Cat Tails and French Knitting

Lots of people visiting the Masters show have spent time talking and reminiscing about French Knitting, otherwise known as spool knitting or as I’m discovering ‘cat tails’ around Eastern Scotland (not sure if that is how it is actually spelt!).  Lots of people seem to remember Knitting Nancies and also remember granny knocking nails into the top of a wooden bobbin to make a knitting nancy.  Its a shame we can’t do the same today – all my bobbins are plastic and it is impossible to knock nails in.  As with everything today though, it is possible to buy ready made knitting nancies/french knitting machine/knitting dollies (and many other names).

Should we buy these?  Part of the fun for me was making the dolly before actually using it to knit.  It taught me to be inventive – if I wanted to do something I had to work out how instead of just buying something.  Would we be better as a society if we had to think about things a little more, perhaps remaining a little closer to our environment in doing so?

These are some of the reflections that emerged from people’s memories, from these memories being triggered by the act of finger knitting.    What do you think?


First day of show

Well, today is the first full day of the Masters show at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee.  After a very busy preview evening last night, it has been a little quieter, which is probably a good thing given the copious amount of alcohol that was consumed during what was a very happy evening.  All our hard work seems to have paid off.

Today was down to business.  Although it was quiet up until lunchtime,  it became busier later on and a good number of new pieces of finger knitting found their way on to the installation.dayone1


Upcoming Masters Show 2016

A den is about privacy, about safety and about giving yourself a breathing space, whether alone or with a group, in a building or in the landscape.

In a woodland den you can look out through undergrowth and branches into the outside world while still retaining that sense of alone-ness. You can give yourself time to withdraw and space to think, exercise your imagination or just dream.

In my den, you also help to create it.  Use your finger-knitting skills, or come and learn the art of finger knitting to help make a portable den using a simple frame with many layers of finger knitted fronds.

Join in the conversation and be part of a bigger, ongoing project, a project which is about creativity, encounters with people, with place and the traces left behind.

This den will be on display at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (University of Dundee) between 19th and 28th August 2016.  Come and join in.

Anyone can finger knit

During the recently Diversion exhibition at Dundee University the studio I work in was opened up to  public.  Many people visited (sometimes accidentally while they were looking for somewhere else).  People of all ages were interested in my project den and I spent a lot of time talking and helping people to finger knit.  A few days later I received and envelope full of finger knitting from  family who had been visiting dundee to see grandpa.

I will add some photos soon.

I also had some really interesting debates about various aspects of art (and politics!) and many thanks  everyone who sat with a cup of tea taking part in these discussions.  This is what open  studios are about.

This den will be on show at end of August as part of the Masters show at  university of Dundee and early September at my home studio in perth as part of Perthshire Open Studios.


Gilfillan Church, Dundee

I spent three Friday afternoons with a small group of people at this church in Dundee. Everyone there was really enthusiastic and welcoming.


The conversation was good and the tea even better!  Once the simple craft of finger knitting had been explained and understood creation and invention began.  These knitters (which were both women and men) were nothing if they weren’t speedy.  I came away with a very welcome amount of knitting to drape on the den.  I really looked forward to these afternoons and found the two hours really flew by.

Two very proud knitters!

There was some discussion of why more men don’t join in, or knit generally. Suggestions focused on such as the choice of colours of yarn, or the actual materials – perhaps we should try finger knitting with something ‘more manly’.  I think a lot is down to perceptions.  The history of crafts shows that over the past few centuries a significant number of crafts became almost exclusively female skills and as women became more and more relegated to the role of homemaker/housewife, these crafts became known as ‘domestic arts’.  Although this is changing, we are still living under its shadow to some extent and perhaps this shared memory is the reason fewer men take part in event like this.

However,  back to the knitting session.  Some serious experimentation now began and resulted some knobbly knitting, inspiring the following label –


Thank you to all at Gilfillan Church for some enjoyable sessions and a wonderful volume of finger knitted strands.






Inspiration for the den

What inspired this den?  A number of things gave me the idea for the den but one of the earliest was from a book I loved as a child and one which still brings back memories (good and bad).  It is a children’s collection of poetry.   This was the first book I remember owning, I read and re-read that book and still remember many poems by heart.  Just handling it taps into my childhood emotions.  That volume is ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ by Robert Louis Stevenson, this volume of poems was written during the early 1880s by Robert Louis Steven while ill and unable to work on his novels.  He was remembering his own childhood and the voice he uses varies between the child he was and the adult he became.  childs garden of verses

In this collection of poetry is one called ‘My Kingdom’. Written in the first person it is the voice of a young boy (the young Robert Louis Stevenson).  This poem evokes a feeling of complete immersion, of being hidden from the trials and tribulations of the everyday world, especially hidden from the adults who have almost complete control over the boy.  vn1

Such a den would be a moving, rustling, living den, with colours, sense and emotions involved as well as invoking an intense sense of privacy.

The book passed down through a number of siblings and cousins until it came back to me on my father’s death.  It is well used, has plenty of ‘interactions’ (scribbles!) and barely holds together.


A bit more about labels

I decided to ask everyone who takes part in creating this project to attach a luggage label to their knitted contribution – they can simply leave their name or a symbol, they can write some words about the way this project has affected them or any emotion or memories it has triggered, they can use an image, or merely leave it blank.  They will leave a little of themselves in the den.  Aesthetically, these labels will represent leaves within the den.  As they increase in number they will add to the visual movement of the den, they will chart its growth and development and they could also create an auditory backdrop to the den.  Paper is noisy in a way that yarn isn’t!  I hope this will help to create the feeling of the young Stevenson’s woodland den.

Labels are a popular theme – think of the Japanese prayer notes, or (not paper labels but the same principle) love padlocks that are causing such problems due to their weight on many fences.

piscine labelsAt the Musée de la Piscine de Roubaix near Lille, Northern France visitors are given a sticker when they pay the entry fee.  Once they leave the museum, the tradition has developed of sticking them to the outer gate.