10 years of Keep & Share!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Well, it's taken me a couple of weeks to get round to blogging - but I'm pleased to confirm that on 21 August we celebrated the tenth anniversary of Keep & Share with a fab party at London knitting hub Prick Your Finger.

The party incorporated a number of celebratory activities:

  • An exhibition of Keep & Share knitwear from the archive (click here to see the pieces on show, in the store section) and my PhD re-knitting 'tester' jumper
  • Plus two new pieces: The Backbone of Britain and Knitting Circle tags 2011-13 (follow the links to find out more)
  • I gave a talk about my work over the past decade (which I recorded - click here to watch)
  • And launched a 16-page pamphlet telling the story of the first ten years of Keep & Share (click here to download the pdf or request a hard copy)

It was a lovely do - thanks to everyone who came! And a massive thank you to Rachael Matthews of Prick Your Finger for hosting the party and exhibition!

You can read Rachael's blog post about the party here, and a post by Sarah Klymkiw on the TRAID blog here.

The exhibition will be up until Saturday 20 September, so you've still got a couple of weeks to check it out...


Celebrating ten years: the Backbone of Britain

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Yesterday I popped into knit mecca Prick Your Finger in Bethnal Green to firm up my exhibition-and-celebration plans with the lovely Rachael Matthews. We're celebrating ten years (to the day) of Keep & Share, with a party next Thursday. The exhibition will stay up for a month or so, including a range of pieces from the Keep & Share archive, plus a new work called The Backbone of Britain.

This work comes with a story.

It is made from a collection of twenty cardigans which my dad found stashed in a chest of drawers when he was clearing out my great aunt's house - hand knitted, seemingly unworn, all acrylic. Within the collection, there is a range of styles - although there are multiple versions of several patterns, knitted in different colours and sizes. We think my nana, Gladys (Auntie Alice's sister), knitted them - but can't be sure, as she died a few years before they were found. My nana was a prolific knitter, and taught me to knit when I was little, so this pile of cardigans felt emotionally significant, as well as representing a staggering amount of effort.

For obvious reasons, I ended up with this collection of cardigans. I didn't feel a desire to wear any of them - despite my cardigan fetish, I don't 'do' acrylic - but didn't feel I could get rid of them either. So, for years they were stashed away in a cupboard, and each time I saw them, I felt guilty.

Last autumn I reorganised the studio, and the cardigans re-emerged from the cupboard. Still, I didn't know what to do with them. The huge pile of knitting continued to lurk, as I shifted it from surface to surface in the studio. The cardigans needed to be resolved!

A little later in the autumn, I met my wonderful friend Celia Pym, told her about the cardigans and asked for her help. Celia - accompanied by Rachael - came to visit me in Hereford on a gloriously sunny day. We drank tea and ate cake and looked at the cardigans together... talked about them... played with them. As you will see in the photos, the weight of all this skill and time and effort weighed heavily on our shoulders for a while! (That's Celia with her head in her hands.) But as we talked and played, a plan began to emerge. The cardigans organised themselves into a new form which will be unveiled at Prick Your Finger in a week's time.

Nana, or whoever knitted these cardigans originally, made most of this work. I have just arranged it a little. Many, many thanks to Celia and Rachael for their help!

During the playing process, we were thinking about the amount of effort that women like my nana have put into catering (and over-catering) for their families' knitwear needs over the years. Rachael suggested that we might think of such effort as the Backbone of Britain - and the name stuck.

Please come and see! All are welcome at the tenth anniversary celebration on Thursday 21st August, 2014 at Prick Your Finger, 260 Globe Road, E2 0JD - join us to celebrate between 6pm and 9pm. I’ll be giving a slideshow talk – sharing my experiences of a decade in experimental slow fashion knitting – at 7pm. 


Externalities and social goods

Thursday, June 26, 2014

I’ve been so busy recently - reading, writing, moving the studio - that I haven’t had chance to blog. But I have lots of ideas for things I want to blog about! So I have reminded myself that I don’t need to write the perfect blog post about each one. I figure that it’s better to capture the idea, even if it’s somewhat half-baked, than not at all. 

Therefore - here we go with one topic that was sparked by a paper I read for the research project I’m working on, Design Routes.

The topic is the not-particularly-exciting-sounding question of ‘externalities’. Externalities are a concept in economics, which I have heard discussed in terms of sustainability.

Simply speaking (and blatantly borrowing from Wikipedia), externalities are costs that affect a party who did not choose to incur that cost. So, for example, if an industry produces air pollution, which negatively affects the environment (and other people), and the cost of that pollution is not included in the price of the products the industry produces - then that cost is an externality. 

This is a big problem in sustainability terms, because it means that the price we pay for goods does not reflect their true cost in environmental and social terms - and so the economic system we live within encourages us to produce and consume at rates which are literally unsustainable.

(Of course, this whole concept is rather narrow-minded, in that it assumes that you can put a price on everything - and suggests that negative impacts are ok, as long as they are costed in. But that’s a problem of economics in general, rather than externalities specifically, I think. I certainly don’t want to see the world through the prism of the market, but I think you can borrow the idea to think about costs in broader, non-quantified terms - such as human costs, social costs, and environmental costs. That would probably (hopefully?!) horrify an economist, but it works for me.)

The other day I came across a paper by Jeff Dayton-Johnson (download it here) about an economic framework for ‘cultural products’ - such as, in the case of our project, designs and products which are associated with particular places, and traditional craft processes. He argues that these cultural products contribute to ‘social goods’ - things which benefit society, like social cohesion and a sense of identity. Thus, the benefits are felt by third parties, external to the organisations and businesses which are producing the cultural products themselves. 

Reading this, I suddenly realised that externalities can be positive, as well as negative. (Of course, when I read the Wikipedia page, this was pointed out right away. But it was a revelation to me!)

The paper describes four different types of positive externality associated with cultural products. I particularly like the idea of ‘intergenerational externalities’, in which actions today contribute to a ‘dense and diversified cultural base’ which encourages and enables action in the future - it relates strongly to my idea of the fashion commons.

However, the producers of these cultural products don’t receive payment for the wider benefits they create, or at least contribute to. This is a problem because - to refer to trusty Wikipedia again: ‘if there are external benefits … less of the good may be produced than would be the case if the producer were to receive payment for the external benefits to others’. 

I’m certainly not arguing that we should try to quantify social goods - or that craft makers should somehow receive a payment in exchange for their contribution to, say, social cohesion - but I do think that this idea of positive externalities is a useful one in arguing for the importance and value of place-related products and traditional craft processes, beyond the price on the tag.