What is it I do?

In the past few months I have been thinking a lot about what I do as a maker. Throughout the coming months, I want to blog a bit more about what my creative practice means to me.

The Visible Mending Programme - Shoulder and Sleeve Detail

Using knitting to mend knitting: a private commission

Thinking about what I do means I have updated my ‘About‘ page, and I’ll use this as a guide to write these blog posts:

Tom is a self-taught textiles practitioner, with an emphasis on creating and repairing knitted objects, working mostly with wool. He is currently based in Brighton, UK. Tom’s craft practice is slow, allowing him to gain a deep understanding of material qualities and the traditional techniques that he uses for making and mending contemporary objects. Through his combined interest in sustainability and the rich textile history around wool in Britain he has started to question when the life of a woollen garment (and by extension any object) starts and ends. By exploring the motivations for repair Tom shifts the emphasis from the new and perfect to the old and imperfect, enabling him  to highlight the relationship between garment and wearer. His interest in using traditional techniques for creating and repairing (woollen) textiles mean that in Tom’s practice creating and mending textiles are in constant conversation with each other.

Self-taught Pocket Repair

A complex pocket repair, learnt from a book on clothes repairs

Many people assume I have a textiles background and studied textiles or fashion at college. As I firmly believe anybody can do what I do, it’s the first thing I wanted to say about myself: I’m a self-taught maker. I originally trained as a radiotherapy radiographer and have worked in a hospital to treat cancer patients. Nowadays I work for one of the companies that make radiotherapy treatment machines. All my making and repairing started out as a hobby and it’s been a very exciting journey so far, and one that is far from finished.

Ever from since I was a kid I have been creative and dabbled in all sorts of things such as drawing, caligraphy, crochet, origami, knitting, and whatnot. And I have always done minor repairs to my clothes, usually with very little thought behind it. Then, about eight or nine years ago I was inspired by a hugely expensive designer scarf to knit my own scarf, as I vaguely remembered knitting as a child. I got myself some needles and yarn and a learn-to-knit-in-ten-easy-steps book.

Cornish knitfrock - learnt from a book

A Cornish knit-frock: made according to the “recipe” in the Cornish Knit-frock book by Mary Wright

And from then on, I discovered the wealth of information contained in books and on the internet. I was encouraged by people around me to explore and try out things and not be afraid to fail; I feel knitting is really very suited to the inquisitive mind. It doesn’t have to cost much, and it’s easy to try something out and if it doesn’t go to your liking, you can simply rip back and try again.

And even if there is nobody around to discuss and learn from face-to-face, there is still so much help to be found around you: regular readers of my blog know I love old needlecraft books, and then, of course, there is the internet. I have learnt a lot from the forums on Ravelry (including, what books might be of interest to me.) It has opened my eyes to what knitting can be, and the potential that each knitter carries within in them.

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Wall Hanging

An exploration of Mary Walker Phillips’s work; I would never have heard of Mary Walker Philips if it wasn’t for the internet

The above swatch would not have happened if I didn’t have access to the internet. It’s how I found out about Mary Walker Phillips’s work. It’s how I learnt about her book Creative Knitting, which has been very inspiring and revelatory. It’s how I learnt isn’t always necessary to start a new adventure with rigorous planning and calculating and worrying things won’t work out. Sometimes you just need to cast on and get going.

I truly believe that anybody can become a great knitter and I hope that sharing my knitting projects on this blog is testament to that. It’s great to get comments on my blog posts that show it has inspired you go on your own knitting adventure: may sticks and string lead you down unheard of avenues and be ready to be surprised. I have a lot of fun this way, and I hope you do, too!

13 Replies to “What is it I do?”

  1. Tom I so agree and believe that when someone is simply exposed to a craft they can with a little practice become quite expert at it. I aim to encourage more people to mend in a decorative manner.
    Shirley Mclauchlan

  2. Lovely post Tom 🙂

    Even as a non-knitter I love your can -do attitude, and an in awe of the dedication and effort in much of your work

  3. Like you, Tom, I am self taught. Having grown up with a Scottish, knitting & crocheting mother I imbibed the whole making thing myself as a child and was always knitting for my dolls and toys before moving on to making stuff for myself (including a crocheted bikini from a treasured Phildar pattern book) in the late 1970s! I also loved embroidery and would embellish anything that didn’t move with little butterflies. Needlecraft & Dress was my only A grade at O Level (GCSE nowadays).

    I learnt feltmaking about 10 years ago and have been on lots of courses with well-known teachers such as Sheila Smith, Jeanette Appleton, Liz Clay and Inge Bauer, but I haven’t got a textile or art degree. I just develop my skills & knowhow through hours and hours of practise. I have been running workshops in my home studio for the past 6 years passing on these skills to people of all ages. Many consider themselves to be lacking creativity or design skills, but that’s just what they’ve been told all their lives – like you I believe most people can master handmaking skills with a bit of tuition and practise. It’s certainly worth it – I always wonder what people do with themselves at home if they are not going to be making anything?!

  4. Hi Tom,

    I am also a knitter and a novice mender. Rather than being self-taught, I have been taught through the internet by many people whom I have never met- including you! Your work is both inspiration and educational. Thanks so much.

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