YKWU – How our knitting club plays a role in democratising fashion.

Knitting is an intricate and accessible craft. With the rise in the younger generation picking up craft skills, who says you can’t knit with us?

On Sunday the 23rd of January, the Colèchi team collaborated with Tate Britain and hosted our first official You can Knit With Us (YKWU) event. It was delightful to be immersed in an intricate craft that tends to be closed off to the majority – but is this truthfully the case? Why is knitting gatekept?

Through providing this space – ensuring that You can, indeed, Knit With Us – it allows for an explorative reconnection with traditional clothes-making for many, allowing for participation in the very essence of what fashion is – the weaving of material into a pattern. YKWU is a way in which Colèchi aims to weave the individual into the community once again; democratising the fashion world through destigmatizing knitting culture and collaborating with the community to learn creative skills.

One aim of YKWU is to undo the generational and misogynistic stigma towards knitting. The typical schema when it comes to knitting is an image of an older woman sitting in an armchair, surrounded by cats or the sound of the radio. In actuality, the age range of people who knit “are fairly even across the board: 34% are 18+34, 36% are 35-54, and 30% are 55+.” Arguably, there are more harmful stereotypes perpetuated by attitudes towards women and older people, but the importance of challenging this image of what knitting is to people is to allow for reform. If we refuse to change our ideas about who knitting is for, denying ourselves access to this inexhaustible creative endeavour, then we restrict ourselves from reconnecting with fashion’s fundamentals. Restricting ourselves from directly interacting with fashion perpetuates harmful practices in the industry such as exploiting workers for cheap labour and mass profit as well as vague production details which exacerbates greenwashing. 

A great part of our Clean Fashion concept is transparency and local sourcing. According to the Earth Logic principles, localism is all about “favour[ing] the use of nearby resources, place-specific knowledge, community self-reliance.” With the development of a club like YKWU, we aim to use the excess resources available to us as well as reconnect local people with the action of making clothes or accessories. The idea was predicated upon the necessity to put the yarn and other material we had in excess at the studio, and developing our own previous knitting and clothes-making skills; sharing both things with the community to encourage individual creativity and sufficiency. The fashion industry has become receptive to inviting the public to what would usually feel like a private space, their studio’s. Designers such as Bethany Williams and Christopher Raeburn have broken the stigma associated with teaching and hosting workshops and collaborating with their local community whilst holding esteemed brands within the fashion industry. Passing down skills isn’t a new phenomenon, learning from skilled artisans keeps the industry going. Movements such as Fashion Revolution have partnered with their sister brand Fashion Open Studio to weave the gap shut between crafting and industry with designers such as Rosette Ale hosting denim upcycling workshops and Matthew Needham curating DiscoMake.

Image Courtesy of Colèchi.

On the day of our first YKWU event, we began by introducing Sarah Beasley to the first cohort and presented a wrist warmer pattern for the group to attempt and complete. It was pleasing to see people take time and be patient with themselves as many were beginners to the knitting craft and slightly struggled to get to grips with the basics of knitting. Sarah was attentive and supportive as much as she could be, while sharing stories of her beginnings in knitting and crochet. Learning this craft from her mother, Sarah additionally makes sure to detail how passionate and curious her mother is when it comes to knitting, always ready to test herself by trying difficult patterns, yarn, needles and techniques. Her knitwear brand, SULK Knitwear, was developed during the pandemic using the skills she learned from her mother in 2020. Sarah’s experimental approach to her collection meant that she encouraged mistakes and emphasised that imperfections can be part of the beauty of learning the craft.  

Salam Shamki, a Trainee Video Editor, with a little bit of experience with knitting and crocheting came to the session and said “I enjoyed the knitting event because it felt exciting to be given a brief and complete it.” Salam begins in her review of the day. The thrill of creating this accessory rather than purchasing it from a fast fashion brand is evident. Salam continues, “I thought the selection of yarns was great and I liked the lesson/pattern that was chosen for us to make because it’s quite a current and trendy accessory.” At Colèchi, we would like to take this to the next level and get attendees thinking about the materials that they use. “I think it could have been better if we got to keep the yarn or so.” 

Image Courtesy of Coléchi.

This review reinforces the necessity for these spaces, as they enthuse the community to get creative and directly interact with fashion. Knitwear would not have become a recent fad if it hadn’t peaked the interests of young people, thus we see the direct positive impact that these activities have for the betterment of fashion. Despite this, the ageism that is specifically reserved in regards to knitting culture must be accounted for, as fundamentally, the best way to sustain the craft is by sharing knowledge and making this skill accessible. Learning new crafting skills such as knitting can facilitate access to a career in fashion, “A key issue for the fashion and textiles industry is a lack of new people coming into the workforce,” says Adam Mansell, CEO of UKFT. “The ageing workforce and the image of the sector are preventing companies from recruiting talent of the future.”

Another direct benefit of this movement towards knitwear is that it allows for excess resources to be put to use: UK consumers spend almost £45bn on clothing and textiles, and to think that all of that textile could go to waste! With something like YKWU, the spare yarn we have readily available to us can be used to create beautiful bespoke clothing and encourage a new skill, which is always handy to have. Besides, the demand for skilled workers is rising – statistics show continued steady growth in employment on an annual basis.

Overall, the intention of You Can Knit With Us to democratize fashion has been well received by the first event we had. This reciprocity is impactful as it shows how educating the local community is the first step to feeling directly part of the fashion world, which is, arguably, the key elements necessary in order to catalyse change. 

Image courtesy of Colèchi

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