Last week saw the fourth annual Edinburgh Yarn Festival. The brainchild of two women, Jo Kelly and Mica Koehlmos, the show is dedicated to showcasing the very best yarns from small, niche producers and is one of the UK’s biggest festivals for knitters, weavers, dyers and spinners.
Whilst I am none of the above, I am definitely noticing this resurgence of traditional female crafts. The craft of knitting has enjoyed a huge resurgence in recent years, closely followed by things like embroidery, crochet and macramé.
You only have to see the pink pussy hats to realise how significant these crafts are for female identity and empowerment.
But I think it’s the practical benefits of these crafts that has seen their popularity increase. Their resurgence has grown alongside a generation of people who sit next to computers all day, living life in the virtual, digital world, but having little tangible work.
It’s no coincidence there has been a surge in activities like yoga, running and mindfulness as our connection to the physical world is diminished by growing technology.
The act of crafting itself is also very therapeutic. With many women – and men – suffering from common mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, these repetitive but engaging activities can “quieten” the mind and have a soothing effect. Not to mention the confidence that comes from creating something with your own hands.
However, what I think is most positive about this “movement” is the rise in the number of female entrepreneurs, designers and businesswomen it is supporting.
One of the best examples is Kate Davies, who after suffering a stroke in 2010 was forced to give up her job as an academic and instead started a business selling her self-designed knitting patters.
Some of her patterns have now been sold over 40,000 times, she has published six books and been featured on BBC radio programmes on numerous occasions. And, in 2015 she began manufacturing her own brand of 100% Scottish wool yarn for hand knitting.
Her blog is not to be missed, not just for knitters, but anyone interested in the history of female dress!
Viewers of Countryfile may have seen Sue Hole featured on her farm on the Isle of Purbeck a few weeks ago. Her yarn company Isle Yarns, made from the sheep on her farm and spun in the UK, has gained global appeal, being stocked in shops from Clapton in East London as far as Washington in the US. Consumers are drawn to her ‘farm to yarn’ story and the ability to know exactly where the wool making up their knitted garments came from.
Another yarn manufacturer, Kate Atkinson of ‘Daughter of a Shepherd’ created her own line of yarn in response to the declining value of British fleeces, which meant that her father made significantly less money from selling the fleece of his Hebridean sheep, than it cost to sheer them.
With stories of many farms burning or burying fleeces, Kate decided that rather than sell the fleece to the British Wool Marketing Board – who have a monopoly on British fleece – she would spin the fleece into knitting yarn.
With a firm commitment to using only 100% British wool from shepherds and producers within the United Kingdom, she is supporting British manufacturing, whilst also raising awareness of the value of British wool.
I think this raises an important point in that whilst these women are adding to the resurgence of traditional female crafts, they are also doing much more than that. They are supporting British farming, and manufacturing, and also creating discussion about sustainable fashion and handmade clothes. Why are we wearing clothes made from nondegradable poly blends, when we have a fabulous fiber right on our doorstep in wool?
But perhaps the most significant role they are playing is as role models to many other women, who despite also wanting to create their own business, perhaps lack the confidence or belief to do so. The creativity and perseverance of these women serves as a significant reminder that it can be achieved.
Even if I am not personally thinking about setting up my own business, I have definitely been inspired to think more about supporting our local economies and fibers thanks to these female businesswomen. Who knows, I might even try knit one purl one!