Knitting Tent

The Knitting Circle

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

It feels good to be blogging again after a hiatus caused by the intensive work required to get the new website up and running.

I wanted to write a little about the Knitting Circle activity I’ve been running as part of the Keep & Share Knitting Tent at festivals this summer, aided by Simon and a lovely team of volunteers: Sarah, Richmal, Cybèle, Tim, Amy, Lily, Kate, Steph and Deb (aka my mum). In the last few weeks we’ve been back to Latitude, and to the lovely Port Eliot for the first time.

This is the fourth year of the knitting tent and my communal knitting projects. Each year I try to develop the project design, to improve the experience (both for those taking part and logistically, for us running it) and to explore emerging ideas. Overall, I’m trying to create an engaging and accessible activity that will provide an enjoyable experience of knitting, and which will embrace knitters of all abilities, from absolute beginners to experts. Hopefully, the idea seems simple to those taking part – though, as always, to design something simple requires a lot of thought and preparation behind the scenes.

Earlier this year I heard David Gauntlett describe his eight principles for building platforms for creativity, and although they were based on the creation of digital platforms, I found that they mirrored the approach of my communal knitting activities. Most of the ideas have been pretty much at the heart of my thinking since my first projects, some unconsciously, some – like set no limits on participation and support storytelling – more consciously. Being aware of them allowed me to think about how to amplify these qualities in this year’s project.

Last year, the project was to knit ribbons, in a game of knitting consequences. People were asked to knit a narrow strip; when they finished, they left the knitting on the needles and attached a tag with a message for the next knitter. At first, we had to actively encourage people to leave a message on a tag. However, as the ribbons grew, and the knitters could see the ‘game’, the activity became more autonomous.

I wanted to develop this quality for this year’s project – to create a project where not only the tagging, but the whole principle, was easily discernable through observation, rather than explanation.

The other idea I wanted to explore was that of connection. I have recently run workshops at a few Craft Club training sessions, facilitating a mini communal knitting activity. Wanting to encourage the knitters to not worry about what they are knitting (important qualities when knitting with kids, in my opinion), I guided the group in knitting narrow strips, which started off as individual pieces but gradually became joined together. I loved seeing how, as the knitting became connected, the knitters had to physically move closer together, and the conversation became more informal and intimate. It was like the intangible experience of connection at a knitting circle, made visible.

I decided to build on this idea for the 2012 knitting activity: the Knitting Circle. I machine knitted 24 metres of narrow-width fabric, and grafted it closed to create a continuous loop (albeit with an unintended knot!). The circle was suspended at waist height on steel fencing pins, to create a free-standing structure. At many points around the circle, we picked up stitches and knitted, so that new strands were growing off the original one. Each set of knitting-in-progress was connected to the circle, and tied in a stripy plastic bag – so those who wanted to take part had a sort of lucky dip in terms of what they found inside. As the knitting grew long enough, we would join it back onto the circle to create additional loops which, in turn, could be knitted off.

Happily, the project has been a resounding success – we had loads of people taking part at both festivals. Lots of people worked out the ‘game’, and joined in without even needing to read the concise instructions I’d put up. The knitting-in-progress was ready at hand for teaching beginners, and we had french-knitting-in-progress and crochet-in-progress attached too, so everyone could be connected to the same structure. As the festivals progressed, the circle became gradually more complex and elaborate. It ebbed and flowed - at times, full of people; at others, empty, with the hanging bags and needles both showing previous activity and inviting interaction. The project became almost autonomous at times - our favourite moment was around 11.30 on the Saturday evening at Latitude, after the headline act had finished, when we looked around and found that the previously empty circle had quietly filled up with late-night knitters.

What I love about the festival knitting activities is the connection between people, the mingling and cross-pollination of conversation, and the sharing of skills and experiences. Like with the Craft Club activity, the physical material of the Knitting Circle both visibly represented these connections, and – hopefully – encouraged them. The configuration of the circle choreographed the spatial organisation of those taking part, combining them as a single (at times, very cosy!) group.

At each communal knitting project, I like to ask people to share their thoughts on tags attached to the knitting. This year, I connected this request with my PhD research: ‘share your feelings about wearing homemade clothes’. I got loads of great responses, and hope to gather more when we take the Knitting Tent and the Knitting Circle to End of the Road in September. I’ll write another post about those responses soon!

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End of the Road 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The knitting team and I had a great weekend at End of the Road festival at the beautiful Larmer Tree Gardens in Dorset. We finished our festival knitting tour with a bang, with loads of people learning to knit and crochet and plenty more (who were already adept with pins or a hook) taking part in our ribbon knitting project (find out more about the project in my previous 2011 festival posts).

The festival itself was fab, with great music and a really friendly crowd. Plus the rain held off until Sunday night which gets a big thumbs up from me. A big thank you to Lily and Sarah who were wonderful teachers as always!

Just like the other festivals we visited, we found lots of men keen to learn both crochet and knitting. And once again our visitors produced an amazing array of ribbons, and amused us with their messages. If you’re wondering what will happen to all these ribbons, keep watching this space…

Update: see the full collection of photos from End of the Road here

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Green Man 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

Our festival knitting tent tour stopped off last weekend at the wonderful Green Man festival, nestling in the Brecon Beacons near Crickhowell. For once it didn’t rain (much) which meant our festival knitting activities went at full swing all weekend. Big thanks to Verity, Kate and Tim for their sterling assistance and knit/crochet tuition.

Once again (like at Latitude) we invited people to knit ‘ribbons’: long, narrow strips of knitting approximately 6cm wide. Each ribbon was knitted by several people – one person would have a go, and when they’d finished, leave it on the needles for someone else, who was then free to change stitch or colour. We asked all the knitters to leave a message for the next person on a tag. Just like at Latitude, we ended up with lots of weird and wonderful ribbons, and an endearing array of messages.

Our next and final festival stop is End of the Road, next weekend. We’ll create another batch of ribbons there – and then I’ll begin working on what will happen to them next. I’m beginning to think of them as a study in how people (quite wonderfully) don’t follow instructions – especially interesting when knitting can sometimes be seen as a restrictive, pattern-based craft.

Update: see the full collection of photos from Green Man 2011 here

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Latitude 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Last weekend we took the Keep & Share Knitting Tent to the lovely Latitude festival near Southwold. As well as plying our wares, we taught loads of people to knit and crochet and ran a communal knitting project (mentioned in the very first paragraph of the Guardian's Latitude review). The idea was to knit ‘ribbons’ (narrow strips of knitting), with each one knitted by lots of different people. We asked people to knit or crochet as much or as little as they liked, and then to leave a message for the next knitter.

At the end of the festival, we had lots of knitted ribbons! Despite the rain, we had a great time and I’d like to thank Lily, Sarah, Steph, Rhian and Deb for their hard work as members of the knitting team.

What next? Well, we’ll be continuing the same project at Green Man and End of the Road festivals during the summer, then I’ll turn all the ribbons into something – as yet top secret. Keep following the blog to find out what!

Update: see the full collection of photos from Latitude 2011 here

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Latitude: knitters needed

Sunday, May 22, 2011

 As part of my Keep & Share activities, I run a knitting tent at various summer festivals. We sell Keep & Share knitwear and knitting supplies, and run a free drop-in activity where people can learn to knit and crochet, or just borrow needles and yarn to knit a contribution to a communal knitting project.I’m currently on the lookout for 4 competent knitters to join our knitting team for Latitude Festival this July (15th-17th). The deal is that you get a free festival ticket in exchange for spending most of your time at the knitting tent teaching people to knit! It’s a fun place to hang out (knitting being such a convivial activity and all) and you get plenty of breaks to run off and see bands etc – plus you have each evening free.Interested? Please drop me a line at amy@keepandshare.co.uk, outlining your knitting/crochet abilities (at a minimum, you need to be able to teach knit/purl/cast on/cast off, and any crochet skills are a welcome bonus) and your availability for the festival (ideally, you would arrive at the festival on Thursday afternoon/evening and stay until Sunday night or Monday morning, though there is scope for some flexibility).You’ll find more info on Latitude Festival, including travel information, here.

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