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Ethel Mairet (1872-1952) was an exceptional weaver and dyer, who’s influence can still be felt today. She was a member of the small but vigorous crafts community in Ditchling, where she established an influential weaving workshop at Gospels, alongside Eric Gill, Edward Johnston and Douglas Pepler. Mairet was greatly interested in demonstrating and educating, teaching weaving at the Brighton School of Art, exhibiting her work widely, publishing a number of books and articles and producing what she referred to as ‘textile portfolios’ with accompanying pamphlets to support teaching.

She has also been an important teacher to and collaborator with other well-known hand-weavers such as Mary Barker, Peter Collingwood, and Marianne Straub.

Ethel Mairet Weaver and Dyer Sign

The sign for Ethel Mairet’s workshop at Gospels, Ditchling

I’m fascinated by her approach to texture, colour, and fibre, and I had a very enjoyable afternoon with fellow textile appreciators Louise Spong and Jenny Dean, looking at the Mairet collection at the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, and seeing some of Mairet’s work up close. Mairet has written a small number of books on weaving and dyeing, and Vegetable Dyes; Being a book of Recipes and other information useful to the Dyer was first published exactly 100 years ago.

Ethel Mairet, Hand-Weaving today; vegetable dyes

My copies of Hand-weaving To-day; Traditions and Changes; and Vegetable Dyes; Being a book of Recipes and other information useful to the Dyer

Talking to natural dye expert Jenny Dean it soon became clear to me that Vegetable Dyes is very much of its time, and a modern-day dyer would perhaps struggle with some of her recipes, and certain mordants used by Mairet, such as chrome, are now no longer in use as they are very poisonous.

Dye Garden at Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft

The grounds of the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft contain a dye garden. Jenny is seen inspecting the dyer’s broom

Ethel Mairet Madder Samples

Weave samples using madder-root dyed wool. Wonderful to see these were clearly off-cuts from the sewing room

Ethel Mairet natural colour samples

Mairet also used undyed natural colour wool to great effect

Hand-weaving To-day, on the other hand, shows an acute understanding of hand-weaving and industrial development, and her success at the hand-loom has not, however, prejudiced her against the machine, which can be directed in the service of quality. She was inspired by methods of the French cloth house Rodier, which employed hand-weavers to make highly regarded modern fabrics.

Ethel Mairet Rodier Samples

Samples labelled ‘Rodier’; I’m assuming these were fabric samples from Rodier, to serve as inspiration

Many of Mairet’s fabrics combined different fibre types, natural and dyed yarns, and machine-made and handspun yarns to great effect. On the whole Mairet herself preferred to use simple weaving techniques, and concentrate on colour and combining differenty textured yarns instead, but other weavers in her workshop used more complex weaving techniques to great effect.

Ethel Mairet plaid sample

A typical Ethel Mairet plain weave fabric, combining subtly varying yarn weights, and a certain penchant for combining yellow and grey

Ethel Mairet Textured Sample

Some very bold samples combining colour and texture to great effect. These pieces come from Mairet’s workshop, but are most likely woven by one of her co-workers or students

Ethel Mairet various samples

Fabric scraps showing an exciting combination of fibre types, colour (both natural and dyed) and texture

One thing that really stood by me when I first read Hand-weaving To-day was Mairet’s excitement about synthetic yarns. Although I personally prefer natural fibres, Mairet felt that with developing and producing synthetic fibres ‘…the chief error was the close copying of the natural fibres – and the names ‘artifical silk’, ‘artificial wool’, etc., which suggested to the mind materials of very secondary quality. Instead of creating a quality of its own, a new fabric entirely unknown and unforeseen – a new art of the textile world – so far, all it has done is to copy silk, to copy tweeds, velvets, and other materials. […] Cellophane as used by the great textile artists such as Otti Berger, or Rodier, or some of the Finnish weavers, become textiles of rare beauty, holding their place with the greatest textiles of the world. […] The combination of synthetic materials with natural materials holds great possibilities for the hand-spinner and weaver[.]’ (E Mairet, Hand-weaving To-day, 1938) I was very excited to find some samples showing exactly what she meant:

Ethel Mairet Sample with Cellophane

One example of Mairet’s use of cellophane, giving a subtle glistening quality to the fabric, and, I imagine, it might also impart a light rustling noise when manipulated

Ethel Mairet sample with synthetic yarn

There were no notes with this sample, but the golden weft threads just above the black ones appear to be synthetic

The output of Mairet’s weaving room was not only sold as fabrics, but also made up into clothes and accessories. The weaving room at Gospels served as an informal shop most weekends, and in addition, Mairet sold through some small galleries, and used to have a shop on 68a East Street, Brighton.

Ethel Mairet Silk Scarf

A silk scarf in delicate colours

Ethel Mairet Beret

Scraps from the sewing room were used to make beautiful berets. This particularly fine example shows off the rich colours used in the weaving room

Visiting the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft and seeing their Ethel Mairet collection has allowed me to get a better understanding of her forward-thinking approach to creating textiles, and it remains a constant source of inspiration and motivation for me as I continue to explore and find my way through ‘slow textiles’.

As the Ditchling Museum is only small, there is necessarily not much on display; so if you wish to see the Ethel Mairet collection, then you can find more information here to make an appointment.

If you wish to learn more about Ethel Mairet, then I can highly recommend A Weaver’s Life, Ethel Mairet1872-1952, by Margot Coatts, published by Crafts Study Centre, Bath, 1983.

Note: unless otherwise stated, all pictures are taken at the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, with their kind permission.

My friend Karina Westermann, perhaps better known as Karie Bookish, is planning to release a new collection of knitting patterns. Inspired by the age of Johan Gutenberg and the printing revolution in medieval Europe, ten knitting patterns and accompanying essays will be presented in a beautiful book. Her Kickstarter campaign runs until 22 June 2016, which has already smashed her goal of £9,700 in just 25 hours! Read more on Karie’s blog to find out how she’ll spend the extra money.

Karie "Bookish" Westermann

Karie ” Bookish” Westermann

Meanwhile, I had a chat with Karie about her new book:

Tom: Of course, manuscripts have moved from being written by hand to being printed. The books would be assembled by hand, and that has now also been mechanised. Nowaways, “machine-made” books are the norm. I can see some parallels with knitting, but also some differences. Unlike machine made books, machine knitting is seen by many as “cheating”. I’d love to know whether you’ve found any parallels or differences between creating manuscripts and knitting you’d like to share?

Karie: I was so excited this year when I learned that the Met in New York City had an exhibition called “Manus x Machina” – maybe it is one of those instances when you are obsessed by something and you begin to see it everywhere, but I am really intrigued by the movement from “one of a kind” handmade objects to mass production of objects. While The Met showcases haute couture, I am (obviously?) more preoccupied with the notion of everyday things. Things that were once treasured rarities but that have become disposable through ubiquity.

This Thing of Paper Sample Swatch

You’ll have to wait a while to find out what this mystery bit of knitting will become! This Thing of Paper is due for release Spring 2017

For me, the leap from clothes to books is a natural one. From High Street shops to easy online shopping, both clothes and books are objects that can be easily acquired, consumed and disposed (and then re-acquired through charity shops). The cycle of consumption is remarkably similar. Yet this level of consumption is something relatively recent.

I am really interested in how items like clothes or books became so ubiquitous and why we (general we) treat them with so little care. It did not happen overnight and there have been previous intersections (like William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement) that sought to address how mechanisation makes us think of objects in certain ways. I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about these intersections (and I believe we are currently in the midst of one) and how we relate to things through their mode of production.

As for This Thing of Paper, each pattern will be accompanied by an essay that looks at an aspect of this overarching hand/machine theme – you might say a quasi-literary way of writing your way around topic in order to examine it. So, yes, I have found stories I can tell about 14th/15th/16th century book productions that are as relevant to us as makers – and maybe, just maybe, also to us as consumers.

Tom: As you may know, I’ve created a series of gloves called The Reading Gloves,  where I took inspiration from classic novels and created gloves to portray some of the main characters. Did you use any specific manuscripts as an inspiration source, and how did they inform the design?

Karie: First of all, I should make clear that This Thing of Paper is divided into three separate sections: 1) Manuscript which covers 14th century manuscripts, 2) Invention which covers 15th century incunabula (early printed books), and 3) Printed which cover 16th century printed books. It is a bit of an artificial divide for a myriad of reasons (as book historians would be happy to discuss about for hours!) but one I have decided is useful for my purpose.

My real love is incunabula – books printed between c1440 and 1501. They are not as visually sumptuous as many manuscripts, but I love them because they combine made-by-hand with made-by-machine to such a degree that you cannot fully argue that they are mass produced objects. I digress – but I have worked quite extensively with the wonderful Glasgow Incunabula Project and was thrilled when they had a special exhibition on this project in 2015. I have also spent time with digitalised collections from the British Library, The Royal Library in Copenhagen, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, and others. The internet is a wonderful resource, though nothing beats seeing the books in person.

This Thing of Paper Sample Swatch

Knitting and books, a wonderful combination

As a rule, I have looked more at the material qualities of the source material rather than the content of the books (though the title of my book is actually derived from a 15th century treatise on the evils of printing!). I find the material and visual aspects far more interesting than the specific books themselves – with one notable exception which is a 16th century embroidery manual which has informed a key design. I am definitely more interested in the abstract, conceptual stories than in the very specific, textual ones. When I was in academia, I started out looking at Books as Literature but I gradually shifted towards looking at Books as Objects – I often think about how that dichotomy relates to how I approach designing knitting patterns. I mean, I’m obviously really interested in designing things that are really wearable, but I am also intensely interested in embedding bigger concepts into my work. (I am still really proud of the Ronaes shawl from Doggerland which is a very pretty shawl, but also had the knitter working with the ideas of liminality and inner/our landscapes).

Tom: the inks used in old manuscripts will have been made from natural dyes or pigments. I’m thinking about a project of a friend I worked on, Knitting The Map http://www.knittingthemap.org/ where an old map of Brighton became the inspiration for a community project using local wools, dyed with plant-based dyes, as the inks used for the map used pigments from the same sources.  How have you taken this into consideration for colour choices?

Karie: Yes and no. I have obviously spent time looking at source materials and figuring out the colour palette(s) I will be using. I have an overarching colour palette for the entire book, but each story (or chapter?) will have its own defined colour palette. Many of the pigments used in the original books would have been mineral-derived and made in small quantities (both related & unrelated: here’s a fantastic article talking about why so many of those brilliant colours are unavailable to us today.)

This Thing of Paper Stranded Knitting Colourwork Swatch

A tantalising glimpse at the colour palette for This Thing of Paper

I did consider whether I wanted to hunt down colours that would have been available in the 14th-16th centuries and I also spent time trying to find yarns that gave me that same sense (because This Thing of Paper is implicitly about we experience things) as paper or vellum did. Eventually I decided that I did not want to replicate or offer a representation of 14th, 15th or 16th century life. Much in the same way I wasn’t trying to reconstruct clothing from that time. What I am much more interested in doing is trying to understand 21st century life using 700 year-old items as a magnifying glass.

Having said that, I am collaborating with Blacker Yarns and a small selection of hand dyers – and all my collaborators are working with me on a colour palette that is derived from the colours I see in my source material – both the gloriously rich mineral-derived pigments of 14th century manuscripts and the more subdued hues you find in aged paper and faded ink in later books.

Thank you, Karie, for talking about your new project. I can’t wait to see it materialise, read the esssays, and see the knitting projects!

This Thing of Paper is due to be published in spring 2017, and I’m looking forward to seeing this book falling on my doorstep.. The next stop on the tour is Devon based designer Ella Austin. You can catch the full list of blog tour participants here.

Hexa Hap

If a dear friend asks you to contribute to a new book, then it’s hard to say no. And if that new book is by Kate Davies, with contributions by some of the most exciting and innovative knitwear designers currently around, then you know it’s going to be an exciting publication! Kate’s new book is called The Book of Haps, and is now available to pre-order; shipping will start as soon as the books have returned from the printers, see details at the end of this post.

Kate’s new book is a collection of essays about haps, which were shawls knitted by Shetland women as everyday items, as opposed to the fancy lace wedding ring shawls that are perhaps better known today. In addition, Kate has asked twelve designers to come up with their own interpretation of a hap, including myself.

Please note: all images in this post are by Tom Barr, ©Kate Davies Designs, and used with kind permission

Hexa Hap Shawl

We chatted about my design, the Hexa Hap, a little while ago and I think you’d love to hear more about it. So here is Kate’s interview with me (also published on Kate’s blog this morning):

Kate Davies: One of the many things I enjoy about your work is the way you use the deeply technical aspects of fabric creation or manipulation to produce really innovative designs. Can you tell us about how Cecelia Campochiaro’s Sequence Knitting inspired your Hexa Hap?

Tom: Campochiaro’s book on Sequence Knitting, which described very simple methods to create complex textured fabrics, is a ground-breaking work. The book is littered with many beautiful photographs: although every method is illustrated with swatches in grey yarn, sequence knitting lends itself well for using colour, as evidenced by many of the projects in the book. However, that’s not what I wanted to concentrate on with the Hexa Hap. What struck me is that all of the stitch patterns are reversible in some way: some are identical on both right side and wrong side, others are just aesthetically reversible (right side and wrong side are completely different, but both present a pleasing texture), some fall in between. I found this reversibility a very attractive quality for a shawl as you can wear it every which way; preserving this reversibility was the main driver for the techniques and patterns I’ve used. This goes for the lace edging (Campochiaro’s Sequence Knitting is knits and purls only) and the reversible intarsia twist technique I “unvented.” In addition, some of the sequence techniques involve decreasing at the end of every row, creating triangles, and this led me to brush off my books on modular knitting. . .

tom4 copy


Kate: Can you tell us a little about the process of designing your Hexa Hap? Where did you begin? Did everything turn out the way that you expected, or were there any surprises?

Tom: The idea for a modular shawl or blanket (originally without lace edging) came to me soon after seeing the triangular swatches inSequence Knitting. Not being a shawl wearer myself, and not in need of yet another blanket, I squirreled away the idea. But every time I opened Sequence Knitting, the idea developed a bit further in my head. So by the time you asked me to contribute to your own book, I had an almost fully formed design in my head. It was then a question of finding the right stitch pattern for the lace edging, and working out some of the reversibility challenges. Swatching soon confirmed that my ideas would work, and the only real surprise for me was the swirl that gets formed in the centre of the shawl. I had expected to have straight lines separating the triangles. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was the lace edging, which I wanted to be in a different colour from the centre. I tried out a few things before settling on the intarsia technique and knit the whole thing in one go. Again, the driver here was reversibility. Picking up stitches along the edge of the centre, or knitting on an edge, wasn’t quite so reversible in a DK weight yarn.

tom8 copy


Kate: Your pattern includes options to knit full, half or 2/3 hexa haps, because of the design’s modular construction. Can you explain a little more about this?

Tom: The Hexa Hap is constructed by knitting a triangle with a lace edging on one of its edges. When the first triangle is complete, you pick up stitches along another edge, and knit another triangle. You continue adding more triangles until you have three, four, or six triangles. The Half Hexa Hap and the 2/3 Hexa Hap are quite easy to finish, as they require a knitted on i-cord edging. The full-sized Hexa Hap has a sting in its tail, as there is a seam to be closed, attaching the selvedge of the last triangle to the base of the first one. In order to preserve the reversibility, the seam is grafted closed in pattern. Once this is completed, it has proven to be rather difficult to work out the construction of the shawl, and some of the people who have seen it assumed it was knitted from the centre outwards on circular needles. I first came across the technique I’ve used for grafting in pattern on Fleegle’s blog . In her blog post she describes how she uses waste yarn to knit the row that will be grafted. The waste yarn will be removed once the grafting is finished. Despite my large reference library, Fleegle’s blog is all I could find about it, so I’ve made a video tutorial to help knitters along the way, in case the written instructions require some additional illustration. (Note that this video tutorial illustrates grafting in pattern in the context of the Hexa Hap design only!)

tom schematic


Kate: your reversible intarsia twist is a technique that you’ve “unvented” for this design. Can you describe what it involves and why its useful for this design?

Tom: With intarsia you twist the two colours around each other at the “seam” and with regular intarsia this shows on the wrong side of the work. As I was hell-bent on keeping the Hexa Hap completely reversible, I played around with the intarsia technique until I came up with something that would make it look the same on both sides. It’s a very simple variation, where you cross the old colour underneath the new colour, and then bring the old colour between the needles to the front of the work. The yarns now twist around each other inside the fabric, so to speak, rather than at the back.

tom2 copy
tom1 copy

Kate: I think there is something fundamentally pleasing about hexagonal shapes, and I love naturally occurring hexagon patterns from bees honeycomb to tortoise shells. Do you feel a similar hexagonal affinity? And do you enjoy exploring the structure of other geometric shapes in your knitting and other work?

Tom: Hexagonal affinity; what a great term! I don’t think I have a particular affinity with hexagonal shapes, but I do like geometry and repetitions in general. In particular I like it when repetitions go slightly askew. So to have the swirl appear in the shawl is, to me, a beautiful coincidence. In addition, I’m interested in texture, another reason why I find Campochiaro’s book so stimulating.

tom7 copy

Kate: I really enjoyed styling and modelling your hexa hap, and found it very wearable, in much the same manner as a Shetland hap. Like a Shetland hap, I also think it would make a wonderful blanket for a baby. I also found myself wearing one of the mini-hexa haps you made as a kerchief to keep my neck warm when I was helping Tom out on our Shetland photoshoots. It’s such a versatile design! I love the sample so much I don’t really want to send it back, but I wondered how you intended to wear or use it when I did?

tom12 copy

Tom: Thank you very much, I’m so pleased to hear you like it so much! As I don’t wear shawls myself, it was a bit of a leap of faith to design one. I could see myself wearing a mini half Hexa Hap as a kerchief (thanks for the idea), but the full-sized one I would use as a blanket. There’s nothing more I enjoy of a winter’s evening than to cuddle up under a warm woolly blanket.

tom11 copy

Kate: yes, I think it would make a wonderful baby blanket or lap blanket – and I was very hap-py to be happed up in it!

tom10 copy

These photographs were taken at Da Brigs near Vementry in Shetland – a very special place.

tom5 copy


Thankyou so much, Tom, for creating your fabulously innovative Hexa Hap!

The Book of Haps is now available to pre-order. You can see all of the designs as they appear each day on Ravelry and be sure to pop over to Jen’s blog tomorrow when the next hap will be revealed!Hexa Hap Shawl

Recently, I was invited to deliver the keynote speech at Cultures of Repair: Past and Present, a one-day conference to conclude A Remedy for Rents, an exhibition of darning samplers from the Whitelands College Collection.

Curated by Vivienne Richmond, head of Goldsmiths History Department, A Remedy for Rents showcased a rare collection of exceptionally fine needlework by working-class women in the last quarter of the 19th century. As students at Whitelands College, the first all-female teacher training college, now part of the University of Roehampton, the women were training to teach in elementary schools for working-class children and their needlework focused on the production and repair of simple garments and household textiles.

Remedy for Rents offered a rare opportunity to see needlework by non-elite Victorian women, but illuminates also the history of working-class dress, female education and gendered roles, experiences and expectations in 19th-century Britain and beyond. If you missed this exhibition, then you will have a second chance to catch it again, see details at the end of this post.

Photography credit: all the images I’m showing here were taken by David Ramkalawon, and all items belong to the Whitelands College Collection, University of Roehampton, and are used with kind permission.

Note: simply click on an image to get a closer view of the exquisite needlework

Specimens of Needlework Whitelands College

Specimens of Needle Work, Whitelands College K.S. 1902. This unassuming leatherbound book contains a stunning collection of extraordinary needlework

The items on display are of an an amazingly high quality, and provide me with a lot of inspiration, and something to aspire to. The book shown above holds page after page of darning samplers and plain sewing samplers, each and every one of them showing the very best needlework.

Sampler by Annie Hewins 1879

Sampler made by Annie Hewins, 1879. It shows a combination of darns, damask darns, patching, decorative borders and buttonholes. All made by hand

Tailored buttonhole by Annie Hewins 1879, Whitelands College Collection

Close-up of one of the buttonholes from the sampler shown above

Whereas most of the darning and embroidery samplers I’ve seen from the late 19th century are no longer of the finest quality displayed in work from earlier centuries, the work displayed by the teachers in training at Whitelands College is an exception, and it’s almost inconceivable that they were all made by hand. I’m particularly fond of the many fancy handworked buttonholes; I’ll be giving them a go when the opportunity arises.

I’ll share more images from the needlework on display throughout this post, but I’d also like to share with you the one-day conference. Vivienne Richmond talked about past cultures of repair. Needlework was a respectable way for a woman to earn some money, both teaching it, or providing needlework as a service to other households. Obviously, learning needlework is a very hands-on approach, and the Whitelands College Collection is a prime example of the students’ work. If you want to know a bit more about this, then I can recommend the blog posts I wrote about darning samplers from the Fries Museum (parts 1, 2, and 3). She also touched on the Make Do and Mend campaign of World War 2, and all those middle-class women who, with the very best intentions, wanted to teach working class women on how to mend their clothes and to be careful with resources. Needless to say their reception was rather mixed, as for working class women making do and mending was already part and parcel of their lives.

Sleeve with darning detail, Whitelands College Collection

One of the many practice pieces: a sleeve with cuff, ruffle, patching, darning, and stitching

After learning about repair in the past, we moved on to a number of artists and makers who use repair as part of their practice:

Lizzie Cannon has a background in geography and as a result her artwork reflects her keen sense of space and place. She gathers discarded items which get augmented by adding other elements, often using embroidery techniques. Her ongoing project Mended Leaves investigates how mending reflects, and sometimes accelerates, decay of delicate structures. The threads used to mend the holes in the leaves are carefully matched with the leaf is still fresh, but later contrasts with the changed colour once the leaf has dried.

Katherine May works as a designer, researcher and facilitator tracing the threads that weave together textiles and society. Through research and making she explores the origins of materials and the story of techniques. Her projects often reflect specific social contexts and emphasise participation through the dressing or inhabiting of these spaces, that she uses as a platform to engage people in an imaginative and sensory relationship with cloth. This was seen in Water – Colour a site specific installation where a ritual of practice evolved through indigo dyeing on site over 2 months. With her work she aims to expose the relational aspects of textiles and subvert prevailing processes of value production.

Ruby Hoette  works independently as a designer/curator/researcher exploring fashion in context through the intersection of theory and practice. Her projects reveal patterns of use and often investigate the construction of value and meaning in fashion. The WORN_RELICS project was launched in 2008. It is an interactive online archive in which the stories and memories attached to garments can be collected and shared. The project explores the idea that clothing acquires value over time through being worn. It is a platform for the communication of the creativity and innovation that can be found in the diverse ways we interact with clothing in everyday life.

Miniature Knitted Sock, Whitelands College Collection

Many items were made on a miniature scale. They’re easily confused with dolls clothes, but their main purpose was to learn all the different sewing techniques and construction of all manner of garments. This lace sock measures no more than 4.5cm (less than 2in) in height. I guesstimate it has about 60 stitches in the round.

Those of you who have been following my blog, may have noticed that many of the other artists and makers’ themes and interests are reflected in my own practice, so my keynote speech tied it all nicely together. I spoke about my love of old sewing and needlework books; my issues with using the phrase ‘make do and mend’ in the 21st century, when many people make the choice between replacing or repairing; aspects of Japanese crafts such as boro and sashiko, but at the same time trying to bring things back to local culture; learning from studying samplers (see links to Fries Museum above); and my bottomless mending basket at home.

Detail of sampler made by Witteridge, Whitelands College Collection

A darn made to emulate a jersey (machine knitted) fabric, which is made by stem stitching over foundation threads that go across the hole

I also discussed my shift in focus, or end point, of a garment. If I aim to wear clothes for a long time, than I will have to acknowledge that they will need some repairs at some point. With that in mind, when I make my own clothes, a garment isn’t really finished when I cast off that last stitch, or sew in some ends. I know there is more work to be done down the line. So those finishing touches are not final, but merely one of the stops on the journey of the garment’s life. To me, making and repairing are no longer discrete activities, they belong together, and the boundaries between the two are blurred: repairing is making.

Whitelands College Collection Sample Garment

A miniature undershirt as a way of learning all aspects of technique and construction of undershirts

If you want to catch Remedy for Rents at Roehampton, then please know that they don’t have a webpage for the exhibition yet, but in the meantime people are welcome to contact Gilly King: Gilly.King@roehampton.ac.uk for further information. The exhibition is opening there on 14 May, 2016 and running to July (actual closing date tbc).

After my interview with Cecelia Campochiaro about Sequence Knitting, I was very eager to cast on a project and use her innovative techniques. Let me explain briefly what ‘sequence knitting’ is: by repeating a simple unit of knit and purl stitches over and over again, it is possible to create a complex textured fabric. A simple sequence knit example would be a 2×2 ribbing. You cast on a multiple of 4 stitches, and repeat the unit ‘knit 2, purl 2’ until you reach the end of the row. On the next row, you can start again with the unit. By playing around with the unit, and the number of stitches cast on, you can create very complex patterns indeed. They would be a nightmare to follow in a chart, but by memorising the unit, it is, in principle, very easy to knit.

Sequence Sweater Arms Wide Open

Easy knitting makes you feel good!

 

So, when my partner Anthony wanted a new sweater, we went yarn shopping and he set his heart on The Uncommon Thread‘s BFL Fingering in ‘Fe2O3’, which is a colourway custom-dyed for Yarn and Knitting, Brighton’s newest yarn shop. The sequence knitting needs something that will show up stitch definition, and from pictures in Campochiaro’s book it was also evident that a hand-dyed yarn would look wonderful. The slight irregularities resulting from hand-dyeing, combined with knits and purls makes for a very vibrant and lively looking fabric.

Sequence Sweater Standing

A comfy sweater in a soft yarn

Anthony wanted a sweater with plenty of ease and nothing too warm, so I psyched myself up for a project that would take me a long time to make: frequently changing knits and purls and a fingering weight yarn meant slow progress. The sequence knitting was easily committed to memory and almost drop-shoulder shaping meant there was little shaping to worry about for the front and back panel and those two parts were easily knitted. However, in this particular sequence pattern, the number of stitches cast on were not a multiple of the number of stitches in the unit, which meant that at the end of the row your unit was not completed. On the next row, you complete the unit. So, for armhole, neck, and sleeve shaping I had to come up with a method of keeping track of where to continue.

Sequence Sweater Chart

A sequence knitting chart. The numbers represent a block of knits or purls in a unit, and the shading shows how it shows on the right side of the fabric

It turns out that Cecelia has used similar methods when knitting something that included shaping. The chart may look confusing, but the only thing you need to know is how to continue at the beginning of a row so you know how to complete a unit. After that it’s plain sailing until the beginning of the next row.

So although the front and the back panel were easier to knit, as I didn’t have to refer to these kind of charts very often, I found that feeling to be making progress was more evident when knitting the sleeves: with such skinny yarn it can feel like you haven’t done a lot of knitting at all, as the fabric doesn’t grow quickly, and it was nice to be able to tick off rows and see I completed another ten rows on my daily commute.

Sequence Sweater Neckline

 

The ribbing on the welts, cuffs, and neck is based on the particular unit of this sequence pattern; see if you can work it out

I’ve written before about slow crafting and taking time, and this is a good example of it. Slow crafting means accepting slow progress. This is probably easier to accept if you’re a process knitter rather than a product knitter (ie your emphasis is on the process of knitting/making, rather than on getting a finished object,) but being accepting of slow progress, allowed me to take the time for details such as the visible three-needle bind-off I used for all the seams. There’s an awful lot of stitches to pick up on each seam! However, the bold lines that are created this way really frame the textured fabric: well worth the effort and the week it took me to complete it.

Sequence Sweater Seams in 3-needle bind-off

Bold seams frame the sweater

Another detail I was very happy about is the neckline. After seaming together the panels, I crocheted a chain around the neck line. I then picked up stitches through the crochet chain. This gave a very flush transition from main panel to ribbing, and I like the way it subtly accentuates the neckline. The ribbing itself was knitted on graduatingly smaller needles so that it really pulls together at the edge.

I’m glad that Anthony was also accepting of my slow approach; he’s been patiently waiting for his sweater. But after nearly five months of knitting, it’s now finished. And as you can see, he’s lovin’ it!

Sequence Sweater Posing

Strike a pose!

From 2015 to 2016

Happy new year to all my blog readers! Now that it is 2016, I would like to reflect on what 2015 brought me, and my thoughts about the year ahead.

Tea Hat with toast, marmalade and Wood's Ware in Beryl

A knitted ‘tea hat’, made from my handspun yarn, was the start to 2015

The year just gone has been really rather busy for me, despite wanting to take it a bit slower. But then there were so many exciting places to go, amazing people to see, and creative projects to make! Here are some recurring themes in my year:

Community

pitt rivers class picture

Darning Master Class at the Pitt Rivers Museum

First and foremost I feel part of a textile community, and 2015 really reinforced this belonging. Attending events and venues such as Edinburgh Yarn Festival, Shetland Wool Week, Pitt Rivers Museum, and In the Loop 4, where I managed to meet up with friends old and new played a big part in this.  They all provided fertile ground for discussions about knitting, fibre, and wool. But it wasn’t all serious, it was a good way to catch up with old friends, and meet others for the first time, even if I knew their work well, or knew them through social media. It always feels good to meet like-minded people, discuss shared interests, and continue the conversations afterwards. It was nice to see friends taking on new projects and run away with them, and being able to help them out.

Creativity in Technique

Heraldic Sweater Front View 2

Creativity in technique: my Heraldic Sweater, combining sequence knitting and patching

In 2015 I learnt a lot of new things and many of these revolve around technique. Some bigger than others, ranging from a new-to-me superstretchy cast-on (double needle cast on, see June Hemmons Hiatt’s Principles of Knitting) to a whole new way of creating complicated textured fabrics using simple techniques, called Sequence Knitting. My interest in 1980s knitwear has blossomed last year: once you can see past the boxy shapes, a heady mix of technique, colour, and texture is revealed, and nothing was deemed too complicated. A collaboration with Wolf & Gypsy Vintage allowed me to explore the repair of woven textiles.

Wolf and Gypsy Trousers VMP Detail

hand-stitched patches, and a tailored buttonhole in this piece for Wolf & Gypsy Vintage

‘Slowness’

Handspun from Shetland Wool Week 2015

Handspun yarns from a workshop I attended at Shetland Wool Week, with apologies for the poor picture quality

Last year I’ve been thinking a lot about taking time in my creative practice. In a shift of focus from trying to keep things looking new and perfect to favouring the old and imperfect, means I’ve stopped looking at repair as a chore, but as a creative challenge in its own right. Instead of fixing something that is broken, which implies the item was finished, I now continue working on something that wasn’t complete yet.

Slowtober‘ has given me a lot of thought about the materials I use, whether these are secondhand or new, and as I explained in the linked post, there is lots of food for thought. One material that made me really happy, though, is Louise Spong’s South Down Yarns. The sheep that provide the wool roam the South Downs near where I live, and if you read my interview with her and Jenny Dean over on the Wovember blog, you will learn about the provenance of the yarn, and the sensitive way how it is dyed.

And this leads me neatly to the year ahead.

And for 2016…

Darning sampler 1892 diagonal slash darn back

Frozen in time: a mend on an antique darning sampler that will never be completed

In 2016 I will continue walking down the slow path I’ve turned onto, taking step after thoughtful step. Some of the plans I had made for last year didn’t come to fruition, so this year I’m going to be even more careful with the time I have for being creative. As I want to take things slow, it doesn’t bother me unduly that I didn’t start certain things, and it’s always good to have plenty of ideas. Here are some of them:

I would like to spend more time spinning; I have plenty of fleece to keep me busy, and I’d love to spin a sweater’s worth of yarn.

The Wolf & Gypsy Vintage collaboration, my interest in antique darning samplers, and my old books on clothes repair mean I would like to spend more time teaching myself more sewing skills, and I’d love to make a modern version of a ‘plain sewing’ sampler.

I also have more ideas for creative knitting, and like the Heraldic Sweater pictured above, they combine technique with elements left to chance. As always, I look forward to sharing my pursuits here on my blog, and I hope you will enjoy strolling along in the most leisurely fashion. Happy new year!

Three years ago I met Anna Maltz at my first In The Loop conference. As I remember it, she was wearing some dazzling knitwear: a matching skirt and top in many colours. We clicked and stayed in touch, and soon a beautiful friendship blossomed. I have seen Anna taking her tentative first steps as a knitwear designer, and now she has released her first collection of knitting patterns: Penguin, A Knit Collection.

Every time over the last year or so that I visited Anna, she had yet another intriguing looking project on the needles; always inspired by penguins, and we discussed the ins and outs of the patterns, technical details, and how it might become a collection. So here it is!

Penguin A Knit Collection by Anna Maltz

Penguin, A Knit Collection, by Anna Maltz

As a friend, I’m proud of her for making this amazing book; and as a knitter, I think this book is full of great projects and a Q&A with Anna seemed to me the best way to finish 2015 on my blog.

Tom: hi Anna, for those blog readers who don’t know you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you fell into knitting?

Anna: I got told off recently for someone not realising that I, as one and the same person, had done all of the following – being sweaterspotter on instagram, writing a quarterly column in PomPom Magazine, starting Ricefeld Collective with friends and knitting those nude suits. My grandfather was fond of saying, “call me anything you want, except late for dinner” and I’m happy to go with that too.

As for how knitting and me happened, ‘fell’ might be the wrong term. It’s always felt quite intentional and has always been present in my life. My mother and other family and friends taught me when I was 5, knowing it was an interesting and productive thing to do that I would enjoy, while helping me develop patience and the über important skill of being able to entertain myself.

I started knitting regularly a good 20 years ago, at a time when people would marvel about how long it had been since they saw someone knitting or that they were surprised to see someone of my tender age engaged in an old lady pursuit. It’s thrilling that in our current climate, I’m just as likely to spy a fellow knitter on the tube as provide the trigger for someone’s reminiscences about bygone family members. And to anyone inclined to make the old lady comment, I now have the wherewithal to patiently explain that it’s because society went through a moment of stupidity where it seemed like equality meant ‘letting’ women to do things considered ‘man things’ while continuing to belittle ‘woman things’, rather than saying, let’s teach and encourage everyone to do it all, because it’s all useful stuff. We’ve also gone through high-speed industrial and urbanisation that makes it appear more economical to buy things rather than make them. It may be in the short term, but looking at a bigger picture, it really isn’t. That’s why I make things and do my best to inspire others to do so too.

 

Penguin A Knit Collection, Pinglette Hat and Cowl by Anna Maltz

The Pinglette Hat and Cowl set, taking linen stitch into new territory

Tom: Penguin, A Knit Collection, is your first book, and leafing through it, I get a real sense of fun. The book design has fresh colours, there are penguin photographs and watercolours, and a photo essay. As a result it draws me in and makes me feel I’m part of a community. Why is community, in the widest sense of the word, so important to you?

Anna: I know a lot of amazing people and it seems like a waste to not involve them. It’s so much more interesting to not have to do everything myself. It’s amazing to work with other people and witness first hand what they do best. I have learnt so much through the process. Even before the wool reached the friends I worked with, it has been on sheep and through the hands of shepherds, shearers, washers, carders, spinners, dyers, winders and distributers. It seems inconceivable to me that community might not be important. Knitting is intrinsically about community. As I say that I’m not sure whether I’m drawn to knitting because of its community-ness or whether I see it as a community thing, because of how important I think community is. Knitting allows my work to occur for a large part in my community, for my community and as the result of that community – I wanted my book to reflect that.

For me, knitting transitioned from being a hobby when I made it part of my work at art school. I did that because I felt frustrated by the lack of making skills being taught and what that meant for the strength, diversity and options within my creative community. Also I was troubled by the stereotype of the artist, usually a male ego maniac loner starving (or otherwise suffering) in an attic, strapped to their easel or else womanising their way round town. Knitting you can do anywhere and it’s history is not with the elite: it’s about warmth, care, sharing, skill, resourcefulness, generosity and conversation, in other words, community.

Penguin A Knit Collection, Adelie Hat by Anna Maltz

Goofing around with fish – the Adelie hat in two different colourways

Tom: another thing that makes the book so welcoming, is the informal way you introduce the patterns, the helpful hints and tips scattered throughout, and not least the words of encouragement. We have talked about this in the past when we worked on some patterns for the Ricefield Collective together. How did you manage to get the right balance between making the patterns legible, yet putting in those additional bits?

Anna: I find that there is something quite powerful in being able to reimagine the skills you have at hand, rather than believe you have to make a huge leap into taking on a whole new set. As with the rest of life, often we feel like giant changes have to happen, when actually making small adjustments and reconfiguring what we already know can provide the interest and change needed. We can do a lot with the knitting skills we already have, by combining them in unexpected ways.

Deciding what information to put in the book and what to leave out was a hard balance to strike, but I didn’t need to work all that out myself, I had a bevvy of test knitters, editors and tech editors helping me. I wanted to be generous with the tips I gave while also being aware there is now so much info readily available online. That really freed me up to feel like it didn’t all need to be in the book. I very much wanted it to be a book of patterns that would convey and inspire you to try new things or combos of things, rather than be a dictionary or beginners guide. I wanted to do something that while being accessible was inspiring in suggesting what you can do with the regular skills you’ve already picked up or know where to find the answers. A book that celebrated where we’re at and the confidence we have or should have, in our own making.

Penguin A Knit Collection, Rockhopper Shawl by Anna Maltz

The Rockhopper shawl combines clever shaping techniques that are within every knitter’s reach, to create this visually stunning shawl

Tom: what I love about your patterns is that you often combine colourwork with texture or lace, in unexpected ways, and keep the construction easy. Penguins, however, only have a very limited palette, and seem so smooth. How did you get on with such restrictions as an inspiration?

Anna: funny, I really don’t think of penguins as smooth – they are underwater, but on land they are also fluffy, spiky, sleek, dense and shaggy. There is also so much variety between the markings on the different breeds. They do have a fairly limited palette of fairly safe colours, which I like because I think they provide a good jumping off point. Like a black and white film, they encourage you to see the colours yourself, not have them feel prescribed. Hopefully it will help people not to get too hung up on their knit needing to be exactly the same as the ones in the book. I can’t wait to see the other colour combinations that people decide to knit these patterns in. In the book I’ve suggested hashtags for people to use on social media, so we can all share and see and be inspired by each other. And of course there is always Ravelry.

As I see it, handknitting is pretty much divorced from the necessity of keeping us warm – it’s no longer part of limited options for survival. We can (in a blinkered way) more cheaply and efficiently buy what we need to keep us warm. This means handknitting is all about the entertainment. I like my patterns to acknowledge and embrace that. The journey of making should be equally as fun as wearing the result. As the fun of wearing can’t be guaranteed, you should really make sure you enjoy the making! That’s why I try to work in various elements to keep the journey of making engaging and interesting: a comfortable challenge.

Penguin A Knit Collection, Teenguin Cardigan by Anna Maltz

Anna proves me wrong about “smooth” penguins with the Teenguin cardigan

Tom: if I’m not mistaken, the Humboldt sweater is the first pattern in which you introduce Marlisle formally. Can you explain a bit more about this knitting technique?

Anna: the Humboldt sweater did get me to cook up Marlisle. It’s one of those things that when you do it, it seems odd it isn’t widely used, but so far, I haven’t managed to track down other examples of it. I would be so curious to see them. They must be out there.

The term is a mash-up of “marl” – two noticeably different shades of yarn plied or in this case, held together – and the “isle” from Fair Isle. Regardless of geographic origin, Fair Isle 
is often used as a catch-all for stranded colourwork. (And what an honour, that such a tiny place gets to lend its name to a whole technique that has its origins spread all over the place.) Marlisle allows this circular knitted sweater to have small patches of pure white on the front, but not the back without working intarsia, yet spread over distances that would be unworkable using regular stranded colourwork, because the floats would be epic. This was inspired by the fact that the humboldt penguin has a solid back, but speckled front and I wanted to find a way to knit that in one piece.

To achieve this, a strand each of charcoal and white yarn are held double and worked in garter stitch for the majority of this bottom-up sweater. The white yarn is separated out where required and worked akin to stranded colourwork in stocking stitch to produce that pop of single colour. Because you are always carrying both colours around, you have both colours available to use individually at all times. The density of the fabric changes little, as the yarn is always double thickness thanks to the floats behind the colourwork section.

Penguin A Knit Collection, Humboldt sweater by Anna Maltz

The Humboldt sweater, using Anna’s Marlisle technique. Incidentally, this picture also shows one of Anna’s other Instagram interests: matching yarns to old cars

Tom: last but not least, where can people buy the book, and find out more about what you are up to?

Anna: it’s really lovely that a growing number of yarn shops around the world are stocking my book. When you get a copy of the book, it comes with a special single use download code, so that you can keep a PDF copy on your computer or other electronic gadget – or print out certain pages, if you want to scribble on them like mad or crumple them in your project bag. For now the PDF is only available when you purchase the book, not as download only. I’m too excited about the fact that it’s a real live beautifully printed book to not want everyone to experience it that way.

If you want to keep abreast of what I’m up to, my website is a good place to start and links out to my instagram and sweaterspotter blog, which I use for outpourings that need to be covered in greater length and permanency than makes sense on instagram. You can of course also order the book, straight from me, through my website here.

Tom: thank you Anna, for a lovely chat!

And to show that Penguin, A Knit Collection, really has something for everybody, I’ll finish with a picture of Pinglewin, a cuddly toy penguin that can take its tuxedo off!

Penguin A Knit Collection, Pinglewin Toy by Anna Maltz

Pinglewin is the cutest penguin, and he can take off his tux!

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