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A few weeks ago I started working on a Visible Mending commission from the Knitting & Crochet Guild. Avid readers of my blog might remember the horror of this sleeve:

Knitting & Crochet Guild cardigan close-up of damaged sleeve

A sorry sleeve in desperate need of some Visible Mending love

The lovely people at the Knitting & Crochet Guild believe that this damage may have been caused by some corrosive fluid that might have spilt onto it during a flooding at their archives. And indeed, when I was trying to tidy up the holes before starting the repairs, the stained wool was so brittle it almost crumbled in my hands. I have collected this as the Guild might be able to get it analysed at a forensics lab. There were four small holes and one large whopper. What follows is not a repair tutorial; instead I wanted to give you an insight in the technicalities of this repair.

I first tackled the small holes with an advanced method of Swiss darning; or duplicate stitching as it’s also known. Usually you can simply embroider over the existing stitches, but to do this on a hole, you’ll first need to provide some support for the stitches you’re making with your tapestry needle. After that it’s simply a case of keeping track of the colours, just as if you were knitting the pattern.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Swiss Darning pt 1

A framework made with sewing thread to support the new stitches as they are worked

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Swiss Darning pt 2

Then the Swiss darning proper can commence, staying strictly in pattern of the original Fair Isle pattern

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Swiss Darning pt 3

The completed Swiss darn. The top row grafts the new stitches to the old

Once this was completed on four small holes I could start with the large hole. I wanted to employ a technique I had found in a very old Dutch booklet on teaching darning and repair skills to girls (seeing this book was originally published in 1888, of course it would only be girls that would need to learn these skills at the time; the authors would probably be mystified why I would want to use this book in earnest!) For this mending technique you knit every row with a new strand or strands of yarn for each row. The beginning of the strands of yarn are Swiss darned in over the stitches of the original fabric, and after knitting the row, the ends are darned in, too. The last row which will close the hole up, is grafted in place.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Dutch darning Pt 1

the first few rows completed; you can see the beginning of a new strand of yarn being darned into place

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Dutch darning Pt 2

Grafting of the last row was also a patterned row. I used the Sock Toe Chimney grafting method, hence the bits of white cotton knitting that suddenly appeared

After finishing off all the ends it was time for a wash ‘n’ block and the excitement of seeing the finished Visible Mend was almost too much to bear for me – this surely must be the technically most demanding repair I’ve done to date.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Completed Close-up

The repaired areas blend in beautifully with the original Fair Isle fabric and colours

For this original Fair Isle hand-knit cardigan I wanted to stay close to its provenance. Therefore I wanted to use a Shetland wool for this repair. I settled on Jamieson & Smith’s Supreme jumper weight, as it comes in so many natural undyed shades. I set the camera on my mobile phone to take black-and-white pictures, and that way I chose the natural shades that came closest to the original colours, as seen in black-and-white. It turns out that the black-and-white filter on my phone gives different results than the one on my proper camera, as you will have to agree that in the following picture the Shetland Supreme shades look a bit lighter on the whole. Perhaps the light was different, too. Who knows.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission in black and white

The finished cardigan in black-and-white

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission in colour

 

And the cardigan “in glorious technicolor”

This weekend the Guild will have their annual convention and I’m pleased that this cardigan was ready in time to be shared with all Guild members. Angharad, volunteer Textile Archivist of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, emailed me to say she and her colleagues were very pleased with the end result, as they feel “it has made the garment into something very special whereas before it was very sad and folorn.” What a great result of such a lovely commission!

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I’ve known fellow glove knitting enthusiast Angharad Thomas for a few years now. Apart from knitting beautiful gloves she also volunteers for the Knitting & Crochet Guild as their Textiles Archivist. If you don’t know the guild, it was founded in Preston on 27 April 1978 for practitioners in the crafts of hand knitting, machine knitting and crochet. It’s a charity that aims to tackle the subjects of hand knitting, machine knitting and crochet at a higher technical level, encouraging critical approaches to technique and historical study and also recording contemporary developments.

Angharad approached me for a commission to visibly mend a beautiful hand-knitted Fair Isle cardigan they hold in their collections.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan Label

This Fair Isle cardigan bears a “Shetland Hand Knit” label, and a catalogue number from the Knitting & Crochet Guild archives.

The cardigan arrived last week and it’s given me an opportunity to explore the construction up close. The cardigan is a bit felted, possibly from having been washed in Fair Isle or Shetland after being knitted. Angharad doesn’t think it was ever worn as it was part of a donation that formed the earliest part of the collection (1991) from a person who bought knitwear as she visited places where it could be found, like Shetland; this was Audrie Stratford, who also wrote “Introducing Knitting.”

Knitting & Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan construction

The inside shows the sewn-down edges after cutting open the front opening and armholes

The cardigan has clearly been knitted in the round, as there are steek stitches that have been folded down. Both the neck and the armholes have been shaped, and there is no underarm gusset. The lack of an underarm gusset doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an uncomfortable garment to wear; Kate Davies has written about this in a blog post about a vintage Fair Isle cardigan she owes. The sleeves have been knitted in the round, too, after picking up stitches up from armhole; there are decreases along the underarm seam.

Knitting & Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan buttonband detail

A close-up of the buttonband; what appears to be the folded-over edge stitches overlap the buttonband, not the main fabric

Examining the buttonband up close, reveals that it has been sewn on afterwards. That the steek was knitted in garter stitch, but only for the part of the neck-shaping. I was so impressed by the neat finish of sewing down the folded over edge, that I ended up looking really closely, and then realised that the edge was not folded inward, but outwards. The steek stitches were purled, not knitted, using the background colour only, and then folded outwards. The buttonband hides this as by sewing down the very edge of it, the cut edge has been hidden. Then the edge of the fold is sewn down against the buttonband. However, it’s extremely difficult to be certain about this, as by using the same grey yarn and very neat sewing, it’s almost completely camouflaged. The pattern colour yarn is mostly hidden inside this fold. A new technique to be tried out!

Knitting & Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan deatil

A close-up of the underarm seam

The underarm seam also shows a very neat approach to the working in of yarn ends. The colours are carried up along the rounds until a whole motif has been knitted, leaving very few strands to work in at the end.

So far, so good, but perhaps you have started to wonder why the Knitting & Crochet Guild contacted me for a repair commission? There is a big hole in one of the sleeves. Angharad and her colleagues at the Guild think that the damage may possible be caused by caustic or corrosive liquids, perhaps in the flood that occurred at their Lee Mills archive some while ago.

Knitting & Crochet Guild cardigan close-up of damaged sleeve

The horror of a damaged sleeve!

Luckily I like a challenge and I’m really excited that the Guild has asked me to repair this beautiful cardigan. I’ll keep my repair strategy a secret until I’ve returned the mended cardigan to the Guild, but if anybody is familiar with the following old Dutch book on marking, darning and damask darning, I’ll be using one of the techniques it discusses.

De Vrouwelijke Handwerken - merken, stoppen en mazen - The Feminine handicrafts: marking and darning

The title translated from the Dutch: The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, darning and Swiss darning.

De Vrouwelijke Handwerken voor School en Huis; Het Merken, Mazen en Stoppen (The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, darning and Swiss darning), written by A Theunisse and AM van der Velden in 1888, was written for teaching needlework, and is part of a small series – the other two volumes cover sewing and knitting. It shows how to teach marking (embroidering initials into clothes for identification purposes during laundry day,) repairing woven fabric by means of darning, and repairing knitwear by means of Swiss darning and other techniques.

Keep an eye out for the follow-up post where I will show you how this book has helped me repair this beautiful Fair Isle cardigan!

Knitting and Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan

 

A Visible Mending challenge given to me by the Knitting & Crochet Guild

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One of the reasons I bought a spinning wheel, was to learn more about British rare sheep breeds and their wool and eventually to be able to spin yarns that will emphasise a particular breed’s wool qualities. Always on the look-out for learning opportunities, I jumped at the chance to sign up for Deborah Robson’s Wooltypes workshop at Fibre East this year. Together with Carol Ekarius, Deb Robson wrote the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook; a terrific compendium on a huge amount of different rare sheep breeds, their wool, and how to work with them.

So far, I have only really used a worsted spinning technique. This is suitable for wool that has a longer staple (fibre length), but I expect that at the workshop we will also be working with shorter staple fibres. And for these fibres woollen spinning techniques are more suitable. For worsted spinning you prepare the fibres by combing them in order to get them all lying parallel; worsted spinning techniques aim to keep the fibres aligned – this results in a shiny, drapey yarn. For woollen spinning, however, you prepare the fibres by carding, and using a woollen spinning technique, the fibres end up all higgledy-piggledy in the resulting yarn. This makes the yarn lofty and very warm as it traps more air.

fleece, carders, rolags, and yarn

 

A pair of handcarders, finished yarns, rolags, and unprocessed fleece

So, what better fibre to use for practising making a woollen yarn, than the Shetland fleeces I brought back from Shetland Wool Week last year? As I only have one grey fleece (this particular shade of grey fleece is called Shaela in the Shetland dialect) and half a black fleece I think I have just about enough for a jumper. So how to combine the two colours in one garment? Perhaps the most obvious choise would be some stranded colourwork, however, this will take up more yarn than something knitted with a single yarn in each row. I didn’t fancy stripes either, but then inspiration struck, and I came up with a cunning blending plan. I’ll be making a few skeins each in pure shaela and in pure black, but for the remainder I’ll blend the shaela with the black on the handcarders; you can see the resulting rolags (the fibre tubes) in the picture above, and I’ll spin these up into some more skeins. But that’s not all! To blur the transition from shaela to black even more, I will ply a blended single (the single strand that makes up a, in this case, 2-ply knitting yarn) with a shaela single, and also a blended single with a black single to make some marled yarns. In the picture above you can see a skein of pure shaela on the left, and on the right a marled yarn made from a shaela single and a blended single.

JamesNorburyPortrait

James Norbury. Will I end up looking like this when I get older?

James Norbury Knitting Books

A few of my Norbury books: Traditional Knitting Patterns, Odham’s Encyclopaedia of Knitting, and Knit with Norbury

So what does James Norbury have to do with all this? Norbury (1904-1972) was, according to Richard Rutt, the “strongest single influence on British knitting during the 25 years after the Second World War.” I have a few of his knitting books, and reading through the patterns, it’s always the superb shaping that strikes me and that is exactly what I’m after. Handspun woollen spun yarn is a bit lumpy-bumpy by nature, but seeing that this is my first attempt at making enough yarn for a big project, and because I don’t have a lot of experience in spinning woollen, my yarn will be even more lumpy-bumpy and probably look very homespun, in every meaning of the word. So to make up for that I want to make a jumper using meticulous shaping and really push myself with that challenge. I’ll be employing the very best knitting techniques I know, knit all the pieces flat, and use good shaping. An example of this is the sleeve caps that Norbury uses in his patterns. There are three progressive rates of decreases, so that the sleeve caps are very rounded, just like they would be for a sewing pattern. I did once knit a jumper like this, which I don’t often wear for other reasons, but the shoulder on it fits me like no other.

James Norbury Polo Neck jumper

A polo-neck jumper designed by James Norbury; look at the shoulder shaping!

I will be documenting progress here on my blog, but as I do like to switch between projects, I think it will take some time before this jumper will actually be on my shoulder, but that’s okay. I like making things that take forever, and now that I’ve added spinning in the mix, you can make that forever and a day.

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Some repair commissions are so much more than mending a hole or two. I recently completed a very special commission, which I would like to share with you. Bernadette sent me an email with a repair commission request, and as she has put her conundrum in such concise and clear words, I will quote the relevant parts here:

I have a pullover that my mother knitted me in the 1980s.  It was  cream coloured natural wool — I’ve since dyed it grey.  It’s a typically big and baggy eighties style from a pattern by Edina Ronay. It didn’t really suit me, the undyed colour was a kind of dirty cream and the neckline is wrong.  

There’s a lot of my mother’s work in this garment.  I don’t want to get rid of it – it’s about 25 years old and it’s been at the back of a cupboard for a long time.  So I had an idea to make it wearable by dyeing it grey.  This wasn’t wholly successful. The colour is a bit patchy but on the whole I prefer it to the cream.  It still looked massive on me.  I had another idea to turn it into a cushion – it’s got nice (I think Guernsey) textured patterns all over it and the body would be big enough to make a substantial cushion cover.  So I cut off one of the sleeves, with a view to hacking the thing to bits to make a cushion.  As soon as I’d cut off the sleeve I regretted it.  

There’s  a small hole in one sleeve too.  The pullover means a lot to me, especially since my mother died a couple of years ago.  We didn’t have much in common and knitting is one of my only true connections to her.

Visible Mending Programme - Jumper with hacked off sleeve

Bernadette’s jumper, you can see the cut off sleeve with ragged seams. In this picture I already unpicked the top of the sleeve and picked up the stitches

We exchanged a few emails so I could get a feel of what she wanted and come up with a repair strategy before meeting up.

Thank you for your kind reply.  I’m so glad you understand about the jumper – and about mothers!  I’m sure my own mother would think I was completely mad to be trying to fix up this old jumper she made.
As you can see – not only did I cut off a sleeve, I also cut open the seam of the sleeve.  Why  - I couldn’t really say at this point.  The wool is a bit felted through age, so nothing has come unravelled at all.
Re the neckline – it used to be a lot wider. I think maybe the jumper has shrunk a little bit because the neckline doesn’t seem so wide as I remember it. I guess it’s okay how it is.
I had to come up with a way of reconstructing the sleeve without losing too much of the original knitting. As the sleeve had been cut off and open, rather than carefully unpicked at the seams, I had some unravelling to do and fill in the missing inch at the very top of the sleeve cap. I also needed to do something about the side seams, as these could not be sewn together as they were.
The Visible Mending Programme - Shoulder and Sleeve Detail
A sympathetic contrasting colour was used to fix the sleeve and make up for lost fabric
Looking for a colour that would provide some contrast, yet harmonise well with the lavender grey of the jumper, I settled on a dark grey alpaca sock yarn. I chose a cable stitch that resembled the stitch in the jumper, but wasn’t quite the same to reinforce the idea that this repair was not done by the person who originally knitted the garment.
Picking up stitches from somebody else’s work felt really intimate, and throughout the repair my thoughts went out to Bernadette, and her mother. I admired the skill and effort that went into making this jumper, the even stitches. I have never met Bernadette’s mother, but picking up her work forged a connection, and I imagined how she worked on this jumper. I will never know what might have gone through her mind, yet I was wondering about this; wondering what she would’ve thought about her daughter asking to do this Visible Mend.
Visible Mending Programme - invisible mend on sleeve
One invisible mend is hiding on the sleeve – can you see it?
As I had some original yarn from unravelling the untidy cut edges, I did an invisible mend on the hole in the sleeve. I felt that another, seemingly randomly placed visible mend would distract from the visible sleeve reconstruction. Once I had sewn up the jumper, I ‘de-pilled’ it, and then gently hand-washed it before blocking it. I had asked Bernadette not to wash the jumper before giving it to me for repair, as this might inadvertently do more damage: stitches might unravel, or more felting might occur. As always, once I feel I’ve completed the repair, the final touch was stitching the Visible Mending Programme initials into the garment.
The Visible Mending Programme - stitched logo
VMP – Visible Mending Programme
I guess you might want to know what the jumper looks like now?
VisibleMendingProgramme_BD_2_JumperRepaired
Bernadette can wear her mother’s handiwork again, and be reminded of their one true connection
Both Bernadette and I were very pleased with the end result, so let me end with her own words, providing another little glimpse on the value of this jumper:
It really does mean a lot that I still have the jumper.  My mum always tried to make me the jumpers that I chose patterns for.  Unfortunately I had such bad taste back in the 80s that they were mostly horrible, but it wasn’t my Mum’s fault. 

When I was older my Mum made my children quite a few little things, but none of the garments have been hardy enough to survive.  There was one pink fair isle twinset she made my daughter that I really hoped to keep but a moth ate holes in it and it made me feel sad to look at it, and I eventually got rid of it.

So this jumper that you are rescuing is the one surviving garment (apart from an astonishing array of teddy trousers and dresses in acrylic!).

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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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