History

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.

The Vintage Shetland Project: Stories & Stitches

VS It was an early morning in March 2013 that I first heard Susan Crawford talk about her Vintage Shetland project. We were at the inaugural Edinburgh Yarn Festival catching our breaths over a morning brew before the doors opened. And then Susan started sharing her ideas and I forgot all about my cuppa. The idea was stunning: Susan was doing research into Shetland knitting, but she was not just researching a much-loved knitting tradition but she was doing so using her background in fashion history. Could a tradition such as Shetland encompass fashion history? Of course it could, Susan argued, and she wanted to write a book about Shetland knitting and fashion-as-social-history. sc

Over the next few years I saw Susan work hard on the book. Working in the Shetland Museum and Archives, she whittled down the pieces she wanted to write about - not only did they need to be unique and beautiful, but they also needed to contain multi-layered stories. The items had to tell stories about Shetland, about the people who live there, and about the vagaries of the Shetland knitwear industry. They also had to reflect larger trends within the early 20th century. Shetland knitting is a complex tapestry of interwoven stories, and Susan knew her selection had to be right. In the end she decided upon 25 pieces that she wanted to analyse in-depth and recreate. Some of the pieces proved to be technical headaches - I will come back to one of these - whilst others prompted Susan and her husband Gavin to launch a new yarn line simply so the garments could be reknitted in the 21st century to the right gauge and colours.

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Fast forward to 2015 and Susan has now launched a crow-funding venture via Pubslush. The initial goal of £12,000 was reached within a few days, but it is heartening to see how people keep wanting to support Susan's book. Anything above the goal will be spent on extra material for the book, help Susan with the cost of hiring extra hands, and take some of the pressure of the publishing process. I have been seeing much of this process up-close and it really does carry an enormous amount of pressure and stress. And I cannot help but be so proud of Susan for imagining this whole project into being and doing so with so much care. It goes without saying that Vintage Shetland backers are richly rewarded: from yarn rewards and ebooks to exceptional experiences like taking a tour of the Shetland Textile Collections with Susan or taking a special workshop at Susan and Gavin's farm.

I have my personal favourites, of course. A stunning late 1920s/early 1930s jumper knitted in natural shades with incredible geometric stitch patterns. A hugely wearable cardigan from late 1940s/early 1950s with bands of light blue and red motifs (you can see it on the left in my little photo montage - who wouldn't want that in their wardrobe?). A fabulous 1920s tunic/crossover jumper which is just so heart-achingly on-point. And then there's this beret which is deeply intriguing.

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I saw an early sample of this hat at the Crawford farm last year. The construction is quite hard to figure out and I spent ages discussing it with Susan (before she let me have a closer look at the hat!): was it some sort of strange intarsia technique? Was it constructed sideways and worked with short rows? What was going on? It turns out the strips of colourwork were re-purposed from another project of sorts (maybe swatches that the knitter couldn't bear to leave unused or maybe surplus strips knitted to line a buttonband? Maybe strips cut from a too-large project? I will let Susan tell you the actual story!) and then re-assembled to make a beret using scraps of yarns - evident if you look at how the crown shaping works. The beret looks quite straightforward at a glance, but it is one of the most technical pieces in the book. I know it was tricky getting the various gauges right between the colourwork bands worked in one direction and the 'joining' stocking stitch worked in another direction. This is what I love about knitting - it is both so straightforward and complex.

Please do check out the other participants in the blog tour - you can find details below. There are so many ways to approach Susan's project - from vintage lovers and Shetland experts to people who just love the stories Susan will be telling (like me!). I have enjoyed reading every single entry in this blog tour. This project has really captured people's imaginations.

Please also keep up with Susan via her blog which is always a great read. I also recommend you listen to her interview with Jo of Shiny Bees - it is a fantastic interview that really showcases Susan's passion for knitting history and fashion. And do support the Vintage Shetland project if you possibly can.

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TBC
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TBC
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All images copyright Susan Crawford and used with permission. 

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.

Threading West: The Great Tapestry of Scotland at Old Anchor Thread Mill

Nearly readyI am a big fan of Scottish textiles and particularly Scottish textiles heritage. I am not much of a stitcher (more about this later), but I know a piece of outstanding beauty, artistry and craftsmanship when I see it. The Great Tapestry of Scotland is such a thing and it is currently on show at Paisley's Old Anchor Thread Mill. I caught up with stitcher, event committee member and volunteer co-organiser, Paula McKeown.

First, could you tell me what The Great Tapestry of Scotland is?

The Great Tapestry of Scotland is simply Scotland's story in tapestry form.  It tells the country's history over 160 panels handstitched  by around 1,000 volunteer stitchers all over the country.

The author Alexander McCall Smith saw a tapestry depicting the Battle of Prestonpans and he loved it so much he had the idea that he would tell Scotland's story in that way.  The main challenges were really to pick what history to show and then coordinating the over 1,000 stitchers. So McCall Smith involved Alistair Moffat, the historian and Andrew Crummy, the artist.

How did you become involved in this project? I know it was a real challenge to bring the Tapestry to Paisley - but you were involved before then?

I went to see the Prestonpans Tapestry at the Anchor Mill last year and got talking to the people about stitching.  When they found out I am a stitcher, they asked if I would like to help stitch the panel they were making for the Great Tapestry of Scotland.  I jumped at the chance as I had tried to volunteer to stitch a panel already and had been told it was too late to volunteer.  I went back the next week and started stitching on the panel that the Thread Mill museum were making about tenement life in the 1930s.

I got involved in getting the Tapestry to Paisley simply by stitching on the actual Tapestry panel.  We were then offered to stitch two panels for the Diaspora tapestry so I stayed involved helping with the museum and working with other stitchers.  When the chance came to bring the Tapestry, the vice chair of the museum, Margaret Muir asked me to help.

How did the Thread Mill Museum end up showing the Tapestry at the Anchor Thread Mill? I know it is a small, local museum with limited resources.

They asked us!  We realised we couldn't do it alone so partnered with an Arts group called Weaving Musical Threads and West College Scotland. We put a joint bid together and happily the Tapestry trust was happy to give us the chance to stage it.

The Thread Mill Museum tells the story of Paisley's thread manufacturing history. Paisley was home to many mills, and the Coats and Clark families developed their businesses from Paisley, taking their threads all over the world.  Sadly all the mills in Paisley are closed now. As the mills closed, the Old Paisley society started to collect items associated with the Mills and eventually the Thread Mill Museum was opened with former mill workers acting as guides.  As time goes on unfortunately there are fewer and fewer mill workers still around, so we are always looking for new volunteers to help keep the mill stories alive.

The museum has lots of equipment and items from the mills and information about what mill workers' lives were like. We also have a lot of stitched and crochet items made from Anchor threads and yarns.  We are located in the basement of the Mile End mill building which is now a business centre.  The owner of the building, Marcus Dean, donated the space to us and helps us out too.

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Can you tell me about the different techniques used in stitching the Tapestry?

Strictly speaking, the tapestry is not a tapestry as tapestries are woven.  The techniques involved are based on crewel work embroidery which is traditionally worked on linen using wool.  The major stitches used are chain, heavy chain, stem, Quaker and various straight stitches.  The linen is from a Scottish company, Peter Greig & Co, and the wool used is Appleton's wool.  The stitchers were given a coloured drawing and wool in the those colours.  What stitches we used was up to us to decide.  The panel borders did have to be done in heavy chain stitch and the lettering was all done in Quaker stitch.

Which panels are your favourite?

So many are favourites. Naturally I love the one I stitched on - No 130 Tenement.  No 140 Cumbernauld is a big favourite of mine, the embroidery is amazingly beautiful.  The design is so modern and distinctive - and it shows how embroidery can be modern,  I love the scene from the movie Gregory's Girl in the panel.  I would have loved to have stitched on panel 107 Mill working because of the gorgeous Paisley pattern motifs in the dress.  Also Panel 105 Paisley pattern for the same reason.  Panel 92 Scots in India has much amazing colours.  Every time I see the panels, I pick a new favourite.

What should visitors know about the Tapestry exhibition?

It's open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm and open late on Wednesdays and Thursdays until 8pm.  The venue is the Atrium of the Old Anchor Thread mill -a gorgeous space.  The venue is on the 1st floor but there is a lift available.  The Thread Mill Museum is nearby but is only open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 12-4pm.

Finally, any books resources for people wanting to know more?

There have been two books so far about the Tapestry, both by Berlinn books and available via all good bookshops and at the Exhibition.  Paisley Thread museum's site is at http://paisleythreadmill.co.uk, we also have a twitter account   The tapestry website is at http://scotlandstapestry.com

Thank you Paula!

I have signed up for a stitching workshop with Paula. I haven't stitched since I was about 15 years old so I love the chance for a refresher's course. There will be other workshops running concurrently with the exhibition - keep a look out on the websites and the twitter feed for more information.

Paused

My wrist is hurting. It happens occasionally as I have hypermobile joints. Hypermobility doesn't hamper me much in everyday life - I just struggle to open jars and my balance is a tad wonky. I do have recurrent problems with my hands and wrists: constant knitting and typing will cause RSI in most people, of course, but  I am particularly susceptible. So what is a girl to do when deadlines are looming and there must be knitting? She pauses.

I have taken two days off from knitting and tried to avoid using my hands too much (*fidgets*). Instead I have polished off a few books, begun reading another, and I've celebrated my mumble-mumble birthday.

My man and I went on a jaunty little trip to Edinburgh to see The National Museum of Scotland's special exhibition on Vikings. The exhibition was mainly made up of finds from a handful of Swedish high-status settlements - interesting to me since I am so familiar with every day Danish Viking finds, but also inexplicably never really explained by the exhibition itself. The lay-out was also odd as most displays could only be viewed by one or two people at a time (we waited between five and seven minutes between each display case).

But the spindle whorls were pretty.

February 2013

For me, the Vikings feel so modern and seeing  needle-binding (again, not explained), dyeing, spinning and weaving tools just felt so .. natural. These methods are still in use, the tools are the same and we all like a bit of ornamentation on the tools we use the most.

Post-birthday the world seemed to pause and snow came tumbling down. I went out to take photos of a recently finished knitting object (and some other things but I cannot show you those). But I was stopped in my tracks.

February 2013

A trickster snowman and his dog (bear?) had been built on the pathway. I loved them. Sinister, menacing, and melting.

I did manage to take some photos but taking photos of scarves are really difficult when your Official Photographer is at work and the snow had already begun to turn slushy.

February 2013

Sarah Hatton's lovely Edith shawl/scarf knitted in Rowan Kidsilk Haze in the colourway "Fern".

I have long been wanting to knit it and since I have been working on some knitting maths lately (pro tip: never use a stitch pattern running over a prime number as your base unit), I wanted to try out Sarah's pattern because I knew her numbers would work beautifully. And I wanted the scarf too, of course! I went slightly off-pattern thanks to external distraction and the end result is soft, beautiful and a great deal more lacy than it should have been. It was a joy to knit. I love Kidsilk Haze so much.

Finally, a big thank you to my friend Paula who gave me a beautiful birthday present: two hand-stitched pendants made from silk with gorgeous, delicate flowers embroidered on top. I feel truly honoured to count some amazing crafters as friends and few are as talented as Paula.

Paused. Some time to think. Snow here and then gone. Kind gestures from people. I like my life like this.

My Lovely Woollie Horse(s)

"Did you see the 'knit your own sheep' thing outside?" - "I am not sure I want to know.." Dave and I are creatures of habit and we have frequented the same little antiques shop for years. We have come to know the guys running the place quite well: they ask me how to thread a vintage sewing machine, we bring them tea, and the banter is always exquisite. Occasionally I go home with vintage buttons. However, the guys are also very good at pulling practical jokes and I thought the 'knit your own sheep' remark was one of them.

Then I saw what they had put aside for me.

"Are they knitting looms?" one of them asked. No, not knitting looms. "I saw them in the house - this 1930s place up north - and I thought of you," the other one said. "They're yours if you want them."

And so this afternoon I became the proud (if bewildered) owner of two pre-WW2 woollie horses.

Sunday in November

They both bear brass plaques marking them out as Tulloch of Shetland woollie horses. The only thing I have been able to discern is that the V&A have a Tulloch of Shetland woollie horse in their collection (identical judging by the description? I am basing my dating upon them, incidentally). Anybody able to shed more light on this company?

So, what is a woollie horse? It is more commonly known as a jumper stretcher or a jumper board. You use them to quickly dry wool jumpers and stop the jumper stretching out of shape whilst drying. They are still being manufactured - Jamieson & Smith sell them - and are said to still being used extensively in Shetland.

Seeing as I would not use two woolie horses, I have given the second one to Ms Old Maiden Aunt. It will feel right at home in her shop window.