Ever heard of guerilla knitting? No, it doesn’t involve knitting a cuddly monkey or going ape over the latest Christmas sweater to be created by your favourite auntie.
Just take a closer look at the pair stitched up today by Blackpool’s new Aunty Social network. Katya Lawder and Lou Ashcroft couldn’t knit one, purl one for the life of them. Not as left handers.
Instead both are crochet crazy – creating elaborate tapestries with often risque or certainly irreverent messages.
It’s in marked contrast with crochet’s old world appeal.
“We thought it was just for old ladies,” says Katya who is in her mid-30s. “We’ve proved them wrong. The other day my husband came home to find me, sewing by the hearth, and said, ‘You look like some satanic Jane Austen character’.”
The pair have leapt at the chance to be part of the Yarn Bobbins squad... which goes around adorning street furniture in Blackpool with knitted or crocheted creations.
Lou admits: “The Tower would be our dream target – for a nice bobble hat.”
The barmy army have the slogan “keep Blackpool toastie!”
To date, squares of yarn or knitted bits have appeared on lampposts, pay and display meters, on hire bikes and benches.
It’s all part of the fun to be had once a week at Knittaz with Attitude, a group of up to 40 women, and the occasional man, who meet once a week at Claremont Park Community Centre, North Shore, to knit and natter. Or stitch and bitch, as Lou puts it.
It’s run under the wing of Aunty Social, a community network set up in the spare time of Blackpool Council equalities worker Catherine Mugonyi primarily to encourage people to get out and about, rather than sit at home in front of the TV or computer screens.
“It was important to get people out and back into their communities, ideally at night, and realising they weren’t frightening places and there was fun to be had,” adds Catherine, whose own mother assists her with the various sessions.
The name Aunty Social was inspired, Catherine says by challenging anti social behaviour, and emphasising aunty social behaviour.
“Aunties are usually nice people you associate with cake and a chat,” adds Catherine.
Knittaz with Attitude now attracts women (predominantly) of all ages to the Monday night sessions for newcomers and older timers alike – with food and refreshments thrown in for £3.50. Mothers and daughters, such as Alison Robertson and Katie Wade, 24, turn out too, as with Catherine and her mum, one of the few times they can share quality time.
“I have two jobs so this is a chance to sit down and talk to my mum,” says Katie. Newcomers include Roxanne Lyons who says it’s a total switch-off from her work at BAE Systems. “You turn off when knitting but it also means you can chat. I find it really relaxing and also rewarding. You get a nice welcome here – and some lovely cake.”
Other schemes run under the Aunty Social banner include a Pop-up Picturehouse project, a film club and ultimately mobile cinema meeting every month to help locals access films other than mainstream, and quarterly Connected social media surgeries for voluntary sector and other organisations.
But it’s clear that craft is having a renaissance on the Fylde coast. Another community campaigner Pat Barber runs craft classes Thursday mornings and Friday evenings at Highfield Community Centre, Highfield Road, South Shore, with an all-day Christmas craft workshop there this Saturday. Husband Alan heads the community association but will soon front a craft shop, Pink Daisy Gifts, featuring butterfly and rose card artwork and gingham and felt creations and clothes crafted by his wife and two daughters, Shelley Ellison and Julie Smith, as they hope to turn a lifetime’s passion into a business.
The family that craft together stay together. Three generations now live under one roof – the sisters, their husbands and six children – and Pat and Alan hope to join them. The family has invested in an outlet at The Garden Place, on Cropper Road, Marton, alongside resident artist Graham Arthur King, and in tandem with special events at Dahlia’s Kitchen.
The new shop opens at the special Christmas preview evening tomorrow night. Butterfly specialist artist Shelley admits: “Butterflies are on trend right now – and we’re hoping our business takes off too!”