Pat Ashforth & Steve Plummer

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©Pat Ashforth & Steve Plummer 2017

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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-boggling designs we delight in finding names that leave you wondering.

Mental? Are these things of the mind?

Blocks? Do we mean printed with blocks? Are we referring to blocks of colour printed with silk-screens? Blocks of work for Maths lessons? Or maybe the building blocks of Mathematics and the barriers some people see.

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 - a husband and wife team of creative mathematicians.

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-taught Textile Artist.

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 eighty 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. More recently, they have appeared on many web sites.

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

Mathematics conferences

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. Amongst knitters our most popular curiosities are Hexaflexagon Cushion and Octopush.

In 2010 we have turned our attention to anamorphic designs such as Ring-road afghan, and illusion knitting.

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 Avant-Gardening in the 90s.

Where we are now


We had always said we could not reproduce our large wall-hangings for other people because they took so long to make the costs would be prohibitive. After years of being unable to provide what we were being asked for we realised we could re-interpret some of our original designs in other media and, in particular, returned to the use of fabrics, which had been our first love before the yarn took over........ and so a mental block was lifted and MENTAL BLOCKS arrived.

Since then we have experimented with a range of mathematical and optical designs using screen-printing, block-printing, appliqué and other textile techniques. Some of the results are shown on this site. A few of the pieces are still available for sale. Contact us if you are interested.

All art works are created individually by hand.

Screen Prints

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

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.

Other Techniques

Methods vary and some pieces are an amalgam of techniques.

Where we're going

Since retirement we have continued with the two main aspects of our work which are 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.

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 group is one of the biggest groups on the mega knit and crochet site Ravelry.

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