The Art of Knitting: Manchester’s Close Knit festival

As Manchester crafters will surely know, the city is hosting Close Knit, a year-long festival dedicated to knitting¬†inspired by the discovery of over 100 years’ worth of patterns in a cupboard, culminating in an exhibition early in 2013. Each month an event is put on, looking at one aspect of the pursuit and April celebrated in true style by focusing on the art of knitting and how it can be used to make the world a more beautiful place, to take ownership of public spaces or as a form of protest.

Artist and expert knitter Lucy Burscough took charge and treated the 90 or so people in attendance – including one solitary, brave man! – to a slideshow of various artists’ work, introducing them to the likes of godmother of yarn bombing Magda Sayeg (responsible for knitted staircases in Sydney and a wool-covered bus in Mexico), Theresa Honeywell (who decked a motorbike out in knitting as a commentary on gender stereotypes) and Laura Isaac. This latter artist was particularly interesting, as she knitted a scarf and created a pattern of a sunflower seed to protest against the arrest and imprisonment of renowned artist and political activist Ai WeiWei.

The discussion over, the workshop then moved on to give the crowd of eager knitters a chance to flex their own creative muscles, moving away from traditional jumpers and scarves in favour of trying something a little different. The Whitworth had delved into its collection and produced prints of eight works of art – including Eduardo Paolozzi’s The Whitworth Tapestry and Francis Bacon’s portrait of Lucien Freud – to help inspire people and give them the opportunity to add to these masterpieces by knitting a couple of accoutrements.

Ed Watts, adult programme coordinator with the gallery, came up with a few suggestions, including knitting a moustache and new suit for Lucien or making a woolly boat for a seascape by Turner. Although a lot of the people who came to the event were novice knitters – at least two had never even picked up needles before and were baulking at the thought of immediately having to get creative – the organisers were fully prepared and provided patterns for beginners and intermediate knitters so everyone could get into the fun of it all.

No doubt there are some ‘serious’ artists out there who don’t believe that knitting and crafts in general can be considered a true-blue art form, but had they attended this event their concerns would certainly have been assuaged. In terms of revolutionising people’s attitudes to knitting, this instalment of the Close Knit festival was a particular success, as the lone man in the audience proved, saying at the end of the afternoon that he “had no idea that knitting was so cool”.

To get your knit on with the festival, make sure you attend next month’s event at the Gallery of Costume on May 26th. Knitting to Know You – as it has been dubbed – will see the return of Lucy Burscough and the focus firmly on one of the most popular forms of the craft: Fair Isle.

Knitting to Know You: May 26th, 14:00-16:00, Gallery of Costume, Platt Fields, Fallowfield. Free.


Here are some of the other artists that were featured in Lucy Burscough’s slideshow. How fantastic?

Freddie Robins: Uses knitting to explore issues like the domestic, gender and the human condition

Althea Crome: Creates knitted work on a miniature scale, incorporating images and portraits

Dave Cole: Uses knitting to challenge gender stereotypes

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