In this last installment of my Minicasts The Big News is Brenda Dayne’s Gwlana Knitting Retreats. I shall be teaching at the May edition alongside Brenda and I am really excited to tell you all about it. You can download the podcast directly from the Internet Archive; you can listen below; or you can hear it through subscribing to KNITSONIK on iTunes.
There’s a longer piece about that here if you would like to see pictures of the hotel where the retreat takes place but in this podcast you can hear me and Brenda talking about what the May Gwlana is going to be like and how our two classes fit together.
I am teaching Quotidian Colourwork based on the KNITSONIK System in my book. And Brenda is teaching Bespoke Yokes which reveals her formula for designing a yoke sweater customised for you. The idea is that comrades coming to Gwlana bring a personal inspiration and leave with all the knowledge to turn that into a well-fitting and personally decorated yoke sweater of dreams. To test and explore the relationship between these ideas Brenda has been applying my charts to her yoke sweater formula. She’s been working at half-scale and you can see the progression from inspiration source to finished mini-sweater in this photo.
The Spring 2015 Gwlana takes place from 15 – 18th May 2015 at Beggar’s Reach Hotel in Pembrokeshire. Food, accommodation, tuition, workshop materials, entertainment and goodie-bags are all covered by the ticket price which is £735 per person with discounts for folk who want to share a double room or family members who want to come for the trip. There is lots of information on the website but also in the Gwlana Ravelry group and the Gwlana Facebook group, so do ask if you have questions.
In between our discussions about Gwlana, I share sounds recorded for our former collaboration on the CD release- A Knitter’s Manifesto. In this project we set recordings of Brenda’s essays to field recordings imbuing the stories with a sense of place and the sonic textures of Brenda’s life in Wales.
I wanted to share some of these sounds with you along with this interview; they are bits and pieces of Brenda’s life in her adoptive landscape – Pembrokeshire – where she moved to live with her partner Tonia over a decade ago.
Brenda loves and is inspired by Wales, and this can be heard in the sounds. This also fills our visits with delight, and I think Brenda’s infectious love for where she lives will lend magic to the Gwlana retreat.
Sounds in the podcast include:
Zach (Brenda’s son) playing guitar in her house one evening after dinner
Tonia and Zach and Laura and Brenda and I laughing and chatting
a stream and adjacent path leading to Amroth beach
the Chaffinch and Songthrush that sing in the valley where Brenda lives
waves on Amroth beach
the creaky train between Swansea and Whitland (the nearest train station to where Gwlana takes place)
playing accordion in Brenda’s garden
a lively cafe in Narbeth
Truman’s dog leash rattling on the daily dog walk into the woods
Brenda’s coffee-pot on the stove
If you want to collect some of the sounds YOU listen to while you knit, you can download the printable PDF for making your own Knitting Sound Diary which we created when we released A Knitter’s Manifesto. If you watch this video you can see how to turn the PDF into your own little diary for recording the sounds that you hear when you are listening.
I hope you enjoyed hearing from Brenda and me in this Minicast; I’ll leave you with this amazing photo of Tenby which is the inspiration source that Brenda will be using as the basis for her work at the May Gwlana retreat.
I’LL BE BACK SOON WITH THE REGULAR KNITSONIK PODCAST AND NEWS OF THE FORTHCOMING ALBUM!
Have you heard of #TarmacTuesday, an exciting new movement to collectively document the many shades and colours of tarmac? No? Pull up a chair and a brew and let me take you on a journey!
Clare Devine, 17/03, Maidenhead
Fluphshop, 17/03, Dundee
Jadesfire2808, 17/03. Oxford
Jeni Reid, 17/03, Arbroath
Louise Scollay, 18/03
Cathy Scott, 17/03, Edinburgh
Jeni Reid, 24/03, Angus
Louise Scollay, 24/03,
Clare Devine, 31/03, Maidenhead
Cathy Scott, 31/04
…a little background on why we are all taking and sharing photos of our roads.
While working on the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook I noticed that tarmac comes in many more colours than I had previously supposed. If you have the book you will know that I describe this revelation in the chapter on places when I write about the A4074 road in Oxfordshire – a personal source of knitterly inspiration.
In the context of the book I was especially excited about this because it is a nice clear example of how even the most mundane and under-appreciated everyday context can yield a rich creative process.
My process of celebrating the A4074 began in the final year of my PhD when I spent a summer documenting it in sound and walks. Some of these recordings ended up on this radio show which aired on BBC Oxford and many others went onto the UK Sound Map. Recording the road and exploring its many facets on foot was extremely inspiring and I knew that the A4074 road was a context that I really wanted to revisit when I began work on my book. However when trying to translate the road into the medium of stranded colourwork, the wealth of material I had gathered about this road over several years was simply overwhelming.
I was thrilled about this too because I knew that many other knitters must have encountered the same problem; too many ideas at once! I was hopeful that if I could find solutions or methods for editing down the overwhelm, they might be useful for other knitters.
The breakthrough moment came when I was sifting through old photos looking for one or two signature aspects of the road which distinguish it from other roads. I realised that driving on this road is really its best feature – the one thing I’d not been able to easily capture for my radio project. There is nothing fun about walking directly along an A-road and driving along with a microphone in hand is not recommended.
I had very few photos in my collection telling the story of how the road unwinds in front of you with its chevrons but this one jumped out as an excellent starting point.
Around this time I’d also been reading something really interesting by Hazel Tindall in which she mentioned vertical patterns in Fair Isle Knitting. (If you look at some of Hazel’s wondrous designs like Hinnerley or Hjorki you can see what I mean about the verticalality of her patterns.) When I was looking at the photo of the A4074 with its painted markings and curves I realised that in order to recreate the sense of driving on the road the pattern would need to move vertically up the knitted fabric rather than horizontally. With these concepts in mind I set out to once again photograph the road.
I spent some time trying to find ways of showing the iconic curves and bends.
And it was then that I suddenly saw all the many colours of the tarmac. Some of the tarmac was not at all black or grey but, upon inspection, a heathery collection of blues and purples not unlike FC14 in the Jamieson & Smith 2-ply Jumper Weight yarn range. Not only this. There are pinks, blue areas, all kinds of shading creating through usage of the tarmac surface and the impressions and weight of tyres.
Blue grey and dirty coral tarmac
You can see the instant effects of this observation in the first section of my swatch based on the A4074 road…
…and how I continued to develop the theme throughout the rest of the swatch whilst also reintroducing some of the more, urm, traditionally scenic aspects of the road such as the poppy fields and outlying rural beauty around it.
In searching for the best ways to represent this process for readers of my book I was convinced that my wondrous closeup photos of tarmac really should be given pride of place in the layout. In my enthusiasm I micro-managed poor Nic and hassled her to put the tarmac up-front and centre. She sent me this.
However wondrous tarmac is, I realised when I saw this spread why Nic hadn’t wanted to make it central to the design! We laughed and she repaired the layout with her superlative skills.
I was still keen to show how the discovery of the many shades of tarmac had played a key role in my creative process and so for the final layout we used one of my photos of tasty Jamieson & Smith shades matched to photos of the A4074.
I revisited all this during my clown show stand-up comedy set at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, commemorating my tarmac obsession by awarding a prize featuring a framed selection of five of my best tarmac photos.
To my utter delight the very next day the winner of this prize – Gemma Dudley (Just_Gem on Twitter) – + comrades announced their intentions to launch “Tarmac Tuesdays”. Their fantastically simple and joyous concept is to encourage you to photograph tarmac on a Tuesday and upload the image to Twitter or Instagram, hash-tagged #TarmacTuesday. Add as little or as much detail as you like including location, observations, colour notes etc. You will be contributing to a collective celebration of the many various colours present in the world’s roads.
You can see some of the tarmac photos folk have already contributed here, interrupted occasionally with photos of flashy cars (these have been tagged with the the same hash tag for a totally unrelated project). I love the impression of patchwork created by these images in their collective murk and subtlety… such variety in what might traditionally be considered a subject with rather limited scope.
Felicity Ford, 31/03, Reading
Louisetilbrookdesigns, 07/04, Eskdale, Cumbria
I am immensely thankful to Gemma & Co. for starting #TarmacTuesday! The limitless and participatory nature of the Internet makes it a superlative platform for jointly documenting tarmac colours in all their glory. I’m not sure yet what the end product of all these amassed images might be but, at this stage, that doesn’t much matter. #TarmacTuesdays are all about the pleasure to be had in observing things along the way and in looking for gorgeousness in unexpected places… If you have Tweeted or Instagrammed tarmac on a Tuesday please leave a link to your instagram profile here so I can find your pictures.
I first discovered Tall Yarns’n Tales at Woolfest in 2012 when I saw lots of women walking about in their cheering pinnies and aprons with wellies underneath. I very rarely buy new clothes but when I got a one year post at Oxford Brookes University, one of the first things purchased out of my salary was a red linen spinning pinny. When my position at Oxford Brookes was drawing to an end I reflected on what might come next in this blog post where I also referenced the amazing pinny.
Here I am proffering a baa-ing, 100% Shetland-wool clad speaker to an audience at “Playground on Fire” in Oxford. I am explaining that the pillow is made of Shetland wool, and that there is a special map where one can hear this wool growing in the landscape and being loaded onto a lorry to be spun into the very yarns covering the speaker. I’m in my Tall Yarns‘n Tales spinning pinnie, with knitting + wool + sounds in my hands. The photo was taken by Pier Corona and I reckon it’s the most me I’ve ever looked.
One of the the wonderful, supportive comments on that post came from Linda, who said she wanted to support the KNITSONIK mission, whatever that was going to be. Later that year, she and Andrea created a very special signature garment; a wondrous tabard made of tweed left to me by my late and very treasured Aunty Hilary. It is the tabard I am wearing on the back cover of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook and in my house most days, for knitting and gardening and field recording and fun and it is one of my favourite garments of all time.
It reminds me of the beautiful things Aunty Hilary used to make for herself and it is a flattering and comfortable shape. I know it will last me for years.
You can hear Hilary briefly in the podcast before we enter a rich conversation with Linda and Andrea about the genesis of their designs for pinnies, aprons and tabards; about yarn design; about slow wardrobes; about pattern cutting; and about creative friendship.
You can learn of forthcoming Tall Yarns’n Tales public appearances here.
Later I mention the amazing gold-handled Ernest Wright & Son scissors which I purchased at the UK Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate; the sounds of blackbirds’ alarm calls in the evening; and the magic of being helped on my way in my mission by Tall Yarns’n Tales.
Reflecting on important collaborations and friendships in this rich world of textiles I mention Brenda Dayne’s essay – To be of Use – included in A Knitter’s Manifesto. Like the lovely conversation between Linda and Andrea, this essay reflects on a thoughtful and sustainable relationship to hand knitting our clothes. It was included on the CD release on which we worked together in 2011.
This minicast finishes with a reminder of the lineup for mine and Brenda’s amazeballs forthcoming long-weekend retreat, Gwlana.
spring knitting workshop
15 – 18 MAY 2015
This year our spring Gwlana workshop is all about colour. Over a four-day weekend you’ll learn how to notice colour, and find inspiration in the colours of your favourite objects brought from home. You’ll develop both palette and pattern from your inspiration sources, and learn to design a top-down yoked sweater that fits, because it’s based on your own measurements. Then you’ll make the fabric of your sweater sing with your own unique colourwork designs. You’ll leave the weekend inspired and energised, with your designs well underway and ready to work the techniques you’ve learned into new creations.
Experience level: This workshop is for you if you can knit, purl, increase and decrease with confidence, and are comfortable knitting with one colour of yarn while carrying a second colour across the back of the work. No previous design experience is necessary.
Come. It’s going to be wondrous!
Until then, I am yours in KNITTING + WOOL + SOUNDS,
Before getting to that I open with a recording made whilst rehearsing the CaBAAret song for the wondrous Edinburgh Yarn Festival. You can hear the bumpy chairs and tables being moved around in the background! If I saw or met you there, YAY! IT WAS AMAZEBALLS! Turbo Thanks to Jo & Mica for making it such a memorable event and for inviting me and my accordion! Clara Parkes has written a brilliant summary of the weekend here.
My little nephew – Barnaby – shares some lovely gurgles with you while I reflect on all the yarn I purchased for making baby knits. Then I thank the amazing comrades who came to my class at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. We used my shortlist (ahem, it’s not that short) of 75 shades from the whole range. Here is amazing Mel holding all the yarn just before the class!
Here are some of the amazing inspirations that people brought to that class, plus the palettes and swatches they developed from them.
Thanks for coming, it was so wonderful to meet you and work with you in the class.
I have more forthcoming workshops!
a Quotidian Colourwork workshop TOMORROW – Thursday 26th March – with Yarn in The City at Homemade London. All details here
a steeking workshop at Purlescence on 9th May (details coming soon on Purlescence and here)
I reflect a bit on the need to look after myself in the face of returning arthritis and weird aches and pains, but finish on an optimistic note, with a recording of busy birds in the spring time recorded outside my friend Cecilia’s house last week. You can practically hear the sunshine and surely that is good for ALL our health?
Then I share the story of the silkworms I raised last summer, narrating an essay written for the Wovember blog, mixing in sounds recorded during the weeks in which I looked after my silkworm buddies.
I was raising silkworms essentially to record how this luxury textile is made. The recordings of silkworms went into a special Sonic Trail commissioned by TATE Modern to accompany the Richard Tuttle exhibit.
Finally I remind you all that there is a new swatch-a-long in play, along the same lines as the pomegranates swatch-a-long, but this time using one of the amazing photos taken by my brother Fergus Ford of Frangipani Caterpillars in Barbados. (Quite fitting given the silkworm theme of this Minicast.) Come join us in the KNITSONIK Ravelry group!
I’ll be back next week with my interview with Tall Yarns’n Tales and my recordings from Edinburgh Yarn Festival, and hopefully a new ergonomically excellent workspace. Thanks for listening,
As ever I am YOURS IN WOOL SILK + KNITTING + SOUNDS,
One of the best things about exploring The KNITSONIK System with comrades is seeing the diverse ways in which knitters view the world. This is always a subject of discussion in classes! Differences in perspective and perception become really clear at the end of a workshop when everyone holds up their swatches for all to see. Several folks have mentioned that they’d like to know how these differences might present if a group of knitters work from the same inspiration source. With that in mind #knitsonikpomegranates began just before Christmas – an online swatch-a-long in which curious knitters created stranded colourwork swatches taking pomegranates as their inspiration. Tagging swatch projects #knitsonikpomegranates enabled us to see each other’s work when searching Ravelry projects: projects tagged #knitsonikpomegranates on Ravelry and, as you’ll see, the results are as varied and colourful as their creators.
I thought you might enjoy reading what we learnt (because we learnt a lot) and I wanted to show you the swatches produced during our experiment (because they are gorgeous).
We discussed how much to reveal while working on our swatches and decided that while little teasers are encouraging and morale-boosting, sharing whole sections of swatches too early on in the process might end up with us all copying each other!
With tasty snippets appearing here and there in our online chatter, we beavered away in relative secrecy with an end-of-February deadline for a big reveal and over the last few days amazing pomegranate-inspired stranded colourwork began appearing in the Ravelry thread!
Inspiration & Palettes
Pomegranates are a nice flexible inspiration source because they are widely represented in art and design, and because they can also be purchased in the flesh for those who like to work from physical things. One of the first ways in which knitters are different is in how we collect and use inspiration. Finding a beautiful piece of fabric or embroidery seems to really do it for some people. For others a bit of art is what gets the knitterly mojo going. For me, nothing really beats making a mess in the kitchen. I was fascinated by the diverse ways in which folk interpreted the inspiration source, and confess to being rather envious of knitters in warmer climates able to record pomegranates growing on actual trees.
This is a montage of images that folks posted on their project pages for inspiration. I love how the different ways in which we recorded our inspiration individuated our work.
For instance Sorosa and DonnaC2 found existing artworks – embroidery and print – for inspiration. Seeing how others have interpreted an object can be a brilliant starting point. It narrows down infinite colour choices and I love the distinctive palettes that emerged through consulting these artistic interpretations.
Working directly from pomegranates also produces diverse results; my seeds scattered on a white plate from a very ripe fruit yielded a very pink palette for my pomegranate swatch, while Labistrake had much paler seeds. Arranging them against the background of her blue trailer produced a breathtaking motif of delicate peachy pinks on mid blue. I got juice everywhere while her seeds are neatly arranged – a precision which continues in her neatly ordered stitch patterns vs. my asymmetric motifs.
Jbwb writes that she too “was inspired by the real pomegranate itself. Mainly I was playing with trying to use the interior with the waxy cells and seeds (which looked creamy white and yellow and even gray at the edges) and the layers of colors in the peel”. There is exciting evidence of looking and seeing and examining and exploring a physical thing in the section of the swatch to which she refers.
There is something equally inventive about nisseknits’ approach to managing inspiration. She challenged herself to work without neutrals, and so chose an amazingly colourful painting as a jumping off point. I love the boldness of this choice and the unabashed and vivid palette; I also think – given the busyness of the painting – that it was a good idea to use a simplified pomegranate motif from a fabric design on spoonflower.
I love all these knitterly styles of collecting and using inspiration and as you can see – whether working with a physical object or a photo or a painting – they have a huge influence on palettes! But they also evidence the different creative sensibilities of knitters.
Pomegranates present one particular problem for knitters of stranded colourwork: they are big and round – a shape which can create some stranding issues if you want to be literal in your translations. I love looking at how many ways we found of breaking up that large pomegranate shape and avoiding long strands on the back of the work.
Another creative strategy for solving this problem involved showing just a section or segment of the pomegranate, like the curve at the edge or cross sections created by cutting the fruit open.
We also all messed around in one way or another with depicting the seeds; I love how some of us went big on this in our patterns, and how some of us went small.
For me the most exciting thing about #knitsonikpomegranates is seeing all the projects side by side. It really shows how knitters can take something as defined as a pomegranate seed and push it in completely different directions.
Some of the patterns that we produced are quite amorphous too; the curves could be the edges of the whole fruit or the rounded end of a seed. It doesn’t matter, the point is that in looking and seeing and in finding details, pomegranate-ness begins to emerge.
When thinking about patterns I am always interested in how different ideas can create a sense of rhythm across a garment. DonnaDz notes that she “tried to capture the way the leaves move in the wind as well as the seeds, arils, and the shape of the fruit” and that sense of rhythm and movement definitely appears in the strong diagonals of her leaves and pomegranates.
One of the most useful things about swatching is that is reveals how different yarn shades interact. Looking at all the #knitsonikpomegranates swatches together presents a lot of information about how shifts in background and pattern yarns can work with different kinds of palettes.
I used Appleton’s Crewel Wool held double for my swatch, meaning there were always 4 strands of yarn in play (2 for the background colour and 2 for the pattern). I sometimes swapped one of the background or pattern yarns for another to create super subtle transitions. Though this was fiddly and made yarn management a bit tricky, I love how I was able to describe the turbo pinks and reds of my pomegranate with this technique.
My swatch is really hard to photograph because it’s so luminous and warm; the brightness confuses the white balance on my camera! I like that almost neon effect but there is something magnificent about how introducing some contrasting cool shades like grey and blue can help those bright saturated pomegranate colours to really stand out.
DonnaC2’s swatch looks so nice photographed against that grey wicker that I had to keep some of it in the frame; there is something so wonderful about how restrained the colours are in this palette and how well those greys and reds sing together.
Similarly, the way the blue trailer background animates the pinks and peaches in Labistrake’s swatch just kills me; I think you can see how well the colours are going to work from the very first photo she posted of a pomegranate against that glorious blue. The blue is so bright and warm and lovely against the peach – in the knitting and also in the photos.
The shading also works beautifully in DonnaDz’s swatch and it’s interesting to read her notes and to see how she found ideas for managing colour transitions by looking at the fruits themselves. That burst of vivid orange pink is a precious shot of life in an otherwise understated palette but if you check out her photos you can see that there really is an amazing burst of unreal colour in one of the shots and that her observations of this and of light on the smooth soft skin of the ripening fruits have really informed all her shading decisions. It’s uncannily realistic.
The greens and reds in Kizmet’s beautiful swatch seem really autumnal together in contrast to how delicate and springlike they are in DonnaDz’s work. Kizmet’s chunkier designs speak to the succulence of the pomegranate and its wondrous, solid roundness… whereas DonnaDz’s captures beautifully the lacy, tendril-like aspects of the leaves – something I had never thought about until I saw her photos of pomegranate trees.
Nisseknits’ swatch conveys the quest for a pleasing combination of blues and greens in background and pinks and reds in pattern; it’s a challenging mission and the iterations of the design as she works it out are full of information. In her notes she says “I’m pretty happy with the final attempt but I think there’s too much light green. I think I’d make the dark blues more dominant and lessen the greens if I made a fourth” and you can see that thought process – visible learning – happening in the knitting. It is beauteous!
I also see visible learning in Mcginnypig’s swatch – a gorgeous record of seeing and documenting colours and patterns in yarn; a document of process; an exercise in mark-making.
The golds and deep greens in Sorosa’s swatch are really vibrant and I love what is going on a little ways in on the left with that dramatic shading from yellow through greens into purples; also the contrast between that exuberant section and the far more restrained motif in dark purple pinks further along to the right. I love how both this swatch and LaylaKnits’ swatches redefine PINK. It’s so nice to look at them side by side and to see how differently pink behaves in proximity to other shades.
The shading scheme that is the biggest surprise is the one in Jbwb’s swatch – the section based on the membranes between the seeds. I love how specific this one section is and how you would almost never design that in stranded colourwork unless you were studying a pomegranate really carefully and with a sense of wonder. It’s so subtle and unexpected and such a reminder that inspiration lurks in the most unexpected of places.
Thank you to all the comrades who joined in with #knitsonikpomegranates and for letting me share your amazing work here – I hope you all learnt as much as I did from swatching together! And if you’re reading about this for the first time I hope you’ve found it interesting.
We’re already planning another swatch-a-long on the KNITSONIK Ravelry forum for those who missed this round, and I’m expanding my classes repetoire to include classes in which knitters explore the same inspiration source together.
In the meantime, if you would like to experience the KNITSONIK system in person I shall be teaching my Quotidian Colourwork class on 26th March in London with Yarn in the City, and at Gwlana with Brenda Dayne in May. Though there will not necessarily be any pomegranates at those events there will definitely be other knitters. And as I hope this post shows, when it comes to colourwork and life in general, that’s often a very fine thing.