Knitwear designer, maker and writer Jeanette Sloan wrote an article for Knitting magazine in 2018 which shook the knitting and crafting world. ‘Black People Do Knit’ sought to unpick the myths surrounding crafting – and knitting in particular – as only being for white people.
Jeanette, who will be travelling from her home in Hove to deliver the keynote lecture at Perth Festival of Yarn this weekend, never imagined how her article would further ignite debate about racism in the knitting community and help propel the movement for radical change globally.
Her follow-up piece A Colourful Debate which featured in Knitting last month gives an update on social media discussions about the lack of diversity, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) representation and racism in the fiber community.
I remember being puzzled by having to hold the yarn in my right hand as Mum did, which is the traditional or Scottish style - then having to constantly move it to the left.She set up the newly named website BIPOC in Fiber to, amongst other things, give BIPOC crafters the chance to find and see each other and to highlight their work.
She launched SLOANmade, a limited collection of one-of-a-kind ready to wear accessories while she recovered from surgery following the discovery of two brain tumours back in 2016.
We caught up with Jeanette to find out a little more about her and what festival goers can expect from her lecture on Saturday.
Sally Wilson: You've been crafting and creating since you were seven years old! That's amazing! What captured your heart then?
Jeanette Sloan: My Mum was a very skilful dressmaker and used to knit for all the family. As a child I was fascinated by watching her. She looked so elegant holding the needles and she was quick too. That’s what made me want to learn. I nagged her and she taught me the basics when I was seven.
SW: What was one of the first things you created? Do you remember the feelings associated with making something with your own two hands?
JS: I remember being puzzled by having to hold the yarn in my right hand as Mum did, which is the traditional or Scottish style - then having to constantly move it to the left. It made no sense to me. It seemed so slow. According to Mum I just worked out it was easier for me to hold the yarn in my left hand - Continental style - which is how I knit to this day.
My first project was a red scarf in an acrylic yarn. I must’ve been scared of dropping stitches because I held onto the needles so tightly I could feel the stitches squeaking as I tried sliding them along the needles.
We’re unused to seeing black, indigenous and people of colour or their work in knitting magazines, patterns, or seeing them attend or vending at yarn festivals or teaching classes and workshops.SW: You're based in Hove! We're so excited you're travelling all this way for the Perth Festival of Yarn. How did you come to be involved in the festival? What are you looking forward to about coming to Perth?
JS: I lived in Edinburgh for 14 years and loved every minute of it so I don’t really need much of an excuse to come north of the Border. Eva Christie the Festival organiser got in contact with me last October and invited me to speak. It was just after the publication of my article ‘Black People Do Knit’ and I was very active on Instagram highlighting the work of people of colour in the fibre community.
This will be my first time at the festival so I’m just looking forward to being there, speaking (although I’m very nervous), teaching my class and meeting up with friends - old and new. As I’m travelling up with my husband Sam it also gives us the chance to catch up with friends who aren’t in the crafting sector.
SW: Your keynote lecture is entitled 'BIPOC and the need for representation in the knitting community'. You've written extensively about this issue. What can people expect from the lecture and what you hope they will take away from it?
JS: I’ll be speaking about how black, indigenous and people of colour (who’d be referred to as Black and Minority Ethnic in the UK) are largely unrepresented in the fiber community. It means that we’re unused to seeing them or their work in knitting magazines, patterns, or seeing them attend or vending at yarn festivals or teaching classes and workshops.
This creates an image of a community that isn’t diverse but this just isn’t the case. My talk will be looking at my experiences as a black knitter and hand knit designer and discussing what the community can do to be more inclusive and welcoming to all.
SW: You've written that the knitting community is often regarded as "warm, welcoming and creative" but this isn’t always the case. What have been some of your experiences? In which ways do you hope that everyone's experience can be improved in future?
JS: Actually I’ve always felt welcome and my work has always been valued by the publications and yarn companies with whom I’ve worked. But I know that's not always the case for others. It’s important everyone in the community is seen, welcomed and that their work is valued in order to feel they are truly part of that community.
SW: I was so sorry to read that you've suffered two brain tumours. You’ve said that surviving these caused you to re-evaluate things. In what way has working on your own brand SLOANmade helped in your recovery process? What other things became a priority to you after your diagnosis?
It was really about the joy of making something, being absorbed in the creative process and enjoying the results.JS: So much has happened over the last year I sometimes forget my brain operation was only three years ago. Fortunately I’m well as the tumours were benign but I still have problems with my memory and processing information so I needed to slow things down in order to adjust.
I began SLOANmade as a process of 'mindful making' where there was no pressure to produce work to a set deadline or for a specific purpose. It was really about the joy of making something, being absorbed in the creative process and enjoying the results.
As I said a lot has changed since my operation and in that time I’ve also taken on the role of primary carer for my parents who are both in their 90’s so family is an obvious priority. I’m looking forward to taking things a little slower after Perth so I can get some rest and hear some more of Mum’s knitting stories before working on the new BIPOC in Fiber website and a few other exciting projects.
Jeanette Sloan will deliver the 2019 Keynote Lecture: ‘BIPOC and the need for representation in the Knitting Community’ at Perth Festival of Yarn at 1:15pm on 7 September at the Dewars Centre.
Words of War Event at The Black Watch Castle & Museum in Perthshire is a Book Festival focusing on books, both fact and fiction, of wartime stories.
September 13th Friday 2019
Julie Cumming, has raised £2500+ for Macmillan Cancer Support in Perth with North Inch HIIT sessions over summer.
September 12th Thursday 2019
Horsecross Arts, organisers of the 2019 WOW – What Now? event in Perth, has announced this year's keynote speaker.
September 11th Wednesday 2019