I am thrilled today to tell you all about a performance in which I am involved later this month in which my interests in WOOL and SOUNDS combine, and I also want to tell you how YOU can be involved! Max Reinhardt (whom UK readers may know from ‘Late Junction’ on BBC Radio 3) is instigating an exciting, participatory performance of Handel’s Messiah this WOVEMBER. The performance involves a group of comrades meeting to perform Handel’s Messiah without a rehearsal (hence why the performance is being billed as that of an “Instant Orchestra”). According to the official blurb “this is a mass participation event and we’d love you to come and play or sing in the orchestra. As in Life itself, there’s no such thing as Instant orchestra rehearsal, just rock up and let conductor (s) take you on the journey.” Fine, you say, but where do the sheep come in? GOOD QUESTION! There are many mentions of shepherds, sheep and lambs throughout Handel’s Messiah and Max has asked if I will make some special sheep soundscapes available to be downloaded and played on mobile phones at the relevant points in the performance. You can download the sounds below or directly from my soundcloud page, where you can also find information on each of the sheep soundscapes I am producing for use in this work. If you love the idea of bringing Handel’s Messiah to life with sheepy sounds but cannot attend the performance in person, please consider donating your own recordings of sheep to the cause; send any recordings you are able to make on your phone or other digital sound recording device and I will endeavour to make sure that they are incorporated into the sheepy soundscapes and that you and/or your sheep are appropriately credited.
INSTANT ORCHESTRA perform Handel’s Messiah
Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BG
Fri 20 Nov 2015
No rehearsals of course
The premise of the KAL is brilliantly simple: make a swatch from a single breed yarn; block and wear this swatch to give it a road test; share your findings with others.
But this simplicity belies the richness of this special KAL… With her characteristic enthusiasm and warmth, Louise builds on the idea that a good yarn-tasting should be like a good wine-tasting, beer-tasting or cheese-tasting… a process of savouring WOOL in its many glorious and varied forms and sharing that pleasure with others. If you have not been following the series, I strongly urge you to check it out!
I love the collective spirit of Louise’s KALs and her gleeful love of wool is highly infectious. Though I am no stranger to swatching myself, reading her notes on this post made my fingers itch to cast on in some British wool not yet known to me. Fortuitously I was catching up with another brilliant podcast – A Playful Day – which provided me with just the right inspiration in the form of a beautiful interview with Louise Spong of South Downs Yarn. I ordered some South Downs Yarn in Chalky Path and have spent a few days really getting to know it.
However as I cast on, I couldn’t help thinking that my process would be assisted by some handy stationery! With Louise’s blessing I used her post to glean headings under which to enter information as I went. I thought the structure of filling out each section would help me to organise my perceptions as I knit, and I must admit that it has proved quite useful so far.
In case you think the stationery might also help YOU, please feel free to download it in either Microsoft Word or .PDF format. You can print out the stationery and fill it out by hand, or you can fill it in in Word as I have been doing.
I shall share my thoughts on the magnificent South Downs Yarn during the month of WOVEMBER and you are very warmly invited to do the same, and to tell us all about your experiences of knitting with 100% WOOL yarns! We are still accepting submissions on our key themes of Growing, Harvesting, Processing, Working With and Wearing, Wool. See this post for details.
This KAL is superb because as well as being fun it is amazingly practical and very timely. I still meet wool vendors who say that knitters won’t look beyond the initial hand-squish-grab of skeins at yarn festivals and softness still seems to be the main characteristic that sells yarn. There is nothing wrong with soft wool and it certainly has its place! But this narrow focus denies the pleasure of diverse textures and knitting experiences that can result from really exploring wool in its myriad forms. And though some wool definitely defies categorisation as “soft”, it can offer us a great deal in other qualities – warmth, durability, longevity, stitch-definition, insulating properties, drape, handle, bounce, life, a sense of place…the list goes on. The Breed Swatch KAL is all about finding the “muchness” of wool. The KAL has been thoughtfully assembled by Louise to enable knitters to engage with wool beyond the initial hand-squish-grab, and to explore its depth and beauty in a considered and collective spirit of wonder. Best of all, through various social media channels the information discovered as we knit will become more widely known and we can learn from each other.
Though I love a dreamy soft Bluefaced Leicester in my hands I am also thrilled by how a much coarser sweater I knitted for Mark has worn over several years, and the rough crunchy warmth of my Icelandic Lopi Keith Moon Sweater is my greatest comfort as the autumn rolls on into winter. Rachel Atkinson’s recent post about the prices that UK shepherds receive for their wool – Fleeced – points to a market in which British fleeces are still sadly being burnt. Meanwhile shop shelves continue to be flooded with wool that has been imported and designed to cater for an obsession with initial softness – sometimes at the expense of longevity, drape, stitch definition, durability or other amazing qualities possessed by wool. This is a real shame.
I pray that this generation of makers can dodge the hypnotic, high street virus of softness, build up their cotton and lambswool under layers, pile on the armour of rough stuff, turn down the central heating, and feel rich and rewarded by the totality of what our country lovingly produces.
– Rachael Matthews, WOVEMBER 2013
“The totality of what our country lovingly produces” is exactly what the Breed Swatch KAL enables us to rediscover. Thanks to Louise and her wondrous Breed Swatch KAL I feel freshly inspired as we head WOVEMBERwards… see you there?
As you will know by now, one of my favourite activities involves translating everyday inspirations into stranded colourwork using The KNITSONIK System. I love this process because I find that it’s easier to develop amazing stranded colourwork patterns with the help of a friendly inspiration source, and because the process of looking and exploring can really deepen appreciation for a special place or object.
For much of my teaching at Shetland Wool Week this year, I decided to apply The KNITSONIK System to the special context of Shetland. I thought it would be really lovely to explore places and objects from these isles through the medium of knitting. In my classes for Jamieson & Smith (of which more in a later post) I curated palettes based on photos taken in special places in Shetland. However with the help and support of Dr Carol Christiansen, Shetland Museum and Archives Textile Curator, I was also able to put on a class in the Shetland Museum in which we used old knitting sheaths as inspiration for designing stranded colourwork.
Knitting sheaths were used in Shetland before knitting belts and probably also before steel knitting needles became widely available. They were stuffed into a belt at the knitter’s side to anchor a needle there as she knitted. There is only one photo of a sheath in use in the Shetland Museum Archives which can be seen here.
I spent a happy day researching for this class. I unwrapped and examined the sheaths held in the store rooms of The Shetland Museum and Archives and learnt about these knitting tools from Carol*. Two years ago when I was working on my project Listening to Shetland Wool I was struck by the close intersections between fishing and knitting in the history of the isles. Often when listening to sheep grazing you can also hear seabirds, and most crofts were sustained on a dual income from fishing and the sale of knitted goods. This is why my song about Shetland Wool includes the line “stories of fishing and knitwear entwined…”. The knitting sheaths are further evidence of this intertwining of fishing and knitting. They were created by tying the quills of many feathers together that were then wrapped tightly together with a woven exterior. The feathers could easily have been found anywhere where there were seabirds, and many of the woven exteriors include the types of knots used by sailors. Some of the sheaths also have a kind of coating which has rendered the knotted/woven exterior both waterproof and stiff.
I find these sheaths very moving. They contain evidence of shared labour; that of their maker and of the knitters who used them. Some of them are lighter in places, either from being weathered or from rubbing against the clothes of their wearer. Studying the sheaths brings these details to notice…
…I love things and how expressive they can be of the lives in which they were employed. As well as containing many references to sailing and knitting, in one of the sheaths all the quills are split. This could either be from overuse, or from the knitter using steel needles. (One of the reasons the sheaths are thought to have been used before the widespread availability of steel needles is that steel needles were a bit too rough to be held securely by the feather quills.) But any of those outcomes describe the heavy work to which a knitting sheath was once put to use in Shetland and make descriptions of the labour involved in the Shetland hosiery trade visible, tangible.
Another sheath looks knitted but is in fact woven; the yarns of which it is comprised have faded to very soft shades in the main part of the sheath-covering, but an unravelled section at the base not yet bleached by light and time reveals the lurid shades of the yarn originally used. This yarn was mill-spun and according to Carol the garish colours are classically Victorian. If I was listening correctly, Carol also said that mill-spun yarn wasn’t really available on Shetland until years after the sheaths fell out of use, so this yarn was probably found on a sailor’s travels before being intricately turned into a knitting sheath.
This particular sheath was the object of much admiration in my KNITSONIK class! The wavy lines and knitterly composition of the maker’s design really seemed to appeal to many of the knitters, who created zig zags and colour sequences based on this evocative object.
Carol came to talk to us about the knitting sheaths and to answer questions and it was really a privilege to see creative and factual explorations of the past coming together. We spoke about the materials available to the Shetlanders who made these sheaths, and how they might have been used. We talked about the effects of time, weather and work.
We also spoke about how you would use yarn to describe these things… how one might sequence blues and reds to replicate the structure of worn, woven leather… and of the close correlation between shade FC43 in the J&S range and the creamy parts of the feather quills.
The faded effects of time on reds and blacks was the focus for some really beautiful and subtle knitterly interpretation; these shading schemes grew from turning the sheaths around and holding balls of yarn against them to match the colours.
We appreciated a brightly coloured tassel and its corresponding matches within currently available yarn ranges.
And I learnt about the shades and colours of these wonderful objects through picking an appropriate palette.
I really love working with Museum collections and am particularly interested in how creative processes can be used to explore the objects held in such collections. Creative investigation can reveal objects in new and exciting lights and can make you see precious things like the knitting sheaths in a totally different way. It felt particularly fitting to celebrate knitting sheaths using the very craft in which they were originally made and employed.
It was really inspiring and a huge privilege to be able to work with the Shetland Museum & Archives to develop this class and I hope that everyone who came enjoyed discovering the knitting sheaths as much as I did. Thank you very much to Dr Carol Christiansen, The Shetland Museum and Archives and Jamieson & Smith for making it possible for us to knit from Shetland’s textile past!
I would be so interested to find any other information about knitting sheaths in Shetland – if you have details or memories of these objects and their use (or in how they were made) please do get in touch!
*You can read Carol’s article about knitting sheaths in edition no. 23 of Unkans – the newsletter produced by the Shetland Museum and Archives: PDF download link here.
It’s that time of year again, Shetland Wool Week time, and you all know how much I love WOOL WEEK!
This year the build-up has been very exciting. I have really been enjoying my Shetland Wool Week Annual – get your own copy here! – and I did an illustration of a Shetland sheep wearing Donna Smith’s signature Baa-ble hat for this year’s tote bags…
…also, preparing for my classes (which are largely themed around Shetland and its distinctive colours this year) has caused me to revisit my photos from previous trips to these beautiful islands.
It was lovely to go through these photos considering which themes might work well;
‘Simmens’ (straw ropes) and ‘linkstens’ (thatching weights) holding down the thatch on The Shetland Croft House Museum present glorious patterns, lines and textures…
…many delightful shapes and textures can be found in the wise face of this Shetland ram…
…the magnificent glassy prospect of a calm, sunny inlet at Trondra is full of enticement and a temptation of blues, silvers, golds…
…a shock of purple jellyfish lifts all the ochres and mustards of the stones strewn around Nesbister…
…and my friend Deborah stands out in her bold patterned handknits against the rich seaweedy shades of Bressay.
All of which is to say that the colours of Shetland are magnificent, and I look forward to sharing them with some of you in the coming days. See you in Shetland?
Following the KNITSONIK blog post series on swatching I have been thinking about the next KNITSONIK swatch-a-long.
I’ve made no secret of my love for THE SWATCH! But I also sympathise with comrades wishing to WEAR the results of any time spent knitting. And I am thrilled every time a new project turns up on Ravelry in which an ingenious knitter has applied The KNITSONIK System to the production of wearable garments.
These objects reveal their maker’s creative process. They are true originals and one-offs, as beautiful in concept as design. Each pair of mitts that is made as a swatch reflects the particular priorities and creative focus of its maker: they couldn’t have been made by anyone else.
The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook advocates the swatch as a superlative testing ground for ideas because sometimes the pressure of having to make something wearable can inhibit our impulse to take risks and to try things out. But knitters are thrifty and practical folk and reading your comments on my swatching post series and also the notes on these projects makes me think that perhaps for some comrades the prospect of making a swatch that can’t be worn is more of a barrier to creativity than the pressures of wracking your brains to make something you’d be proud to wear.
All of which is a long preamble to say that in the next KNITSONIK swatch-a-long, the Fingerless Mitts pattern from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook will be our playground for swatching. It is a MITTS-A-LONG rather than a SWATCH-A-LONG (though if you want to make a swatch of course I won’t discourage you!)
The mitts-a-long runs like this: comrades cast on Fingerless Mitts on 1st October, making up patterns and ideas as we go, and each ending up with a pair of mitts based on the same inspiration source. By all working from the same source and with the same sorts of colours, we will learn TONS from each other about how yarn shades interact with one another.
I put the subject of the inspiration source to public vote and it was this photos of the ancient Roman wall at Silchester that seemed to hold the broadest appeal. I am immensely happy that you all liked this beauteous old wall as much as I do! I photographed it in the midst of working on my book last year. It was Mark’s birthday and we had gone for a walk. Working on the book had put stranded colourwork to the forefront of my mind, and the glorious flint stones, velvety moss and greeny shades struck me as a treasure trove of inspiration. How lovely it will be to now explore that all with you.
I also consulted with comrades on Ravelry in the KNITSONIK forum on whether or not my producing a kit would be enabling for knitters wishing to participate in the mitts-a-long. Some folks were excited about the possibility of having that option so I have been assembling a very limited number of kits that include 8 balls of Jamieson & Smith 2-Ply Jumper Weight in appropriate shades. These kits will go on sale at the Yarn in The City pop-up marketplace tomorrow. Unsold kits will be posted up for sale afterwards on Sunday in my online shop.
Jamieson & Smith have a stupendous range of greys and greens and other appropriate Roman wall shades of yarn…
As well as 8 balls of Jamieson & Smith 2-ply Jumper Weight yarn these kits contain a card printout with several views of the inspiration source for reference; a print out of the Fingerless Mitts pattern that appears in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook (includes blank chart templates to fill out as you go); two sets of bamboo DPNs in the appropriate sizes; and a button-badge declaring your participation in the mitts-a-long:
All this comes in a canvas tote with KNITSONIK emblazoned on the side and costs £25 + P&P. There is no requirement for you to buy this kit in order to participate in the mitts-a-long and you don’t have to use the Fingerless Mitts pattern supplied in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook as your template if you would rather use an alternative pattern. I have merely created these guidelines and options to make translating the world into stranded colourwork as easy and appealing as possible.
When you have finished experimenting with your palettes, patterns and shading to create a pair of mitts based on the Roman wall at Silchester, please upload your project photos to Ravelry with the tags #knitsonikmittsalong, and #KNITSONIK as this will enable other participants to see your work as in previous KNITSONIK swatch-a-longs, #knitsonikpomegranates and #knitsonikcaterpillars. At the end of the #knitsonikmittsalong I shall write about our endeavours so that we can all learn from each other’s amazing knitting adventures.
While we are on the subject of amazing mitts as a canvas for colourwork creativity, can I show you Fidlstix’s Color Study Mitts and More Color Study Mitts? I am a huge fan of Fidlstix and her mitts are a delight for the wealth of ideas they contain and for their matchy-by-not-matching aesthetic. I’ll bet they are as fun to wear as they were to knit, and for anyone considering using fingerless mitts as an experimental canvas, I think the idea to repeat the same motifs on each hand but to change the colour sequencing for each one is genius…it is one of many things you could try out if participating in the mitts-a-long!