Raising Knitwear from the Dead: The Sweater with No Name

It took a while, but my yarncromantic magic worked and I now have a finished sweater, made using the remains of a sweater I ripped back. And maybe another knitted T-shirt. And a skein of yarn I had to buy after losing at yarn chicken…But! It’s complete, I love it, and I have no regrets. So here’s the lowdown.

The reverse of purple colourwork knitting being unraveled
From this…

First off, I took scissors to my Sunset Highway sweater, and ripped it back into 2.6 skeins of Chromatic Yarns Sturdy Sock yarn (and some smaller balls of yarn used for the colourwork elements). I then reskeined the yarn, gave it a good wash and whack (literally whacked it against the side of the bath as I was taught to when I briefly handspun my own yarn), and voila! Yarn brought back to life and ready to knit. I also repeated this process with yarn from my rarely-worn Magpie Tendency, knit in the spring of this year. It didn’t fit my wardrobe, so no point leaving that to gather dust at the back of the wardrobe!

I settled for the Sweater With No Name pattern by Paige Parkin (@knitdiaries on Instagram), and promptly began knitting. I mis-judged the amount of yarn I had, and ran out just before the shoulders, so ordered some more from Chromatic Yarns. I’d estimate that I used a total of 2500 yards of yarn in total. This pattern eats yarn.

…to this…

The finished object is big, slouchy and my new favourite item to wear. I’ve never worn cold shoulder jumpers before, but this has me tempted to start! Not to mention eyeing up other yarns to make another in (a) different colour(s).

So. The moral of this story? Rip back knits and raise those lovely yarns from the dead in the form of something newer and better.

All images copyright Cia Jackson 2020

Unraveled: 5 reasons to rip back your knitwear

The reverse of purple colourwork knitting being unraveled

I recently did what most knitters consider unthinkable and ripped back a sweater. Some may see it as a destructive act, but I see it through the nerdy lens of necromancy; bringing the yarn back from the dead (the finished jumper) by re-purposing it into a new garment that will give it a new life, and me something I’ll actually enjoy wearing. As far as I’m concerned, good yarn shouldn’t go to waste, so here are some reasons on why you should have courage and join me on my unraveling crusade of yarncromancy.

  1. It’s not quite your style anymore
    You might still be an emo at 29, or your style tastes might have changed. Where you were once into neon knits, you might be more about the neutrals now. You might prefer more fitted garments. Or looser ones. It’s okay for styles and tastes to change. If there’s still something about that shawl or garment that you love and want on your body, rip it back and transform that yarn into something that better fits your personal style.
  2. It doesn’t fit
    There’s myriad reasons why this might be the case. Your body may have changed, your gauge might have been off, or the yarn grew like crazy when you washed it (looking at you, Drops Merino Extra Fine!) so now your fitted cardi could fit 12 people in one sleeve alone. Whatever the reason, your knits should fit you how you want them to fit. You wouldn’t wear shoes that are too big or that give you blisters, and I’m willing to bet you’re not going to be wearing a hat that barely fits over your head, or a cropped jumper that wouldn’t even cover a nipple. If such items are at the bottom of a drawer or back of your wardrobe because they don’t fit either anymore or they never did… rip them back!
Purple and grey knit fabric
  1. The designer is a bigot
    In as polite terms as I can manage, you won’t want to wear the ideas of someone who turns out to be a bully on your body. It’s the main reason I frogged a sweater recently. The design was very identifiable, and I didn’t want to hurt people who had been hurt by that designer by wearing her ideas on my torso.
  2. There’s a “mistake” that bothers you
    Mistake, error, design element – whatever you call it, sometimes a section using the wrong technique like mixing up your brioche rows, dropped stitches, or a few stitches in the wrong colour might really bother you. I’m pretty laidback and have left in purl bumps and such as it makes my items personal to me. But I can see why having sleeves of different lengths or a section of lace that doesn’t match up would be an annoyance. In which case, rip back – nobody has time to feel slightly resentful of the shawl they’re wearing.
  3. It doesn’t meet your expectations
    I get this feeling a lot when shopping. I fixate on how that dress will somehow make my life infinitely better and I’ll look beautiful in it… Then I try it on, and I feel ridiculous. Sometimes, garments or accessories don’t live up to the vision or expectations we had once they’re off the needles. They might not fit the need we had for them – fabric that’s too transparent may not be your ideal work jumper, for example. You just might not be able to pin down why it’s not making you feel wonderful. If you try it on in a shop and you don’t like it, you wouldn’t buy it. Apply the same logic to your knitwear. Then add scissors.

Chances are, you used some beautiful yarn in those projects – colour, fibre, texture, whatever – and it deserves to be in a project that you wear and adore; to be shown off, not hidden away at the back of your wardrobe!
You deserve knitwear that brings you joy and comfort. Get frogging.

Images copyright Cia Jackson 2020


Purple and grey knit fabric

I think I’ve found my calling in life. Forget the PhD, the CV, the traits that, depending on who you ask, make me either a wonderful employee or not nearly sociopathic enough an employee (I’m looking at you, civil service screening tests). Nah. Stuff that. My calling is now that of the yarncromancer.

But Cia, what the hell is a yarncromancer?

Well, random reader, I’m glad you asked. We’re all familiar with necromancy, yes? The magical practice of raising the dead (found in fantasy settings, I’m not talking actual…oh nevermind) Well think that, think your friendly neighbourhood Grave domain Cleric, only for yarn.

Or, in layperson’s terms, on Friday morning in a coffee-induced haze of madness, I took a pair of scissors to a sweater and over the course of the day, unravelled it so that I could turn the yarn into something better. I raised the yarn from its grave of the sweater I hadn’t worn 12 months so that it could live again as something new. Necromancy, but for yarn. You’re welcome (I had contemplated Knitcromancer but it excluded crochet, so consider yourselves doubly welcome that I went with the grand title of Yarncromancer).

The stranded underside of some purple colourwork knitting as it is being unraveled

In all seriousness though, the sweater in question was one I loved. Until it turned out the designer wasn’t that fantastic a person and I felt that, ultimately, I didn’t want to wear what was essentially that person’s ideas and values on my body*. So the beautiful yarn used to make that sweater sat in a box, unloved and unworn. Yes, I suppose I could have gifted it or donated it to a charity shop. But, in my mind, that was simply shifting the problem and my feelings of discomfort elsewhere. Plus I really liked that yarn (and how I looked wearing it!) So out came the scissors. As an aside, I would be interested to know what others have done with projects designed by problematic designers. Do you still wear/use them? Donate/gift them? Unravel them? Equally, if you’re unsure what to do, I’d love to hear your thoughts too!

First cut is the…hardest?

It took me a while to work up the courage to make the first cut. The sweater did sit in a box for months before this moment arrived. But, once I started unraveling strand after strand of now-crimped yarn, I rapidly became drunk on my own power. It turns out there’s something weirdly invigorating about unraveling (and kinda destroying) 6 weeks’ worth of hard work. I can understand why some would balk at the idea of rapidly undoing something they’d worked on for such great periods of time.

Purple and grey speckled handknit fabric

However, I’d counter that with the fact that something beautiful has since gone unused and unloved. And in my case, the annoyance that I’d used some darn fine yarn to make something by someone with some pretty shitty values combined with the knowledge that the yarn could still be repurposed far outweighed any feelings of fear or potential for regret. Key thing here: the sweater was gone, but the yarn was not. This wasn’t an act of total destruction; only partial. That lovely 4ply yarn was freed to be raised from its knit-up, sweater-shaped grave and given a new and better life. Yarncromancy, y’all.

Several hand-wound balls of purple, and purple and grey speckled yarn on a wooden background

All in all, I advocate being honest with ourselves when it comes to our finished objects and the happiness they bring us. If life is too short for [insert thing here], why is it any different for handknits (or crocheted items) that don’t satisfy us or make us feel anything close to the brilliant beings we are? Having done it once, I’m certainly less afraid of hitting Level 2 Yarncromancy and doing it again to another knitted item that doesn’t bring me joy. Have courage and raise that yarn.

*I am not naming the designer or sweater. They do not need or deserve what essentially boils down to free advertising by me mentioning them here and y’all going to check out their spaces online.

Images copyright Cia Jackson 2020

Help, it’s a sweater again

2020 is apparently my year of doubling up when it comes to knitting. I’ve just got my 6th sweater of the year off the needles and it…looks remarkably like some of the others already in my wardrobe. So much for finding repeat knits boring! However, it’s a global pandemic, up is down and it’s 146th March, right?

A close up of marled knit fabric on chunky purple perspex knitting needles and a D20-shaped pink, purple and teal stitch marker

Cards – and knitting needles – on the table, this sweater didn’t turn out entirely as planned. I made an AquaMarline last year, and it’s one of my favourite sweaters – cropped, cosy, massive dramatic sleeves. I’m going through a phase of enjoying slightly longer knits (what can I say, it means I don’t need to worry about having clean black vests and doing laundry so much) so decided that this AquaMarline would be a tad longer. Just an inch or two.

And then it somehow became a dress.

A chunky pink purple and blue sweater on a wooden hanger

It’s not what I envisioned but I am actually in love with this sweater. It’s got 10 beautiful skeins of yarn from some amazingly talented designers, and it gives me serious Jem & the Holograms vibes. Are the sleeves impractically big? Yes. Do I love waving my arms around to make the fabric swing back and forth? Also yes. Is it way too warm to wear this behemoth of a jumper?Most certainly.

As Ravelry has gone to hell in a bad LiveJournal aesthetic with a side order of rendering itself inacessible, I thought I’d include some details for the curious.

A close up image of the cuff of a bell sleeve

I made the 5th size. I tend to knit things that are listed as 46inches at the bust and upwards because I like a little positive ease in my garments.
I did not measure anything because I am a chaos merchant. I couldn’t tell you how long the body was before I joined the sleeves, or how long the sleeves were – I simply knit until I ran out of yarn. I probably used the correct sized needles… I just grabbed what looked like the right size from my needle case. I know, I’m the worst.

The yarns. Are you ready for this? I used:

1 x GamerCrafting BFL 4ply in Fuck Cancer Operation Social Justice Warrior colourway. The yardage wasn’t listed but I’d estimate it to be about 400yards. (@gamercrafting)

1 x Down Sheepy Lane BFL/Nylon 4ply sock set in Paint Splattered. (@downsheepylane)

1 x HeyJayYarn Sparkle Sock in Queer & Cosy Operation Social Justice Warrior colourway, (@heyjayyarn)

2 x Countess Ablaze Lady Persephone Sock (BFL/Nylon) in Ministry of Truth Twisting and I’m Good, Thanks. (@countessablaze)

2 x Twisted Squirrel Merino/Nylon sock in De Rolo. (@twisted.squirrel.yarn)

2 x Chromatic Yarns Sturdy Sock (BFL/Nylon) in Necromancy and Hamster Unicorns. (@thecornerofcraft)

Plus assorted remnants of skeins used in other projects including more Chromatic Yarns Sturdy Sock, Skein Queen Blush and FibrePunk Lustre.

A close up image of marled pink, purple and teal knit fabric

If you’re looking to stashbust or use up leftover half skeins from other projects, AquaMarline is a magnificent stash buster. It’s cleared a lot of single skeins from my stash that I was struggling to find projects for that would show them off. The beauty of AquaMarline is that the marled effect of holding so many strands of yarn together gives each yarn a chance to shine, as colours pop against each other or tone together. It’s great for gradients, or “fades” if you’re an Andrea Mowry fangirl.

If it’s not clear by now, this pattern is simple and well-written, and extremely easy to adapt. If you’re looking for a first garment, this is a good option. I’ve knit it twice, and I may knit another.

All images copyright Cia Jackson 2020

Cyborgs Knit Too

Feet in red and black handknit socks surrounded by books

Alright, the knitting and cyberspace/cyborgs thing. I’d like to say that I know where I’m going with this but, ach, let’s just see.  Let’s muse and shout into the void like it’s LiveJournal circa 2004.

First off, one thing to make clear here is that anything involving cyborgs and cyberspace and lit theory connected to those things is my jam. I could roll around on piles of books about them the same way Scrooge McDuck rolls around in gold coins. The main cyborg piece I played with in my thesis was Donna Haraway’s oft-used in undergrad lit theory courses essay, ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ (1985) which Warwick Uni really helpfully have a nice PDF of for you to enjoy. The super simplified, pumpkin spice latte basic version of this that you need to know is: Haraway uses the image of the cyborg in order to propose how feminists might reject and evade patriarchal societal boundaries and limitations of gender through adoption of technological advances; it’s also a means for feminism to include marginalised voices excluded from major narratives. Obviously this was written in the 80s (and therefore a totally different wave of feminism to the one we’re now in), so it’s worth keeping this in mind when reading Haraway’s words. I.e. it ain’t perfect. However, one thing I do like about the piece is the idea that a cyborg is a “chimera”, it’s this amazing hybrid of human and technology. I mean, c’mon, it’s pretty cool. In my research, I take this and I twist it and play with it and apply it to superheroines and fangirls; most notably Barbara Gordon. Welcome to my favourite theoretical sandbox. Chimeras, technology, humans, gender. 

So. When I play with this wee piece of theory, I take the very basic view that a cyborg is someone who enhances themselves and their means of interacting with the world through technology. Yeah, you could view a cyborg as someone with computers and wiring and metal bolted to their body a la Victor Stone/Cyborg in DC’s Teen Titans and Justice League. Or, you could take the view I do in that we are all quite literally cyborgs now. I’m talking to you via my laptop and a blog right now. You could be reading it on a computer screen, or your phone screen. You could be using an e-reader. There’s more though; I navigate parts of the world via GoogleMaps; you probably do too unless you’re off camping or just like maps. I visit online stores instead of physical ones. I hang out with friends in the cyber landscapes built within World of Warcraft, or even Zoom rooms. As far as I’m concerned, you and me? We’re cyborgs. We don’t simply experience the world with technology anymore, we experience it through technology. And that’s one helluva filter.

As for cyberspace… This is where things get all the more fun. You could view space as quite literally the room you’re in. It’s physical, it’s tangible. Cyberspace? It’s big, nebulous, sprawling. But there’s some more theory that I enjoy and I’m going to just ram it right in here like a mediocre cishet white man who never bothered to learn about foreplay. Doreen Massey has produced some amazing work (Space, Place and Gender in 1994 in fact!) in which she looks at space and place through social relations and interactions (and surprise, surprise, gender factors in here too). A room, a building, a park – whatever – aren’t static or frozen in time; countless interactions occur here and they are experienced differently. Again, in the PSL basic short of it, a space is interactions, it’s community, it’s the people. Now think about what that means for cyberspace. If we’re chatting fans, think about AO3 where you can find all that juicy fanfic. Think about Twitch and Critical Role….

Alright Cia, but I came for the knitting and you’re boring me right now. 

Okay, so, knitting doesn’t seem like a cyborg-y thing at a glance, but how many of us used to devote large chunks of time to Ravelry and its forums? How many of us bought our patterns there? Formed friendships? How many of us now use Instagram instead of Ravelry, or used it as well as? We knitters are cyborgs. I mean … using knitting needles in order to interact with and enhance our yarn and patterns, and create something that essentially enables our further interactions with the world? As an aside, tell me a jumper or pair of socks doesn’t enable your greater interaction with the world and I’m just going to point you to a weather app and note that public nudity is pretty frowned upon in most places. Pretty sure you need to wear something even when answering the door to that Amazon delivery you ordered using the app on your phone. Just saying. So anyway, as far as I’m concerned, those pointy sticks are a cyborg enhancement right there. Ditto the tablet you’re reading your pattern from. You’re a chimera of flesh and blood and yarn and wireless networks. 

So. We’re cyborgs and we make our home in yarny cyberspace. In an ideal world and taking a wee pinch of Haraway’s theory, Ravelry – AKA a yarny city writ large on the internet – we could have the potential for some kind of cyborg utopia of knits and purls and treble crochets that doesn’t share the same regressive, restrictive values of patriarchal society. Except…we don’t. I’m not even sure we could say we did have that before Ravelry’s current decision to jettison accessibility and cut thousands of knitters and crocheters off from their cyber homes. Not when marginalised members of the community haven’t been made to feel welcome or safe within knitting and crochet-associated physical or cyberspaces. At the moment, we seem to have a significant volume of cyborg yarnies completely adrift in cyberspace with no home or community. Think about where this may eventually lead. 

One question that I return to a lot is that of what actually happens when we become cyborgs, and how this changes how we relate to one another; how we form those communities. Those spaces. 

When it comes to fandom studies, it’s been posited that cyberspace forms a refuge for fans typically excluded from the physical space and major discussions. In most of the fandom literature I’ve come across, it’s covered by gender; fanboys get the comic book stores, fangirls get cyberspace. Obviously this lacks a fair amount of nuance, but you get the idea. Cyberspace provides(ed) fangirls a space in which they could evade the hostility and aggression of fanboys; a refuge of sorts. I’m sure we can make some extrapolations here, but the potential for curating our identities or creating entirely new ones online, as well as finding friendships on LiveJournal or AO3 are hardly new concepts. Rhiannon Bury has written some great material on fandom and cyberspace and I recommend checking it out, if you can. While you’re hitting up Google, Suzanne Scott, Benjamin Woo and Henry Jenkins are some other names you may want to add to your search bar. Their work is brilliant.

But how does this connect to knitting? For me, it raises a lot of questions. In contrast to fangirls, knitters are not necessarily “forced” into cyberspace or hanging out on Instagram to avoid hostility from the dominant figures of a culture or subculture. It could be that academics – myself included – view cyber fandom through rose-tinted glasses. However, it cannot be a coincidence that knitting cyberspace – Ravelry for the most part – has come to be structured somewhat similarly to an online element of a geeky fandom. Ravelry became increasingly integral to day-to-day knitting life – enabling more knitters’ cyborg awakenings – against the backdrop of G*mer and then C*mics- gate. The rise of toxic fandom, and fanboys’ seeking to “regain” dominance over fandoms they felt belonged to them and were being tainted by women and marginalised fans. G*mergate, and its associated protesting that “it’s about ethics in gaming journalism” wrote the handbook on targeted online harassment. It’s simultaneously surprising and predictable that knitters – despite being a community built of the very people fanboys seek to silence and push out – have begun to replicate toxic (gendered) fannish behaviour. Despite the potential of Haraway’s cyborg, knitters appear to have dropped a few stitches along the way. 

In the two geeky gates I’ve mentioned, a large element of toxic fandom in cyberspace revolves around forgetfulness; forgetting that the people at the other end of that wireless connection are humans, and not unfeeling machines. In science fiction, we see anxiety about humanity and our reliance upon technology played out time and again. In living in cyberspace for so long, and taught by the fanboys of the gaming and comics worlds, are cyborg knitters losing their humanity? Their capacity for empathy, certainly. How often do we see comments on an Instagram post designed to gatekeep? How many times do designers or dyers need to Tweet reminders that they are humans who do not deserve to wake up to an inbox full of rude emails, nor are they printer repair experts? The fact that Instagram has aided in turning business owners into celebrities – deepening the feeling that knitting is a fandom and not a community – perhaps has not aided this. Rather than creating cybernetic friendships, it has elevated these talented people to new heights whilst also rendering them increasingly accessible to the cyborg ‘grammers, in the same way that Twitter made female programmers and comics writers easily reached by fans and ill-wishers alike in 2015. The filter we’ve chosen to lay over the lines between human and computer, celebrity, friend and fan is pretty blurry, and doesn’t necessarily improve the picture. 

As I write, we’re several weeks into a Ravelry update which has rendered the site inaccessible, casting thousands of knitters adrift and leaving them homeless in cyberspace. Smarter, more eloquent people than I have written and Tweeted and ‘grammed about knitting becoming a victim of Instagram lifestyle and influencer culture. And then…there’s the rise of would-be Ravelry replacements offering knitters new real estate in cyberspace, only to reveal they’re also okay sharing that space with Nazis. Google C*micsgate (be careful!) and this is sadly unsurprising. We’ve had alt-right knitty YouTubers and Instagrammers for a while, and if we’re following in the cybernetic footsteps of geek fandoms, what else could we yarny cyborgs expect? Are we at “Knitgate” now?

Haraway hoped that embracing our cyborg identities could lead to something better. I can only really speak of what I alone have gained from blending yarn and technology. So I still hope. But perhaps we really need a reboot. 

Fanboys & Cereal

Feet in red and black handknit socks surrounded by books

This was going to be a somewhat laidback, chill blog post expanding on some casual tweets I’d made in the past, somewhat cheekily noting some similarities in the behaviours I’d seen in the knitting world and superhero comic book fandom. But there’s more academic in me than I thought, so look at me bringing in some sources. For the most part, this is a chill blog post though.

The caveats

As I don’t know at this point who reads anything on this blog, or who may come across this post, I’d like to make a few things clear before I begin: this post is me playing with my research into the superhero comics fandom (stressing the comics part – not the movies) and my enjoying knitting in my time far away from panels full of breasts drawn by artists who I can only assume have never seen a woman naked, or know how gravity works. As such, I’ll throw in references to any texts I used when writing my thesis that I think might be of interest or are just plain cool. If you want academic or anecdotal/less formal stuff on knitting… sorry, but you’ll have to Google that. But when you do, be respectful of the spaces you go into, and if anyone has a Ko.Fi account or similar, please pay them for their labour and any educational resources they’ve created that you use. This isn’t going to be some catch-all post that covers every aspect of either group that I’m discussing here. I’d need a monograph for that. With that in mind, I’m going to make some assumptions and generalisations for ease, and I’ll simplify things as best I can. I am writing from a position of privilege, so it’s also important to note that my experiences and perceptions of both the superhero fandom and the knitting world will both align with and differ vastly from those of others. That does not make what I say more valid, nor does it make those of others less so. We cool? Right then.

The Stereotypes & the Binaries

Let’s do that cringey thing where we chat definitions before we bite into the meaty bit. For the sake of argument, I very basically define a fan as someone who really, really bloody likes something to the extent that they engage in fannish practices with the object of their fandom (for a more comprehensive and academically phrased version of what I’m saying, check out Mark Duffett’s Understanding Fandom: An Introduction to the Study of Media Fan Culture (Duffett, 2014)). As someone who has lived in geek culture since being an annoying tween, I’m usually referring to them, but that’s not to completely exclude football fans, Britney fans, or Hamilton fans. This post is therefore going to make comparisons to mainstream superhero comic book fans – think DC and Marvel, not the indie stuff – but I do not doubt that comparisons could easily be drawn from other areas. When I refer to “fannish practices”, what springs to mind for me is activities including (but not limited to) cosplay, writing fan fiction, posting online in forums and blogs, making fan podcasts, producing fan art, attending conventions and festivals, and buying associated merchandise – think comics with variant art, T-shirts, mugs, figurines, etc. 

What’s a knitter? At the most basic level, someone who knits. But as I’m about to go into below, we have a lot of ridiculous stereotypes that make even that simple a definition go somewhat out the window. Can I get a “hashtag not all” over here?

Both the superhero comics fandom and the knitting industry operate along some gendered binaries, and produce some frankly ridiculous and offensive stereotypes. To put it mildly. Despite countless journalists cheerfully noting over the years that “girls read comics too!” (give me a break!), the superhero fandom – and indeed most geek fandoms – continue to operate along a binary which I summarise in my thesis as essentially “fanboy or not fanboy” (yes, this is problematic, and I will get to it, bear with me). Many fans, critics and academics have pointed out over the years that the fanboy seems set to inherit the earth – assuming he hasn’t already. Let’s be realistic here; fans in most geek fandoms are presumed to be straight, white, abled men, generally aged 18-34, with the occasional exception. Hell, there’s books on it – Matthew J. Pustz’s Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers (1999) and Gerard Jones’s Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book (2004) to name a couple. Women present in fandoms generally get treated to objectification, perceived as the baggage of another male fan (mother? Sister? Girlfriend?) or labelled a “fake geek girl”, aka someone entering the sacred fandom so that she can break the heart of a fanboy and basically destroy the fandom because she’s apparently the bogeyman. Having had that one thrown at me during my presidency of a gaming society, all I can say is: lads, y’all give us too much credit, you’re more than capable of fucking up that thing you love all by yourselves in your nicely gate-kept castles long before we even so much as blink at your comic or TV show or Magic: The Gathering cards. But I’m digressing with a big old axe to grind that a lad chucked there during my GUGS presidency.

This is the important bit! Do you notice someone missing here? LGBTQ+, POC, disabled and older fans barely get a footnote. Look in the panels of a comic, read a mainstream journo article (“did you know that girls read comics and D&D is cool now?!”), check out some books and academic texts, and these fans are barely acknowledged or represented, if at all. As someone who does see herself represented in these books – however wonderfully or poorly that may be – I am still there. Loads of my friends and colleagues and people I’ve still yet to even meet are not there. They’re excluded, they’re written out, drawn over, pretended to not exist. To say that the comic book industry, academia and a heck of a lot of other places need to do better would be a massive understatement. There are a few movements and sections of people who believe otherwise, but y’all can Google that, but do so with caution. It’s not pretty. One is a word ending in -g*te. Knitty folks reading : think along the lines of the groups that got butt-hurt when Ravelry said “nae Trump”, merrily harass designers and dyers online, and at some point came up with some nonsense about green socks on Instagram.

To return to the comics stuff: however much things may or may not be changing, you’re often reduced to whether you’re a fanboy or you’re not. Fanboys good; not fanboys, bad. And that is very much reflected in panels of comics, at conventions, in comic book stores, in critical texts, and the very image that comes to mind when we see or hear the word “fan”. Wee aside here: two books I used during my thesis that I really rate – and happen to touch on this! – are Suzanne Scott’s Fake Geek Girls : Fandom, Gender and the Convergence Culture Industry (Scott, 2019) and Benjamin Woo’s Getting A Life: The Social Worlds of Geek Culture (Woo, 2018). I recommend checking these out, they’re very well-written. 

Now for the knitting stuff. My perception here would be that the knitting industry suffers from some similar assumptions when it comes to what a knitter looks like. If you live in the UK, I’m sure you’re somewhat familiar with the old Shreddies adverts, where “nannas” (white actresses in what were very obviously cheap grey wigs, frumpy clothes) would sit in rocking chairs knitting the cereal pieces. As with superhero fandom, anyone actively engaged within the knitting industry – or a knitting community such as a local knitting group or similar- will be aware that the stereotype doesn’t necessarily match the reality. The past 18 months alone has seen some extremely important discussions about racism in the knitting world, as well as more recently conversations about ableism after Ravelry – the website to be on if you’re a knitter – gave itself a makeover. I won’t be placing links here as I do not want to redirect any readers to Ravelry when the site is – at time of writing – causing seizures, migraines, and is just downright unsafe. Wee reminder to please respect the spaces of knitters you go to and pay them for their labour and resources here!

Knitters aren’t typically presumed to be groups of blokes; an obvious contrast to that of the comic book fan. I’m not entirely sure if there’s a particular group of knitters who are the “true believers” or “of tomorrow”, but as it’s a craft that’s perceived as feminine in a patriarchal, capitalist society that undervalues such things, I doubt it. Men who knit certainly exist, and they make up some of the most successful and prominent indie designers, but they don’t necessarily spring to mind when someone – particularly someone well beyond the reaches of the craft – hears the word “knitter”. Generally, it seems to be old ladies or, according to one drunk bloke in a pub I once encountered, “pregnant lassies” because, and I quote, “well why else would you be knitting if you’re not making something for your baby?” There’s probably plenty to unpack there, but as with the superhero fandom, why would a woman be engaging with something if it wasn’t connected to securing a male partner and later reproducing?   

“Ugh, fangirls”

When it comes to knitters and fans – and indeed most other groups – one thing that is really, really obvious is that language kinda needs to evolve. When I started my PhD five years ago and did a slight veer into the whole fangirls thing, there wasn’t much by way of material on anything other than male fans versus female fans. It was an either or game, and the idea of “fangirl” being anything other than a derogatory term (and delightful slice of toxic masculinity because ew, girls apparently) was around but still in the process of being reclaimed. Writing my thesis was a nightmare – did I want to write out “female superheroes” ad nauseam (even if it would bump up my word count)? Much as I wanted to use plain ol’ ”superheroes”, it too usually conjures up images of the lads in their tight spandex, and wasn’t helped by the fact that so many critics and other fans use the terms “superheroes” and “female superheroes”. If you want some cracking further reading on this, I suggest you look out Carolyn Cocca’s Superwomen: Gender, Power and Representation (2016), or for some accounts straight from the mouths (keyboards?) of fans, The Secret Loves of Geek Girls (2016) and/or more recent “sequel”, The Secret Loves of Geeks (2018). Note the uses of women and girls there. The Secret Loves books do contain a wide and diverse range of contributors who share very personal stories and experiences around their fandoms. Geek Girls alone includes playground bullying, drag, shipping, crushing on Dragon Age characters (hard relate), relationships, cosplay, comics, creating sexy fan art… These books aren’t perfect, but in 2016 on the heels of that chat about ethics and gaming and journalism, it was cool to have something that didn’t assume that all geeks were members of The Big Bang Theory Cast. I’d hope that an anthology made in 2020 – or later, it’s a pandemic right now and we don’t need to leave lockdown with a publishing deal and a ripped physique – might be all the more inclusive and intersectional. More nuance. Less exclusion.

The same goes for knitters and the image we conjure up when we hear “knitter”. Whilst the fact that language around knitters may be a relatively interesting contrast to superheroes and female superheroes with knitters and male knitters, we’re still returning to something limited that completely excludes a significant portion of knitters. I include myself in writing this post. Whilst these conversations may be happening online – they have yet to reach the mainstream. Sure, huge swathes of the population can casually reel off details about Harley Quinn previously only a dedicated cartoon viewer or comics fan would know thanks to Hollywood, the same can’t be said for yarn, needles and the people using them to create colourwork sweaters. When knitters talk about “the knitting community” on Instagram, this comes with the assumption that everyone who knits uses Instagram and is aware of the conversations occurring there. Or, in the past, that every knitter made use of Ravelry. The changes in understanding that are occurring in these spaces and groups needs to continue to expand. I think. I’m on one cup of coffee right now, and I’m not an expert in linguistics, but it would be remiss of me not to, at the very least,  mention this. In short: language at present is not entirely reflective or inclusive of the communities, groups, cultures, and sub-cultures it is used to describe. As I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve kept this super basic. PSL-drinking basic, and even that is by no means ideal.

Did you think this was all of it? Oh mate, goodness no! I wrote this entire thing out in one and it was well over 3000 words so lucky you, I’m splitting my yarn and spandex chatter across multiple posts. This was just the tiny tip of a very noisy and somewhat spiky iceberg. If you’re willing to humour me, the next post will expand on what is here, and (hopefully!) cover spaces. After that, I’m thinking I’ll tap into celebrity, and… we’ll see. Along the way, I hope to touch on as much as I can, all whilst trying to keep things light and breezy, bloggable and bite-sized. In the meantime, I’m always up for a good chat here or over on Twitter, and honestly, the more points of view – the better. Mine isn’t and shouldn’t be the only voice.

Stitches and Panels

Of course I was going to find a way to combine my love of comics and yarn. Of course it was going to become a blog post! Put down your needles and join me in the panels?

First off, when knitting enters the panels. I’ve followed Katie Green for a number of years, and I was thrilled when she began writing knitting comics for Pom Pom Quarterly, a knitting magazine I have been a long-time subscriber of. Fast forward to 2019, and Katie published those comics (with a few additions!) as a zine, More Than Yarn, and I picked up a copy at Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Katie’s comics are all personal, touching on how knitting has changed her life; the impact it has had upon her mental health, her body image, and her relationships. There’s even a cute comic about a mitten, as well as one on the potential of yarn. One page was turned into a print a few years ago and now hangs in my flat. Katie’s comics are beautifully written and illustrated; there’s something comforting and familiar to each one. I particularly enjoy how she employs different colouring techniques for each one, which really cements the different tones and atmospheres as she shares her personal experiences. I know these comics pretty well, but I still enjoy returning to them. It’s a gorgeous collection, and I defy any knitter not to fall in love with Katie’s comics, or relate to them!
I really appreciated Pom Pom publishing these comics in their magazines too. Like most comics readers, I’m somewhat bored of mainstream media and bookstores occasionally peddling the “oh my goodness, comics are for everyone!” or “comics are for children, graphic novels are for adults darling!” nonsense. It was great to see these included without question in the magazine. Plus, y’know, more stunning images and words to enjoy alongside the patterns I’d eventually go on to knit. In short; more comics about knitting! And if you haven’t already, check out Katie’s work and her amazing autobiographical comic now!

You didn’t think I wouldn’t include some knitting inspired by comics, did you? Of course I am that level of geek!

Oooft, check that very different hairstyle!

Let’s go with stuff I’ve made. Please note that links here are to Ravelry pattern pages and unless you have switched to Old Ravelry, they will open in the new Ravelry format. There’s the Wonder Woman shawl by Carissa Browning – a free pattern no less, and I think there may be a crochet version too! Garter stitch, short-rows, and free. What’s not to love? I made mine a few years ago using long-stashed yarn from Old Maiden Aunt merino/silk yarn, and then wore it to a conference where I presented some of my Batgirl research. So many knitters have made this shawl, and I love seeing the different colour palettes they’ve used to interpret it; from sticking to Wonder Woman’s traditional costume colours, to using greys and neons.

Here’s two projects I’ve not thought of in a very long time. I was seeing a guy who was a big fan of The Punisher… At the time I couldn’t find a pattern, so I charted up the logo and made him a hat and some mittens. I don’t have a picture of the completed hat, but I did remember to take a picture of the mittens as I felt rather proud of them back then. I have no idea if he still has them – he tried to give me back a pair of socks I made him…uh no thanks dude, you wore them, also why those but not the other stuff? Men… – but I was pleased with how these turned out as at the time, I wasn’t a big or remotely experienced colourwork knitter. Not bad considering!

This is an unofficial one, but I was gifted some Harley Quinn-inspired yarn from two of my best pals. The colourway was “Harley Deserved Better” and was dyed by the fantastically talented dyer, Gamercrafting. As an aside, I got her Birds of Prey mystery club yarn for my birthday, and like this colourway, it was Harley to a T! Anyhow, once I had my viva date set, I knit these socks to wear to said viva. When half of your thesis is on Harley Quinn, you can’t not, right? Well reader, I wore them to my viva and it was a very relaxed and enjoyable viva. Were these Harley-inspired socks lucky? Maybe. Either way, they’re my favourite socks and I wore them whilst typing up my corrections over the winter.

This is, of course, the tip of the ice berg. There are a plethora of comics-inspired patterns available, some for free. Captain Marvel fans are in for a treat as there are some beautiful colourwork mittens and shawls featuring the Captain Marvel logo out there. It makes me wish I was a bigger Carol Corps fan, to be honest. There are plenty for Wonder Woman fans too. Beyond the shawls, there’s amigurumi to enjoy, and a stunning sweater which is on my list to tackle one day. Harley also makes an appearance, and seems to be popular with crocheters. Need a hat inspired by Harley’s old jester costume or a Harley plushy? Designers have you covered. Batgirl, much to my disappointment, has yet to become a firm source of inspiration for designers, but there’s still time. If you are a designer though, I could totally use a Batgirl shawl or sweater. Just sayin’. You can never have too many nerdy knits. And I want to see more knitting in comics.

Images copyright Cia Jackson 2020

The Knitted Pandemic Wardrobe

some ribbed knitting in purple yarn speckled with blue, pink and yellow next to a mug

So lockdown has been great for my knitting – is anyone surprised? As Ravelry is currently imploding, I thought, what the hell? Let’s lean into the knitting blogger thing. So here are the pandemic knits (so far). At the moment, I’m linking to pattern pages on Ravelry while designers are deciding where to host their work. Please bear this in mind below.

Modeled in front of the Partick Thistle football crowd mural to make up for social distancing & missing pals!

Cosmic Wonder is a shawl pattern by Jen Emerson, combining my love of brioche and garter stitch in a crescent shape. As Hannah of The Corner of Craft podcast and dyer behind Chromatic Yarns was running a knitalong, this got cast on using skeins from her Knitical Role monthly mystery yarn club. It’s all a BFL 4ply base and knits up a treat; I’ve used it before for garments and it wears beautifully. The main, grey yarn is the Craven Edge colourway, named after one of my favourite Critical Role Campaign 1 weapons. I saved this skein for something special and this shawl was it! This was started just before lockdown, and cast off just as things really kicked off here in the UK. It’s been my “daily exercise outside” shawl of choice, and was great for the spring weather. It turned out a little smaller than I’d hoped, but I still love it.

Thinking about my next project

Next up, my second entry to the KAL, a Magpie Tendency by designer Skeinanigans using leftover yarn from the shawl. This was a quick knit, as it’s 4ply yarn on huuuuuuge needles. It’s made for a great piece to layer under jumpsuits or over sports bras whilst kicking about the house. This one is nice and summery, and I used the now repeatable colurway of Gilmore’s Glorious Goods as my main colour – that rich purple yarn. I used up every last scrap of yarn and I rate this as a stashbuster. I do want one with longer sleeves though, so I may be making a second one right now…

Posing moodily or just stroking the mohair?

After Magpie Tendency, I decided to move on with mohair. I’d been dying to knit this Garland sweater since 2013 but had been lacking the confidence to tackle a garment involving lace stitches and lace yarn. Enter pandemic fearlessness! This was a real delight to knit, and the mohair from Snuggly Stars Yarns is beautiful – the colour is that perfect 1980s baby pink I tend to gravitate towards.
I am pleased with this sweater and again, it’s another wonderful layering piece. However, I am disappointed because I don’t think the larger sizes were designed to scale with bust size – it just gets wider, not wider and longer…so uh, this is shorter than I’d hoped and only used 2/3 skeins I’d bought. It’s a good thing I’m a fan of super cropped sweaters. I still love it, but next time I’m trusting my gut if I think a designer’s pattern hasn’t been graded to fit bigger busts.

The yoke of a colourwork sweater. It is black with geometric patterns knit in pink and green.
Girly and slightly gothy

I’ve already blogged about the crop top that came next, so let’s carry on with the sweaters! I decided having tackled some lace, it was time for colourwork again. Enter the delightfully witchy Half Moon Tee by Dragon Hoard Designs. This had been on my radar for a while, and once again, lockdown boredome and fearlessness came into play as I thought, “f*** it!” and cast on. Again, I cracked out some Knitical Role yarns, supplemented by some Giddy Aunt Yarns Merino Smooth Sock (a merino nylon blend) for the body in the equally geeky colourway named Hex (it’s a spell in D&D!) This was another learning curve as I was tackling 3 colours in some rows, and the contrast of my contrast yarns wasn’t necessarily as stark as I’d hoped…but I still think it’s effective. This sweater is equal parts goth and pop princess, and with the extended sleeves, will be perfect in spring and autumn. So saying, another one is totally on the cards. It’s just such a fun yoke to work on!

Cauldrons or coffee? Either way I love this one!

Still in the mood for colourwork and taking on patterns I’d been eyeing up for a while, I cast on the Morning Cup sweater by Tiffany Kerr of Twill and Print. I had some yarns that my MIL bought me from Espace Tricot for Christmas, including 2 skeins of Julie Asselin’s Fino (merino silk and cashmere) and Espace Tricot’s own single plied merino silk and cashmere Grace base. Throw in the leftover Giddy Aunt Yarns Hex from my last project and I had a very girly and slightly gothic sweater with the cutest yoke of coffee cups ever. The yoke took a while, and also slightly resembles cauldrons, I think, but I’m thrilled with how it’s turned out. What’s more, tea lovers aren’t left out – there’s an alternative chart for them with a wee tea bag! This top is so soft and slouchy, it’s already become a firm favourite. I can’t wait for colder weather so I can wear it with PJs and curl up on the couch with a good book and a huge mug of coffee!

Check those slubs!

And now we get to my current project. After the pastel colours of the Morning Cup sweater, I opted for something punchy – another Magpie Tendency using some slub yarn from Hey Jay Yarns. I’d seen a few knitters make this top using slub yarn and they just so happened to have a punk aesthetic…I couldn’t help myself. I ordered two skeins and I’m aiming for an oversized, long-sleeved top to wear with skinny jeans and biker boots. So far, it’s working up quickly and I love the effect of the slub yarn. It creates this almost handspun texture and my goodness, it’s so soft. I can already tell that this is going to be amazing.

I don’t have plans after this second Magpie Tendency. Though that could change. Either way, I’ve managed to curate myself a rather decent knitted wardrobe throughout lockdown and I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. This has been pretty good for my body image, and worst case scenario, I’ll be cosy should we get (what seems like an inevitable) second wave of the virus come winter.

Images copyright Cia Jackson 2020

Crop Top Appreciation

I’ve completed a few projects since lockdown began, and this crop top is hands-down one of my favourites. Possibly one of my favourite projects ever.

A self-indulgent selfie because I was very much enjoying this look.

The pattern is My Secret Little Crop by Jessie Maed Designs. Like Jessie’s other designs, this one beautiful in its simplicity and versatility, extremely well-written, and size inclusive with different price options.

I flew through this project, and could barely put it down. I think it took me less than a week – about the same time as a hat or cowl, for a speed comparison. There was nothing intimidating or complex to worry about with the pattern, making it the perfect project with the backdrop of a global pandemic unfolding and the emotions that go alongside that. Concern and hurt for loved ones, stresses about jobs and opportunties, grief, anger… It was wonderful to be able to pick this up and knit a few rows; the pattern repeat is easy to memorise and wonderfully meditative. It was ideal.

The stunning, exclusive Pandemic colourway from DyeCandy, with a percetage of proceeds raising money for charity

The main yarn I used was from DyeCandy, and the colourway was an exclusive, called Pandemic, with a percentage of proceeds going to the Corona Virus Relief charity (no longer on sale). As it was a 4ply yarn, I held it double, and honestly, I love how it worked up. The ribbing of the pattern combined with the vibrant colours and speckling of the yarn were the perfect match, each showing off the other to great effect. The contrast straps were knit in Chromatic Yarns Sturdy Sock (a BFL/Nylon base) in the Prayer of Healing colourway. I love pink and I feel like this brings out the pinks and purples of the DyeCandy yarn nicely. It felt fitting to be knitting a pattern released at the start of lockdown in a yarn called “Pandemic” that had, in part, raised money to help with the pandemic, and a contrast that was named after a D&D healing spell.

As for wearing the finished object… I adore it. I mostly wear it as a layering piece, wearing it under jumpsuits, dresses and tank tops, but it has been tried on with high-waisted skirts and leggings too. It’s converted to me embracing mainstream fashion’s ongoing ’90s vibes, accessorising it with those black elastic chokers and big hoop earrings. I’ve also worn it a few times when sunbathing on our living room floor in lieu of being able to sunbathe with pals in the Botanics. I never thought a knitted project made from merino and nylon (and not a more summery fabric such as cotton or linen) would be suitable for wearing in direct sunlight and warm weather, but consider me proven wrong.

Perfect for self-isolation sunbathing in your living room.

It could be lockdown having led to many of us embracing elasticated waistbands and no longer giving an expletive about society’s rules for fashion and body image, but this has entered my regular clothing rotation.
I’m not someone who loves getting her stomach out, but this crop top and Jessie Maed Designs’ Ripple Bralette have been converting me. I feel confident, comfortable and genuinely quite happy in myself when I wear this crop, or the Bralette. I’m utterly convinced that knitting myself this was one of the best acts of self-kindness I’ve given myself in a while. Just something uniquely and specially mine made with so much love, care and genuine excitement; no deadlines, no concern about how anyone would perceive my body when I wear it. There’s something equally joyous in seeing others modelling their finished tops and bralettes on Ravelry and Instagram too. There’s perhaps a post on body image to be written, based on this. I do find myself contemplating more crop tops in different colours and yarns. Imagine one in a soft, bouncy bamboo yarn. Bamboo gives such a delightful luminous shine to yarn, and would be perfect for the summer…

Excuse me, I need to go stash-diving. I have a crop top capsule wardrobe to create.

Images copyright Cia Jackson 2020