Saturday, 6 January 2018

Kirstie's Handmade Christmas: The Jumper Challenge

Kirstie's Handmade Christmas jumper challenge

I promised on #knittinghour that I would blog about the Christmas jumper challenge from episode 4 of Kirstie's Handmade Christmas so here it is! It took me this long to put fingers to keyboard because, as you may have seen on social media, this was quite a controversial episode. Have I calmed down now? Somewhat, yes.

(If you haven't seen it, you can still catch  episode 4 here for the next two weeks.)

Familiar faces

I was really excited about this episode because it was all about knitting as the main feature of the show. And not only that! Monique, a Twitter #knittinghour regular, was on it so of course I had to see her in the flesh (sort of) instead of as an avatar online. It's exciting to see people as actual live people, moving and talking, getting a better understanding of who they are.

So I rushed home from work, missed the first few minutes of introductions, and jumped right into the speed-knitting challenge. To my surprise, I knew all but one of the participants! There was Jon from Easyknits whose hand-dyed fibre I've spun, Jess from Ginger Twist Studio whose yarn shop I visited in Edinburgh many years ago and where I discovered Ripples Crafts, and, of course, Monique from #knittinghour. Tiam was the only knitter I hadn't heard of before. Tiam's speciality is knitting with super chunky yarn, so that explains why I hadn't come across her yet. Chunky isn't really my cup of tea, though I have given it a go.

First impressions

Anyway, back to the speed-knitting challenge: Monique also chose a chunky project to save time (very wise, I think), while Jess ( the "Usain Bolt of knitting", as Kirstie called her) and Jon used lighter yarns for their accessories. At this stage, to me there wasn't yet a clear winner. After all, these were small projects and you can't really tell how the knitters will cope with a whole jumper. Still, to me it was obvious that Tiam was not a winner. As the judge herself said, her hat was "perfect for beginners", so it didn't require the skills demonstrated by some of the others. Especially Jess showed a lot more skill at this early stage already, so I disregarded Tiam and focused on the other three contestants. 

After the speed-knitting challenge, they were all sent off to knit their jumpers, ready to be modeled  by them on the show. And this is when things got really exciting - and extremely controversial.

The jumpers

Jon was the first to reveal his Christmas jumper and it was stunning! Full of colour, made from his own hand-dyed yarn, his own design, and it fit perfectly. Even Kirstie was gobsmacked. He was hands down the favourite and it's easy to see why.

Jess also used some of her own hand-dyed yarn to knit her design, Vintage Winter. It suited her very well and there's no doubt this lady has skills! 

Monique knitted the Port Charlotte jumper by Kate Davies, adding festive words and LED lights to it. Loved the jumper and the new additions went together well, I thought. She is great at knitting jumpers, as I knew from her blog and tweets.

Finally, Tiam modeled her very chunky reindeer jumper. It was so different from all the others and, matching my first impression, didn't show as much skill as others had demonstrated. I was a bit put off by the fact that some bits had been glued on and the reindeer wasn't actually intarsia, but  embroidered. The jumper had tinsel in it, was oversized and shapeless, so it could not be judged on fit. (Shape and fit were, explicitly, two of the judging criteria.) It was just too easy compared to the others, though there's a lot going on as far as types of craft used.

The judging

Personally, I thought Jon would win, no doubt about it. Jess and Monique were a possibility, too, because you never know what the judge prefers. Speaking of judging: At that point in the show I had no idea who the judge was because I missed the introductions. As the show went on, though, I wondered whether she was particularly good at knitting, to be honest, based on how she spoke about the work.

For instance, a lot of knitters would object to being complimented with the words: this looks "like it's from a shop" (said about Jess's fantastic speed-knitted hat). Other zingers from the judge included: "Is it machine-knitted?" (about Jon's jumper), and "Garter stitch is the stitch for me."

The winner

Turns out that the judge, Jade Harwood, is co-founder of Wool and the Gang, who are known for their chunky yarns. I would say that makes her a bit biased. Especially as she chose a winner who needed all of 6 hours to finish her Christmas jumper, used super chunky yarn for the speed-knitting challenge as well as the jumper, and, I feel cheated by not knitting intarsia. Jade announced Tiam as the winner and I am still amazed that anyone on the should managed to keep a straight face at that point.

The social media storm

Social media exploded with people tweeting that Jon was robbed. Frankly, everyone was robbed. Who would expect the quickest, simplest, most shapeless jumper to win this? Compare it to Jon's 160-hour Fairisle jumper! 

To be fair, on its own, the reindeer jumper is fine. However, compared to the skills demonstrated by the other knitters, it should never have won. Mind you, if anyone knits a jumper like this, I'd be thrilled. Managing to knit a garment is an achievement, so well done! It's the kind of jumper I can imagine seeing on the high street. So in a way I can see why Jade chose it. But it holds no candle to Jon's, Jess's or Monique's work.

Over to you

What do you think? Is this too harsh? Did the judge make the right decision? What's your favourite? Let's hear it!


  1. So I wasn't familiar with this show, or with the controversy surrounding it. I do want to say I applaud all knitters of all skill levels. But if skill was specifically one of the judging criteria, then that chunky sweater should never have won. Jon's sweater is a master piece.

  2. I'm with you on this. Jon's jumper is my favourite from the photos you tweeted. It's cheery and uses super-traditional motifs in a fresh way, plus it shows off technical prowess.

    Having said that, the chunky reindeer is my second favourite. The other two were too timid for me. But having said *that*, I thought from the photo it was intarsia with maybe embroidered or appliquéd eyes. If it's not even that, well... I would consider making a version with intarsia etc., but I agree it shouldn't have won!