This case study explores a participatory textile making research project by Amy Twigger Holroyd. To see more case studies or find out how to contribute one yourself, click here.
Title of case study project or workshop
The Knitting Circle
Name(s) of researcher(s) and university affiliation, if any
Amy Twigger Holroyd, Nottingham Trent University
Context for research
Part of my PhD research, ‘Folk Fashion: amateur re-knitting as a strategy for sustainability’
When did the research take place?
PhD, 2010-2013; this research activity, summer 2012
design, craft, fashion
Aims of research
The overall aims of the research were to investigate people’s lived experience of homemade clothes, and to explore this ‘folk fashion’ as a strategy for sustainability.
In my literature review, I noticed how little academic knowledge there was about the experience of wearing homemade clothes. My main research activity involved working with one small group of amateur knitters in a series of workshop sessions, culminating in each participant designing and executing a reknitting alteration to an item from their wardrobe.
I supplemented this method with a complementary strategy, which is the focus here: gathering comments about knitting and homemade clothes from a large group of knitters.
Description of research method
This method grew out of activities which I was already running as part of my practice as a knitwear designer-maker.
Since 2009, I had run a knitting tent at summer music festivals, running a free communal knitting activity that embraced knitters of all abilities. The completed pieces of knitting were left on display, growing in number as the festival progressed.
The activity was popular, and created a constantly shifting community. I asked participants to ʻshare a knitting memoryʼ on small cardboard tags, after their time spent knitting. The tags were attached to the knitting and become part of the display.
While I started gathering these comments as a way of making the knitting activity more engaging, I soon realised that they could be of value in research. In 2012, the knitting tent visited three festivals, and I asked participants to share their feelings about wearing homemade clothes.
In 2012, 245 separate comments were written; combined with the tags from the previous years, I have gathered over a thousand responses. Some comments are very short; others squash a lot of writing into the small space. Some include drawings, symbols and underlining for emphasis.
I transcribed every comment and analysed this data – along with the data gathered from the participatory reknitting workshops I ran separately – via thematic coding using NVivo software.
Why did you choose to use this method?
In my previous work, I had found that knitting as a group encourages open, constructive conversation. The tags provide an interesting insight into the thoughts that are provoked by the activity of knitting, rather than more distant reflections, as would be gathered by a conventional questionnaire or interview.
What did you learn from the research process?
The comments make fascinating reading, offering brief yet diverse thoughts on knitting and homemade clothes from a broad range of people. They provide a materialised version of the snippets of stories, anecdotes and comments that I heard during my practice as a facilitator of participatory knitting activities. Such comments informed my tacit knowledge of amateur knitting, yet were difficult to record.
I learned that a standalone participatory activity, designed but not directly led by the researcher, can be an effective means of gathering qualitative data.
“My knitting skills befit only Barbie & Ken however what a lovely idea the communal knitting concept is – a delightful 20 minutes at Latitude”
The reknitting workshops that I ran for my PhD research were another, much more intensive, participatory making activity. They are described in the sources listed below.
I also organised an intensive textile workshop, ‘Hack the Smock’, while working as a postdoctoral researcher on the Design Routes project. For this workshop we employed a textile artist, Ruth Singer, to lead the making activity; this made my role as a researcher more straightforward. I documented the workshop using timelapse birds-eye-view images, which provided a useful visual record of the activity.
Twigger Holroyd, A. (2017), Folk Fashion: Understanding Homemade Clothes,London: I.B.Tauris. [more information]
Twigger Holroyd, A. (2013), Folk Fashion: Amateur Re-Knitting as a Strategy for Sustainability. Unpublished PhD thesis, Birmingham City University. [access online]
Twigger Holroyd, A. (2017). Reknitting workshops / Garment led interviews. In: K. Fletcher & I.G. Klepp (eds) Opening Up the Wardrobe: A Methods Book. Novus. [more information]
Twigger Holroyd, A. & Shercliff, E. (2014) Making with others: working with textile craft groups as a research method. The Art of Research, Aalto University, Helsinki, 26-27 November 2014. [access online]