A little over a year ago I travelled to Reading for a confab with my friend Felix. We’d had an idea to work on a project together with our mutual friend and colleague, Mel, and wanted to thrash things out. By the time I was heading north again, we’d come up with a plan: to create a blanket together, exploring our own feminism and celebrating 30 of the diverse creative women who’d inspired us.
At the conclusion of our recent club, some members of the KDD Ravelry group got together to set up “Square Share:” a thread for swapping designs for blanket squares, sharing ideas, and supporting each other’s creative process. This is precisely the spirit behind the blanket that Felix and Mel and I conceived last year, so we felt it was the time to tell you a bit about the project, as well as to make the basic chart we used to design each square freely available, so that you can all take the project forward in your own ways, creating squares about the people, things, and issues that inspire and challenge you. (You can now download the blank chart template and basic blanket square pattern on Ravelry).
Our simple idea was that Felix and I would develop and design 15 individual squares each, and that Mel would then knit them up. When we began, none of us had a sense of just how much work was going to be involved, or how very emotional that work was going to be. For all of us, the project was very personal as well as deeply political. As friends, we are continually enthusing with each other about things we love and enjoy, and we wanted to use this project to focus some of that enthusiasm on sharing the stories of those whose lives and achievements had become important to our own stories, and whose work we found consistently inspiring. We also felt a strong sense of wanting to express our connection to the diverse women who’d inspired us through our own making.
So I was able to bring my favourite poet, Adrienne Rich, to Mel and Felix’s attention . . .
While Felix introduced me to Rocky Rivera (Krishtine de Leon)
Learning about the lives and achievements of a diverse range of creative women through each other’s affinities with them was a wonderful, mutually educative process. I discovered much more about Felix and her distinctive creative life through her choices of inspiring women, and in turn, I was able to go away and enrich my own creativity by listening to new music, reading some new books, and appreciating some new-to-me art.
. . . such as that of Alma Thomas.
Before we developed our designs, we also spent a long time reflecting on the particular kinds of stories we wanted our blanket to tell. Often, rather than summarising a life, our designs focused on particular incidents, which told suggestive stories about women’s material connections, or the things and objects with which their lives had been associated.
(the cranes of red Clydeside featured in my Mary Barbour square)
For example, I wanted to commemorate Beryl Gilroy, a trailblazing novelist, memoirist, and children’s writer who, 50 years ago, also became Britain’s first black headteacher at a school in Camden. When Dr. Gilroy came to the UK from Guyana in 1951 to complete her teaching studies, she brought with her a wardrobe of brightly coloured tailored clothes. London was both much more chilly and more somber than Guyana, and Dr Gilroy creatively mixed up the bright corals and oranges from her wardrobe with two-tone monochrome woollens. I’d read about a dogtooth tweed coat bought by Dr Gilroy when she first arrived in London in Carol Tulloch’s great book about black British fashion, The Birth of the Cool, so I thought I’d try to commemorate that garment – which spoke to me very powerfully about how textiles redefine identity, and how cloth mediates the way one is forced to adapt to new situations, new environs, and how one finds and expresses oneself in those new places.
The design is plain and simple–like Dr Gilroy’s coat–and that is kind of the point.
Many of my squares were inspired by particular moments in the work of women writers whose work I love. This one, for example, represents a moment in Head Above Water, the important memoir of Nigerian-British author, Buchi Emecheta, when the writer recalls her grandmother’s call songs.
Felix and I researched our stories, we developed our designs, and in doing so we thought a lot about many complex issues: what did our choices say about our own identities, our own places as white English and Scottish women, who’d developed our own particular kind of feminism? To me, intersectionality has always been about respect, dialogue, and the hopeful possibility of further dialogue, and one of the best things about working on this project together was how we were able to thoughtfully challenge each other and interrogate ourselves about our politics and positions. There were other considerations too. Some of the women we wanted to celebrate were also alive — was it appropriate for us to represent them, or to commemorate their work, in this context? In some cases, it proved useful and heartening to be able to have respectful conversations, and in that process, other connections were also made.
The months went on. Felix and I kept on designing, Mel kept on knitting (and helping us to refine our square designs). This blanket is around 5 feet by 4 with 30 different separate elements — it took 6 months to create from October 2018 to March 2019) and theres a lot of thought and knitting in it and an awful lot of slow time – in the thinking and the making, and indeed in what came after. The rest of the KDD team –Tom, Sam, Jane, Claire and our tech editor Frauke, were involved in the project’s final stages, and, after completing the photography of the blanket for International Women’s Day in March, we had our own small celebration.
This project is very much about what we all do, as makers, and as businesses, at KDD and Knitsonik — and it has nothing at all to do with generating income. The purpose of the blanket is educational on the one hand and celebratory on the other: so we’ve set up a website where you can learn more about the stories of each individual commemorated in the blanket, and we’ve shared the basic pattern freely to enable any knitter who’d like to to take this project forward in their own way.
Having enjoyed the process of developing and making our squares so much, we are also finding our own ways to take its project forward, and have recently received some very exciting news about the blanket, which we will be able to share with you in a couple of weeks time.
In the meantime, keep an eye on Felix’s blog (where she will be saying more about her own experience of working on the blanket), and I’ll be back here in a couple of days time to share more about my actual design process when creating the squares (which may help those of you who are developing colourwork charts for the first time)