education

Is this my ultimate knitting book?

As a knitting designer, tech editor, writer, pattern writer, teacher and all round knitting nerd, I have an ever growing collection of reference books from the iconic The Principles Of Knitting by June Hemmon Hyatt and a 1960s Odhams Knitting Encylopaedia (a lucky charity shop find), to a well over a dozen stitch dictionaries. There are books on pattern writing and garment construction, books on fibres and yarn production, books on different styles of socks, on hat shaping, etc, etc.

I love learning about my craft and I use these books regularly: to find the best techniques; looking to see if an idea you have, already has an established technique; refreshing my memory about something; or just getting a new perspective or some inspiration,

So I was delighted to be asked if I wanted to review Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book – a perfect book for me to write about both here and on the UK Hand Knitting blog which I regularly write.

This is an impressive and comprehensive tome with more than 350 pages of information and 1,600 photographs and illustrations. I have pictured it here with me to give an idea of scale – warning, it weights a lot.

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This is an update of Vogue Knitting’s original encyclopaedia published in 1989. Given the changes in knitting fashions, the developments in yarn, needles and techniques that we have seen in recent years, the company decided it was time for a full revision and have added 70 pages to the original.

I did occasionally find the US terminology can be a bit distracting – I always do – but it didn’t stop this being an incredibly useful resource for any knitter who wants to check a technique, understand more about yarn or see how a sock, sweater of shawl is constructed.

There are chapters explaining about  types of yarns and needles and caring for your knits, through basic techniques to more complex knitting types and details of how many knitted items are constructed and even a guide to basic designing.

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All the techniques sections have clear, easy to understand pictures and illustrations. I did find one or two technical sections (especially in colourwork) that might have benefited from a bit more explanation but these are in the minority.

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And I will never be stuck for a cast on or cast off ever again. There are instructions for dozens of each included. I do know a cast off that isn’t included but have only done about half the cast ons.

I will certainly find this book useful but I can’t describe it as my ultimate knitting resource because I am sure to find yet more reference books in the future. That said I plan to master all the cast ons that were new to be in the coming months.

However I think this is a book that has a wider audience than obsessive, professional knitting geeks like me. If you just want to have one knitting reference book to help you with new techniques, to inspire, challenge and support you with your yarn craft, this is an excellent choice. And you could join me in my cast on challenge.

Plus if you have had an idea for your own knitting design for a sweater, hat or socks there is a section to guide you through the basics of making this a reality step by step.

This is definitely a reference book for all types of keen knitter – as well as offering a mini bicep work out.

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Yarn, social history and award-winning ice cream - perfect day out

I recently had a day trip to New Lanark, the model mill village in Scotland.

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Prior to my trip I'd only really thought of New Lanark in terms of the lovely, hard wearing, great value knitting wool produced on the site and that people said it  was an interesting place for a day out.

That sounded good, especially with the shopping opportunities, but what I found was even better. I'm fascinated by social history and studied politics so the work of utilitarians such as Jeremy Bentham and early socialist idealists have always been an interest. It is also a world heritage site - and I do like to get to a few of those every year.

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Early on the guided tour we were shown the office (above) of Robert Owen the second owner of the mills and the man behind most of the interesting social experiments that happened there. The guide pointed out that the curved design meant Owen could see right round the site. I immediately thought "panopticon" - one of Jeremy Bentham's big ideas. So it was exciting a few minutes later when she explained how Owen was a disciple of Bentham and had put his ideas into practice in New Lanark.

This meant good living conditions for workers (though not as nice as Owen;s), decent wages (comparatively for the time) and education for children. It also meant compulsory self-improvement for all and the concept of everyone being observed leading to better behaviour. Not all of Owen's ideas sit well with a modern audience but we learnt about the influence his thinking had on both the co-operative and the union movements. He is certainly someone I will read more about - especially his valuing skills.

After our education, we had some play on the pod ride telling us more about the history of the mills - Owen believed leisure and play were important too - and then we ended up on a working mill floor where knitting wool was being spun.

Mill floor

The machines are still powered by the river as they were back in the mill's heyday but the waterwheels have been replaced by modern turbine technology. And it was good to see that the site is more than a museum. The yarn business is a real commercial enterprise and so the machines were running to purpose and not just to show us that textile mills are busy and noisy.

In fact as you can see below the yarn coming off the machines was definitely desirable - but it was alright, there was a factory shop.

New lanark yarn Collage

And if all that plus a roof garden and a waterfall isn't enough, we were delighted to follow our lunch by sampling the award winning ice cream flavours.

This is somewhere I'll visit again.

And yes, I did leave with a large amount of yarn. More on that as it turns into finished objects and patterns.

 

 

 


Creating a square to support knitting heritage

The Knitting and Crochet Guild holds a bigger archive of knitting and crochet patterns, items and hooks and needles than the Victoria and Albert Museum, with items dating back to 1836.

Such a valuable resource needs protecting and maintaining, so a few weeks ago I was delighted to come across a competition run by Yarn Stories to create a blanket pattern that would raise money to support the archive.

The first stage of the competition was to create a 15cm square in DK yarn inspired of images of items in the archive

 I'd recently be working on a design for a vintage-style hat and mittens with a diamond cable and eyelet pattern. 

Birdies all

The pattern was a single cable column but looking at the archive pictures I thought of it again and realised that a double version would make an interesting square which in turn could act as a swatch for a scarf that could in the future be added to the Birdie pattern set.

Then I look for some colourful yarn to make the square - the Yarn Stories range uses some vibrant colours, so I choose this orange and created by square.

IMG_0788twThe square before posting off

In the last few days I heard that my square will be one of 10 designs that make up the final blanket. It is great that it will help support this valuable archive and I'm really looking forward to seeing it in the chosen yarn alongside the other squares.

It is also exciting that there will be a public vote to choose a winner from the 10 squares - as soon as I know more I'll share it here and lots of other places.

 

 


Attitudes to arts education giving me 1980s flashbacks

Standing on a train platform the other day I could have been transported back to the 80s. To the right a poster for a Stallone movie, to the left a Schwarzenegger one. A new Bowie single out. Oh yes, and headlines about recession.

But it was a very 21st century phenomenon that really made me think of the 80s –  the podcast I was listening to featured Sir Christopher Frayling, former head of the Royal College of Art and author of On Craftsmanship towards a new Bauhaus, talking about the current devaluing of arts education – especially in relation to design and making.

Like outgoing chair of the Arts Council in England Liz Forgan, he was decrying the fact that arts subjects have been left out of the core curriculum for the reforms of secondary education in England.  

Frayling was also talking about how the Russell Group of universities did not recognise arts and design subjects as important

It was this downgrading of the value of arts, design and making that took me back to the 1980s and an interview for a place at Cambridge that may well have set me on a very different course to the one my teachers anticipated back then.

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Me in the 80s - I'm the stoppy one on the left! 

At that point being very able at maths and sciences I was on track for an engineering degree. I already had gained my maths A level a year early and thanks to a combination of my own desire to pursue all by interests, a school that believed in diversity and my natural traits of overachieving and bloodymindness, was now studying for art, further maths and physics A levels, as well as fitting in a Drama O level/GCSE.

So there I was in Cambridge meeting a senior member of the engineering department feeling nervous but OK because I’d already achieved one of the standards for entry. So it was a shock to be described as a “typical female” who couldn’t make up her mind about science v arts. The attitude was that art was a waste of my time – despite my arguments that spacial awareness and an aesthetic sense were in my view important skills exhibited by many engineers.

This was the first time I had really encountered the attitude that art and design was a lesser type of education or skills. It was a shock – especially to someone who came from a family filled with artists and makers.

It was that experience that made me think beyond my expected career path and I’ve spent all my adult life in one creative sector or another – theatre, TV, publishing, craft.

Over the years there has been a change in this divide between science and engineering and the designers and makers – note the rise in discipline of product design. So it is depressing to think that education in the UK might be returning to the attitudes I experienced in that dim Cambridge study. It also goes hand in hand with the lack of publicity given to the value of design and making skills, include heritage crafts, to the UK economy.

We risk returning to the assumption that art education is about creating pretty pictures and not about how visual skills can equip people to find different types of solutions to problems. And those different approaches can be as important to great innovation as research  in lab.

For the UK to be a success we need the skills of science and engineering and the skills of art and design to turn the ideas of the former into great products.