knitting and nanowrimo

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So, Nanowrimo is over. And, sad to say, I not only failed to make the official finishing line, but I also collapsed long before I reached my own finishing line (25,000 words).

I was on track for a full eight days during which I managed to hammer out 12,000 words. But then my mini-Nano was derailed by a deadline which was suddenly brought forward from January to November. Work, of the paid variety, always has to come first. And fortunately it was a nice feature to write – it’s about two very interesting people and it will be accompanied by some lovely photographs taken by my friend James.

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Although the writing didn’t go entirely to plan I did get a lot of knitting done. I find that simple knitting – of the hats, fingerless mittens and socks variety – is very conducive to the sort of free-form thinking that creative writing requires. Round and round I knit, and round and round my thoughts go. I always have a notebook to hand and ideas pop into my mind effortlessly; so different from the paralysis I experience when staring at a blank screen.

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It works with articles too. There is always a point when whatever I am writing about becomes far more complicated than it needs to be. A cup of coffee and a bit of knitting, and the tangle I am in with my writing has miraculously unravelled.

The hats, from top to bottom are Snawheid by Kate Davies (pom pom yet to be attached), Julia’s Cabled Headband by Paulina Chin and finally my first, and not entirely successful, attempt at making a hat without a pattern. I also managed to make several pairs of fingerless mittens using this excellent pattern by Leslie Friend, though I am now keen to have a go at two other fingerless, wrist-warmery, stash-busting patterns, both of which I’ve had sitting on my desk for months now: Susie’s Reading Mitts by Susie Rogers and Runrig Muffatees by Annie Cholewa, aka Knitsofacto, who is currently running a very lovely knitting-related giveaway.

jess quinn

Quirky, disturbing, beautiful, strange, exquisite – take your pick – it’s hard to settle on the one adjective that best describes Jess Quinn’s work. Impossible too, to categorise; are her creations toys or sculptures, fine art or craft? Or all of the above?

Having trained as a painter, studying fine art at Glasgow, Jess returned to Bristol with only the vaguest idea of where her work might lead. Her career took a familiar turn at this point, stalling after the birth of her first child. But she channelled her creativity into drawing, knitting and sewing, primarily for her growing family.

I first met Jess five years ago, around the time when she was thinking about going into business selling bespoke children’s knitwear. Her children’s hats were the envy of the playground – fabulous creations including a crown complete with knitted cabouchons and ermine, and a monster hat writhing with tentacles.

But as any knitter knows, it’s hard to make the cost of labour and materials add up when the highstreet is awash with £10 tams in myriad colours. Added to which, Jess knits intuitively, sculpturally, feeling her way with the yarn, rather than working up a pattern. Each creation was worked afresh, so making a living through selling the patterns was never really an option. “Besides,” she explains, “knitting these things didn’t really allow me to go where I wanted to with my work.”

Two years ago, the painful separation from her partner of many years proved an unlikely catalyst for a change of direction in her work. She started drawing in earnest and this unleashed a curious cavalcade of dancers, clowns, acrobats and circus performers. These drawings, although works of art in their own right, are the jumping off points for her sculptures, as is her huge collection of textiles. “Materials suggest certain characters, and I like discovering what will happen with each individual piece. They are like storybook characters, I suppose.”

Each creation is brought to life over the course of many weeks. “I find that I become completely lost in the pleasure of the process,” she says, “I work on each piece as though it were a painting, and they simply grow.” Sometimes, she admits, she’s not entirely sure where and when to stop. Like Paula Rego, whose work is certainly an influence, there is always a strong sense of narrative to her creations, and this is something that she is keen to explore further by setting her characters in stage-sets, boxes and glass domes.

But Jess is aware that her work falls into uncharted territory, and to that end she has started to develop a few slightly more commercial strands to her work such as stationery, fabric designs and jewellery, all of which feature her fantastical characters. She has recently re-stocked her Etsy shop, and to celebrate its relaunch she is running a giveaway which you can enter by visiting her blog. Leave a comment by Friday 3rd June and you could win a brooch like the ones below. The brooches are made with hand-stitched felt, each one with a unique combination of colours, stitching and in some cases, ribbon. She calls them her Small Art collection, and it’s true, each brooch is a tiny work of art.