‘Fill my little world right up’[1]

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I’ve spoken to quite a few people who have extolled the virtues of ‘Pinterest’ as a way to pool visual ideas and inspiration for crafts and making projects. This platform appeals to me for a couple of reasons; firstly because of its visual appeal and secondly because of the way in which it enables you to create an instant visual map of other sources, particularly where you might have seen something on a web site or other platform somewhere, which you are mentally storing for a future project. Pinterest enables you to assemble all of these on virtual pinboard so that you can create your own inspiration board.

In terms of my research, Pinterest is also appealing to me because I am interested in using visual methods in qualitative social research, and I’m also interested in the socio-cultural foundations of craft and creative practice, which ostensibly means that I’m looking at how individuals thought processes and craft practices are influences and informed by a broader cultural ‘force-field’ of practices and ideas.

I think the difficulty in getting started though is in having too much or too little to put on your Pinterest, and settling on the right amount of sites to make it interesting without being overwhelming.

You can start, for example, by browsing ‘DIY and craft’ and you are faced with a myriad of different options and it’s difficult to know where to start.  And it forces you to make decisions and choices about what you really do or don’t want to look at.

You can also create multiple boards for different topic areas, so you can create a board for crafts or for other areas that interest you such as film, music and books or food and drink – whatever takes your fancy.  It’s almost like a lifestyle organisation platform which could be almost as much about cataloguing and archiving all of these different sources as a means to express your own individuality.  I think it would even be possible to create a Pinterest board for a research project, particularly if you are using multiple internet sources as part of the material for your analysis.

Pinterest allows you to create a ‘visual identity’ which might only reflect a part of who you are or what you do.  So in the brief description (where you’re only afforded 200 characters to describe yourself, so for example I’ve not been able to make any reference to my day job despite the fact that it’s the thing that takes up most of my time.  Yet Pinterest allows you to do create this world – almost like a shop-front for your life and how you would like to project yourself.

As a starting point, I’ve delved into my Facebook ‘likes’ and have pinned these to various boards which I’ve just created as a foundation which I can come back to and develop later. The end result for me is a pleasing mix of exciting and stimulating visual imagery which are also comforting in terms of their familiarity.  It’s a little world that I’m quite happy to lose myself in from time to time.


[1] The Feeling – from Twelve Stops and Home, Island Records, 2006 

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Autumn is here! New term, new projects, new chaos!

My life in knitting

The first day of October – for me this signals the start of my favourite month, my favourite season and it seems – a life so hectic that if I’m in real danger of missing out and not taking time to enjoy it.
So firstly, it’s the start of term – which means the office is buzzing and it’s all go. Secondly, I’m still busy interviewing, transcribing interviews and gathering material for my PhD project. Thirdly, chorus rehearsals start up again this week, and I’m looking forward to singing and seeing my chorus friends again. So whilst this is all good, I’ve irrationally thought that now would be a good time to have not one, not two, not three, but four projects on the go and counting.

This one has been to Italy and back

Admittedly, one of these is a shawl that I began way back in March whilst on the Chorus tour to Milan which is steadily growing, and my newly found confidence in knitting lace is spurring me on to finish this.

And then, there is a cardigan (another one). This time it’s knitted from the top down, based on a Scandinavian pattern which I downloaded from Ravelry I think. The yarn is recycled, and I love the colour.

Cheap but definitely not nasty

And then there is a knitted jumper dress in a surprisingly nice Acrylic yarn which I picked up in Wilkinsons of all places – again I was really taken by the colour and it’s knitting up well – it really doesn’t have the appearance of an inexpensive Acrylic and actually – at least I know it will wash well and won’t end up being a doll’s dress.

And finally, another cardigan. (Yes, I have a thing about cardigans it seems) Well, actually I’d make a plea for this one being a jacket because it’s much more fitted than other knitted upper body garments with buttons down the front that I’ve attempted in the past, but you’ll be able to see what you think as time progress.

My problem is that I love to start projects, but it seems my boredom threshold at the moment is set quite low and no sooner have I casted on and done my first few rows than something else catches my eye and I compulsively have to start on doing something else.

And it doesn’t stop there of course…as all of you seasoned knitters out there will know it is now less than three months until Christmas and those gift ideas that I promised I would do this year will not knit themselves. What to do??
Oh yes, and to cap it all I’m full of cold and overdosing on the Beechams’! Oh well, so much for the Autumn, roll on next summer.

‘You can get it if you really want’*

*Jimmy Cliff – from ‘The Best of Jimmy Cliff’ Island Records, 1975

To date I’ve talked quite a lot about my research interests and my experiences of using digital media in that field, although I haven’t talked so much about particular craft projects (although I’ve tried to illustrate my experiences of research using craft-related images).

This particular craft project has really challenged me, and has made me reflect on my abilities to stay focussed and get something finished, even through setbacks and an excruciatingly slow and arduous process. It’s a good lesson for other areas of life!

For the best part of this year I’ve been knitting a cardigan from 4-ply merino yarn, using 2.75mm and 3.25mm needles.  The pattern itself doesn’t feature a lace design but I’ve worked this into the garment. It’s taken me so long partly because I only have limited time to knit (with numerous other things going on in my life I squeeze in the odd few minutes here and there in lunch-hours, at the weekly knitting group etc) and due to the nature of the design there is plenty of opportunity for mistakes along the way – which then take a long time to unpick and redo due to the fineness of the yarn and the numbers of stitches.

At times, it’s been quite a demoralising process – so much so that there have been a few occasions when I’ve left the partly completed knitting in a corner to gather dust, wondering whether I will actually pick it up again or just unpick it all at a later date and begin something new.

After a lot of frustration and hard work I’m beginning to feel as if it’s turning into something which will eventually be finished; the end is in sight. And I’m quite proud of it. Maybe soon I’ll be able to post a picture of the finished article (and by soon, I mean hopefully this side of Christmas).  There are still numerous mistakes in the stitches – but it’s satisfying to be near the end of this one and looking forward to the next project.  Something smaller I think.  Much smaller!

 

Taking shape: nearing completion of an epic project

 

It’s good to talk

Time for a shameless plug for my research….Image

Would you like to be involved in a research project about crafting and blogging?

I’m looking to connect with craft makers who would like to participate in a research project that I’m doing as part of my PhD called ‘online interactions and identities in craft practice’.

I am interested in exploring how craft makers (particularly those who practise their craft part-time or whilst fulfilling other responsibilities) use different forms of internet [Web 2.0] technologies such as blogs and social networking sites. In particular I am interested in how ideas and information about craft is communicated, how individuals communicate with others using such media and how this form of communication informs individuals’ own practices and their sense of what it is to practice a particular craft (I’ve tried to capture the essence of my research project in my little doodle).

Essentially I am looking to interview craft makers who use the internet, and to observe their internet interactions (such as blog posts and public posts to social networking sites) over a particular period of time.

Through this research I hope to develop valuable insights into the ways in which internet communications, such as blogging and social networking help us to connect with others, to learn about and develop craft practices, to communicate with others about our own practices and to contribute to a sense of what it means to practice a particular craft. It will also help to develop an understanding of how a craft makers benefit from the process of sharing information with others via the internet. I hope to reflect on these issues and possibly provide some insights into how to develop practices and derive further benefits in the future.

If anyone’s potentially interested in participating, please send an e-mail to me at ronni.littlewood@virgin.net and I can provide further details of what would be involved.

Many thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Shameless plug ends

‘Hooking up’

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Life as a researcher, particularly as a part-time PhD student, can be a very lonely one.  Even if you’re with people every day, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to talk to them at length about the intricacies of your research without their eyes glazing over.

 

Conferences provide the ideal opportunity to chew the fat with those who are equally as nerdy, erm, I mean passionate about similar subjects.

 

So networking tools really provide the opportunity to connect with like-minded people across the world, in a way which has not been accessible to earlier ‘generations’ of early career researchers. Admittedly they’re not without their disadvantages; both twitter and Facebook are excellent distraction and procrastination tools. But I guess if used productively they can also help you to raise your own profile whilst seeing who else is out there to talk to about your research.

 

As I’ve suggested before, different platforms for networking may lead to very different adventures and modes of interaction. I’ve settled into a pattern now of using Twitter as my platform of choice for (mostly) research-related stuff, but I’m still learning.  So far I’ve found it really helpful for asking research related questions and sharing experiences (for example, about the process and experience of gaining ethical approval for my research project). #phdchat is a really useful hashtag for reaching fellow phd-ers and a useful support network too.

 

Undoubtedly, twitter has lots of potential and I wonder whether I will be able to take advantage of what it has to offer in the months/years to come I’m currently using the guidance from the Digital Tools for Research programme at Warwick University, and a useful short guide prepared by the LSE Public Policy Group ‘Using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities’[1] which is really more of a beginners’ guide.

 

‘Lanyrd’ is another social networking platform, which is designed to bring together ‘virtual’ and ‘face-to-face’ forms of networking. As I understand it it’s a way of registering your attendance at particular conferences (mainly academic I think, but not exclusively).  I’m a lanyrd novice, and I’d be interested to hear of others’ experiences. I’ve managed to get as far as signing up for this service via twitter although the link with twitter seems to be a bit temperamental. Lanyrd and twitter seems to reinforce each other, so the more followers (or followees) you have on twitter who share similar interests, the more you’re likely to have relevant events ‘pop-up’ when you go into lanyrd.

 

I think this is another platform which I’ll get to know over time.  It will be interesting to see whether it becomes more popular for academic or non-academic events (from my perspective it would certainly be useful for any type of gathering, be it academic, policy or practitioner).

 

For now though, it’s back to the solitary world of research….

 

 

Who shall I be today?

I’m of a certain vintage where one of my favourite TV programmes as a kid, back in the 1970s and 80s, was ‘Mr Benn’*.  For the uninitiated, this was a mesmerisingly simple animated show.  The central character was the eponymous Mr Benn who for the most part led a seemingly dull and ordinary life (probably a Whitehall civil servant).  The highlight of his day was a visit to the local fancy dress shop during his lunch hour where ‘as if by magic, the shop keeper appeared’ to hand our hero a different costume each day; with which Mr Benn would disappear into the fitting rooms and transform himself, via the magic of stop motion animation, into the character suggested by the costume and then find himself in a Narniaesque fantasy world adventure.  So, if Mr Benn tried on a Knight’s armour, he would end up embroiled with a dragon, and en explorer’s costume would find him in the jungle – you begin to get the idea. I can’t say I blame him.  If I worked in Whitehall I would be doing exactly the same thing on my lunch-hour.

But what does this have to do with online identity?  Well, to my mind, each platform is like wearing a different costume.  It may be that very different identities are created through an online presence on, for example Twitter or Facebook.  And each platform may lead you into very different ‘adventures’. So for example, one of my aims in using platforms is establish identity and credibility as a researcher with the academic community, but I would also like to communicate in a way which is accessible to a more general readership.

I am primarily doing this through this blog and using twitter (although I sometimes find it difficult to keep up the momentum on the latter in terms of regular ‘tweeting’). Facebook is, for me, a much more personal way of connecting.  I did try to synchronise Facebook and twitter at one time – but it led to a lot of confusion for me about who I was communicating to and why. So nowadays I keep the two accounts separate.  I may need to reconsider my Facebook strategy at some stage because this is a valuable way of interacting with the crafting communities, as potential research participants in my study.

Part of my PhD research involves ‘autoethnography’.  So alongside interviews with crafters who use digital tools in their own practice, and participant observation of their use of digital tools, I too will maintaining this blog and possibly other platforms in yet another dual identity of crafter and researcher. So you’ll not only be able to chart the progress on my research but you should also be able to follow my own progress as a crafter. My field notes and reflective research diary will provide valuable documentary data of the experience and possible tensions that this might give rise to.

Another complication arises when I consider my multiple professional identities.  So for example I work full-time at Warwick University as a Research Development Officer, and am a part-time Postgraduate Researcher at the best of times.  In terms of online identities I found this a particular problem with Academia.edu.  Whilst other social networking media such as LinkedIn allow you to associate with multiple jobs, this doesn’t seem to me to be possible with Academia.edu.  I think this is a shame because my other professional identity is academic-related and I would certainly benefit from making connections through this platform to support the work I do in the day job. Nevertheless I can appreciate that it is unrivalled in terms of facilities to include published academic papers – and in today’s climate that is vital to academic careers.

Nevertheless I think I’ll persevere with it for the time being – particularly as it might even motivate me to write some publications to upload to the site. That’ll be a day when I’m wearing my researcher costume.  In the meantime, the shopkeeper has just appeared (as if by magic) and wants me to either pay for the costume or get out of his shop!  Until next time then…..

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The truth is out there*

using a ‘hook’ to loop together different strands into a coherent structure. Also perhaps a metaphor for research (hooking together theory and practice; ideas and empirical work).

I’m not sure if it’s just me. Does anyone slightly dread the moment that someone asks them ‘what’s your PhD about’ whilst looking expectantly at you to enliven them with details of an enthralling project and enlighten them with the benefit of your wisdom.

‘Erm, I’m researching the Psychology of Creativity’ has been my initial attempt at a response. Inevitably this leads to more questions.

‘That’s interesting,’ comes the usual response ‘what aspect of creativity in particular?’

And then I’m faced with a couple of choices. Do I talk about the theoretical roots of the research; the work socio-cultural psychology research on collaborative creativity and creative work; the importance of situating creative work in a broader social and cultural context?

Or is it better to tell people about the empirical focus of the research – the focus on how amateur crafters (in particular knitters and crocheters) develop their identities and creative practice through Web 2.0 interactions (such as blogs and social networks). Or simply, how knitters and crocheters use the internet to communicate about their work.

I usually opt for the latter approach as the first generally tends to alienate most people I speak to. I can understand that. Truth be told lots of the socio-cultural psychology literature can alienate me at times and I’ve been reading it for years – it should be an old friend by now. And talking about the practical focus of the project genuinely engages people (I think) – it’s talking about things that people know something about, whether that’s practising a particular craft or using blog sites or social media. And I find something quite rewarding about that. It leads to more of a conversation and less of a mini-lecture which wasn’t invited in the first place.

But it taking this approach often results in a question for my own internal monologue. ‘Nice crafty stuff and a bit of messing about on the internet, all very well and good and that but why is this a suitable social phenomena for a piece of research?’

Hmmmm.  I’m not necessarily going to answer that one right now.  Partly because I’d be giving everything away too soon, but mostly because I’m still pondering that one. The slightly unnerving part for me is that talking about my research, whether in conversation or in a blog, gives it a life and allows it to take on a form other than that which exists in my head or in any writing which I have done as part of my PhD. And readers will make of this what they will, bringing their own assumptions and providing their own interpetations. That is an exciting and a scary prospect at the same time. The truth is out there … somewhere.

Let’s just say for now it’s a PhD in knitting, crochet and the use of the internet – or ‘spinning yarns and webs’ as I’ve decided to call the blog.  I quite like the sound of that.

*From the popular 90s TV programme ‘The X files’: http://www.xfiles.com/