RGS-IBG 2015 – it’s coming…

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It’s that time of year again! I always sign up for a paper at the RGS annual conference in January – full of New Year optimism – and then promptly forget about it until the conference organizers start sending weekly countdown reminders. At which point, it’s probably time to revise the title and abstract when you realise just how much plans  and intentions change and evolve in eight months!

Anyway, it seems that January-Joanna lucked out on getting into a great session at this years conference (even if I did have to update my title…) I’m down to do a paper in ‘The Geographies of Amateur Creativities’, organised by Katie Boxall and Cara Gray, both from Royal Holloway. It’s a two-part session on Wednesday (session 3 and 4), and both look to feature some really interesting papers:

Woolly-hats and Rivet-counters Revisited: articulating a new understanding of enthusiastic world-making
Hilary Geoghegan (University of Reading)
Hoarding creativity: an insight into crafter’s collections
Joanna Mann (University of Bristol)
The Shifting Grounds of Play and Work: Urban Gardening Practices in London
Jan van Duppen (The Open University)
The Haunted Spaces of Amateur Theatre: Immateriality, Materiality and Performative Memories
Helen Nicholson (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Making suburban faith: creativity and material culture in faith communities in West London
Claire Dwyer (University College London), Nazneen Ahmed (University College London), Laura Cuch (University College London), David Gilbert (Royal Holloway, University of London), Natalie Hyacinth (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Shifting Position: Pro-Am Movement
Nerida Godfrey (University of New South Wales, Australia)
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I’m still not sure if I’ll just be heading down for the one day or staying for the whole conference. The last leg of the thesis is turning out to be fairly demanding, so I’m currently leaning towards just the one day. This hasn’t stopped me perusing the rest of the programme though… Sessions on my (tentative) list to attend include:
Historical and cultural geographies of story and storytelling (Wednesday 1 and 2)
The Ends of Geography’s Worlds (Wednesday 3 and 4 – Argh to clashes!)
Attentive Geographies (Thursday)
Gentle Geographies (Friday 1)
So, it’s off to Exeter in three weeks’ time. I’m looking forward to it!

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My (finally) finished shawl

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Remember the new-old project I wrote about in January last year? My aim was to knit a pattern I found in the archives at Southampton which dated back to 1867.

Round Shetland Veil

I’ll admit it – the project did get put on hold a little. I ordered and received the yarn in January 2014, and did a couple of swatches to determine my needle size and to familiarise myself with the pattern. That didn’t go as well as I had expected – it was really easy to make mistakes with the cobweb yarn and I found I needed long stretches of time and complete silence to make progress. So when I went to Australia for my three-month Institutional Visit I accidentally-on-purpose left the poor shawl in the UK…

The guilt got a bit much so when I got back I promised I would work on it. I started with a vengeance in June 2014. I worked fairly steadily on it for about two months before getting distracted by a pretty cardigan, some sock yarn that just had to be knitted and then Christmas gifts. When January rolled around I resolved not to cast on any new projects until everything already on the needles was finished. I didn’t quite stick to that promise, but by March it was off the needles! Hurrah! Considering I worked on it on-and-off (although mostly off) for ten months it’s pretty small. It did grow when I blocked it, but it still didn’t look like much.

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Looks are deceptive. This shawl is actually a lot. It is 53 repeats of a four-row pattern. Each row started off taking 15 minutes and ended up taking 1 hour (the length of the row gradually increased). That’s 96 hours on the body of the shawl, 9 hours on the border, and 2 hours sewing it together. I spent 8 hours swatching,12 hours making a sample version in aran weight yarn, 1 hour researching and buying the yarn. That’s 128 hours embodied in one shawl before even taking into account the research I did about the shawl, its designer, and the history of knitting.

The shawl isn’t just my time, either. It represents multiple histories colliding into one another. There’s Mlle. Riego‘s time designing the shawl in 1867, and relatedly, the leisure-time of the upper-class ladies who knitted from this very pattern. Then there’s the time of the Shetland women who made lace-knitting what it is, whilst they worked the land in the 1840s and simultaneously knitted in order to make an income. It’s the time of fashions, first seen in the Victorian era but now experiencing a resurgence as knitting re-gains popularity. It’s the time of the wool – grown and sorted in Shetland, spun in Yorkshire, posted to Bristol. It’s the time taken to learn a skill and do it properly, rather than reaching for a quick fix or buying a mass-produced item.

For something that’s only 4 months old, there’s a lot of history wrapped up in this little lace shawl. The process of making it taught me not only new knitting skills, but the histories and legacies of these skills too. I’m currently writing a couple of papers about what I learnt for publication, but between now and then I’ll do some short blog posts about some of the things I learned. Some of them are very practical and came from the process of knitting the shawl (such as the difference blocking lace work makes :-O), whilst others are more theoretical (such as how making can be considered as a qualitative method for social science research). For now, here are a few more photos of my finished shawl (Ravelled here).

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Open Mill Day at John Arbon

I’ve not felt much like writing on the blog recently. I’m in frantic writing mode with the PhD, and I’ve been keen not to waste writing energy on anything that isn’t the thesis. Sorry blog. Anyway, that isn’t to say that I’ve not been doing fun things too – quite the contrary. Given how all-encompassing the PhD can be I’ve been keener than ever to ensure weekends involve activities that can distract me from writing, writing, writing. A few weeks ago Colin and I drove down to South Molton for the John Arbon Mill open day. The event was really well organised; we were greeted by friendly staff, delicious homemade cakes, discounted yarn and fluff, and taken on a tour of the mill. We had a fabulous time learning about how wool goes from sheep to skein, and I can honestly say I had no idea there were so many stages involved in the production! I can’t remember all the technical names of the processes, and even if I could my descriptions wouldn’t be as good as John’s. So I’m going to use that as an excuse to stop writing and show off some photographs instead (I’ve also been learning to use a DSLR camera, and think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it…)

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Shwop and Sew Lab at M&S

This morning fellow PhD-er Nina and I attended the Tote bag making session for Marks and Spencer’s ‘Shwop and Sew Lab’ in Broadmead, Bristol. Neither of us had any idea of what to expect, but it was brilliant! Run as part of Bristol’s ‘Big Green Week’, the idea behind it is to get people recycling, up-cyling, and re-loving their clothes again.

When we arrived at M&S we were greeted by an array of brand new (and very swanky) Pfaff sewing machines and some exciting boxes of fabric. After the introductions, we were invited to delve through the fabric and choose the design for our bags. The fabric was actually old advertising banners which was a particularly nice idea, and they featured a whole array of different designs – including a headless David Gandy, some stylish shoes, beautiful patterns, or some hairy men’s legs! I opted for some rolled up pairs of knitted socks – I’m always a sucker for knitted things!

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Nina choosing her fabric and design

After cutting out the rectangles, our lovely tutor Delia from FloJo boutique showed us how to whip up a practical and stylish tote. It took less than an hour for each of the 6 participants to complete their project, and they all looked great. Afterwards, M&S treated us to some tea and cupcakes – because who doesn’t need re-fuelling after a sewing session?!

Tea and cakes!

I was also pretty excited to meet Alex from series three of the Sewing Bee! She works for M&S and was one of the brains behind the workshops being run over the nexttwo days. She was really lovely and gave me some fitting (and reading) advice for my ongoing issue in making sleeves fit. Hopefully it’s something I’ll get sorted out soon… In the meantime, I’m happy to keep making sleeveless garments now the weather is a bit nicer.

If anyone around Bristol is looking for something fun to do this evening or tomorrow I can definitely recommend a sewing session at M&S. They’re free, friendly and fashionable, and I really don’t think you can ask for anything more than that! Thanks for having us!

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Our finished bags!

Wonderwool 2015

On Saturday 26th April I headed up to Builth Wells with my boyfriend, mum and sister in tow to attend my second Wonderwool Wales festival!

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Fibre festivals are a fabulous place to pick up lots of gorgeous goodies from independent spinners and dyers. I often look (and lust) online over various skeins but am always a little wary of splashing my cash on something I’ve not had the chance to squish. Whereas when you get to these events everywhere you look there are people hugging skeins of yarn, poking, prodding, and sniffing fibre without a second thought. It’s lovely. These events also foster a lovely atmosphere, as people from all walks of life come together to indulge in a shared passion. There are Ravelry gatherings where online friends can meet in person, and plenty of stopping places for people to pause and share advice over coffee and cake. Some of our furrier friends are also usually present, and this year was no exception. Also at Wonderwool were two TOFT alpacas, plenty of sheep, and the fluffiest angora bunnies in all of Wales!

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Also on display was the cardigan of Cardigan:

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And the most incredibly intricate hand-knitted (life-sized!) gingerbread house!!!

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Colin, it has to be said, was mainly in it for the scotch eggs…

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But Chloe and I came away with armfuls of yarn (and a couple of cakes):

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I was remarkably restrained really. The 800g of maroon wool is mine, intended for a boxy, and the light pink semi-solid is an alpaca blend from easyknits which I just fell in love with. I also bought some pearly buttons and some more stitch markers and a replacement needle sizer from atomic knitting.

All in all it was a lovely day out!

Publication update

PhD life has been hectic recently; it’s full steam-ahead with writing, and the undergraduate assignments have been flowing in thick and fast for marking. I also had the opportunity to teach on our MSc course at Bristol this term and ran a guest seminar on ‘making as method’ for the ‘practising posthumanism’ module. Excitingly, I was also invited to lecture on an MA course at UWE last week where I was fortunate enough to meet a lovely and engaged group of art students for a session on Actor-Network Theory. Having done very little on ANT since my own undergraduate degree it was really interesting to revisit some of the key themes and topics and trace the path my work has taken since. That being said, I’m incredibly grateful that the Easter holidays are upon us. Although I’m only taking a few days out, it will be nice to have a break from the marking for a couple of weeks!

My most exciting news, however, is that I’ve been published! Remember the yarn bombing that started this blog?! Well I’ve been quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) working at writing that up and it is now in the current issue of the journal Area. For those of you with university subscriptions you can find a copy here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/area.12164/abstract.If you don’t have access and are interested, drop me an email. Thank you to each and every one of you that made the research possible in the first place – whether that was commenting on the blog, taking photos of my yarn bombs in situ or encouraging me to write it all up! Hopefully you’ll enjoy the finished article ;-)

Lots of exciting updates to follow in the next few weeks!

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Happy Springtime – one from the archives!

Knitting and yarn festivals 2015

I’ve been planning out some things to look forward to throughout the year ahead recently, and as usual I’m keen to visit a yarn festival or two throughout the year. I thought it only right to research a good geographical spread and find out what is on and where and it seemed only right to share the results! I’m making no claims to it being a fully comprehensive list, but it’s definitely enough to keep even the speediest knitter busy and stocked-up with stash given that there’s at least one event a month that I’ve come across so far!

2015

29-31 Jan Craft 4 Crafters, Westpoint Arena, Exeter

20-22 Feb Unravel, Farnham Maltings, Farnham, Surrey

5-8 March Spring knitting and stitching show, Olympia Central, London

14-15 March Edinburgh Yarn Festival Edinburgh Corn Exchange, Edinburgh

25-26 April Wonderwool Wales, Royal Welsh Showground, Builth Wells

23 May Highland WoolFest Dingwall Mart, Dingwall

30-31 May Proper Woolly Holsworthy, Devon

26-27 June Woolfest Mitchell’s Lakeland Livestock Centre, Cockermouth, Cumbria

25-26 July Fibre-East Ampthill, Bedfordshire

15 Aug Pop-Up Wool Show The Oval Leisure Centre, Bebington, Cheshire

TBC Sept Bristol Wool Fair The Downs, Bristol

26-27 Sept Yarndale, Skipton Auction Mart, Yorkshire

26 Sept – 5 Oct Shetland Wool Week, Shetland

7-11 Oct The knitting and stitching show Alexandra Palace, London

17-18 Oct Bakewell Wool Gathering Bakewell Agricultural Centre, Derbyshire

12-15 Nov The knitting and stitching show Simmonscourt, RDS, Dublin

26-29 Nov The knitting and stitching show Harrogate International Centre, Harrogate

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Me – Giant knitting at Bristol Wool Fair 2014!