Mending is Connecting

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Last weekend I attended the first, inaugural Mend*rs symposium in Docker, South Cumbria. The symposium brought together mending practitioners, activists, entrepreneurs and academics, who, together, would work towards creating ‘a critical agenda for mending’, or more spectacularly ‘the age of mending’. The talks were fantastic and inspirational. A key theme, that struck me, was mending as an emotional experience. The act of mending is an act of care for objects, for self, or for others. In mending things we repair our connections to our objects, others and ourselves. Steven Bond, part of the ‘Small is Beautiful’ exhibition, discussed the demise of being able to make a living from mending. The photographs in the exhibition had attempted to capture the ‘texture’ of mending through engaging with menders workplaces. Tim Dant talked about the problem of ‘responsibility’ that broken objects present; when an object is broken it provides possibilities and potential new trajectories for that object. As menders, we are responsible for these trajectories and for enacting these possibilities. For me, the most poignant talk was from Jonnet Middleton, organiser of the event. Jonnet has made a pledge to never purchase anymore clothes for the rest of her life. Instead she will mend and care for the clothes already in her wardrobe. As Jonnet told stories of her clothes I started to feel guilty towards clothes I’ve mistreated. Shoes that were spoilt from poor storage. Dresses shrunk in the dryer through my impatience. The mending activists at the symposium were serious and dedicated, but they also recognised the possibilities of fun and playfulness in mending which offered a sense of vitality. Certainly since the symposium I felt this vitality has affected my approach to mending in everyday life.

Following the Mend*rs symposium I attended the RGS-IBG conference, in Edinburgh.  During the conference, ‘Follow the Things’ bags were circulated and welcomed by Geographers in attendance. I managed to attend the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group session on ‘Impact’. In this Ian Cook discussed the ‘Follow the Things’ bags. He argued that they were a form of mischief. A form of activism enacted through ludic geographies- the ‘lady bird’ (of Tesco fame) reworked as a non-human investigator of the materials and commodities she interacts with.

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(‘Don’t Bin It Mend It’ sticker and needle, came in the welcome pack for the Mend*rs Symposium)

During my time at M&S I sold many similar shopper style bags. Often referred to as ‘bags for life’. I started to think about the consequences of being ‘a bag for life’. In reality, bags for life aren’t durable for too long, M&S would replace your ‘tatty’ bag for life for a new one (for free) once it showed heavy signs of use . Could mending prolong the life of the bag? Is the point of mending to prolong the object’s life as much as possible – for me I don’t think it is. Although mending is about being less wasteful, something that I took away from the conference is that mending is about care and respect for things and their ‘lives’. It’s about ‘mending’ our relationships with commodities and material culture. I don’t expect my ‘follow the things’ bag will last forever –but wouldn’t it be nice if when it did start to look tatty I duct taped over that hole, or used the material to make something else, like Sue Bamford and her bunnies. I admire Jonnet’s pledge of never buying clothes again, but if I’m being honest I don’t think I could do the same pledge. I do feel good about myself when I buy a new dress, or shoes. But who is to say that the same ‘buzz’ I get from treating myself to a new dress, I can’t feel through mending my current belongings. If crafting items from scratch with knitting is a about leisure and enjoyment – perhaps I could make a leisure space that’s about knitting and skill but reworking older things like Amy Twigger Holroyd and her knit hacking, rather than starting from scratch. I think, at the least, I’m going to try build a better relationship with my things: respect their fragility. If follow the things is about tracing who made our goods, their lives and geographies, in mending things are we respecting these lives and geographies through extending the life of an object or caring for an object and engaging with it on multiple levels? Maybe through visible mending like Tom of Holland we can help make visible the invisible lives of objects and, respect the people and places who brought them into creation. Ian Cook, in his talk, cited ‘Making is Connecting’ by David Gauntlett. Gauntlett (2011) argues that through making things people engage with the world and create connections with each other. But, are we not already connected, in ways that just aren’t visible. It may be about making connections, but it’s also about mending and repairing them too, making them visible, valuable, social and vital (which just so happens to be the mending manifesto).

Craft Experience

A few weekends ago, the sun shone and the parks of London were hives of activity. During this weekend, I visited Craft Central. Craft Central is based in Clerkenwell. It is a place, and a space for makers. Craftspeople can rent space to work there; exhibit in the gallery; and individuals can take classes and support the makers for whom, Craft Central is their home. From 24 to 27 of May, Craft Central opened its studios, within its two buildings, to the public for their perusal and as a ‘unique shopping destination’.

The sun, the music, and the festival atmosphere that welcomed visitors inside made the day feel a celebration of craftsmanship. Displays of crafts for sale were exhibited in workshops and studios. At times I felt intrusive, entering the small space of a workshop to gaze upon the wares for sale. I was made to feel welcome, as were all visitors, and my Cambridge Satchel acted as a point of conversation. The Cambridge Satchel Company is highly successful; its beautiful bags have found their place in glossy magazines and the high street.  Julie Deane, founder and maker has said she feels the success is down to the ‘britishness’ and ‘nostalgia’ evoked through the handmade satchels.

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As makers engaged with my Satchel, I felt able to engage with their crafts. Though some of the jewellery was so delicate that I did not trust myself to touch it. My experience of the open studios was multisensory – I was eager to pick up and stroke or touch the crafts on show. Since receiving my Cambridge Satchel for Christmas, I have felt great about placing my laptop, my readings, and other essentials – within the satchel. In many ways I think it’s important to explore embodied experience of crafts and crafting. As well as reflecting on the process of making, and the maker’s experience – the experience of ‘being with’ crafted objects is, I have felt, a sensuous and open experience. In an interview I conducted with textile artist Bettina Matzkuhn in 2009, Bettina reflected on her textile medium – ‘no one’s dying to touch paper – but everyone reaches out to touch textiles’ and I think this is a wonderfully true. I’ve been wondering, how this sensuous experience relates to ideas of nostalgia, material memories and the ability of materiality to make social and emotional binds. Methodologically, material engagement with crafting and craft objects will been important in answering questions about the contemporary interest in textile crafting.

For more information on:

Craft Central: http://craftcentral.org.uk

Bettina Matzkuhn: http://www.bettinamatzkuhn.ca/

Cambridge Satchel Company:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/fashion/fashion-blog/2012/jun/07/cambridge-satchel-success

http://www.cambridgesatchel.co.uk/

Crafting the Jubilee

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Preparations for the Diamond Jubilee this weekend are in full swing; London appears to have turned red, white and blue. As I trawled, online, through links to potential weekend festivals, adventures and features I couldn’t help be notice the variety of craft based celebrations. Cath Kidston are to release a special edition knitted ‘guard’; one ardent Royal fan has knitted the scene of the Queen’s boat pageant and later in the Jubilee week, Stitch London are to host a ‘Jubilee Picnic’ that celebrates ‘National Knit in Public Day’ as well as 60 years of the Queen.

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(Knitted Guards, available in Cath Kidston shops 1/06/12)

With many arguing that the ‘revival of craft’ is related to senses of nostalgia I do find myself examining the relationship in context of the Jubilee celebrations. Oxford Street is adorned with Union Jacks and sitting amongst those flags flies ‘CRAFT IS GREAT’. Notions of heritage are of course reworked, as though to evoke a sense of life sixty years ago. Yet life is very different and I’m not sure what this renewed fervour for craft within these celebrations does to the ‘status of craft’. Many of the craft celebrations are ‘make your own cake stand’ or ‘make your own bunting’. The paper plates (below) that mock the design of china memorabilia evokes an essence of craftsmanship in the design, but ultimately are made cheaply, on paper rather than china, are mass manufactured and have a different temporality (ultimately after a few soggy sandwiches they’d be for the bin.)

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I’m still undecided about the status of craft in the Jubilee; I am interested in paper plates and the idea of evoking craft symbolically, but materially lacking the skill or the sustained material experience in making, that scholars like Glenn Adamson would associate with the term. Often, being fortunate to be so immersed in knitting and its contemporary practice, I underestimate the ‘wow’ factor experienced by viewing designs such as the knitted boat pageant.  This still very much reworks perceptions of knitting, which makes me think that although the knitted celebrations may seem to correlate with a sense of nostalgia – to focus too much on this would negate the power of contemporary knit practice. I, for one, hope to have my needles and yarn at the ready for Knit in Public Day.

(Knitter Shelia Carter, 75. Shelia has worked five hours each day, on the project, since January, which in total has used 400 balls of wool)

Stitching Identity

I took my first knitting lessons from my Grandma; together we made a scarf. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time, or infact make the time to practice my craft and soon I found myself starting from scratch – forgetting even the basic garter stitch, and especially how to cast on. Last week I took a knitting class with Aneeta Patel in Stepney Green. Aneeta is author of ‘Knitty Gritty’ and runs ‘Knitting SOS’. The class took place in the intimate setting of Aneeta’s living room. Myself and three other ladies cast on and made attempts at our first stitches with Aneeta as a patient and watchful mentor.

We discussed our motivations and reasons for finding Aneeta and her knitting class. One to knit the perfect cable knit sweater  – to be able to say “I made this” and one to knit for charity – a blanket for Battersea Dog’s home (decorated in ‘bone’ detail). I began to think about senses of motivation and drive in knitting. It is both enjoyable process and aesthetically pleasing outcome that these ladies desired. That the outcome would covey the process, and that, that process was a development of ‘sense of self’ or ‘sense of care for others’.

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The fruits of my first knitting class. 

I’m not sure I have an object in mind yet. I think I’ll go for another scarf (imaginative) – because at the moment the process of learning and practicing the skill is what I’m deeming most important (the results of which are not attractive – see above for preview). Perhaps instead of an object in mind, I need to have a person in mind – be that for self, or friends and family. When we knit are we binding a sense of connection and a sense of identity?  If so perhaps I will spend a bit of time to consider patterns or projects – if I’m to create my ‘knitting identity’ perhaps that needs to be embodied in an object I desire to make for a certain someone (even if that is myself!)

More information on Aneeta’s knitting classes and book available at http://www.knittingsos.co.uk/

Crocheted Spaces

Last week I visited the installation ‘I Do Not Expect to Be a Mother But I Do Expect To Die Alone’ by Olek, a Polish artist based in New York who’s first UK Exhibition is at Tony’s Gallery in Shoreditch.  The gallery had gathered much publicity through various inches in the columns of commuter reads – The Metro and Stylist Magazines. The bright colours and the continual surprise factor that knitting has moved beyond dodgy jumpers from nana, to fibre arts, will surely bring curious audiences to Tony’s Gallery.

I think it’s that evocation of knitting and crocheting as comfort, as generational relationships, as domestic and private that is played with, and subverted, in this installation.  Household objects are given bright, crocheted skins, to such an effect that the familiar becomes phantasmagoric.  The shape of a telephone seems to blend into the wall and the dressing table on which it stands.

As I entered Tony’s Gallery I was asked to remove my shoes. Of course this is for practical reasons, to preserve the crochet, but also it evoked rituals of visiting someone else’s house – preventing traces of the outside from entering inside.  As I consider knitting as a practice I begin to think more and more of boundaries. About inside/outside,  public/private,  home/away and domesticity/leisure.

It seems that rather than knitting crossing boundaries from one to another  (from knitting in the home to knitting on the tube) there are far more complex geographies and spatial politics at play. The metaphorical affordances of knitting to weave, to unite, to loop, to stitch offer a way of exploring the complex politics of space in the new practices of knitting and crocheting.  We might begin to look at how the private becomes public in the act of knitting on the tube, or in a café – but these geographies are looped, knotted and build a texture of place in the process of making. They connect beyond binaries and boundaries.

Olek will show at Tony’s Gallery until 23 March 2012.

Traces, Threads and Surfaces.

Tim Ingold has discussed the history of ‘the thread’ – noting threads are identified by their easy manipulations by hand and their material propensity to waste.

I came across this small intervention in Shoreditch, last month. Seemingly insignificant, I imagined this small thread as quickly woven to it’s new home on the metal fence – and easily removed with the same speed. The soft yarn affords this convenience and the pink hue makes harsh the grey steel surface.

Ingold, T. (2010) Transformations of the Line: Traces, Threads and Surfaces. Textile: Journal of Cloth and Culture. 8, 1. 10 – 35.

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