Anna's EPQ - a textiles-based adventure

Anna's EPQ - a textiles-based adventure

We recently interviewed Sixth Former Anna C. about her experience completing an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). Her EPQ is entitled “Design and Production of a Cushion Cover based on the Aran Style of Knitting, with a Particular Focus on Traditional Designs”.

Why did you choose this topic for your EPQ?

I chose to design and create a knitted cushion for a number of reasons: the more ‘academic’ reason is that I am really interested in Irish Social History and so I wanted to investigate the role of so-called ‘women’s work’ in Irish society. As I have been wearing Aran jumpers since I was a baby, I was eager to unravel the mythology surrounding the tradition and discover how the knitting of women in rural Ireland became a lucrative global industry. However, a large factor in my EPQ choice is simply that I am a bit of an old woman and I love knitting! I hoped a creative project would be a welcome contrast to my A-Levels and allow me to relax, particularly after my initial research showed that knitting releases serotonin and has similar calming effects to yoga!

What makes your EPQ unique and different?

My EPQ is undoubtedly unique because, after working hard to perfect many Aran Cable stitches, I created my own knitting pattern, incorporating all the techniques I had learned, all tailored to the exacting specifications of my Grandma, for whom it was made! I have estimated that the knitting alone took more than 50 hours and so it is so rewarding to see the finished cushion being enjoyed by my Granny.

Alongside the cushion, I also created a portfolio including knitting samples, moodboards, flowcharts and an artist study and, given that I haven’t done any creative subjects since Year 9, this was quite a unique experience for me!

What skills have you developed doing the EPQ? How could your research, or the skills you have developed during the EPQ, be useful to you later in your life (eg. at university)? Has the EPQ helped to prepare you for university life?

Participating in the EPQ has been really valuable for me because, not only has it obviously developed my knitting capabilities, it encouraged me to become a more independent learner, with improved time-management and research skills. Anyone who has done an EPQ will attest to the fact that juggling an EPQ with UCAS, coursework and revision is challenging, but it really pushed me to work more efficiently. The research skills which the EPQ developed are also important and will definitely benefit me at university; I worked hard to gather reliable information through visiting the Museum of Irish Country Life in County Mayo and through scouring the internet for information which I then carefully referenced. Surprisingly, one of the main challenges I faced was misleading information. I would have hoped that the world of knitting would have been free of ‘fake news’ but I was mistaken – much of the information available was unreliable, exaggerating the importance of Celtic mythology to Aran knitting for commercial gain, often exploiting Irish diaspora and tourism. These critical-thinking skills will really benefit me when I study History at university next year, allowing me to assess reliability of sources and disentangle reality from propaganda.

Tell me a few interesting facts you’ve learned during your research:

  • An Aran Sweater can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water before feeling wet!
  • The enduring belief that a drowned fisherman could be identified from the distinctive patterns of his Aran Sweater actually originated in an early 20th century play.
  • Some women who spent time in the now-infamous ‘Magdalene Laundries’ reported that some of their unpaid labour included Aran knitting.
  • Research has found that knitting can reduce depression and anxiety, slow the onset of dementia and distract from chronic pain.