Pat Ashforth & Steve Plummer
©Pat Ashforth & Steve Plummer 2015
Why Mental Blocks?
It doesn’t take long to notice that many of our titles can be interpreted in more
than one way. In addition to creating mind-
Mental? Are these things of the mind?
Blocks? Do we mean printed with blocks? Are we referring to blocks of colour printed
Our dictionary says, amongst other things, that a block is a stupid person.
Perhaps we mean all of these!
Where we've been
We are Pat Ashforth and Steve Plummer -
We have both taught Mathematics in UK High Schools for over thirty years and have
now retired. Steve was also trained to teach Art. Pat is a self-
Over the years we have worked with many different media, for crafts, and many techniques, for teaching Maths. In the 1990s our passion for teaching an understanding of Maths, rather than rote learning, unexpectedly collided with our craft work.
Our first book, Woolly Thoughts, was published in 1994. It was intended to inspire knitters to create their own designs using tessellating shapes and some simple calculations, without alienating those with a fear of Maths.
Soon after, we were asked to design an afghan for Brown Sheep Co. Inc. and we came to realise that an afghan could become a canvas for representing mathematical ideas. It did not have to be used merely for keeping warm. It could become a work of art and hang on a wall.
We went on to design and make over seventy afghans, most with a mathematical message. Many of these have been exhibited in UK and four were bought for the Mathematics Collection of the Science Museum (London). They have also been featured in several publications in UK and US, including the Times Educational Supplement Colour Magazine and Interweave Knits.
These are works of art in their own right. To some, the mathematical message is irrelevant and, in more recent years some of our designs have been based on fitting shapes together to create optical illusions, rather than conveying a precise mathematical idea.
The afghans were originally for our own teaching in school but they were soon in demand elsewhere. It wasn't possible to make them for other people so we wrote booklets of instructions for knitters, and crocheters, to make their own. We were in demand for giving talks and running workshops for teachers, children and craft groups in a wide variety of venues, including:
A football stadium with 10,000 people
Village halls with members of Women's Institutes
A Birmingham shopping centre on a busy Saturday
A former palace in Genoa at Festival della Scienza 2004 (in Italian with a simultaneous translator!)
As the result of an exhibition during MathsYear2000, we worked in collaboration with the British Hand Knitting Confederation for schools to create their own afghans as a combined Maths and Technology project. (This is still continuing in some areas and our mathematical input has also been used in similar projects in other countries.)
The afghan designs led to other items. Amongst the most popular have been cushion designs and instructions for making hats, mittens and mathematical curiosities. In 2009 we have been created hyperbolic hats, Mobius scarves and headbands, and reinterpreted well known puzzles and games, such as Napier's Bones and the Soma Cube, in knitting and crochet.
We have written several other books about knitting and design.
You will find much more information on our Woolly Thoughts web site.
Most of our work in the last fifteen years has been in knitting and crochet though we have also done a great deal of work with other textiles, plastics, and paper.
The original Woolly Thoughts book contained Steve's cartoon drawings of sheep and
most of our other books have included cartoons. These led to books of cat and dog
cartoons and to Steve being commissioned for the illustrations in Alan Titchmarsh's
Where we are now
We had always said we could not reproduce our large wall-
Since then we have experimented with a range of mathematical and optical designs
All art works are created individually by hand.
The making of a screen print has many stages. For example, Window Boxes has 16 identical blocks, in two colours. This means each section of the design is printed twice, making a total of 32 prints. Adjacent sections cannot be printed until the ink of the previous section has dried thoroughly. Before any of this process can begin the fabric is stretched and marked out, for the positioning of the design, and two photographic silk screens are prepared, one for each colour. More colours require more screens.
Block prints are marked out in a similar way then each block is printed individually using textile paints and a range of blocks or stamps.
Methods vary and some pieces are an amalgam of techniques.
We are Mathematics teachers at heart and have been collecting together a series of tried and tested PowerPoint lessons, gleaned from 60+ combined years of classroom experience. These are available on a CD called MathsBlocks.These are, inevitably, more formal than our work with Maths and Textiles.
Once a lesson is written down, it relies on the personality of the teacher to bring
it to life. We have tried to remove some of the work-
Where we're going
Since retirement we have continued with the two main aspects of our work : creating art works and trying to dispel the belief that Maths is difficult and boring. We are at our best when we can combine these two.
We hope to create many more mathematical, geometric and optical illusion prints and other items. We also hope to add to the pool of work we have available for teachers.
Our time has become more flexible so we have been able to spend more time passing on our ideas, in person, through workshops and on the internet. Amazingly, the Woolly Thoughts Fans group is one of the biggest groups on the mega knit and crochet site Ravelry.
|Castor & Pollux|
|Explosion & Implosion|
|Have It All Ways|
|In the Pink|
|Single Vision & Double Vision|
|Some Square Over The Ranbow|
|Stand in Line|
|Step by Step|
|Points of Sail|
|Holes and Corners|
|The Other Man's Grass|
|Bunch of Fives|
|Moons and Nooms|
|Willow the Wisp|
|To the Point|
|Web of Intrigue|
|Wheels Within Wheels|