A few months ago, the curators of Manchester City Galleries – the Manchester Museum, Gallery of Costume, Manchester Art Gallery and Whitworth Art Gallery – were rummaging through a few cupboards and happened across a couple of musty old boxes, stuffed full of knitting patterns from the past, some dating back to more than a century ago.
Going through this box of treasures must have been a bit like Christmas for those in charge, but they haven’t been selfish with their gifts at all and have decided to hold a veritable knitting extravaganza in 2012, with workshops put on each month to celebrate this amazing find, culminating in a knitting exhibition at the Gallery of Costume early next year.
March’s event – an introduction to cable knitting – took place at the costume gallery on Saturday (March 24th). Given the unseasonably warm weather – hotter than in some parts of Africa, apparently – curator Kate Day was a bit concerned that everyone would choose to be at the beach instead of indoors, but luckily over 60 people arrived to get their knit on, with the party spilling outside into the sunshine.
The focus was on the age-old knitting techniques of cable and Aran, which originated from the Aran Isles, off the Irish coast. Back in the day, original Aran sweaters would be made to incorporate old family patterns so that, should the worst happen and a fisherman was lost and drowned at sea, they could be identified. These days, cable-knit jumpers are just an awesome fashion statement, but their history is a particularly interesting one.
As everyone sat around learning the techniques – not that hard, once you get the hang of that pesky cable needle – the curators drew attention to some of the old knitting patterns, dating from 1910 onwards. Also on display was an ancient knitted hat, one of six that had been found at the beginning of the 20th century in the River Thames but was actually around 500 years old and had been perfectly preserved in the mud. What these hats were doing in the river is anyone’s guess but they are a rather exciting addition to the costume gallery’s array of goodies.
Speaking after the Manchester event, Ms Day said just how well received the workshop had been and what good feedback the organisers had been getting. “There’s quite a lot of socialising going on,” she remarked. “Everyone’s been talking lots. We did have a few novices, although there were probably more people that could knit. Probably around 30 per cent of people were beginners.”
The festival continues on April 28th at the Whitworth Art Gallery, where participants can make knitted art inspired by modernist paintings and on May 26th it will return to the Gallery of Costume for a Fair Isle session with artist and knitting expert Lucy Burscough.
So how about it? Who has plans to go to the next workshop? Here’s Saturday’s event in pictures in case you need a bit of encouragement:
- Coventry Knit-a-Thon (sewmakebelieve.co.uk)
- Mark Newport Knits Costumes For Superfolks (neatorama.com)
- Knitting in the round (blackcatoriginals.wordpress.com)