Welcome to the next stop of the KNITSONIK blog tour! I was very excited when my dear friend Felicity, also known as Felix, told me she wanted to write a Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Source Book. We have been friends for a few years now and I have always really enjoyed seeing how she turned seemingly ordinary things into knitting patterns with a lot of depth. We share a common interest in provenance and specificity and this shows in our love for working with British breed wool and fibre and appreciation of colourwork traditions. You can see here how Felix is planning to turn this into a book.
To see how provenance, locality and specifics of everyday objects can be turned into a knitting pattern, I asked Felix a few questions to give you an idea why I think that the Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Source Book will be a book that every knitter should have on their bookshelf.
Julia Desch and her wonderful Wensleydale Longwool sheep
Tom: much of your work seems to involve searching for and capturing the local space. You look and listen out for specifics. Not the sound of “sheep”, but the sound of Julia Desch’s Wensleydale sheep. Not “wool” for a jacket, but Border Leicester, Ryeland, Manx Loaghtan, North Ronaldsay, Teeswater, Shetland and Jacob for the Layter jacket; all fibres spun up in Sue Blacker’s Mill. Where does this fascination with provenance and locality come from?
Felix: In general I am creatively motivated by a search for home, and this is linked to my fascination with provenance and locality. Knowing where things are from – knowing where we are from – are part of how we place ourselves in the world. Like many people living in our increasingly mobilised world, I have lived all over. Home is Ireland. Croydon. Reading. The idea of being rooted to just one place holds great allure. With wool, being able to say “I know where this is from” about a ball of yarn is a powerful antidote to feeling rootless.
The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is about a related process of making deeper connections with my environment – my place – here in Reading; it’s about noting the particular details which make this town distinctive. Focusing in on specifics and then working them into knitted stitches gives me a greater feeling that I am part of Reading – “that’s the building I used for that scarf I made!” “this is my favourite road, I made socks based on that tree just there!” etc.
Saint Mary’s Butts Church in Reading, Felix’s home town
St Mary’s Socks – not only is the pattern based on St Mary’s Butts, but it is also dyed with black walnuts from the tree on St Mary’s Butts grounds
I am sure that I am not the only knitter who has moved around a lot, and one impulse behind The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is that I want to share this sense of claiming the world around us through knitting, and use knitting to deepen our sense of belonging wherever we are.
If you’ve ever listened to my podcast, you will know that I often share sounds from places I have visited, knitted in, walked through… the timings involved in standing silently and recording for minutes and sitting and knitting for hours, are similar. We are talking about slow processes, and allowing time to form dense impressions. A certain tree. The way the light is. The smell. I make different kinds of work based on these details of places. Things I’ve noticed end up being rendered in knitted stitches, or presented on my podcast with their stories as field recordings. I feel differently about things once I have really listened to them or put the time into knitting something based on them. KNITSONIK is somehow about time. The timescales involved in my work remind me of the years that a limpet takes to carve out its place on a rock.
In one sense I hope I never find home, because the search for it is wonderful. The search gives huge energy to projects like The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook.
Limpets carve out an indentation in the rock they sit on, so there’s a perfect seal between shell and rock, making their shells very safe homes
Hailing from Croydon originally, and now living in Reading, UK, I do not have the specific textile traditions that Estonia crafters have to draw on. What I mean is that if I want to embed meaning in my clothes, there are no rules about the colours or the stripes that I should use. However, there are definitely historic textile traditions to draw on in this country, and many other ways in which I try to make my outfits meaningful. Like the Layter, which celebrates the sheep breeds I love, or the home-made WOOLLY UNIFORM which I wore through my whole stay in Estonia, which is made from woven woollen cloth purchased from the mill nearest to where I live here in the UK.
Felix in her woollen uniform, part of her Slow Wardrobe
This reminded me of Helen Whitham’s graduation collection. Being from Shetland, with its very rich textile tradition, it was like she started from scratch and explored how things in her surroundings could inspire her to develop her own patterns and colour-ways. Most likely these things also inspired generations of Shetland knitters before her, yet she found her own voice. How are you developing your own textile tradition?
Felix: Yes – I really adore Helen Whitham’s graduation collection. It is a thing of beauty and something I find really inspiring. What is especially interesting is that Helen decided not to draw on the long and established famous knitwear traditions of Shetland in making her own distinctive, place-inspired collection. The decisions that she made about her creative process – walking in the landscape, finding and inventorying things there, cataloguing them, building up palettes according to her finds etc. – all involve a very direct and tactile engagement with the landscape. Her collection gleams with the energy that comes through a process of noticing and spending time and looking at things with particular eyes. The process of working from traditional Fair Isle patterns or time-honoured lace stitches would involve a very different type of engagement with history and materials. There is also something very specific about the way that Helen “sees” Shetland in her collection which makes it completely distinctive. I think it’s very powerful to discover your place in your own terms like that and to develop textiles out of it in that very tactile and immediate way; the experience would change how you saw a place forever: afterwards you would always remember the ideas you had forged out of it, which in turn would become part of the landscape’s memory.
These ideas relate to how I am developing my own textile traditions. Direct contact with things, places and plants in my immediate environment is central to the process. It is important to walk regularly through the places featured in my book, and to touch and use and handle all the things! It’s important to know and study the plants that are part of the inspiration, and for all of the design ideas to grow out of direct contact with my world.
Beer pump clips from Felix’s local pub, plums from her garden, and buildings in Reading all provide ideas for rich stranded colourwork patterns
When I was in Estonia, I stayed with Liis who was weaving a traditional Estonian skirt with wool which she had dyed herself. She was copying a skirt in the Estonian museum collection which came from the region she now lives in. The original skirt showed some evidence that the dyer had run out of certain colours and improvised, supplementing some of the stripes with alternative shades from her stash; Liis replicated this error in her own recreation, laying claim not only to National traditions, but also to the activities of an individual dyer, spinner and weaver. I loved this small detail, creating affinity across history with an unknown individual and their labour…
In traditional Estonian Folk Costume there is a complex system of colours, stripes and motifs which denote where the wearer is from; whether or not they were married; and so on. It’s a Nationally-recognised code of meanings. Watching Liis with her beautiful rectangle of woven cloth, connecting her to that history and that system, I realised that – though I can never lay claim to any National tradition in the same way – I could learn from the slow processes involved in her research. The visits to the museum to consult the original. Learning how to dye with plants to make the shades for the stripes. Studying the patterns. It seemed to me that these processes in time and with materials were an important aspect making connections between place and garment, as well as the stripes with their Estonian Folk Costume signification.
Specific: Kihnu skirts from Estonia
This was part one about Felix’s Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Source Book; stay tuned for part two tomorrow.
I’m clearly one of many people who are enthusiastic about Felix’s new adventure; not only is this blog post part of her Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Source Book blog tour, but at time of writing this blog post, she has already reached her goal of £9000 and then some! When I spoke to her earlier, she expressed her deep gratitude of the support that the knitting community has shown her so far, and how welcome all the encouraging and enthusiastic responses were; they confirmed that there is a very welcome place in the knitting world for the Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Source Book.
Felix is more than appreciative about all the money that has been pledged, and she wants to put any additional funds to good use in her project. A second, higher goal is now possible, so she is spending the next few days exploring the options that have now opened up to her; make sure to check back on her Kickstarter Campaign to see what she’s come up with. Meanwhile, you can find out more about Felix and her book in the previous blog tour stops, and there are more stops along the way, too.
01/04/2014 – Jeni Hewlett
04/04/2014 – Deborah Gray
There is an interview with Brenda Dayne in the world famous Cast On Podcast
06/04/2014 – Lara Clements
07/04/2014 – Jane Dupuis
09/04/2014 – Hazel Tindall
11/04/2014 – 12/04/2014 – Tom van Deijnen
14/04/2014 – Deb Robson
15/04/2014 – The Shop at The Old Fire Station
This blog post will coincide with Felix’s workshop there on this date entitled “FINDING THE FABRIC OF THE CITY”
16/04/2013 – Mary Jane Mucklestone
18/04/2014 – Caroline Walshe
21/04/2014 – Donna Druchunas
25/04/2014 – Ella Gordon
26/04/14 – Lisa Busby
26/04/2014 – Ella Austin
27/04/2014 – Susan Crawford