I didn't really know what to expect, as there was surprisingly little advance information available. They didn't seem to do much advertising, and their own website was sparsely populated and not updated with new information such as the final programme until shortly before the event. Even components such as the two workshops and the dinner only had details posted a few weeks ahead, by which time I had already made my travel and accommodation arrangements as I expect others had also done. Even Ravelry had virtually nothing about the event, apart from a few stray comments from other attendees.
But I had decided to gamble and take advantage of having my week days available (due to being unemployed) and go along to see what it was like. I'm really glad I did, as it was extremely informative and endlessly fascinating. It was very academic, probably the closest I will ever come to attending an academic conference. A different keynote speaker delivered a 45-minute talk to open each morning and afternoon session over the three days, and the remaining time was filled by a variety of speakers delivering 20-minute papers. The majority were academics, or from an academic background holding PhDs or MAs, and the language and delivery for the most part were very much from the world of research, methodology, citing references and other research work, citing and quoting from sources, all delivered from a podium with Powerpoint slides going in the background. There were probably about 100 attendees, although I think at least a third of those were either speakers or associated with the organising body. The majority were women but there were a few men, and there seemed to be a lot of old friendships from past conferences being renewed. There were no traders apart from a book stall of knitting books, and a welcome opportunity to shop the duplicate vintage patterns and magazines on sale from the Knitting Library, and no formal knitting opportunities such as a knitting lounge, although several people were knitting during the lunch break or in the audience. We did get a wonderful goodie tote bag largely stocked by Rowan, including a huge (and heavy) hardcover book of Rowan patterns, some loose Rowan patterns, a ball of Rowan yarn, a pair of needles, some other leaflets, a vintage pattern, and a 10% discount voucher for CandH Fabrics in Winchester. You might have thought everyone would be wearing knitted articles, like you see on attendees at a knitting show, and there were some examples of shawls, cardigans, and tops to admire. But that would be less than half of the attendees. Socialising took place during the coffee breaks and at lunch, plus there was an included Reception the first evening, and a ticketed dinner the second evening (which I didn't attend due to travel issues). I was there by myself, but found lots of friendly people to talk to on the breaks. And the afternoon tea breaks included cake!
So it was basically a lot of sitting in a lecture theatre being talked at, but the talks themselves came from so many different perspectives and from so many unexpected sources that it was endlessly entertaining. I had wondered what there would be to talk about for three days about two sticks and some wool, but the variety and expertise was mind blowing. You can read the programme here, but a few highlights included:
- Knitwear as performance enhancer in relation to the Olympics over history, delivered by a Senior Lecturer in sports history.
- The contribution of knitwear to the success or failure of polar expeditions during the Heroic Age of Exploration, delivered by a textile archaeologist and historian.
- An exploration of whether the emphasis on the social potential of knitting detracts from the creativity inherent in individual, possibly introverted, endeavour, with reference to studies on Introversion and the world of work.
- Research into the psychological and social benefits of handknitting, including actual impact on wellbeing, and the potential to make greater use of knitting as a therapeutic tool in healthcare.
- An exploration of how the 'myth' of the Aran jumper can be related to anthropological studies into the spread of romanticised 'folk' stories in the context of tourism and globalisation.
- A discussion on whether yarnbombing is illegal, with a wider look at how 'illegal' activities become popularised and accepted in the mainstream, delivered by a Lecturer in Criminology from Australia.
- A look at how traditional Nordic knitting design came to be so intrinsically linked with the American ski industry.
- A criticism and indeed condemnation of the darker elements of the current mania for everything vintage, which very entertainingly compared lightweight 'craft' magazines such as Mollie Makes to pornography, delivered by a lecturer in Critical and Historical studies who specialises in fashion history and theory.