Knitting as code, rebellion or just an extreme sport

This article from the Telegraph from 2014 dropped into my timeline today. It outlines the spectacular (and occasionally gory) knitting practices out there. There were women using knitting for code in the war, knitting at the guillotine, even an extraordinary set of islands in Peru that are basically knitted out of reeds. You can find the article at

Yarn Bomb number 3

We’ve worked hard this term to create a yarn bomb that builds on last term’s theme but is also different. Unsurprisingly, we chose Spring and have been knitting and crocheting flowers, butterflies, garlands and squares. A late arrival to the theme were pom pom chicks who are currently standing guard over the main office.

A very big part of the project is the construction. We walked around with various items trying them out, finding the very best place to fit them in. The teamwork required to install a yarn bomb relies on a keen eye or two, the power of discernment but also, more imporantly a true spirit of adventure. It may be that you are wondering where this spirit finds its outlet but if you’ve ever stepped from chair to chair, trying to find the exact spot where that carefully crocheted butterfly will hand, you’ll know what I mean.

It’s one of the real pleasures of installing a yarn bomb to witness other people’s reactions. I’ve spotted a number of staff and students taking photos, stroking the wool and gently repositioning the odd leaning chick. Because we have hung butterflies and flowers on the ceiling people are looking up and reaching to touch them. A yarn bomb is definitely a hands on experience, from its very beginnings to the finished ‘bomb’.

It’s always been about wool

What is knitting?

If you’ve ever wondered where the word comes from (or even if you haven’t) here’s a quick overview:

The word is derived from knot and ultimately from the Old English cnyttan, to knot.

Nålebinding (Danish: literally “binding with a needle” or “needle-binding”) is a fabric creation technique predating both knitting and crochet. That said, one of the earliest known examples of true knitting was cotton socks with stranded knit color patterns found in Egypt from the end of the first millennium AD.

The first commercial knitting guilds appear in Western Europe in the early fifteenth century (Tournai in 1429, Barcelona in 1496). The Guild of Saint Fiacre was founded in Paris in 1527 but the archives mention an organization (not necessarily a guild) of knitters from 1268.

With the invention of the knitting machine, knitting “by hand” became a craft used by country people with easy access to fiber. Similar to quilting, spinning, and needlepoint, hand knitting became a leisure activity for the wealthy.

It seems that we’ve moved on a lot from this leisure activity for the wealthy. When I was at primary school, all jumpers and cardigans were knitted – not from choice – but from necessity. It simply wasn’t an option to buy a school jumper so we were forced to wear the you’ll-grow-into-it knitted garment. This may explain why a whole generation or more had an aversion to home made knitwear made out of scratchy  wool/acrylic and why now, when we choose to knit or crochet, we are choose yarn that is the very opposite of utility yarn. Whilst it may no longer be the past-time of the wealthy, there’s no denying that wool can be very expensive – but it doesn’t need to be.

We’ve been buying inexpensive wool/acrylic mixes for our next project which is all about shape and colour. Perhaps, importantly, we are thinking creatively about how to use our colours, and again, perhaps most importantly of all, we are thinking as a group of workers with wool.

Often, I look around at us all knitting and crocheting in the common room and am reminded of how many artists have chosen the knitter as inspiration. Is it the tranquility of features absorbed in the task? Is it something about the posture of the knitter, the bent neck, the symmetry of hands at work? Is it perhaps the contrast between sitter and their environment? For us, it is all of these things and a great deal more.



Yarn bombing

Yarn bomb flower

To Yarn Bomb – Yarn bombing, yarnbombing, yarn storming, guerrilla knitting, kniffiti, urban knitting or graffiti knitting is a type of graffiti or street art that employs colourful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre rather than paint or chalk.

Our lunch time knitting sessions have a new focus and we are knitting and crocheting with a view to a departmental yarn bomb. The project has inspired non-knitters to pick up needles and non-knitters and non-crocheters to start making pom poms.

It’s one of life’s small pleasures to see somebody who has always wanted to be knitter discovering the magic that 2 sticks and a ball of wool can create.

Knitting paper chains

In our working lives success is measured in meeting targets, exceeding goals, being innovative and proactive and above all, doing our jobs well. Knitting isn’t all that different except as the holder of the needles you get to be the boss. You set the goals, you choose the pattern (beginner, intermediate, advanced), you choose your wool and then it’s all up to you. Your workforce is comprised of balls of yarn and a needle or two and it’s up to you to make them work.

Not everything will be a success. I have jumpers with one arm longer than the other, hats that are too large for a human head, a sock with no foot in it (that’s the most tricky part) and more Granny Squares that challenge the concept of ‘square’ than I can count. Yet each of these attempts are one step closer to the perfect jumper, hat, sock and square. I can’t say that I’ve mastered all of the above but I am perfectly happy to keep trying to meet my own targets.Our yarn bombing project is a truly collaborative endeavour and the enthusiasm for it seems unstoppable. Watch this space.

What Knitting Can Teach Us About Parenting

This is an interesting article that begins with a discussion on how wonderful some knitting websites are and how, on the whole, people are generous with their time, their ideas and their positive comments. It then draws a harsh parallel with the practical issues surrounding parenting. The article pays attention to the harsh criticism and parent shaming that seems to be rife on social media sites where it seems perfectly acceptable to be downright rude about somebody’s children and where the old adage ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’ has been abandoned in favour of harsh, unmeasured criticism.

This is perhaps a rather unorthodox way of talking about parenting but it does make sense. As parents we create our children, they become our great project, knitted up with care and love into what we hope will be our finest work, a work to be admired, cherished and loved for many years to come. What then would we do if others set out to pick apart this project and begin to unravel the good work? I guess we re-knit. We pick up the stitches and carry on.

I am often in awe of great knitters but maybe we just don’t take enough time to be in awe of great parenting, or perhaps more importantly, we seem to have plenty of time for parent shaming.

You can read this article at


Betsan Corkhill is the founder of Stitchlinks – as Betsan says”

Stitchlinks is a Community Interest Company (CIC) which is a non-profit organisation.

It has three arms –

  • A supportive community for anyone who enjoys, or wishes to enjoy, the therapeutic benefits of crafts, particulary knitting. Use it to improve your health and wellbeing whether you are fit and well or living with a longterm medical condition.
  • A research arm which is pioneering research into the therapeutic benefits of knitting and social activity groups.
  • A resource for clinicians, teachers, group leaders, the craft trade and other professionals who wish to use knitting therapeutically.  (

I can really recommend both the site and signing up for the newsletters. Stitchlinks if full of both inspiring and informative ideas that explain how useful knitting and crochet (and indeed any kind of craft) can be in providing a space to concentrate the mind. Sometimes you just need something simple to work on – something that is almost automatic – a square or a simple scarf, and sometimes you  need something very distracting. For me, this is anything that needs counting. Having to focus on the work in hand allows very little space for anything else.
Do take time to explore the wonderful Stitchlinks site. It’s time very well spent.

What we’ve been working on

Our first harvest of Japanese flowers

Some of us are enthusiastic amateurs, some much more accomplished and a great number of us are keen beginners. We started with a bit of crochet, which, once mastered, is a very easy way to make something quickly. Whilst knitting and crocheting is not all about speed, there is something very satisfying about an ‘automatic’ project – something that is completed in one or two sittings. These flowers require some basic crochet skills, just enough concentration to be absorbing and are very quick to do. Making a beautiful blanket might take a while but that’s what our lunchtime sessions are for.

You can find an easy to follow pattern here