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 considered it 2013 was alright. More than alright in many respects, and 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 spoke with 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 on 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! 

Prof. Tim Ingold – Bassett Lecture, Bristol 30/1/14 4pm

A little more blatant advertising for an event I’ve been involved with organising….

The School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol is proud to host the 2014 Bassett lecture. This year’s presenter is Professor Tim Ingold from the University of Aberdeen.

Prof. Ingold will present under the title ‘Making and Growing, Doing and Undergoing’

Thursday 30th January, 4pm, Peel Lecture Theatre, School of Geographical Sciences (BS8 1SS)

All welcome!

Abstract:
To make, we commonly think, is to implement a design that has already come within reach of the imagination; to do is to carry out the operations that such implementation requires. If making puts the emphasis on the final product, doing emphasises the performances that lead to it. Growing, on the other hand, is what happens to things – it is what they undergo. Where making and doing are active and intentional, growing and undergoing are passive and biophysical. In this lecture I question these distinctions, and aim to establish a sense of making-as-growing, and of doing-as-undergoing: a kind of action without agency that is characteristic of lives that are not just lived but led. Such lives are human.

Biography:
Tim Ingold is a Professor of Anthropology in the School of Social Science at the University of Aberdeen. His interests include environmental perception, language, technology and skilled practice, art and architecture, creativity, theories of evolution in anthropology, human-animal relations, and ecological approaches in anthropology. Recent books include ‘Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture’ (Routledge, 2013), ‘Biosocial Becomings: Integrating Social and Biological Anthropology’ (co-edited, CUP, 2013), and ‘Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description’ (Routledge, 2013).

The Bassett Lecture:
The Bassett Lecture is held every year in honour of Dr. Keith Bassett, a critical geographer and long-time Senior Lecturer in the School of Geographical Sciences. Although formally retired, Dr. Bassett continues to write, teach, and contribute to the intellectual life of the School and University. The lecture series recognizes Dr. Bassett’s work and contributions in the fields of social and geographical theory, critical geographies of political economy, urbanism, social movements and social justice, political ecology, and critical socio-legal studies. Prof. Ingold’s lecture will be the fourth in the series. The 2012 Bassett Lecture was presented by Prof. Erik Swyngedouw (Manchester), whilst in 2011 the School welcomed Prof. Melissa Wright (Penn State).

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

RGS-garden (1)Myself and my supervisor Merle Patchett are organising a session to be held at the annual RGS-IBG conference this summer on the theme of skilled practice and co-production. If you’d like to take part then we’d love to hear from you! Details below: 

Call for Papers: 2014 RGS Annual Conference, London 26-29 August 2014

Geographies of skilled practice and co-production

Session abstract: What is the place of skilled practice in the 21st century? Does the frenetic pace of life and availability of new technologies augur the death of skill or are we simply becoming skilful in different ways, in different settings and through different means? Where past conceptions of skilled practice have focussed on notions of the solitary artisan refining techniques alone or under a master in the workshop, geographers are increasingly paying attention to the ways in which skill is co-produced between different actors (both human and non-human), technologies and materials in and across a variety of temporal and spatial scales, contexts and settings. In this session we thus want to make space (and time) for papers that offer theoretical reflections on skilled practice and processes of becoming-skilful, as well as papers that showcase committed empirical engagements with skilled practice and its geographies of co-production.

As such we invite papers exploring, but by no means limited to:

* The place(s) and relevance of skill in contemporary life

* Theoretical reflections on skill and becoming-skilful

* The learning and refining of skills – i.e. how is skill co-produced?

* The ethics and/or politics of skilled-practice as a form of co-production

* Ethnographies of skilled practice

* The influence of technology and the non-human within skilled practice

* The use of ‘skill’ as a geographical research tool

* Challenges of witnessing and articulating skilled practice

* What counts as ‘skilled’ practice?

If you are interested in participating, please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words to Joanna Mann (Joanna.mann@bristol.ac.uk) and Merle Patchett (Merle.patchett@bristol.ac.uk) by Friday 7th February 2014.

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Longer version: Geographers have long worked with skilled practitioners to co-produce research in a whole variety of contexts. Recent examples include DeSilvey et al’s (2013) stories of menders in Southwest England, Richard Ocejo’s (2012) examination of cocktail bartenders, and Patchett et al’s (2011, 2012) collaborative re-workings of taxidermy specimens. In all of these instances, the work carried out is trying to access knowledge which is rooted in deep practice and elucidate it for means of preservation, theoretical exemplification, or the passing on of techniques.

Meanwhile, theoretical insights from outside of geography are changing understandings of what it means to co-produce skill itself. Anthropology, for instance has shown how skills are generated in fields of force and through circulations of materials that cut across boundaries (Ingold, 2013; 2000). Sociology has highlighted how skills develop within processes, and become highly attuned to problems the more it is honed (Sennett, 2009). Meanwhile academics working within the theoretical realms of new materialisms have emphasised a move away from these romantic inflections to look at the capricious and unruly matter of matter, further enabling geographers to look at the materials of co-production without negating new technologies as forms of skilled practice in themselves (Bennett, 2010; Connolly, 2013).

Furthermore, the recent turn towards practice-based inquiry has witnessed academics using their own skills, both new and existing, as part of their research. James Ash (2012; 2013) uses his existing skills of video gaming to theorise affect, temporality, and technicity, whilst Tim Ingold (2000; 2013) often draws on his experience of cello-playing to illustrate arguments. The task of becoming proficient in such skills has also proven to be strong academic fodder whilst interrogating topics as varied as glass blowing (O’Connor, 2007) and corncrake counting (Lorimer, 2008). Yet, the skilled practices involved in academic work itself – both of writing and research methodologies – can also provide a fertile ground for thought, as evidenced by recent insights on archival methods (Lorimer, 2010), innovative phonographic work (Gallagher and Prior, 2013), and performative writing practices (Dewsbury, 2014), amongst others.

In this session we want to move beyond the plethora of methods advocating ‘make-do’ techniques and DIY cultures and make space (and time) for papers that offer theoretical reflections on skilled practice and processes of becoming-skilful, as well as papers that showcase committed empirical engagements with skilled practice and geographies of co-production.

If you are interested in participating, please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words to Joanna Mann (Joanna.mann@bristol.ac.uk) and Merle Patchett (Merle.patchett@bristol.ac.uk) by Friday 7th February 2014.