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Earlier this year I posted about a book that my dear friend and comrade in wool, Felicity “Felix” Ford, wanted to publish.

I was honoured to be asked to help her along the way, and I’m so proud to say that Felix’s hard work has paid off. The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is now published! Congratulations to Felix!

Note: Scroll all the way to the bottom of this post to find links to where you can buy UK and USA hard copies, and a worldwide PDF download.

KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook

The Beautiful cover of Felicity Ford’s KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook

The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook explains in clear and easy to understand steps how to create your own stranded colourwork patterns, inspired by everyday things. There are lots of working examples to show how to approach this, and plenty of suggestions and exercises to help you if you feel a bit stuck.

As I was privy to the development of her book and the KNITSONIK System, I decided I wanted to knit a swatch to share with you in this blog post, in which I asked Felix some questions, and she gave me some insightful and detailed answers. So you had best make a brew before continue reading this post!

Faye Moorhouse, Forty Faces

 

This gouache titled “Forty Faces” by Brighton-based artist and illustrator Faye Moorhouse, was my inspiration source for a KNITSONIK Swatch Sensation

Tom: why did you ask me to do hack your KNITSONIK System when I told you about my swatch plans?

Felix: when developing guidelines for a creative process there is usually some tension around rules. Rules can be extremely helpful and supportive, offering a framework for creativity or a set of criteria to which a brief can be fitted; but they can also sometimes seem restrictive. This tension between rules and openness was important to explore while working on The KNITSONIK System and when I was working on the early drafts, I felt your feedback and comments almost continually pushed for more open-ness.

Our discussions on this theme were really to have and I think that because of them the final text for The KNITSONIK System achieves a nice balance between offering useful rules without being overly proscriptive. While refining the system, I was looking for appropriate ways to visualise a good balance between rules and openness and I kept returning to the metaphor of a map. What I love about a map is that it does offer you some reassurance when you head into new lands, but detours are always allowed and getting lost or stumbling on wonders that are not marked are always possible! So in the final text for the book I have presented the system as a map, and an invitation to hack it is included in the introduction: there are plenty of reminders that the rules I have created really aren’t meant to hem anyone in.

However in spite of these developments I remained slightly haunted by the objections you raised to my rules in the early writing stages and I wondered what might be produced through entirely abandoning my rules or working in opposition to them. When you said you wanted to make a swatch, it felt natural to me to suggest that you hack the system in the process.

KNITSONIK System Swatch by TOMOFHOLLAND

The bottom half of my KNITSONIK Swatch; from bottom to top:

A row of the faces, but without features. This part was knitted flat, and used intarsia.

An attempt capture the flow of watercolour ink fading out on the paper. I used a mix of knit and purl stitches to blend the colour transitions a bit more, a feature often seen in the beautiful Bohus sweaters.

The start of what could become a grid of faces, the circles are knitted on a separate needle and the last row is knitted in with the main colour.

Capturing how the black ink bled into the yellow face in one of the forty faces. You can see the face in question in the gouache in the bottom row, second from the right.

A row of an enlarged mouth from one of the red faces.

A row showing the top knot of one of the faces.

A block of houndstooth check: the mouth chart two rows below reminded me of a houndstooth check, so I started exploring this further. The background contains all the shades that move from red via pink to white.

Tom: Have you hacked it yourself, or perhaps you felt safer sticking to your rules? How do you feel about the KNITSONIK System and its rules? How have they helped you, and how did they hinder you?

Felix: I find my rules very useful but will abandon them in an instant if they are encumbering a good idea! For me the rules really are only there to help and where they come into their own is at the outset of a project where my only thought is “I want to create stranded colourwork based on X”. I love that now I have a practical method for dealing with that impulse, and I truly enjoy the process very much. I used to faff about for ages trying to plan everything in advance whereas now I just grab all the colours I want to use and cast on, drawing designs in my notebook and refining them as I go. I find this really liberating and hope that other knitters using the book have the same experience.

I also like the discipline of trying to follow the rules around stitch widths included in the book because apart from anything else I think this is great practice for applying stranded colourwork to garment patterns. I am ultimately thinking towards applying personal stranded colourwork to garments and in this context the ability to understand the size of your canvas and adapt patterns to it is key. And although it’s not strictly necessary to make all the stitch patterns factors and multiples of one another, I enjoy the visual sense of rhythm and accents that occurs when they are.

Sometimes the rules are unhelpful though, and I have zero interest in sticking to them purely for the sake of it. For example the dandelion chart involves some long strands on the back of the work on a couple of rows, and I created an idea for celebrating my biscuit tin lid which is 18 stitches wide and therefore not a factor of 48. I also ignored my own rules about tall vertical columns of stitches while working on the Art Deco chart because the long verticals really are the whole point of that type of ziggurat 1930s architecture!

Biscuit Tin Swatch

The biscuit tin swatch with the offending stitch repeat of 18 stitches.

It’s all about that word balance; for me a framework gets me into a practical frame of mind and gives me a great jumping off point from which to innovate. A series of little briefs – pick colours; design a pattern; cast on; play with shading – is more inviting and manageable than a wide open idea.

I find that when a creative brief is too open the uncertainty will normally push me towards what I know and produce predictable results. Conversely I’ve discovered that if I set rules, manoeuvring within them forces me to innovate and often produces wondrous surprises. I think our Aleatoric Fair Isle project is a good example of this: the rules that we imposed on ourselves resulted in some very experimental Fair Isle knitting which was instructive and fun to create but which we could not easily  have been generated outside of that framework. The rules pushed us into new areas of knitterly thinking and problem-solving and I loved that!

KNITSONIK System Swatch 2

The top half of my KNITSONIK System swatch. Here I went completely off-piste. For most rows I used three colours per row, I didn’t chart anything, and the colours were added in at random. It’s a reflection of the (seemingly?) random choice of colour in the inspiration source. The larger squares in the bottom half of this picture all have two edges in a darker shade (even the black ones!) to mimick how the watercolour is never one solid colour. I also tried to keep the ratio of colour to white (the paper in the original) fairly similar.

Tom: I’m also thinking here about our experience with the Aleatoric Fair Isle where we found that we wanted to rebel against the rules we set out ourselves.

Felix: In a way rebelling against the rules of any system is just another way of creating a framework; but I love the energy and friction of rebellion! To me your amazing MEGASWATCH reads as a really elaborate and wholly positive critique of The KNITSONIK System; it has its own rules (must be a random number of stitches wide; must involve both flat and in-the-round construction; must use more than two colours per round; etc.) and I love how deliberately working outside of my rules has pushed your ideas about palettes and pattern into such exciting realms. There is a wonderful exuberance and thoroughness about the MEGASWATCH!

Aleatoric Fair Swatches

 

Two Aleatoric Fair Isle Swatches: Felix and I were inspired by a composition by John Cage and used similar ways to “compose” our swatches. Using a set of rules and the roll of the dice we left pattern and colour choices to chance.

Felix: I have questions for you though: did you find you had to create a set of guidelines for yourself and how did you approach the construction of your beauteous swatch?

Tom: we had a lot of discussions about how strict or free your rules in your book should be, and I feel that we both benefited from this. These discussions meant I had a good understanding of your system, which was important to start hacking it. However, my rules weren’t quite as strict as you imply (“must be a random number of stitches wide; must involve both flat and in-the-round construction; must use more than two colours per round; etc.”) I took a very organic approach to it and I hardly planned anything; there were no “musts.”

To me the most obvious hack would be to go against the stranded colourwork technique and knitting in the round. So, perhaps predictably, I quickly ended up using intarsia for the first hack. Then I moved on to knitting separate pieces (the row of circles are knitted on a separate needle in garter stitch).

Then I started to become more and more intrigued in how to depict the colour washes, and the bleeding of one colour into another. For this I wanted to use more than one colour per row. And in some areas I even twisted a short length of darker yellow around the bright yellow and knitted with that to get a good sense of the bleeding of the colours.

Faye Moorhouse, Forty Faces detail

I was inspired by the uneven coverage of the gouache inks and how some of the colours have bled into each other.

Of course, the one big rule in your book is to chart and chart again and refine them with each iteration. I hacked this big time! Apart from the big faces in intarsia and the houndstooth check (which I developed by blowing up one of the mouths) I didn’t chart anything. This really helped me reflecting the random colour choices of the faces in the original gouache.

KNITSONIK System Swatch Complete

Felix: do you wish I hadn’t asked you to HACK THE KNITSONIK SYSTEM?

Tom: I was more than happy to hack the system for you! It gave me a chance to really get into the underlying system, as I had to understand the rules first. Also, for me it shows how strong your book is. Yes, it does offer easy-to-follow steps and guidelines, but what it really highlighted to me was that you need to LOOK at things, and then inspiration will come, possibly with the aid of some exercises if you need some encouragement to get going. However, although not explicitly stated, I feel that the over-arching “take-home” message is that you can apply this to any type of knitting. Not just stranded and other colourwork such as intarsia, but with a bit of thinking about the different kind of rules you might need, you can easily apply your design process to textured knitting such as cables, or to lace knitting. And why stop with knitting? You can also feel inspired to create your own original crochet, needlepoint, or quilt designs. To me, that’s what I really learnt from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook.

If you want to know what others had to say about Felix’s book, then the other blog tour stops are listed below:

28th and 30th Oct – Ysolda Teague
31st Oct – Brenda Dayne
2nd Nov – Jamieson & Smith with Ella Gordon
4th Nov – Donna Druchunas
6th Nov – An Snag Breac
8th Nov – Fine Lightness
10th Nov – Perfect Weather for Spinning and Knitting with Deborah Gray
14th Nov – Deb Robson
28th Nov – Tom of Holland
30th Nov – Fyberspates
31st Nov – Editions of You with Lisa Busby
4th Dec – Lara Clements
6th Dec – Spilly Jane
8th Dec – Ella Austin
12th Dec – Susan Crawford

The book is available in the following formats:

UK hard copy
USA hard copy
Worldwide PDF download

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When Magnus from Foula Wool asked me last year to design a pattern for a men’s cardigan using his Foula Wool, I did not only delight in all the natural colours it comes in, but also by its texture. After I designed the cardigan I kept playing with the wool, and decided to try out some travelling stitches (also known as twisted stitches or Bavarian cables.)

I’m pleased to say that I managed to persuade Magnus that textured knits also work well in his yarn, and that it would be shame to limit his patterns to colourwork only. And here, dear readers, is the end result of my pleading:

Crofters Mittens knitting pattern by tomofholland

Crofters Mittens, showing a Celtic knot design on the back, and a twisted garter rib on the palm

The Crofters Mittens are designed to show off the excellent stitch definition of the Foula wool, and comes in three sizes (please note: cuff not included, which measures 2″ when folded back on itself):

Small: 7.5” circumference, length from wrist to tip: 7.5”

Medium: 8” circumference, length from wrist to tip: 8”

Large: 8.5” circumference, length from wrist to tip: 8.5”

Crofters Mittens knitting pattern by tomofholland

The first half of the ribbing is knitted on a bigger needle than the second half; this means the ribbing folds over nicely at the midway line and falls right into place

This pattern assumes you know how to knit twisted stitches and how to knit in the round using the Magic Loop technique. The mittens start of with a tubular cast-on. The first half of the ribbed cuff is knitted on slightly larger needles than the second of the cuff, to ensure it folds over neatly. The wrist is knitted in stocking stitch. The hand and the thumb are knitted in twisted stitches throughout. The shaping of the top at the back of the hand is cleverly hidden within the pattern.

The following special techniques are used in making these mittens:
Tubular cast-on with waste yarn, the tutorial follows below!
Twisted stitches (sometimes known as travelling stitches or Bavarian stitches, see Donna Druchunas’s detailed explanation of a number of techniques here: http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEff12/FEATff12EK.php I prefer the technique that doesn’t require a cable needle)
Twisted decreases (see abbreviations for explanation)
Magic Loop with long circular needle (see Kristin Fraser’s explanation here: http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEss14/FEATss14VT.php)

Of course, a pattern launch by me would not be complete without a tutorial! So, today I want to show you how I did the tubular cast-on for these mittens. I used to favour what’s usually called the Italian cast-on or alternating cast-on, which is a variation of the long-tail cast-on (although the needle movements are completely different.) But after reading Catherine Lowe‘s The Ravell’d Sleeve, I tried out her method and it gives me better results, and doesn’t depend on accurately maintaining the tension of your cast-on in order to look good.

You can buy the Crofters Mittens pattern here.

Tubular Cast-On Using Waste Yarn for Knitting in the Round

Assuming you want an even number of stitches for a 1×1 ribbing, first calculate how many stitches you need to cast on. If your ribbing is X stitches in the round, then add 2 to X. Then divide this by 2. This is how many stitches you will need to cast-on (for example, if your ribbing will be 52 stitches in the round, then 52 + 2 = 54, 54 / 2 = 27, so cast on 27 stitches.) Using smooth waste yarn and a circular needle one size smaller than you want to use for your ribbing, very loosely cast on calculated number of stitches with the long-tail cast-on method. Make sure to space the stitches far apart to create lots of stretch.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 01

long-tail cast-on with stitches spread wide apart

Now knit across the first row. At the end of the row, break off the waste yarn and attach the main yarn to the tail of the waste yarn. Turn work and then purl across to the end, then turn your work again.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 02

One row knitted with waste yarn, followed by a purl row in the main yarn

Now the fun begins! * knit 1, then increase by purling into the running thread between the stitch just knitted and the next stitch *, repeat from * to * to the last two stitches, and knit 1, purl 1. You have now reached the end of the row. Turn your work one more time.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 03

The running thread between the stitch just knitted and the next stitch is clearly visible just underneath the left needle tipTubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 04

With the left needle, you can lift up the running thread so it’s easier to work

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 05

The purl increase in the running thread completed

This is the last row worked flat. * Knit 1, bring yarn to front, slip the purl stitch purl-wise, then bring yarn to back * repeat from * to * to end. You have just ended on a purl stitch.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 06

The purl stitch is slipped from the left needle to the right needle without working it. Notice that the working thread has been brought to the front before slipping the stitch

You are now ready to join in the round. You can place a marker if you find this easier to find the beginning of the round. I’m using the Magic Loop technique. So, here goes: join in the round, and again * Knit 1, bring yarn to front, slip the purl stitch purl-wise, then bring yarn to back * repeat from * to * to end.. The tubular cast-on is now completed.

Now change your needle size to the one you wanted to use for your ribbing and knit the knits and purl the purls (so no more slipping of stitches.)

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 07

Tubular knitting of an extremely small tube in progress

You can leave the waste yarn in place until you have finished the object you’re making.

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 08

One tiny tube of knitting. The waste yarn was left in place

Once you’re ready to remove it, first unpick the knot holding the main yarn tied to the waste yarn, then very carefully cut off the cast-on row with scissors. As there’s an additional row of waste yarn, it should be quite easy to stay away from the edge of the ribbing.

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 09

The cutting of the cast-on row has started

 Once the cast-on row has been cut off, it should be fairly easy to unpick the remainder of the threads. Depending on where exactly you cut, you may be left with one last row of waste yarn peaking out of the ribbing. This is easily removed by carefully pulling on the waste yarn: it will come out as one strand.

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 10

As I cut close to the cast-on edge, I had a row of waste yarn remaining after I removed all the cut ends

All the is left to do, is use some judicious darning in of the yarn tail, et voila, your tubular cast-on is complete!

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 11

One tube with tubular cast-on. Can you work out where the beginning of the row was?

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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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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/

Read Full Post »

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/

Read Full Post »

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