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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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!

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!

The City of Briswool

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The City of Briswool is a project to knit, crochet and needlefelt a huge model representing Bristol. Led by Vicky Harrison at Paper Village Arts this project has been in the making for over twelve months and has so far involved 90 makers, 4,000 hours of work, 10 workshops and hundreds of cups of tea! When the model initially went on display in May 2014 at Paper Village it managed to attract 4,000 visitors in just 10 days. The pictures I’ve included here are from that first exhibition, which really was a fabulous sight to behold. Since May the model has continued to evolve as people work on new contributions and expand upon the existing landscape. This weekend (4th and 5th October) the model is getting its second outing – this time at M-Shed. It’s open on both days from 11-4 so do pop in and have a look!

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Over the course of the weekend a series of workshops will be running called ‘how to craft a city’. If you want to join in you need to be able to knit or crochet, just bring along size 4mm hook or needles. Workshop attendees will be:
* Making Colston Hall and The Old Duke pub as a group
* Helping to sew together Queens Square, King Street, and Park Street
* Able to join groups such as Briswool makes Easton
* Assisted with identifying and designing their own contributions to the model

The photos here are just a taster of what will be in store, expect new contributions and a bigger city in a bigger space at M-Shed!

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Knitting for Gromit Unleashed

A few weeks ago I installed a very exciting yarn bomb commission for Hotel du Vin in Bristol. During July and August the city hosted 80 five foot tall Gromit sculptures (from Aardman’s Wallace and Gromit fame) as part of a giant arts trail. Locals and visitors alike were encouraged to find and admire as many Gromits as possible, by way of the free printed maps or using the dect-o-gromit phone app. Each Gromit was designed by a different artist and the variety was fantastic! We had Vincent Van Gromit, the Gromitosaurus, the Gromberry, and Isambark Kingdog Brunel to name but a few. Ultimately all the Gromit statutes will be auctioned off to raise money for the Bristol Children’s Hospital.

Early in June Hotel du Vin contacted me to say they would be hosting Katy Christianson’s Gromit and wondered if I might be able to help brighten up their courtyard to provide a cosy home for Gromit whilst he stayed in Bristol. They didn’t have to ask twice… I set about making pom-poms, bunting, stars, and dog-themed wraps to adorn the space with. And here are some of the results!

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         Gromit and a big knitted bone            Dog themed wraps in the trees 🙂 

It was a really fun project to be involved in and the staff at the hotel were super friendly and excited about the prospect of hosting some yarn bombing for the summer. The knitted bone took forever to make, but I’m so happy with the results and very glad I persevered with it. Despite the flat being covered in woolly goodies I was really worried there wouldn’t be enough stuff to cover the courtyard, but I think the fears were unfounded. The courtyard looked suitably cosy without being over the top. I’ve also seen a few lovely blog posts by Gromit spotters who enjoyed the woolly additions which is great news.  My current project is another commission (remember the AXA one I did last year? They want more!) and that’s due to be installed in early October. Seems yarn bombing is still in fashion 😉

A very woolly day out

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of spending my day surrounded by, and talking about, my favourite material – wool. All in the name of research, of course, I left sunny Bristol and caught the train into London for the day. Stop one was the ‘spring knitting and stitching show’ at Olympia. I’ve never been to this venue before, and as I approached I felt a sense of growing excitement as the imposing frontage came into view and I joined a trail of people also destined to the halls of crafty goodness. Upon entering I was greeted by two huge exhibition halls stuffed full with stalls selling all manner of crafts-stuff; beads, fabric, cross-stitch kits, books, buttons, sewing machines, and wool. Actually, there wasn’t anywhere near as much wool as I was anticipating, but that was probably a good thing given my tendency to buy and hoard the stuff.

My favourite stall there was ‘black sheep wools’. They specialised in selling heavily discounted branded yarns (Debbie Bliss, Sirdar, Noro, Rowan), all bagged up in packs of 10 and priced with sale stickers. They’d gone for the interesting tactic of just piling all the bags up on the floor and letting people scramble through them. I stood to one side for a few minutes and watched the scene. It was nothing short of hilarious as I witnessed women pushing others out of the way to get hold of the yarns they wanted, others grabbing random bags, throwing them across the stand to one another, and calling out to their friends. Some even decided to wade through the bags in order to get to the ones at the back.  The frenzy the combination of cheap yarn and induced panic of seeing it piled in such vast, random packages really did epitomise the enthusiasm people have for yarns.

After escaping the pulsating crowd I came across a stand hosted by the Royal Museum Greenwich where some of the cast of their upcoming performance of ‘Quedenraha’ were running workshops to teach people to crochet with plastic bags. This appealed to me for two reasons: 1) I’d not used plastic bags to crochet with before, and 2) I’d get the chance to sit down after 3 hours of walking around. So, sitting down with two wonderfully adorned ladies I managed to produce a flower corsage using carrier bags from Sainsbury’s and M&S.

The scramble for bargain yarn, my plastic bag crocheted flower, and one of the many intricate quilts on show

Other highlights of the show included knitting some bunting with ladies from The Knitter, looking around a stunning exhibition of quilts, and seeing young and old alike get excited about their latest findings. One woman, who stopped dead in front of me down one of the walkways summed it up well when she announced “I’m just too overwhelemed with desire for all this lovely stuff! I don’t know where to go next!” I’m not sure where she went next to be honest, but I had plans for the rest of my day so I left the chaos of the knit and stitch show behind and hopped back on the tube.

Thirty minutes later I arrived at my second stop: campaign for wool’s ‘Wool House’ exhibition at Somerset House. I knew it was going to be good when I was greeted in the courtyard by a flock of sheep! Real walking, bleating wool! Inside the exhibition featured a series of rooms designed to illustrate how wool can inhabit a space, playing with colours, textures, and different usages from carpets to coats, and chairs to wall coverings. My two favourite rooms were complete polar opposites of each other – first the ‘natural room’ by Josephine Ryan which played on wool’s natural, undyed beauty and authentic feel, the second was Anne Kyyrö Quinn’s room which was incredibly bright, vibrant, and orderly. There was also a huge wool runner down the length of the corridor, a crochetdermy bear, and a spinning demonstration. It was a very tactile exhibition – and difficult to restrain yourself from jumping on all the furniture and enjoying its glorious wolly-ness. I seriously enjoyed how good the exhibition smelled as well! A strange thing to pass comment on perhaps, but this wonderful exhibition was a proper treat for all of the senses. The main ‘take-home’ message though was that wool is a versatile, renewable, and sustainable material. Lovely stuff.

Wool House highlights: the sheep, entrance to the exhibition and my two favourite rooms

The third (and final) stop of my woolly day out was Goldsmiths, University of London to attend a seminar by Janis Jefferies on feminist ‘crocheted strategies’. The paper was just as interesting as I’d hoped it would be, and offered an interrogation of how the 1980 feminist ideas and strategies of Sue Richardson have been taken up in the recent resurgence of craft. What was particularly of note for Janis, is how many women recognise these feminist histories but do not feel bound by them, and instead use craft to make statements of empowerment. This has been recognised by much of the craft literature now, but still missing, Janis argued, is an understanding of how textile-based investigations contribute to the construction of knowledge. As a tactile experience, textile work has, historically, been subjugated to structures of power and ideology, and ignores the practical, material knowledge of the knowers – women. Contemporary feminist work is seeking to take account of how the many different worlds which co-exist in different communities, have different ways of thinking, and doing, knowledge.

Janis’s paper also touched on explanations for the recent resurgence in handicrafts, and supported the claim that at the heart of its rise is community. Not only is the notion of community associated with appealing values that people want  themselves to feel a part of, but, contra feminist arguments that craft represses women, craft is allowing for enhancement of the self though active participation. The increased prevalence of technology which has accompanied the rise in craft practices then, is not paradoxical, but an extension of the desire for collectivity. Collectivity might imply crafting together for a given cause – such as making a stand against capitalism – or it might be the more simple desire to just be around others for mutual support, help, and advice.

Our post-seminar conversation covered issues ranging from the sentimental importance of materials used in craft practice, the sustainability of the materials used (linking us back to my earlier visit to Wool House), the influence of technology of modern crafting (blogs, YouTube etc), and possibilities for a day at Goldsmiths to hold a cross-disciplinary craft based event (which would be awesome).

That was a long post! But it was a wonderfully busy day that’s given me loads of ideas to follow up and take forward in my own research. I look forward to sharing the results!

The spring knit and stitch show is on until Sunday 17th March (ticket prices vary), and the free Wool House exhibition runs until March 24th at Somerset House.

Love Storm

Love is in the air in Bristol today, and now it’s on the street furniture too. It only really struck me on Monday that Valentine’s day was almost upon us once again so I dug out my hook and crocheted up some little hearts. Luckily each heart only takes a matter of minutes to create. Three made their way onto a purple background with red scalloped edges, and the other eleven became two strings of hearts. The harbourside area of Bristol gets incredibly busy during the day so I decided to get these up late last night rather than risk being caught in the morning (besides, I hate getting up early!) I’m pleased to report they’re still all in-situ, although once the Brunel Buttery opens I’m not sure they’ll hang around for long! Hopefully they’ll have cheered up someone’s morning anyway.  Happy valentine’s day Bristol!