The daily obsession with menus is alarming, as are my feelings of helpless indignation against the more alarmist Press, certain political leaders and the purchasing departments of the NHS... and bats. The result of hours of on screen conference calls has blocked my brain it seems from being able to read a book without falling asleep. This overwhelming fatigue in the evening, I have learnt from friends and family, seems to be pretty general for everyone. Is it anxiety, boredom or the body and mind’s way of coping with isolation and powerlessness; a blessing to help us anaesthetise these dystopian times?
And I began to wonder what people had done to wile away the hours before bed, during other periods of cataclysmic change when going out and socialising was forbidden. And I remembered that my parents and grandparents had hobbies, a garden or allotment to grow their vegetables, they sewed, they knitted .. And it struck me that these were essential skills to get you through the tough times! not self-help or yoga or jogging but creating something to eat, to wear, to mend.. something with a purpose to the process. And so I picked up a pair of knitting needles and started knitting basic squares for a project we are involved with called Knit Wise. My daughter also started to knit and has found like me it is incredibly cathartic after a full day working remotely …our squares are truly bad but the joy and the calm when I knit has kept me sane and in a very immediate way I understood why we initiated this project and that our reasons were right.
And so I picked up a pair of knitting needles and started knitting...
At Connolly we had a brilliant Scottish hand knit company on the west coast who moved all their production to India when the demand for their product grew beyond their capabilities and an ageing workforce, we discovered that the knitters were not passing on their craft.
The West Coast of Scotland was always well known for hand knitting. The town of Sanquhar not far from Dumfries House was especially famed for its black and white bespoke graphic knit designs, these are a forgotten and dying craft. With the Princes Foundation at Dumfries House and support from the Joseph Ettedgui Charitable foundation we wanted to recreate a community of local Handknitters who could turn their hobby into a viable business proposition. The fashion industry is crying out for hand knitters and the piece meal work is highly regarded and remunerated accordingly. It is also something that can be done at home with very little capital cost, and no educational qualifications and is equally suitable for men or women. But the great discovery we have learnt has been the benefit knitting has on mental health, especially in terms of community, connecting people at local level and also those in confinement.
With the help and knowledge of our supremely talented Connolly knit designer, Lorraine Acornley, we have established a three year initiative, to encourage leaders who might go on and set up small groups of home knitters and begin knitting once again for the fashion industry. And nurture younger talents to grow sustainable businesses in an area that has the highest rate of unemployment in Scotland.
With the help and knowledge of our supremely talented Connolly knit designer, Lorraine Acornley, we have established a three year initiative...
Lorraine Acornley: Connolly Knitwear Designer
"When Isabel asked me to take part in this new project which is a collaborative effort funded by The Joseph Ettedgui Foundation and run by The Princes Foundation...it felt like coming home. I studied Printed and Knitted Textiles at The Glasgow School of Art and then went on to The Royal College of Art to do an MA in Fashion Knitwear. JOSEPH took me under his wing on graduating from the RCA and bought my final collection for the JOSEPH shops. I’ve since designed for Alberta Ferretti, JOSEPH, Albam, Pringle and Connolly.
This initiative, was really born out of the need to find great handknitters for Connolly, I had no idea it would have such a reaction or such impact in the area. We brought in our knit expert, Pauline Hubbard the Head of Sampling at The Stevenage Knitting, who had worked out the technicalities of making my designs a reality, for nearly 12 years, whilst I designed knits at JOSEPH. Pauline has long retired but is still knitting for pleasure and is a treasure chest of knowledge and we thought there would be no one better to be our Queen Bee.
The project is a 3 year project and will also involve schools and other communities to encourage this inherent talent and this tradition that has been left to die. We will celebrate the first year with a huge art blanket made up of squares knitted by all the community knitters. The blanket will cover the beautiful Adams Bridge in front of Dumfries House and then be deconstructed and gifted to local charities. We have been so fortunate to have been donated yarn by ROWAN yarns and from Esk one of our knitting factories in Dumfries & Galloway.
During this lockdown the community has found some sense of purpose and have continued knitting for the project, keeping in touch via What’s app and sharing patterns and websites between themselves. Knitting has given me constant inspiration and a wonderful career and an opportunity to work with so many amazingly talented people. And now it’s time to give something back."