Queen’s Building Yarnbomb: exploring geographies of creativity

RHUL

The past two years I’ve been lucky enough to guest lecture in Harriet Hawkins’ third year lecture course ‘Geographies of Creativity’. The course explores the theoretical, political, social and economic importance of creativity and its critical geographies. In my lecture I introduce yarnbombing and ways that knitting has been used as a form of urban intervention, or critical spatial practice. During the course Harriet and the third year students spend time discussing vernacular creativities and engaging with David Gauntlett’s work on ‘Making is Connecting. Building upon this I thought it would be fun to experiment with my lecture format and explore the potential for ‘making connections’ through making. With Harriet’s encouragement, it was decided we would yarnbomb our beloved Geography Department! The aim would be to give students an opportunity to try new skills and think critically about urban subversions and questions of materiality, skill, aesthetics, participation, affectivity, sensory experience etc.

Given what little knowledge I had of students existing skills and knitterly knowledge – I thought it would be more democratic and accessible for students to make pom-poms (with option to knit/crochet something of their choice f they would like to). These pom-poms would be globe themed (blue and green yarn) and attached to these would be a swing tag featuring a quote from their readings/engagements with literature and theories on ‘creativity’.  I put together 45 ‘pom-pom making kits’ that included yarn, jute string and a swing tag. I asked that the students researched ‘how to make a pom-pom’ themselves – to engage with crafts is to engage with dilemmas on how we learn, preserve and practice skill. As I mentioned students had enjoyed engaging with David Gauntlett’s work on YouTube and Web 2.0.  Although I must admit, that following pilot tests with willing PhD students I hinted that certain methods would make more satisfying pom-poms (let’s just say one PhD student’s fingers turned as blue as the wool they were winding too tightly around their fingers in said making activity!)

Leaving the pom-pom kits at Harriet’s office for collection, I was excited and anxious to meet with the students, and check out their pom-pom making efforts. I put together some super quick bunting to contribute to the yarnbomb but I really wanted this to be about the student’s efforts and about disrupting sit back and learning with making and doing. I was not disappointed! Almost every student had made a pom-pom, and not only that – they were big, fluffy, and globe-like and students had really enjoyed making them.  Some had gotten together to make their pom-poms collectively; some had asked their family and friends for help and contributed pom-poms with yarn from their own stash!  I was impressed with the level of improvisation evident too – some students had lost the swing tag for their pom-pom so had fashioned new ones from post-it notes and paper.  Attached to most pom-poms was a quote from geographical literature, popular culture or otherwise reflecting on creativity.

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During the lecture we discussed ways that “critical urban interventions and spatial practices are based on the refusal to accept current conditions as inevitable and natural. Through imaginative means, they explore possibilities and enter the register of as if: ‘as if I were another, as if things could be otherwise” (Pinder, 2008, 734) – reflecting on urban materialities, socialities and embodied experience in cities. We engaged with the ‘sensibilities’ of various subversions and interventions to arrive at how and why yarnbombing was different and important as a critical spatial practice. I encouraged students to make decisions on where to yarnbomb – we chose the foyer of Queen’s Building. Being the ‘reception’ area and face of the building this was an important space which encouraged interaction but also had ‘forgotten about’ nooks and crannies that could be home to the pom-poms (and the pom-poms would serve to highlight these too).

We left the lecture room to let our pom-poms into the wild! Some students didn’t want to let them go, they’d spent so much time and effort making them – ‘would they be okay in the foyer? Can we get them back tonight?’ This highlighted the labour of skill, love and time that goes into yarnbombing and the idea that it’s a form of ‘gifting’ to environments and inhabitants (Butcher, 2013). It highlighted the ephemerality of yarnbombing – we could easily add these pom-poms without causing destruction – but they could be easily taken away too. The majority of students decided that the ceiling would be a good place to hang the pom-poms down from. The ceiling is made up of plasterboard panels – familiar to schools, universities, and offices alike. The students figured they could lift up the panels, and hang the pom-poms from them ‘like Christmas decorations’. I decided to hang my bunting on the window, and happily some students chose to hang their pom-poms their too. Some students wanted to be ‘more political’ with their pom-pom placement – some chose to hang their pom-poms next to the CCTV camera. Others chose to yarnbomb the door that leads to Earth Sciences – the boundary between departments.

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Overall, I think team #creativegeogs did a great job – “making things show us that we are powerful, creative agents – people who can really do things, things that other people can see, learn from, and enjoy” (Gauntlett, 2011 p.245).  The activity raised important discussion and debate on what counts as political and politics – how might a politics of ‘knitting’ as an urban subversion be different? We discussed private/public boundaries, gender, aesthetics, playfulness, materiality, craftivism, Betsy Greer and Rozsika Parker. I think the students appreciated the skill of yarnbombing and knitting much more. In the excitement of yarnbombing and the overrunning of my lecture we didn’t get round to giving ourselves a yarnbombing collective name. In the end, the pom-poms were quite anonymous and perplexing to those frequenting Queen’s Building. I quite liked this though – the idea of it being surprising, confusing, perhaps enchanting! People stopped to take pictures and read the swing tags. I heard reports of confused friends texting Geographers for answers. It caused bewilderment during a physical geography conference held in the department. I also overheard one report of an earth scientist “feeling destructive, like they just wanted to pull it all down!” Unfortunately that’s what I did a few weeks later – with help from some of the third years I carefully took the yarnbombing down to keep safe despite their protests that, that was totally besides the point – “we should leave it there, and see what happens to it”. I’m not sure people knew what to do about the yarnbombing – it defies (and changes) ideas and expectations about ‘graffiti’ and that’s pretty interesting.

Weeks later there’s one pom-pom that I genuinely forgot to take down; surviving against all costs on the door of the main lecture theatre – fight the good fight, little one!

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Thanks again to the brilliant third years for their hard work and crafty commitment, Harriet, and David Gilbert for supporting and to the custodians of Queen’s Building for hosting our yarnbombing – our pom-pom yarnbomb was a gift to the space we call our geographical home (whether they liked it or not!)

N.B Sincere apologies for the poor photography but hopefully they’re illustrative – they were taken with my iphone and apparently I have very wobbly hands!

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Geographies of Making/Making Geographies

In March 2014, I’ll be heading to my first AAG Conference in Tampa. I’m running a session with my advisor Harriet Hawkins on ‘Geographies of Making’ with a panel session on ‘Revisiting Production’. I’m really looking forward to it. We’re hoping to carry on conversations at the RGS-IBG Conference 2014 in August, and happily joined by Robert Mackinnon from Aberystwyth and Dr Stephen Saville from Flowering Elbow who I met at the Mend*rs Conference in 2012. We’re doing something a little different at the RGS-IBG 2014 and have organised ‘guided workshops’ (because some questions can only be answered with making, skill and practice). These sessions are sponsored by the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group.

This abstract details the call for papers and workshop activities. The RGS-IBG Conference will take place at the Royal Geographical Society 26-29 August 2014.  The conference theme is ‘Co-production’ – which we hope our session will address in various ways. The deadline for expression of interest is 14 February 2014.

Geographies of Making/Making Geographies

The power and significance of creative material practices of ‘making’ has drawn increasing attention within and beyond geography (Sennett, 2008, Crawford, 2009, Charny, 2011, Institute of Making, UCL).  Whether this is a critical engagement with craft and vernacular creativities, artistic practices or the extensive range of making practices studied under the banner of the creative economy. Scholarship not only acknowledges the social, economic, political and cultural potentials of these practices, but also increasingly doing so by way of in-depth studies of the material, practiced and embodied dimensions of making. This represents, we argue, a requirement that we revisit and re-negotiate the spaces and practices of production, and that we interrogate the politics therein.

Geographical research on the creative economy alongside cultural-social geographies of arts and creative practices give us the foundation for these studies of the geographies of creative making and crafts whether this be explorations of creative cities, clusters or networks, the intersections of creativity and place or making in the home, the studio, or at the scale of the notebook (Scott 2002; Pratt 2008; Bain, 2009; Edensor et al. 2009; Brace and Putra-Jones, 2010; Rogers, 2011; Sjoholm, 2012; Harvey et al, 2013).  Alongside this research we find attention being turned to the multiple lives of things, reworking and extending biographies of objects via practices of, for example, mending, repairing, up-cycling or other ways of creatively re-working objects, including second-hand consumption practices (Gregson and Crewe, 2003; Gregson et al, 2012; De Silvey and Ryan, 2013).  Long recognising the place-making possibilities of such forms of creative making, we now find a growing attention to the productive force of these material, embodied and skilled practices (Hawkins, 2010; 2013, Paton, 2013).  This might concern thinking through the production of human subjects through their material relations with the world, or it might explore the broader social context of communities of makers and the growing appreciation that “making is connecting” (Gauntlett, 2011).

We seek to expand geographical engagements with making and explore and experience some of the ways that geographers can attend to the power of making. We are interested in both sustained research with, and participation in making and re-making practices and communities, but also wider theoretical reflections on the use of ‘making’ as a geographical tool to understand and conceptualize the world and to comprehend the social, cultural, political and material relationships therein.

We invite proposals for 20-minute papers on the themes below but by no means limited to them;

·      The taking/making place of creative making.

·      How communities of making are formed and held together (and dissipate)?

·      How can making make communities?

·      How are making identities formed through enthusiasms and skill?

·      Making as a force in the world, as an agent of social, cultural, political change/activism.

·      Methodological questions raised by studying creative making practices.

·      Making and theorisations of embodiment, affect, materiality, skill, habit, craftsmanship and improvisation.

·      Explorations of making and the visceral (making as therapy, feelings of joy, boredom, pain-staking, enchantment, comfort).

We wish to develop some aspects we hope will come out in the theoretically informed papers, by encouraging participants to make and remake tangible objects. This could take the form of guided making sessions and/or semi structured repair/hack/and modify workshops. We are looking for proposals for guided workshops that will ask and perhaps multiply questions through the hands (and other making tools). What small acts of creation can re-make our theoretical approaches?

We invite 20-minute workshops on the themes below but by no means limited to them:

·      A politics of becoming closer.

·      Making with objects and being in our creations.

·      How objects, especially tools, can make us in our acts of making.

·      Explorations of making and the visceral (making as therapy, feelings of joy, boredom, pain staking, enchantment, comfort).

·      Making as a force in the world, as an agent of social, cultural, political change/activism (upcycling/repair/craftvism).

·      Making and theorisations of embodiment, affect, materiality, skill, habit and improvisation.

·      Methodological questions raised by studying creative making practices.

Please send 250 word abstracts to all convenors by Friday 14th February 2014.

Laura Price (Laura.Price.2011@live.rhul.ac.uk), Dr Stephen Saville (Steve@floweringelbow.org) and Robert MacKinnon (rjm11@aber.ac.uk)

Nine Worlds 2013: Knitting Stream

Again, apologies I’ve been absent from blogging for so long – it’s been a busy few months with research, upgrade and attending ‘In the Loop 3.5’ in Shetland – a knitting conference I’ve attended (and blogged about) previously. ‘In the Loop 3.5’ was brilliant, and it was (and always is) an amazing space to be part of. The conference showcases such a breadth of skills, knowledges and enthusiasms about knitting and ways that knitting can be a creative, transformative and affective force in the world. I’ll be sure to dedicate a blog post soon to sharing my experience in Shetland. In the meanwhile, I’d like to introduce a new, and forthcoming space for knitters to confer and use their enthusiasm and skill to make creative interventions in the world! Welcome, NineWorlds ‘GeekFest 2013’ a conference around “gaming, film, cosplay, fandom, literature, science, geek culture, meeting people and having a really big party” – as part of this weekend event they’ll be a whole stream dedicated to knitting, organized by Sasha McKenna. The knitting stream at NineWorlds Geek Fest will explore knitting’s role in social and collection action, and the power of craft communities to reflect and document (and be part of!) the vibrancy of fan and geek culture! As part of the knitting stream, they’ll be workshops for learning new knitting skills, ‘stitch n bitch’, discussions on knitting culture and some exciting talks by movers and shakers on the ‘knitting scene’! I’m really sad to not be able to make the event but luckily I managed to ask Sasha a few questions, to get the knitty gritty (sorry, I’m not sorry!) on what fab events can be expected this weekend:

How did you get involved with Nine Worlds Knitting Stream?

I knew Ludi, one of the organisers, through queer feminist burlesque collective Lashings of Ginger Beer Time and when I heard they were having a knitting stream I offered up my services straight away!

What can be events can be expected at Nine Worlds Knitting Stream?

I’m super excited about the programme for the knitting stream – we have a mixture of workshops where you can learn new skills, like charting knitting patterns or knitting a zombie jumper, talks and discussions on knitting culture and social events like our Nine Worlds Geekfest Stitch n Bitch.

How can knitting and craft skills represent ‘geek culture’ in unique ways?

Knitting’s as much a medium for creative expression as it is a tool for making useful things. One of the things I love about geekdom is this culture where, if you love something, you use it as inspiration for something creative – I think fanfic, vids and crafts are all different ways of doing this (along with all the many, many others). I think part of the reason why crafts are unique is that so much of geek culture is still very cis-male dominated and crafts have a very feminine history – knitting groups are still seen very much as ‘women’s spaces’ so if you have an online Doctor Who knitting group, that offers a unique space for people usually marginalised by much of geek culture to go and celebrate things they love.

What’s the history of knitting and fan art? Can attendees expect tips on how to make their own? How does knitting feature in cult TV and film?

This is the session I’m the most excited about! Knitting as a form of fanart – or as an artform at all – has been really overlooked but there are some super amazing things out there! I think it’s gained a little more recognition since the ‘Jayne Hat’ phenomenon but that’s just a tiny part of what people are creating. We’ll be running a joint masterclass on knitting in cult TV and as fanart, which includes a few patterns inspired by cult TV and film, plus we’ll be talking about the process of creating your own fanart using knitting.

Who’s your favourite knitter in cult TV and film- or knitting scene?

My personal favourite TV knitter is Emerson Cod, the private investigator from Pushing Daisies. 

Who’ll be talking about ‘yarnbombing’ at the event? Are there plans to yarnbomb the conference? What might this look like?

We’re really lucky to have Lauren O’Farrell, the head of Stitch London, to talk about yarnbombing at the con. She’s also the founding member of Knit the City, London’s graffiti knitting group so she certainly knows what she’s talking about! If you’ve never tried yarnbombing before, be sure to come along to our very first session where we’ll be yarnbombing the whole con! We’re hoping to leave surprise yarn creations in as many nooks and crannies as we can find! 

What level of knitter can join in with the Knitting Stream? What do knitters need to bring to the conference?

Anyone is more than welcome to come and join in – if you pop into our Stitch n Bitch session on the Friday evening then you can learn the basics. If you already knit, you might want to bring some yarn and needles – don’t forget there’ll be a yarn swap so make sure you bring anything unwanted!

For more information on the timetable of events for the Knitting Stream at Nine Worlds Geek Fest 2013 click here and for inspiration ahead of the event, check out the tumblr Sasha has been running here!  

Knitting for life: Ricefield Collective

I must apologise to any blog readers, as I haven’t written for quite some time. I’ve been super busy with organising various events, fieldwork and reading. It’s funny, second year and ‘collecting research’ – I’m just not sure what to share on this blog space – I don’t want to give too many ‘spoilers’ but mostly I’ve just been quite busy and figuring our how to make the space for my blog in my time. So when I heard about Anna Maltz’s latest project I thought meeting with Anna for tea and discussion would be the perfect post to get me out of my blogging black hole

I met Anna at ‘In the Loop 3’ and we’ve kept in touch since. We’re currently collaborating on a project involving lost/found knitted gloves, and ‘craft walks’ through the City of London.  It’s a work in progress but here’s a sneak peek of stash so far!

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Happily, there are fewer lost gloves now the weather’s improving, which works out well as Anna will be visiting the Ifugao region of the Philippines for next three months for the project “Ricefield Collective” – the topic of our discussion when we met last week.

The project is collaboration between the indigenous people from Ifugao region, knitting teachers and designers from the U.S and Europe. The goal is to use handknitting as a way to generate income for those in danger of being forced out of their ancestral land through poverty. The plan is to make a knitwear collection, made by the women of Ifugao, with designs that reflect their landscape.  Anna’s role in the collective is both designer of knitwear patterns, and lead teacher whilst over in the Philippines next month. She says, “I’m really curious to see how easily the women will pick up their new skills. They work with their hands daily, so their manual dexterity will be advanced and comparable to mine.  Usually in London, I’m working with teenagers or women who are ‘all thumbs’ but want to try something new”. As the women of Ifugao develop their skills and their knitted creativity, it will be interesting to see how this is negotiated in the design process. In London, Anna was responsible for the sweeping ‘finger knitting’ craze at a local Stoke Newington High School – having showed pupils how to finger-knit; they eagerly shared their new skills with peers. Anna and I discussed this phenomenon in the Philippines – Meredith Ramirez (initiator of the project) taught her friend Jean to knit whilst visiting the Ifugao region and before long Jean had shared with her friends and their enthusiasm convinced Meredith and Jean that there was potential for knitting to help the community.  The ‘Ricefield Collective’ hopes that the project will provide a stable income to support the continuation of the community living in Ifugao. Anna stressed that there’s already been talks establishing the negotiation of farming and knitting commitments.

Anna is especially looking forward to observing the reception of knitting as a new skill and craft. Anna suggested that perhaps some of the reasons for knitting’s resurgent popularity in the UK and U.S are its nostalgic connotations and its associations with thrift and provisioning. However, in the Ifugao region, knitting will be a fresh, contemporary skill that will enable the preservation of community traditions and empower women through the extra income the work provides.

Ultimately, the Ricefield Collective hopes to share a positive story of production to their consumers – as Meredith states in the Kickstarter video – “you’ll know that each stitch is knitted by someone who is happy, which adds to the rich texture and warmth”. Anna spoke about her wish to find a rhythm in the production of knitwear that isn’t about meeting deadlines with panic and haste for the next A/W season but about fashioning a pace that is slow, meticulous, and as mentioned previously, negotiated with the commitments of farming, family and sustainability. In many ways Anna emphasised philosophies of ‘Slow Fashion’ movement – fashion that is high quality, with small lines, and fair labour conditions. Where each garment has a story and consumers have more appreciation and personal connection with their clothing (Johnasson, 2010). Slow fashion is not about time, but about choice, identity, symbolic expression, as well as durability and long term engaging, good quality products (Fletcher, 2007).  Attached to each item of the Ricefield Collective collection, will be a swing tag with a picture of the woman who made the item along with a tag that’s signed and numbered by her.

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(Source: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1597899565/ricefield-collective-knit-4-life)

Perhaps it’s just the circles I’m in at the moment, but wool and knitwear is on trend (see Wool House held at Somerset House last month). Given the nature of knitting as a skill, its history in the gift economy (both as a skill and the items produced) knitted craft gives the chance to reflect well on the stories that accompany our clothing (See Amy Keep and Share for more work on knitting sustainable fashion). What I like so much about the Ricefield Collective is how much the geographies of Ifugao region are reflected in the products – the pattern of the landscape, the everyday geographies of women, the making of global connections between of the collective’s founders Meredith, Anna and Jean, designers such as Stephen West in the U.S.  There is no wool production in the Philippines, so the wool itself is American wool from Quince & Co. in Portland, Maine, which is made from natural fibres and produced in a labour friendly way. Anna hopes that “though questions have been raised about the location of the wool produced, I see it as we can help another company this way, and they can support us”.

I’m so excited to meet with Anna again after her first ‘knitting school’ in the Philippines, it’s great to chat in anticipation but the best stories will be how the collective comes to establish itself in the coming months, and the experience of establishing the collective beyond the planning stage. Please have a watch of the video, and help out if you can with your pennies or through sharing with friends – there’s just a couple of days left to support. The potential for creativity and sharing of craft and skills is both exciting and enduring – as this exciting project shows (& I look forward to getting my mits on of those spiral slouchy hats!)

*** Pleased to inform that the kickstarter funding ended at $73,045 with 1,235 backers – amazing feat from the $24,600 target funds, and amazing news for the project!

Comforting Geographies

Recently I’ve been thinking about ‘comfort’ and the material and symbolic relationship of knitting with notions of comfort/discomfort. In September, Danny McNally and I came up with ‘Comforting Geographies‘, building on Danny’s work on comfort, sociality and encounters. Below is the call for papers on a session exploring our idea for the Royal Geography Society AC2013, London, UK, 28 – 30 August.

Co-Sponsored by Women and Geography Study Group (WGSG) and Social and Cultural Research Group (SGRG)

Comfort is an ambivalent and highly complex term (Bissell, 2008). To be in one’s comfort zone is perceived to be conservative, and socially and culturally unadventurous. At the same time the embodied, material experience of ‘comfort’ is anticipated for satisfying experiences of everyday life. Geographers have engaged with the notion of comfort in a variety of contexts: migratory experience (Gorman-Murray, 2009); identity and resistance (Holliday, 1998); passenger comfort and discomfort (Bisell, 2008; Martin, 2011); the clothed body (Colls, 2005; Woodward, 2005); nighttime economies (Elridge et al, 2008); sociability in public space (Boyer, 2012) and thermal heat provision (Hitchings et al, 2011). David Bissell (2008) has argued that through cultural geographies, ‘comfort’ has often taken on gendered connotations, associating experiences of home, care and warmth with feminine experience and domesticity. Feminist geographers have been critical of the ‘comforting’ associations of home and femininity; highlighting home as negotiations of experiences, especially those that are unjust or negative that are concealed by deterministic associations of home as comforting (Brickell, 2011).

This session on ‘comforting geographies’ seeks to explore the liminality of ‘comfort’. The geographical practices of making comfort in discomforting spaces; experiences of discomfort in ‘comforting spaces’ and the complicated experience of social and cultural and embodied, felt comfort. With this session we hope to move beyond discussion of just ‘another emotion’ (Pile, 2010), towards a politics of comfort that attends to the possibilities of this notion to make sense of the textures of everyday life – helping to better theorize the potential of ‘comforting geographies’ as a new frontier for social and cultural geography.

Particular questions we would like to cover include:

In which ways does comfort oscillate with discomfort?

What are the spaces of comfort – surprising, historic, rural, and urban, body, city?

What are the aesthetics and material cultures of comfort?

How is comfort negotiated and experienced in everyday life?

How might we think of the boundaries of comfort?

How are ‘comforting’ affective atmospheres created and curated?

What are the spatial politics of comfort?

How might we find comfort in others?

How can (dis)comfort be linked to political resistance?

Please send abstracts for this session to the session organisers: Laura.price.2011@live.rhul.ac.uk and Danny.Mcnally.2010@live.rhul.ac.uk by 1st Febuary 2013

Close Knit Community

Last month, the ‘Knitting and Stitch’ show visited Alexandra Palace, London. The ‘Knitting and Stitch’ show exhibited textile related arts and craft, showcasing some fantastic stitch/knitted/crafted art. It was great; and the atmosphere felt celebratory and social. In this post I want to focus on the ‘Knitted Village’ that was exhibited at the entrance of the show. The ‘Knitted Village’ was part of a competition organised by Twisted Thread, organisers of the ‘Knitting and Stitch Show’. The competition was so popular, that despite its completion, Twisted Thread reopened space for entries so that the village could be added to and exhibited at the Show at Alexandra Palace in October.

I was struck by the juxtaposition of the village with the view of London from ‘Ally Pally’ – London, in all its vastness, seemed miniature itself. Of course, there are lots of textile metaphors that come to the fore in the production of a knitted village, that highlight the pervasion of textile metaphor in our understandings of communities and everyday life – ‘Close knit community’, ‘social fabric’, ‘warp and weft of life’ ‘texture of place’ etc. Textiles are familiar, we experience life through the clothed body, and our houses are made homes through soft furnishings. Knitted objects and knitted cloth has certain connotations and memories, notably grandmas, Christmas jumpers, scarves etc. As I’ve explored in the blog previously, this supposed ordinariness and knowingness of knitting allows artists and crafters to use knitterly skills for different (subversive or activist) ends. One artist that has worked with knitting, notions of home and ordinariness to subversive ends is Freddie Robbins, in her work on ‘Homes of Knitted Crimes’.

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For me, the knitted village at the Knitting and Stitch show made me ‘nostalgic’ for childhood TV shows and play, I was reminded of Postman Pat and Greendale, Fireman Sam and Pontypandy.  The roads that snake through the ‘knitted village’ reminded me of another familiar textile; the ‘road track play rug’ that seems to have a firm presence in nurseries, homes and playgroups. This soft textured surface allows for the creation and curation of imaginary worlds (I was personally quite fond of making my plastic toy crocodile joy-ride the town in his large yellow van – with careless abandon). The ‘Knitted Village’ also shares similarities with Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony set.  The set featured “meadows, families taking picnics, people playing sports on the village green, and farmers tiling the soil. Real farmyard animals grazed the ‘countryside’” (BBC, 2012).  Ultimately these ‘sets’ reflect some sort of ‘rural idyll’, though arguably the ‘living road map’ has more grey spaces and industry it still reflects an ‘idyllic’ landscape: ‘a representation of the countryside as somewhere that is more relaxed and relaxing, scenic yet human scale, ‘organic’ yet someone ‘external to otherwise distanced from the negative features of modern society’ (Halfacree, 2009).

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In “Producing Postman Pat: the popular cultural construction of idyllic rurality” (2008) John Horton interviewed John Cuncliffe, author of Postman Pat and a ‘sometimes Children’s BBC producer’, both important figures in the television production Postman Pat and Greendale. Horton (2008) drew attention to the ways that rural idylls literally come to be constructed, engineered and eventually taken for granted. To this end, attempting to make the metaphors of ‘production’ and ‘fabrication’ of the rural idyll, more physical and productive and perhaps ‘more honest, reflective and tangible’ (Horton, 2008; 397). Perhaps this means engaging with sets and landscapes in a similar way to Richard Yarwood and Jon Shaw (2010) and the attention they pay to the curating and making of model railway landscapes as a form of craft consumption (Campbell, 2005). I’d like to take this further, thinking through the material affordances of craft processes and their production. Such as, what knitting means as a form of comfort and cosiness and how this is enacted in the making of a ‘knitted village’ and what this means for the ‘production’ of ‘rural idyll’. Artist, Freddie Robbins reworked these associations in ‘Knitted Houses of Crime’. Knitted objects afford a specific sensory experience in terms of craft process and product. Perhaps more work needs to be done, as John Horton (2008) has argued, on the actual ‘production’ and ‘fabrication’ of ideas such as the rural idyll and beyond. Thinking through craft metaphors with the actual materiality and matter of craft processes could ‘unravel’ or ‘stitch’ new stories; and better explore the links between metaphor and materiality.  It would be great to hold a conversation with makers of the knitted houses, fire station, farm etc. and ‘Twisted Thread” who curated the ‘knitted village’ competition; their multiple production techniques would have much to say about an array of ‘geographies’ at ‘play’ in the village.

In the Loop 3: A Brief Introduction.

In the Loop conference series has ran for three years now, producing ‘In The Loop’ (Eds. Hemmings, 2010) along the way. This year’s conference, In the loop 3, was held at the Winchester Discovery Centre, not too far from the ‘Knitting Reference Library’. The three-day event aimed to explore the ‘voices of knitting’. Wellbeing, exploration and representation were among the themes that talks were based upon, and ideas discussed. The conference kicked off with keynote from Dr Martin Polley on knitting and the Olympics. Through following exploring the relationship between the two, Dr Polley illustrated how following knitting through time can reveal histories and debates of a topic such as the Olympics. From the inclusion of knitting in the Wenlock Olympic games in the nineteenth century, to the public place of knitted tributes in the London 2012 games. In the afternoon Anna McNally, archivist from Westminster University, illustrated how following the history of knitting at the Regent Street Polytechnic, revealed a history of politics and change at the institution, and the changing place that women held there, as discussed in weekly newsletters documenting the polytechnic and its knitting activities. Tom Van Deijnen gave a virtual tour of his ‘Curiosity Cabinet of knitting stitches’.  Tom creates swatches of various knitting stitches and exhibits them in a way that mirrors ‘curiosity cabinets’, cabinets like those at the Natural History Museum. Sharp pins hold the knitted swatches in place and they are catalogued and ordered. Much like bugs or fossils are held in place and ordered at the NHM.

Dr Jessica Hemmings started proceedings on day two, discussing the merits of introversion and working alone for creativity. This idea provoked the celebration of collaboration, and the idea that knitting is social and collective. Creativity, and creative ideas might best be born from time working in insolation, though ‘lone knitters’ are often represented in popular culture as eccentric or worse, ‘insane’. Angela Maddock offered a fascinating talk on knitting, the body, and relationships. Focusing on ‘red yarn’ and its representation in film. Angela illustrated the ways it had been framed as disruptive, as dangerous, or as symbolic of flesh and the body. Angela’s work ‘blood line’ was particularly emotive; Angela and her mother worked on the same knitting, in a performance act, using red yarn, to symbolise their connection and relationship. Criminologist Dr Alyce McGovern is conducting research into the yarnbombing, and its seeming elusiveness from the same perception or punishment as other forms of graffiti. Dr McGovern explored ‘craft and crime’ more generally too; looking at the work of Freddie Robbins on ‘murderer’s houses’ and how it revealed our assumptions about women and crime, and how knitting can give voice to these ideas.

The final day of the conference was a keynote from Dr Jonathan Faiers on ‘knitting and catastrophe. Through well chosen film clips, Dr Faiers illustrated his argument that knitting is also in the making, or unravelling. It has a formlessy that is threatening. This risk of formlessness challenges the cosy and wholesome image of knitting. Through the film clips, Dr Faiers, showed how ‘the knitter’ had became a motif of ‘impeding doom’. Dr Jo Tourney, author of ‘The Culture of Knitting” (2009) discussed Sarah Lund’s sweater from ‘The Killing’. The sweater, Dr Tourney argued, is a narrative device, it tells the story of nationhood and nostalgia for place. Much like knitting, the process of finding the ‘murderer’ is all- consuming, leaving the result an anti-climax.  The sweater is, perhaps, a motif of this experience. One of the most stirring talks of the conference was that of Emmanuelle Dirix. Exploring ‘vintage mania’ in visual culture. ‘Keep Calm XYZ’  or ‘make do and mend’ goods have felt insincere for a while now, divorced from their conception of necessity and austerity. To engage in ‘vintage craft culture’ is to affirm spare time and wealth. It is the opposite of thriftiness and frugality. More dangerously, Dirix argued, is the ‘regression’ in feminism through this culture. Women have been ‘stitched up’ by the cath kidston sewing kits, they don’t actually know how to use.

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Many of the audience members argued that ‘craft consumers’ pursued craft culture, without sustained engagement, or gumption to learn craft skills. Interesting reworking of Colin Campbell’s (2005) Craft Consumer.

Throughout, the conference, and on each day were talks from speakers who had travelled from Shetland. As a geographer, I really appreciated the importance of knitting to the sense of place, identity and experience of space in Shetland. Keynote Hazel Hughson spoke of the potential loss of craft skills from cuts in funding, and the importance of knitters taking ‘ownership’ of their knitted crafts. Helen Whitham hails from Shetland, and is a textile graduate from Dundee Unversity. Helen talked through her graduate collection: knitwear with a narrative, a cultural and emotional collection to Shetland as ‘home’. Hopefully, this will encourage owners to hold on to their knitted garments for longer.

I must apologise that this quick review has not been comprehensive; it’s my personal highlights, and the talks that resonated with me the most.  The diversity of audience backgrounds, has meant each one of us took away something different from the experience (See Tom of Holland’s review of the conference here!). Many of the speakers felt they had to ‘admit’ they were not proficient knitters. I too must admit I’m still struggling with my knitting. I’ve taught myself from YouTube, but I’m not the best knitter. I’m much better at sewing. I watched in awe at the pace and skill with which audience members worked on their knitting projects, as they listened. I picked up some great tips too. One knitter encouraged me to work on ‘swatches’, rather than be caught up in knitting patterns or big projects – this will improve my confidence and skill.

The conference theme was ‘voices’ of knitting. It seems to me that knitting has multiple voices, and things to say. It suffers from an image problem that renders the craft conservative, or associated with older generations. The voices of knitting are multiple, and the conference spoke of ways that knitting reworks its assumptions. It gave voice to knitted artists, young knitters, knitting in films, knitting in popular culture, as well as celebrating the heritage of knitting (for those interested Professor Sandy Black gave a talk too; her book ‘Knitting: fashion, industry, craft’ is out next week).

Perhaps knitting is disturbing not comforting; criminal not safe, uneasy, not wholesome. Yet at the same it is cosy and comforting. The ambivalence of knitting practice is what has sustained my academic interest so far. The current ‘revival’ of knitting is ripe for critical engagement, and ‘In the Loop’ conferences have done just that and more.  In the Loop 3 was a space to tell the stories of knitting, and through knitting. Knitting, and knitted objects are everyday and familiar, as well as extraordinary and surprising. It is this liminality that allows it to ask so many questions, provide or reveal narratives and at the same time consistently border on collapse (Faiers, 2010), with always the opportunity to be reformed, reworked, and affect.

Repairing in Shepherd’s Bush

When I arrived back from the Mend*rs symposium I blogged about the experience right away (see ‘Mending is Connecting’ post on the blog); I wanted to capture my immediate thoughts after hearing such interesting talks, and meeting such inspiring people. It’s been a few weeks since the conference, and for the Mend*rs blog tour I thought I’d blog about how my thoughts have changed since. At times I felt a little out of place at Mend*rs. My research has always been collaborative with menders and makers, rather than being a maker or mender myself.  It was so great to meet people for whom making and mending is such an important part of their lives, research and practice. As a result, I really have begun to take mending more seriously in my everyday life and as part of that I’ve began to take notice of mending in my local area, Shepherd’s Bush, London. I thought I’d focus on mending and its place in here.

There are multiple forms of mending practice, taking place in Shepherd’s Bush. There are the established mending workshops that seem to have been here for decades, at least, like the clock and watch repairing services. There’s the more recent mobile and laptop repair shops. There are sewing machine repair shops, tailors and dry cleaners (offering alterations). The most recent and exciting spaces are Traid charity shop and Age UK upcycle Workshop. Traid offers sewing lessons and mending workshops it its Shepherd’s Bush premises; inside the shop it offers garments that have been remade or reworked to the latest fashion (I’ve noticed Traid is a big fan of adding peter pan collars to older tshirts and blouses). The newest addition to Shepherd’s Bush, and one of my favourites is the Age UK upcycle shop. It offers upcycled furniture at a reasonable price and excellent standard. It offers workshops to help customers learn how to upcycle their own furniture too. What’s interesting, to my research, about Age UK is the use of ‘knitting’ in its upcycling projects. From cosies placed on drawer handles, to knitted boarders on coffee tables and desks.

Shepherds Bush lives in the shadow of Westfields shopping centre (literally, the glare of ‘House of Frazer’ signage shines directly into my flat!) It’s been a while since I stepped into Westfield and bought something new actually. Since menders I really have been mending connections with my ‘things’ and I’m more aware of mending spaces in my local area. Shepherd’s Bush, it turns out, is a hub of mending and repairing practices, if you look closely. Mending cultures that are both old and new. I’m sure the same can be said for many reader’s local areas, and maybe it’s important to discover or re-discover these, if we haven’t already.

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The blog tour continues, or if you missed the previous sites, click on the links below to have a look-see.

Tour Date Blogger URL
Tour Taster Clare Thomas http://cleaningbeaches.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/mending-objects-mending-roadsides-mending-lives/
Tour Taster Flowering Elbow http://www.floweringelbow.org/2012/invent/musings-on-mending-mendrs/
20/07/2012 Mend*RS http://mendrs.net
25/07/2012 GUTmag www.gutmag.eu
27/072012 Futuremenders http://futuremenders.com/
03/08/2012 Keep & Share http://www.keepandshare.co.uk/blog
10/08/2012 Venerable Clothing http://venerableclothing.blogspot.co.uk
17/08/2012 tomofholland http://tomofholland.com
24/08/2012 bridgetharvey http://bridgetharvey.blogspot.co.uk/
31/08/2012 textilelives http://textilelives.co.uk (NOT LIVE YET)
07/09/2012 KnittedGeographies https://knittedgeographies.wordpress.com/
14/09/2012 lizparker lizparker.org
21/09/2012 The Bunny Pile http://thebunnypile.wordpress.com/
28/09/2012 Unstructured Material http://www.unstructuredmaterial.blogspot.co.uk/
05/10/2012 The Blogging Phenotype blog.spinningkid.info
12/10/2012 Logo Removal Service http://www.logoremovalservice.com/news-log-etc/
19/10/2012 Caitlin DeSilvey and Steve Bond http://smallisbeautifulproject.blogspot.co.uk/
26/10/2012 Stitched Up http://www.stitchedupuk.co.uk

Monstrous Geographies & Knitting the City.

As part of the BT Artbox programme, artists and designers have re-designed the iconic red telephone box. The telephone boxes have been located in different places and spaces across the urban landscape. The red telephone box has an enduring presence in geographical imaginations of London and the UK.  I’ve felt more aware of the presence of the ‘iconic’ red telephone boxes of late. Walking in central London, tourists huddle round the big box to take their holiday snaps with their rosy red London icon and consuming place. During the Jubilee chaos, the telephone box became a useful viewing platform – a steadfast beacon amongst a sea of crowds. I don’t mean to romanticise the conviviality of the telephone box – many are highly sexualised advertising spaces. It’s just this sense of vitality and connection with the telephone box seems an interesting reconfiguration of the ‘connections’ the telephone box has housed historically.

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Knit in the City collective is noted for their iconic knitted telephone box cosies. As part of the BT Artbox endeavour Deadly Knitshade (founding member of Knit in the City) created a big yellow monster. The colour of the ArtBox was as bright as the yellowy tones of a New York’s taxi – an equally strong character in the geographical imagination of a fellow ‘big city’. Aesthetically, the detail of the signage, and the shape of the box’s windows were replicated in the monster cosy. But with giant eyes added, and goofy, monster teeth the telephone box became a creature and a character in the city. Given the especially soggy weather over July, I thought the ArtBox still felt pretty cosy to touch – it had endured well. Infact, it offered comfort and a space to sit and chat – a site of sociality for a group who appeared to have chosen the spot as their designated meeting point. People danced in and out of the group to get a touch of the telephone box, and to see the craftsmanship ‘close up’. Knitters and knitting could be argued as a new subculture within London. If subcultural groups construct meaning by taking objects and signs from dominant cultures and injecting them with their own meaning, the knitted tea cosy is emblematic of this. Though of course the intentionality of this BT ArtBox is different to more ‘guerrilla’ tactics.

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I’ve been exploring the relationship between the materialities of the city and acts of knitted graffiti.  The materiality of something knitted affects different ‘feeling’ sensibilities in the city. It affects the ‘feel’ and touch of the telephone box. The red steel box becomes softer and bright yellow. The knitted ArtBox affects the ‘feeling’ of the city; it surprises, it delights, it confuses. It affects how we feel ‘about’ the city – based on comparison with our assumption of telephone boxes and other materialities of the city – we feel affected or enchanted as Jane Bennett might argue. It created a space for encounter and it would be interesting to see the extent to which the knitted medium and materiality played in these ‘encounters’. Though many of the red telephone boxes are increasingly redundant, they do still have feelings (!) and the yellow monster cosy seemed to speak for the telephone box, its place in the city and relationships with it, through a knitted narrative.

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