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Posts Tagged ‘Jamieson and Smith’

People often ask me: Tom, how do you manage to do so many projects? The answer is very simple: I love stitching on the train. My daily thirty-minute commute means I have at least one hour a day of crafting time, and I’ll have something to work on during lunch hour, too.

However, there is a limit to what is manageable on the train. My Foula Cardigan is making good progress, which is great news, but it does mean it is now becoming somewhat unwieldy.

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Foula Cardigan in progress

So I have been looking for a smaller project to take on the train. When I met Sandra Manson and Martin Curtis during Wool House back in March, they asked me to work on some cushion covers, using Jamieson & Smith’s Heritage yarn. The Heritage yarn is a bit different from their regular jumper weight yarns: first of all, the colours are based on jumpers from the Shetland Museum and Archives collection. This means they are all flat colours, as opposed to the current trend of heathered shades. Secondly, the Heritage yarns are worsted spun. Therefore the yarn is smooth, and stronger than the woollen spun jumper weight yarns: perfect to indulge in a spot of embroidery.

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Shetland wool cushion, embroidered with Jamieson & Smith Heritage yarns

An easy project to take on the train, and it’s something I can do free-style. No need for patterns or charts to refer back to once in a while. No need to count stitches. I couldn’t help but use a stitch which I have been using a lot in darning lately: Scotch darning, although there are some other names going round for this stitch, too.

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Meta-embroidery: the lot numbers of the ball bands found their way into the design

At work I have a scrap paper doodle pad, as I find that doodling helps me think through things, and often I end up incorporating words I hear, or numbers I see on my computer screen, and this habit is hard to supress. Indeed, I ended up stitching the lot numbers of the ball bands.

Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book is endlessly inspiring, and I was intrigued by the square fillings used in crewel work:

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Patches of square filling stitches

Once you understand the principle, it is very easy to create your own variations. As the cushion cover fabric is very forgiving due to its thick, felted surface, it’s easy to try something and, if you don’t like it, to undo it again. No holes or other marks remain! I have made every patch free-handed. No measuring out or marking the fabric beforehand. This feels very natural, as my doodles are also often made up of grid-like structures that I fill in one way or another, and I relish the slight wonkiness this creates. To me it makes the rigid grids more alive.

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Couching, back stitches, French knots, weaving, and satin stitches

As you can see, the needles have not been put back in their needle case. I don’t think this cushion cover is quite finished yet. So keep an eye out on the train, you might see me stitching away, adding a last flourish to this cushion.

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Shetland Wool Week is only a month away, and that can only mean one thing: Felicity Ford and I are working hard on our Aleatoric Fair Isle swatches. We’ve created a number of rules which tell us how to roll dice and select pattern and colour combinations depending on the outcome, based on John Cage’s composition Apartment House 1776. Since knitting my first swatch, we’ve gone through some iterations of the rules, and after talking about my knitting experience, I feel it’s now time to talk about another part of our Aleatoric Fair Isle project.

In honour of our inspiration, the John Cage composition, Felicity and I have been recording notes about the sounds we hear whilst working on the Aleatoric Fair Isle swatches:

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 1 – close-up

Sound recording: listening to Pearl and the Beard’s album Killing The Darlings; faint sounds from the other room where my partner is watching Coronation Street; creaky noises from the wooden table which shakes as I write; the clock on the dresser ticking.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 2 – close-up (apologies, it’s upside-down)

Sound recording: the clock on the dresser ticking; traffic driving by; TV programme noises from the other room.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 3 – close-up

Sound recording: various music pieces drifting past on BBC Radio 3; the clock on the dresser ticking; the washing machine going into a spin cycle; traffic driving by.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 4 – close-up

Sound recording: knitting in the office during lunch time: listening to Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse on my iPod; clacking keyboards; office chatter. On another occasion: listening to BBC Radio 3; traffic going by; washing machine.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 5 – close-up

Sound recording: whilst knitting on the train, train announcements, someone munching on crisps and the slight slurp of licking fingers; on the iPod listening to David Bowie’s album Station to Station.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 6 – close-up

Sound recordings: the clock on the dresser ticking; BBC Radio 3 music drifting in and out of my ears.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 7 – close-up

Sound recordings: knitting at home, listening to a CD with music composed by Giacinto Scelsi and Hans Zender; occasionally noticed the traffic going by; the startled sound of me accidentally hitting the worklamp.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 8 – close-up

Sound recordings: knitting on the train, listening to Stockhausen’s Stimmung on my iPod; noises from the train filter through, as does the occasional announcement.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 9 – close-up

Sound recordings: traffic passing by; the clock on the dresser ticking; snippets of YouTube clips coming through from the other room.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 10 – close-up

Sound recordings: listening to BBC Radio 3, a live broadcast from the Proms where they were playing Shostakovich’s 11th symphony; traffic going by, a bus’s squeaking brakes; as we live close to the train station in a basement flat, I can hear the thunder of a train pulling in as it travels through the ground; the clock on the dresser ticking.

I find a lot of rhythm in Fair Isle knitting: a pattern is built up by repeating its elements, patterns and colours repeat throughout a garment. In the case of Aleatoric Fair Isle, these repeats are sometimes syncopic: the pattern repeats and the colour repeats are not always synchronised, for example, see swatches 2, 8 and 9 above. And so it is with the sounds I’ve recorded so far. There are many recurring sounds, but not always at the same time; if I hear the clock on the dresser ticking, I might be casting on, charting, knitting, or tying knots in the cut steek. In contrast to the aleatoric experience, where I roll the dice to make a choice, many of the sounds I have recorded are completely out of my control. Yes, I consciously choose to listen to CDs and radio, which gives me a varying level of control of what I hear, but, as you have seen, there are always other sounds to hear, too.

And so it is with the Aleatoric Fair Isle: using 21 shades of all the beautiful Jamieson and Smith colours as selected by Felicity, colours and patterns play with each other in unexpected ways. We are looking forward to presenting our findings at Shetland Wool Week 2013. Our talk “Interesting Yarns and Aleatoric Fair Isle” is on Thursday, 10 October, 17:30-19:30 at the Shetland Museum and Archives.

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

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

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

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

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Aleatoric Fair Isle Chart, with the all-important dice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WOVEMBER2012 is approaching fast, about which a bit more later. First, I want to tell you about a blanket I have just finished – just in time for Wovember! Having worked on a few projects which required a lot of thinking, I wanted to knit something from a pattern, so I didn’t have to think too much about what I was doing. Having ogled at Kate Davies’s beautiful Rams and Yowes Blanket ever since she released the pattern, the choice was quickly made. It’s knitted in nine, yes NINE! natural shades of Shetland wool. Just look at it:

Isn’t it just gorgeous? Kate has used this natural pallette to great effect in this very contemporary design. But there is more to this blanket than meets the eye. It juxtaposes modern design against traditional construction – although it also includes Kate’s very own ‘steek sandwich’, about which you can find more on her tutorial page.

The construction mostly follows that of a modern Shetland lace shawl (traditional Shetland lace shawls were knitted in pieces and made whole with a combination of picking up stitches and grafting together): first you knit the centre square, then you pick up stitches all around to start the border, lastly you finish it off by knitting on an edging. As Kate used a stranded colourwork technique, the centre square is actually knitted as a tube, as that makes that MUCH easier. The tube includes a few steek stitches. Once the tube is finished, the steek is cut, and you can open up the tube into a square.

Then you pick up stitches along all four edges of this square to start knitting the border in garter stitch; of course, as the border is knitted in the round, this means alternating knit rounds with purl rounds. In order for it to lie flat, the corners are mitred and I accentuated this by knitting the corner stitch on every round. It also neatly disguises the jog when you change colours.

Like a traditional lace shawl, this blanket also has an edging:

It may seem inconsequential, but this garter stitch border has an applied i-cord edging (difficult to see in this picture I’m afraid). As the border consists of a double layer (this hides the cut edges of the steek), it had a very soft rolling edge where it folds over from front to back. Adding an i-cord edge makes it look much sharper and finished. As each new colour is introduced on a purl row – often a no-no in colourwork knitting – they visually blend in really well. Genius! Here’s a shade card I made of all those gorgeous nine natural colours of Shetland fleece. The numbers refer to the Jamieson & Smith official shades:

I really like the steely grey of shaela and at some point I’d like a jumper knitted in just that colour. In the blanket, I particularly love the combination of sholmit against gaulmogot, although secretly the garter stitch border is my very favourite element. Although the design itself is not traditional, Kate has used some typical Fair Isle colour combination rules: both background and motif colour change within the pattern and these colour changes are usually mirrorred along the central axis.

Despite the appearance of the patterns, which shows highly stylised yowes (the Scottish word for ‘ewes’ or female sheep) and rams’ heads, this is not the easiest pattern to knit, due to the long floats at the back. I solved this by weaving in extra-long floats. Additionally, after washing the blanket, I ‘fulled the back’ by rubbing the back of the blanket with the palms of my hands. This starts the felting process, but you stop well before the knitted fabric turns into felt. This means that the floats start to integrate a bit with the knitted fabric, giving a neater finish.

I can’t think of a better blanket to celebrate Wovember2012 with! As I will be busy helping out over at Wovember, I will be spending less time on my own blog for the duration of it. In addition to all the admin side of getting blog posts together and scheduling them etc, I have also planned to sew a pair of woollen trousers, so I will be very busy indeed – come join me at WOVEMBER and share your love of WOOL with us!

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It must’ve been almost a year ago now, that my mother asked me to knit her a lace scarf. For some reason, this was quite a big thing for me. My mother used to be a really good knitter (she doesn’t knit much anymore), although I don’t remember her ever knitting lace. Nonetheless, I knew she would really appreciate the skill, time and effort involved in knitting a lace scarf, which is something that non-knitters don’t really seem to get somehow. But it also felt as an acknowledgement that I, a man, and her son, can actually also be taken seriously as a knitter.

Originally I was going to knit a scarf from Jane Sowerby’s Victorian Lace Today (it was to be the Melon Pattern for a shawl or scarf, since you ask), but I just didn’t fancy knitting one long strip of the same pattern. So I set myself a small challenge, and I decided to design my own scarf. To make the chosing patterns a bit easier from all the lace knitting books I have, I was only allowed to use stitch patterns from Sarah Don’s The Art of Shetland Lace. I have always liked the look of Print o’ the Wave, so I went for a more elaborate variation of this for the centre of the scarf. I think you can see here how this name must have come about, it really does look like the ripples left on a sandy beach when the tide goes out:

This is one of the few traditional Shetland patterns on a stocking stitch ground (they are more often than not garter stitch based). So I wanted the border pattern also to be based on stocking stitch. As Print o’ the Wave is something left behind by the sea, I liked the idea of contrasting this with something left behind by a land-based thing. So I chose Fir Cone, with its pleasing curving stocking stitch columns wending their way around the fir cones:

Chosing the lace edging proved more difficult: I had already knitted the centre and borders, before I had finally decided on the lace edging. I didn’t really like any the separate edging samples in Don’s book for this scarf, so after much deliberation, I chose the edging from “Baby’s Shawl in Several Patterns”.

One of the elements that I really like of this particular lace edging, is the faggotting along the straight edge. As you can see, the lace holes are elongated and alternate slanting to the left and the right. But unlike the Print o’ the Wave and the Fir Cone patterns, which are very organic in their design and therefore easy to memorise (after knitting one repeat of either, I didn’t have to refer back to my charts, which really speeds up the knitting), this lace edging turned out to be more elusive.

If you study the top chart (you can click on the picture for a close-up view), you can see that the yarnovers and the decreases keep changing their relative positions in the centre and right side of the chart. The zigzag points were easy to comprehend – they are a standard design element. But even after highlighting the yarnovers on the bottom chart, I just could not get this pattern in my head and I had to refer to the chart for every row every single time. On paper, placement of the decrease on the left or the right side of a yarnover made sense, but once on the needles, they suddenly seemed randomly placed. But looking at the end result, I’m very pleased to have persevered. I’m very proud of this scarf, and I hope I have done my mother proud, too.

Raveled here.

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