Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Fancy a Felt Jacinda Ardern or a ‘Burr Knit’? Why Two Kiwi Blokes Refuse to ‘Stick to Their Knitting’

Fast fashion? Nah. Let’s slow things right down. Following lockdown, a new appreciation for the handmade and locally produced has emerged. Newshub presenter and guest writer Sacha McNeil catches up with a couple of our finest blokes who are leading the way in rediscovering handy skills once reserved for females only – felt figures of Jacinda Ardern and all.

Hats off to Chris, whose felting project took him all of lockdown and inspired countless others who are keen on stabbing bits of wool until they resemble cute animals or political figures. It was always his dream to turn the wee figures into a hat, because why not

Chris Parker’s mum sternly warned him against dabbling in crafts early in life.

“Our family doesn’t bake, ski, camp or sew.”

But never one to conform, comedian Chris used his time in lockdown to inevitably rebel.

“I feel like with most crafts there are all these secrets handed down from grandparents and you need to learn how to do all the little tricks – my family doesn’t do craft.”

If you didn’t catch Chris’ wild ride learning to ‘felt’ in those heady days of being locked in our houses, consider your eight weeks wasted. 

When my sister-in-law sent word from Geraldine alerting me to the felting frenzy unfolding on his Instagram, the kids and I were instantly hooked.

Chris earns his living through making people laugh, so I was intrigued to hear he’d chosen such a violent craft to embark on. Felting is effectively stabbing a piece of fluff in voodoo doll fashion until it resembles something close to – in Chris’ case – the ‘Tiger King’. 

“People were so obsessed with it and I thought I was boring people to death. I still to this day have no idea why people liked watching me do it so much,“ says Chris.

Chris and some of his early creations – eventually he amassed the PM, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the Tiger King, Dr Siouxsie Wiles, the Zoom logo, banana bread and a bubble, amongst others

I have an inkling. 

People like the idea of making something with their own hands. Watching a novice produce a satisfying end product makes it even more inspiring and accessible – all the more so when the journey is as epic as Chris made it. 

He committed to chronicling each project with an energy I could only dream of mustering. Late night sessions, early morning updates. The interaction from his viewers and their investment was palpable.

We shared his inner turmoil at discovering he’d run out of ‘chestnut brown’ wool for Jacinda Ardern’s hair.

“Jacinda’s had a hard few weeks, she’s greying a little bit.”

We wondered how he could manage to shape Ashley Bloomfield’s head so accurately, whilst simultaneously watching the 1987 Tony Awards.

Chris’ impressive quiff trembled with excitement each time he introduced his newest creation to us: “So, [I] obviously nailed it.”

The ambitious end goal, a hat with all his felted characters attached, was a satisfying conclusion to an extraordinary journey.

Now that we are safely ensconced in Level One, the time many of us had to discover new projects to keep our hands busy and minds engaged has likely come to an abrupt halt. But, I propose we keep a slice of that creative curiosity alive as we ease into our new version of reality.

WE WONDERED HOW HE COULD MANAGE TO SHAPE ASHLEY BLOOMFIELD’S HEAD SO ACCURATELY, WHILST SIMULTANEOUSLY WATCHING THE 1987 TONY AWARDS”

There’s something about monotony that relaxes the soul, allowing the mind to take a break and engage in a less frenzied way. I titled one of my lockdown knitting projects ‘the brooding blanket’. A way to simultaneously use up all my leftover wool and settle my mind, at a time when headlines were addicted to the rush of uncertainty. 

Completing a series of granny squares was satisfying and also fooled me into thinking I’d achieved something in my day. Partway through lockdown I realised my panic buying should have included a new stash of wool, rather than just chocolate and wine. 

On the other side of the world in London, someone who clearly has their priorities straight and their knitting supplies topped up is journalist Lloyd Burr. Better known as Newshub’s Europe Correspondent, Lloyd chases stories all over the globe. He’s covered everything from national and international elections, royal weddings, Brexit and more recently the escalating Black Lives Matter protests. 

A royally happy Lloyd crafting one of his coveted ‘Burr Knits’ outside Buckingham Palace because where else do you knit?

Lloyd is a bit less well-known for his prolific knitting prowess.

His repertoire currently consists of nothing more than ‘knit one, purl one’. But it’s enough to keep his mates toasty with a colourful supply of scarves, which he sends all over the world. 

“I knit when I’m at work, while we’re editing up a story or waiting for it to be subbed or just when we have to sit around and wait for a press conference,” he says.

”I even go to the park and sit under a tree and just knit for a few hours. It’s glorious.”

So sought after are his ‘Burr Knits’ creations, he’s struggling to keep up with demand.

“There’s only so quickly a man can knit!” he laughs.

Still, it’s probably much swifter than most women these days.

Kiwis can’t fly but they can be cosy and warm – and they can certainly knit

Traditionally handicrafts were gendered hobbies and they are often still seen as such. Lloyd and Chris, who you wouldn’t typically expect to see on the other end of crafting paraphernalia, are thrilled to buck the trend and with style.

“I was doing ballet at age four and am always looking for opportunities to be dressed in expensive gowns,” says Chris.

“I don’t see why a skill or craft should be considered masculine or feminine. In fact I believe there is a long history of crafting in the queer community.”

Knitting is a proud tradition in Lloyd’s family. He is following on from his nana, encouraged by his mum, who offers tips via video chat from the other side of the world.

“I used to be really self-conscious and defensive about it, but I’ve now realised people are just curious that a dude is sitting there knitting. I understand it’s pretty unusual to see a man knitting, but I hope it’s at least encouraged other guys to pick up the needles.”

I may not be male, but these men have encouraged me to keep up my creative endeavours. Perhaps I’ll even finish my ‘brooding blanket” one day, once all the actual brooding has settled down. 

Sacha and Lloyd during a live cross for Newshub

I have a number of ‘work in progress’ projects on the go. Some I can chip away at whilst sipping a G&T, where dropped stitches or wobbly lines aren’t worth getting my yarn in a tangle over. 

Other ventures call for the sensibility of a cup of tea and more commitment, demanding nous and focused dexterity. 

My mum can churn out a hand-knitted jumper in a jiffy. It’s a skill that deserves respect and maybe one we’ve come to appreciate after finding more time on our hands recently. 

Chris intends to dip his toe into the ambitious world of knitting next and Lloyd is embarking on expanding the number of stitches he can master. The choices are endless when it comes to the handmade. 

As for me, I’m really happy “sticking to my knitting”, thank you very much.

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