Yarn Festival to celebrate the social knit-work

IT is a pastime once viewed as the preserve of grannies everywhere. Knitting was never something considered “cool” – but in recent years “Knit and Natter” groups have been springing up across the country, while one local knitter even recently used a practise known as “yarn-bombing” to protest against the ongoing tram works on Princes Street.

And today hundreds of people from across the Capital and beyond are expected to flock to the first ever Edinburgh Yarn Festival.

So jut what is it about knitting that has suddenly caught the imagination of a new generation? We asked some of the cities champion knitters for their insights into this growing social knitwork.

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Mica Koehlmos, 38, is one of the three ladies behind todays new festival, being held at The Out of the Blue Drill Hall, and says she rediscovered her passion for the handicraft in her early 30s after learning during her school days.

She said: “I moved to Scotland from Hamburg 13 years ago, and about seven years ago my sister came to visit me. I remember watching her knitting a teacosy in an afternoon and thinking “I can do that!” So I suppose a little bit of sibling rivalry may have come in there. But the knitting community itself is actually a very welcoming, friendly place.

“I discovered a free online network called Ravelry, which helps people connect with other knitters in their area, and swap tips and patterns online. I’ve now been attending a knitting group once a week for about three years. We have between 20-25 regulars but anyone is welcome to drop in. Even people who are just here for a couple of weeks on holiday will come by to knit with us.

“We’re always happy to have visitors, it’s such a social pass time. You can chat while you knit, the process itself is very relaxing and there’s always someone to show off your newest creation to. I’ve met so many amazing people through knitting.”

Mica decided to start the Yarn Festival, along with fellow knitters Jo Kelly and Linda Ahlgren, after seeing similar events take off in the US.

She continued: “Knitting is massive over there and there are huge festivals in places like New York and Chicago. We felt it was about time Edinburgh had a festival of its own. We’ve had an amazing response, things have really snowballed. We’ve actually had to turn people who wanted to participate away!”

A two day knitting event held as part of the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival last August attracted roughly 400 people, some from as far-flung reaches as Taiwan and China. Organiser Rosy Eribe, who owns Eribe Knitwear in Galashiels, said: “Most people I know who knit were taught by their grandmother, but there are some exceptions to that rule. For example, there’s the woman who learned from her father and brother, after they learned in the trenches of World War II.

“When we held the August event we had set up little beginners stalls for people to give simple knits a try and we were amazed how many men took part - and how many of them immediately wanted something harder to do. My son, who is 28, took up knitting about three years ago. So though it is still predominantly women who knit, we could see that changing over the next wee while!”

And Rosy agrees that the men and women taking up knitting are finding a social and productive form of relaxation, saying: “I have a friend who struggled with depression for many years and decided to try knitting, and found that it really helps. It’s the rhythm of it, it really does take your mind off things.

“We quite often have knitting parties where a lot of us will get together to compare projects and patterns, and to make new friends. Lots of the women who come have started bringing their younger daughters along and they really enjoy it too. I think there’s a real resurgence in these kind of practical hobbies at the moment - you only have to look at all the cookery and gardening programmes on tv.

“Knitting is another skill that people have forgotten because it became so cheap to just buy things, but with money being so tight these days coupled with the fact we can’t really be sure how our clothes are made and who by, a lot more people want to make their own things.”

One such person is Kate Davies, of Leith, who has been designing knitwear for the past ten years. Kate was also taught to knit by her grandmother, but it was members of a much older generation who re-ignited her interest in the craft.

The 39 year old said: “I was working as a historian back in 2005 and I was reading through letters written by women during the US revolution. What struck me was that these women would be having extremely well-thought out and informed discussion of politics one minute, and swopping knitting advice the next. I suppose I always thought these things were antithetical, that as a woman you could only do one or the other, which is ridiculous really. So knitting is almost a political thing for me.”

A fan of customising her clothes and coming up with her own designs, Kate’s designing career really took off in 2009 when she created her now famous owl sweater.

She said: “Over 6000 of those have been made now, it’s amazing! I think the internet has really helped knitting take off again, it’s much easier for people to meet other knitters and swap ideas and tips. People want to be more individual when it comes to fashion, they don’t want to be told what to wear by big companies. The resources are there now for people willing to make the effort to have something a bit different, and even to set up their own businesses.”

And the next generation are already getting a crochet hook in to the market.

Carolyn Spence, 51, who runs the Knit and Natter group at Sighthill Library, one of many across the city, said more and more children have been joining the gang.

She said: “When we first started the group there were only two or three of us ladies, but it’s grown ever since and now we always have at least ten people at the meetings. We hold after school groups in the library and a lot of the kids have started gravitating over – we’ve even had teenage boys knitting with us! I do think the fact they get a cake and a cuppa is a large selling point though!”

• The Edinburgh Yarn Festival takes place today at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall between 10am and 5pm. [email protected]