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Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Reading a book on creative knitting is one thing, but exploring it by knitting is something else altogether. In my previous post I spoke about Creative Knitting by Mary Walker Phillips. Since then, I have been itching to get my hands on some linen and try it out for myself.

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Wall Hanging

A linen swatch, exploring Mary Walker Phillips’s book Creative Knitting

I had not worked seriously with linen before, so this swatch is also about exploring a new material. Linen has cropped up quite a lot recently as various friends have been working with it. It’s very different from working with wool, it has no stretch at all and is very strong, which makes it ideal for wall hangings and other art pieces. But it also has its challenges, as any irregularities in your knitting will stand out.

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Fancy crossed throws combined with stocking stitch, and some lace stitches shown on top

First and foremost I was intrigued by Phillips’s use of a stitch called ‘fancy crossed throw.’ At first sight they appear to be made by throwing the yarn twice around the needle, and then dropping the second yarn-over on the return row. However, if you study them closely you can see that these stitches are twisted around themselves. They are made with a complex throw around both needle tips and are laborious to execute.

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Texture is added by wrapping stitches and bobbles; lace stitches create spaces

The linen emphasises stitch texture and its crips lines make lace stitches with their open spaces shine, creating beautiful contrasts. Phillips manages to play with this to great effect, and I admire her wall hangings. You can see one of them in an accompagnying picture in her obituary in the New York Times, from which I want to share this great quote with you: ‘What Miss Phillips did, starting in the early 1960s, was to liberate knitting from the yoke of the sweater. Where traditional knitters were classical artists, faithfully reproducing a score, Miss Phillips knit jazz. In her hands, knitting became a free-form, improvisational art, with no rules, no patterns and no utilitarian end in sight.’

By knitting this swatch – and more will follow – I know I’m simply reproducing Phillips’s ‘score,’ but that’s not the point of making them. She says in Creative Knitting: “Personal expression in knitting, as in any other creative medium, is not achieved by copying exactly what someone else has done. Rather, the aim is to translate with yarn the atmosphere of the inspiration.” They challenge me in different ways, making me approach techniques in a new light, and continue my journey of a more free-flowing form of knitting.

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Closeup 1

Bell pattern and ladder stitch

The bell pattern and ladder stitch shown above is a good example of what Phillips means by translating with yarn the atmosphere of the inspiration. She was inspired by that Master Knitter, whose indispensible books should be mandatory reading for any knitter, Mary Thomas: “It was with the purchase of Mary Thomas’s Book of Knitting Patterns, discovered while rummaging through a secondhand book store, that I really became involved in creative knitting.” Thomas’s Book of Knitting Patterns contains quite a few variations on the bell pattern, and I can imagine how trying out some of Thomas’s stitches and patterns in swatches eventually transformed into the knitted art that Phillips is known for.

I’d like to finish my first steps on my new journey with Rachael Matthews’s comment on my Creative Knitting blog post: “It’s like the journey is to find the place, and you know where you are going but of course you never know what it looks like until you get there.”

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As a knitter, I’m somebody who likes to plan ahead. I knit numerous swatches; I try out new techniques and compare them with firm favourites; I take gauge measurements; I sketch and calculate. I knit up accordingly. This doesn’t mean I always get it right, but that’s okay. I will have learnt something new, and I can use that knowledge when planning the next thing. But in the last couple of years or so, I have been exposed to other methods of working. A more carefree and let’s-see-what-happens approach. A good example, and great inspiration, is the work by Rachael Matthews who runs Prick Your Finger.

Rachael Matthews Shamanic Bed for Creatives

Rachael Matthews’s Shamanic Bed for Creatives

Rachael’s Shamanic Bed for Creatives contains a cornucopia of textile techniques. Hand knitting, machine knitting, crochet, darning, and who knows what else, all find their way into the shamanic bedspread. Ideas come into her head and these magically flow into her hands and make a fabric, as she comes up with them. Some of these will work, and others will not. Knitting and crocheting allows one to shape the fabric while making it, this in contrast to woven fabrics, where one has to cut and sew to shape it. In addition, knitting and crocheting can easily be undone without loss of material. It is possible to use the ripped out yarn and try again. So if an idea doesn’t work, then it’s a lesson learnt that can be put to use straightaway. It’s even possible to start something without knowing what the end result will be, like Rachael’s Explosion Jumper.

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Embroidered Cushion Cover, exploring Jamieson & Smith Heritage yarns

I find this way of working, when it comes to knitting, quite a challenge. With decorational techniques (for want of a better description) I struggle less with this approach. For instance, the embroidery on the cushion cover pictured above was done free-style, without any planning whatsoever. Those of you who follow me on Instagram (@tomofholland) will have seen the doodles I occasionally post. Embroidering this cushion was like doodling with needle and thread.

Slowly but surely, I’m opening up to allow my knitting also to be more free-style, and less planned. It’s a shift in thinking that wakes me up, and it allows me to use my knowledge of techniques in a different way. It started with a simple bath mat. Having worked with Sue Craig on the Knitting The Map project (more on that in a later blog post), I had developed an obsession with stripes in garterstitch. Rachael selected eight shades for me from Prick Your Finger’s carpet yarn range, reminiscent of Bauhaus colours.

knitted rug in garterstitch by tomofholland

Knitted bath mat in garterstitch

Although I had made a lot of doodles (none of them larger than approximately 4 x 7cm), I didn’t plan anything before casting on. Yes, I knitted a swatch to select the right needle size for the fabric I wanted, but after that I just started at one corner and came up with the patterns and colours as I went along. I only decided on the construction after knitting the bottom strip. It was a departure of the planned object, the self-imposed constrictions and the letting go of expectations.

inspirational craft books

Inspiration for creative knitting: C Nieuwhoff: Anders Breien en Haken; M McNeill: Pulled Thread; M Walker Phillips: Creative Knitting; M Stove: Creating Original Hand-knitted Lace; A Sutton: British Craft Textiles; S Read (editor): Wild Knitting; E Mairet: Hand-weaving Today

These are just some of my books in my craft library in which the author in some way or other speaks about, or shows, how to let go of the regimented way of working, but instead letting materials or techniques guide the way. The compendium by Ann Sutton is a showcase of British textile artists working with a huge variety of techniques. Wild Knitting shows that knitting doesn’t have to stop with jumpers and socks. Margaret Stove shows how to create your own lace patterns, after explaining how lace stitches work together. Moyra McNeill and Constance Nieuwhoff both use traditional techniques in new, sometimes unexpected, applications. Ethel Mairet talks about letting materials and colours speak for themselves, and she often used simple techniques to show these off.

It all seems to come together in Mary Walker Phillips’s Creative Knitting. A weaver by trade, she became a very accomplished knitter with a sound knowledge of knitting techniques; she also spins and dyes. She explains how she uses vastly different materials, from artificial straw to handspun linen, and how these have an influence on the techniques she uses. Mostly her art pieces are wallhangings, casement curtains or other lacy structures, incorporating pieces of mica, pebbles, or beads. I find these pieces particularly inspiring at the moment.

Lace sample in handspun Rough Fell 2ply yarn

Handspun Rough Fell 2ply yarn and lace sample

The lace sample above was a quick study in mixing and matching lace stitches, using handspun Rough Fell 2-ply yarn. I like the contrast between the kempy, hairy and wire-like yarn, and the lace stitches, which are more usually executed in, for instance, a fine and soft Shetland yarn. This is just a starting point, and I will be creating more samples of both yarn and stitches this year, and be guided by my newfound approach to creative knitting. And in true Rachael-style, I don’t quite know where this will lead me, but I’m excited to start this journey and will be reporting back on my blog.

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Post-script (added 1 March 2014): perhaps my view on how Rachael appears to create her work was somewhat romanticised and simplified in my head, so please check out the comments on this post below, where Rachael has responded to my writing.

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A couple of weeks ago I returned from Shetland Wool Week. I was invited to run two darning workshops, and to present the works-in-progress of the Aleatoric Fair Isle project I’m working on with Dr Felicity Ford. I have met so many amazing people, seen impossible feats of spinning and knitting, and enjoyed the landscape.

Hanging out with Felicity, who’s a sound artist, it may come as no surprise that apart from all the woolly wonders, I will now forever associate two songs with Shetland. The first one was recorded in 1960 for an oral history project for the School of Scottish Studies. The interviewer asks Rosabel Blance to talk about her own composition Da Spinning Sang (the spinning song.) He is clearly fishing for an answer with deeper meaning, but Blance is very matter-of-fact about it. But then she sings it and really, no explanation was ever necessary:

Taese da Shetlan oo till it’s clear an fine / Lyin laek a clood wi a silver shine

(tease the Shetland wool till it’s clear and fine / lying like a cloud with a silver shine)

But that’s enough poetry for now. Here are some pictures I took during Shetland Wool Week, in no particular order:

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The view from our log cabin – we stayed at Nortower Lodges, and we couldn’t have wished for a better cabin.

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The view from Fort Charlotte, in the centre of Lerwick. Luckily most days the weather was much nicer than these two pictures would have you believe.

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Felicity helping out participants of our Aleatoric Fair Isle workshop. Rolling the dice and following rules to create Fair Isle swatches proved controversial in some quarters, but I think we all had a good time in the end.

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A fine Shetland Ram at the Flock Book Ram Auction. In order to prevent an ever dimishing gene pool within their flocks, sheep farmers sell off their rams, and buy new ones frequently.

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A visit to Jamieson’s of Shetland‘s mill in Sandness. One of many banks of spinners; in many ways a very different affair from Diamond Fibres Mill, which I visited recently. Jamieson’s spin their fibres with the woollen method, resulting in a lofty, warm, yet light yarn, very suitable for Shetland wool. Diamond Fibres on the other hand, specialise in the worsted spinning method, which is much better suited for longwool (like their own flock of Romney sheep) and this makes for a smooth and lustrous yarn.

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The Textile Museum has a working loom, as found in the traditional crofts. Until my visit, I never knew that Shetland once was also famous for their tweed fabrics.

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As part of the Flock Book Ram Auction, there was also judging of the best rams. Here are the Shetland hot shot rams, all together in a special judging area. The atmosphere was palpable and tense, as a price-winning ram means a lot to the owner.

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And here is your good self. Elizabeth Johnston, spinner and dyer extraordinaire, showed me how the Shetland lace spinners managed to get such exceedingly fine yarn. After three hours of blood, sweat, tears, and some rather flowery language, I managed to get some extremely fine yarn. Elizabeth told me that I had started to understand the technique, but that my thread wasn’t near fine enough… The aim is to make a single ply the thickness of six individual fibres. This will then be used to make a two-ply yarn. I will keep on practising!

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This delapidated croft was not far from our lodgings, so we passed it every day.

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I also ran two darning classes. A drop-in session took place at the Shetland Museum and Archives, who helped organise Shetland Wool Week, and who invited me to come over in the first place: so a massive thanks to them for making this visit possible. Secondly, I ran a darning master class at Jamieson & Smith, pictured above. More thanks due here, as they kindly provided Felicity and me the yarns for our workshops.

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Susan Freeman found a new application for the Scotch darning technique. As you can clearly see in this picture, you can make pockets! I think I will have to add a fountain pen pocket to one of my cardigans.

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And here is a beautiful gift from Diane Houdek, who came all the way from America for Shetland Wool Week especially. A small box with teeny tiny wooden reels of darning silk. What a magnificent addition to my collection of mending ephemera!

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The fleece in this picture was chosen as the Champion fleece during a fleece-judging competition. The fleeces are judged on, amongst others, resilience, crimp, uniformity, and presentation. Readers of Jane Cooper’s excellent blog Mrs Woolsack’s Blog, may recognise this fleece. Incidentally, Jane also maintains the Woolsack website. Woolsack was started as a Cultural Olympiad Inspire project to make British wool cushions as personal welcome gifts from the people of Britain to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The Woolsack website now lists and links to information and sources of British wool products from spinning fibre to dyed knitting yarn and woven fabric.

Oliver Henry, Jamieson & Smith

Here you can see me with the fleece judge himself: Oliver Henry, who is the Master Woolsorter at Jamieson & Smith.

The keen observer will be wondering where that second song comes in, that for me is so inextricably linked to Shetland? Well, as part of Felicity’s lecture Listening to Shetland Wool, she composed a song, which she performed at the end.

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Here she is, performing it in the Jamieson & Smith shop. Sandra Manson and Adam Curtis are listening intently. As Felicity was fine-tuning the song during any spare moments we had at the lodge, I can sing it from start to finish. It has proved to be a great success, and indeed, it has found its way to the internet. One word suffices, as Oliver Henry said: BRILLIANT.

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Since the start of our Aleatoric Fair Isle project, Felicity and I have had lots of fun swatching, throwing dice and posting teaser pictures on Twitter*, Instagram**, and facebook. After all the begging and pleading from our followers, we decided to reveal a swatch here and there in their full glory.

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Aleatoric Fair Isle: my first swatch, Da Rulez notebook, dice and chart

Today, I would like to share some of my own thoughts on my personal experience so far; and, of course, reveal a swatch!

But first let me briefly recap the concept of Aleatoric Fair Isle. Both Felicity and myself find inspiration from a variety of, sometimes, unlikely sources. So when we were exitedly chatting about both having been invited to Shetland Wool Week, John Cage popped up on our conversation. John Cage was a 20th Century composer who was inspired by everyday sounds and questioned what it means to make music. He frequently employed what are now commonly known as aleatoric processes, whereby its course is determined in general, but depends on chance in detail***.

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Aleatoric Fair Isle Chart, with the all-important dice

Both Felicity and I find John Cage’s ideas very inspiring and we were sure that these can be applied outside the realm of modern music. Of course, we’re not the first to be inspired by music, or using chance to create charts. We both love the Fair Isle knitting tradition, with its myriad choice of patterns and colours. And therein lies the rub. Neither of us have grown up within this tradition, and for us to design a Fair Isle pattern means thinking really hard about these elements.

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A typical KNITSONIK/tomofholland Aleatoric Fair Isle out-of-focus teaser picture

So what happens if you let go of choice and deliberation, and roll the dice instead? At the start of this exciting journey Felicity and I spent hours discussing The Rules. How to determine what patterns to choose, whether they are placed horizontally or vertically, which colours to use, and how to place the colour sequences – all these things we have tried to capture in rules. We’ve made a number of grids, we have a palette of beautiful colours to choose from (kindly supplied by Jamieson and Smith,) and we have dice. For some rules we use the number as rolled, for others we look at whether it’s odd or even.

It will come as no surprise that each swatch and each chart so far (I’ve knitted four swatches now,) has led to new iterations of our rules. One surprising outcome for me was that although usually I find colour selection and placement the most difficult part in Fair Isle design, it was the pattern selection processes that has been most difficult to pin down.

Many Fair Isle knitting books tell you that most patterns can be placed vertically as well as the somewhat more usual horizontal way, however, I seem to have a real issue with this. Each time the dice tell me I have to place the patterns vertically, I feel a reluctance to do so and I’m sorely tempted to keep rolling until I get to place them horizontally – so far I have managed to overcome my aversion, although when I finally got a horizontal placement again for swatch 5, I was almost disappointed! Clearly, not only am I learning about my own preferences, I’m also changing them through the aleatoric processes.

Here is my Aleatoric Fair Isle Swatch Number 1. I hope you will enjoy following us in our journey, so keep an eye out for more teasers and the occasional unveiling of a swatch on both Felicity’s blog and mine.

AFI_No1_Swatch

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*) Follow us on twitter: @KNITSONIK and @tomofholland; #AleatoricFairIsle

**) and yes, also on instagram: (@felixbadanimal and @tomofholland; #AleatoricFairIsle)

***) A quote from Meyer-Eppler, read some more about Aleatoric processes and chance operations here.

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Aleatoric Fair Isle is A KNITSONIK/tomofholland art project to be realised by Felicity Ford and Tom van Deijnen between Spring 2013 and Shetland Wool Week using gorgeous Jamieson and Smith yarn in a huge variety of shades!

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Followers of thedomesticsoundscape and tomofholland will know that we like mixing our knitting with sounds, literature, wool-appreciation and archival or collecting practices! We first met at a launch in Prick Your Finger where I was exhibiting “The Reading Gloves”, a collection of hand-knitted gloves portraying literary figures like Lady Chatterley and Dorian Gray. In our second meeting, (also at Prick Your Finger) Felicity was making “KNITSONIK 01″ – a podcast about the sonic world of knitters. Considering our mutual interest in the auditory, the literary, all things woollen, and making our own archives and libraries, it should come as little surprise that we have invented a new project for Shetland Wool Week that combines all these elements!

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This project is “Aleatoric Fair Isle” and anyone who follows us on instagram will already have seen some tasty glimpses of the outcomes.

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But wait a second: what is this “Aleatoric” when it’s at home? In musical terms, aleatoric music is “music in which some element of the composition is left to chance”.

There are several examples of knitters appropriating aleatoric processes in order that some knitted compositions leave an element to chance – an aleatoric pattern generator; a child’s sweater in which the cables are all determined by die rolls; and I bet some of you have found similar projects!

However what we have become specifically interested in for “Aleatoric Fair Isle” is finding ways of using dice to liberate us in our explorations of Fair Isle knitting and remove some of our anxiety over colour choices, pattern placement etc. which we have found can impede the pleasure of experimenting. Although this may not be true in Shetland, in the prim South of England where we are based, many knitters – including us – seem mildly afraid of designing stranded colourwork! Informal chats with knitbuddies reveal fears of choosing colours that don’t work well together, of making something ugly or un-wearable, and ultimately, of wasting time or yarn on making things that are unpleasing. In our own experiments, we have found we veer towards using the same safe and familiar palettes and patterns, rather than venturing forth with boldness! This seems a shame when the Jamieson & Smith shade card offers such an infinite variety of daring possibilities to the adventurous knitter, and when examples from the Shetland Textile Museum convey such a wealth of incredible possibilities.

To combat our fear of failure, to challenge our own ingrained tendencies, and to find a way of approaching the inspiring world of Fair Isle knitting, we have devised a system for remixing Fair Isle patterns based on both observing some principles of colour theory, and leaving many of our decisions to the roll of a dice.

Our experiment is loosely based on one aleatoric musical composition by John Cage – “Apartment House 1776″ – Apartment House 1776 was composed to coincide with the bicentennial celebrations of American Independence, and is meant to evoke the sense of sticking your head out of the window of an apartment in 1776, and hearing drifts of music from the instruments and composers of that time appearing in snatches and snippets on the wind. Charlton Lee comments in a review,” one can still recognize that the music comes from the language of the 18th century, but often the harmonic function is destroyed, morphing the result into a bright and fresh new gesture. When a cadence has been lost, two separate phrases seem to blend into one longer thread”.

As in Cage’s composition, we like the idea that you could stick your hand into our eventual pile of samples and have a similar sense to Cage’s audiences; that of finding something recognisably “Fair Isle” but also reworked into something new, and fresh. We are using Mary McGregor’s amazing book “Fair Isle Knitting Patterns: Reproducing the Known Work of Robert Williamson” as our source text. This book details the knitting patterns noted by Robert Williamson, 1885 – 1954, spotted in Shetland, which we are reworking in 21 shades of Jamieson & Smith yarn.

Our creative experiment, “Aleatoric Fair Isle”, will result in the creation of a great number of Fair Isle swatches derived from dice rolls to determine patterns used, and yarn-shades chosen at random.

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In homage to Cage (who was a great appreciator of everyday sounds) the sounds we hear whilst knitting each of the swatches will be carefully documented. Our respective discoveries and process will be shared on our different blogs (Felicity’s blog can be found here), twitter (@knitsonik, @tomofholland), facebook, and instagram (@felixbadanimal, @tomofholland), and where all relevant photos will be hash-tagged #AleatoricFairIsle, but the full experiment and its workings will only be completely unleashed in its full glory at Shetland Wool Week! So far we have knit a couple of swatches and it has been extremely fun to put our ideas into practice. We have ended up using colours which we would never have thought to combine, in patterns which we may not otherwise have chosen, which is exactly the point of our experiment!

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All the images used in this post first appeared in the instagram feeds of @tomofholland or @felixbadanimal!

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It has been long in the making, but I’m pleased to let you know that The Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches will be shown at Prick Your Finger in Bethnal Green, London. The private view is on Friday, 15 February. Come join me and marvel at the curious and the recherché!

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Swatch 15 – Bias effects from spacing eyelets and balancing decreases

Anybody who has visited me will know that I have quite a collection of knitting books, and it will come as no surprise that I have read all of them at least once.

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A selection from my library

There is only so much reading about knitting one can do. However well explained, if one is curious, then nothing quite beats picking up sticks and string and try things out. I ended up with a box full of swatches, and a head swimming with techniques, and it felt like such a waste to keep things to myself. Seeing some swatches pinned out on my blocking board reminded me of the Curiosity Cabinets of yore, with rows upon rows of insects:

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Painting of a Curiosity Cabinet

Cabinets of Curiosities, or Wunderkammern, arose in mid-sixteenth-century Europe as repositories for all manner of wondrous and exotic objects. In essence these collections, combining specimens, diagrams, and illustrations from many disciplines; marking the intersection of science and superstition; and drawing on natural, manmade, and artificial worlds can be seen as the precursors to museums. The key concepts and notions that lay behind the assembling of Cabinets of Curiosities were: 

experiencing a sense of wonder in all kinds of things in the world; discovering new and extreme examples of the natural and the man-made; making connections across the whole field of human knowledge; Experimenting with arranging, re-arranging and classifying parts of the world (and the connections between them) in many different ways. As Samuel Quiccheberg (an eminent curator of cabinets) wrote:
”The ideal collection should be nothing less than a theatre of the universe..keys to the whole of   
 knowledge.”

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An early example of a Wunderkammer

I created two Curiosity Cabinets. The first one deals with a small selection of cast-on and cast-off techniques, single and double increases and decreases, selvedges:

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Most of the techniques displayed here come from an anthology about knitting by Threads Magazine, Barbara Walker’s Knitting from The Top, Montse Stanley’s Knitting Handbook, Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book, and June Hemmons Hiatt’s The Principles of Knitting.

The second Cabinet is all about lace: lots of different fagotting stitches, exploration of bias in fabrics introduced by the interplay between eyelets and their balancing decreases, the many different ways of creating chevrons which is an essential shape in lace knitting, and a variety of eyelets:

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The lace knitting techniques are for a large part from Susanna Lewis’s Lace Knitting Workshop, sprinkled with some Mary Thomas and Montse Stanley.

But that is not all: I will reveal the top 3 Knitting Nightmares! It turns out that the regulars frequenting Prick Your Finger don’t have that many knitting nightmares, they are very good knitters indeed. Luckily when I asked the audience at In The Loop 3, I got inundated by responses. And indeed, I would like to thank The Knitting Reference Library, where you can find more books about knitting than you could dream of; it is where I learnt about the existence of quite a few books now also to be found in my own library.

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Knitting Nightmare, based on Fuselli’s The Nightmare

I hope you will join me for the Private View on Friday, 15 February at Prick Your Finger. If your curiosity is not quenched by a drink that night, then I would urge you to join my Curious Stitches Class on Saturday, 16 February (details to follow).

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Goodbye 2012

Some of my personal highlights for 2012, a year in which I saw my making and mending practice bloom, are almost too many to count. I’m thankful for all the people that believe in me, with a special mention (in alphabetical order) to Susan Crawford, Felicity Ford, Louize Harries, Rachael Matthews, and Linda Newington; and last but not least, all my blog readers. So, without further ado, here are some of my highlights:

Commissions:

THAT Green Cardigan, was a commission that I really enjoyed doing, contrasting luxurious soft dyed cashmere with sturdy, natural Jacob wool.

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Invisible Mend: this commission was a learning curve for me, and rather scary: an invisible mend of a beautiful 1950s (?) Aquascutum woollen coat:

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Mending:

I started teaching regular Darning Workshops in Brighton at Super+Super HQ (incidentally, the next one is on Friday, 1 February 2013). I have also been roaming the country for one-off workshops. One that I particularly enjoyed took place at the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead.

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I also started taking my darning to a whole new level: meta-darning Sanquhar Socks.

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My favourite Visible Mend of 2012, however, must be my shoes!

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I felt honoured when I was asked to be Mender in Residence at the MendRS Symposium. I met so many amazing people and I got to talk about mending in a barn, what’s not to like?

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Knitting:

In 2012 I also released my very first knitting pattern: A Sanquhar-inspired Pencil Case.

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I presented at In the Loop 3. Incredible that it is possible to talk about knitting for three days, my head was spinning for days afterwards. Alas, I didn’t take any pictures, as I was completely immersed in a different world.

Although I’m no speed knitter, I did manage to churn out a lace stole sample knit for the cover of Susan Crawford’s Coronation Knits in 3.5 days.

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Coronation Knits Cover © Susan Crawford and used with her kind permission

Wool:

For the woolheads amongst us, November was transformed into Wovember. A month-long turbo-celebration of all things wool. This was the first year I helped out, and I curated a series of posts called Wovember Words. It also spurred me on to start sewing and I made myself a pair of Woollen Trousers.

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2012 was a great year, and I hope to continue this in 2013.

Hello 2013

Mending:

One of the things I really enjoy doing, is running my darning workshops. So I will continue my regular workshops at Super+SuperHQ, although somewhat less frequently. Also, I will be doing more one-off workshops. You can stay up-to-date by following me on facebook and, of course, my blog.

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As I learn more about darning, I realise there are more darning techniques to be explored then just the regular Swiss darn and stocking darn; a new world is waiting for me.

Knitting:

One reason for doing less darning workshops, is because I want to start offering knitting classes at Super+Super HQ. I’m working on a Sock-Knitting Workshop – details to be announced in a few weeks!

Sanquhar Socks

Art:

At long last, the Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches will see its first outing. Head over to Prick Your Finger in February (Private View on 15 February, Tom’s Curious Stitches short workshops on 16 February).

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Once the Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches Show has finished, I will start working on Bursiforms: an exploration of seamless containers.

New Skills:

Last but not least, in my quest of making my own things, I will start developing my sewing skills. With knitting, I know now how to make garments that fit me, without using commercially available patterns and I want to be able to do the same for sewing. In 2013 I would like to learn how to draft my own trouser and shirt patterns.

And to take the ‘making my own things’ a step further, I have started spinning. I’m taking this very slowly, using a drop spindle to get familiar with drafting fibre and everything that comes with it. Having done a little bit of fibre preparation, I’m amazed at how different wool is when you use it from scratch. It highlights how processed commercial knitting yarn is in order for the mechanical spinning process to work smoothly.

Here’s to a new year; I’m curious to see how all this will develop over the course of the next twelve months. I hope you have plenty of ideas, too!

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On Wednesday  I made my way to the Riflemaker Gallery in London, which hosted a panel discussion on contemporary craft, as part of the Women to Watch exhibiton. Rachael Matthews from Prick Your Finger was selected to represent the UK and over the last few weeks, she has made the Shamanic Bed for Creatives:

I don’t even know where to start ‘unravelling’ this Shamanic bed, which is full of symbolism, drawn from many different sources, ranging from the universal to the personal. Rachael is a woman of many skills and this shows in the Shamanic bed. The bedspread treats hand-knitting, crochet, machine-knitting and darning as equal crafts. The bed-frame is made from discarded wood and shows inlaid work and beautiful joinery:

As with many things that Rachael makes, important items and symbols get their own custom-made shelves or storage space. If you have ever visited Prick Your Finger in Bethnal Green, you will know exactly what I mean. Some of these find their place on the back of the head-board:

This means that the bed requires, or rather, demands, a prominent place in the middle of the room and thus symbolises the importance of craft and making in Rachael’s live. It cannot be shoved into a corner of a room and this was alluded to during the panel discussion:

In a very packed room, Glenn Adamson, Head of Research at V&A and Contemporary Craft Curator (far right), led the discussion between panellists Sandy Black, author, designer, knitter and professor at London College of Fashion (far left); John-Paul Flintoff, journalist, author and nettle pants maker (middle left); and Rachael Matthews (middle right) herself. Audience participation was welcomed and encouraged.

We tried to find an answer to the question ‘Why must we lead this creative life?’ and it won’t come as a surprise there is no one answer. It is perhaps easy to misread this question as ‘Why do I make what I make?’ or ‘What do I like about making?’ and indeed the discussion sometimes wandered off in this direction. For instance, John-Paul felt compelled to start making his own clothes and books because he’s worried about consumerism and the environment and this seemed to be a natural way of dealing and investigating these issues. He also said that sometimes we need permission from someone else to do something we want to do. Something that Sandy said resonated with me: by making something yourself, you start an appreciation of made things. For example, before making his own shirts and visiting a tailor on Savile Row, John-Paul didn’t appreciate the skills involved in making suits and why these tailored garments are so expensive.

But whenever we got back on track I think most of us agreed that if you are creative, you just cannot help it. Rachael feels a compulsion to make things and indeed, we all recognised the example of just having to do something with your hands: if she can’t knit, she’ll draw. If she can’t draw, she’ll do some woodwork. If she can’t do some woodwork, she’ll knit. Making is a journey. You start somewhere, but you’re not quite sure where it’s going, or where it will end.

Some of the themes we discussed felt very topical and were touched upon at MendRS and In the Loop 3, as well: sustainability, rebellion against mass production, craft skills dissemination and personal well-being. They also pop up in the practice of some of the people in the audience. For instance, Dr. Felicity Ford turned up in a 100% woollen outfit, with almost all items made by herself or by other skilled crafts people:

Making her own clothes from wool, a sustainable material and mostly sourced from independent spinners and weavers, and made from rare British breeds, she makes a strong point against mass produced, throwaway fashion. John-Paul was wearing a shirt he made himself and he adorned it with some badges, he had also made himself:

In a world where it’s becoming difficult to feel part of a tradition, something I think helps you feel grounded, I have noticed people have started exploring traditions (this also came up in the panel discussion) and are trying to shape their own traditions and symbols*. These badges, showing that John-Paul feels English, is happily married, has a lovely daughter, and has published books (and he makes them, too, from paper that would otherwise go to waste), are the first of a larger series he’s making, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he will develop his own tradition.  Tradition is linked with myths, stories and symbols, and this brings us neatly back to Rachael’s Shamanic Bed for Creatives.

Why do you lead a creative life? Is it a compulsion or a necessity? Do you enjoy being creative and what are the downfalls?

*) Dr Felicity Ford discusses developing her own textile tradition as a response to visiting Estonia; Helen Whitham explores creating a new, personal tradition in the textile-tradition rich Shetland Isles; and indeed, my own interest in traditional knitwear is a starting point on this journey.

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Last week I attended the In the Loop 3 conference, organised by the Knitting Reference Library, part of the Winchester School of Art. From the individual to the industrial and from the technical to the intellectual, I had no idea that a conference on knitting could generate such a diversity of topics; there were 28 presentations in all.

Strangely, I did not take any pictures during the conference, as I was too geekily absorbed by the World of Knitting –  I hope you can forgive me. Here’s a selection of personal highlights from the conference, presented to you in chronological order:

(1) Dr Martin Polley, Senior lecturer in Sport (he’s a sport historian) spoke engagingly about Knitting and the Olympic Games. Not only was knitting part of the predecessor of the Olympic Games, The Much Wenlock Olympian Games, where women and girls were judged on the fastest and neatest knits; knitwear has also caused controversy at more than one Olympic event. Most recently the LZR Racer swimsuits developed by Speedo to emulate sharkskin, gave swimmers an unusual advantage. These suits have been banned since the 2008 Games saw an incredible amount of new records.

(2) Sharon Evans-Mikellis, senior lecturer in Fashion and Textile Design at AUT University, New Zealand discussed garment shape innovation in knitwear design. I don’t know a single thing about knitting machines, let alone the high-tech ones that Sharon works with, but I was struck by the fact that even with the latest technology, knitting machines are usually used to emulate flat knitting, even if they can knit in 3D. Sharon explored some new ways of shaping knitwear using these capabilities, which is much more easily done in hand-knitting. Her talk has inspired me to try some new sweater designs, on which I will report in due course!

(3) Hazel Tindall, knitter, spoke about her mother’s diary she wrote in the 1960s. It gave a personal voice on how knitting pervaded this woman’s live, who much preferred reading and writing. Before the discovery of oil, knitting was about the only way to earn extra cash for housewives in rural Shetland, so apart from making garments for her family, she knitted goods for local knitwear buyers. Hazel read out snippets of the diaries, showed some of the garments mentioned by her mother, and gave an insight in how live must have been for many a housewive in Shetland at the time.

(4) Juliette, knitter. I only spoke to Juliette during dessert at the conference dinner, but I so admire her. 78 years of age, she was so lovely to talk to, and she knew so much about knitting. She was not only wearing a perfectly fitting cardigan, but on her shoulders was draped a beautiful Shetland lace shawl (in Jamieson’s cobweb, of course). Then she pulled out of her bag some miniature knitting she was working on. Jumpers knitted to a 1:12 scale, using needles made from piano wires and knitted in polyester sewing thread. And not just any old stocking stitch. Oh no, one was knitted in entrelac and another in a Sanquhar pattern.

(5) Helen Whitham, recently graduated with a first class honours from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design showed some of her graduation collection and spoke about her research, in which she concluded that knitted textiles from Shetland are authentic products expressing a time, place and culture and offer a basis for emotional attachment. This then, will encourage owners to hang on to these garments for longer. In her graduation collection Helen managed to create a whole new and more intellectual approach to Shetland knitwear, creating her very own personal ‘tradition’ informed by colours and shapes of things she found, amongst others, on the beach. Amazing.

(6) Roslyn Chapman, researched the history of the fine lace knitting industry in the nineteenth and early twentieth century Shetland for her PhD, with a focus on the social and economic relationships between the production and consumption of the fine knitted items. During her research, Roslyn became more aware of things that she had never seen, descriptions of the sale of articles that seem to have vanished without a trace. Where are the Shetland knitted opera cloaks? The Shetland lace clouds, lappets and hoods? And what of the scarlet, crimson, purple and blue shawls and the lesser known spotted hap? Where are all the Shetland fringes, tassels and ‘balls’? Were they loved so much that they have been worn to death, or hated so much they have been relegated to the backs of wardrobes? Roslyn showed photocopies of photographs of photographs (yes, really!) of intricate gossamer lace blouses, contemporary adverts selling burnouses, and payment receipts to Shetlands fringers (who’s sole task was to add fringes to knitted items.)

(7) Sandy Black, professor of Fashion & Textile Design & Technology at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts. Sandy discussed couture handknitting in the postwar period, and especially the work of Maria Luck-Szanto. Hungarian by birth, she came to London in 1939 to establish her hand knitted fashion business, using the skills of British knitters to produce her unique creations which adorned the elite society of London and beyond. Her designs contained many innovations, including the minimizing of seams, and influenced the patents for new machine knitting techniques which are only now possible to execute, with the current advanced knitting machines. Looking at the incredible detail of these handknitted garments, I feel all the more inspired to attempt a high finish on my own knitted garments.

Last but not least I, too, presented at In the Loop 3. I spoke about my Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches. An installation that had to be put on hold due to personal circumstances. However, when I have confirmed new dates for the exhibition, I will write a detailed post about it. The Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches gives a voice to some of the more esoteric knitting stitches, by presenting them as the rarities they are, by displaying swatches as a natural history collection of yore. It will be accompanied by a series of short workshops, to show others some of these techniques. I got so much good feedback from the audience, that I can’t wait to have it all sorted out and share these cabinets with all of you!

There, I managed to squeeze in a picture after all! I hope this post has given you a flavour of the conference. Personally, I cannot wait till In The Loop 4!

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Post updated on 11 September to correct spelling mistake in Helen Whitham’s name, and put a link in to her blog.

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Dropped stitches? Tangled wool? Lace charts? M**ths? For my new art project I want to know what your Knitting Nightmares are!

In June I will present my new art installation at Prick Your Finger. As part of my Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches, I would like to know what makes you exclaim “What a nightmare!” I have interviewed customers at Prick Your Finger during the last two days, and I heard some really funny stories: what about the knitter who did not know how to increase for a whopping 17 years? She made up everything herself, as following a pattern which had increases were a nightmare to knit for her – she would not enjoy the top-down sweater I’m working on at the moment.

Or the knitter who came in to buy some lovely slubweight Bluefaced Leicester yarn and fat needles for a quick, warm scarf: “I started knitting only two weeks ago, everything is a nightmare for me!”

Please share your knitting nightmares with me, they may end up in my Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches!

Post-Script: you may recognise which painting inspired my drawing. I’ve just given the demon something to knit.

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