18th July 2011 - Rachael Lloyd
Here at St Pancras we recently expanded our Art and Craft section, as part of preparations to wave a big, sticky-handed 'hello' (too much craft glue again) to the University of the Arts campus when it relocates to the regenerated King's Cross area later this year.
But we're not the only ones getting our scissors and glue guns out. According to recent statistics from Nielsen Bookscan, the single biggest area of growth in book sales last year was in Art & Craft, which rose 12.9% in 2010 from the year before, with particular emphasis on handicrafts such as knitting, sewing and crocheting.
Who can say why the make-do-and-mend culture has become so popular, nay, even fashionable? Perhaps it's simply a combination of frugality in hard times and the revival of interest in a folksy ethic: a desire in this digitised media-driven world (where having 'creative' in your job title usually means that no one knows exactly what you do), to revitalise the simple pleasure of working with one's hands.
Maybe at this point you're thinking, "That's all very well, but I've no expertise with craft". Well, neither have I. I can't sew; I can't draw. I remember a disastrous project at primary school involving a house made out of cereal boxes (it collapsed) and I used to try and make my own clothes in university, the product of which were badly-rendered asymmetric tops, garnished with badly sewn-on ribbon and badges made with a children's badge-maker from Argos.
However, I do knit, and though I've never made anything much more adventurous than a scarf or a blanket, it's vastly enjoyable. I do believe anyone can knit... and yes, I know men who knit too. And if a child can do it, then so can you.
The best thing about knitting is that the activity itself is soothing, therapeutic, vaguely hypnotic and can be done in front of the wireless (sorry...I mean podcast) or when chatting with friends (hence the hugely popular rise in knitting circles - another antidote to the impersonality of social networking sites perhaps). Indeed, the process itself is so fun that arguably the end product doesn't matter. It's the process that counts. So, in the spirit of the Knit 1 Pass It On campaign, I urge you to take up needles and wool and give it a go!
I do admire craft that's intended for alternative purposes. As an eternally amateur knitter (despite being descended from a reputedly champion Shetlandish knitter who knocked out Fair Isle sweaters like a one-woman factory), I am constantly in a state of jealous amazement when people show me their new baby's hand-knitted cape or an uncanny rendering of Audrey Hepburn in wool (see right). And imagine being so non-precious about what you make - or so precious about your surroundings - that you would guerrilla knit your way around the city, clothing lampposts and making cushions for park benches, such as these mavericks at Knit the City. Rebel knitting, graffiti knitting and yarnstorming are all on the rise.
One of the loveliest examples of this was the book Knit Your Own Royal Wedding, a phenomenal bestseller at Foyles last April. I truly hope some people actually did use the patterns and birth some woolly Will n' Kates, or even a tableau vivant of the big event. A sort of knit-o-rama, if you will.
Knitting and literature also have a fine tradition of intertwining. One of my favourite initiatives is the Poetry Society's Knit A Poem, a creative double whammy which is touring the UK. What a creative way to get the printed word onto the streets.
Rachael's favourite knitting books
Stitch 'n Bitch Handbook by Debbie Stoller
The original and best of the Stitch 'n Bitch franchise. Has a lovely vintage feel and some greatpatterns, plus some of their tips and tricks are indispensible for beginners. The Stitch 'n Bitch team hold great events, such as Movember, where everyone wore knitted moustaches.
Sock Knitting Kit by Alyce Benevides & Jacqueline Miles
Just a really cute book, and comes with needle and yarn. Socks are easy-peasy to knit.
Simple Knitting by Erika Knight
Lovely neutral designs, very classic and clean with nice simple illustrations.
Purls of Wisdom: The Book of Knitting by Jenny Lord
Great for a beginners - cowls, ipod socks, scarves and cuffs are all good places to start and the patterns here are wearable without being impossible.
How to Knit by Fiona Watt & Stella Baggott
A great manual for kids - or young-at-heart adults.
Whimsical Little Knits by Ysolde Teague
What it says on the tin. Something to aspire to once you've got more advanced, as the patterns are simply gorgeous.
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