Three cultural consumption points in one sitting, that’s a winner! Ticked off the list were: volunteer for an organisation/ event you feel passionately about (Age UK); teach someone a skill (knitting); and get involved with/hold a debate (fuel poverty and older people). Plus a bonus point for learning a new skill.
With the free time and studio space set aside for new Wednesday Activities initiative at uni, I took the opportunity to organise a Big Knit get-together for anyone across the year groups interested in learning how to knit or teaching others how to knit. The Big Knit was the vehicle for learning a skill and having an achievable outcome that could in a small way help towards a bigger issue and spark debate and awareness of issues.
For those that don’t know, the Big Knit is a venture between Innocent smoothie drinks and Age UK. People knit small woolly hats that Innocent put on their smoothie bottles and for each drink with a hat sold 25p is given to Age UK. The issue that the charity is dealing with through the campaign is fuel poverty – as many as 24,000 older people die needlessly because of the cold every winter.
To advertise the event I made a poster that I put on the Wednesday Activity noticeboard and I made a Facebook event which I invited my VisCom pals to and encouraged them to share with their VisCom pals. I tried to make the poster engaging a humorous as knitting can be considered a ‘granny sport’ amongst the main age groups that access the studio.
To prepare for teaching a new skill and I printed off some information sheets created by Innocent so that people could refer to them and/or take them home. I also brought my iPad to show people demonstration films about knitting or to give them access to more advanced patterns if they were better knitters. I had to buy some knitting needles as I knew if beginners came to the session they wouldn’t have any of their own resources. I sourced a cheap mixed-size set of bamboo needles on Amazon and made sure they were ordered and delivered in time for the session. I had enough of my own wool already so I brought that along too. I had a planned to split the balls if more people came than I had wool for. A final thing in my kit bag were pre-knitted hats at various stages so people could see what they were working towards and see what the different stitches actually looked like. I forgot to bring some scissors but was able to pick these up in the studio cupboard.
As people came I asked them their level of experience and let them pick out a colour they liked. I showed them how to cast on and knit. I knitted along side them demonstrating as they worked with their own needles and wool. When they were working independently I was available to troubleshoot any issues they came up against. I left them to work on their three knitting rows, which gave me a chance to help other people get started or progress. I then returned to show them how to purl and create a stocking stitch for the rest of the hat.
Many people reported having been taught by their grandmothers or mothers. It seems like a real intergenerational activity
The session was to run for two hours, but by the time 12noon came around and I had to go to work the group had no notion of leaving and wished to stay to finish their hats. I assessed the situation and was happy to leave my equipment in the studio, and with a mixed ability group I asked the more experienced knitters to help out if anyone got stuck. When I returned after my lunchtime shift in the library I surprised to see everyone still knitting and determined to finish the hat. I stayed for another hour and a half before home commitments forced me to leave and by the time I got back just after 4pm there was a beautiful bundle of little hats waiting for me to post off to the charity.
I never expected the event to go for so long. People with only some knitting experience can do a hat in 30-60 minutes, so I thought two hours was enough time. If I were to run a session again I would get a complete beginner to try to the activity and time them, that way I would have a better idea of the timing. I also needed to take more account of the value of the social aspects of crafting together and how that can be just as valuable and rewarding to the group. We did chat merrily all morning, but on the whole everyone focussed on their knitting, however time still needed allocated to cover it and other distraction like cups of tea.
Some people did abandoned their knitting and I feel that if I was able to stay they could have been able to finish the hat. Nevertheless I get the sense that the group – which totalled ten throughout the day – feel like they learnt and achieved something worthwhile to themselves personally. There was, however, a sense that it was actually a very meagre contribution to assisting cold old people survive the winter. The activity attracted females mostly, allow I’m pleased that one male from third came over for a knit. He was an excellent knitter and didn’t need any help and whizzed off long line stocking stitch in no time. I tried to make sure the advertising was not female centric, but granted using ‘big hairy balls’ may have been perceived as gay by insecure males. The perception of modern day knitting is stereotypical a female hobby craft, so perhaps more needs to be done so it feels like it’s for them.
We tried to have a debate about the winter fuel allowance, but being very like minded people we all agreed very quickly that it should be means tested and the overall budget should be better distributed rather than reduced because the better off don’t need any.
Two of the course tutors popped by to see the knitting action and to mention that very evil Coca Cola owned Innocent and dumbed a snow storm of cynicism on the activity. To me the activity raised awareness of the issues amongst our group (win!), brought us closer together (win!), we learnt new skills that could be the little acorns for a better world one day (win!), and we fund raised for a charity (win!). Dancing with the devil is sometimes a necessity and can be better than doing nothing.
At the event I also learnt a new skill – how to efficiently cast on the stitches. Previously I knitted them on but Bhakti showed me how to loop them on. It was much quicker and neater, and also much easier for others to pick up how to do it.
When the uni-work loads feels a little less like a crushing ton of bricks I will try to do some demo videos for the blog so participants can refer to them later when they try some more knitting.