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Artist Amy Twigger Holroyd made an entire BMW engine out of yarn

Amy Twigger Holroyd is nothing if not a knit wit. No, seriously – she’s getting her PhD in knitting, specifically “Enabling Fashion Ownership through Material Intervention in Knitted Garments.” But if her degree doesn’t persuade you of her wits and knits, I’m betting this will: at this summer’s Lichfield Festival, Holroyd used her knitting know-how to create an entire BMW engine with the help of a few crafty kids.

“It was quite a short, intensive project,” Holroyd told us. “I worked for two days at the BMW plant with a group of local schoolchildren teaching them to knit, crochet and French knit. Then I went to their school a couple of weeks later, working with them to produce lots of the components of the engine. Some of the components the children made, some were completed by me using elements that they had made, and some were just made by me. I put the whole thing together during a week of intensive knitting in early July.”

Labeled to reveal its specific components, Holroyd claims accurately representing the real thing was crucial to making her “Knitted Engine” come roaring to life. “In the process of the project, I went from a very vague notion of how an engine worked to a much more detailed knowledge,” she says. “In order to design and make my components, I worked from the original BMW components, making them at 1.3 times life size. I simplified some elements but kept the essence, and presented the engine as a sort of three-dimensional exploded diagram, so you could see how all the parts fit together.”

The effect is spectacular, to be sure, but I couldn’t help wondering how Holroyd became so deeply committed to her knitting needles. Surely – what with the monolith installation and the PhD in progress – deeper motivations were at play.

“I want to get more respect for knitting, and for knitters!” is her emphatic explanation. “Knitting is thought of as being feminine and domestic, and is easily made fun of. I think because of that people don’t notice how clever it is, and how skilled expert knitters are. By contrast, engineering is masculine and professional, and highly respected – whether that’s the engineering of bridges, or BMW engines, or whatever. But actually skilled knitting and, for example, making engines, both require a deep appreciation of the material and the properties of the structure you’re creating.” After marveling at her wooly work, we may never look at a cable knit cardigan the same way.