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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.

AFI_No1_all

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

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

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

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Aleatoric Fair Isle Chart, with the all-important dice

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

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

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

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

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

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

AFI_No1_Swatch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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