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Archive for November, 2014

Earlier this year I posted about a book that my dear friend and comrade in wool, Felicity “Felix” Ford, wanted to publish.

I was honoured to be asked to help her along the way, and I’m so proud to say that Felix’s hard work has paid off. The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is now published! Congratulations to Felix!

Note: Scroll all the way to the bottom of this post to find links to where you can buy UK and USA hard copies, and a worldwide PDF download.

KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook

The Beautiful cover of Felicity Ford’s KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook

The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook explains in clear and easy to understand steps how to create your own stranded colourwork patterns, inspired by everyday things. There are lots of working examples to show how to approach this, and plenty of suggestions and exercises to help you if you feel a bit stuck.

As I was privy to the development of her book and the KNITSONIK System, I decided I wanted to knit a swatch to share with you in this blog post, in which I asked Felix some questions, and she gave me some insightful and detailed answers. So you had best make a brew before continue reading this post!

Faye Moorhouse, Forty Faces

 

This gouache titled “Forty Faces” by Brighton-based artist and illustrator Faye Moorhouse, was my inspiration source for a KNITSONIK Swatch Sensation

Tom: why did you ask me to do hack your KNITSONIK System when I told you about my swatch plans?

Felix: when developing guidelines for a creative process there is usually some tension around rules. Rules can be extremely helpful and supportive, offering a framework for creativity or a set of criteria to which a brief can be fitted; but they can also sometimes seem restrictive. This tension between rules and openness was important to explore while working on The KNITSONIK System and when I was working on the early drafts, I felt your feedback and comments almost continually pushed for more open-ness.

Our discussions on this theme were really to have and I think that because of them the final text for The KNITSONIK System achieves a nice balance between offering useful rules without being overly proscriptive. While refining the system, I was looking for appropriate ways to visualise a good balance between rules and openness and I kept returning to the metaphor of a map. What I love about a map is that it does offer you some reassurance when you head into new lands, but detours are always allowed and getting lost or stumbling on wonders that are not marked are always possible! So in the final text for the book I have presented the system as a map, and an invitation to hack it is included in the introduction: there are plenty of reminders that the rules I have created really aren’t meant to hem anyone in.

However in spite of these developments I remained slightly haunted by the objections you raised to my rules in the early writing stages and I wondered what might be produced through entirely abandoning my rules or working in opposition to them. When you said you wanted to make a swatch, it felt natural to me to suggest that you hack the system in the process.

KNITSONIK System Swatch by TOMOFHOLLAND

The bottom half of my KNITSONIK Swatch; from bottom to top:

A row of the faces, but without features. This part was knitted flat, and used intarsia.

An attempt capture the flow of watercolour ink fading out on the paper. I used a mix of knit and purl stitches to blend the colour transitions a bit more, a feature often seen in the beautiful Bohus sweaters.

The start of what could become a grid of faces, the circles are knitted on a separate needle and the last row is knitted in with the main colour.

Capturing how the black ink bled into the yellow face in one of the forty faces. You can see the face in question in the gouache in the bottom row, second from the right.

A row of an enlarged mouth from one of the red faces.

A row showing the top knot of one of the faces.

A block of houndstooth check: the mouth chart two rows below reminded me of a houndstooth check, so I started exploring this further. The background contains all the shades that move from red via pink to white.

Tom: Have you hacked it yourself, or perhaps you felt safer sticking to your rules? How do you feel about the KNITSONIK System and its rules? How have they helped you, and how did they hinder you?

Felix: I find my rules very useful but will abandon them in an instant if they are encumbering a good idea! For me the rules really are only there to help and where they come into their own is at the outset of a project where my only thought is “I want to create stranded colourwork based on X”. I love that now I have a practical method for dealing with that impulse, and I truly enjoy the process very much. I used to faff about for ages trying to plan everything in advance whereas now I just grab all the colours I want to use and cast on, drawing designs in my notebook and refining them as I go. I find this really liberating and hope that other knitters using the book have the same experience.

I also like the discipline of trying to follow the rules around stitch widths included in the book because apart from anything else I think this is great practice for applying stranded colourwork to garment patterns. I am ultimately thinking towards applying personal stranded colourwork to garments and in this context the ability to understand the size of your canvas and adapt patterns to it is key. And although it’s not strictly necessary to make all the stitch patterns factors and multiples of one another, I enjoy the visual sense of rhythm and accents that occurs when they are.

Sometimes the rules are unhelpful though, and I have zero interest in sticking to them purely for the sake of it. For example the dandelion chart involves some long strands on the back of the work on a couple of rows, and I created an idea for celebrating my biscuit tin lid which is 18 stitches wide and therefore not a factor of 48. I also ignored my own rules about tall vertical columns of stitches while working on the Art Deco chart because the long verticals really are the whole point of that type of ziggurat 1930s architecture!

Biscuit Tin Swatch

The biscuit tin swatch with the offending stitch repeat of 18 stitches.

It’s all about that word balance; for me a framework gets me into a practical frame of mind and gives me a great jumping off point from which to innovate. A series of little briefs – pick colours; design a pattern; cast on; play with shading – is more inviting and manageable than a wide open idea.

I find that when a creative brief is too open the uncertainty will normally push me towards what I know and produce predictable results. Conversely I’ve discovered that if I set rules, manoeuvring within them forces me to innovate and often produces wondrous surprises. I think our Aleatoric Fair Isle project is a good example of this: the rules that we imposed on ourselves resulted in some very experimental Fair Isle knitting which was instructive and fun to create but which we could not easily  have been generated outside of that framework. The rules pushed us into new areas of knitterly thinking and problem-solving and I loved that!

KNITSONIK System Swatch 2

The top half of my KNITSONIK System swatch. Here I went completely off-piste. For most rows I used three colours per row, I didn’t chart anything, and the colours were added in at random. It’s a reflection of the (seemingly?) random choice of colour in the inspiration source. The larger squares in the bottom half of this picture all have two edges in a darker shade (even the black ones!) to mimick how the watercolour is never one solid colour. I also tried to keep the ratio of colour to white (the paper in the original) fairly similar.

Tom: I’m also thinking here about our experience with the Aleatoric Fair Isle where we found that we wanted to rebel against the rules we set out ourselves.

Felix: In a way rebelling against the rules of any system is just another way of creating a framework; but I love the energy and friction of rebellion! To me your amazing MEGASWATCH reads as a really elaborate and wholly positive critique of The KNITSONIK System; it has its own rules (must be a random number of stitches wide; must involve both flat and in-the-round construction; must use more than two colours per round; etc.) and I love how deliberately working outside of my rules has pushed your ideas about palettes and pattern into such exciting realms. There is a wonderful exuberance and thoroughness about the MEGASWATCH!

Aleatoric Fair Swatches

 

Two Aleatoric Fair Isle Swatches: Felix and I were inspired by a composition by John Cage and used similar ways to “compose” our swatches. Using a set of rules and the roll of the dice we left pattern and colour choices to chance.

Felix: I have questions for you though: did you find you had to create a set of guidelines for yourself and how did you approach the construction of your beauteous swatch?

Tom: we had a lot of discussions about how strict or free your rules in your book should be, and I feel that we both benefited from this. These discussions meant I had a good understanding of your system, which was important to start hacking it. However, my rules weren’t quite as strict as you imply (“must be a random number of stitches wide; must involve both flat and in-the-round construction; must use more than two colours per round; etc.”) I took a very organic approach to it and I hardly planned anything; there were no “musts.”

To me the most obvious hack would be to go against the stranded colourwork technique and knitting in the round. So, perhaps predictably, I quickly ended up using intarsia for the first hack. Then I moved on to knitting separate pieces (the row of circles are knitted on a separate needle in garter stitch).

Then I started to become more and more intrigued in how to depict the colour washes, and the bleeding of one colour into another. For this I wanted to use more than one colour per row. And in some areas I even twisted a short length of darker yellow around the bright yellow and knitted with that to get a good sense of the bleeding of the colours.

Faye Moorhouse, Forty Faces detail

I was inspired by the uneven coverage of the gouache inks and how some of the colours have bled into each other.

Of course, the one big rule in your book is to chart and chart again and refine them with each iteration. I hacked this big time! Apart from the big faces in intarsia and the houndstooth check (which I developed by blowing up one of the mouths) I didn’t chart anything. This really helped me reflecting the random colour choices of the faces in the original gouache.

KNITSONIK System Swatch Complete

Felix: do you wish I hadn’t asked you to HACK THE KNITSONIK SYSTEM?

Tom: I was more than happy to hack the system for you! It gave me a chance to really get into the underlying system, as I had to understand the rules first. Also, for me it shows how strong your book is. Yes, it does offer easy-to-follow steps and guidelines, but what it really highlighted to me was that you need to LOOK at things, and then inspiration will come, possibly with the aid of some exercises if you need some encouragement to get going. However, although not explicitly stated, I feel that the over-arching “take-home” message is that you can apply this to any type of knitting. Not just stranded and other colourwork such as intarsia, but with a bit of thinking about the different kind of rules you might need, you can easily apply your design process to textured knitting such as cables, or to lace knitting. And why stop with knitting? You can also feel inspired to create your own original crochet, needlepoint, or quilt designs. To me, that’s what I really learnt from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook.

If you want to know what others had to say about Felix’s book, then the other blog tour stops are listed below:

28th and 30th Oct – Ysolda Teague
31st Oct – Brenda Dayne
2nd Nov – Jamieson & Smith with Ella Gordon
4th Nov – Donna Druchunas
6th Nov – An Snag Breac
8th Nov – Fine Lightness
10th Nov – Perfect Weather for Spinning and Knitting with Deborah Gray
14th Nov – Deb Robson
28th Nov – Tom of Holland
30th Nov – Fyberspates
31st Nov – Editions of You with Lisa Busby
4th Dec – Lara Clements
6th Dec – Spilly Jane
8th Dec – Ella Austin
12th Dec – Susan Crawford

The book is available in the following formats:

UK hard copy
USA hard copy
Worldwide PDF download

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In my last post I talked about my participation in the Sanquhar Workshop, organised by the Knitting in the Round initiative from the University of Glasgow. Today I’d like to tell you little bit more about the history of knitting in Sanquhar and how I got interested in this subject.

Sanquhar Handling Collection at Knitting Reference Library

The Knitting Reference Library holds a small handling collection of Sanquhar gloves – image taken courtesy of the Knitting Reference Library

About five years ago I learnt how to knit gloves, and like many knitters, I started browsing Ravelry for nice patterns. That’s where I first encountered the amazing Sanquhar gloves. Never having done any stranded colourwork, I’m not sure why I ordered all four available patterns from the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes not soon after. It was a steep learning curve for me, but at the same time as I was struggling to knit my first pair, I researched the knitting tradition of the town of Sanquhar, which incidentally, can also claim to have the oldest post office in the world, dating back to 1712.

HISTORY AND TRADITION

The first knitters in Scotland were highly paid craftsmen of the 16th and 17th century, but by the mid 1700s knitting skills had spread throughout the country and created a thriving cottage industry, mainly producing knitted stockings. The entire Scottish hand-knitting industry declined dramatically in the late 1700s, due to a variety of reasons, amongst others the loss of trade to the American Colonies, and the increasing industrialisation of spinning and processing wool. It was most probably around the late 1700s that the distinctive two-colour patterns developed as an attempt to create a product that stood out and thus protect the livelihood of local knitters.
Thomas Brown, a Sanquhar printer,  noted in his Union Gazeteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1807), that the stockings were ‘almost peculiar to the place…parti-coloured and of great variety of patterns.’ Mittens, and rather later, gloves were made in the same manner.  One feature of good eighteenth-century stockings was that the customer’s name or initials could be worked into the tops. This may be the origin of the Sanquhar practice of working these into the wrists. Although Brown doesn’t mention it, this was a feature by the 1890s. The gloves were knitted from a yarn referred to as ‘drugget’ and this appears to be a wool/linen or a wool/cotton blend. The knitters sourced this yarn from the nearby John M’Queen’s Mill in Crawick, where it was used in the production of carpets.

Sanquhar Gloves with Initials

Sanquhar gloves usually have the initials of the wearer stitched into the wrist – these gloves are from the handling collection of the Tollbooth Museum in Sanquhar

Hand knitting as a cottage industry died out in Sanquhar during the 19th century, but the tradition has survived. The presentation of specially knitted gloves to the Cornet and other principals during the annual Sanquhar Riding of the Marches Festival is still an important part of these celebrations, when all the horse riders of Sanquhar ride around the boundaries of the burgh. Today Sanquhar knitting is rarely made for sale. Nonetheless the style remains a favourite with keen knitters, with pattern leaflets available from the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes and other sources found on the internet.

SANQUHAR STITCH PATTERNS

Sanquhar knitting is worked in two shades throughout. Although black and white are most common, other colour combinations regularly found are yellow and brown, and red and green. The patterns show a resemblance to other erstwhile thriving cottage industries in Cumbria and the Dales; small and intricate, the two yarns are worked into a close fabric, with no long strands. One particular refinement of the gloves are the small finger and thumb gussets, which improve fit and relieve stress points in the fabric where the fingers join the hand.

Sanquhar Glove in Duke Pattern with finger gusset

The little finger gusset is shown here at the base of the ring finger – image taken courtesy of the Knitting Reference Library

The stitch patterns can be divided into two main types. Firstly the so-called dambrod patterns: a grid of black lines on a white ground, filled in with diamond or saltire variations. Secondly check and tweed patterns: all-over patterns in diagonal checks, and small motifs scattered on a spot pattern background. It’s likely some of the patterns were named in honour of local benefactors and visiting dignitaries, like the Dukes of Queensberry and of Buccleuch, who gave large orders for gloves, and the Prince of Wales, who was entertained by the Duke of Buccleuch in 1871. The Glendyne pattern was named after Robert Nivison when he took the title Lord Glendyne of Sanquhar. The cuffs are knitted in black and white ribbing or broken ribbing. It is customary to work the wearer’s initials in the wrist.
As the patterns fit around the gloves just so, the size of the gloves is altered by changing the tension: thicker needles for larger gloves, thinner needles for smaller gloves.

Tolbooth Museum Sanquhar Gloves 1Tolbooth Museum Sanquhar Gloves 2

The Sanquhar gloves come in a wide range of patterns as this display at the Tollbooth Museum shows – dambrod patterns at the top; tweed patterns at the bottom, with the exception of the Duke glove fifth from the left

SOME HINTS AND TIPS ON KNITTING SANQUHAR GLOVES

First and foremost it’s important to knit a decent sized tension swatch in the round. Read through your pattern and work out how many stitches go round the hand, as sometimes this is more than the number of stitches you cast on. Measure around your hand and work out what your tension should be for a good fit.
The most common alteration to the traditional patterns is probably the cast-on: one way to avoid the cast-on edge curling over,  is to use a variation of the long-tail cast-on sometimes called twisted German cast-on, followed by two rows of purl, before starting the ribbing.

An other alteration often seen on the Ravelry Sanquhar group is to stagger the finger gussets at the correct height according to the wearer’s hand, rather than all on the same round. A personal alteration is to decrease 5% in the black round after the cuff to narrow the wrist. Then, after knitting the wrist, I increase back to the original number of stitches. This makes for a more comfortable fit, especially as ribbing in stranded colourwork doesn’t pull in.

Prince of Wales Sanquhar Gloves

My gloves in the Prince of Wales pattern – the fingers each start at the right height

You can read more about the Sanquhar knitting tradition on the FutureMuseum website, the Dumfries Museum website, and about Riding of the Marches on the committee’s website.

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Last weekend two long longed-for visits happened all at once. Some of you may know that I have a bit of a “thing” for the gloves knitted in the Scottish Royal Borough of Sanquhar, and I had always wanted to visit the local Tolbooth Museum where there’s a lovely display of these gloves, with a wealth of information. So you can imagine I didn’t hesitate when Professor Lynn Abrams asked me to give a presentation at a Knitting in the Round event set in Sanquhar itself.

Sanquhar circa 1860

Sanquhar High Street circa 1860 – the building with the clocktower now houses the Tollbooth Museum

The event was very informal and convivial. Lynn Abrams presented on knitting in the Scottish landscape – wool has always been very important in Scotland in many different ways. I did a presentation on the history of Sanquhar knitting, and how the old patterns and gloves to this day have inspired knitters the world over. A very tasty lunch was available in the café of the A’ the Airts Centre, where the event was hosted.

Tolbooth Museum Sanquhar Gloves 1

Tolbooth Museum Sanquhar Gloves 2

A gallery of Sanquhar Gloves

The Tolbooth museum had a small but perfectly formed permanent exhibition on the gloves. They also had a handling collection, which contained, amongst others, a number of gloves belonging to one lady cyclist. Most of these were darned on the palm side; you can imagine I was elated to see these!

SanquharVisit02

Cycling gloves with darning

Also on display were some carpets made in nearby Crawick. Originally the gloves were knitted with left over warp threads of the carpet manufacture, which explains the hardwearing qualities these gloves were famed for (within limits, as evidenced by the above gloves…)

Sanquhar carpet

A carpet made in John McQueen’s Mill, Crawick

However, the absolute highlight of the day for me was meeting May McCormick. Mary still knits Sanquhar gloves to a very high standard, and indeed, she is the very person who knits the gloves for the Coronet who leads the riding of the marches, an annual event taking place in August, going back about 400 years, when Sanquhar became a Scottish Royal Borough. I was too excited to talk to her and get some hints and tips from a master knitter to get a picture with her. However, to make up for it I can share with you the beautiful display she made:

Mary McCormick's Sanquhar Knitting Display

Mary McCormick’s Sanquhar Knitting Display, showing all the different patterns, including samplers, scarves and stockings

So, what about that other visit, I hear you ask? Well, I also got to meet a good friend whom I had not met before. How? In the age of email and internet, this is possible. Through our mutual friend Dr Felicity Ford, better known perhaps as KNITSONIK, I have known Kate Davies for a few years now, and we’ve worked on Wovember together. We have been scheming to meet up in real life for such a long time, and my visit to Sanquhar finally made this possible.

We spent many happy hours together, talking about small things and large, eating food and drinking tea, and going for a long drive.

West Highlands

My first time in the West Highlands and I could tick off all typical attractions in one go: castle ruin, tick; loch, tick; glenn, tick; mountain, tick!

The George Hotel at Loch Fyne

The George Hotel at Loch Fyne

We had a gorgeous lunch at the George Hotel at Loch Fyne – the only place that Samuel Johnson managed to enjoy when he visited Scotland.

If this has made you curious about the knitting in Sanquhar, then keep an eye out for my next blog post, where I will go into a bit more detail of the history of Sanquhar knitting.

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