Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Woolly Surfers

Ask any teenager how they research topics for their homework and I bet the majority will tell you that they use the internet as their first port of call, closely followed by delving into the minds of their parents on and Q&A basis, then as last resort by going to find a reference book of some description from the depths of their bedrooms or from the shelf in the Living room. How impatient our children are in their search for information, indeed, I recently discovered that the typical child clicks their mouse an average of just 3 times when searching the net for information on their chosen topic. Apparently by the 4th or 5th click they have practically lost all interest in their intended search and are no doubt beginning to wonder what tasty piece of unrelated information they can absorb from the pages of Face book or You Tube! While many people see this as yet another poor reflection on the ‘youth of today’ I have realized that I too fall into this bracket of impatient surfers, but rather than it being a bad thing I have found that it works to my advantage, especially when in search of design inspiration.

If like me you spend some of your precious time perusing the internet for inspiration you will know how easy it is to stumble upon interesting articles and accompanying images by mistake. It seems that the act of researching on the net differs greatly to other forms of research such as visiting the local library or thumbing through my stack of ‘inspirational’ magazines and books. For example, if I visited my local Library in the hope of finding a design idea I would first go to the section that holds the art and design books, followed perhaps by a visit to the craft and home d├ęcor section, then (for no logical reason) I would probably visit the cookery and gardening section, followed by a short peruse through the magazines and newspapers that reside alongside the reference books. This is commonly where my search culminates after about an hour of searching. Occasionally I find a good source of inspiration, but more often than not – partly because I know the stock at the local Library off by heart - I leave still yearning for an exciting morsel to whet my design appetite.

However, if I want inspiration from the net my research process is instantly more exciting and can take me in directions I would not have considered: I tend to start by typing in a key word such as ‘knitting’ or ‘textile’. If I don’t have much joy doing the first search I will then add another word alongside the original one such as ‘exciting’ or ‘unusual’. This is usually enough to set me on my path to discovery and has led me to find things I could never have imagined. For example, I have just broken away from this article (see – I have a very short attention span!) and searched for ‘extreme knitting’ in my browser (I usually set my choice to ‘images’ rather than ‘web’) and the first thing to come up on the page is an image of a hand knitted replica of a mobile phone, the image next to it is of a knitted take away meal in the shape of a burger, fries and soft drink complete with knitted ‘polystyrene’ packaging and the third image if of a knitting inspired tattoo on the wrist of a yarn devotee. These images alone could lead me in a few directions: using these three as my starting block I can choose the path I wish to follow, I could type in ‘knitted mobile phones’ (690,000 results), ‘knitted food’ (998,00 results) or ‘knitted tattoos’ (302,00 results). In the process of clicking from one image to another I am liable to find inspiration from something totally unexpected and will have followed a pathway on the internet that is unique each time I do it. It is a research path that I would not have followed elsewhere – indeed it would never have occurred to me to search for inspiration in books on body art and piercing for example, in fact I wonder whether there is even a section at the Library for such things and, if so, whether I would ever have found myself along this aisle.

There are occasional times when I do hit a dead end when carrying out my internet searches and come away with little design inspiration, however, this is not always a bad thing and although I have failed to find the source of inspiration I invariably find myself drawn down a pathway of discovery that I could not have imagined existed. By stumbling upon a totally unrelated gem of information I can increase my knowledge on any possible topic going and whilst this might not be instantly useful I can file away the information I have learnt in the deep recesses of my mind so that one day I can astound someone with my depth of knowledge on the given topic!

Another area where the internet offers us knitters and stitchers an invaluable tool is when it comes to techniques and pattern downloads. Type in ‘knitting techniques’ to your browser and I dare you not to be staggered by the amount of results (somewhere close to 3 million). Refine your search by typing in something more specific such as ‘casting on’ or ‘grafting’ for example and you will be given another near endless list of choices. We no longer have to rely on knitting books to give us this information and with the invention of video uploading/sharing sites we can even experience a mini master class at the click of a button. As a workshop tutor and author of knitting and crochet techniques books and articles I used to think that this service was detrimental to my profession and would rob me of work, however there still appears to be a growing demand for publications, probably because books can be read through at leisure, offer a good source of eye candy and can be carried around in knitting bags and delved into at times of need! Workshops too have never been so popular, with an ever expanding list of subjects and tutors.

Through the internet I have been able to find information on even the most unusual of techniques, but more exciting than this is the fact that I can download patterns for free! Rowan have an ever expanding list of downloads because they too realize the benefits of offering knitters information for free. Have a look on the Rowan web site and you will find loads of free downloadable patterns including some lovely old designs that are no longer in print such as the infamous Kelim Jacket as modeled by Kate Moss in magazine number 10 and Kaffe Fassett’s wonderful Long Leaf coat from magazine 12. You will also find patterns that have been exclusively designed as free downloads and thus are not available elsewhere, these currently include the range of throws and cushion covers designed by Kaffe which feature in magazine 47(these can be found round about page 10 in the ‘accessories’ section).

Those of you who read my article in the last Rowan RI newsletter will know that as little as 10 years ago the prospect of pressing the ‘start’ button on my PC could put me the verge of a full blown panic attack. The conclusion of the article was that knitters appear to have an innate affinity with the net, use it to the best of their advantage and that even the most computer illiterate among us can glean an amazing amount of information from our trusty PCs. The conclusion of this piece is to be the same; the internet offers us knitters and stitchers an incredible resource incomparable to any other – even the biggest library in the world would not be able to offer us such a research path. The internet can take us in directions we could never have imagined and (especially when used in conjunction with Rowan’s trusty technique books, design magazines and workshops programme) it can broaden our horizons and encourage us to look beyond the constraints of our craft. It provides us with the chance to learn new techniques, work from new patterns and expand our brain power – and you know what else – it’s virtually free!