Coming together for art, fun and others: community textile projects

Coming together for art, fun and others: community textile projects

Going around here in West London and in England, I have come across some textile-based community projects that maybe you will find interesting.

They are crocheting and knitting public projects that use those skills creatively to raise awareness and educate the public, and also inject beauty and fun in our lives of course! Maybe something similar is done in your own neighbourhood and community: it would be nice if you could share other similar projects in the comments.

The first couple of projects that I want to show you are projects that I came across to inside the Royal Botanics Gardens Kew or Kew Gardens.

This is a UNESCO World Heritage site that holds a collection of more than 28,000 taxa of living plants and around seven million of dried specimens in its herbarium, not counting the lovely historical buildings and surroundings that make for an enchanting visit: it is definitely a picnic favourite of Londoners and tourists alike, although the ticket is a bit expensive. I personally always try to go for the Orchids Festival, as I am a fan of orchids, but my kids like the yearly Children Science Festival!

Here are the links to the Kew Gardens official website and to the entry on them in Wikipedia.

In a small and quiet separate greenhouse very close to the famous historical Temperate House we found two textile pieces: one horizontal artwork about Food Security, and the other a vertical artwork about natural life classification for plants or the Plant Tree of Life.

Both were created as community projects by people coming together to express what the themes meant to them through knitting: the Community Learning group of Kew Gardens is aimed at people who may have difficulty in accessing the Gardens and would like to know more about plants and be involved.

Two placards on the wooden wall, both showing photos and a short descriptive text relating to Kew Community projects, titled Knitting Nature and Kew and food security.
The explanation of the Community Projects at Kew in general, and of the one on Food Security in particular.
Detail of one placard, showing a closer view of the photos: a group photo of participants to the Community Projects and another of knitted potted plants.
Here is a closer look at those photos on the signs: a group photo of the participants and a photo of their works!
A textile artwork hung on a wall, made of 32 knitted colorful squares representing edible plants and cooked food, and the words Kew & Food Security.
Here is the work on Food Security: quite colourful!
A placard explaining the Tree of Life community project at Kew Gardens and about Knitting DNA-inspired artwork.
This sign explained the Tree of Life project in Kew Gardens.
Detail of the two photos on the sign explaining the Tree of Life project, one a group photo of knitters at their work and one a photo of knitted yellow yarn on a hand.
Here is a close up of the two photos of the sign about the Tree of Life project: those ladies seem to be enjoying themselves!
Photo of the knitted artwork Plant Tree of Life on a wall: it represents different groups of plants by symbols and by their names. They are Asterids, Rosids, Early diverging eudicots, Monocots, Magnoliids, Gymnosperms, Lycopods, Ferns.
This is the knitted artwork itself, Plant Tree of Life.
Detail of three knitted water lilies in different colors.
A detail from the Plant Tree of Life, three knitted water lilies.
Detail of Plant Tree of life, knitted bees on a flower and a skeleton below the writing Asterids.
The bees were quite cute, but the skeleton sure was a bit scary!
Detail of the Rosids group of plants in the Plant Tree of Life knitted artwork: a lot of knotted colorful flowers and bees.
The Rosids understandably had some more bees going around.
Detail of Monocots in the Plant Tree of Life, with knitted grasses.
It seemed quite interesting how they managed to make the Monocots as well. Most monocots are grasses, but this group sees orchids as well: I kind of wish they made some knitted orchids, just to add a bit more colour to this group.
Detail of Gymnosperms on the Plant Tree of Life artwork. There is a knitted DNA chain.
The Gymnosperm group was represented by a DNA chain as well.
Detail of knitted dinosaur and ferns on the Plant Tree of Life artwork.
Those knitted dinosaurs on the Ferns group were quite cute.
Detail of knitted fishes on the Lycopods group on the Plant Tree of life artwork.
I have no idea why they put a lot of fishes on the Lycopods group, as those plants used to grow as tall as trees, before becoming almost extinct (probably because of drought conditions). They are similar to moss today.
Detail of many knitted ladybirds and a knitted flower in the Magnoliids group on the Plant Tree of Life artwork.
Those Magnoliids sure attract a lot of ladybirds!

If you would like to try your hand at knitting nature, as those ladies did, here is a link to some free patterns on the Community Learning Kew website that you might try. The Community Learning group is the one who created those two beautiful works and it is made up of people who face some barriers to accessing the Gardens and are part of an organisation who applied for a Community Learning Access. Barriers to access may be such as some physical, mental or psychological impairment or social and financial barriers.

The other project is way more informal, has been going on in my Ealing neighbourhood for a while and I recently saw another one in Norfolk, and realised that it is something widespread in England, UK: all British crocheters and knitters, please, let us know about something that you can see around your neighbourhood as well.

So, now that I have created a bit of suspence, here it is, a Pillar Box Topper: a crocheted or knitted shape is fitted on the top of the iconic red Royal Mail pillar boxes, and on top of that layer there are different clever crocheted or knitted shapes representing a theme, to raise awareness on charity associations or local features or something that takes the fancy of the artist. I gather that it is not usually something that you need to plan with the approval of Royal Mail, as long as you keep well off the critical bits of the post box, and do not cover the hole or the signs.

A typical red British Pillar Mail Box with a crocheted topper on a street in London.
Here is one that I love, it’s close to where I live.
A view of the Pillar Topper from above, showing knitted mittens, a knitted red heart, a knitted bowl of soup and a knitted cup of tea, a knitted scarf and jumper, and the words Ealing Soup Kitchen.
As you can see it has been knitted in proud and creative support to Ealing Soup Kitchen and it features warm items of clothing (mittens, scarf, jumpers and the like) and of course a cup of tea and a bowl of soup.
A detail of the Pillar Box Topper, a small yellow crocheted coat with hood.
This tiny yellow coat with hood is quite lovely.
The sign attached to the Pillar Box Topper says Crocheted with Love (heart drawing) for Ealing Soup Kitchen.
Here is the sign for this Topper: on the other side it has a QR Code that you can scan to support the Ealing Soup Kitchen.
A red British Pillar Box with a crocheted and knitted Topper featuring cars and a road.
This one had building works around it, so I could come at it only from one side, unfortunately. It says “When I’m Driving in my car” and it has been made just for fun.
A detail of a crocheted and knitted Pillar Box Topper that shows a knitted blue car attached to a grey crocheted road.
That is the best detail photo that I managed to take of it: the cars are knitted, whereas the topper itself is crocheted.
A closer view of the Pillar Box Topper that is car themed.
I came back once the building works were finished and took a couple better photos.
Detail of car themed Pillar Box Topper, showing a smaller yellow knitted car.
Here is the view from the other side! Clearly an enthusiastic driver.
A knitted light brown Pillar Box Topper with knitted dinosaurs on top of it.
This is one that I have seen close to Cromer, Norfolk, on the Jurassic Coast, while I was holidaying there. There was a lot of glare, so I did not quite manage to take good photos and also not have my shadow show.
A detail of knitted Pillar Box Topper, Jurassic Coast themed, with a Mammoth, and different dinosaurs.
Here is another view of it. The Pterodactyl is attached to the Mammoth top quite cleverly.
Detail of a Pillar Box Topper seen in Cromer, with smaller and larger knitted dinosaurs and a Mammoth in the center.
Maybe you can catch other details here.
A British red Pillar Mail Box with a colorful crocheted Topper on it, featuring flowers.
Here is another crocheted one that is close to where I live: it is simpler, with plenty of colour!
Closer view of Pillar Box Topper with crocheted flowers and very colorful yarn.
Here is a closer view.
Closer view of a Pillar Box Topper with crocheted flowers.
And another view, from a slightly different angle.
A detail of crocheted smiling daisy on a crocheted Pillar Box Topper.
I like the smiling daisies!
A crocheted rose in bright fuchsia color on a Pillar Box Topper.
Most of the flowers seem not overly difficult to make, but impressive on the topper, like this rose in bright pink.
A coronation themed Pillar Box Topper on a London street.
We had some quite simple ones for Coronation Day where I live: I guess our neighbours were not overly enthusiastic but made the cheering effort anyway.
A Coronation themed Pillar Box Topper in white blue and red, with a small crocheted crown.
Another quite simple one in the colours of the Union Jack for Coronation Day in my area.

 

There definitely are various charity associations doing this, but it is also used just for a bit of fun and to commemorate events as you see. It is quite popular here: check out its history here on Wikipedia, and here you can find a blog with the list (unfortunately around 2 years old, sorry) of the places where you can find them in UK and links relating to groups of Post Box Toppers enthusiasts.

And, if you wish to try, here is a link to free crochet and knitting patterns for Post Box Topper by the Townswomen’s Guild: of course, those are only the basic Post Box covers, without all the knitted and crocheted embellishments. There are other free patterns online, if you wish to try your hand at one.

12 thoughts on “Coming together for art, fun and others: community textile projects

  1. Thank you for sharing that lovely collection of knitting and crochet. I wonder if the people that make these pretty items realise how many smiles they raise from passers-by?

    You are correct – post box toppers are nationwide – and with our weather it’s a wonder that these items survive so well. Locally we also have street bollards decorated and in a pedestrian precinct it’s so cheerful!

    Well done to all those knitters and crocheters ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hello! How nice to know that post box toppers are widespread! they are surely getting a lot of smiles from me! and hopefully someone from our readers will take it up as a bit of an inspiration to go and decorate their road as well.

  2. Those Kew projects obviously bring a lot of joy to the people involved and what a lovely way to bring folk together.
    Discovering yarn in the street always makes me smile. We have toppers on some of our local post boxes and I often walk down the street and find the bollards or railings have been decorated with knitted or crocheted work. Yarnbombing is certainly nationwide, I wonder if its worldwide?

    1. Hello, Karen.
      I feel that this is an activity that we should export and encourage worldwide, although I am pretty confident other communities in the world have similar textile projects going on: a lot of traditional textile craft and art has always been a group work, I would be surprised to find that there are no craft groups working together for a community project. I learned on Instagram that there are school pupils felting together panels on their school values, and Frome inhabitants felting together panels about their town and community. Also, there are knitters who knit scarves, gloves and hats each winter for different charities, and in Italy I know that there are volunteers sewing beautiful dolls called Pigotte for charity every year (my daughter has one of those dolls herself, with a beautiful embroidered dress and crocheted little shoes).
      Caterina

  3. I love yarn bombing (or guerrilla knitting/crocheting, as it’s also known) ๐Ÿ˜€ What a bunch of talented people! The one for the Soup Kitchen is so clever <3

    1. Yes, it’s very clever, also because Ealing Soup Kitchen’s logo is exactly like the bowl and cup on the top of the topper, and all the clothes are very cute and apropos.

  4. What lovely fiber projects. I do love to see communities get together and create art. The post box toppers are great too. I have seen a lot of these online. We have yarn bombing in the US too.

    https://feltingandfiberstudio.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Yarb-Bomb-Rat.jpg
    https://feltingandfiberstudio.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Yarb-Bomb-Whale.jpg
    https://feltingandfiberstudio.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Yarn-Bombed-Tree.jpg

    I will see if these will work in the comment box so others can see too. It is a tree in the upper west side of Manhattan (NYC) near a yarn shop. I especially liked the 3D characters.

    1. Thank you for sharing the yarnbombed tree, it’s spectacular! I loved the 3D rat, it seems quite the right animal to see up an urban tree, eh eh.

  5. What a great way of bringing groups together in a learning way too. I’m sure they had fun with their creations & because of that will no doubt remember things more easily.

    We have have a few towns locally that demonstrate similar yarn bombing exploits. Not only are there post box & bollard toppers, but seats are decorated too. Just on the entrance to my closest town we have a beautiful life sized Cor-ten sculpture of a deer family (I think there are 6 in total) & they get tastefully ‘bombed’ too, each having – masks during Covid times, or red noses, or Santa hats or antler muffs.

    These group activities always bring a smile with their colourful fun creations. Long may the ‘kniffiti’ artists continue!

    1. Lovely to hear about projects in your area! The deer sculpture decorations seem awesome! I wish we could see them.

  6. What lovely projects you have highlighted. I have been making poppies for a communal display on Remembrance Sunday in November. I spent Saturday morning stitching them onto a background.

    1. Hello, and thank you for pointing out the other time when most yarn bombing and volunteer crocheting or knitting is done in UK: Remembrance Day is a major crocheting and knitting time, and I forgot to mention it! I would have loved to see your communal display of yarn poppies, it must have been impressive.

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