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Archive for the ‘Aleatoric Fair Isle’ Category

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's Wensleydale sheep

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.

St Mary's Butts Curch in Reading

Saint Mary’s Butts Church in Reading, Felix’s home town

St Mary's Socks

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.

North_Devon_Limpets

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

Tom: you’ve started making your own Slow Wardrobe, an idea to make a few choice garments that should last you for a very long time. In one of your posts you say:

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 woollen outfit for her Slow Wardrobe

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.

Beerpump clips, plums and architecture

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.

Kihnu Skirts in Estonia

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
http://fibrespates.blogs.com/shop_blog/

04/04/2014 – Deborah Gray
http://perfectweatherforspinningandknitting.blogspot.co.uk/
AND
There is an interview with Brenda Dayne in the world famous Cast On Podcast

http://www.cast-on.com/

06/04/2014 – Lara Clements
http://inbetweendays.me.uk/inbetweendays/blog/

07/04/2014 – Jane Dupuis
http://spillyjane.blogspot.com

09/04/2014 – Hazel Tindall
http://www.hazeltindall.com/blog

11/04/2014 – 12/04/2014 – Tom van Deijnen
http://www.tomofholland.com

14/04/2014 – Deb Robson
http://independentstitch.typepad.com/

15/04/2014 – The Shop at The Old Fire Station
shopattheoldfirestation.blogspot.co.uk/
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
http://maryjanemucklestone.com/

18/04/2014 – Caroline Walshe
http://ansnagbreac.blogspot.com/

20/4/2014 – Fine Lightness & Kait Lubja
Finelightness.wordpress.com
http://katakoob.wordpress.com/

21/04/2014 – Donna Druchunas
http://sheeptoshawl.com/

25/04/2014 – Ella Gordon
http://jamiesonandsmith.wordpress.com/

26/04/14 – Lisa Busby
http://editionsofyou.com

26/04/2014 – Ella Austin
http://bombellablog.wordpress.com/

27/04/2014 – Susan Crawford
http://justcallmeruby.blogspot.co.uk/

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Having just returned from a three-week holiday, I had plenty of time to look back to 2013, and look forward to 2014. Last year has been amazing, and I’m sure this will continue in the new year!

Looking back

Darning

Darning at Wool House, Somerset House

I was invited to darn at Wool House, Somerset House, as part of the very successful Campaign for Wool event. I had a great time, and Wool House put my darning sessions in the “best bits” list! It was super-busy, and I think I have enthused quite a few people about darning, and also explain why I like using 100% wool products.

Hope and Elvis Darning Workshop

2013 also saw the first of my day-long darning workshops. I went to Hope & Elvis, lovely Louise’s great studio. It’s stuffed to the gills with vintage fabrics, blankets, threads, scraps, books and any tool you would possibly need, so it was a lot of fun to explore various darning techniques. You’ll be pleased to hear I’m returning there in April.

ShetlandWoolWeek Darning at Jamieson & Smith

Last but not least, my darning skills took me to Shetland! Here’s a picture of my darning class at Jamieson & Smith. I had a great time, I met so many amazing people, with amazing skills. I left a few loose ends on purpose, so I have a good reason to return.

Knitting

Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches Lace

Early last year I exhibited at Prick Your Finger. My Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches explored many different knitting stitches and techniques, some old and rare, others common and much-used. It was a good way to learn about different techniques, and investigate them in detail.

Altered Kasha Cardigan for Wedding Outift

Rosemary had seen my Curiosity Cabinet, and thought I’d be the ideal person to take on a commission for her wedding outfit. I gladly took this on, and I knitted a Kasha Cardigan for her, with some alterations: a different collar, and three-quarter length sleeves. It was a great project to work on, and Rosemary has been wearing her cardigan many times since.

Aleatoric Fair Isle Swatch

Last year I also explored stranded colourwork, and in particular the Fair Isle tradition. Together with my comrade in wool, Felicity Ford, we devised a method to learn more about Fair Isle patterns, which took away some of the hurdles we often face when trying to knit Fair Isle. Using rules we made up and some dice, we left pattern and colour selection to chance, based on John Cage’s compositional concepts. We called this Aleatoric Fair Isle.

Spinning

Diamond Fibre Mill spinning

Other highlights include my visit to Diamond Fibre Mill, where I met Roger, who runs this small independent mill, specialising in worsted spinning, and who owns his own flock of Romney sheep.

timbertops chair spinning wheel

I also became the proud owner of an original Timbertops spinning wheel. A chair wheel no less. I haven’t had a chance to write about this yet, so keep your eyes peeled for a blog post in the near future.

Special mention

And if all that wasn’t quite enough, Kate Davies, Felicity and myself curated Wovember 2013 to celebrate wool in all its myriad forms. We posted features about growing, harvesting, processing, working, and wearing wool. I did many more things last year, so these were just some of my highlights.

Looking forward

Plans for 2014 are forming in my head, and amongst others, I’m looking forward to releasing my first cardigan pattern, using Foula wool. A bit later than expected, but it’s important to me to get everything right. I will continue working on the Aleatoric Fair Isle swatches. I’ve also taken on a very special visible mending commission to repair an upcycling attempt gone wrong. As previously mentioned, not only will I return to Hope & Elvis for a darning workshop, I will also run a Darning Master Class at Unravel at Farnham Maltings. More classes and workshops are in the pipe-line, so keep an eye out for them.

Scotch darn on sock

2014 will also be the year of exploring. I did some free-style knitting before Christmas, and I found it very liberating. I found some good books on the subject, and I have also been inspired by Rachael Matthews’s approach to making, and in particular what became her Explosion Jumper.

On the spinning front I want explore more lace-weight spinning, using wool from both classic breeds (Shetland), and unexpected breeds (Rough Fell.)

Last but not least I would like to explore more mending techniques, and in particular learn more about darning and repairing woven textiles. And I still have one or two jumpers to complete…

darned jumper

 

I don’t know about you, but I think I have plenty of things lined up, and it will be my pleasure to share them with you and write about them here.

Happy New Year!

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A couple of weeks ago I returned from Shetland Wool Week. I was invited to run two darning workshops, and to present the works-in-progress of the Aleatoric Fair Isle project I’m working on with Dr Felicity Ford. I have met so many amazing people, seen impossible feats of spinning and knitting, and enjoyed the landscape.

Hanging out with Felicity, who’s a sound artist, it may come as no surprise that apart from all the woolly wonders, I will now forever associate two songs with Shetland. The first one was recorded in 1960 for an oral history project for the School of Scottish Studies. The interviewer asks Rosabel Blance to talk about her own composition Da Spinning Sang (the spinning song.) He is clearly fishing for an answer with deeper meaning, but Blance is very matter-of-fact about it. But then she sings it and really, no explanation was ever necessary:

Taese da Shetlan oo till it’s clear an fine / Lyin laek a clood wi a silver shine

(tease the Shetland wool till it’s clear and fine / lying like a cloud with a silver shine)

But that’s enough poetry for now. Here are some pictures I took during Shetland Wool Week, in no particular order:

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The view from our log cabin – we stayed at Nortower Lodges, and we couldn’t have wished for a better cabin.

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The view from Fort Charlotte, in the centre of Lerwick. Luckily most days the weather was much nicer than these two pictures would have you believe.

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Felicity helping out participants of our Aleatoric Fair Isle workshop. Rolling the dice and following rules to create Fair Isle swatches proved controversial in some quarters, but I think we all had a good time in the end.

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A fine Shetland Ram at the Flock Book Ram Auction. In order to prevent an ever dimishing gene pool within their flocks, sheep farmers sell off their rams, and buy new ones frequently.

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A visit to Jamieson’s of Shetland‘s mill in Sandness. One of many banks of spinners; in many ways a very different affair from Diamond Fibres Mill, which I visited recently. Jamieson’s spin their fibres with the woollen method, resulting in a lofty, warm, yet light yarn, very suitable for Shetland wool. Diamond Fibres on the other hand, specialise in the worsted spinning method, which is much better suited for longwool (like their own flock of Romney sheep) and this makes for a smooth and lustrous yarn.

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The Textile Museum has a working loom, as found in the traditional crofts. Until my visit, I never knew that Shetland once was also famous for their tweed fabrics.

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As part of the Flock Book Ram Auction, there was also judging of the best rams. Here are the Shetland hot shot rams, all together in a special judging area. The atmosphere was palpable and tense, as a price-winning ram means a lot to the owner.

ShetlandWoolWeek_112

And here is your good self. Elizabeth Johnston, spinner and dyer extraordinaire, showed me how the Shetland lace spinners managed to get such exceedingly fine yarn. After three hours of blood, sweat, tears, and some rather flowery language, I managed to get some extremely fine yarn. Elizabeth told me that I had started to understand the technique, but that my thread wasn’t near fine enough… The aim is to make a single ply the thickness of six individual fibres. This will then be used to make a two-ply yarn. I will keep on practising!

ShetlandWoolWeek_67

This delapidated croft was not far from our lodgings, so we passed it every day.

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I also ran two darning classes. A drop-in session took place at the Shetland Museum and Archives, who helped organise Shetland Wool Week, and who invited me to come over in the first place: so a massive thanks to them for making this visit possible. Secondly, I ran a darning master class at Jamieson & Smith, pictured above. More thanks due here, as they kindly provided Felicity and me the yarns for our workshops.

ShetlandWoolWeek_205

Susan Freeman found a new application for the Scotch darning technique. As you can clearly see in this picture, you can make pockets! I think I will have to add a fountain pen pocket to one of my cardigans.

ShetlandWoolWeek_3

And here is a beautiful gift from Diane Houdek, who came all the way from America for Shetland Wool Week especially. A small box with teeny tiny wooden reels of darning silk. What a magnificent addition to my collection of mending ephemera!

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The fleece in this picture was chosen as the Champion fleece during a fleece-judging competition. The fleeces are judged on, amongst others, resilience, crimp, uniformity, and presentation. Readers of Jane Cooper’s excellent blog Mrs Woolsack’s Blog, may recognise this fleece. Incidentally, Jane also maintains the Woolsack website. Woolsack was started as a Cultural Olympiad Inspire project to make British wool cushions as personal welcome gifts from the people of Britain to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The Woolsack website now lists and links to information and sources of British wool products from spinning fibre to dyed knitting yarn and woven fabric.

Oliver Henry, Jamieson & Smith

Here you can see me with the fleece judge himself: Oliver Henry, who is the Master Woolsorter at Jamieson & Smith.

The keen observer will be wondering where that second song comes in, that for me is so inextricably linked to Shetland? Well, as part of Felicity’s lecture Listening to Shetland Wool, she composed a song, which she performed at the end.

ShetlandWoolWeek_199

Here she is, performing it in the Jamieson & Smith shop. Sandra Manson and Adam Curtis are listening intently. As Felicity was fine-tuning the song during any spare moments we had at the lodge, I can sing it from start to finish. It has proved to be a great success, and indeed, it has found its way to the internet. One word suffices, as Oliver Henry said: BRILLIANT.

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Shetland Wool Week is only a month away, and that can only mean one thing: Felicity Ford and I are working hard on our Aleatoric Fair Isle swatches. We’ve created a number of rules which tell us how to roll dice and select pattern and colour combinations depending on the outcome, based on John Cage’s composition Apartment House 1776. Since knitting my first swatch, we’ve gone through some iterations of the rules, and after talking about my knitting experience, I feel it’s now time to talk about another part of our Aleatoric Fair Isle project.

In honour of our inspiration, the John Cage composition, Felicity and I have been recording notes about the sounds we hear whilst working on the Aleatoric Fair Isle swatches:

AFI_1_CU

Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 1 – close-up

Sound recording: listening to Pearl and the Beard’s album Killing The Darlings; faint sounds from the other room where my partner is watching Coronation Street; creaky noises from the wooden table which shakes as I write; the clock on the dresser ticking.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 2 – close-up (apologies, it’s upside-down)

Sound recording: the clock on the dresser ticking; traffic driving by; TV programme noises from the other room.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 3 – close-up

Sound recording: various music pieces drifting past on BBC Radio 3; the clock on the dresser ticking; the washing machine going into a spin cycle; traffic driving by.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 4 – close-up

Sound recording: knitting in the office during lunch time: listening to Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse on my iPod; clacking keyboards; office chatter. On another occasion: listening to BBC Radio 3; traffic going by; washing machine.

AFI_5_CU

Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 5 – close-up

Sound recording: whilst knitting on the train, train announcements, someone munching on crisps and the slight slurp of licking fingers; on the iPod listening to David Bowie’s album Station to Station.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 6 – close-up

Sound recordings: the clock on the dresser ticking; BBC Radio 3 music drifting in and out of my ears.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 7 – close-up

Sound recordings: knitting at home, listening to a CD with music composed by Giacinto Scelsi and Hans Zender; occasionally noticed the traffic going by; the startled sound of me accidentally hitting the worklamp.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 8 – close-up

Sound recordings: knitting on the train, listening to Stockhausen’s Stimmung on my iPod; noises from the train filter through, as does the occasional announcement.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 9 – close-up

Sound recordings: traffic passing by; the clock on the dresser ticking; snippets of YouTube clips coming through from the other room.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 10 – close-up

Sound recordings: listening to BBC Radio 3, a live broadcast from the Proms where they were playing Shostakovich’s 11th symphony; traffic going by, a bus’s squeaking brakes; as we live close to the train station in a basement flat, I can hear the thunder of a train pulling in as it travels through the ground; the clock on the dresser ticking.

I find a lot of rhythm in Fair Isle knitting: a pattern is built up by repeating its elements, patterns and colours repeat throughout a garment. In the case of Aleatoric Fair Isle, these repeats are sometimes syncopic: the pattern repeats and the colour repeats are not always synchronised, for example, see swatches 2, 8 and 9 above. And so it is with the sounds I’ve recorded so far. There are many recurring sounds, but not always at the same time; if I hear the clock on the dresser ticking, I might be casting on, charting, knitting, or tying knots in the cut steek. In contrast to the aleatoric experience, where I roll the dice to make a choice, many of the sounds I have recorded are completely out of my control. Yes, I consciously choose to listen to CDs and radio, which gives me a varying level of control of what I hear, but, as you have seen, there are always other sounds to hear, too.

And so it is with the Aleatoric Fair Isle: using 21 shades of all the beautiful Jamieson and Smith colours as selected by Felicity, colours and patterns play with each other in unexpected ways. We are looking forward to presenting our findings at Shetland Wool Week 2013. Our talk “Interesting Yarns and Aleatoric Fair Isle” is on Thursday, 10 October, 17:30-19:30 at the Shetland Museum and Archives.

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Since the start of our Aleatoric Fair Isle project, Felicity and I have had lots of fun swatching, throwing dice and posting teaser pictures on Twitter*, Instagram**, and facebook. After all the begging and pleading from our followers, we decided to reveal a swatch here and there in their full glory.

AFI_No1_all

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

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

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

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Aleatoric Fair Isle Chart, with the all-important dice

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

AFI_No1_CloseUp

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

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

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

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

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

AFI_No1_Swatch

———

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

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

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

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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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