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Archive for May, 2013

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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It slowly dawned upon me that I shall be knitting heaps of stranded colourwork this year.

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Sanquhar vs Fair Isle mash-up swatch in Foula wool

Let me start off by saying that I’m very excited that I have been invited by Shetland Wool Week this year to work on a project together with my friend and purveyor of finest quotidian sound artefacts, Dr Felicity Ford. We will be joined by talented knitwear designed Di Gilpin., who was awarded The Balvenie Master of Craft award for the Textiles Category for 2012. I, for one, cannot wait to go to the Isles that have such rich knitting traditions and see them firsthand.

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Shetland Wool Week, image © Dave Wheeler and used with kind permission

Secondly, those of you who are familiar with Susan Crawford’s work probably know she is working on a Vintage Shetland book. I’m pleased to say she has asked me again to knit a sample garment for her. It will be a very special Fair Isle jumper, and that’s all I’m allowed to say for now.

Lastly, my obsession with Sanquhar gloves knows no bounds, and I will be doing some research on them over the summer. A good excuse to 1) knit some more Sanquhar gloves; and 2) plan a visit to the Knitting Reference Library.

In preparation for all these stranded colourwork projects, I thought I’d investigate something that’s intrigued me for a while now. It’s colour dominance in stranded colourwork.

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The top and bottom bands shows the Midge and Fly pattern from Sanquhar. The middle bands show typical Fair Isle patterns: a classic OXO border pattern and a peerie pattern to separate the two.

Although Sanquhar knitting typically only uses two colours, and Fair Isle usually a greater number of colours, for both you will only ever knit with two colours in one given row of knitting. This can be achieved in a number of ways. In all cases, you will strand the colour not in use along the back of the fabric, hence the name “stranded colourwork.”

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The back of my swatch, showing the strands of the yarn not in use

For a long time, I used to knit with one colour in each hand: the one in my left hand to be knitted continental style, and the one in my right hand to be knitted English style. But I was never quite happy with my tension as the stitches made continental style were much looser than the one made English style. This was exacerbated by the nature of stranded colourwork: one yarn will always appear more dominant than the other. If you peer over the needles whilst you’re doing stranded colourwork, you will see that one yarn will always come from underneath the other. Usually, this is the dominant yarn.

In order to even out my tension problems between left and right hand, I first tried holding both yarns in my right hand. That didn’t work for me at all and not soon after I started knitting with both yarns in my left hand. My tension between dominant and non-dominant yarn is much more even now. I was curious to find out how big the difference is, in order to make an informed decision for my next stranded colourwork project. I decided to use both Sanquhar and Fair Isle patterns, as the effect might be different. The bottom half was knitted such that for each row, the light colour was on the right of my index finger, and the dark colour on the left. The peerie pattern (the small band separating the two bands of OXO patterns,) is where I switched over and the top half was knitted with the light colour always on the left and the dark on the right.

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Bottom half: lighter yarn always on the right on my index finger, and darker yarn always on the left

Looking at the Sanquhar Midge and Fly pattern in the bottom half,the white stitches appear to be larger than the black ones, and the flies appear almost more like vertical stripes rather than small crosses, especially in close-up. As you can see from the picture of the back of the swatch, the floats of white yarn almost hide the black yarn floats.

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Top half: lighter yarn always on the left of my index finger, darker yarn always on the right

Now for the top half: again, looking at the Midge and Fly pattern, I think that the black and white stitches are much more even in size, yet somehow the flies seem to be a bit less pronounced in the top half. In addition, I find the results of switching dominant yarns less obvious in the OXO border patterns.

Before knitting this swatch, I was convinced I would be able to clearly show which way looks better, and make up my mind about which side (left or right,) I ought to use as the dominant yarn. However, now I’m not so sure. For each of the Sanqhuhar and the Fair Isle, which one do you think looks better, top or bottom half of the swatch?

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Last Friday I made my way up to Retford, Nottinghamshire, to stay with Louise Presley, owner of Hope & Elvis. Louise and her husband Nigel were very welcoming and made me feel right at home, making sure I was fed and watered and had a good night’s sleep in preparation for the darning and mending workshop I ran at her beautiful studio on Saturday.

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Hope & Elvis studio, darning examples and reference books on display

By 10am everybody had turned up, and after an introduction to my Visible Mending Programme, I used some of my darned garments to discuss a variety of techniques. I explained why I had chosen them, and what the advantages and disadvantages of each technique was. Then, whilst having a cuppa and a biccie, each student showed what they had brought to repair and we discussed ideas together.

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Repair in progress at Hope & Elvis

Throughout the day I demonstrated stocking darning, Swiss darning, Scotch darning* and giving hints and tips on what materials to use, make people think about whether their darns would be practical or an embellishment. Needless to say, I also showed my Speedweve, and I was so pleased to see that Louise not only had one herself, but that she also had a Star darning machine!

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A darn in contrasting thread

Louise’s studio is crammed from floor to ceiling with vintage haberdashery, blankets, fabrics, needlework gadgets, threads, yarns, old and new books, and it was fantastic to have all of this to our disposal. Although we had a break for lunch, most people were keen to continue stitching, and I think that when you see the following pictures you’ll agree that everybody made something amazing on Saturday. With apologies in advance: I haven’t remembered everybody’s name – I must be getting on a bit…

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Marks made on a blanket

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Pattern darning sampler

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Buttonhole filling stitch by Mister Finch

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Sock stitch sampler

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Sturdy sock embellished with damask darning

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Delicate darning by Dawn

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Patched up ripped underarm seam by Sarah

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Meta-darning of a tear in a paisley scarf

It feels good to know that there are a few cardigans, tops and scarves back in the wardrobe, rather than lurking in the mending basket!

I hope my next darning class will be just as successful. It’s coming Friday, 10 May, and there are still a few places left if you’d like to sign up.

*) On Scotch darning: for months now I have been trying to find a copy of a particular edition of Weldon’s Encyclopaedia of Needlework, which explains the Scotch darning technique. I have discussed variations on it in this post, but Saturday was my lucky day. Louise had two copies of said edition, so she gifted one to me! Here is The Page:

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Scotch darning explained

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