Woolly Pandas Arrive at Edinburgh Zoo

Edinburgh Zoo has welcomed another giant panda duo… this time in the shape of two giant knitted pandas which have been put together by a group of knitters known as the Knit Wits.

The wonderful woolly pair will take pride of place in the main entrance hall of the Zoo for all to see; visitors will be able to pass by these knitted characters on their way to meet the real pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang.

Rosy Wood from Aberdeen is the wit behind the knits. Having retired from a career in the oil industry she is now on the Board of the Scottish Sculpture Workshop.  “We’ve been creating knitted installations for 4 yrs now,” she explains. “It all started off with a request for installations for a temporary sculpture park for North East Open Studios (NEOS) at one of  the Voluntary Service Aberdeen’s properties, (Easter Anguston – a farm for adults with learning difficulties). I was a Trustee for VSA and keen for the sculpture park to be a success and to help raise the profile of the charity as well as raise some funds. So, inspired by tales of guerrilla knitting or yarn bombing, we created an installation called Would you Adam and Eve it  with a 20m knitted snake and a tree covered in knitting.”

The following year, the farm wanted to restore an old tractor. As the snake had been made from a lot of recycled wool and polystyrene beads, it wasn’t hygienic enough to donate to a nursery or other group, so Rosy took it apart and reused the wool to dress the old tractor. When funds were secured to restore the tractor, the wool was taken apart again and, last year, made into a flock of sheep.

By this time, an extended group of friends from Aberdeen and Braemar  and now Singapore, Norway and Dorset, was working on the projects and 15 people were involved in knitting heads while Rosy made the bodies using flexible plastic drains. The sheep were sold so this year the group had a clean slate.

“With all the press interest in the pandas, they seemed an obvious choice for this year. Our installation had a twist… it was called Eats Shoots and Leaves with a nice panda and a nasty punk panda complete with eye make-up, blue toenails and fingernails and a knitted AK47. When the zoo said they’d like to display them I offered to convert punk panda into a more conventional Mr Sunshine!

Knitted Pandas with squares being attached

“We usually come up with an idea in the Spring and then I convert it into a design and send out an email request with specific instructions for contributions. I wanted to make it possible for both beginner knitters and more confident knitters to to be involved, hence the squares. I reckoned we’d need about 250 white and 250 black squares approx 4” or 10cm. It turned out to be a great project because it allowed novice knitters to knit a garter stitch square with chunky wool on big pins. If any weren’t exactly 10cm square, it wasn’t a problem as they needed to be able to stretch or shrink on the curves anyway. The experienced knitters could go wild with cable and more complex patterns and knit bamboo shoots. They could also knit baby pandas for sale at the sister installation called Pandamonium.

Knitted panda with 'babies'“I’d asked for the squares by the end of June. Meanwhile I scaled up a stuffed bear pattern and made  body forms from curtain lining fabric, filled with polystyrene beads. I used photos of pandas to get the shape right but after visiting the zoo I realised they needed to be fatter than your average bear! As the squares came in I started sewing them to the body forms but only once I’d done the first head could I see it coming out of the mist!

“It was a bit of rush at the end. It always is. NEOS was mid September, and then the pandas went to Braemar to advertise the Braemar Creative Arts Festival in October, before heading down to the zoo, where they are on long term loan. So far we’ve raised over £500 for VSA through the sale of the sheep last year and the baby pandas this year. If anyone would like to make an offer for the giant pandas we would split it with the zoo.”

And next year? If Rosy has any ideas, she’s not telling yet. Meanwhile, Sunshine and Sweeties are on display just a stone’s throw from the original Tian Tian and Yang Guang.


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Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

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