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)
***
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

15-16 May I Knit Fandango Royal Horticultural Halls, London

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

2-6 Sept WI Centennial Fair Harrogate International Centre, Harrogate

11-13 Sept Bristol Wool Fair Washingpool Farm, nr. Bristol

18-20 Sept The Handmade Fair Hampton Court Palace

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

Giant knitting

Me – Giant knitting at Bristol Wool Fair 2014!

Where it begins: Knitting as creation story (Excerpt)

“It begins with the circle of friends. There is always something beyond your beyond, the aged parents and teenager who crack up the family cars on the selfsame day, the bone-picked divorce, the winter of chemo, the gorgeous mistake, the long unraveling misery that needs company, reading glasses and glasses of wine and all the chairs pulled into the living room. Project bags bulge like sacks of oranges, ripe for beginning. Cast on, knit two together girlfriendwise. Rip it, pick up the pieces where you can, along the headless yoke or scandalously loose button placket, pick up and knit. Always, you will have to keep two projects going: first, the no-brainer stockinette that can run on cruise control when the talk is delicious. And the other one, the brainer, a maddening intarsia or fussy fair-isle you’ll save for the day when the chat gets less interesting, though really it never does. Knitting only makes the talk go softer, as long as it needs to be, fondly ribbed and yarned-over, loosely structured or not at all, with embellishment on every edge. Laughter makes dropped stitches.”

Where it begins: knitting as creation story by Barbara Kingsolver. Published in the Nov/Dec issue of Orion magazine

Bassett Lecture 2015: Professor Marcus Doel

Bassett lecture

My lovely colleague Nina has been busy organising this year’s Bassett Lecture. It looks set to be a great talk and, as usual, all are welcome to come along. Details as follows: 

The 5th annual Bassett lecture will take place in the School of Geographical Sciences on Thursday 29th January 2015.

This year’s speaker is Professor Marcus Doel from Swansea University, who will be presenting under the title, ‘Through a net darkly: spatial expression and schizoanalysis (subject to finance).’

The lecture will take place at 4pm on Thursday 29th January in the Peel Lecture Theatre.

All Welcome!

No booking required, for enquiries contact Nina Williams (Nina.Williams@bristol.ac.uk).

Abstract:
In Anti-Oedipus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari wrote that Louis Hjelmslev’s “concerted destruction of the signifier” not only unleashed “a decoded theory of language” that was perfectly attuned to both capitalist and schizophrenic flows, but also that it was “the only modern—and not archaic—theory of language.” Hjemslev was the blast of fresh air that blew Ferdinand de Saussure and Jacques Lacan away, and ushered in a post-structuralist schizoanalysis of world-historical libidinal flows. The encounter with Hjelmslev proved pivotal for Guattari, the force of which reverberated throughout all of his subsequent writings. Hjelmslev effectively counter-signed the two volumes of Capitalism & Schizophrenia and Kafka that Guattari wrote with Deleuze, as well as Guattari’s own Machinic Unconscious, Schizoanalytic Cartographies, The Three Ecologies, and Chaosmosis. And yet, “the Danish Spinozist geologist, Hjelmslev, that dark prince descended from Hamlet,” was never the subject of sustained attention in any of these texts. In this lecture I consider the import of Hjelmslev for Guattari, with particular reference to the spatiality of the structural unconscious and the machinic unconscious, and use this as a basis to think through the bewildering cast of characters that are ‘subject to finance’ and that increasingly plague our world, such as Homo Economicus, Homo Debitor, Homo Faber, Homo Subprimicus, and Financial Homo Sacer.

My hoard of yarn

Happy 2015!

I’ve had a relatively quiet start to the year, and the days just seem to have slid by. Christmas was lovely but already seems like a distant memory, and the New Year rolled in without much fuss. I’m not really one for making resolutions (or for sticking to the ones I do make for that matter), but there is a certain little ritual I’m starting to get involved with. I expect a lot of knitters and crocheters are already familiar with the annual Ravelry ‘Flash your Stash’, but for those who are not I’ll briefly explain…

Let’s start with the basics. Knitters like yarn. A lot of knitters like to have a lot of yarn. It comes home from sales where the price is just too good to ignore, functions as a treasured souvenir from a special trip, gets given as gifts, or is the result of a day out at a fibre festival (or three). As a general rule of thumb, these stockpiles of yarn amount faster than the average knitter can knit them. Said yarn is therefore hoarded – or ‘stashed’ – until its day of reckoning arrives. So what does this have to do with rituals? Well, in the virtual world knitters gather to flash their stash on the Ravelry forums at the beginning of the year.  In this space members are invited, indeed encouraged, to photograph their stocks of yarn and fibre and show them to the rest of the group. The ‘stashes’ presented in this Ravelry thread vary in quality and quantity, but most people who take part are displaying implausibly large stockpiles, many of which are said to have grown rapidly. Whereas many forum posters admit hiding their stashes from friends and family, this thread is a place of openness, honesty, admiration, and even encouragement. People express wonder and jealousy, never judgement of people’s habits and hoards. Consequently, the thread has become a really interesting space in which hoards of materials cross the border from a private collection into a public display.

The rationale behind flash your stash is that it allows the crafter to get to grips with what they own – as usually it is stored in bags and boxes out of sight. However it is also an excuse to squish and admire the fabrics and make plans for the year ahead, even if they just turn out to be pipe dreams. I could write pages on the deliciousness of some of the stashes displayed on Ravelry, but for now I’ll leave you with an update on my own hoard.

My collection has grown in an interesting (well interesting to me) way. I started crocheting for my MSc project in 2011 when I was yarn bombing in Bristol, and at this time put out a plea for yarn donations. Amazingly, I was gifted about three huge black sacks full of yarn. I managed to get through a lot of it when yarn bombing, and after the project had finished re-gifted much of what was left. I started knitting seriously at the beginning of 2012 and haven’t stopped since. Since then I’ve received a fair bit of nice yarn in the way of gifts and acquired plenty more from various shops and yarn fairs. My early forays into the craft mainly used acrylic yarns due to the low price-point and my relative inability, but I’ve since become a little more discerning about what I use and chose to go for natural fibres – mainly wool and alpaca – where possible. This has involved a process of slowly using up and weeding out the cheaper bits to make way for nicer stuff.

 Last year was the first time I hauled all my yarn out for a good look and organise, and resulted in this:

stash 2014(Jan 2014)

 It was more than I thought, but fairly modest by the standards of many stashes I’ve seen (excuses excuses!) My vague goal for 2014 was to reduce it, although I had no specific plan by which to do so. I knew I hadn’t been particularly good at not buying yarn in 2014, so when I hauled it all out this year I was quite pleased with the result:

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(Jan 2015)

It doesn’t take a genius to see that a lot of the same yarns are still present. Those cones of cotton for instance – goodness knows what I’ll do with them. There are 8 skeins of baby yarn in my stash, but no-one has afforded me the opportunity to let me knit for them this year (it should be noted none of the baby yarns were purchased but gifted to me as ‘payment’ for something, I’m not completely crazy). They take up an annoying amount of space, but are the sort of thing that might come in handy one day for making gifts. The massive ball of aran at the top has been reduced, although it doesn’t look like it. Then there are a load of leftovers from other projects which haven’t found themselves a secondary project yet. They will, one day.

These are the yarns which are new this year:

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The purple Lopi on the right was a gift from my sister when she went to Iceland and the purple alpaca at the bottom was a birthday gift from Colin. The 2 bamboo skeins are to make Mama Mann some socks and the red balls in the middle are souvenirs from my trip to Germany in December. A couple are leftover skeins from other completed projects. I did acquire more yarn than pictured here, but that was made straight into garments without languishing in the stash box.

At the moment it all fits into one box, and my aim for the year is to try and keep it that way. The only problem is the one resolution that I have made this year – not to cast on any new projects until my current ones are off the needles! This means that before I can go stash diving I need to finish:

1 green and grey sock

1 Shetland lace shawl

1 jumper

1 hat

It’s not masses, but that shawl is taking FOREVER. Indeed, the lack of progress on said shawl is the reason for the resolution because otherwise I keep casting on other items so I don’t have to finish it. Hopefully I’ll get it done before Wonderwool in April so I can justify buying some new goodies to add to the collection. In the meantime I’ll just have to settle for drooling over other people’s stashes on Ravelry…

Have a look for yourself at some of the wonderful collections of yarn at: http://www.ravelry.com/discuss/yarn/3103696/1-25