The art of knitting, chemistry, and gentle protest

The original “Particulart” exhibition was a collaboration between artist Clare Bryden and Diana Moore.

“We wanted to encourage Devon County Council to ensure that the Exeter Incinerator is operated properly to minimise the risk of harmful emissions, and to develop a coherent and transparent waste strategy. Particulart is about knitting, and the environment, and health, and visual impact, and chemistry. It was exhibited in the Exeter Real Food café during autumn 2014. Clare is now developing Particulart further to encompass further issues and more chemistry. “A Stitch in Time” was on the subject of climate change, and exhibited in Bristol Cathedral during Lent 2015. Next up is “Up in the Air” in Exeter during 11-24 July 2015.”

Published on the Power Culture blog, 27 July 2015
Full blog post on the Power Culture website
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It took me 44 years to learn to follow the energy in my own life. Even though I have had a wide-ranging portfolio ‘career’ and moved in dramatically different directions at certain points. And even though I had found out seven years earlier about the Transition Movement and its practice of following the group energy. But it’s never too late to learn how to live your life, and it’s never too late to learn about stuff in general.

Particulart sparked in March 2013 with a cup of tea in the Real Food Store in Exeter, itself an example of Transition people following the energy. I needed a chat with someone with common interests. Diana was concerned about the Exeter Incinerator.

The Incinerator is officially known as the ‘Marsh Barton Energy Recovery Facility’, which gives it a positive spin: we can generate electricity and heat from all that waste, which would otherwise just go to waste. In reality, it has a capacity less than one offshore wind turbine, will displace lower-carbon electricity when operating, and encourages waste production… and I think there are better alternatives for dealing with waste.

Construction was well under way, and it was then due to begin operation in the spring of 2014, but Diana wanted to raise awareness and put pressure on Devon County Council and the contractor Viridor. Her concerns covered pollution and public health, waste strategy, and value for money for the taxpayer. She is a keen knitter, and floated the idea of knitting molecules to leave around town. I’m more of a scientist and data geek, and went away from the meeting enthused by finding out about the emissions from incineration plants and the concept of knitting chemistry.

So I hit the internet, found a long list of pollutants, and started to learn about the ball and stick model and the CPK colour scheme used to represent chemistry. I found patterns for the balls representing atoms, and learned about i-cord for knitting the bonds between atoms. I discovered a use for those plastic bags that charities keep dropping through the letterbox and never collecting.

And then I got knitting. I knew the basics of casting on and off, knitting and purling. A friend taught me how to increase the number of stitches in a row by knitting front and back, and how to decrease by slip, knit and passing over. Over the next six months, I went in fits and starts – following the energy – and gradually produced carbon dioxide and most of the much more complicated 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin.

Diana and I met again, and the idea morphed into a gallery exhibition. I got back to my knitting, and Diana did the politics. In October 2014, we hung Particulart on the walls of the Real Food café, and launched the exhibition the evening before the official inauguration of the Incinerator.

What next? The knitted particles and the material on our website particulart.org.uk are available to any groups wishing to protest against an incinerator or air pollution in their area.

The complicated dioxin, and Particulart generally, grabbed the attention of Matt Harvey, who has written a knitting character into the SWIMBY musical.

As for me, at the end of the exhibition my creative energy made me continue knitting. I had two greenhouse gases already, and climate change is the Most Important Thing, so I knitted more greenhouse gases. I had no idea what I would do with them. But then a friend at Bristol Cathedral told me they were observing a Carbon Fast during Lent, and could I exhibit there? And the opportunity to experiment with ‘Up in the Air’, a 3D installation, came up in Exeter in July 2015, with support from the City Council and Exeter Diocese.

I have also been speaking and writing about Particulart, and thinking about where next to take it: possibly a pop-up verison of ‘Up in the Air’, and the many other issues that knitting and chemistry

The original “Particulart” exhibition was a collaboration between Clare Bryden and Diana Moore. We wanted to encourage Devon County Council to ensure that the Exeter Incinerator is operated properly to minimise the risk of harmful emissions, and to develop a coherent and transparent waste strategy. Particulart is about knitting, and the environment, and health, and visual impact, and chemistry. It was exhibited in the Exeter Real Food café during autumn 2014. Clare is now developing Particulart further to encompass further issues and more chemistry. “A Stitch in Time” was on the subject of climate change, and exhibited in Bristol Cathedral during Lent 2015. Next up is “Up in the Air” in Exeter during 11-24 July 2015.