Current Affairs

New pattern: The very adaptable Joan

Meet Joan a very versatile knitted T-shirt that you can find in the latest issue of Knitting magazine (issue 171).

Joan tee kn171 sept 2017

Joan was inspired by Lucy Liu's character Joan Watson in the Elementary TV series. The character has a fabulous selection of knitwear and favours layers with long-sleeved t-shirts under knits, stripes and colour blocks. So I wanted to create an easy wear top that would look good on its own or over a long-sleeved tee and a design that would allow knitters to have a lot of colour options.

For that reason it is knitted in Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino. This sportweight yarn comes in a vast range of colours giving everyone the opportunity to choose their ultimate stripe combo.

Baby cashThe choice for the sample was to fit with the magazine's Americas theme and I was very pleased how the two blues worked with the red but I am planning a couple of alternatives for myself - one with turquoise and purple and one with orange where the red features in the sample.

What colours would you choose? I'd love to see your choices

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.

80s style copy

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.

An Olympic volunteer and knitter feels insulted

  Knit 155I’m a volunteer for London 2012 and will be part of the team delivering the fencing events at both the Olympics and Paralympics. I’m embracing all the opportunities to experience an Olympic Games first hand so when an opportunity came up recently to volunteer in another capacity thanks to my crafting skills I was there with my nimble fingers.

As a result in the past week I’ve spent one day sewing top secret costumes for the opening ceremony and another learning about wheelchair fencing equipment with some of the British wheelchair fencing squad who we hope to see at the games.

At the same time I’ve been planning my “Games time” knitting. Small projects that will fit in my gamesmaker bag that I can work on while travelling to and from shifts and on my breaks. My plan is to take part in the giant worldwide knit/crochet/spin-a-long that is the Ravelympics. This event founded on the yarncraft online community Ravelry encourages knitters, etc, to take part in challenges while viewing the Olympic Games. It features events such as the “single skein sprint” and the “socks putt” and to set themselves goals to achieve in the Olympic period – ie when the flame is burning in the stadium.

The event which ran during Beijing and Vancouver games has the double effect of raising awareness of the Games and challenging crafters to new skill levels. It creates a positive worldwide viewing party for the Games where crafters share their progress and discuss what they’ve been watching.

It would not be unexpected to come across, for example, the comment: “The rowing was so exciting I dropped all my stitches during the coxless fours finals”.

It is all about creating virtual participation.

So as a supporter of the Games and of Ravelry – I’m even the founder of a discussion group for ravellers who are also gamesmakers – I found the tone of a letter from the US Olympic Committee to Ravelry suggesting the event breaches Olympic trademarks insulting.

While all Olympic committees need to ensure that commercial organisations are not unfairly trading on the back of the Games and that sponsors interests are maintained (the sports need the funding), going after a non-commercial effort that celebrates the Olympics seems counter-productive.

But if the USOC legal department thought it had to pursue the matter, there was, as my mother would have said, no need to be rude about it.

The offending part of the letter is as follows:

“We believe using the name ‘Ravelympics’ for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games. In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.”

Well quite frankly, the USOC is managing to be disrespectful to millions of of people who have great respect for sportspeople and others who have worked hard to perfect a skill

I have been privileged to witness the hard work of athletes close-up and the fact on one occasion that I knitted in the same room as they were preparing didn’t seem to bother them. The fact that I am highly skilled at an activity is likely to raise my appreciation of their skills not insult them.

As I write, the USOC Facebook page is swamped with comments from crafters and #Ravelympics is trending on Twitter. The 2m or so Ravelry members are clearly passionate individuals with a good grasp of social media.

Surely these are the people we want on the side of the Olympics, enthusiastically sharing news of the events their watching and sharing experiences and encouraging other people to watch the Games (and therefore see all the sponsor logos) – not angry and alienated.


A few hours after my post joined many others on this issue and contributed to the online storm, the USOC issued a statement intended to pour oil on troubled waters.

"The letter sent to the organizers of the Ravelympics was a standard-form cease and desist letter that explained why we need to protect our trademarks in legal terms. Rest assured, as an organization that has many passionate knitters, we never intended to make this a personal attack on the knitting community or to suggest that knitters are not supportive of Team USA.

We apologize for any insult and appreciate your support. We embrace hand-crafted American goods as we currently have the Annin Flagmakers of New Jersey stitching a custom-made American flag to accompany our team to the Olympic Games in London. To show our support of the Ravelry community, we would welcome any handmade items that you would like to create to travel with, and motivate, our team at the 2012 Games."

Well, it is an attempt at an apology. But it rather misses the point the sentences that caused the offence are not part of a standard-form letter, they are specific to Ravelry and imply that knitters are disrespectful of Olympic athletes.

On the other hand it is a public statement intended as an apology and that is quite an achievement for the fibre community.

What we don't know is where this leaves the Ravelympics themselves.

Unravelling NHS

This morning the knitivist GingerKnits of p/hop fame had a moment of genius, coming up with the prefect metaphor for everyone worried/angry about the impact of the current NHS reforms.

The idea is to knit an NHS logo - the bigger the better is how one conversation is going - documenting with video or photographs the time it takes to craft something. I'm keen to get a group together to craft a logo while talking (on camera) about why the NHS is important to them. 

And then to show how quickly it can be unravelled - with a giant version for example this could be done outside a hospital, DH building, etc.

There is also the idea that you could craft other objects that show what the NHS means for you - an inhaler, incubator, healthy limbs - using the same recording and ripping approach.

At the moment this is the germ of a protest idea but @GingerKnits, the Undercover Owl (@UndercoverOwl) and me (@lpurplepenguin) are co-ordinating the suggestions on twitter (#unravellingNHS - my major creative contribution so far), via our blogs and on Ravelry

NHS-BlackI'm paricularly keen to hear about ideas for recording the projects and showing the passage of time, and for help working out patterns for the letters N, H, S - especially for a freestanding S.

If you are angry or frustrated about the NHS changes, this could be the protest for you encorporating as it does the beneficial mental health and calming affects of craft.

A bad case of sleevitis

Why is that sleeves seem such of a struggle sometimes. Is it simply that by the time I reach the second sleeve of a garment, I know the pattern inside out and there's no real challenge because I've worked out any resizing by then?

In an effort to curb my usual startitis problems, I have vowed to complete my current WIPs before embarking on anything new - unless of course I can come up with a good reason why, for example, nothing is suitable as a commuter knit.

However disaster has struck. I now have three sleeves to finish. One of these is the second sleeve for the fiddly chevron lace top by Kim Hargreaves.

Knit_112_medium So this is a normal case of the sleeve problem - half way up and just dying to reach the finishing off because I'm fickle and all that lovely stashed yarn is calling out.

But on the other garment I'm still on sleeve one - the problem there is that this is the 2nd version of Sally Melville's A Gray Cardigan I've produced in quick succession. And yes I've said it is a keeper and that I'll probably knit other versions in the future, I'm failing badly on the sleeves.

On the other hand I plan to watch 90mins of political debate tonight so that might help matters (or my sleevitis may turn out to #nickcleggsfault).