notion of ‘ad-hoc geographies’ that day too. I was hoping for a quieter Friday, but alas, ‘Speculative Realism and Speculative Materialism’ sounds too good to miss, and I’ll definitely stick my nose into ‘cinematicity’, ‘assemblage theory’ and ‘literary cartographies’ as well. It’s going to be a hectic few days! 

albert hall(Clearly the Albert Hall and not the Royal Geographical Society, but it’s one of the only photos I took last year… and it’s quite pretty)

 

Mlle. Eleonore Riego de la Branchardiere

This poor blog has been pretty neglected for a while, so I thought I’d swing by with a short post to hopefully get me back into the habit of writing here!

Back in January I wrote about my latest new-old project. It’s still very much a work-in-progress, but it’s slowly coming along. It took me forever to get used to the small needles and 1 ply yarn, but I’m actually quite enjoying it now that I’ve got the hang of the pattern. I reckon I’m probably around 20% of the way through at the moment which isn’t so bad for a novice. There’s something quite humbling about working from a 147 year old pattern, especially when you think about how little the key techniques have changed, even if the circumstances under which it is knitted have completely changed. I’m constantly amazed at how clever the intricate pattern is and always find myself wondering how it was devised. Although I’ll probably never know exactly how the pattern came into being, I have been finding out a little more about the designer from whose book the pattern comes…

Mademoiselle Eleonore Riego de la Branchardiere was born in England in 1828 to an Irish mother and a French father. She had a committed interest to all forms of needlework – knitting, crochet, tatting, and netting – and allegedly published her first book at the age of 12![1]

However, Mlle Riego (as she preferred to be called) was primarily known for her tatting work. Tatting is a handmade lace, formed of knots and loops made of thin thread to create items such as doilys, scarves, purses or parasol covers. Overall Mlle Riego published thirteen books on tatting, and in the process introduced new ideas and technical improvements to the craft which are still in use today.

At the age of 23 she lists herself in the 1851 census as an ‘authoress and designer’ living at 106 New Bond Street, London. In the same year her work appeared in the Great Exhibition, in Class 19: Tapestry, floor cloths, lace and embroidery. Hers is entry No: 17:

Great Exhib 17

For this she won the Prize Medal for ‘the skill displayed in the imitation of old Spanish and other costly laces’ An illustration of the Prize Medal, along with illustrations of those won at 1858 and 1862 expositions, are included on the first page of the Abergeldie Winter Book.

Mlle Riego medals

 This is the book from which my Shetland lace veil comes from. The Abergeldie Winter book itself was published 1867 in London. It was priced at one shilling and contains, amongst others, patterns for a cape, shawl, socks, vest, and, of course, a veil alongside stunning illustrations by W.D. Hornsby.

Given her interest in the fine lacy work of tatting it comes as no surprise to discover that many of her knitted lace patterns are equally as complex and beautiful. It is not known whether she ever visited Shetland to get inspiration for designing her veil, but it seems more likely that she was inspired by a design that reached her ‘fancy warehouse’ in London. From here Mlle Riego supplied lace-making and embroidery materials, most likely to the wealthier women of London given the relatively expensive cost of the pattern books.

By the time she died, Mlle Riego had published a staggering 72 books on various needle arts. You can view some of them for free here: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/library/ldu/wsa.html

I only hope that in re-creating her veil I can do her wonderful work justice! Update to follow soon!

[1] The evidence for this is somewhat conflicting. Most sources claim that her first book was ‘Knitting, Crochet and Netting’ published in 1846, and that she published this at age 12. That would make her year of birth 1834. However, in the 1851 census she lists herself as being 23 years old, (giving the birth year of 1828) which would mean she was actually 18 when the book was published.

Australia

As many of you know, I’m currently in AUSTRALIA! About this time last year I applied for an ESRC Overseas Institutional Visit award and was fortunate enough to have it granted. The funding was to come to the University of Newcastle in New South Wales to work with A. Prof Jenny Cameron in the school of environmental and life sciences. It gives me the opportunity to work in a different environment with a set of new ideas and voices, so my aim is to get a chapter polished off for my thesis whilst here.

I arrived 5 weeks ago, and time is absolutely flying past. I was so worried about coming over into a different department, but it turns out my fears were unfounded – everyone is ridiculously nice, kind, and welcoming. I’ve really enjoyed hearing about the diversity of projects people are undertaking, and have taken the opportunity to immerse myself in some new literatures and test out a few different ideas. I’ve been going to reading groups, seminars, and meetings and feel thoroughly at home here. I’m also finding myself more productive on this side of the world – due in no small part to the vast majority of my friends, family, and colleagues being asleep during my working hours! There’s a serious lack of emails to distract me during the day. And that’s not wholly a bad thing…

The main campus of Newcastle Uni – Callaghan – is massive. I still haven’t got my head around the scale of it. It took me the best part of an hour to find my department when I got off at the wrong bus stop on my second day! It’s beautiful though – there are plenty of huge towering trees all around the campus, with lots of walkways between sites. The only problem is that all the greenery draws in the mosquitos. I got munched pretty badly during my first few weeks, but have luckily found a jungle-strength repellent to keep me safe of late.

(Look at all these trees!)

On the whole I’ve really been enjoying the Aussie way of life. Popping over to the beach (literally a stone’s throw away from my apartment) always feels like a complete treat, especially when the sun is still warm on your skin. There’s a great coffee culture, heaps of fresh fruit and veg available at the local markets, and always plenty of new things to see and do. I’ve been lucky enough to end up in a beautiful apartment with two lovely housemates. Plus, Newcastle is less than a three hour (and less than £10!) train journey to Sydney – one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever had the good fortune to visit.

It’s been an absolute ball so far, but highlights include:

Olive picking with my new housemates! One of the members of staff in the department has an olive grove at home and invited us round to help her harvest it. We had such a nice day handpicking the olives, and a mere 4 days later were clutching bottles of olive oil from the very same olives!

Picking!

 

So many olives!

Visiting Sydney and taking in the views from the top of the Sydney tower eye – stunning!

My 25th birthday! Jenny brought in a delicious sour lemon cake and everybody came to birthday morning tea. The weather was divine, and for lunch there was a departmental pizza picnic! YUM! I was totally bowled over by the kindness of people I’d met merely two weeks before.

Seeing a real life (totally adorable) WOMBAT! And koalas, and kangaroos, and echidnas….

Going to a community economies research network meeting – Jenny invited me to attend their monthly meetings at which likeminded researchers drawing on particular theoretical frameworks all get together to meet up, discuss ideas, and read each other’s work. Not only did I get to meet loads of lovely people, but the meeting was on the Hawksbury River, a completely gorgeous part of the world. Oh, and we ate heaps of delicious food as well!

Doing my departmental seminar! I was a bit (very) nervous about putting myself and my work out there, but it went well and I got lots of generous feedback to help me turn it into a full blown chapter! Progress is being made!!!

I have also learned what a rip tide is. Getting caught up in one wasn’t such a great experience, and having to be rescued was excruciatingly embarrassing. Suffice to say, I’ve not been back into the sea above knee level since…

So, I’m half way through. Goodness only knows what the next five weeks hold, but if they’re anything like the first five then it seems there’s still much to look forward to. I’ll be back with an update again soon!

 

 

 

A new-old project

I love starting new projects, particularly new knitting projects. I quite like finishing them too, but I’m not so great at the middle part of it, hence why I usually have about 5 things on the go at any given time. I digress. I’m about to embark on a new knitting project, one that I’ve been planning for a while now. As many of you will know I spent a fair chunk of time towards the end of last year at the knitting reference library. The resource is split between Winchester School of Art (books, patterns, and printed materials) and the University of Southampton’s special collections and archives (objects, tools, ephemera, correspondence). It’s a huge assemblage which has been built from the extensive collections of knitter and designer Montse Stanley, the ‘knitting bishop’ Richard Rutt, and knitwear designer Jane Waller. All three were avid collectors of anything to do with knitting, meaning there is now the most fantastic resource available for the researching of social history spread over these two sites.

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I had been briefed that the collection was large so worked to narrow down my interests a little before arriving. Having recently returned from Shetland (Aug 2013), I thought that Shetland knitting, specifically lace work, might provide me with a good starting point. I wasn’t disappointed! Across the two sites I found books, leaflets, exhibition catalogues, research papers, and the most stunning items of knitwear I have ever had the privilege to see and handle. Sadly copyright protection in the archives means I can’t share my photographs with you here, so you’ll just have to believe me when I say that the lace work there dating from 1820 was absolutely exquisite in its craftsmanship and had survived the years remarkably unscathed considering how delicate it was to handle. On several occasions I found myself audibly gasping at the things I unearthed, finding it impossible to conceive that something so beautifully detailed had been lovingly crafted by hand over one hundred years ago.

It didn’t take long for lace knitting to completely take over my brain. I’m fascinated by the delicate, yet amazingly strong structure it creates, with patterns so intricate it becomes almost impossible to see how they’re fashioned without a good deal of intensive examination. I can’t get over how something so fine can provide such warmth, or how people had the imagination to come up with countless motifs to adorn their latest shawl. The amount of time some of the must have taken to make is completely mind-boggling.

Several hours of sitting (and, of course, knitting) on the train between Bristol and Southampton got me thinking about the possibility of resurrecting an old pattern from these wonderful archives. Now tradition dictates that no true Shetland pattern ‘exists’, for each item is made using motifs and pattern repeats which come straight from the knitters’ head rather than a written pattern. But with the growth in popularity of both Shetland shawls as a fashion accessory and knitting as a pastime in Victorian England came the occasional written pattern. Whether or not these were ‘authentic’ Shetland patterns is debatable, but can be found published in book such as’ Mrs Gaugain’s minature knitting netting and crochet book’ (1843), ‘Mee’s companion to the work-table: containing selections in knitting, netting & crochet work’ (1844), and Miss Lambert’s (1985) ‘My Knitting Book’.

As I’ve already mentioned, copyright in the archives is somewhat tricky, but luckily for me Southampton have started the process of digitising some of their oldest texts. And they’re available here! A quick scour through revealed that the text I wanted – The Abergeldie winter book (1867) – was on the  digital archive, including page 24 which sports the pattern for a ‘round Shetland veil’. It’s not as complex as many of shawls I’ve seen in the archives or in Shetland museums, nor is it the more common square-shape. However, the main body of the work is made up of birds-eye lace, a common attribute of Shetland lace work. Unusually for books of the time the pattern is also illustrated!

I’ve decided to take the plunge and embark on my first piece of historical knitting by attempting to make this shawl. I really hope I can do it justice. In keeping with tradition I’ve ordered (and received) some beautiful Jamieson and Smith 1 ply heritage yarn direct from Shetland. I’ve done a bit of lace knitting before, but never with 1 ply yarn. The prospect is a little scary! If anyone has any advice, it would certainly be appreciated! Hopefully I’ll get a chance to swatch later this week and give the yarn a try. As and when I do, I’ll post a little update. In the meantime if anyone fancies joining me on a Shetland-inspired-Victorian KAL you’d be more than welcome! In fact, I’d love the company!

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2013 in Review

(Belated) happy new year all! And sorry about the lack of blog posts towards the end of 2013… I don’t really know what happened. My new year’s resolution is to blog more regularly, although it seems I haven’t got off to the best of starts.

The life of a PhD student is a strange one. Often you feel like you achieve very little, plodding into the office every day, reading a bit, and then plodding home again for dinner (and a knit). As we moved into the New Year I didn’t feel as if 2013 had been particularly significant for me. It was that ‘middle stage’ of the PhD, the bit that doesn’t have the freshness and excitement of starting but also the bit without the panic and pressure of writing up and getting-it-done. But actually, when I stopped and actually considered it 2013 was actually alright. More than alright in many respects, and actually quite eventful!

At the start of the year I was busy throwing myself into interviewing local makers. I met some wonderful people – including basket weavers, fabric artists, a ceramicist, mosaicist, silversmith, and a metal sculptor – who welcomed me into their workspaces and allowed me an insight into their craft worlds. I also interviewed Matthew Partington from UWE about interviewing craftspeople and the on-going project he is involved in called ‘recording the crafts’. This was useful, not only for the interviewing work I had already been doing, but for the archival practice I was about to embark in at the University of Southampton.

481116_10153105548980534_198624760_nShetland

As many of you know I was fortunate enough to attend the ‘In the Loop 3.5’ conference in Shetland over the summer, which marked my first ever visit to the northerly Island. The scenery was stunning, the conference fascinating, and the wool plentiful. Needless to say I came back with a case stuffed full of yarny goodness. In the Loop was organised by the lovely, and totally inspirational, Linda Newington. Linda is based at Winchester School of Arts and curates the Knitting Reference Library (KRL). After hearing about this veritable treasure trove at In the Loop I arranged a visit to delve through some of the books and patterns held both at Winchester and in Southampton. Oh my gosh, it’s a wonderful collection! Everything you can think of to do with knitting is here – from Victorian patterns to yarn samples, letters between famous knitters to needles, and drop spindles to toilet roll covers. It’s just jaw-dropping, and such a privilege to be allowed a glimpse of craft history. Longer blog post to follow dedicated solely to the KRL, I promise.

994228_10153105547705534_151050738_nA Shetland Knitting Circle

I’ve also been spending an increasing amount of time at Paper Village and getting involved with their community projects. In May we unveiled the coral reef – a fab crochet project that involved 38 local crafters making a woolly underwater wonderland that went on display for a month or so and got some great feedback from crafters and non-crafters alike. The next project is the City of Briswool – a mission to knit, crochet, and needlefelt a fibrous representation of Bristol. I’ve been tasked with making Beese’s tea rooms and some trees for Arnos Vale cemetery. It’s going to be massive and I can’t wait to see the finished piece! Going to Paper Village isn’t all about project work though; I’ve also been going to the weekly knit and natter group there and enrolled in a few courses. As a result I can now make my own (cotton, not knitted) knickers!

971408_628315547181681_1907177861_nThe Paper Village Coral Reef

Vicky from Paper Village was also kind enough to collaborate with me in a recent conference we did on crafting at the University’s ‘Thinking Futures’ event. We spoke alongside other academics and practitioners at what was, overall, a relaxed, fun, and interesting evening discussing a range of craft-related issues. On the subject of conferences, 2013 was my first visit to the annual RGS-IBG conference in London at which I also presented in a session on the geographies of comfort. It turned out to be a great few days actually, helped in no small part by some glorious weather, where I got to meet a huge range of geographers and generally mingle with people working in similar fields. My paper went much better than I expected it to (given how incredibly anxious I’d been about it in the weeks leading up to the event) and the conference as a whole was a bit of a summer boost.

In terms of yarn bombing this year I’ve largely kept my head down, excluding one or two big events. My absolute favourite commission was being asked to decorate the surroundings for one of Bristol’s Gromits over the summer for Hotel du Vin. The team were so lovely and welcoming and helped me cover their courtyard in bunting, pom-poms, and a giant bone. It looked great, and I had lots of positive feedback on it too. I also did some work for AXA’s graduate scheme again, this time making pom-poms to adorn Warwick University’s campus during a career fair. Apparently though the wrap from 2012 is still doing the rounds and has been displayed all over the country! Nice to know it’s holding up ok. I was also sent a link to a yarn bombing documentary a few weeks ago which I was interviewed for. The other participants are Spanish, but this version of the video has English subtitles if you fancy a watch. There’s some very impressive work going on!

It probably goes without much saying that I did a fair amount of knitting in 2013. Not as much as I would have liked, but I did manage to get through over 7 miles of yarn – just in my personal projects! Not too shabby. I doubt I’ll get as much knitted up in 2014, but watch out for a few upcoming posts I have planned on some exciting projects I’ll be embarking on shortly. It’s going to be an exciting year by all accounts – I’m off to Australia for three months starting in February having been awarded a grant by the ESRC to work with a professor at the University of Newcastle. I can’t wait! Then it will almost be time for another RGS-IBG conference (at which I’m co-organising a session), before getting the thesis written and finished. Lots to look forward to then!