Yarn Artist – Deborah Nash
The elegant twinkle in the eyes of Deborah Nash could persuade the most reluctant crafter to try their hand at arm knitting. Yes, arm knitting. No need for needles, just rather enormous yarn!
Deborah, a yarn artist, has been involved in knitting projects and yarn-bombing Folkestone over the past few years. Her creations have inspired many to discover their inner knitter. As a result, many are involved in yarn installations as part of the Salt Festival. This is an annual event held each September to celebrate our connection with the sea and environment.
A member of the East Cliff Creatives, she also runs a community knitting group called ‘Granny Drops A Clanger’. When introducing new members to the group, she asks 3 important questions: Who taught you to knit? Why do you want to knit and what’s your worst knitting creation? So, Folkelife thought that would be the best place to start.
“My worst experience was I imagining something in my head and expecting other people to understand it! I do extreme knitting – arm knitting – and an idea that makes sense to you, doesn’t make sense to others. My idea to create a massive fisherman’s net ended up being a ball of knots!”
And, thinking this wasn’t a silly question, how do you arm knit?
“You use your arms! Get 5 to 10 balls of wool and knot them together. Knit standing up with the yarn on the floor. Cast on exactly as you would with needles, and get a whole load of stitches on one arm. Then you knit from one arm to the other. Just make sure you have been to the loo before you start…!”
She giggles infectiously and is full of practical pointers when taking on an extreme form of art.
left vs Right brain activity
“Knitting gives you a mental workout. If you want to reduce your chances of developing dementia, then doing something that exercises both your left and right sides of the brain is useful. This is one of those activities: arm knitting means you need to reverse your knitting to get the stitches off one arm and onto the other. It’s a simple left brain vs right brain activity!”
“Knitting is also great for people with arthritis too. Arm knitting really hones your skills! Years ago, adults would teach children to knit by casting on, then get the children to knit, and hand back to the adult to cast off. Consequently, many people now don’t know how to cast on or off. They can only do the bit in the middle. So with arm knitting, you learn the whole process in a massive way. You can arm knit a scarf in half an hour.”
don’t limit your ideas
“Extreme knitting isn’t just arm knitting though. There’s a special 4 inch wide yarn that’s been created now, and you can knit on a table or on the floor. It’s a cross between knitting and weaving, and the results are massive blankets or throws. You don’t have to limit yourself to yarn, you could buy rope or twine. Knitting needles could be toilet rolls or broom-stick handles. You could then knit a garden fence! There was a lady in the Shetlands who created the most beautiful garden fence using green twine.”
What’s the best thing you’ve created?
“I love my last yarn installation which was for the Salt Festival. This is a festival for the environment. It’s a fantastic festival. I taught people how to arm knit and we created the installation and put it up ourselves. My input was deciding on the colours of the wool, and the other participants created wonderful items to be part of this.”
Do you find that those who’ve never knitted anything this extreme, bring other ideas that you hadn’t thought of to the picture?
“Generally, I find people have very little confidence in using their arms and fingers; they feel they can’t craft. Yet, they have such pleasure when they find they can do it! Young children seem to have no boundaries as to what they could do. One girl said her creation looked like mermaid hair! I hadn’t thought of that, but now I will do mermaid hair workshops, thanks to this collaboration.”
Granny Drops a Clanger!
“This is a group I’m passionate about. We meet each Thursday and we are the Folkestone branch of the Knitting and Crochet Guild. I teach people how to knit, crochet and extreme knitting, and arm knitting. Anyone can come, whether you can knit or not. This week, I’ll be teaching those who can knit, how to lace knit. Last week we did Kitchener Stitch, a useful stitch used to graft the top of a hat or sock together invisibly. In a couple of weeks we’re going to learn Armenian Knitting. So you could have no knowledge at all and knit a scarf, or you could have knitted socks for years and learn Armenian knitting instead!”
“Armenian knitting uses two or more colours, and it makes a very solid piece. The best example of Armenian knitting is the famous Italian Designer Elsa Schiaparelli Bow Sweater, which she made in the 1920s. This sweater has a bow, collar and cuffs detail and are knitted in cream to contrast against the black of the sweater. It’s a nod to her later involvement with the Surrealist Movement and collaboration with Salvador Dali and the poet Jean Cocteau. The trick is to use both hands feeding the yarn through, it’s another great left brain/right brain exercise! One of those skills they say to work on to reduce the chances of developing dementia.”
Adventures with needles and yarn
“I’m doing a cruise with P+O around the Norwegian Fiords, teaching people to arm knit. I’m a bit scared! I don’t know if I’ll be ok on the cruise! My travelling companions are ladies from the Knitting and Crochet Guild and we’re going to yarn bomb the Captain’s cabin. I want to persuade them to let us yarn bomb the bow of the ship! We’re going to do a knit and natter at Stavanger in Norway. Meeting the Norwegian knitters is going to be really special.”