Is anybody listening?
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Knitter, blogger and Electric Sheep podcaster, Hoxton Handmade, explains why podcasts are (or should be) a knitter’s best friend
Podcasts. You've probably heard of them, perhaps dismissing them as yet another thing with the word 'pod' in the title, but if you've never tried them, don't let the name put you off. A podcast is simply a digital radio programme. The only difference is that instead of being broadcast on a radio station, they are available online for people to play or download to their computers or mp3 players, usually for free. They are produced by newspapers and magazines; comedians and authors; academics and journalists and enthusiastic amateurs like myself, and they cover every conceivable topic, including knitting. If you like a particular show, you can subscribe to it, much as you would subscribe to a knitting magazine, and your computer will automatically download each new episode as it is published. With a little browsing and a few clicks, you can create your very own crafty radio channel.
A quick search on iTunes reveals 180 knitting podcasts on just the first page of results and it's not surprising that they've taken off in such a big way, given that they're the perfect entertainment whilst your hands are occupied with your needles. Since you can take a podcast anywhere you like, people also listen to them on their commute, while they take their dog for a walk, or bravely attempt to organise their yarn stash.
As with reading a blog or joining a group on Ravelry, knitting podcasts are an extension of the knitting community, bringing the atmosphere of a knitting group to the comfort of your living room whenever the fancy takes you. This is great not only for insomniacs but also for people who find it difficult to get to an actual knitting meeting, perhaps because of where they live, mobility issues, or the time pressures of other commitments. If, like me, you don't know many knitters in your immediate friends and family, then it's wonderful to be able to knit and relax with the friendly chatter of another knitter; someone else who gets it. Social networks and blogs can be brilliant, but hearing someone's voice is somehow much more personal.
A radio show about knitting is a pretty open category and, as such, there's a wide variety of styles and content to choose from. It's worth trying an episode of several different podcasts to find the ones that appeal to you. The majority will include discussions about what the host is currently knitting, and recently completed projects. They may review yarns, patterns or knitting books and many offer giveaways and competitions where listeners can win prizes, so they're a great way to hear about new publications and products. They often share knitting problems or disasters, or talk about a new technique they may have learned, bringing their project notes to life with all sorts of useful tips and experiences. Several will interview designers or yarn suppliers, giving a fascinating insight behind the scenes.
Some podcasts have more than one host, which really does feel like a knitting group, as they exchange banter, advice and opinions. Others combine a love of knitting with other areas of expertise or interest, such as literature, gardening or their local area.
I started podcasting on a whim. I had listened to a few podcasts but the majority I came across at the time were American and none of them really spoke to me as a young knitter in London. I already had a blog and I was familiar with the technology involved, so one day I just decided to record a show. Three people listened to the first episode of Electric Sheep, and one of them was my Mum, so it took a while to gain an audience, but I was amazed by how it grew. And, since people kept listening (for reasons that still elude me), I kept recording. That was three years ago and I'm now approaching my 100th episode.
All knitting podcasts reflect the personality of their host and
mine is no exception.
I'm interested in lots of different
so, as well as talking about knitting and
yarn, I also cover an eclectic mix of topics, including English history, current affairs, bad films, the Worldwide Beard & Moustache Championships, funny websites and the paramount importance of a decent gin and tonic. Rather more alarmingly, at some point a playful reference to the name of the show gradually transformed into an imaginary alter ego called The Sheep. In the world of the podcast, this talented, talking animal lives in a secret bunker at the bottom of my garden, where he fights crime, rights knitting wrongs, and eats an awful lot of Battenberg cake. I also hold him entirely responsible for the Knitters' Audio Christmas Pantomime I record every year.
Luckily I have plenty of contact with the real knitting world to save me from getting too carried away with this madness. With my microphone in one hand and my needles in the other, I've attended great events like Knit Nation and Unravel; I've interviewed the wonderful designer Woolly Wormhead and indie dyer Sweet Clement Yarns; and I've found myself in rather unique situations - learning how to suture a wound thanks to a stitch-tastic event with Stitch London, and spending an evening knitting with a very modern incarnation of the Women's Institute.
But podcasting takes you beyond the knitting events of your home town. Thanks to the power of the Internet you can reach a global audience very quickly and I'm always surprised to learn how far afield some listeners come from. I'm also touched by the people who sometimes email and tell me a bit about themselves and why they listen to the show. Like the woman who would listen in the middle of the night, looking for some company while she sat by her father's bedside in hospital. Or the man who was searching for information about sheep farming, stumbled across the podcast by accident and kept listening, even though he doesn't knit and I know absolutely nothing about animal husbandry. It's these kinds of personal connections that make recording a podcast so worthwhile and I know I'm not the only podcaster to have found new friendships, both online and in real life, through their show. And it works both ways; there are podcasts I listen to whose hosts feel like old friends, even though we've never met.
How to Listen
- Visit the website for the podcast and follow the links or instructions to play an episode over the internet, or download the mp3 file to your computer to listen to offline.
- If you use an iPod, iPad or iPhone, search for the podcast in the iTunes Store, from where you can download an episode or subscribe to the series.
- If you use an Android, download the free app Listen from the Android Market, then use that to search for your favourite podcast.
Give it a go!
- If you want to take to the airwaves yourself, it doesn't take a lot of technical know-how. You can start a podcast with very little equipment and their ease of use is another reason why so many people have produced their own. All you need is
- A decent microphone (sound quality is very important); some audio editing software, such as Audacity, which you can download for free.
- Somewhere to host the mp3 files of the podcast, either through a service like Libsyn or Podbean or your own server.A blog on which to publish the show, which you can set up for free on websites such as www.wordpress.com or www.blogger.com.
The possibilities with podcasting are limitless and can give you a way to speak to the world, although if you'd prefer to be a listener, that's an equally important role - without an audience, I fear I'm just a crazy lady talking to myself. But whichever side of the microphone you're on, I hope you'll get involved, and join the conversation.
Hoxton Handmade recommends
With so many great knitting podcasts to choose from it can be hard to know where to begin! Here are a few recommendations:
AA Playful Day
Join the playful GreenTriangleGirl in London for knitting, fibre, readalongs and tasty recipes, along with collaborations with other crafty folk. www.aplayfulday.blogspot.com
Caithness Craft Collective
From the Scottish Highlands comes a knitting and textile arts
show with designer interviews, and the Drams, where Louise reviews
One of the very first knitting podcasters, Brenda Dayne is an
American living in Wales, where she explores the creative process
and finds inspiration in the everyday.
An American podcast for crafters who love books, Heather guides her listeners through audio readings of classic literature. www.crafting-a-life.com/craftlit
Martine shares her love of knitting and all things handmade from the island of Guernsey, including cooking and photography. www.imake.gg
Super Karen and Mega Maggie are two heroic and hilarious knitters from Canada, mixing knitty chat with geeky news. www.knit1geek2.mt-pockets.org
A mother-daughter knitting production from America, this long-running family show features Gigi and Jasmine discussing their love of all things knit. www.knitmoregirls.blogspot.com
Knit Spin Cake
Aimee brings you knitting, spinning and cake from the North East of England, and there's even a Doctor Who special, co-hosted with her young nephew. www.knitspincake.blogspot.co.uk
Yarns From the Plain
Nic podcasts from the Cheshire Plains in the North West of England, where she knits, spins and weaves and she's also involved with Woolsack, making wool cushions for Olympic athletes. www.yarnsfromtheplain.podbean.com
Hoxton Handmade is a knitter who lives in London where she hosts the Electric Sheep podcast www.hoxtonhandmade.com
Illustration © Michaela Blunden www.michaelablunden.com