Granny Square Project
Final report by Adriana Cobo, Architecture & Spatial Design PhD Student, CSM
Funded by the Post-Grad Community Project Fund
The Granny Square project was proposed as an open four-day workshop for making a crochet garment, tailored to one of the benches on Granary Square, king’s Cross. Using Granny Squares made out of plarn (plastic-bag yarn), selected images would be assembled to construct a piece measuring 1.5 by 8.00 metres, the size of a bench.
The project was set as a dedicated collaboration with elderly women from the local area, specifically members of the Stich and Knit Club, ran by the Saint Pancras Community Association SPCA, in association with We Are Ageing Better UK- Somers Town and Saint Pancras. Our collaborators will gather together with members of the public and UAL students to practice and share crotchet skills. This, as part of the MAKE exhibition at Lethaby Gallery, an open makers space showcasing makers skills in Camden, curated by The Public Collaboration Lab CSM. MAKE took place from 3 to 7 July, 2018.
We set up the space within the exhibition as a relaxed, home living room like corner, with a sofa, a comfort chair, colourful cushions and a big centre table where materials, tea, coffee and biscuits were available. Our crotchet corner was heavily visited by students, crotchet enthusiasts and members of the public throughout the week, who all contributed towards finishing our bench cloak with at least one Granny Square.
The selected motif for the cloak was a bird, which represents the iconic finials toping the airing lines posts in the washing courtyards of Somers Town’s Saint Michael’s Flats. The finials were commissioned in 1931 by housing reformer Father Basil Jellicoe, to sculptor Gilbert Bayles, following his belief that beauty in the everyday dignified people’s lives. In their art club, our collaborators had drawn a series of paintings depicting memorable places from King’s Cross, Somers Town and Saint Pancras, where they have lived for more than sixty decades.
Amongst other images, one of the paintings showed the iconic airing line posts, with their bird shaped finials. This painting was brought to the Lethaby Gallery, and displayed as a key piece in our exhibition set up. The sharing and transferring of crotchet skills developed informally and organically throughout the exhibition’s week. People sat down, had a chat, practiced and taught each other what they have learned, after expert participants had trained them with basic crotchet stitches.
On the exhibition’s final day, we devised an on-site fitting session to try the cloak on a bench on Granary Square. We also had an informal lunch with participants on the square. Children and grandchildren joined in for a memorable afternoon. I can confidently say our participation in MAKE was a success.
The project opened the possibility to offer a public platform for and celebrate, relevant activities which usually would remain circumscribed to their natural contexts, such as community centres. Specifically for our case, the local centres hosting programmes directed to tackle loneliness and isolation in old age – The Living Centre and SPCA. Making a crotchet piece for a prominent public space (Granary Sq.), allowed showcasing not only local crotchet expertise, but also histories and stories from adjacent places and people, which can often be overshadowed by the new.
Through our work during the exhibition’s week, we were able to visualise and measure the public interest on the subject of crocheting with plarn, as well as the relevance of the connection between common skills (crocheting and knitting) and local histories. The project triggered interest beyond stake holders Argent and KCES, site owners and managers for Granary Square. Contacts were initiated with The Somers Town History Club, and we have received advice and interesting suggestions to further connect the project with other local players such as Google and The Guardian. This suggests the project could live on as a potentially long term collaboration with the Stitch and Knit SPCA group, while growing on other fronts.
From the experience on the ground, the project allowed me to re-evaluate and recalibrate aims, as the size of the originally proposed bench-cloak was too ambitious. We managed to produce 25% of it. However, this was enough not only in visual terms (we all thought), but also as a process of engagement with the community at various levels. At the specific level of the PGC Fund, making cross-college collaborations proved difficult, as this is a very locally embedded project, sited at the heart of KX (Granary Sq., The Lethaby Gallery, CSM), and supported by CSM (Public Collaboration Lab, CSM Public). On a personal level, I believe crotchet has arrived to my life to stay…
There was some coverage by the council’s Camden Magazine – July/August Issue on our work prior to the exhibition.
This Project would have not been possible without our participants, with very special thanks to Shelagh O’Gorman, who volunteers for the SPCA and runs the Stitch and Knit group, and Jess Grieve, Project Coordinator for We are Ageing Better UK – Somers Town and St. Pancras. Also to Rachael Taylor from Origin Housing, and her mother, who knitted many Granny Squares for us, and UAL’s Post-Grad Community Project Fund.
Our enthusiastic participants, who every week welcomed me patiently in the Stitch and Knit Group, Betty Davies, Dot Godwin, Doris, Zohreh Rahimi, Lucy, Jean. Terry collected material from different sources for out plarn making every week MA Architecture graduates Jon Shmulevitch, Amy O’Shaughnessy, Daniel Wilkins and Matthew Brown. Georgia Jacob, creative producer for CSM Public who invited us to be part of MAKE.
Thank you to Rachel Mathews for her time, kindness and valuable advice.