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Tomorrow is Fashion Revolution Day. This day asks people to think about who made the clothes you are wearing.

Who Made Your Clothes - Fashion Revolution Day

This question started to form in my head a few years ago, which is one of the reasons why I started The Visible Mending Programme and I’d like to explain a bit more about the philosophy behind it.

ShetlandWoolWeek Darning at Jamieson & Smith

Visible Mending Workshop at Shetland Wool Week 2013

The Visible Mending Programme seeks to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion’s throwaway culture. By exploring the story behind garment and repair, the Programme attempts to reinforce the relationship between wearer and garment, hopefully leading to people wearing their existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn worn as a badge of honour. The development and crystallisation of these ideas are closely linked to the development of my hand-knitting skills.

AmyCardi_repaired

Zoe’s cardigan has gone through The Visible Mending Programme a number of times

Taking pride in my craftsmanship of hand-knitting has led to the realisation that I want to take good care of these items to extend their longevity. However, this urge is not quite so strong for clothes purchased on the High Street, even though they were probably produced by highly skilled makers. Although considerable constraints in time and materials can affect their quality they ought to deserve the same care as a hand-knit to honour the anonymous makers and their skills.

TomOfDaPeathillCardigan3

A hand-knitted cardigan, designed by myself

Hand-knitting creates close ties with the object made; tracing its evolution and progress reminds one of where, when and how it was made. A good darn also requires craftsmanship, and I frequently employ knitting and crochet techniques for mending, or techniques traditionally used for repairing knitwear. The experience of this process allows one to create a similar connection with shop-bought clothes as with hand-knits. By thinking about how the garment was acquired, the occasions it was worn and the motivation of the repair can reinforce that relationship. Writing a Visible Mending Programme blog, running darning workshops and taking repair work commissions can provide inspiration, skills and services to people and hopefully persuade them that shop-bought clothes deserve care and attention too, just like that precious hand-knit.

HE_GhostPaisley

A scarf repaired by one of my students during a Visible Mending Workshop

You can read some more over at The Good Wardrobe, where John-Paul Flintoff interviewed me at one of their Sew It Forward events.

So ask yourself: do you know who made your clothes?

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Yesterday I launched my new pattern: Tom of da Peathill; a fitted men’s cardigan in three sizes, inspired by the natural shades of Foula Wool it was designed for. As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, Foula Wool is a sturdy DK weight yarn, so I used the knotted steek method to avoid any bulky edges resulting from folding over, or the very elegant steek sandwich devised by Kate Davies, which usually gives a very handsome finish.

The following tutorial shows you how to create a knotted steek. You may want to use your gauge swatch to practise your knotted steek on so you become familiar with this technique.

Knotted Steek Tutorial

knitting and casting off the steek stitches

First of all, the pattern calls for six steek sts. In addition, you will also need some stitches to pick up from: these are called the edge stitches. So apart from the pattern stitches for the cardigan body, there are two edge stitches, and six steek stitches. The steek stitches are knitted with both colours held together as one. When it’s time to cast off, only cast off the edge stitches and the pattern stitches. The steek stitches will not be cast off.

tomofholland Knotted Steek Tutorial 1

pattern stitches, edge stitches, and steek stitches. Note that the steek stitches have not been cast off

unravelling the steek stitches and cutting

Now comes the fun part. The steek stitches are all dropped down to the cast-on edge, thus creating a whopping large ladder! As the Foula Wool is a bit sticky – the very reason it’s a good yarn for stranded colourwork – you might need to coax them a bit to unravel all the way down. You are now ready for the scary part: the strands forming the ladder are cut in half. Spread the cardigan out a bit so you can easily find the middle of each strand. Remember, knitted fabric doesn’t like unravelling sideways, so it will all be okay.

tomofholland Knotted Steek Tutorial 2

cutting the ladder strands to create the front opening or the armholes

knotting the strands

The name of this technique – knotted steek – will now become apparent. All the threads are knotted in pairs in an overhand knot. Make sure that you always use the two threads from one row of knitting. Also ensure you snuggle up the knot to the very edge of the fabric for a tidy finish.

KnottedSteekTutorial3

The strands are knotted into pairs using the overhand knot, shown above

tomofholland knotted steek tutorial 4

The knotted steek shown on the wrong side. Notice the tidy row of knots, all snuggled up to the edge of the fabric

picking up stitches

It’s now time to pick up your stitches. You pick up between the edge stitch and the first pattern stitch. Keep an eye out for the fringe, and try not to trap them with the yarn you are using for picking up. Now commence knitting the buttonbands or sleeves.

tomofholland knotted steek tutorial 5

Stitches are picked up between the edge stitch and the first pattern stitch

 darning in ends

This is the part that will take a bit of time. Perhaps because I love darning so much, I really enjoy it. Be prepared to set aside an afternoon, and make a cup of tea before beginning. You will soon find yourself getting into the rhythm and becoming absorbed by the task at hand. You will need a sharp wool needle with a large eye. Sometimes called yarn darners, they are basically a chunky version of a crewel needle. The ends are darned in on the wrong side by skimming the floats at the back. If you find the strands a bit on the short side, then employ a classic sewer’s hand-finishing technique: first darn in the needle, and only then thread the needle; I use the method explained in this blog post by Stitchers Needle. By threading the needle with the two yarn ends from one knot it will go quicker than you think. Once the fringe has been darned in, trim the loose ends close to the surface.

tomofholland knotted steek tutorial 6

darning in the ends. On the right the unfinished fringe. Then the needle skimmed into a float, ready to be threaded. In the middle darned in ends. At the left the loose ends have been trimmed close to the surface

tomofholland knotted steek tutorial 7

the finished knotted steek on the buttonband. Notice that the edge stitch has turned to the inside, and the neat row of knots

There you have it, a steek which is virtually without any bulk, and which doesn’t impact the stretch of knitted fabric. Over time, this finish will become neigh on invisible.

I hope this tutorial has been clear and instructive, and has demystified my favourite steek technique.

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Today sees the launch of my Tom of da Peathill pattern, a fitted men’s Fair Isle cardigan inspired by the seven natural shades of Foula wool it was designed for.

TomOfDaPeathillCardigan4

Tom of da Peathill cardigan – alas, there are no peathills in Brighton to serve as a backdrop

When Magnus Holbourn approached me last year to ask what I thought of his Foula wool, I didn’t expect to end up working with him on a pattern. The minute the samples of yarn arrived, I was excited by the natural colours of the wool, and its very own character. Foula is the most isolated inhabited island in Britain, so it will come as no surprise that the strain of Shetland sheep on Foula is very old and has plenty of character.

balls of Foula wool in 7 natural shades

Seven shades of wonderful Foula wool: clockwise from top mioget, grey, black, moorit, light grey, fawn, and white in the centre

I tried out various patterns before settling on the combination shown in the cardigan. Having played around with many colours as part of my Aleatoric Fair Isle experiment last year, it was an interesting exercise to use only seven colours. This did make me more confident in putting the colours together in pleasing ways, and in fact, one of the Aleatoric Fair Isle swatches guided me in the choice of some of the patterns in the cardigan.

AFI_3_CU

Aleatoric Fair Isle Swatch No. 03

Tom of da Peathill Cardigan Back

The back of the cardigan. Can you spot the patterns from the Aleatoric Fair Isle swatch?

The cardigan is knitted in the round, with steek stitches for the front opening and the armholes. As the yarn is a sturdy DK weight, I didn’t want to use a method that would leave very bulky seams after cutting the steeks open. Therefore I employed the knotted steek method: before you cut, you need to drop down the steek stitches, so you get a massive ladder. The strands are then cut and knotted in pairs. To finish these after knitting front edges and sleeves, the strands are darned in. Once you’re in the rhythm, it goes quite quickly; you can find a knotted steek tutorial here.

knotted steek on Tom of da Peathill cardigan

The ends of the knotted steek have been darned in, dramatically reducing bulk, thus giving a very flat finish to the edges

And if you’re wondering about the name of the cardigan: I originally wanted to call it the Foula Cardigan, but Magnus was reminded of the peathills on Foula, and the way that the cut peat is stacked up to dry when he saw the cardigan. And who could resist a name that is so reminiscent of the very place where the wool comes from?

You can download the pattern from my Ravelry store here. And Magnus has put together a yarn kit for the cardigan here.

Last but not least, I also would like to take this opportunity to thank a few people who helped me along the way with my first garment knitting pattern: my comrades in wool, Felix and Kate, who have both been very encouraging. Anna Maltz for her cheery chats. And of course Magnus of Foula Wool, who started it all of. But most of all my partner Anthony, who is always supportive of my crafty pursuits, even if I occasionally struggle to keep my wool stash under control.

 

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Welcome to the second part of my interview with my dear friend Felix, who wants to create a knitting book that shows you how to turn everyday inspiration into gorgeous stranded colourwork. If you haven’t done so already, have a look at her Kickstarter campaign. I had to write this blog post earlier this week, and at time of writing, Felix had already reached her goal of £9000, and then some. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, when I spoke to her, she was so greatful for the overwhelmingly positive response she received, and she is now thinking about a new, higher goal, and exploring what she would like to use this additional money for. Be sure to check back at her Kickstarter campaign to find out more.

Yesterday we spoke about Felix’s fascination with provenance, locality and specificity of everyday objects, and her view on creating a contemporary and personal textile tradition. But I had more questions to ask, and Felix had more to say, so feel free to make a cup of tea before continuing to read about Felix’s approach to designing stranded colourwork patterns.

Huntley & Palmers Biscuit Tin and knitting pattern

Huntley & Palmers was a biscuit factory in Reading. They handed out samples of their biscuits in small tins like these. They probably never thought that one day it would provide inspiration for a tasty knitting pattern!

Tom: looking at textile traditions, I find there is a spectrum of specificity. For instance, cabled Aran jumpers are very generic, and you can just mix and match what you think looks good. There don’t seem to be too many rules. At the opposite end you can look at some Scandinavian traditions (Swedish, Estonian to name a few) where designs can be traced back to specific villages, and sometimes you can even work out marital status and other things about the maker/wearer. You also mention a few imaginative contemporary designs, inspired by specific places or buildings in your podcast “Finding the Fabric of the Place Part 2″ Where does your sourcebook fit in?

Felix: The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook can be used in several ways. I wanted to make a book which could be useful to knitters on many different levels, and thought about how I use sourcebooks in my own knitting as a model for how to structure this one. There will be gorgeous pictures and lovely clear charts so that even just flicking through idly after a long day at work can be inspiring. There will also be nice juicy chapters which go into some depth and detail for the hungry knitter who is keen to more deeply understand the connections between places, things, plants and stranded colourwork. There will be both coloured AND black and white charts for the knitter who wants to either use or hack my charts for knitting from bricks, beer pump clips, vintage biscuit tins etc. and finally, there will be a rich how-to section which breaks the whole translate-everything-into-stranded-colourwork process into easy to follow steps.

In terms of your scale, you can go mega specific with it, taking ideas from the “how-to” sections and making your own extremely specific designs based entirely on things which only you own, or you can be far more general. Someone who lives nowhere near Reading may think the brickwork here looks great and decide to refer to the sourcebook to make their own brickwork-patterned sweater, or someone may adapt that concept a little or a lot to translating whatever building materials are popular where they live.

My main aim was to share the whole process in the book and then to leave knitters the choice of how deep to go into what’s offered.

Estonian Kihnu Stocking

Detail of a Kihnu stocking, which is an Estonian Island which has a rich textile tradition

Tom: restrictions or rules in designing seem to stimulate creativity in order to work around these rules. We found out during our Aleatoric Fair Isle that the contrast row in the middle of a pattern has certain rules to make it look good. Reading up about it, the contrast row came about because it was a way to incorporate a limited amount of yarn, or expensive yarn (e.g. because of the dye used). Nowadays we have don’t have these kinds of restrictions, but have you created any rules/restrictions nonetheless to stimulate creativity?

Felix: I would say the medium is in itself the restriction.

My background is (a long time ago) in painting and drawing, where colours are infinite and lines can go in any direction. When you’re painting, you have total freedom about how your image is built up; you have layers and can go in any direction with your lines. You are free to work in whatever order you like. I did a lot of oil paintings and murals for clients when I was in my late teens and early twenties, and I adored bold lines, mixing my own shades, and the limitless colour possibilities represented by paint.

In stranded colourwork, one must think in a totally different way. You necessarily have to build up the imagery line by line, and are restrained by the finite number of colours available to you from your yarn supplier. You have to think in bands and stripes, and also to imagine how the eye will wander over the end product in a way that is nothing like in a painting. Your ideas must repeat and have a rhythm, and you should be able to imagine this running on infinitely in horizontal and vertical directions. The really fantastic stranded colourwork of both Shetland and Estonia succeeds in giving you both discrete elements which you can get lost in, and an overall coherence of form. Finally, you are restricted in your line length by the architecture of stranded knitting itself; large columns of vertical stitches tend to pucker and long floats are undesirable as they tend to cause tension issues. Consequently the width of your motifs and the size of large colour areas must be most carefully considered!

For me, solving these problems – exploring how colours interact when knitted together; working with a finite palette; searching for ways of representing things which fit the structure of the medium; – all of these challenges are exciting. Creativity is about searching and problem-solving, and I love being restrained by the medium of stranded colourwork in my celebration of the world around me!

Tom of da Peathill Cardigan Swatch

A swatch made by me, showing how the limited palette of natural Foula sheep colours can create exciting Fair Isle patterns

Tom: last but not least, what particular joys will your source book bring to knitters around the world, and how can people help you out realising it?

Felix: I have hopefully answered the first part of this question already – the book will be a sumptuous feast of inspiration on translating your everyday world into stranded colourwork! It will also be a lovely thing to look through for ideas about how to work with the illustrious Jamieson & Smith palette; and it will provide an inspiring guide to some of the hidden treasures of Reading, while also giving you ideas about how to look on your own corner of the world with fresh, knitterly eyes.

I cannot produce this book without raising the necessary dollars to print it; if you think this is a book that you would really enjoy owning, you can go straight to my Kickstarter page and sign yourself up for a copy!

KNITSONIK stranded colourwork sourcebook

A possible design for the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook by Dr Felicity Ford

Dear blog readers, I hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I enjoyed had conducting it. I wish her all the best in realising her dream!

Other blog tour stops:

01/04/2014 – Jeni Hewlett
http://fibrespates.blogs.com/shop_blog/

04/04/2014 – Deborah Gray
http://perfectweatherforspinningandknitting.blogspot.co.uk/
AND
There is an interview with Brenda Dayne in the world famous Cast On Podcast

http://www.cast-on.com/

06/04/2014 – Lara Clements
http://inbetweendays.me.uk/inbetweendays/blog/

07/04/2014 – Jane Dupuis
http://spillyjane.blogspot.com

09/04/2014 – Hazel Tindall
http://www.hazeltindall.com/blog

11/04/2014 – 12/04/2014 – Tom van Deijnen
http://www.tomofholland.com

14/04/2014 – Deb Robson
http://independentstitch.typepad.com/

15/04/2014 – The Shop at The Old Fire Station
shopattheoldfirestation.blogspot.co.uk/ 
This blog post will coincide with Felix’s workshop there on this date entitled “FINDING THE FABRIC OF THE CITY”

16/04/2013 – Mary Jane Mucklestone
http://maryjanemucklestone.com/

18/04/2014 – Caroline Walshe
http://ansnagbreac.blogspot.com/

20/4/2014 – Fine Lightness & Kait Lubja
Finelightness.wordpress.com
http://katakoob.wordpress.com/

21/04/2014 – Donna Druchunas
http://sheeptoshawl.com/

25/04/2014 – Ella Gordon
http://jamiesonandsmith.wordpress.com/

26/04/14 – Lisa Busby
http://editionsofyou.com

26/04/2014 – Ella Austin
http://bombellablog.wordpress.com/

27/04/2014 – Susan Crawford
http://justcallmeruby.blogspot.co.uk/

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Welcome to the next stop of the KNITSONIK blog tour! I was very excited when my dear friend Felicity, also known as Felix, told me she wanted to write a Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Source Book. We have been friends for a few years now and I have always really enjoyed seeing how she turned seemingly ordinary things into knitting patterns with a lot of depth. We share a common interest in provenance and specificity and this shows in our love for working with British breed wool and fibre and appreciation of colourwork traditions. You can see here how Felix is planning to turn this into a book.

To see how provenance, locality and specifics of everyday objects can be turned into a knitting pattern, I asked Felix a few questions to give you an idea why I think that the Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Source Book will be a book that every knitter should have on their bookshelf.

Julia Desch's Wensleydale sheep

Julia Desch and her wonderful Wensleydale Longwool sheep

Tom: much of your work seems to involve searching for and capturing the local space. You look and listen out for specifics. Not the sound of “sheep”, but the sound of Julia Desch’s Wensleydale sheep. Not “wool” for a jacket, but Border Leicester, Ryeland, Manx Loaghtan, North Ronaldsay, Teeswater, Shetland and Jacob for the Layter jacket; all fibres spun up in Sue Blacker’s Mill. Where does this fascination with provenance and locality come from?

Felix: In general I am creatively motivated by a search for home, and this is linked to my fascination with provenance and locality. Knowing where things are from – knowing where we are from – are part of how we place ourselves in the world. Like many people living in our increasingly mobilised world, I have lived all over. Home is Ireland. Croydon. Reading. The idea of being rooted to just one place holds great allure. With wool, being able to say “I know where this is from” about a ball of yarn is a powerful antidote to feeling rootless.

The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is about a related process of making deeper connections with my environment – my place – here in Reading; it’s about noting the particular details which make this town distinctive. Focusing in on specifics and then working them into knitted stitches gives me a greater feeling that I am part of Reading – “that’s the building I used for that scarf I made!” “this is my favourite road, I made socks based on that tree just there!” etc.

St Mary's Butts Curch in Reading

Saint Mary’s Butts Church in Reading, Felix’s home town

St Mary's Socks

St Mary’s Socks – not only is the pattern based on St Mary’s Butts, but it is also dyed with black walnuts from the tree on St Mary’s Butts grounds

I am sure that I am not the only knitter who has moved around a lot, and one impulse behind The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is that I want to share this sense of claiming the world around us through knitting, and use knitting to deepen our sense of belonging wherever we are.

If you’ve ever listened to my podcast, you will know that I often share sounds from places I have visited, knitted in, walked through… the timings involved in standing silently and recording for minutes and sitting and knitting for hours, are similar. We are talking about slow processes, and allowing time to form dense impressions. A certain tree. The way the light is. The smell. I make different kinds of work based on these details of places. Things I’ve noticed end up being rendered in knitted stitches, or presented on my podcast with their stories as field recordings. I feel differently about things once I have really listened to them or put the time into knitting something based on them. KNITSONIK is somehow about time. The timescales involved in my work remind me of the years that a limpet takes to carve out its place on a rock.

In one sense I hope I never find home, because the search for it is wonderful. The search gives huge energy to projects like The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook.

North_Devon_Limpets

Limpets carve out an indentation in the rock they sit on, so there’s a perfect seal between shell and rock, making their shells very safe homes

Tom: you’ve started making your own Slow Wardrobe, an idea to make a few choice garments that should last you for a very long time. In one of your posts you say:

Hailing from Croydon originally, and now living in Reading, UK, I do not have the specific textile traditions that Estonia crafters have to draw on. What I mean is that if I want to embed meaning in my clothes, there are no rules about the colours or the stripes that I should use. However, there are definitely historic textile traditions to draw on in this country, and many other ways in which I try to make my outfits meaningful. Like the Layter, which celebrates the sheep breeds I love, or the home-made WOOLLY UNIFORM which I wore through my whole stay in Estonia, which is made from woven woollen cloth purchased from the mill nearest to where I live here in the UK.

Felix in woollen outfit for her Slow Wardrobe

Felix in her woollen uniform, part of her Slow Wardrobe

This reminded me of Helen Whitham’s graduation collection. Being from Shetland, with its very rich textile tradition, it was like she started from scratch and explored how things in her surroundings could inspire her to develop her own patterns and colour-ways. Most likely these things also inspired generations of Shetland knitters before her, yet she found her own voice. How are you developing your own textile tradition?

Felix: Yes – I really adore Helen Whitham’s graduation collection. It is a thing of beauty and something I find really inspiring. What is especially interesting is that Helen decided not to draw on the long and established famous knitwear traditions of Shetland in making her own distinctive, place-inspired collection. The decisions that she made about her creative process – walking in the landscape, finding and inventorying things there, cataloguing them, building up palettes according to her finds etc. – all involve a very direct and tactile engagement with the landscape. Her collection gleams with the energy that comes through a process of noticing and spending time and looking at things with particular eyes. The process of working from traditional Fair Isle patterns or time-honoured lace stitches would involve a very different type of engagement with history and materials. There is also something very specific about the way that Helen “sees” Shetland in her collection which makes it completely distinctive. I think it’s very powerful to discover your place in your own terms like that and to develop textiles out of it in that very tactile and immediate way; the experience would change how you saw a place forever: afterwards you would always remember the ideas you had forged out of it, which in turn would become part of the landscape’s memory.

These ideas relate to how I am developing my own textile traditions. Direct contact with things, places and plants in my immediate environment is central to the process. It is important to walk regularly through the places featured in my book, and to touch and use and handle all the things! It’s important to know and study the plants that are part of the inspiration, and for all of the design ideas to grow out of direct contact with my world.

Beerpump clips, plums and architecture

Beer pump clips from Felix’s local pub, plums from her garden, and buildings in Reading all provide ideas for rich stranded colourwork patterns

When I was in Estonia, I stayed with Liis who was weaving a traditional Estonian skirt with wool which she had dyed herself. She was copying a skirt in the Estonian museum collection which came from the region she now lives in. The original skirt showed some evidence that the dyer had run out of certain colours and improvised, supplementing some of the stripes with alternative shades from her stash; Liis replicated this error in her own recreation, laying claim not only to National traditions, but also to the activities of an individual dyer, spinner and weaver. I loved this small detail, creating affinity across history with an unknown individual and their labour…

In traditional Estonian Folk Costume there is a complex system of colours, stripes and motifs which denote where the wearer is from; whether or not they were married; and so on. It’s a Nationally-recognised code of meanings. Watching Liis with her beautiful rectangle of woven cloth, connecting her to that history and that system, I realised that – though I can never lay claim to any National tradition in the same way – I could learn from the slow processes involved in her research. The visits to the museum to consult the original. Learning how to dye with plants to make the shades for the stripes. Studying the patterns. It seemed to me that these processes in time and with materials were an important aspect making connections between place and garment, as well as the stripes with their Estonian Folk Costume signification.

Kihnu Skirts in Estonia

Specific: Kihnu skirts from Estonia

This was part one about Felix’s Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Source Book; stay tuned for part two tomorrow.

I’m clearly one of many people who are enthusiastic about Felix’s new adventure; not only is this blog post part of her Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Source Book blog tour, but at time of writing this blog post, she has already reached her goal of £9000 and then some! When I spoke to her earlier, she expressed her deep gratitude of the support that the knitting community has shown her so far, and how welcome all the encouraging and enthusiastic responses were; they confirmed that there is a very welcome place in the knitting world for the Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Source Book.

Felix is more than appreciative about all the money that has been pledged, and she wants to put any additional funds to good use in her project. A second, higher goal is now possible, so she is spending the next few days exploring the options that have now opened up to her; make sure to check back on her Kickstarter Campaign to see what she’s come up with. Meanwhile, you can find out more about Felix and her book in the previous blog tour stops, and there are more stops along the way, too.

01/04/2014 – Jeni Hewlett
http://fibrespates.blogs.com/shop_blog/

04/04/2014 – Deborah Gray
http://perfectweatherforspinningandknitting.blogspot.co.uk/
AND
There is an interview with Brenda Dayne in the world famous Cast On Podcast

http://www.cast-on.com/

06/04/2014 – Lara Clements
http://inbetweendays.me.uk/inbetweendays/blog/

07/04/2014 – Jane Dupuis
http://spillyjane.blogspot.com

09/04/2014 – Hazel Tindall
http://www.hazeltindall.com/blog

11/04/2014 – 12/04/2014 – Tom van Deijnen
http://www.tomofholland.com

14/04/2014 – Deb Robson
http://independentstitch.typepad.com/

15/04/2014 – The Shop at The Old Fire Station
shopattheoldfirestation.blogspot.co.uk/
This blog post will coincide with Felix’s workshop there on this date entitled “FINDING THE FABRIC OF THE CITY”

16/04/2013 – Mary Jane Mucklestone
http://maryjanemucklestone.com/

18/04/2014 – Caroline Walshe
http://ansnagbreac.blogspot.com/

20/4/2014 – Fine Lightness & Kait Lubja
Finelightness.wordpress.com
http://katakoob.wordpress.com/

21/04/2014 – Donna Druchunas
http://sheeptoshawl.com/

25/04/2014 – Ella Gordon
http://jamiesonandsmith.wordpress.com/

26/04/14 – Lisa Busby
http://editionsofyou.com

26/04/2014 – Ella Austin
http://bombellablog.wordpress.com/

27/04/2014 – Susan Crawford
http://justcallmeruby.blogspot.co.uk/

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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.

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Closeup 3

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.

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Closeup 2

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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Having just returned from a three-week holiday, I had plenty of time to look back to 2013, and look forward to 2014. Last year has been amazing, and I’m sure this will continue in the new year!

Looking back

Darning

Darning at Wool House, Somerset House

I was invited to darn at Wool House, Somerset House, as part of the very successful Campaign for Wool event. I had a great time, and Wool House put my darning sessions in the “best bits” list! It was super-busy, and I think I have enthused quite a few people about darning, and also explain why I like using 100% wool products.

Hope and Elvis Darning Workshop

2013 also saw the first of my day-long darning workshops. I went to Hope & Elvis, lovely Louise’s great studio. It’s stuffed to the gills with vintage fabrics, blankets, threads, scraps, books and any tool you would possibly need, so it was a lot of fun to explore various darning techniques. You’ll be pleased to hear I’m returning there in April.

ShetlandWoolWeek Darning at Jamieson & Smith

Last but not least, my darning skills took me to Shetland! Here’s a picture of my darning class at Jamieson & Smith. I had a great time, I met so many amazing people, with amazing skills. I left a few loose ends on purpose, so I have a good reason to return.

Knitting

Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches Lace

Early last year I exhibited at Prick Your Finger. My Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches explored many different knitting stitches and techniques, some old and rare, others common and much-used. It was a good way to learn about different techniques, and investigate them in detail.

Altered Kasha Cardigan for Wedding Outift

Rosemary had seen my Curiosity Cabinet, and thought I’d be the ideal person to take on a commission for her wedding outfit. I gladly took this on, and I knitted a Kasha Cardigan for her, with some alterations: a different collar, and three-quarter length sleeves. It was a great project to work on, and Rosemary has been wearing her cardigan many times since.

Aleatoric Fair Isle Swatch

Last year I also explored stranded colourwork, and in particular the Fair Isle tradition. Together with my comrade in wool, Felicity Ford, we devised a method to learn more about Fair Isle patterns, which took away some of the hurdles we often face when trying to knit Fair Isle. Using rules we made up and some dice, we left pattern and colour selection to chance, based on John Cage’s compositional concepts. We called this Aleatoric Fair Isle.

Spinning

Diamond Fibre Mill spinning

Other highlights include my visit to Diamond Fibre Mill, where I met Roger, who runs this small independent mill, specialising in worsted spinning, and who owns his own flock of Romney sheep.

timbertops chair spinning wheel

I also became the proud owner of an original Timbertops spinning wheel. A chair wheel no less. I haven’t had a chance to write about this yet, so keep your eyes peeled for a blog post in the near future.

Special mention

And if all that wasn’t quite enough, Kate Davies, Felicity and myself curated Wovember 2013 to celebrate wool in all its myriad forms. We posted features about growing, harvesting, processing, working, and wearing wool. I did many more things last year, so these were just some of my highlights.

Looking forward

Plans for 2014 are forming in my head, and amongst others, I’m looking forward to releasing my first cardigan pattern, using Foula wool. A bit later than expected, but it’s important to me to get everything right. I will continue working on the Aleatoric Fair Isle swatches. I’ve also taken on a very special visible mending commission to repair an upcycling attempt gone wrong. As previously mentioned, not only will I return to Hope & Elvis for a darning workshop, I will also run a Darning Master Class at Unravel at Farnham Maltings. More classes and workshops are in the pipe-line, so keep an eye out for them.

Scotch darn on sock

2014 will also be the year of exploring. I did some free-style knitting before Christmas, and I found it very liberating. I found some good books on the subject, and I have also been inspired by Rachael Matthews’s approach to making, and in particular what became her Explosion Jumper.

On the spinning front I want explore more lace-weight spinning, using wool from both classic breeds (Shetland), and unexpected breeds (Rough Fell.)

Last but not least I would like to explore more mending techniques, and in particular learn more about darning and repairing woven textiles. And I still have one or two jumpers to complete…

darned jumper

 

I don’t know about you, but I think I have plenty of things lined up, and it will be my pleasure to share them with you and write about them here.

Happy New Year!

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Just before 2013 ends I want to share with you a special commission I took on earlier this year. It must’ve been early summer when Rosemary contacted me about knitting her a little lace jacket for her wedding outfit.

unwrapping of knitted Kasha jacket commission

Rosemary unwrapping her lace jacket on the big day

Rosemary had seen my work at Prick Your Finger, and she loved my attention to detail and technical approach to knitting. She had already chosen a beautiful dress for her wedding day, but a little lace jacket would complete the outfit. She had seen the Kasha cardigan I had knitted for Susan Crawford, and this was just what she wanted. Well, almost. Instead of the short sleeves, she wanted three-quarter length ones, and as her dress already had a lace collar, she didn’t want one on Kasha.

Kasha Alteration three-quarter sleeves

A gorgeous wedding bouquet and three-quarter sleeves

I had to search around a bit for a suitable yarn, but after consulting with Susan, Rosemary and I settled on Alice sock-weight yarn from Juno Fibre Arts. This luxurious blend of alpaca, silk, and cashmere is very soft, has a nice drape and great stitch definition. The colourway is called Oyster, which is very appropriate considering I found some 1920s mother-of-pearl buttons for the jacket.

Kasha cardigan with mother of pearl buttons

1920s mother-of-pearl buttons for the perfect finish

In the above picture you can also see I used a tubular cast-on. I played around a little bit with the right needle-size for the cast-on, to make sure it wouldn’t flare or draw in too much, bearing in mind that the yarn was quite drapey, and therefore might not snap back into shape as easily as a 100% wool yarn would.

Kasha cardigan alternative collar

An alternative collar for Kasha in reverse stocking stitch

Leaving off the collar was easy, as in the original pattern the collar is knitted separately. I replaced it with a few rows of reverse stocking stitch, and left it to curl up naturally. The original pattern asks for large sleeve pads, which Rosemary felt were too big, so in the end I knitted small sausage shapes, and these can be put in with teeny-tiny snap buttons. The sleeve pads give a little bit more structure to the jacket for a more formal look, but can be taken out for less formal occasions.

shoulder pads with snap buttons

teeny-tiny snap buttons for the shoulder pads

Instead of knitting the front and back pieces separately, which would then need to be seamed together, I knitted them all in one piece. Although knitting seemed to progress slowly in the beginning, it saved me a lot of time at the end. Sometimes I think a sewn side seam can give more structure to a garment, but in this particular pattern the side seam would zig-zag anyway, so there was no structural advantage to keep them.

After teasing you with all these close-ups, I will now present to you Rosemary’s Kasha cardigan in its full glory:

Kasha Cardigan with modified sleeves and collar

 

Kasha just before wrapping up in tissue paper

Rosemary in her Kasha cardigan and her husband

Rosemary and her husband; what a handsome couple!

As an aside, Rosemary and her husband are great appreciators of art and crafts, and for their wedding day they also got a corn dolly made by Elaine Lindsay, which is absolutely stunning. A corn dolly was traditionally made for the spirit that lives in the wheat or corn fields, and which would be without a house after harvesting the last sheaf. The corn dolly would be taken home and in spring it would be plowed back into the land when the new wheat was sown. Corn dollies come in many different shapes and many villages and towns had their own design; Rosemary and Richard was based on the Mordiford heart.

Mordiford Corn Dolly

Rosemary and Richard’s Mordiford corn dolly with their initials worked in

More knitterly details on this commission can be found on my Ravelry project page.

Being a great believer in sustainable fashion and appreciating the clothes you have, I was so pleased to hear is that Rosemary has been wearing her cardigan many times since the wedding. What a great way to be reminded of a beautiful day.

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Wovember is well underway now, and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself getting woolly content to all the Wovember readers, together with Kate Davies and Felicity Ford. Wovember celebrates the wool for what it is, and one of the ways we’re celebrating is with a WAL, or Wool-Along: start and finish a project made from 100% wool during the month of Wovember! Find out more on the Wovember blog.

My WAL project is my first ever machine-knit garment. A cardigan, knitted in Jamieson’s of Shetland Spindrift in the colourway Grouse. I picked up a 900g cone during my visit to their mill in Sandness. As I have a single-bed knitting machine, I cannot do ribbing on it. The usual way would be to first hand-knit the ribbing, and then transfer the stitches to the knitting machine. Then you can continue using the knitting machine and knit the panels for your garment.

GrouseCardiganPanels

Grouse Cardigan panel pieces, surrounded by loads of woolly items. And yes, that’s the Foula Cardigan in progress – to be revealed at the end of Wovember

I copied the pattern pieces’ measurements from an existing, shop-bought cardigan. As this had slightly shrunk in the wash, I had to add a margin to all the pieces in order to make it fit. As I wasn’t quite sure if this was going to work out, I decided to do things in a different order. I first knitted the pieces, so I could seam them together and try it on, before adding the ribbing. If reknitting would be necessary, then I would at least only have to reknit the machine-knit part of it, which would take much less time. To make it easier to pick up stitches for the ribbing, I started the pieces with some rows of waste yarn in a contrasting colour.

GrouseCardiganSeamed

Grouse Cardigan, seamed together, with waste yarn still in place

As the Spindrift yarn is rather delicate, I decided to seam these pieces together with a back stitch, rather than the more usual mattress stitch, as this results in a more elastic seam, and thus less chance of the seam breaking with wear. I used short pieces (about 15in long,) and it was easy enough to add on some more by spit-splicing.

I’m pleased to report that the cardigan fits, and all that’s left to do, is to unravel the waste yarn, pick up the stitches with a circular needle, and hand-knit the ribbing. After that I will pick up stitches on the front pieces and the collar to add a garter stitch button and collar band.

Keep an eye for my next progress post, and don’t forget to visit Wovember to embrace WOOL!

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