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’.
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).
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.