In the Loop 4

Most of my late August was taken up by work for In the Loop 4. If you don't know ITL, it is an academic conference about knitting and crochet. This year it took place in Glasgow - the culmination of many years' work by the Knitting in the Round crew at Glasgow University - and I had been persuaded by the organiser, Linda Newington of the Knitting Reference Library at Winchester School of Art - to submit a an abstract. Lo, my paper on Faroese jumpers and Nordic knitting traditions was accepted and much time was spent researching and writing. I am very thankful for the staff at The Mitchell Library for being particularly helpful.  

Miss @kariebookish talking at #intheloopglasgow

A photo posted by Louise Scollay (@knit_british) on

In the Loop was exceptional. While I talk knitting every single day, I found it invigorating and useful to discuss my discipline in a more academic way: Just how do we define the idea of authenticity in knitting? What role does gender play? How do we address the problem of sustainability within our practice? What about knitting and lifestyle commodification? These are just a few of the topics the conference touched upon. I felt my brain stretch with every paper and I left thinking about my own work in a new way. I also relished being able to spend time with my woolly chums: Louise, Susan, Jeni, Tom, Helen, Zoe, Anna and Anna. And meet new woolly chums like Tom, Alison, Anna, Siun, Helen and Mary. I salute you all for inspiring me, making me think and making me laugh.

There were many great papers. Here's a short selection of the ones that have stayed with me.

Dinah Eastop on archives, preservation, and digitalisation. Some real problems facing the archivists trying to digitalise cultural heritage,

Annemor Sundbø on the Setesdal jumper. An absolute honour to listen to Annemor talk about the evolution of a Norwegian design classic.

Helen Robertson and her textile practice was incredible. Helen places Shetland textile practices within the landscape - I was blown away and completely inspired by her thoughtfulness.

Alison Mayne and Kate Orton-Johnson on knitting communities in the digital age. Two very different, yet very similar approaches. This is a topic dear to my heart (for obvious reasons) and both nailed their papers.

Rose Sinclair delivered an outstanding paper on 19th and 20th c women's craft guilds, clubs, and societies. She also spoke with authority of the erasure of race within crafts. I really hope she publishes this paper - more people need to know about her research.

Jonathan Faiers delivered a plenary talk on knitting on the runway. This was my other 'goosebumps' moment as he moved from Schiaparelli's bow-knot jumper through 20th C high fashion history towards today's super-bulky knits. Very, very thought-provoking work on trompe l'oeil knitting. So thought-provoking that I had to skip the next session just to digest and unpack Faiers' words.

Sustainability was given a lot of thought. Tom van Deijnen spoke about his visible mending work whilst Tone Tobiasson and Ingun Klepp delivered a call to arms about wool being part of a sustainable future. I found both talks incredibly engaging and inspiring.

Finally, I want to leave you with this film by Anna Kouhia. I found it very moving and poetic. I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Anna about how our bodies influence our crafts - the movement of our hands, in particular. I hope you will enjoy this as much as I did.

PS. ITL4 featured a fashion show which included work by Gudrun Johnson, Lucy Hague, Kate Davies and myself. You can catch it here. I don't usually think of my work as being part of fashion, so seeing it in this context felt a little strange (I need to think more about this, clearly). I also only had one sample home that I could lend the show which I slightly regret. Oh well. It was interesting.

Knitting in Wartime - A Study Day Retrospect

Last week I had the pleasure of attending another of Knitting in the Round's Public Study Days: The Kitchener Stitch: Knitting in Wartime - Wartime Knitting. The whole day was a delight with many friendly faces in the audience and some cracking speakers. Dr Jane Tynan gave an absolutely fascinating talk on military uniforms, modernity and knitting as craftivism during the First World War. Dr Tynan is an expert on military uniforms and her research on 'khaki' in WW1 led her to discover how knitting served as supplement to official wartime military issue and how this led to unexpected tensions at home between the War Office and women who volunteered their time and skills. I was particularly interested in how conservative gender roles were promoted (this in an age of Suffragettes, lest we forget) and female activist efforts were soon turned into an achievement of the War Office. However, I was mostly enthused by Dr Tynan's work on the disembodiment found throughout knitting patterns and wartime propaganda. I have been interested in modernity, modernism and the Body for many years and it was exciting to see certain recurrent (and familiar) themes pop up in an unexpected context.

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The other speakers were absolutely excellent too - Wendy Turner on the importance of Glasgow Women's Library; the irrepressible Joyce Meader with her extensive collection of war-related knitting patterns, knitting paraphernalia, and her knitted 'comforts' from vintage patterns; Professor Maggie Andrews on the WI, domesticity and knitting as war effort; and Barbara Smith on items found in the Knitting and Crochet Guild's archives (including one of my favourite pieces: warships depicted in filet crochet for a table cloth). I was particularly excited about Barbara speaking as I really enjoy reading her knitting history blog.

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I was fortunate enough to spend my lunchtime  together with Barbara (and we discovered we have friends in common), the ever-lovely Susan Crawford and my partner David. We sat outside in the sunshine discussing many of the issues the morning had uncovered - particularly knitting as a gendered pursuit and the politicising of knitting during the World Wars. It was absolutely lovely to discuss these things with smart, engaged people who all brought different perspectives to the table. While Dave does not knit (and has no interest in starting!), he does have a life-long interest in textiles and how war affects the production & design of textiles. I really enjoyed having him join me at the event - he also took the majority of these photographs!

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After the Study Day concluded, I spent a very happy evening with Susan and Dave. First we went vintage shopping (word of warning: Susan WILL put you in various 1950s frocks), then had a very relaxing meal during which we talked about everything between heaven and earth. What an enjoyable day meeting so many fantastic people, thinking about knitting in new & unexpected ways, and then spending time with good folks.

A huge thank you to everyone involved in putting this event together.

Textile Conservation & Further Thoughts

March 2015 157-tile Yesterday I was invited to an event at Glasgow University's Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History. Not only did this mean I got to meet students and see the objects they were working on, but I also learned about the science behind what we see in museums and private collections. Some things were familiar to me (like dye pots!) and then I ran into a Ph.D. student who showed me a fantastically complicated machine that extracted chemical profiles from 17th century China textiles. The Centre had only invited people working with textiles one way or another, and I found it hugely invigorating to see the multiple ways we can approach textiles (it's been a very good week for that!). If I had not been absolutely shattered, I would have stayed much, much longer.

But I have been very shattered this weekend thanks to a very hectic weekend. EYF has rippled into this week with plenty of emails and a lot of follow-ups - I am still trying to get to grips with those, apologies. I have also been curled up in my favourite arm chair thinking about stuff. I spent the past weekend in the company of some rather incredible people. The Edinburgh Yarn Festival was home to a lot of strong, bold and interesting people with Thoughts and Ideas. I came away encouraged by the positivity, the warm support, and the ingenuity of the people I met. I spoke with some very smart people who gave me plenty food for thought. I was surrounded by people who did not fit into society's preconceived ideas of what we should think, believe or do - and I feel so encouraged to see people questioning all the big narratives surrounding gender, fashion, consumerism, and technology.

These past few days I have been thinking a lot about the Thing-ness of Things, too. What materiality means and how the physical nature of Things impact our perception of them. A weighty tome. That yarn has a nice handle. I have a favourite knitting needle that 'sits right' in my hand as I work with it. I will need to think more about these Things and start figuring out what the Thing-ness of Things mean when it comes to my work. Maybe when my brain is back to full speed.

Plans for the rest of the week: tomorrow I'm releasing the very last instalment in the Old Maiden Aunt/Karie Westermann sock club (this last sock pattern happens to be my favourite..) and Saturday I am teaching Continental Knitting at Glasgow's The Queen of Purls, so do pop along to that one!

Dispatches from KnittingLand

I have disappeared under a pile of deadlines. When you work on publications, you tend to work between 5 months to a full year ahead of actual releases - so obviously I am busy editing, grading and designing a lot of things that will appear in the autumn and winter. It is a bit strange when the bluebells are in full bloom, but you do get used to it. But things are happening right now that you can enjoy.


It is Yarn Shop Day this Saturday in the UK. The British magazine Let's Knit has launch a campaign for people to show their local yarn shops some love. I love visiting LYSs - each has its own distinct personality - and the very best LYSs become an indispensable part of a knitter's life. We have some great ones in the UK but I think we should have even more. Go forth & shower your local with love.

This has a deadline of today, but I do love the enthusiasm of LoveKnitting's Britain's Next Top Knitwear Designer competition. Again, it is about supporting what's local, what's is happening on the UK knitting scene and I love how they are offering a fashion slant to an industry which is far too often equated with dowdiness and homeliness. Nothing is wrong with wearing a comfy jumper (I am right now, in fact) but what about making it a stylish comfy jumper? Indeed. As I said, the deadline is today so if you have a fab design sitting around, why not pop it in the post?

Finally, The University of Glasgow has announced plans for a Knitter-in-Residence in October. You may remember I have been involved in the "Knitting in the Round" workshops that Glasgow University has held - including that very wonderful Open Day at Glasgow's Lighthouse design Centre - and the residency is part of that whole project. It is a great opportunity to be working alongside Prof Lynn Abrams and Dr Marina Moskowitz (among others) and I know further events are in the works.

I will pop up later in the week to write about an article I have in the latest issue of Knit Now - not the first time I have been published, but certainly one of the nicest - as well as a brand-new shawl pattern. For now, I'll slink back into my pattern-writing dungeon. Have a lovely day x

Knitting as Cultural Activity - Reflections 4

The LighthouseThis post is the last in a series of posts extending the talk I gave at Glasgow University as part of the Handknitted Textiles & the Economies of Craft in Scotland workshop series. I am fascinated by knitters' hands. No matter who we are - whether unsure beginners, lifestyle knitters, industry professionals, textile conservationists or artists - we all engage with the craft using our hands. We may hold the yarn in a myriad of ways and work the stitches at our own pace, but knitting is a tactile craft. The fabric is created by our hands. You can tell the difference between handknitted and machine-knitted fabric. Hand-knitted fabric holds the story of whoever made it. It has presence.

I think it is this echo of presence - the shadow of the knitter's hands - that is so alluring to textile artists.

Roxane Permar is one of the people behind the Mirrie Dancers project - a Shetland-based arts project combining traditional lace knitting with state-of-the-art technology. Shetland knitting heritage is a complex story but Permar decided to take what is often a dark story and literally shed light on it by projecting knitted lace sample onto the Mareel arts venue.The Lighthouse

The Mirrie project involved a large team of highly skilled and dedicated Shetland lace knitters spread out across the islands who were all asked to knit a sample of lace in a heat-resistant material. The choice of material proved to be a surprising point of contention: some of the knitters refused to work in other material than fine Shetland wool. Other knitters embraced the task with surprising results - one of them started to play around in order to see how far you can take Shetland lace. Anne Euston is now pursuing a textiles degree specialising in a modern interpretation of lace knitting (you can see an example of her work on Kate Davies' blog).

I was intrigued by how far you can take lace knitting and what you can do with it. What does it look like when you project something that fine and minute up on a wall? I looked at the samples Roxane had brought with her - they were so delicate and obviously crafted with great skill and care - and yet when they were blown up, they became disembodied, abstract and strange. I no longer noticed the elegant stitches - I wondered about the holes, the gaps, and the absences caught and distorted by the light.

I thought Mirrie Dancers was incredibly successful - it made me think about the gaps and absences in how we approach about Shetland (lace) knitting today.

The Lighthouse

By for me, it always comes back to the twin ideas ofpresence and absence*.

The Material Culture students at Glasgow University learned how to knit as part of their Masters. They will go on to work in museums and as field archaeologists - and will be handling handcrafted artefacts as part of their everyday working life. Knitting, Dr Nyree Finlay argued, was a way of making them more keenly aware of both the workmanship behind the artefacts but also what it means that something is handmade.

Did they? Some of them never taught themselves to knit. One girl could cast on, but could not knit. Another could knit (but not cast on). I wondered if they had thought about the materials they used - but they had been so focused on learning the craft that they hadn't thought beyond a basic budget and colours. I don't know why but that slightly disappointed me - I get that mastering the craft was foremost in their minds, but I had hoped they would take the opportunity to also engage with the actual material circumstances of the craft.

And this is where I am left to write about how I engage with knitting as a cultural activity.

My "problem" as a designer is that I tend to start with very abstract concepts (such as Palaeolithic marine archaeology) and I have to spend a lot of time trying to parse that into a commercially viable pattern collection. The collection following Doggerland is rooted in something even more High Concept - and while my ideas are probably more suited to being explored by textile art (hat tip Deirdre Nelson!) I keep returning to my obsession with accessibility. I want to enable other people to knit my ideas and be able to wear them. I want to make meaning through knitting but simultaneously enable others to construct their own meanings and knit their own stories.

(A huge thank you to Professor Lynn Abrams and Dr Marina Moskowitz for inviting me to this series of workshops.)

* I blame myself for reading literary theory at an age when others were out partying. That sort of thing wreaks havoc.

Knitting & the Marketplace - Reflections 3

This post is one in a series of posts extending the talk I gave at Glasgow University as part of the Handknitted Textiles & the Economies of Craft in Scotland workshop series. It is no secret that I work in the knitting industry and that I wear a number of hats. When I was first approached to work within the industry, I was unsure what it would be like to turn my hobby into a job. Would I still enjoy knitting? Could I maintain a decent work/life balance? Would my knitting friends treat me differently? Would I treat knitting differently? Several years later I still do not have all the answers but right now I'd say "yes", "no", "a bit" and "somewhat".

I work in both sectors of the industry: the commercial and the independent sectors. Each sector have its own idiosyncrasies but having a firm grounding in how the commercial knitting sector works has helped me understand how I can carve out a space for myself within the independent sector and which pitfalls I should avoid. More on which later.

But first let me clarify what I mean when I talk about the "commercial" sector and the "independent" sector:

  • The "commercial" sector is mainly made up of big yarn companies with their own in-house designers, publishing houses, and established "name" designers who work extensively with subcontractors.
  • The "independent" sector is mainly made up of one-person businesses with personal creative control. This could be yarn dyers, pattern designers, yarn shop owners, workshop tutors etc.

Arguably the shift in the public perception of knitting has been led by the independent sector via social media but the ongoing success has been facilitated by the commercial sector offering easy and affordable access to patterns, yarns, workshops etc. I would actually say the two sectors are far more symbiotic than they may appear.

Furthermore, the division between the two sectors is often hard to see: is Fyberspates an indie dyer or a commercial yarn company? The lovely Sarah Hatton works as an independent but with close ties to Rowan Yarns. The sectors work together in a myriad of ways to ensure knitters a vast variety of products and experiences. I would suggest the dichotomy is illusory at best: we need to think of both sectors as being commercially viable in the marketplace. Despite what some people may think about independents (especially when it comes to our intellectual property!), we do like paying our bills as much as we love being passionate about yarn and knitting!

For me, the key point revolves around creative control. When I work within the commercial sector, I do have a small say in yarn development or pattern support but I will not see the result of my suggested changes for nearly 18 months because I am just a tiny part of a very big whole. The independent sector is much quicker to respond: I see the result of suggested changes within 18 hours - sometimes within 18 minutes.

What has the commercial sector taught me that I can apply in my indie work? Plenty of things.

  • I think in terms of "collections" now. A cohesive theme. A controlled colour palette. One underlying idea.
  • I think about the technical skill level needed to knit one of my pattern. I am probably guilty of "aiming low" when it comes to technical fireworks in my patterns but I am passionate (to the point of obsession) about the idea of accessibility.
  • Consistency in pattern writing. I've set up my own in-house style sheet so I can provide consistency in my own patterns (when writing for others, I'll use their style sheets when provided with one)
  • You are nothing without your network. Even as an indie designer with a tiny portfolio, I could not do what I do without a vast array of other people supporting me. This ranges from yarn support and test knitters to fellow designers being my sounding board and tech editors crunching my numbers.

Right now I am happy to be working within both sectors. I have had to learn on the job as I do not have a design or textile background, but I am never bored, new challenges/opportunities come knocking constantly, and I meet some incredibly interesting people. It's fair to say that people who work within this industry all have unique backgrounds and their own special stories - it's quite unlike any other industry I have ever worked in.

Addendum: I am indebted to my friend Esther Maccullum-Stewart (University of Chicester) for her definition(s)of "indie". Esther is a media reseacher with a particular interest in "indie gaming". During a conversation about online communities, we were intrigued by the many structural overlaps between the online gaming and knitting communities.