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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The Colourful world of Kaffe Fassett

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I’ve had a few great yarn-based days out this summer, and have been vowing for months to blog about them. This is the first one, from back in July when I managed to get to the American Museum in Bath to see the Kaffe Fassett exhibition. I read about it online whilst I was in Australia and was pretty excited to visit. Kaffe Fassett is such a big name in knitting, so much so that I had heard about him even before I really began knitting! His work has come to be well known for his rich palette of vibrant colours as he launched a fight against the grey and beige world. For me, however, Kaffe Fassett has always been one of those figures in knitting that I’ve been aware of, but not engaged with. His designs have always struck me as a bit shapeless and 70s, and not something I myself would want to make, let alone wear. But when the opportunity came up to learn a bit more about what he does, I jumped at the chance, keen to figure out what the fuss was about if nothing else.

I persuaded my partner to come along for the day, and after getting a bit (well, very) lost trying to find the place we were thrilled to be greeted by the most beautifully yarn bombed tree in the courtyard.

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As most readers of this blog will know, I started yarn bombing myself almost 4 years ago now. And truth be told – I’m pretty over it. Or I was, right up until I saw the cacophony of colour that shrouded this huge centrepiece! What a lovely welcome on a sunny day 🙂 The exhibition was housed in an unassuming building just beyond the tree and worked to plunge visitors into Kaffe’s colourful world from the moment they stepped over the threshold.

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The lighting and the layout of the exhibition was beautiful – greeting visitors with a recreation of Kaffe’s Klimt-esque studio before leading you around a series of sections which showed off a variety of his knitting, needlepoint, and quilting work. I thought the green room was particularly lovely and I especially enjoyed the collection of quotes adorning the back wall. I have a feeling some of those may work their way into a certain thesis… They gave a nice insight into some of his working practices and provided a chuckle to boot.

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Although I enjoyed the exhibition, I was disappointed with the lack of information that was provided to visitors. I expected to learn lots about KF, his career, his methods of designing, his preferred techniques, the story behind the garments…. but there was barely anything. It felt like a missed opportunity if nothing else. It also meant that the exhibition felt a bit disjointed, like a collection of things rather than a story.

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I went, dubious about the fashionability of Kaffe Fassett’s creations. I came away equally dubious. But, what the exhibition showed me more than anything else, was that these garments are (or were) more than fashionable – they’re pieces of art in their own right. And you know what…I might just add an extra colour or two to my next knitting project.

The Colourful World of Kaffe Fassett is on at the American Museum in Bath until 2nd November 2014. More info can be found here. I’d love to know what you think of it!

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:

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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.

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 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.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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! 

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 😉

Worldwide knit in public day

Saturday (June 8th) was the ninth worldwide knit in public day. The idea is to get people together in a celebration of knitting, allowing like-minded people to meet, form friendships, and try to inspire others to learn the skill.

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Among the events that took place in the UK, one of the largest that took place was at St Pancras Station in London where ‘loveknitting’ teamed up with Rowan yarns and provided the space, materials, and tuition for people to knit a mug cosy. Throughout the day hundreds of people knitted, exchanged tips and tricks, chatted, or simply watched. It was a hugely visible display of something usually quite solitary and domestic.

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Photo from the St Pancreas Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/StPancrasInt

Closer to home Paper Village pom-pomed a tree opposite the shop and I took my half-finished sock out for a coffee in the morning sunshine. Knitting in public is nothing new to me really; I’m part of two knitting groups, so I’m regularly spotted out and about with my knitting. I also hate sitting still without anything to occupy my hands, so whenever I’m in front of the TV or a passenger in a car I’ll have some needles clacking away. I love it when we spot other knitters on the motorway!

Knitting in public always reminds me of a paper I read a while back by Jack Bratich and Heidi Brush (2011) called Fabricating Activism: Craft-Work, Popular Culture, Gender. In it they make the argument that knitting in public is out of place. They claim it can be jarring, for it ‘turns the interiority of the domestic outwards’ by exposing that which is usually enclosed; an invisible and unpaid (feminine) labour of home life. Suddenly the usually invisible is opened up for public consumption, there for all to see.

The mix of reactions to this act is astonishing – just think back to the outcry last year when a young woman was caught on camera knitting whilst watching Murray play Baghdatis on centre court. I was watching at the time and remember cheering at the sight! She was knitting without looking at her work and certainly didn’t seem to be distracting those around her. But logging onto Twitter after the match had (finally) been won by Murray I was shocked to see that others were genuinely outraged by her actions. I was even more shocked to see that someone knitting at Wimbledon made the news the next day! ‘Knitting woman’ was all over the papers. No sign of ‘texting man’, or ‘tweeting teenager’. The display of pink yarn had managed to incite all manner of reactions in people, and I really couldn’t decide whether to be angry that this was a news story at all or happy that people were actually paying attention to the act and skills of knitters.

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Given all this, it’s perhaps not entirely surprising that knitting in public has been described as an act of craftivism – that curious combination of craft (as production, creativity, skill) and activism – in the way it can become political. This might be through space-making or community-building, or by raising awareness. Not only does knitting in public expose hidden labour, then, but it also highlights that public spaces are never static or permanent, but process that are always under construction. Furthermore, this construction doesn’t always have to be geared towards capitalist venture, but might instead focus on building values of mentorship, community, or gender empowerment. Knitting, and handicrafts more broadly, also sit wonderfully at odds with the contemporary imperative towards hyper-production through creating a slow space in which the regime of technology and the culture of speed are brought into question. I think this juxtaposition comes right to the fore in the WWKIP event at St Pancreas with the contrast of people sat knitting in the midst of a flurry of high-speed trains, rushing passengers, and frantic announcements. It just adds a whole new layer to the composition of places, and I for one think it’s brilliant. The best news is that WWKIP day has been such a roaring success in the past 8 years that it’s now become a week-long event. So if you’ve not had a chance to take your hooks, needles, and yarn out and about there’s still time!