knitting strange creatures at the Grant Museum

Last week I had an amazing opportunity to spend an entire knitting in probably one of the strangest, most interesting places ever:  The Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL.  It houses an amazing collection of all sorts of animal skeletons and specimens, and if you ever wanted to check out a collection of dodo bones, that it’s the place to go.

So why on earth would anyone go there to knit?

It’s an incredibly creative museum that hosts a myriad of events based around the theme of an exhibition.  The current exhibition is called Strange Creatures, the inspiration for which is the famous painting of a kangaroo (“kongouro”) by Stubbs.  This was the first Western painting of an Australian animal.

Stubbs' Kangaroo

What is shown in the painting is a particularly strange creature for two reasons:  not only was the kangaroo a very unusual and exotic animal to the Europeans who viewed it, but the animal above is made even more strange by virtue of the fact that Stubbs had never seen a kangaroo, and was painting based only on descriptions of others.

From this starting point, the museum curated the Strange Creatures exhibition, and invited knitters to a one-day knit-a-thon.

Prick Your Finger hosted the day, and I was only too thrilled to be a part of it.

Armed with wool and needles, we happily ensconced ourselves in the museum from 10am to 10pm, drawing inspiration for the critters around us.


Of course, it was important to have an Australian (and a Tasmanian, no less) on board!  I was particularly moved by the Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger).  Its extinction through state-sponsored hunting was highlighted by this amazing knitted pelt by Ruth Marshall.

knitted thylacine

Ruth has designed a pattern available for knitters: the very cute endangered Leadbeater’s Possum, aka Fairy Possum, found in Victoria.  The sale of the pattern helps to raise money to support the work to save the possums.  (You can buy the pattern as part of a kit on her website).  We had the patterns available on the day, so a few of us set to work.

Here’s one that was finished in super-quick time:

knitted possum

And here’s mine, which I took home to block before sending it back to the museum to include in the rest of the exhibition:

leadbeaters possum

I couldn’t bring myself to lash it on to sticks though.  Too sad.  The pattern includes instructions for adding some bushiness to the tail, but I chose to leave it.  I was pretty knackered by the end of the day!

The day wasn’t just about furry critters though.  People took inspiration from all the samples around them, and we taught lots of people to knit on the day.  People went home with everything from a giant squid to an armadillo!

The fabulous workshop co-host Max of Max’s World was on hand, and also brought some of her amazing knitted months.   I’d been so excited to see them for the first time at the I Knit Fandango, and it was great to spend more time checking them out.   She brought them to the museum and we could see them alongside specimens – showing just how detailed and accurate they are.

knitted moth

knitted moth

knitted moth and specimens

The Strange Creatures exhibition runs until 27th June, but the museum is a fascinating place to visit anytime.  Do check it out.