And the conversation continues

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Let me start by saying this is a really, really quick blog post. As you know if you follow me on IG and here on the blog I’m primary carer for my elderly parents and at the moment they rightfully take priority.

The long overdue discussions of diversity and racism in fibre community have somewhat cooled down over on Instagram but last week (I think at least, last week was a bit of a blur) Casey Forbes, co-founder of Ravelry, started a new forum thread ‘Racism in the yarn community’.  You’ll need to join up which costs nothing and you can read and contribute to the discussion by following the link. Just click here

When you login on the front page you’ll find there also a new series called Humans of Ravelry which aims to feature individuals who are doing particularly interesting work in the fibre community be it teaching, designing, charitable work, blogging or helping out in their forums. The first person to be features is Dana (dwj1978!) whose blog Yards of Happiness blog chronicles the knitted projects she produces for her, her husband and her two wee dogs Cher and Jellybean. I’ve never met Dana but she has an amazingly stylish and colourful Instagram feed plus an incredible smile  that would brighten any day so follow her on IG here.

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I’m hoping to be working on the POC Designers and Crafters list this week and will let you know when it’s been updated, this time with Asian knitters and crafters……

Thought you’d like that.

J x

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The work of the POC Designers and Crafters list

I started the the POC Designers and Crafters list last August before the current wave of discussion over on Instagram about racism in the knitting  / fibre community. It came about because I wanted to challenge the statement ‘black people don’t knit – they crochet’ which formed the basis of @lhamiltonbrown’s MA RCA dissertation ‘Myth: Black People Don’t Knit – the importance of art and oral histories for documenting the experiences of black knitters’. To find out more about Lorna click here. 

For my part I simply asked the question ‘how many black knitwear designers can you name?’ because I genuinely couldn’t believe that I, as a black hand knit designer, could be one of so very few. The responses to my IG callout revealed many names of designers, makers, indie dyers, bloggers and podcasters working across knit. crochet, weave, embroidery and a host of other disciplines some of whom I knew and others of whom I wasn’t aware. The other thing I learnt, thanks to comments from the likes of Suraya Hussein @mahliqawire and Asian knitter and spinning teacher @su.krita was that as well as black talent being under represented; asian talents were too. So I chose to use the acronym POC in order to encompass all non white people hence people of colour. (Since then I’ve come to learn the BIPOC acronym for Black Indigenous People of Colour). At this point I feel I need to emphasise that this is the the only time I have or ever will make the type of definition that excludes a group on the basis of skin colour or ethnicity. Just in case you don’t know me well enough – and I’ve had quite a few new followers since this whole discussion took off again like a bat out of hell – I feel I need to state this quite plainly. I do not discriminate against white people, if I did I wouldn’t be married. 

I’m not a bitter black woman with an axe to grind. I’ve been very fortunate to work with lots of good people none of whom gave a damn about whether or not I was black. They were simply interested in my talent. Unfortunately not every person of colour in this industry has had the same experience, opportunities or exposure which is why I started to compile and promote the POC designers and crafters list. It is something I have become more and more passionate about despite resolving at the beginning of this month to work less and practice more self care. That said I will continue to add to, update and publish it here on my blog. Back when I started this list no one else seemed to be interested in the work I’m currently doing, now interestingly enough they are. I know my motives for starting the list and have explained them above. If you’re thinking about starting something similar based on what I’ve been doing I’d like to ask to you do two things.

Firstly, what are your own motivations? Were you thinking about this the lack of racial representation and ethnic diversity in the crafting community 6 months ago? I know I was.

Secondly if you were why the need to ride on the back of the work I’ve done? (And it’s taken hours I’m not just reposting other people’s feeds though there’s nothing wrong with that on IG). If you think you need to cater for a group that’s under represented do your own work and start a new list.

If you know me at all you’ll know that I think long and hard before posting anything. Not just because of how my brain now works but also because I’m anxious not to hurt or offend and I use the word anxious deliberately because this is currently causing me to lose sleep. Another thing I’ve deliberated over is setting up a ko-fi page. More than one friend has been in contact telling me that I’m putting a lot of time, work and effort into this for which I deserve to be paid. One of them even sent me a link and nagged me to get started. So, thanks to Helda Panagary @heldap123 and Lorna Hamilton Brown @lhamiltonbrown I’ve now set one up and youll find it the end of this post if you feel you’d like to give your support by ‘buying me a coffee’. If not please continue to find, support and celebrate the designers and makers on the list. That’s why I created it.  

Hoping this doesn’t sound like a rant. it wasn’t meant to.

You’ll find my ko-fi support page by clicking the image at the start of this post or by clicking here

J x

Jonah’s Hands

Screenshot 2018-11-17 at 10.25.29One of the many beautiful things to have come out of my continued search for names to  to add to the POC Designers & Crafters list is that I’m always discovering something or someone new. In particular what I love about Instagram is that I don’t always have to actively search for a name, sometimes a comment or a tag on a post in my feed is all I need before I’m off looking at new work, podcasts, video channels or blogs. 

 

This is how I came across the work of Jonah whose account @jonahhands is on Instagram. He began teaching himself to crochet around aged 5 and now aged 10 he’s started creating his own designs but not content with just churning out granny square after granny square Jonah likes to mix it up when it comes to yarn weights and size of hook. From simple pot stands and mega chunky baskets to colourful afghans so big you can barely see his beautiful face behind them to say this young man is prolific would be something of an understatement. Oh and you should see the speed at which his hands work – he crochets like lightning. I asked Jonah to tell me how he got started and I thought it would be nice to use his own words to tell his story.

“When I was 5 years old my Aunt gave me and my siblings a bag of unwanted craft items from her basement.  In it was a crochet hook and knitting needles. I asked mom what to do with them and she told me you made pretty things out of yarn with them.  She doesn’t know how to knit or crochet so she told me to go online and find a video. And I did. I started with knitting and made a long tail winter hat. Then I used a crochet hook to make mom a winter ear warmer. Crocheting was easier for me. It was hard to hold the knitting needles when I was five. I will try again some day.  

I liked the feeling it gave me when I crocheted. I felt calm. My mind is very busy and it made me focus.  I made many items and then mom put them in the county fair. I won 4 ribbons (and I was against the grandmas- not the kids). So, I kept on watching videos and making things for people. Everyone loved my gifts. When I was in grade school I wasn’t very well behaved because I was bored. I am very advanced in math … I’m 10 now and take high school classes. When I was misbehaved last year in 5th grade my teacher let me crochet when I was done with my work.  I didn’t get any more behaviour slips at school! I even taught other kids.

People think I will get teased or bullied but I don’t. Because I crochet fast and they think it’s cool. My big brother even likes my crocheting. My grandma crochets but lives far away. When I do see her I go to the bottom drawer of her dresser and take out all the doilies she’s made. So nice. She shares patterns with me and give me new hooks”.

You can tell from the beaming look on his face that Jonah lives to crochet often making things for his Mum (who must be hugely proud of her son) or making items to sell using the money he makes to either donate, invest, save for college – remember he’s 10 years old –  …or buy more yarn. I really admire that as a young black boy he’s confident enough in his creativity to share his skills with other kids at his school and has a generous heart that makes him want to gift what he produces to other people. Interestingly the fact that crochet also helps him to feel calm, and to still his ‘over busy’ mind makes me think that Jonah is probably pretty advanced for his age. I’m so glad to have found him and absolutely love what he’s doing particularly when he posts using the hashtags #guyswhocrochet, #adoptionrocks #kidscrochet #menstitchtoo  and #jonahlovestocrochet  in fact I think he’s a genius….. we should keep an eye on him. 

You can keep up to date with what young Jonah is up to by following his Instagram account @jonahshands here

J x

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No 1 Skeete Road, Knitting issue 188

No1SkeeteRdGMCNo 1 Skeete Road is a lace design worked on a 4.50 mm needle and for those of you who love a stashbuster project – and let’s face it who doesn’t – it takes just one hank of 4ply / fingering weight yarn. This design came about through me falling in love with a yarn back when I wrote the Yarn Reviews for Knitting Magazine. As someone who’s a bit of a sucker for an alpaca yarn I knew from the moment I unwound the hank of John Arbon’s Alpaca Delight that knitting a sample swatch wasn’t going to be enough, somehow I had to keep hold of the rest of the yarn. Promising to create a design that would take just one hank meant that not only could I hold onto it for just a bit longer but I could also scratch my creative itch too. 

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This triangular shaped shawl / scarf is worked from the top down with a rectangular panel of lace forming a central spine. In it a 28 row repeating pattern produces pentagon shaped lacy motifs whilst the wings of the piece are worked in a simple 2 row stitch that produces contrasting columns of lace on either side. Pointed edges give this design a fun feminine finish and as you can see when blocking it’s worth taking a bit of time to accentuate each of these points with pins.

This design gets it’s name from a road in the St Michael parish on the island of Barbados (where my parents were born) which lies in the south western part of the island near the capital Bridgetown. The original Skeete Rd is split into two parts – Nos 1 & 2 – and whilst developing the central lace pattern I thought it would be interesting to explore this same central lace motif in three (rather than just two) different shaped projects and thus design, No 1, is the first of this collection. I’ll be developing the others over the next few months and releasing all three together when the rights for this design revert back to me in 6 months time. 

IMG_5952It’s always interesting to see how my designs are styled in magazines and Christine Boggis Knitting’s editor has gone for a classic feminine look in the current issue whilst I’m more likely to wear it wrapped back to front around my neck as a scarf. And as Alpaca Delight is a deliciously soft blend of 70% Superfine Alpaca / 30% Organically farmed Falklands Merino it’s guaranteed to keep me warm without that irritating tickle. In terms of colour the 7 pastel shades available in Alpaca Delight are all very delicate so if for example Raspberry which I’ve used here isn’t your style, why not search through your stash and dig out 100g of fingering weight yarn in a much bolder colour? I’d love to see the results.

You’ll find the pattern for No 1 Skeete Road in the current issue (no 188) of Knitting Magazine

For the print edition click here 

For the digital edition click here

To subscribe to Knitting click here

To see the full range John Arbon Alpaca Delight colours click here 

 Enjoy

J x

When you’re done rocking the Kasbah

I know it’s been a while since I Iast posted here (sorry about that) and there are both good and bad reasons for that. Sam & I popped over to Morocco for a friends wedding which took place in the grounds of a casbah up in the Atlas mountains.

The venue was stunning and the weather couldn’t have been better: 26ºc during the day with blazing sunshine  and cold mountain air with dark starry skies at night. As it was a particularly special wedding I wanted to put a lot of effort into my outfit and thought it would be nice to pair one of my accessory designs the Tribal Tote with a bright lemon sleeveless dress from Boden and a pair of oh so comfortable sandals from Ten Points Footwear. The pattern for the bag was first published in the November 2011 issue of Knitting magazine but I updated it by adding a bright yellow oilskin lining with a flash of contrast ribbon to echo the colour of the dress. The lining not only added a lovely weight to the feel of the bag but also gave it a much more finished look. As you can see I took advantage of the beautiful decor in our room to shoot the whole outfit and absolutely loved the results, what do you think?

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Sadly though when I got back home I managed to develop a disgusting flu like bug that laid me so low for the past week I genuinely thought I had another lump growing inside my head. Because of this I’ve been trying to keep away from screens, sleeping a lot, popping lots of painkillers and dosing myself up on Night Nurse – though not at the same time obviously – which means that thankfully I’m definitely now on the mend.  There were great plans afoot for blog posts and IG callouts but once again my body took charge and, as I’ve had to remember (not easy when you have the memory of a …erm…what was it called again) I just had to rest up until I recovered. 

So here I am and this is just a little post to say ‘hi’ I”m still around, see how you’re doing and assure you that the normally erratic blog posting service is back in business. There are some exciting things coming up in the next few weeks and months. Firstly there’s my latest design which has just been released in Knitting magazine, the first issue of new e-zine Yarnpeople  which aims to redress the lack of diversity in the fibre world, newly discovered talents to add to the POC Designers & Crafters list, upcoming callouts for new additions to the list from other people of colour AND new pattern releases for some of my designs where the rights have reverted back to me. Phew! Surely that’s enough to keep us all going? 

In fact it’s made me feel quite knackered just thinking about it….

J x

POC designers & crafters

This post sort of follows on from my previous post ‘Black people do knit & the diversknitty conversation’. As I’d hoped there’s been a lot of very positive responses to the article and it’s got a lot of people not only talking but connecting with black designers, crafters, dyers & makers from across the knitting & crochet community. It’s also put the odd person’s nose out of joint with comments that the article itself is racist  –  well let’s just say they clearly haven’t read it.

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As part of the conversation we had over on Instagram I asked how many black knitwear designers people could name and it transpired that it wasn’t as many as we’d hoped. Well in an effort to address that imbalance I invited people to comment on my post with the names of any black designers they knew and where in the world they were located. What I actually wanted to know was the names of designers who, like me work in the craft industry designing patterns for others to knit for themselves. But because my original post was vague (as no doubt, was my brain that day) what I got was a wonderful list that included a variety of creative folk ranging from hand knitwear designers & fashion designers producing high end ready to wear garments to machine knitters, crochet designer/makers and indie yarn dyers. I did promise at the time that I’d compile all this info into a list to be made available to all who are interested and to be honest it’s taken me this long because I wanted to make it easy for anyone browsing through it to link directly to their work and Instagram profiles. I’ve called the list POC designers & crafters and although originally it came about on the back of the black people do knit hashtag what the discussion did throw up was that other non white ethnicities also knit. Well after all why wouldn’t they? Just in the last week there’s been chat about how Asian knitters are also under represented so knitters like Soraya Hussein (@mahliqawire), Hansa Sinha (@hansa.sinha), Sukrita Mahon (@su.krita) and Ankita Anupurva (@yarn.and.needles) are urging other Asian knitters and those from the Asian diaspora who knit to join in the conversation with hashtags like #asiansdoknit #asianknittersofinstagram #knittersofindia and #wedotoo. Looks like this is the beginning of a growing list of talent. How fantastic!

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Click here to see the POC designers & crafters list

The names are in alphabetical order by region with links to Instagram profiles, websites, Etsy shops etc. Please forgive me if I’ve spelt any names incorrectly and let me know any of the links go astray or just don’t work. Oh and I’m sorry to add this as a link here rather than as a new blog page but despite trying numerous times it just wasn’t showing up in the menu and to be honest my head just isn’t up to it today.

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Third Vault Yarns
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Lady Dye Yarns

Enjoy the list and if you’re wondering where all the crochet designers are, there’s more to come…….

J x

 

 

 

 

 

Black people do knit & the diversknitty conversation

 

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In this month’s issue of Knitting Magazine I’ve written an article entitled Black People Do Knit’. You can read the full article in the magazine following the links at the foot of this post so I won’t go into detail here but given the limited space available in print I felt I needed to add to it with a blog post…which may be long so prepare yourself. 

At this point I’d like to name check a couple of people who have been championing diversity and representation (in some cases long) before I joined the party so if you haven’t heard of them before or checked out their blogs then please do:

Lorna Hamilton Brown is an artist, designer, researcher, educator, highly experienced hand & machine knitter and all round knitting evangelist who wrote an MA dissertation entitled ‘Myth: Black People Don’t Knit the importance of art and oral histories fo documenting the experiences of black knitters. Lorna is an incredibly warm, passionate woman and having become friends she’s really opened my eyes to the lack of representation in the craft / yarn industry and in fact it was her that first started using the #blackpeopledoknit hashtag. I’ve posted about Lorna’s work before here  but you can find out more about her work on her website www.lornahamiltonbrown.com

Diane Ivey is an indie dyer, craftivist, blogger and the creative force behind Lady Dye Yarns based in Boston, USA. Having started her business back in 2015 she found herself one of only a few black yarnies at events like Vogue Knitting Live and has been challenging the lack of diversity through podcasts on her blog. Check them out here and whilst you’re on her website also check out her yarns…you may need sunglasses though, that woman knows the meaning of saturation and as someone who goes weak at the knees for a bright colour I’ve been drooling over them from first sight. www.ladydyeyarns.com

Monica Rodriguez lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA and started her Knits All Folks! website just last year for ‘knitters, crocheters, the yarn obsessed, and crafters who wanted to talk pop culture, community diversity, and fabulous patterns’. The website’s name comes from her husband’s nickname for her and as well as loving the humour of it I love the fact that it encourages inclusion. As part of this each month Monica explores diversity through her Variegated Yarn Tales interviews designers, yarn shop owners, knitters, crocheters, podcasters, indie dyers in fact all disciplines from every spectrum of our crafting community. Find out more on the website www.knitsallfolks.com

Nathan Taylor aka Sockmatician is a sock knitting guru, podcaster, designer, teacher, double knitting expert and musical theatre actor who first came up with the #diversknitty hashtag over on Instagram. Nathan felt that he wanted to open his IG feed up to a more diverse representation of the crafting industry and given his unstoppable need to marry words together came up with the term diversknitty to encourage knitters to connect with him regardless of colour, race, gender, sexuality, age, religion, physical ability or level of skill. Find out more about him and his work, including his new book Guys Knit over on his website www.sockmatician.com

So back to the article itself, why write it at all? Well there are those who will say that conversations like this are unnecessary and that bringing race or skin colour into knitting and craft is being divisive or perhaps even ‘political correctness gone mad’. To those people I would ask them to imagine not seeing the themselves represented on the pages of the magazines and publications they read and thinking how that would make them feel. Unwelcome? Invisible? In some way ‘less than’?…. 

I started knitting as a child of seven and was taught by my West Indian mother who learnt when she came to the UK in the late 1950s and throughout my childhood she’d knit, sew and crochet with a high level of skill. Whilst studying textile design at Art College it was apparent that I was the only black student specialising in knit but it never occurred to me that this was because black people don’t knit, after all I did and so did Mum. And, as a black knitter I’ve never felt that I didn’t ‘fit in’ or felt discouraged from working as a knitwear designer. However something that the IG discussion has thrown up and that I also took from Lorna’s dissertation is that representation is very important. I grew up in the 1970’s in a household where my mother was a crafter but I don’t remember ever seeing one picture of a black person knitting or crocheting in any textbook or painting. As a child this wouldn’t have discouraged me from taking it up as a hobby but I’m bloody stubborn and had it not been for Mum, it certainly wouldn’t have encouraged me.  

During the 14 years I lived in Scotland which has a rich knitting tradition I never found that people were surprised that as a black person I could and did knit. In fact there was much more comment about the way that I knitted – I’m a sort of Continental knitter who throws rather than picks. There no one every said to me ‘oh black people don’t knit’. In that time though I do remember the British designer Ann Kingstone once remarking whilst we were at a yarn event that I was probably the only black hand knitwear designer she knew of working in the craft industry. To be honest this was over 10 years ago and at the time I was neither offended or surprised at her comment. (Just to put this into context Anne, as well as being a genuinely lovely person, is a white designer who has used black models to showcase her work for a number of years). Apart from US designer Shirley Paden I also found it difficult to name another black designer working in the UK or abroad. 

Thankfully things have changed quite a bit in the past decade….or so I thought. I recently posed a couple of questions through my Instagram account (@jeanettesloan) asking how many black knitwear and crochet designers people could name.

Initially the response in terms of names was pretty slow but once it gained a bit of traction the response to the post itself was pretty overwhelming. Obviously no one had asked the question before and a lot of black or non white knitters were glad that at last it had been voiced.  There was a mix of both pattern based and product based designers but what really struck me was that the vast majority of them were based outside of the UK. So in some ways things have changed, but in others we have a long way to go. 

Another thing that came up during the online discussion was how a number of black knitters found that they were treated badly in yarn shops by owners who subscribed to the idea that black people don’t / can’t knit and so weren’t serious customers and not worth engaging with.  (Check out Gaye Glasspie’s brilliant ‘Dear Yarn shop owner post’ here). As a black former yarn shop owner in the very white city of Edinburgh I never prejudged a potential customer based on whether they knitted or crocheted. Or their skin colour or skill level. Everyone was welcome.

I’m fortunate that as a knitwear designer and yarn customer I’ve never felt that my work wasn’t taken seriously or that my hard earned cash wasn’t as good as the next customer’s because I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to know what I was buying. It’s important that every knitter deserves to feel like that. 

So what have I’ve learned from the #blackpeopledontknit discussion?

Firstly, and obviously saying ‘black people don’t knit’ it just isn’t true. There are a lot more of us black knitters out there than you may think. What the IG conversation proved was that actually there are thousands of black and non white knitters out there although this isn’t reflected in most of the major knitting publications we see on in print or online. This started out specifically as a conversation about black knitters and I’ve chosen to use my voice as a black woman who knits and designs to speak out about my experiences. But, as was mentioned in the comments on IG there are Asian people that knit too so in the article I started to use the acronym ‘POC’ for people of colour which seemed more fitting in terms of both defining and capturing the spirit of #diversknitty. 

Secondly representation of those non white crafters is essential. We need to see ourselves in the magazines and books that we buy not only as designers, writers and models but as indie dyers, spinners, photographers, publishers and tech editors too. 

Lastly in my IG post I invited people to comment with the names of black knitwear and crochet designers and I’ve found there’s definitely a demand for some kind of database or resources where knitters of all colours can find their work. I’ll be adding what I have so far to this  blog, probably as a new page. So watch out for an post before the week is out. 

What we need to be both mindful and careful of is not to see this discussion as a reason to be divisive or exclusive. It’s about being inclusive and encourage the truly huge knitting community to represent everyone regardless of their gender, sexuality, physical ability or colour. You can join in the conversation over on Instagram by using the hashtags below or just leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you

#knitterofcolour

#blackpeopledoknit

#blackknittersofinstagram

#blackyarndyersofinstagram

#blackcrocheters

#diversknitty

Link to print edition here

Link to digital edition here

Link to subscribe here

J x