Diversity and inclusion at EYF 2019

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This time next week I’ll be travelling up to Scotland for my first Edinburgh Yarn Festival.

Initially I hadn’t planned on visiting the show but a couple of opportunities arose which made it a good excuse to combine these meetings with seeing some of our non knitting friends. (As for who I’m meeting, can’t say, sorry!) Plus going to EYF meant I could basically drool my way around the Corn Exchange at a fibre event which started after Sam and I relocated to the south coast. What I hadn’t envisaged was being asked to be part of a panel discussion on  Diversity and Inclusion taking place on Sunday the final day.

Those of you already aware of the current conversations about racism and the lack of diversity in the knitting community will know that this was arranged to replace the scheduled speaker, Kate Davies who unfortunately had to withdraw due to ill health. I’m sorry that she won’t be speaking and I genuinely wish her well.

The discussion about racism in knitting is both difficult and uncomfortable. It takes many of us out of our comfort zones and forces us to look within and examine how we humans behave towards each other. Or at least that’s what it should be doing. If we as BIPOC (Black & Indigenous People Of Colour) / POC are to see ourselves represented in the fibre community we need to be able to have open, honest and respectful conversations about the racism within it. Ones where BIPOC  / POC can share their experiences and non BIPOC / POC listen, learn and work with us to move forward.

When I posted on Instagram that I was taking part in this panel I saw a comment that referred to ‘waves of aggression’. Perhaps it’s due to my age but I really don’t do aggression, I like to be measured in my responses and thoughtful with my words. So when I take part in this discussion on Sunday along with Cecilia Nelson @creativceci, Aimee Gille of @labienaimee and Sophia Cai @sophiatron I’m hoping to hear voices from knitters of all colour; black, brown, white and every other combination. EYF are making this a ticketed event with priority going to BIPOC / POC but it can’t be a ‘one sided’ conversation if we want to make the fibre community one that reflects and respects us all.

If you’re coming on Sunday, already have tickets for the Make:Wool event and are interested in attending you can find out more information on the talk here 

As I mentioned doing this really takes me out of my comfort zone but I feel this topic is far too important for me not to be part of this discussion. I’m looking forward to meeting up with people I’ve only previously spoken with on Instagram so if you see me and want to say hi, then do!

J x

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North Point, The Knitter issue 134

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This design takes its name comes from the cliffs of North Point which can be found in the parish of St Lucy on the island of Barbados. Sitting at the northern post tip of the island it’s renowned for the powerful Atlantic Ocean waves that pound the rugged landscape throwing columns of sea spray upwards onto the limestone cliffs above. Whilst I was swatching for this design I was intrigued that moving the initial vertical lace pattern just one stitch in either direction on successive rows created arcs of pattern that reminded me of those constantly crashing Atlantic waves, hence the name. Standing on the cliff edge at North Point in the hot Bajan sun the sea views are both dramatic and uninterrupted, in fact you could literally be teetering on the edge of the world.

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Back in the slightly chillier UK I wanted this wrap to be your ‘go to’ cover up if, like me, you’re always cold. It’s a lace design but not in a traditional sense as it’s worked in Erika Knight’s Wild Wool, an Aran weight blend of 85% wool 15% nettle fibre (shown as viscose on the label). Knitted in two pieces grafted at the centre each piece begins with a provisional cast on. The main section of each piece is knitted in a broad vertical rib with single stitch decreases, slip stitches and eyelets defining where the knit columns meet the purl.

 

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As I mentioned previously the travelling arcs of lace are created by moving the pattern one stitch to the right on the first piece and one stitch to the left on the second piece and this produces a mirrored effect when the two sections are grafted together. The edges of the wrap are slipped which gives them a rounded finish and this look continues when the provisional cast on stitches are picked up and finished with an i-cord cast off. There are lots of reasons why I love this design; the stitch pattern is completely reversible, the yarn has the most incredible drape and given the mix of knit & purl and the gauge of the yarn, I think that may be the best seam I have EVER grafted.

I really hope you like it too. 

J x

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Spicy moreish flapjacks

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  • 250 g unsalted butter, *plus extra for greasing
  • 200 g soft brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons runny honey or maple syrup
  • 1 pinch of sea salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 100 g mixed nuts (eg pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios etc)
  • 60g desiccated coconut, gently toasted in a dry frying pan until golden
  • 50g flax seed
  • 150 g mixed dried fruit (eg as cranberries, sour cherries, blueberries, apricots, dates etc)
  • 375 g rolled porridge oats

How to make

Now before you start just a word about the quantities. This recipe is based on Jamie Oliver’s Ultimate Flapjacks recipe but I’ve freestyled on it a little bit. The amount of butter he calls for (250g) produces a really rich tasting, soft textured flapjack but I don’t like things mega sweet or too greasy so I’ve reduced the sugar from 250g to 200g to allow for the sweetness of the dried fruit and upped the amount of oats from 350g to 375g. Also I wanted to add some more flavour and texture to the mix which is why I’ve been quite heavy on the spices while the addition of coconut and flax seed were intended to make me feel less guilty about eating them. (Yes I know I’m kidding myself).

Anyway, here’s how they’re made.

  1. Preheat the oven to 150ºC/300ºF/gas 2. Grease and line a rectangular cake tin (roughly 20cm x 30cm) *If you’re using a silicon container don’t bother greasing it at all.
  2. Place the butter, sugar, honey, ginger, mixed spice and salt in a medium pan over a low heat, then allow the butter to melt, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, roughly chop the nuts and any larger dried fruit, then stir them into the pan along with the oats.
  3. Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin, smoothing it out into an even layer. Place in the hot oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden around the edges. Leave to cool completely, then cut into squares and serve.

As well as tasting amazing the other good thing about these flapjacks is that they’re incredibly quick to make so you could knock up a batch right now and be eating them with a cup of tea in a little over an hour.

Enjoy

J x

Yarn Stories podcast episode 207

 

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Just before Christmas I had the pleasure of being ‘interviewed’ by Mim Felton for her Yarn Stories podcast. The reason I’ve used inverted commas is because although we hadn’t, and still haven’t ever met, chatting to her was so lovely and relaxing it was like talking to a friend I’d known for ages. In fact we talked for so long she had the mammoth task of squeezing over 2 hours of sometimes random chat into something much more sensibly structured which runs at just under an hour.

As well as covering diversity, inclusion and of course under representation of BIPOC  in the fibre community we spoke about how I started knitting, sustainable fashion, crocheting in church, the joy of making and lots lots more. It’s definitely worth a listen.

You’ll find Mim’s Yarn Stories website here

Mim, I loved talking to you. I really hope we meet in person some day – and I’ll bring the gin.

J x

Racism in the fibre community

I’ve been a bit quiet of late and there are a number of reasons why. First and foremost 2 weeks ago one of my very elderly parents was rushed into hospital. Thankfully they’re now recovering but obviously they had to take priority over everything else including me. 

I say this not to gain sympathy although I’m truly very grateful for all the supportive DMs and comments I’ve had wishing both them and me well. It’s because I am their primary carer. That is my job.

As a result of this I’ve had a lot of catching up to do which is why I’ve only just watched THAT video on YouTube. I have no plans to link to it from here as it currently stands at over 42,000 views and I’m certainly not going to create a link that drives more traffic to it. (If you don’t know what I’m referring to you’ll need to do some work of your own by using the #notthesilentmajority #racisminknitting hashtags on Instagram, you’re sure to come to it). To be honest there’s already been so much said about it and her that I don’t think I can add to it, particularly since I’m playing catch up again. That said there are a couple of things she said that I wanted to pick up on. 

‘an intense social justice issue that started infiltrating Instagram’

Firstly this phrased was used to describe the current discussions about racism in the knitting community. They’ve certainly gained traction in the last few weeks as more and more people of colour (*POC) recount and relive painful and humiliating experiences. Many of them left me open mouthed, appalled and bloody angry though I really shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been fortunate to have had very few experiences of racism in the fibre world aside from being asked for ’n*gger brown wool for a golliwog’s hair’ (said as the customer looked up at my hair for reference) while working for Rowan as an instore Design Consultant.

Outside the fibre world I’ve had numerous experiences both subtle ‘oh your English is very good’ or ‘is it hot where you come from?’ (what, East London?) and more blatant – being called the ‘N word’ on the streets in Kent just a few years ago. Like fellow POC or anyone who has to deal with racism and discrimination let me just tell you.

Those experiences were very real for me and should I choose to talk about them no one is going to tell me that I shouldn’t. Or that talking about racism is, in itself racist. It isn’t!

Those experiences continue to be real for POC who are still being discriminated against and it will always be their/our right to talk about what they/we have experienced. They/we need to be heard and acknowledged for proper, intelligent, productive conversations to take place in order to change the fibre world into one that reflects all the people in it – minority and majority. Not just the ones who are perceived to be ‘the majority’.

As you can imagine here in the UK race isn’t a subject that’s often discussed publicly and to be honest I’ve never spoken about racism so openly and frequently before. But, as I’m no academic authority on the subject when I do, it’s as a black designer speaking purely from personal experience. So, if I’m going to do justice to my role as Keynote Speaker at this September’s Perth Festival of Yarn I’ve got a lot of reading to do. *see below

For anyone in any doubt as to whether there is racism in the knitting community. Yes, there is. Have a look at some of the experiences poc have had on @su.krita’s Instagram feed here.

Still in doubt? Well, why wouldn’t there be racism in the fibre community? It’s made up of human beings and whilst some are good, some are real shits. There are those who believe that inclusion matters. That EVERYONE is represented regardless of colour, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, physical ability or body shape while others only want to be part of a community where everyone looks and thinks like them. 

The ongoing IG discussion shows that it’s just not good enough to say that it shouldn’t be discussed in the knitting community because ‘it’s full of lovely fluffy stuff’ and we’re all just here to knit. Well we are here to knit but when people (including me) are:

  • asked for ’n*gger brown’ wool (I’ve never used someone’s skin tone as a colour reference)
  • asked if that’s how they knit ‘where you come from?’ (again, East London?)
  • constantly followed around yarn shops (well you know how ‘they’ steal)
  • instantly shown the cheaper yarns (because they’re assumed to be too inexperienced to be using better, more expensive yarns)
  • ignored in a yarn shop (until they spent a huge amount of money)

 they / we’re entitled to share their / our experiences of racism in the knitting community because that’s where they happened.

There are many voices calling for magazine and book publishers, yarn companies and festival organisers to do better and make changes. Mine is certainly amongst them and I’m very glad to see announcements by some major names admitting that they have fallen short and need to to better. I’m not sure however that every individual silence represents a racist and I’ll no doubt get some grief for saying so. I’ve had lengthy phone conversations in the last week with two friends one of whom is black, the other white. The black friend (let’s call her AB) has spoken out about her experiences of racism and received aggressive and critical messages for doing so whilst the white friend (let’s call her CD) is concerned about saying the wrong thing but in staying quiet realises she’s perceived as part of the silent (racist) majority. The ‘silent majority’ is the second reference from THAT video that I wanted t pick up on due to its sinister connotations. 

Racism isn’t a one sided issue and there needs to be room for discussion to allow people to examine both themselves and their behaviour in order to effect real change. As a fibre community we need to see more representation of POC teachers and vendors at fibre festivals and more indie dyed yarns and designs created by POC in the knitting and crochet publications we see on our shelves. Seeing yourself represented means that you are welcomed as part of that community. Some brands are doing the work now and currently implementing changes while others are just ignoring the issue in the hope that the talk will die down and those of us who have been banging on about this will simply go away. We won’t. 

I’ll be continuing to highlight and promote the work of POC Designers and Crafters in the fibre community….. so it looks like I’ll be talking about it for the foreseeable future. 

J x

*I am aware of the acronym for black & indigenous people of colour – BIPOC and as I do more reading to educate myself I may revise my use of POC but for now it represents people of colour in the broadest sense.

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

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