The Knitting Circle

Amy Twigger Holroyd, Birmingham Institute of Art & Design, Birmingham City University

Part of my PhD research, ‘Folk Fashion: amateur re-knitting as a strategy for sustainability’

Disciplinary background(s) design, craft, fashion

When did the research take place? PhD, 2010-2013; this research activity, summer 2012

Aims of research 

The overall aims of the research were to investigate people’s lived experience of homemade clothes, and to explore this ‘folk fashion’ as a strategy for sustainability.

In my literature review, I had noticed how little academic knowledge there is about the experience of wearing homemade clothes. My main research activity – which I would also describe as a creative method – involved working with one small group of amateur knitters in a series of workshop sessions, culminating in each participant designing and executing a re-knitting alteration to an item from their wardrobe.

I supplemented this method with a complementary strategy, which I have chosen to focus on in this case study: gathering comments about knitting and homemade clothes from a large group of knitters.

Description of creative research method

This method grew out of activities which I was already running as part of my practice as a knitwear designer-maker and my label, Keep & Share.

Since 2009, I have run a knitting tent at summer music festivals, running a free communal knitting activity. I aim for this to be an engaging and accessible activity that will provide an enjoyable experience of knitting, embracing knitters of all abilities. The completed pieces of knitting are left on display, growing in number as the festival progresses.

Knitting tentThe activity is popular, and creates a constantly shifting temporary knitting community. I have found that knitting brings people together and engenders conversation; knitting also evokes memories. With this in mind, I ask people to ʻshare a knitting memoryʼ on small cardboard tags, after their time spent knitting. The tags are attached to the knitting and become part of the public display.

L09-432I started gathering these comments as a way of making the knitting activity more engaging; however, I realised that they could be of value to my research. In 2012, the knitting tent visited three festivals (Latitude, Port Eliot and End of the Road), and I asked participants to share their feelings about wearing homemade clothes. This strategy was effective; it prompted conversation on the topic, and comments which recorded memories and opinions.

Lat-1Lat-10In 2012, 245 separate comments were written; combined with the tags from the previous years, I have gathered and analysed over a thousand responses. The tags themselves are open, allowing the commenter to use the space as they wish. Some comments are very short; others squash a lot of writing into the small space. Some include drawings, symbols and underlining for emphasis.

Why did you choose to use this method? 

In my previous work, I had found that knitting as a group encourages open, constructive conversation. The tags provide an interesting insight into the thoughts that are provoked by the activity of knitting, rather than more distant reflections, as would be gathered by a conventional questionnaire or survey.

What did you learn from the research process? 

The comments make fascinating reading, offering brief yet diverse thoughts on knitting and homemade clothes from a broad range of people. They provide a materialised version of the snippets of stories, anecdotes and comments that I hear during my practice. Such comments inform my tacit knowledge of amateur knitting, yet are difficult to record.

While many tags directly respond to the prompt that I supplied, the majority discuss knitting more generally. Often they relate to the experience that the commenter has just had, learning or remembering how to knit; a significant proportion is dedications, usually to mothers or grandmothers.


In developing my methodology overall, I was influenced by David Gauntlett’s book Creative Explorations, described in this case study, and Matt Ratto’s critical making methodology, described here.

Further information

More information about the knitting tent and Knitting Circle can be found here.

Quotes from the Knitting Circle tags are included in this paper:

Twigger Holroyd, A. (2013) Identity construction and the multiple meanings of homemade clothes in contemporary British culture. Fashion: exploring critical issues, 5th global conference, Oxford, 9-12 September 2013. PDF document [accessed 9/12/13]

Further information about my methodology more generally is included in this paper:

Twigger Holroyd, A. (2013) Unravelling the power of knitting. Crafting the Future, 10th European Academy of Design Conference, Gothenburg, 17-19 April 2013. PDF document [accessed 9/12/13]