This morning I was on Woman’s Hour speaking about my work with sounds. I was nominated for this honour by my amazing friend Kate Davies, whose inspiring interview aired yesterday. Our interviews are links in a chain started by Maylin Scott for Listener Week. Maylin recommended Kate, Kate recommended me, I have nominated the wonderful Lara for tomorrow, and so it goes… a chain of interviews with women, connected by female friendships and yarn: HURRAH!
Because I spend so much time editing audio, I am an infrequent listener to day-time radio. However, no feminist professing an interest in women’s lives could be ignorant of the amazing National Institution that is BBC Woman’s Hour. It was on Woman’s Hour that I first discovered the artist Bobby Baker – one of my all time favourite art heroines; and it was while listening to Alison Lapper speaking about representations of disability on Woman’s Hour that I was inspired to produce my own radio show about disability entitled The Missability Radio Show. It was a big deal for me to be on there!
I spoke about some very early work I did using the sounds of knitting, and I also spoke about some of the sounds recorded for a more recent project, Listening to Shetland Wool. Jane Garvey asked me about my current work in the Charles Dickens Museum, which celebrates Catherine Dickens.
I cannot tell you how happy I was to hear the baas of Shetland Sheep on Woman’s Hour, and to have an opportunity to talk up the mischief and camaraderie of the days when I learnt to knit again in the august company of The Oxford Bluestockings. It seems crazy to imagine that it was a decade ago that I met these amazing women and we ranted together in the pub over our knitting projects.
It was through The Oxford Bluestockings that I discovered the world of online knitting blogs, and needled – the (then) online home of Kate Davies Designs. In her glorious writing I felt I had discovered a kindred spirit; a comrade whose thirst to critically engage with everyday objects, textiles and women’s history was underscored by a deep, feminist conviction in their cultural significance. When we finally met in real life, I discovered that as well as having closely aligned academic interests, we also shared a raucous sense of humour, a love of good, strong tea; of woolly wool; of fine cheeses; and of setting the world to rights. I was then working on the Fantastical Reality Radio Show in association with Mundane Appreciation, and Kate let me record her descriptions of producing the perfect cup of tea and the contents of her handbag for two radio features: Perfect Tea and What’s In Your Handbag?
Kate’s interview yesterday filled me with joy for other shared memories; she mentioned our woolly tour of Sussex and Kent, during which we crushed M&Ms and mud into the footwells of the KNITSONIK mobile; I gave Kate the shakes with a legendary pot of espresso-strength leaf tea; and we got lost in the endless marshes of Romney.
In those muddy, joyous, oomska-laden days we hatched a harebrained scheme to produce a zine with Lara, entitled “The Knitting Forecast”. It was to be a self-published zine chock-full of feminist content and articles documenting the extraordinary history of knitting and the British Wool Industry. “The Knitting Forecast” never saw the light of day as our respective research projects and PhDs and jobs did not afford sufficient time for its production. However, many of our ideas for articles later appeared on the WOVEMBER website which we co-founded some years later, and which is now run by myself and another glorious comrade from the world of wool, Louise Scollay.
In 2009, Oxford Bluestockings Liz, Lara and I drove up to the Lake District in the KNITSONIK mobile. We camped in Buttermere with Tom and Kate and attended WOOLFEST in nearby Cockermouth. We spoke of wool and sheep shades; ranted late into the night about the state of the British Wool Industry; met with sheep breeders and their animals; and filled our tents with our glorious hauls of WOOL.
Many of my own subsequent projects – WOVEMBER, HÛRD and Listening to Shetland Wool – grew out of those times; I also cannot help feeling that some of the rich love for WOOL fostered on that trip can be detected in Kate’s glorious Buachaille yarn.
A huge amount has happened since I first met the Oxford Bluestockings and met Kate through her blog.
Marriages, babies, house-moves, PhDs, serious illnesses, changes of jobs, publishing projects, art projects and more have filled our lives so that now it seems much harder than it once was to get together en masse and put the world to rights over our knitting.
However, it is hard to overstate the rich influence of the ever-widening sisterhood of wool and, doing today’s interview, in the friendship-themed context of the Woman’s Hour chain, I found myself reflecting on how unimaginably poor my life would be without it. I do not know what sort of work I would be making and doing without the shaping force of my fellow knitting buddies whose supportive words, abilities to survive crises together, amazing online writings, keen critical minds and ceaseless creative powers have never ceased to amaze and inspire me.