Amy Fox

Writer. Editor. Feminist knitting designer.


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On a changing world

When I walked into my office on Wednesday 9th November, 2016, I looked at my fellow writer, Alex, and I had nothing to say.

He looked at me. A pause.

“Our job is more important now, Amy,” he said.

*

When I had woken up that morning and rolled over and looked at my phone, I saw the same thing that shocked millions of people all around the world: despite all the evidence against him, despite every despicable thing he had said and done, despite multiple accusations of assault, Donald Trump had been elected President of America.

I didn’t feel the crushing horror that I felt at that same moment in June, when I realised Brexit was happening. A part of me knew that we would leave the EU then, and I was devastated to learn that I was right.

But in a million years, I never thought America would elect Trump. I was so sure. I kept telling people: it won’t happen. I’m sure it won’t happen. Looking at the news that day, I just felt numb.

I did the things I always do in the morning. I switched on Radio 4. I made myself a cup of tea. I ate breakfast. As I put on my makeup, I listened to Trump say that he would be a president “for all Americans” and I shuddered. I put down my lipstick. What’s the point? I picked it up again. (Lipstick makes me feel strong, and now more than ever, I needed to be strong.)

*

I stopped feeling numb, eventually. I felt desperately sad. Then I felt determined to do something. Then I felt scared. Then I felt hopeless. Then I felt tired.

I still feel tired.

But in the months since that day, my thoughts have become clearer. And there are three things that I’ve decided to believe in, in this new, angry, divisive world. They are obvious, and idealistic, and a bit schmaltzy. But all the same, I’m writing them here as a record, a reminder, and a plan.

1) Love. I keep thinking about this interview with Antoine Leiris, and his absolute refusal to have any room for hate in his life. There were tweets that Wednesday mournfully declaring that hate won, sexism won, racism won, homophobia won. It didn’t. I refuse to have any room for them. We’re all still here, our beliefs haven’t changed, and we have to keep looking after each other.

2) Truth. There’s been a lot of talk about “post-truth” politics in the last year. I do not agree with it. The truth still exists. Things still happen. Facts are still facts. And around the world, activists and journalists are working constantly and fearlessly to shine a light on them. Sometimes people don’t believe them, but that doesn’t change what is true. Sometimes they are horrible, but that should not mean that we look away. Alex’s words to me on that bleak Wednesday morning have stayed with me. We write, every day, for a news website that is read by thousands of teenagers. And our job is more important now. We have a responsibility to tell them the truth, as fairly as we can, without losing hope. And then they can make up their own minds.

3) Action. There’s a lot of work to do over the next few years. Things will need protesting, and things will need protecting. But we can all do small things, whether that’s donating money to causes that need it, making our voices heard at protests, contacting our local politicians, supporting the most vulnerable people, or being there for our friends when they need us.

I wish I had more concrete answers. But most change is incremental. It’s lots of small things building up over time to create something huge. That will be true of Trump’s time in power. It’s also true of how to stop him.

Be safe. Be well. Look after yourself.

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Last Friday

Two things happened on Friday last week. One of them, you probably already know about.

It feels somehow inappropriate to be blogging about the attacks on Paris. I feel a deep sense of sorrow and sympathy for the city, one that it’s impossible to really express. It’s awful whenever anywhere is attacked, but the symbolism resonates. This is a city of enlightenment, love, fashion, wine. But I wasn’t there, I’m not an expert – I’m not even French.

Yet I have written so much about Paris during my working day, listened to radio reports from the Place de la République as I applied my make up each morning, turned it over in my mind as I stirred pasta at dinnertime. It’s in my head. It’s in my heart.

I won’t feel done until I write about it for myself.

So. The other thing that happened on Friday, hours before the attacks began, is that I sat and read Carry On, the new teenage wizarding school fantasy novel with an LGBT twist by Rainbow Rowell.

(“Is this a trivial addition to a serious topic?” you might ask. I would argue not. But my postulations about the importance of teenage pop culture probably are, so I’ll leave them for another time.)

On the surface, Carry On is a self-aware, but still slightly awkward, re-hash of all the magical ‘chosen one’ stories ever written. But once you get past the opening chapters (“Oh, this must be the Hermione character… Look, now we’re at Hogwarts sort of”) there is a compelling love story, and an interesting take on corruption, power, us vs. them mentalities, and how to beat a shifting, terrifying enemy which is intent on destroying the very soul of your society.

Right at the end, a song is mentioned by name: Nick Cave’s ‘Into My Arms’.

I opened YouTube on my phone, and played it as I finished off the final few pages.

And although I’d heard it before, it had never gotten under my skin the way it did then. The deep, mournful vocals wrapped themselves around me, while the light piano promised some kind of hope.

I’ve been playing it almost on repeat ever since – whenever I get a moment alone, through headphones if I’m at work, at least twice as I go to bed.

I’m not religious. I haven’t been for a long time. But playing this song feels closer a prayer than anything I’ve felt in years.

Be safe, it says. Be loved. There is a path.

I’m not saying, obviously, that Nick Cave or Rainbow Rowell have the answer to Islamic State. But time and again at work this week, we’ve returned to the same questions as we cover the attacks:

Is there a way to win this that doesn’t involve hate?

If the enemy is calling you to come and fight them, if it craves a violent response above all else – do you have a duty to refuse to give it to them?

I don’t know.

But I believe in love.

And I’m not going to stop asking.


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Crochet flower bunting for Spring

Crochet flower spring bunting 1

I love the spring. Winter always feels so long and gloomy, but when the sun finally arrives, everything starts to look better. I love daffodils, I love that it’s still light when you leave the office, I love being outside and sitting on grass.

So I’ve been making this bunting for months, crocheting the flowers whenever I didn’t feel like doing my main knitting projects. But it feels fitting that I finished it in the spring, and that it was the perfect length for the big, sunny windows of our new flat (annoyingly, not sunny when I took these photos).

Crochet spring flower bunting 2

This isn’t an original pattern, but more of a hybrid that I improvised and put together from lots of different places. It was mostly inspired by the beautiful fruity colours of Peter Pan DK (933, 934, 937 & 938). I’m usually a bit snobby about acrylic yarns, but this one has a lovely soft feel – and if there’s one thing acrylic does well, it’s colour.

So to make the daisies I used this gorgeous pattern from the Diva Stitches Crochet Blog. She has lots of really cute free flower patterns and you should definitely check them out. I used one colour for Round 1, and changed for Rounds 2 & 3 to create that pretty daisy effect.

And for the single-coloured flowers, I used this great video tutorial from Yarn Obsession. Again – neither flower pattern was my design, I just picked them out and threw them together. If you want to learn to crochet, I always find videos so much more helpful, and the Yarn Obsession channel is really good.

Once I’d made enough flowers (I made two daisies in each colour combination and three single-colour flowers each) I then crocheted them all together in white. My white stash is James C. Brett Shimmer DK and it has that extra thread effect which gives it a little texture, but a smooth white DK yarn would look just as good.

If you’re interested, I decided to try my hand at a photo tutorial for stringing the flowers together, which you can find below. It’s not really a pattern, because I wasn’t that precise – I wanted the flowers to be placed randomly with varying lengths so I didn’t count every time – but it’ll give you an idea. What I love about crochet is that you don’t always have to be as exact as you do in knitting – it’s great for projects like this which are a little more freeform.

If you’re not interested in the tutorial, just enjoy the pretty.

Crochet spring flower bunting 3

Step 1: Make a slip knot.

Bunting 1

Step 2: Chain 10.

Bunting 2

Step 3: Insert hook into first chain.

Bunting 3

Step 4: Slip stitch to create loop.

Bunting 4

Step 5: Chain 45 – this forms beginning of bunting string. Thread waste yarn for marker.

Bunting 5

Step 6: Chain until you reach the desired length for your first flower string – I didn’t count as I wanted to create a random look. (I also changed from a white to red hook for some reason but they’re both 3.75mm.)

Bunting 6

Step 7: Insert hook into top of flower from the back.

Bunting 7

Step 8: Wrap yarn over hook and pull through. Two loops on hook.

Bunting 8

Step 9: Yarn over hook, pull through loops. Your flower is now securely attached and facing the front (although they tended to twist around anyway.

Bunting 9

Step 10: Double crochet in each chain until you reach marker.

Bunting 10

Step 11: Chain 15. This will create the bridge to the next flower string.

Bunting 11

Step 12: Thread waste yarn for marker and start again from Step 6. Vary lengths and colour sequences until your flowers have all been placed.

Bunting 12

Step 13: Chain 45 to match beginning of bunting, then chain 10 more for loop.

Bunting 13

Step 14: Insert hook into 10th chain from hook and slip stitch to create loop.

Bunting 14

Step 15: Double crochet in each chain along top of bunting.

Bunting 15

And you’re done!


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Reviewing Emer O’Toole’s Girls Will Be Girls

One of my new year’s resolutions this year was to grow out and reshape my eyebrows and let me tell you, it has been a struggle. I plucked them so thin over the years – and from above which is a mortal eyebrow sin – that it has now been two months and they still look patchy and weird. I long for the day, around two weeks from now, that I will finally get them professionally shaped. I’m quite literally having dreams about it.

Anyway. Thanks to my wonderful housemate Hattie I managed to get an advanced copy of Emer O’Toole’s Girls Will Be Girls, and I knew straight away that I wanted to review it for Abstract. It’s all about the identity theory of performativity, which changed the way I think about a lot of different things when I first encountered it at my second year of university. But it’s often written about in such overly verbose academic language that it can be difficult to share with people. Girls Will Be Girls is the book I wish I could have written, because it not only explains the theory in a language that is accessible, but it is also hilarious and entertaining at the same time.

And because I have spent so much time thinking about my eyebrows over the last two months, I couldn’t help but talk about them too. You can read the review here.

Side note: we’re relaunching Abstract for our first anniversary on 12 March, so we’ve had some amazing new content coming in. There has been some particularly great lifestyle pieces: check out Kate Duckney on male feminists on Twitter, Bethan Williams on believing she will win the lottery (IN HER BONES) and Maura Flatley on moving to Spain.


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Introducing Solidarity (the knitting pattern)

Solidarity hat Katie

The beautiful, smart and funny journalist Katie Davies, rocking the hat over Christmas.

I’m so excited to announce that my very first *official* feminist knitting pattern is now on sale at LoveKnitting.com – and that I will be donating half the profits to Women’s Aid. Check it out here!

The Solidarity hat was inspired by two things. Firstly, as with so many designs, it was all in the yarn. Mirasol Miski a beautiful 100% baby llama in a soft green which I instantly knew I wanted to pair with a snowy cream (the two together remind me a little of my grandmother’s wallpaper from the 1970s).

Secondly, it was the 2014 Feminism in London conference, in which there was a lot of talk about how feminism is not just individual to each person, but a movement of togetherness – of women joining together to make change, much like the craftivists who attended and spoke at the event.

It was this idea which inspired the interlinked Venus symbols which make up the body of the hat’s Fair Isle pattern. They don’t just represent craftivists or even just feminists, but all women – the women in my own family and friendship circles, who are constantly inspiring me; the women of the past who were saved from poverty by their ability to make a living from their knitting; the millions of women around the world who feel like they are fighting a losing battle against oppression. If we don’t stand together and support each other, how can we possibly hope for change?

One of my oldest and most wonderful friends Phanida, who is months away from becoming an actual medical doctor. Bow down.

One of my oldest and most wonderful friends, Phanida Fung, who is months away from becoming an actual medical doctor. Also she looks super cute here.

And with all that in mind, I am so happy to be donating half the profits from the Solidarity hat to Women’s Aid, to help end domestic violence against women in children (unfortunately the other half is still needed for the “helping Amy pay her rent” fund – one day we may all live in a post-capitalist society in which I can afford to give away my patterns for free, but sadly today is not that day).

With thanks to Katie Davies and Phanida Fung, my two brilliant models and friends; the wonderful designer Jane Burns for her excellent advice, friendship and pattern-checking skills; and Loveknitting.com for helping independent designers to navigate the murky waters of VATMOSS.

Detailed shot of the Fair Isle pattern.

Detailed shot of the Fair Isle pattern.


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What is a feminist knitting designer?

Yarn and business cards

When I decided to go freelance last year, the first thing I got excited about was the business cards. I instantly knew what I wanted my tagline to be:

writer – editor – feminist knitting designer

“Are you sure?” asked my father, looking at the design. “Don’t you want it to be a bit more… professional?”

“It’s memorable,” was my reply. “People will see it and they’ll just have to ask me about it. And then when they actually need a writer or an editor, they’ll remember me!”

So… what does it mean to be a feminist knitting designer?

Well, it’s simple, really. It means that I’m a feminist and I’m a knitting designer, and that I sometimes try to combine the two.

Outside of the crafts world, there can sometimes be a bit of a tendency to look down on knitters and stitchers and cupcake bakers as being un-feminist. Germaine Greer famously said that “women have frittered their lives away stitching things for which there is no demand.” After all, didn’t we leave that kind of thing behind in the 1950s? Aren’t we just perpetuating unhelpful stereotypes of essential femininity? And so on.

Well… no. For me, there’s something very feminist about making things with your own hands and reconnecting with your creativity and your past. It doesn’t have to be expensive – you can pick up balls of yarn for little more than a quid – and it’s a skill that has been passed down through mothers and daughters for generations. My own mother taught me to knit when I was about 13, and my great-grandmother was a professional knitter; I still use her old needles from time to time. When my family traced back our family tree a few years ago, we also found at least one male ancestor who was a framework knitter in Leicester, my hometown.

And while that personal connection is not always the case for many people nowadays, all it takes is a quick google search to find hundreds of workshops, blogs and YouTube videos – predominantly by women – which are passing on that knowledge too.*

Knitting is not a closely guarded secret. It’s a thing that makes people happy, that they love to share with others. There’s no snobbery or nastiness – your first wobbly scarf will be celebrated with as much enthusiasm as your second bit of proper Fair Isle, or your twelfth patchwork blanket.

For me, feminism has always been about celebrating women’s achievements as well as fighting gender inequality – because part of that inequality is that women are conditioned not to celebrate their own achievements. We’re not supposed to boast when we’re good at something or agree when we’re complimented – just to sit quietly, humbly waving away any praise bestowed on us.

Not so in the world of knitting. When I’ve gone to craft shows I have found them full of women and men praising each other’s work without jealousy or bitterness, excited to show off their latest designs and ideas, encouraging each other to try something new. There’s a release and a satisfaction in an environment which is about supporting each other. It’s peaceful. It’s often environmentally friendly. It’s the kind of safe, warm, creative world that, as a feminist, I would love to become more universal.

And, on the flip side, knitting and other crafts can be thrillingly subversive when they’re used politically. Let’s not forget the many feminist crafters who are doing incredible, important work around the world: the brilliant Wool Against Weapons activists protested Trident last year by knitting a seven-mile long scarf to stretch between two atomic weapons sites in Berkshire, then repurposed the scarf into blankets for people in need; charities like Knit for Peace distribute handknitted items to those who need them most; Stitch n Bitch groups are bringing women together; projects like Significant Seams support vulnerable people in the community. And you know the suffragettes LOVED a hand-stitched banner back in the day.

It was these women, and more, of whom I was thinking when I designed my first official feminist knitting pattern. Stay tuned, guys, it won’t be long now.

*Before you start, of course there is room for men too, and of course eradicating the gender stereotypes around knitting is a thing that would benefit everyone. But at the same time, I get fuzzy feelings about an industry that is full of women working together in relative harmony. What can I say? It’s a paradox that I’m willing to live with for now.


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The best songs of 2014

The year is coming to a close, and when looking back on it, there are a few significant themes. The launch of abstractmag.com with friends from university is something that I am very proud of – it gave me space to be inspired again, to meet new writers and help them find a voice, and to practise writing the sort of pieces that I enjoy most (“Will One Direction survive in a socialist utopia?” is my personal favourite headline of the year).

2014 was also a great year for women in pop music. Not only are more and more celebrities embracing feminism but their music is reflecting that too. From Beyonce’s foot phone to Taylor Swift standing on a horse, women finally seemed to get bored of spending their music videos looking suggestively (or sleepily) into the camera. Instead, they just started doing whatever the hell they want.

So it’s no surprise that when I came to write a “top 10 songs of the year” list for Abstract, the top five were all by women. You can read the countdown (and my musings on what counts as “good” music) here.

Happy new year!