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Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Interview with Andrea Giles – battling cancer with carrot sticks and alternative therapies

Posted by Deadly Knitshade on November 24, 2011

This year Stitch London’s Cracking Christmas Raffle will be held at our Stitch London Christmas Shindig on December 13th.

This year we’re raising money for a charity which is helping pave the way to giving hope to cancer battlers everywhere. All funds raised will go towards treatment for the amazing Andrea Giles and the Yes to Life Charity.

Here’s a bit more about it:

Possibly the worst news anyone can get after an initial cancer diagnosis is that the cancer is unlikely to be cured. And even though medical science is working hard to find cures, these cures are hard on the patients and a terrible risk to their health. It’s a scary world of chemotherapy, radiation and endless medical treatments.

But galloping to the rescue are Yes to Life. Yes to Life are charity who are showing there are other ways to help fight, and that there’s hope even when the medical world aren’t so sure.

Yes to Life are sneaking up on cancer from a different direction. They help people with cancer in the UK access the benefits of complementary and alternative medicine, they provide support, they help educate the medical profession on other ways to fight, and they work alongside the NHS and the usual treatments to give cancer battlers a fighting chance.

This year Stitch London have chosen to help raise funds for Andrea Giles. Andrea’s story is an inspiring one. She’s battling breast cancer in the face of a grim diagnosis from doctors; she’s becoming a pioneer for a new way of treating cancer; she’s telling the tale as she goes to inspire others; and, a happy coincidence, she’s also learning to knit.

Raising money for Andrea’s treatment is doing so much more than helping this inspiring person to keep on fighting. It will help fund a much-needed charity and prove that these treatments can make a huge difference, which means giving new hope to cancer fighters everywhere.

Andrea’s story is so fascinating we thought it would be best to ask her a few questions and let the lady herself tell her tale.

Hello Andrea. Welcome to Stitch London. Your blog and your battle have inspired us and we’d like to introduce you and your mission to our members. So here goes:

Can you describe yourself in one sentence?

Wow, that’s a difficult one… A woman in search of herself, perhaps! Though I’ve never lost my funny bone ha! ha!

You are currently battling Metastatic Breast Cancer with a combination of complimentary therapy and carrot sticks. Your website says you have had chemo and radiotherapy before. Why the change? Why the unconventional methods?

I had chemo and radiotherapy after my first diagnosis in 2007; though I did have a 5-day course of Radiotherapy after the 2nd diagnosis (October 2009) to help with pain relief to my left shoulder (which it did do – ease the pain I mean!). Doctors said no chemo this time as wouldn’t work due to type of cancer – palliative care only in the form of different drugs….

a) monthly implant to switch off my hormones and keep me switched off – cancer is hormone fed (had new implant every month), b) infusion of Bisphosphonates every month (bone-building drugs) and c) letrazol – a drug that blocks the process of aromatisation, and so reduces the amount of oestrogen in the body.

I started these treatments in November 2009 but decided to stop them all in August of this year because for a long while I had not been happy about using chemicals to treat my condition. Especially when some of the drugs had side effects that were detrimental to my condition! Also since changing my diet to that of raw food and changing my lifestyle to a more holistic one, the conventional medicine no longer fitted with my changing beliefs. The carrot sticks spoke to me.

Andrea and her friend Chris, who helped her start her website and fundraising effort

One of the ways you’ve already helped yourself is by a special diet of raw food. Do you miss hot dinners? And are you still allowed cake? (Stitch Londoners are big cake fans)

Ahhhhh cake, if only! On a conventional raw food diet you can have your cake and eat it, albeit raw cake, which by the way is amazing. However I am not eating any sweet stuff at the mo, including no fruit, as cancer cells like to eat glucose. They like it very much and take it up quicker than normal cells. So by stopping eating any sweet food that the cancer cells like, you are starving it, ha! ha!

Hot dinners…….. well until very recently I was 100% raw food, but since having a couple of consultations with a natural nutritionist I was advised to introduce some very simple warm food into my diet to be gentle on my liver. The liver is the organ of the body that holds on to lots of toxins as well as tries to clear them out, and so need a lot of care to get it back to full working order after all them damage that will have been done to it through conventional medicines and ‘bad food’ choices over the years. Too much info to explain here really. So for now I am having very simple warm food occasionally (nothing fried – oils become denatured through frying!) Feels odd though to be eating hot food again as I don’t quite feel as if I’m getting optimum nutrients, but I know that what I am doing by eating some warm stuff is being gentle to my system. I still eat a very high raw food diet though.

And yes I do miss cake – maybe one day I’ll have a slice of raw cheesecake again.

If you think any of your readers might be interested in trying raw food there are 3 places in London that have good selections. Inspiral Lounge in Camden – they make the most amazing raw ice-cream too (no dairy in sight), Vantra on Soho Square (organic and buffet style), and Saf Restaurant – a gourmet vegan restaurant – fabulous food. And here in Brighton too there is a fantastic restaurant and café called Aloka – their raw food is the best I’ve ever had.

Has having cancer changed the way you live your life in good ways as well as the expected bad ones?

Cancer has changed my life in so many ways, but above anything else it forced me to think about where I was going with my life – the jury’s still out on that one, hence my description of myself as a woman in search of herself!

Having chosen to change my life by going to university and take myself off in a certain direction, cancer came along and knocked me off that planned path. But in doing so it has forced me to face myself more clearly and more openly. Though this has taken time and is still on going. To question the way I think and feel about myself and others and the wider world and our place within it and how we conduct ourselves whilst on this planet; our relationship to each other and all living beings and the impact this has.

I have found I have questioned myself a lot; who am I, what is my purpose etc. Also I have a new and improved outlook on life, as I enjoy the beauty in small things more; a child whizzing down a street on a scooter, the sound of the wind through the trees, seeing happy faces and hearing laughter. I feel so glad that I am still here and a part of life as I have so much to be thankful for.

Also I have met and continue to meet so many amazing people; people who genuinely care for others, who delight in others delight, who support without judgement, who want the best for others without pressure; very inspiring people who I look up too and aspire to being like.

Your story is amazingly upbeat, humorous and inspiringly brave in the face of a terrifying diagnosis and so much
treatment. How do you stay so positive?

Andrea and her supporting army

Sometimes I do have down days or off periods when things pile up on you (like the dishes!!!) but look out of the window; it’s sunny, everyone is smiling, you can go for a walk, the birds are singing, the colours are bright, or it’s misty, how magical does that feel, conjures up fairytale stories, moisture settles on cobwebs and how beautiful do they look, or it’s raining, kids are splashing in puddles, it’s great to get togged up in waterproofs and feel the power of the rain, or it’s windy and what a laugh that is as it blows through you and around you.

It’s about perception really, and enjoying the things that make you and others feel good. When you feel good it ripples out to others and is reciprocated. I think I do generally have a positive outlook on life as a friend once commented (and I’m not blowing my own trumpet here – I don’t have a trumpet actually, but this is what she said to me) that she always liked talking with me because I would always find a positive when presented with a negative. So I guess that’s what I do, though I think it’s just how I am, but I’m not Pollyanna, just like to try and be upbeat.

You kept your diagnosis quiet for quite some time but have recently started a blog on your website. What made you choose to share your tale with others?

I guess in the past I didn’t want to be seen as ‘Andrea…..Cancer woman’ as if the cancer would be the way people saw and related to me. I wasn’t sure about the funding/website thing because it meant having to bear my soul to everyone and I didn’t know how I would react to having to do that. I was fearful of doing it, but strangely enough I have felt it to be very liberating as though I didn’t realise it til I’d done it.

I had been putting myself under a lot of stress by hiding my diagnosis as it meant struggling with things that I needn’t have had to if others had known, and also not being able to talk freely with others because of my need to feel protective of them; protecting others from news that might be difficult for them to deal with and respond to.

Now my truth is out there (or rather my cancer truth is out there) and I am free of carrying it all on my own, and if others find it difficult to deal with or talk about that is for them to sort out for themselves. I can understand some may find it difficult but we all have to be responsible for ourselves and our thoughts. By my sharing my story with others I am taking responsibility and ownership of this part of myself and acknowledging it to be valid. By letting people know of the alternative treatments I am having I was hoping it would give those who read it an insight into other treatments that are available should they wish to explore further.

I didn’t realise I would get such an interested response, such as your enquiries, and I am rather overwhelmed that you think I could be a positive role model in this, however if it allows more people a way into discovering more about these forms of treatment than I am more than happy if my story inspires!

What do your friends and family think of the new treatment idea?

Ah, this is an interesting one. Everyone is supportive in their way, however some responses have been tinged with the….. ‘ well, I guess if you think it’s going to work that’s good, but I don’t know if I could do it’ In other words they would have stuck with the orthodox route, whilst others who, from the conversations I have had with them, are more enlightened about alternative treatments have not put any ‘buts’ in the sentence and have been really enthusiastic about my choice.

Hiking somewhere lovely

You lost the use of one arm due to metastatic breast cancer moving into your bone, but radiotherapy and your alternative route means you returned to cycling, hiking and doing yoga. Are the doctors amazed at your success so far?

I did lose the use of my left arm due to my metastatic breast cancer in the bone, and the use slowly returned after having Radiotherapy to the left shoulder blade, the site of the biggest cancer cell location and the cause of the pain. The cycling etc I was able to do before changing recently to my current therapies. That said however, I strongly believe that my diet change helped immensely (and continues to help) in my recovery and energy levels and general well-being.

The doctors have always been pleased with my progress, but they are a reticent bunch when it comes to showing overt enthusiasm for anything other than the orthodox.

Your treatment started on November 7th and will continue for the next three months. Treatment for most cancer fighters consists of chilly disinfectant-smelling rooms and bad hospital food. What’s the centre in Brighton like?

The clinic in Brighton (Vision of Hope) is very homely and cosy. What was once a large Edwardian semi-detached residence is now a space of healing, and there is definitely no smell of nasty disinfectant! The Doctor and his assistant are 100% attentive and personable. I feel more like I am away at relatives, in as much that almost everything is done for you, though of course none of my relatives ever stuck a needle in my arm!

The fabulous Andrea beating the stuffing out of cancer in 'the pod' at the Brighton clinic

The room that you have the hyperthermia and ozone treatment in would be classed as the conservatory if being used in a domestic setting, which is lovely as it overlooks the garden, and each patient has that space to themselves for their length of treatment. The Vitamin C room can take up to five patients, and is more like a reception room. We lounge in padded directors chairs with hot-water bottles, blankets and music of our choice and rest or chat as we infuse the Vitamin C. Everything has an air of calm, even the décor. I am staying in one of the two flats available above the clinic and this is a blessing as it makes everything so much more manageable and less stressful. For me the small and personal is the perfect choice as it is so unlike a hospital environment.

Plus I have buzzy Brighton just down the hill which has one of the best health food shops I’ve ever been to and believe me I’ve been to loads (in fact in case you didn’t know, I used to be the co-owner of one! – we were pretty amazing too, but we didn’t have the space to sell organic veg! which this one does).

What kind of treatments are you having? Are they very different from chemo and radiotherapy?
The ‘Back to Wellness’ page on my website explains all my treatment or you can look at Vision of Hope for even more detail of the treatments.

Andrea's first knit. Much better than mine ever was...

Rumour has it you’ve got yourself some knitting needles. Do you have ideas of the kind of things you’d like to make or will you just see where the yarn takes you?

I am doing the typical Aunty thing and experimenting with my nieces and nephew in mind. For the girls I am knitting a little cowl type scarf with a pom-pom on one end, and for my nephew he gets a multi-coloured, possibly two stitch type scarf!

John Snow at Yes to Life event

Ultimately I would like to knit myself some funky jumpers and stripy socks, but I think that’s a long- way off yet! By the way one scarf is almost ready – I just have the pom-pom to make and attach. I may send you a photo if you’re lucky!

(Andrea did send us a photo shortly after this interview. So here’s her lovely pom pom scarf)

Do you have any advice you’d like to pass on to other cancer fighters or their families and friends who may not know where to start when looking into complementary and alternative therapies?

A very good place to start and one I wish i’d known about long ago, is the charity YES TO LIFE.

As their tag-line states, their centre offers ‘support and information on all aspects of complementary and alternative cancer therapies’.

(Below is a little Yes to Life video of a London event they did to raise awareness of the charity)

Another really helpful and knowledgeable person is Patricia Peat of Cancer Options

Both offer invaluable advice and are excellent sources of information. They take the struggle of doing multiple google searches and having too much to deal with. They listen and offer advice based upon what you are looking for and can offer more besides to give you wider informed choices.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish you all the best and will be keeping up with your blog to see how it goes. Stitch London sends you woolly hugs and hopes the donation we make from our Cracking Christmas Raffle will help you and everyone else battling cancer to triumph.

Follow Andrea’s story over on her website at


Posted in Charity Knits, Christmas, Christmas Party 2011, Interviews | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Meet Vern the knitting sheep

Posted by Deadly Knitshade on October 19, 2010

Vern is a sheep. He’s a slightly worried knitting sheep who spends his time with Lettuce, his bouncy bunny best friend, living in a tower block in London’s Pickle Rye where he battles with moles, parties with polar bears and meets some very dodgy pigeons.

Vern is one of the stars of Sarah McIntyre‘s brand-new Vern and Lettuce book that we’re helping to launch this week at our Stitch a Sheep meeting. I was lucky enough to catch up with the fine fleecy fellow and ask him a few questions about yarn, life as a Stitch Londoner and knitting himself silly.

Hi Vern. Welcome to Stitch London. Thanks for agreeing to an interview.
You’re welcome! I don’t usually speak to humans, so this is quite an event. My friend Lettuce the rabbit is quite jealous, actually. She loves the media spotlight.

Can you tell us who taught you to knit?
Well, we have our own version of Stitch London here in Pickle Rye. Most of the animals who come along are ewes, and you should see the way they fuss over me! They had me knitting in no time at all.

We even had a film crew come to our meeting once and Lettuce was hopping mad because they spent ages filming me, and she’s a much better knitter. My knitting had this big fat hole in the middle, but they asked me lots of questions so there would be a boy sheep in the documentary. The interviewer kept trying to get me to say that Pickle Rye was like ‘a ball of wool’, but I didn’t understand what she was getting at. I am kind of like a ball of wool, but I am not spun yet.

What’s your most shameful knit?
Most of my worst knitting moments come from over-shearing. I think, if you have a bit event to go to, like a wedding, you should be sure to get shorn several weeks before the event, not the day before. And that freshly shorn look makes my ears look too big.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever knit?
I once knitted some jumpers for the bunnies who lived upstairs. But then I was cold and they felt sorry for me, so they unpicked their jumpers and we all knitted a big jumper for me with a pocket in it for each bunny.

We wore it together a few times, but then the bunnies wiggled so much that they stretched the pockets. It’s rather saggy now.

Do you feel some friend only want to be friends with you because of your fine fleece? *eyes fleece hungrily*
Stay away from me! …Argh, that tickles!

What are your friend Lettuce’s knitting skills like?
She thinks she’s an amazing knitter, but she really should put more time into it. She’s always picking up new hobbies, but she needs to be like me, and stick with them. It’s all about dedication to the art. I tell her that knitting is the highest calling.

Ever fancied graffiti knitting? If so what would you graffiti and why?
Oh, but what if we were arrested? I think Lettuce and Derek the Sheep were talking about something like that the other day and I tried not to listen so I wouldn’t have to lie if the police asked me if I knew anything. You wouldn’t do something like that, would you? You look like a nice person.

You joined Stitch London recently. What prompted you to join?
I think I need to get out more, sometimes the animal world can get very gossipy. And one of the yaks kept stealing my stitch counters.

I think humans must be above that sort of thing. I am eager to listen to their deep, thoughtful discussions about life and art.

How was your first meeting?
It was pretty good, but I kept dropping stitches and that made me a little bit embarrassed. I was aware that they would have high expectations for my knitting and I think I may have let them down. I will spend a lot of time practising for our next meeting so I can be a proud ambassador for all sheep.

What do you family and friends think of the fact you’re now a celebrity with a book out in all the shops? They must be proud.
Yes! The polar bears who live downstairs gave me a photo album with lots of newspaper clippings in it from my adventure in the city with Lettuce and the bunnies. That must have taken them ages to put together!

Even one of the moles in the park asked me for my autograph, which made me realise that I
need to practice my signature so it looks more like a famous person signed it. Right now it just looks like the autograph of an ordinary sheep.

Can I have a hug? You look so squishy and fleecey.
Only if you promise not to steal any of my wool! The nights are getting rather chilly and I need it all.

Thanks, Vern. It’s been a pleasure to meet and bleat with you!
And you! I think you are a very nice human. You should come visit us in Pickle Rye sometime and I will bake a cake. And you can teach me how to stitch a little sheep, I hear that is becoming a big fashion in knitting.

But be careful about this graffiti knitting business, I don’t like to think of my friends leading a life of crime. You could try baking brownies if the urge strikes you again, that is what I do!


You can see more of Sarah’s adventures in sheepy sketching over at her Jabberworks blog and catch her and the Fleece Station team at The Fleece Station (home of Stitch London Towers too).

Posted in Events, Exclusive events, Interviews, Knitting News, London Knitting, Meetings, Vern and Lettuce Launch | Leave a Comment »

Exclusive interview: Mochimochi Land meets Stitch London

Posted by Deadly Knitshade on June 19, 2010

Anna Hrachovec knits tiny. Really really teeny tiny. So tiny her knits are almost painfully cute. Her Mochimochi Land knits have gained her a well-deserved crowd of tiny knit admirers and a new book out in August this year.

Anna is joining us in London on the 21st of June to return some feathered friend to a pigeonless Trafalgar Square as she teams up with Stitch London for the Tiny Perching Pigeon Party. Yay!

Before she joins is I put a few questions to the purler of the pint-sized to see what makes a tiny knitter tick…

The story behind tiny knits:

Why so tiny? How did this quest for tiny knits come about?
I’ve been designing knitted toys for a few years now, and somehow I just began making them smaller and smaller without really thinking about it. When I recognized this trend and how much fun it was, I decided to try designing a new tiny toy every weekday for a month. That was in July of last year, and after the month ended, I liked doing it so much that I continued the challenge as a new tiny thing every week. It’s still ongoing at my blog!

What was your very first tiny knit?

The first official “tiny thing” that I made last July was a Tiny Brain, but the very first actual tiny thing that I made was a herd of tiny lemmings, which went with a knitted scene that I made for exhibit in a plush toy show at Gallery Hanahou in NYC.

The lemmings now live with the curator of the gallery (and also my boss, because I work there part-time), who was sweet enough to buy the “Swimming Lemmings” piece.

What inspires your tiny creations of knitted life?

Well, everything is cuter in tiny form, so everything inspires me! I think by now there is pretty much no animal, person, or thing that I haven’t thought about knitting a tiny version of. Some things are just more challenging to convert into knitting than others, and it’s going to take me a while to get around to knitting everything!

About you:

Are you a tiny knitting designer full-time or do you have a day job involving normal-sized objects too?

These days I’m practically a full-time tiny knit designer! I also design more normal-sized toys, and I also have a day job at Gallery Hanahou, a small gallery and illustration agency in New York .

Is everything else in your life minuscule? I like to imagine your home harbouring dolls-house style furnishings. Though I’m not sure it would work in real life.

Haha, my husband insists on a boring full-size couch, bed, and TV. (Actually, the TV is kind of huge.)

Do your friends and family introduce you as ‘the tiny knitting chick’? And is it hard to explain what you do when someone asks? Are you often tempted to tell them you work in a bank?
I love to let friends and family introduce me to others just to see what they will say. But yes, I’m trying to get better at describing what I do without trailing off awkwardly at some point. (I would try the bank line, but I’d be afraid of getting banking questions that would be way over my head!)

About your tiny knits:

Have you ever knit something so small you haven’t been able to find it after you’ve finished?
Yes, actually! I knit a miniscule twig recently and I haven’t been able to locate it recently… I have two cats who have a “finders keepers” policy when it comes to anything small and wooly, so I’m blaming them.

What happens to your tiny knits once they are cast off? Do they find homes?

I like to keep at least one of a particular design for myself, so I have a big Zip-lock bag that I keep them all in. But some have become gifts for friends, and I’ve also been selling a few through a nice little shop in Brooklyn called Saffron.

Have you ever been tempted to knit something giant to balance out all that tiny?

I totally have! I was thinking for a while that giant knits would be my next thing after the tinys, but they present more of a logistical challenge – more time, more yarn (more money), and more space needed to put the things. But it’s on my to-do list for sure.

I know it’s terrible to ask (like asking a parent which of their kids they like best) but which is your favourite tiny knit? Go on. We won’t tell the rest of them.

My favorite is always the one I’ve just finished designing! But my all-time favorites would have to include the Tiny Cheeseburger, Tiny Forest , and Tiny Lion.

What’s your proudest tiny-knitting-flavoured moment?
I had a blast making knitted factories that turn one tiny thing into another. I made them for another show at gallery hanahou.

About tiny knitting:

Do you need any special tools to get your tiny knit on?

Nothing too special, just fingering-weight yarn and small needles – I use size 1 (2.25 mm) double-pointed needles. For stuffing, it’s good to use the kind of polyester fiberfill that feels slippery to the touch – this allows you to thread I-cords through stuffed pieces to make little arms and legs. A smaller-than-usual tapestry needle is also a must.

Do you have any words of wisdom for those who wish to follow in your small stitched footsteps?
Simplicity is everything! It’s all about breaking a design down to its essential shapes. And the tininess also makes some aspects of the knitting more forgiving, so don’t focus too much on perfection or too much detail.

About your trip to the UK/London:

What are you most ‘squeeeeeee!’ about seeing?

Boy, I don’t know – everything! I want to check out the London yarn shops, and have some authentic English tea, and visit a few pubs (is it possible to be “squee” about pubs?) Probably the cutest thing that I’m anticipating are the adorable British accents.

If the Queen demands a tiny Corgi dog are you up for the challenge?

You can’t say no to the Queen, even if she’s just a hypothetical Queen! A Corgi is now on my list of things to knit tiny.

Will you be bringing a tiny knitted umbrella? We’ll try to keep it sunny but it is England.
You know, I’ve contemplated a Tiny Umbrella before but never came through. Maybe this is my chance.

About your potential plans for world domination:

What’s next? Are you planning world domination via a tiny knitted army? If so can we’d like to sign up.

Welll, I’m currently knitting a bunch of tiny and not-so-tiny things for my own show at Gallery Hanahou in the fall! It’s going to be a knitted installation with some moving parts (hopefully), and I’m very excited and a little scared about the whole thing. I plan to start posting updates about my progress on my blog soon.

For more interviews, competitions, free patterns and other stitching stuff join the Stitch London mailing list.

Posted in Exclusive events, Interviews, Knitting celebrities, Knitting News, Tiny Perching Pigeons | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Exclusive interview: ReKnit unpicked

Posted by Yusuf [decoreco] on May 7, 2010

At some point in our lives many of us have experienced ‘ugly sweater’ syndrome. You know it well. You unwrap. Your face and heart drop. How could such a loved one make such a mistake? As quickly as you can say WTF your face lights up and you say “I love it, thank you”, knowing full well it’s going right at the back of the cupboard or the charity shop.

Haik Avanian comes from a family of knitters and he conjured up Reknit It. Haik and his mother take old jumpers and cardigans, unwind them into balls of yarn and then knit them into items that people will use again.

The concept has been hugely popular and our Fibre Flinger has managed to score an interview with Haik, who explains a bit more about how they go about this feat.

The website is currently down but they aim to be up and running soon. Until then you’ve got the inside scoop:

Can you tell me a bit more about the set up and who is involved in the project. Is it just you and your mum on your living room floor? I designed and maintain the website, my mom does all the knitting, with some assistance from my grandmother– who does the templates for each item, and my sister does all the photography.

How did you come up with the concept? It’s something that we already do and something that’s culturally ingrained in us (we’re Armenian), and my mom thought it’d be interesting to share with people.

As I haven’t been through the process of purchasing a product from your website, how does it work? Do you get to choose what your final item looks like or is it pot luck?
The design of the items are fairly simple, and the colors used will be whatever colors are available in the sweater. If a design requires more than one color, and the sweater doesn’t have any additional ones, my mom picks out a complimenting color from yarn that we have around.

Does your mum create something inspired by the yarn in the sweater sent or are there a set of patterns she follows every month?
The templates for each item are followed pretty closely each time, but in terms of color/pattern, it varies from case to case.

Do you use all the yarn that you unravel from a sweater into the new project, or do you have a yarn monster that you feed the scraps to? All of the yarn doesn’t get used up and sometimes people ask for the left overs back, or choose to donate it to us. We end up using the donated yarn as additional colors for other projects…and we’ve been trying to think of something interesting to do with the rest of the left over yarn.

Can you tell me a bit more about your family and background? My family moved to the US from Armenia in 1995. My sister and I are both designers and artists, and my mother is a programmer by day.

What role did knitting/clothing/fashion play in your family as you were growing up? My grandmother knew how to knit, so we always had knit clothing growing up– and in many cases, the clothes would be reknit  into something else once we grew out of the clothing. It really seems like a perfect alternative to just throwing away kids clothes every 4-5 months!

What values did your upbringing and family culture instill in you
I think there’s a sort of subconscious resourcefulness instilled in me, almost like having a different perspective on things. e.g. looking at a sweater, and seeing it as yarn, instead of just a sweater.

I read that you have a family tradition of repurposing yarn for new projects and generations. Were you aware of this when you were growing up and what was your reaction to it? I know when I was growing up there was a real stigma if you wore something that was made at home and not shop bought/branded as it was seen as a sign you couldn’t afford ‘proper’ clothes. My grandma was an expert knitter and made clothes for all her children, but unfortunately that skill wasn’t passed down. I think that stigma exists very distinctly in the US, but it wasn’t really an issue in Armenia at all. I certainly don’t remember caring or worrying about what other kids would think.

Why do you think the knitting continued throughout your family over the generations and who else in your family knits? My mom, sister, and grandmother all knit. I think it’s just something you learn growing up because you want to emulate what your parents are doing, and its a great hobby.

Are all of you quite creative in your family then in some form or another? My sister and I, as I mentioned, are both designers and artists, and my aunt is an avid photographer. And if you consider the knitting, then my grandmother and mother are both creative as I guess that’s a yes.

I think there is a growing trend for homemade items and clothes. Have you seen evidence of that and what are your opinions on it? I guess it isn’t a trend in your family, is it something that you’ve always kept going? I think it’s just a natural reaction at this point. In the same way that film photography has been appreciated after the digital format took over.

What is your/your family’s attitude to fashion? Do you still believe in making things by hand or do you do cheap and fast fashion? A good way to describe it would be “smart”. Being resourceful, buying things on sale, modifying clothing to our liking, etc.

We are led to believe that your mum has only two hands. Have you considered investigating retractable arms so she can work faster? I believe we are considering some for one of the Stitchettes who happens to be limbless what being a ball of yarn and that.
Several volunteers have stepped forward and offered to become “one of the moms”, but I think I’m all set with one.

How come you haven’t developed mad knitting skills so that you can help your mum? You don’t consider knitting a female thing to do, do you? Haha no, I don’t have anything against knitting. In fact, I tried to learn how to when I was about 7. I’m determined to at least learn the basics now though.

$30 is really cheap to unravel a project and reknit it. Do you not see this as a money making venture? The truth of the matter is that if we made the price something that would be considered “fair” in a business sense (hourly rate)..not many people would be able to afford it. The price is more of an abstract number at this point.

You could look into cloning your mum and having a (humane) sweatshop with hundreds of her. Is that something you’ve thought about? We’ve thought about a separate site that would allow other knitters to find customers and re-knit on their own.

The project has only been going for three months but you have overwhelming demand. What do you see as the future of this project? How long will you continue it for? I’d like to continue this project as is for as long as we can…and perhaps start an additional project that would have room to grow, as mentioned earlier.

If any of our readers have mums with mad knitting skills that they would like to donate to the cause would you consider the offer? I think involving other knitters makes it more difficult for us to manage the logistics…shipping/communication, and at this point I’d rather keep it smaller 🙂

Posted in Interviews, Knit, Knitting News | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Knitted Art: Andy Holden’s Pyramid Piece at Tate Britain

Posted by Deadly Knitshade on February 26, 2010

Knitting can be a bit gruelling at times. For some just getting to the casting off of a particularly nightmare jumper is a bit of a relief. Really though, once you laid eyes Artist Andy Holden‘s art installation Pyramid Piece you may never whine about endless rows again.
As a sticky-fingered urchin Andy stole a rock from the Great Pyramid of Cheops, Giza because he wanted to take a little bit of the awe at seeing the ancient structures home with him. Years later the stone grew heavy in his possession as he felt the guilt of nicking a piece of history.
What to do? Return it and then come home and knit a replica of said piece 1000 times bigger than the original stolen stone to get across to people the ancient awe he felt and maybe suffer a little for his stealing in the making.

A feeling of knitted awe

The Pyramid piece stats:

Just how big is the gargantuan knitted version of your little piece of pyramid?
The Pyramid Piece is 100 times in length bigger – which is a volume enlargement of 100,000 from the original fragment…

How much yarn?

I don’t know, I should have counted the empty cones.  Thousands of miles. A lot, 55 square meters.

What kind of yarn?

A mixture was used. Predominantly six strands of 2 ply yarns, two 4plys and one DK mixed together at any one time. Also I made up my own cones with lots of little lengths of various colours tied together on, which I used to get the colours to fluctuate, and to get the flecks and speckles required for the texture.

How much time?

The project from conception to finish took a year, including working out how to approach making the structure and traveling to Egypt to return the original piece of rock to the spot from which I had originally taken it.

What needle size?

Oh, confession time. It’s machine knitted. It’s done with a Brother Chunky knitting machine, forcing 12-14 yarns through at one time.  To work on this scale it was really the only option.

We were constantly battling with knots and bending needles, the machines were constantly jamming and we broke two of them, however it was in the end the best way to get the strata effect, constantly changing the yarns that were being fed in, one person  altering the yarns and another dragging the machine back and forth.  It took as long in the end as if we had done it by hand I think, but the process was more physical, closer to sculpting.

Knitted bit of ancient art

The piece:

Why so huge? Wouldn’t it have been enough to knit a piece that came up to your knees?

It’s a question for me of scale – I was interested to see what effect it would have on the body – you are used to the knitted object being something that fits in the hand and I wanted to see what would happen if that relationship was the other way round – the body standing in the shadow of the object.

I was also hoping to try and depict an object as it seemed to me as a child – in the way things often feel bigger, there significance and size becoming confused.  It also needed to feel monumental, this tiny piece of a monument itself becoming a monument to be encountered by the viewer.

At the time of making it I went to visit the blue whale replica at the Natural History Museum, and thought that I would like to make something that affects the body like that, I wanted the Pyramid Piece to be a Moby Dick, this small fragment itself becomes a landscape.

What was your opinion of knitting and knitters before you started the piece?

I have fond memories of a knitted caveman that my Grandma made.  My assistant on the project, Gillian Bates, knits some interesting things. She also helped me make some knitted cherries for a  wooden claw-grabber arcade machine that I made a few years ago.

Did knitting the piece change those opinions?

I was aware of Stitch and Bitch, and that attitudes to craft, and knitting in particular, had changed somewhat since I received my knitted cave-man.

Many of my projects seem to throw me in at the deep end of a field that I previously don’t know much about.  I then attack the subject with an amateur enthusiasm, learning as much as I can on the way. I try not to judge these things.

I enjoyed wandering around the isles of BSK’s (Bedford Society of Knitters) warehouse trying to find the colours I wanted.

In the end it’s a process and a material that you can manipulate and enjoy, so for me the terms I was thinking in whilst making it were those of painting, sculpture and conceptual art.  I like the way art can wade out of its depth, embrace an area and try and think about it in new terms.

There are hundred of ways to craft something out there. Why choose knitting?

The handmade knitted toy has always fascinated me.  Encounters with toys are our amongst our first encounters with objects and play a part in how we come to experience the world later.  For a while I thought I couldn’t approach the area as Mike Kelly had explored the nature of the handmade toy in some depth in the 90s, but I feel my investment and questions are quite different.

How was the piece designed? Did you have help from a knitting designer?

I made many scale models, trying out different ideas for internal frames and knitting lots of samples, trying to work out how to do it. A friend, Hoagy Dunnel, in the end helped with the metal internal structure.

We had two models on the go – one was used to work out the divisions and joins of the knitted panels, and one to try and bend the metal into the the correct shape to keep it as close to the original fragment as possible.  In the end after many plans I worked out a design for the panels that we needed and Gillian worked out ways of joining it all together.

Did you feel a bit of disquiet thinking knitters might come along and judge the quality of your knitting?

For me it’s imperfections are part of it, it an interpretation of a stone, enlarged many times, an attempt to communicate my feeling towards the rock in an absurd way.

The sculpture is also just part of the work – the video of me climbing the Pyramid to return the stone to the original spot from which I had taken it, and the anecdote, are all part of the work. The narrative and the sculpture rely on each other.

I enjoy the details in the colour of the knitting, and the form, but for something so unknown whenit was begun I’m happy with the way it turned out

Knitting as punishment:

Did you find that your ‘punishment’ became meditative eventually? Many of us would say that we knit to relax.

This idea of “penance” or “punishment” in some ways is a reading that has been put on the work, not something I ever said. That’s not really how I saw it.  It’s true that it was really hard to make it, in the cold warehouse of my studio, and took hours, but that is also true of my plaster sculptures.

It was never meditative, constantly wrestling with the machine, breaking several of them, and up against a deadline, not even sure if it would work, or look any good as a sculpture.

In a way I was more interested in the outcome ~ depicting the small fragment as a large knitted mass that looms over you ~ trying tocapture the way the rock seemed to me as a kid.  I wanted to see what it would be like to encounter a knitted object on that scale, as the knitted object is normally, due to the time involved, something that fits in the hand.

I have always been interested in hand-madeknitted toys, and the way they escape the normal commercial transaction, their curious status as semi-representational.

Did the process help to assuage your guilt or do you still feel the odd twinge?

The day of putting the piece back in the pyramid was really quite joyous.  Only art allows such an absurd luxury –  to travel backand try to undo something like that.  The whole thing was a kind of emotional experiment.

In a way I was also hoping that my returning of this fragment would be a microcosmic way of opening up onto bigger questions of the returning of cultural artifacts in general.  It is a very relevant political question at the moment, as Egypt have requested thereturn of many artifacts, and I hope my video of an English man clambering around the Pyramid trying to return his tiny piece would be a  way of engaging in that dialogue, without saying one way or an other.

Many objects were saved, and our knowledge of Egyptology greatly increasedthrough the artifacts that are now in museums all over the world.  Should they go back? I couldn’t say.  As for my guilt? I got rid of this tiny thing but in exchange I got this far bigger reminder that took up my studio for a year….

Did you ever suspect an Egyptian curse was put upon you when you stole the piece and that you’d one day be attacked by a vengeful mummy? If so do you think they’d really be impressed that you were knitting instead of burning yourself with hot pokers or something?

If the curse of Tutenkamon was strong enough to kill Lord Carnarvon then perhaps, if you scale it down, by just taking a tiny piece of rock I got, instead of death, mild guilt.  I think the matter is now settled.

More knitting than you can shake an Egyptian sceptre at

The aftermath:

Are you, like most knitters, obsessed by cake too now? Many of us suspect the two are mysteriously linked.

Not really.  I quit smoking around that time and biscuits had been factored in as a substitute.  Art remains my only obsession.

How many requests for jumpers/scarves/hats/gloves have you had from ‘amusing’ acquaintances since the piece has been shown?

I don’t think the colour and style of the Pyramid Piece made for an immediate side-step into fashion.

What happens to the piece after the exhibition? Aren’t you terrified the whole thing will be eaten by giant moths? I’m not sure the Tate Britain has very good anti-moth precautions.

Mice in the studio were more of a problem, they nest in the wool and foam.  The moths would have to be really quite large to have an impact.

Will you ever knit again or do you have twinges of horror when you pass by knitwear in the shops now?

No more than previously. Enough time has passed and I’m even thinking about another knitted piece.  I’m my own worst enemy.

The free Art Now: Andy Holden Pyramid Piece and Return of the Pyramid Piece exhibition is open 9 January – 10 April 2010 at Tate Britain, London.
Go and see it. I did. It’s a wonder to behold but may make your joints ache in stitching sympathy when you see all that knitting.

Posted in Interviews, Knitting News, London Knitting | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Exclusive interview: S&B London meets The Beano’s Derek the Sheep

Posted by Deadly Knitshade on December 7, 2009

Derek is a sheep but he’s not just any sheep. Derek is a sheep who is so flippin’ marvellous he’s got his very own comic strip in The Beano.

So we were all kinds of excited when the woolly wonder turned up one S&B London meeting and demanded to be taught how to knit. Since then he’s become a bit off a purly king and his hoofmade marvels are the talk of the farm.

In an exclusive interview we caught up with Derek to ask him about knitting, the sneaky stealing of wool from his fellow herd members and his plans for yarnstorming revenge on Rodney the Bull…

Derek joins S&B London for a bit of a knit

Sooooo Derek. You recently joined S&B London. What prompted you to join the public knitting masses?

Wotcha! I decided to start knitting as I was getting fed up with my wool looking all white and fluffy and boring and reckoned it was time I stood out from the flock and moved into designer woolly wear. I drew up patterns that made me look handsome and beautiful and popped along to S&B to see if I could learn to make my dreams a reality. And I have. Sort of.
My duck hat is coming on a treat, as are my knee-length fluffy socks. My rainbow sweater is a disaster as I’d forgotten that I have four legs and made six accidentally, so maybe I might pop it in a hot wash and give it to my mate Cecil the bee.

Where do you get your yarn from? Is it your own wool?

I generally shave my friends when they sleep and pop it in a bag. I’ve actually collected many varieties of farm hair, from cows, to pigs (we have some very hairy pigs) to chickens. Nothing knits better than good old fashioned sheep wool though. Especially from my mortal enemy Big Baz, a really fat sheep. I’ve got four dustbin bags of his wool cos he’s so fat. Result! I might get a black eye for my troubles, but it’s worth it for the yarn!

What do the rest of the herd think of your new love for knitting?

They love and admire me anyway, but I get many wonderful comments about my duck hat. I’ve had five orders for duck hats for Christmas, but due to my many appearances at celebrity events around the country (I switched on the Christmas lights at Bob’s Burger van in Romford for example) I’m unlikely to be bothered to make them. Next.

Can we tempt you to spread the S&B London love to other Beano characters? We’re particularly keen to see what Minnie the Minx can do with a set of DPNs and a bit of cashmere and several of us would like Billy Whizz or Roger the Dodger to help out with some Christmas knitting.

Of course. All the other Beano characters are my best mates and they all love and adore me like their long lost son. I often send them emails detailing brilliant things we could all do together, like tobogganing, skiing, white water rafting and bingo. Hopefully, if they ever decide to reply to my emails, they would certainly jump at the chance of coming out with me knitting and having a brilliant laugh with all the lovely S&Bers; which is almost a certainty when I’m around as I’m hilarious! Hahahar!!!

Erm… I’ve just got to pop to the loo, won’t be a sec. Can you hold my ice lolly please? Ta.

*A short and unsuccessful period of trying not to eat the ice lolly ensues*

What’s your favourite thing about being an S&B Londoner?

Sorry about that, the door got jammed! I thought I was going to be stuck in there for hours!!! Hahahaahaa!! Anyway…what?

Oh yeah. S&B London is an amazing experience where one gets to meet all sorts of lovely people and enjoy a warm friendly atmos … wait, what does this bit say? I can’t read your handwriting. Oh right. Atmosphere. And the Stitchettes are some of the greatest knit teachers in the whole of the world and very pretty too. Is that right? Hold on, where’s my ice lolly?!

*A new ice lolly is purchased and apologies are made*

Derek helps the S&B London Stitchettes with a bit of yarnstorming

What’s been your proudest knit so far?

My duck hat. It’s like a hat, but in the shape of a duck!!! I know! It’s amazing!!!

We hear that you’re planning some graffiti knitting yarnstorming on the farm. Can you let us in on the plan?

I could, but then I’d have to kill you. All though it might involve girly flowers around Rodney the Bull’s horns, but you didn’t hear that from me.

Do you have your own knitting name, along the lines of Deadly Knitshade, The Bluestocking Stitcher and The Purple Purler?

Um yep. The Woolly Jumper!! What? What’s wrong with that? It’s fantastic! Cecil the Bee is Buzz Lightyear, but that makes no sense. Where’s the knitting pun? He can’t even knit, the fool.

What knit-flavoured gift do you hope to give as a Stitching Santa this Christmas?

I’m trying out my new pattern – a woolly cowpat! It’s quite lifelike and the recipient will have a big smile on her face when she sees it. I think.

And finally can we have a hug? You look awfully soft and woolly. We promise not to steal your fleece while we hug.

Ew!!! But you’re a girl!!! Get yer mits off!!!

*Derek runs off into the sunset screaming*

You can see more about Derek by dipping into his lovely sheepy diary, stalk the sheep on Twitter or read more Derek tales and admire the fine beard of his nearly-knitting creator Gary Northfield on his website.
You can also WIN a SIGNED COPY of the Derek the Sheep book here. Go on. Snicker while you stitch.

Posted in Exclusive events, Interviews, Knit, Knitting celebrities, Knitting News, Stitchettes | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »