Tabea’s Trainers


While I was in Shetland I spotted on instagram that Tabea had completed a swatch begun in my Quotidian Colourwork Class back in March at the fantastic Edinburgh Yarn Festival!

I absolutely love seeing what people bring to my classes as inspiration sources – it’s always so rich to see what makes people tick, what people want to embed into their knitting, and the different ways in which everyday objects can move us to take creative action. There are things that come up time and again – holiday photos; favourite landscapes; cherished textiles. But so far I think Tabea is the only comrade to have simply pulled her shoe off her foot, stuck it on the table, and knit from it. I confess this moment – when the new shiny sneaker appeared neatly on the table in the class – is one of my favourites, because I felt it was both a challenge to, and a test of, the KNITSONIK system… every time I glanced its bright white toe it seemed to be peeping at me and saying “is it really possible to find inspiration anywhere? Even in a pair of sneakers?

Tabea’s new shoes!

As you can see from Tabea’s project page, the answer is a resounding YES! (Please, if you are on Ravelry, show this work some LOVE!)

As well as making a really joyous swatch that mines her shoe for hidden inspiration, Tabea also produced a fantastic report on the process for her YouTube channel. It gives a really solid and thoughtful explanation of her process and was very interesting for me to see, as it gave me a new perspective on how the ideas from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook are put to use by others. Tabea is *extremely kind* about my book in her video – thank you Tabea! – but quite apart from that, the content about her actual process is fascinating and I feel that if you are working on any kind of KNITSONIK swatching project, you are sure to find something helpful and celebratory in Tabea’s wondrous report.

Thanks for your lovely comments on the photos from Shetland – we really did have a magical time and I can’t wait to be back there in a few short months for Shetland Wool Week!

Speaking of which: if Tabea’s name seems familiar that is because I have shared her knitting here before, as she is one of the folks who joined in with last year’s Shetland-themed #knitsonikmittsalong. A few of you have asked about the knitting sheaths I mentioned in my last post and I’ll be writing about those in more detail in coming days, but for now, here are Tabea’s mitts, based on the knitting sheaths below which are the ones I did, pictured with the sheaths themselves last week in Shetland. I love seeing the similarities and also the differences between how we, and other #knitsonikmittsalong-ers – approached this shared inspiration source, and when I look at the Knitting Sheath inspired projects together on Ravelry, they look to me like little cousins in stranded colourwork design…

Tabea’s beautiful mitts, based on Shetland Knitting Sheaths
My knitting-sheath inspired mitts, with knitting sheaths

…if you knitted for the #knitsonikmittsalong last year, themed around knitting sheaths, but don’t see your project here please let me know so I can find it and tag it!

More soon,

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Shetland in pictures

We are back from a short break in Shetland; this was a special trip, as it was Mark’s first time in Shetland and a holiday for my birthday.
I thought you might like to see some photos!

Puffins at Sumburgh Head.

The rocks around St. Ninian’s Isle.

Sheep buddies!

Seal buddy.

Gorgeous ombré sand.

A Fulmar? Or a kind of gull? Defending its nest.

A Bonxie at Hermaness.

Gannet colonies, rocks, stacks, and the most Northerly point in the UK: Muckle Flugga!

Puffin buddy at Hermaness!

Fair Isle at Whalsay – more on that in another post, but for now I just wanted to show you some glimpses of the extraordinary work of the knitters of Whalsay.

Lichens, sea-pinks (Thrift) and Bog-Cotton seen up and around Eshaness.

Da Drongs, spotted from Braewick beach.

Knitting Sheaths at the Shetland Museum and Archives – also to be shared more in a further post!

The impossibly pink sunset on our last night.

Mark enjoying the coastal views and the beautiful buttercups and sea pinks.

Thank you Shetland, we had such a lovely time and will be back very soon!

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An Open Letter to the Shetland Islands Council

To The Shetland Islands Council,

I write to express my dismay on learning of your decision to not renew Promote Shetland’s contract, which puts three people out of a job and imperils the inspiring work that they have done. From the outside, the decision appears deeply short-sighted. I am frankly at a loss as to how you imagine anyone can do a better job at “attracting people, particularly young people, to live, work and study and invest in Shetland” than the current Promote Shetland team. I am also confused by the implication in the articles I have read, that “heritage tourism” seems, in the eyes of the Shetland Islands Council, to be at odds with your goals of drawing people to Shetland.

To better explain what I mean, I should speak about how Promote Shetland attracted me to stay, work, study and spend in Shetland. I was first in touch with Promote Shetland when I saw a photograph by Fair Isle photographer – Dave Wheeler – on social media. I contacted Misa Hay at Promote Shetland to see whether it might be possible for us to republish this photo on the Wovember blog. Wovember is both a celebration of the heritage, culture and labour surrounding woollen textiles, and a forward-looking campaign seeking to change how the garment industry uses the term “wool” in current product descriptions. Like Promote Shetland’s thoughtful approach to “heritage tourism”, Wovember is about deepening our understanding and appreciation of history in order to improve the future. Dave Wheeler’s fantastic image really speaks to that mission, capturing the special provenance of Shetland wool which makes it such an inspiring material for contemporary Shetland textile businesses.

Photo © Dave Wheeler; see Dave’s work at Dave Wheeler Photography

Misa Hay at Promote Shetland helpfully contacted Dave Wheeler on our behalf and enabled us to share his fantastic woolly photo. This is the first of many exchanges over the years that have demonstrated to me the sophisticated understanding of social media possessed by the Promote Shetland team – their joined-up, connective, and collaborative approach.

Partly because of my work with Wovember, I was invited by Promote Shetland to act as Patron for Shetland Wool Week in 2013. At the time I was employed by Oxford Brookes University as an Early Career Research Fellow in Sound Art. I used field-recordings and interviews to explore the special history of Shetland wool through listening and sound, producing a special online sound map enabling listeners to hear elements of Shetland’s working woollen landscape. I presented a talk at Shetland Wool Week called Listening to Shetland Oo, celebrating links between Shetland’s music and textiles and the distinctive, sonic textures of the places in which Shetland Wool grows.

Shetland Wool Week Poster, 2013

I also produced a knitting pattern for covering pillow speakers in Shetland Wool. The pattern contains instructions on how to download sounds from my online soundmap. By knitting the speaker and downloading my recordings, knitters can listen to Shetland Wool through Shetland Wool.

My drawing of the knitted speaker, which was printed on one side of the bags for SWW 2013

This project is currently installed in the Open Data Centre in London as part of Data as Culture: Thinking Out Loud. Opening last year, this exhibition has been extended until September 2017, and features work from many different artists “exploring the ways in which humans have captured, encoded and distributed data and made it meaningful through pattern”. Ostensibly beginning as a project about Shetland’s heritage conceived for Shetland Wool Week, Listening to Shetland Wool has become part of a contemporary art discourse on data, knitting, textiles, computer code, and gender and technology, all the while spreading Shetland voices and sounds far beyond the initial audiences who saw and heard that work at Wool Week 2013.

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

Listening to Shetland Wool was made possible not only through the practical support and contacts provided to me by Promote Shetland, but also because the team did not turn their noses up at my unusual proposal to incorporate digital technology into my promotional Wool Week activities. In fact Misa was extremely encouraging about my knitted speakers, my online sound map and my enthusiasm for using field recordings to document the special stories and textures of Shetland Wool. Perhaps this is because Promote Shetland are already so familiar with using digital content to engage potential visitors with what Shetland has to offer: just look at their popular webcams. Because of the warm responses shown to my recording activities in Shetland in 2013, I’ve never stopped making recordings of Shetland or sharing the sounds I have recorded there. On World Wide Knit In Public Day this year, my podcast Sounds from Shetland Wool Week was aired at a gallery in Germany as part of a special exhibition featuring textiles and sounds by German artists Gerald Fiebig and Tine Klink. Too, this year, at the Readipop Festival in my home town of Reading, I will publicly perform my promotional song about Shetland, written as a love song to your Islands when I traveled there in 2013.

You can hear the song now because it was recorded by 60° North TV: the fantastic video platform of Promote Shetland. I am frankly honoured to appear on their YouTube channel which features another video by the same team that I show to all my friends when I am talking about Shetland: The A-Z of Shetland. That’s not all. Drawing from the generous and attractively presented resources collected on the Promote Shetland website, I’ve been able to share many other elements of Shetland life with my friends here, too: baking bannocks using the recipe on the website; playing music from Shetland discovered through Promote Shetland’s vibrant social media channels; and proudly wearing my I <3 Shetland badge wherever I go.

I heart Shetland!

Exposure to the rich culture and deeply embedded sense of place in Shetland – perhaps something you might narrowly mis-name “heritage tourism” – made me yearn for a textile practice of my own: one that would enable me to deepen connections between the landscape in which I live and my knitting. Encouraged by Promote Shetland, I developed a workshop along these themes in my capacity as patron for Wool Week 2013 called Quotidian Colourwork. Celebrating everyday objects and places in stranded colourwork, this workshop is about finding patterns and textures wherever you live, for use in your knitting. My workshop gives knitters who cannot lay claim to any one particular knitting heritage the tools to make stranded colourwork out of anything that is personally significant or special to the knitter. The workshop was well received enough that in 2014, when my University-funded Early Career Research Fellowship ended, I was able to run a successful Kickstarter campaign that enabled me to publish a book expanding on the same subject. Selling that book and teaching further Quotidian Colourwork workshops have been my main source of income ever since: neither could have happened without the enabling support and encouragement of Misa Hay that I received at the start of the idea: Thank you, Misa!

Misa Hay on the Shetland Wool Week stall with Donna Smith’s Baa-ble hat design in 2015

The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is now in its third print run. When working on it, I exclusively use Shetland Jumper Weight 2-ply supplied by Jamieson & Smith. It is my favourite yarn with which to knit colourwork, and I continue to buy all my yarn for teaching workshops from the Woolbrokers, urging all my students to do the same. I’ve returned to Shetland to offer Quotidian Colourwork classes at Wool Week almost every year since 2013.

Swapping publications with Hazel Tindall in 2014

Unable to come in 2016, I staged a series of celebratory activities dubbed Shetland Wool Week in the South and researched through the website. My comrades at Purlescence hosted a Sunday Tea, and local friends created a temporary display of knitting inspired by Shetland or worked in Shetland Wool. We had a reading table piled high with fantastic publications produced by Promote Shetland: The Shetland Pocket Guide; two fantastic editions of the Wool Week annual; and copies of the wonderfully informative 60° North Magazine. I am traveling to work in Shetland once again this autumn, and also for a holiday with my husband, Mark: we are researching our whole trip using the fantastic resources at

When we were married earlier this year, I knitted a pair of gauntlets from Shetland Wool and wool from Portland – an island off of Weymouth, where Mark is from. I wanted to incorporate a feeling of home into the textiles I wore that day: a feeling I strongly associate with Shetland and all the amazing people I have met there. I am sure I do not speak only for myself when I say that Promote Shetland played a key role in welcoming me to Shetland as an outsider. Promote Shetland also gave me the means and resources to work in your Islands (albeit on a freelance basis). I don’t want to downplay the fantastic warmth of all the Shetlanders I’ve met, the fantastically supportive team at Jamieson & Smith, or the incredible work of people like Carol Christiansen at the Shetland Museum and Archives… but back in 2013, it was Promote Shetland who first introduced me to your Islands and to all the Shetlanders I now joyfully count as friends.

I am not the only person who feels this way, and I know that all the knitters who come to Shetland Wool Week boosting the economy by half a million pounds strongly associate that event with the friendly faces of Promote Shetland. I am heartened to read that Shetland Wool Week is not at risk, but it is hard to envisage how this event will continue without the involvement of the people who have been developing the event since it first began and particularly without the fantastic energies of Misa.

Misa Hay with the giant Baa-ble by Donna Smith, in 2015

Learning from every successive event, this team has built an excellent, world-class brand for Wool Week; one well-recognised by the International Knitting Community. Designs by former Wool Week patrons Donna Smith and Kate Davies have featured in popular television programmes Shetland and Eden, and when Promote Shetland have attended such events as Vogue Knitting in New York City, they’ve been greeted like superstars. Well-researched articles by renowned researchers Kate Davies and Roslyn Chapman have made the 60° North magazine one that is cherished everywhere by knitters who want to read quality content about the history and context of our craft.

Ella Gordon at the Shetland Wool Week stall at Edinburgh Yarn Festival in 2016

Because of the sophistication with which Promote Shetland utilise social media, the reach of Shetland Wool Week far outstrips the capacity in Shetland for actual visitors. To overcome this problem, knitters are engaged worldwide through Promote Shetland’s wonderful online channels and through activities organised on the Internet. The popular knitting website Ravelry lists a total of 8,580 hats knitted to date in celebration of Shetland Wool Week; that is the sum of projects listed for Hazel Tindall’s Shwook (2014); Donna Smith’s Baa-ble Hat (2015); Ella Gordon’s Crofthoose Hat (2016); and Gudrun Johnston’s Bousta Beanie (2017). These projects don’t include all the hats that have been knitted from promotional leaflets handed out by the Shetland Wool Week team, or the many other designs by these talented Shetland knitwear designers and others whose designs have been highlighted through Shetland Wool Week.

with Ella Gordon and Kate Davies at Shetland Wool Week 2015 at an event that was live-streamed to the world

Promote Shetland have made Shetland Wool Week a world class event. Generosity, encouragement, listening to the needs of the knitting community, representing Shetland Wool Week at popular events like Vogue Knitting and the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and creating consistently quality online and printed content have built the prestige of this event, and the relationships on which its success depends. Wool Week is of course only one of many projects juggled by the team, but it is clear from their fantastic website and online presence that the same love, energy and diligence have been lavished on all their other projects.

I have to agree with Tom Morton’s criticisms leveled against the Shetland Islands Council in this article and by what my friend and former Wool Week Patron Kate Davies says here. Your decision to not renew the contract shows incredible ignorance of modern marketing and the value of the work done by Promote Shetland. The motivation, passion, and care that they have brought to the task of promoting Shetland will be impossible to replace. Sadly, I feel your decision will damage your aims for Shetland more than you can imagine.

From outside it looks like few have done more to raise the profile of Shetland globally than Promote Shetland. Initiatives such as the website; their dynamic social media campaigns; video content; live-streaming of major events; 60° North magazine and Shetland Wool Week will be difficult to sustain without the skill base, contacts and friendships that have been fostered and developed by this generous, forward-looking organisation. For all of these reasons, I strongly urge you to reconsider your decision: places that do not reward digital skills, online engagement, and the importance of provenance stories in today’s commercial environment are not welcoming to young people looking for dynamic contexts in which to set up their lives and businesses.

Yours Sincerely, Felicity Ford.

To readers of this blog: please consider signing this petition or writing, as I intend to do, to Malcolm Bell of the Shetland Islands Council:

Malcolm Bell
Shetland Islands Council
Town Hall

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Amazing Sounds

I have been hard at work on several projects including my Town & Country soundmap for The MERL. This project is destined to have a nice long life; the map will be played live over wireless headphones at the Digital Takeover event on May 18th (next Thursday) but the sounds will be archived at MERL under this creative commons license. This means they can be accessed and used by other people in future projects exploring the textures of urban/rural experience in Reading.

I’m really excited about the longevity of this project and that it has been structured with future listeners in mind. I have benefited greatly in many of my projects from sound archives created by recordists of the past and even recent recordings of familiar locales give new sonic perspectives and ways of listening in those places.

The process of recording sounds around Reading is giving me a wondrous feeling of connection with its inhabitants and its textures which I would like to share with you today. This week I have particularly enjoyed listening to the sounds of the Shinfield Shambles Morris side; (I think) a nest of baby woodpeckers; a fantastic old telephone bell; and the chirrups of the darling little cygnets that my swan buddy at Whiteknights has been so anxiously awaiting. I thought it might be nice to tell you a bit about my experiences of recording these sounds and to play them here so you can hear them too.

Shinfield Shambles are a local morris side who dance in the Welsh Border style. They are based in the village of Shinfield. Each dancer wears an outfit themed around a single shade, with a rag jacket covered in small pieces of fabric; a hat covered in flowers of the same hue; and a coloured skirt and shoelaces to match. Bells are wound into everyone’s shoelaces and the musicians are dressed in all shades of the rainbow. The Shinfield Shambles were performing last Sunday at an event at the Museum of Reading and I enjoyed the inclusive style of their dancing which featured several numbers in which everyone was invited to participate. Perhaps even slightly more than the sounds of the actual performances, I liked that wherever the morris side walked, they left a trail of bells with their feet. One member of the side commented that after a while you get to know who is who from the distinctive sounds of their bells; I don’t doubt it. It was wonderful to listen to this acoustic performance of sticks, bells, dancing and traditional English folk music and I hope you like it too.

Mark and I have recently discovered a beautiful pocket of woodland at the fringes of the Harris Gardens in the grounds of Reading University and I wanted to go there to listen to the sounds of the birds who are all very busily chirruping away just now with their babies and their nests. I found a nice clearing, resonant with the songs of birds, but then became aware of something – amplified through my microphones – high up and high pitched in the trees. Luckily I was recording using Chris-Watson’s pro-tip to attach two omni-directional microphones to a coathanger. This gives you a lovely stereo impression of ambient sound, but it also means that when you hear a difficult-to-access sound that is high up, you can wedge your coathanger on a stick and poke it up to the source. That is what I did, standing in a clearing still and near to a tree, watched over by two anxious woodpeckers. I think this sound is what I heard – the sound of their babies in a nest inside the tree. Isn’t it amazing? I love it when the process of recording a sound highlights something I had not previously heard – once I’ve heard it through the headphones, it’s there forever in the soundscape.

Sometimes a happy sonic incident can change your perception of a place forever too; on one of my recent brick walks I was startled by the magnificent old-school telephone bell at a local architectural salvage yard. It is a wonderful, thunderous and immediately nostalgic sound that I suspect is well known to everyone who lives in proximity to it; one day it will no longer be part of the soundscape but I feel its vintage character must be preserved for posterity right now while it rings out across its yard. I returned to the site the next day, cheekily positioned my recorder and telephoned the number of the establishment in order to make the bell ring out, but my batteries died before I had successfully documented its full sonority in the context of its busy urban setting. I shall return again with batteries fully charged but for now here’s what I managed to collect with the dying energy of two AAs.

Finally I wanted to supply you with an update on the swans of which I wrote the other day. Having followed the male swan and listened to his aggressive defence of the lake, his nest and his mate, I confess to having become rather attached to the outcome. Clearly I am not alone in this – as you can hear in the recording, many comrades were gathering at the weekend to greet the six perfect cygnets and their parents now swimming relaxedly around the lakes. You can hear families, ducks, some of the other birds who live around the lake, and keen local photographers as eager to capture the fuzzy loveliness of the cygnets in light as I was to document their glorious chirrups in sound.

KNITSONIK is all about listening and looking to everyday inspirations and celebrating them either in stranded colourwork knitting or in community sound projects like my Town & Country soundmap with its associated archives. Photos, sound recordings, drawings and daily walks are all important for my creative practice, but they have an important emotional dimension too; they make Reading feel more like home to me, and they foster affection for this place in which I live. I’m really curious to hear about anything you do to more closely connect with your environment and I hope you enjoy the sounds!


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Recording swans

Thanks for your encouraging comments on my last post – I was so happy to see some of your bricks on instagram afterwards and I really value that we have so many tools for sharing inspiration and joy online.

Pattern One for you @knitsonik #Sussex #patternity

A post shared by Louise, South Downs Yarn (@louise_sdy) on

These are my #walls house and yard. Old and even older looking @knitsonik #pattern #bricks

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Today I want to share my adventures in recording swans at Whiteknights Lake.

More particularly I want to tell you about one swan… this swan.

From listening to this cob and observing his activities, I think that he is anxiously awaiting the arrival of some cygnets that are not yet hatched. A pen – his mate, I presume – is currently incubating some eggs on a nest tucked out of sight at the uppermost corner of the Whiteknights Lake.

A week or so ago he seemed to take exception to a small family of Egyptian Geese. The pair were doing something that looked a lot like mating while their two goslings grazed in the grass nearby; their mating activities began with soft growls, grunts and huffy noises which built to a loud honkfest, at which point the cob flew dramatically across the lake to see what was going on, grunting and flapping his wings in a display of power and size. He then got out of the water, puffed himself up and menaced the young goose family for a bit. After this, he drove a pair of Canada geese apart, and stalked the male goose round and round on the grass rather quietly but with unmistakable body language and a low level hiss that could be heard at close quarters.

This weekend, the same Canada goose was once again the focus of swan wrath (from the same cob). Mark said “these two clearly have history” and I think he is right. In this photo the goose is at the edge of the water making uncertain honking noises, while the cob circles in the lake nearby, scooting over in a very aggressive pose if the goose looks like it might be thinking about getting into the water.

After watching a long stand off between the swan and the goose, and having done a big lap of the whole lake, we later found the same Canada goose wandering about in a field by itself, unsure of whether or not to try once more to re-enter the lake. The cob was making big, casual circles in the water, lazily grazing and on patrol.

I got some nice recordings a couple of weeks ago of some of this; you can hear the Egyptian geese mating, the Canada goose, and the stampy activities of the swan on aporee on the town and country soundmap on which I’m currently working for the MERL. I also saw the cob chasing off a heron, but have not yet edited and uploaded that sound! For those of you who prefer to hear recordings through soundcloud, they are uploaded there as well. PRO-TIP – you can hit play on this playlist and carry on reading if you would like to hear the sounds while reading on…

I love how listening regularly in the same place reveals the patterns, rhythms and behaviour of the seasons and the inhabitants and while I have been stood still for long stretches of time watching this cob and his mate, I confess that I have formed quite an attachment to the pair, and anxiously await the arrival of their cygnets (though not as anxiously I think as the cob). We know all the families of ducks and swans and geese at Whiteknights Lake, and it’s an absolute pleasure to become more familiar with their sounds and characters each time that we see them on our walks.

All this reminded me of the wondrous chapter in Ludwig Koch’s book, Memoirs of a Birdman, in which he describes his own field recording adventures with swans. By happy coincidence many of Ludwig’s listening and recording adventures took place at Abbotsbury Swannery, a place I know well, and which I visited several years ago with Mark and his family. Today I enjoyed digging out the photos I took there, and I thought you might like to see them, too. It is wondrous to imagine that the same swans I saw a decade ago may be descended from those that Koch recorded in 1946. Though his recording equipment would have been much more cumbersome than mine, and though he was at the very start of field-recording as a practice, there are some lovely correlations between his observances and mine, and it’s lovely to read his notes and to feel us both listening to swans across time.

We saw in the distance a pair of mute swans which I soon discovered were wild and which, as I later learnt, had come from the Danube delta. As we carefully drew near, the pen remained sitting, while the cob – although it did not attack – assumed a very aggressive attitude. With wings raised and stiffened neck, it threw back its head and uttered a loud trumpeting call. To this day I have never again heard this sound, but ever since that incident in Laeken I have been haunted by the idea of studying and recording the call-notes of the bird known here as mute swan…

…I knew of Abbotsbury, the oldest swannery in the world. Its origin goes far back into history, and it is the only one of its kind in the British Isles. It was in existence in the days of King Canute. Now it is part of the estate of the Earl of Ilchester who, with his family, is greatly interested in the preservation of swans. The swannery is stuated within a kind of natural preserve and harbours over a hundred different varieties of bird… [The] wild swans feed mainly on a marine grass called zostera marina. It grows under the water and the swans seem to love it. There may be a shortage of this grass at Abbotsbury in times of drought or during a severe winter, but in general it is plentiful, and there have sometimes been more than 1,500 wild swans settled there…

…On a stormy May morning I was back in Abbotsbury… we transported our gear through the beautiful tropical garden and selected a rather muddy site for the studio about three yards from a swans’ nest. The swans looked at us defiantly, but since we took no notice they did not interfer with us as we built our hide-out… I set out first of all to explore the territory. I went between the bulky nests of breeding swans, and was greeted by an angry hissing note from the cob, which spread its wings to attack , threatening and challenging any intruder, whether man or one of its own species…

…I had also to get closely acquainted with the habits of the swans… The wild swan is too shy and cautious to give you a chance to approach it. Though they have not many enemies, apart from man, wild swans choose resorts where they can command a view of the neighbourhood, and at the least sign of danger they fly away… Swans are vegetarians, and protect lakes and ponds against an overgrowth of aquatic plants. They are also dictators. They need Lebensraum, [lots of personal space?] and, although so graceful, they are aggressive birds, especially during the breeding season, when the male bird will furiously attack not only intruder of his own species but also man. One once stood between me and my recording gear. I did not want to use force, nor did I wait for one of the terrific blows from one of the cob’s wings. I preferred a tactical retreat through swampy ground, a detour of half a mile…

…I have often noticed that rain and storm will suddenly stop for a short period before dawn. I also noticed that this was a favourite bathing hour for the swans of Abbotsbury, who assembled for a family meeting regularly on a certain spot in the Fleet… This was perhaps a chance to listen to the conversation of the so-called mute swan. My recording gear was about two hundred yards away and the swans could neither see nor hear us…

…When I played back the results of the series of such night recordings, I came to the conclusion that the vocal performances and movements of the swans during the breeding season, before the arrival of the cygnets, are not so limited as a casual observer might believe. There are sounds easy to identify: the clumsy but very rhythmical stepping in and out of the water: wing-flapping: landing in water: taking off: and the unique flight with its strong and powerful vibratory rhythm…

…A good many of the various greeting notes, ranging from low and threatening grunts to soft groaning, could be recorded, but they may have a different meaning according to their differing pitches. Most strange was a loud alarm note, which I was lucky enough to capture. There was danger in the vicinity, and the swanherd believed that it might have been an otter…

…I frequently heard a variant of the trumpeting sound, not to be compared with that clear ringing sound but fairly loud and more snorting. Very occasionally I heard the complete call, ending with a tremulous vibration and at a low frequency…

…There was nothing that could irritate the bird at night. In the daytime, however, when I saw visitors coming close to the nest, the cob took up its attacking position and, sometimes after the people had gone away, he would make this trumpeting, with wings raised and neck stiffened, ready to strike. It could be a victory call, similar to the ‘V’ call of a stag in the rutting season.

– Ludwig Koch, Memoirs of a Birdman, pp.81-5, 1955


Walking as Workspace

I’ve been working on a personal challenge to try and walk at least 10,000 steps a day and it is a quest that I am relishing. The best part is the local brickwork.

I’m clearly not alone in being appreciative of this aspect of Reading; one of my most commented on blog-posts is this one from 2011 on my domestic soundscape blog, celebrating some aspects of brickwork of Reading. Six years on, the decorative bricks of this town only seem more beguiling, beautiful and inspiring.

I’m enthralled by what is possible within a fairly restricted palette; by endless variations on common themes; by how tales of repair and restoration are writ in the bricks; and by the skillful hands of past pattern workers whose work has created so much to see and enjoy.

My rich daily walks are increasingly becoming a sort of research context – a workspace, if you will. I’m working on two art projects for this summer about bricks that I’ll be able to unveil soon, as well as some knitting that I can’t share now, but which is happening in the cracks between looking and listening and walking.

I’ve done a lot of wandering around in Reading over the years in which I’ve lived here, but the recent 10,000 steps challenge has reinvigorated and refocused this activity. I’m really enjoying how constant exposure to my town renews my love for it, and how familiar places can always reveal something more when you make a regular habit of exploring them.

My psoriatic arthritis has been mentioned here in the past, but something I’ve not really talked about in depth is the cycle of pain, depression and poor sleep that goes with flare ups; the worst symptoms I have are intense pain and a savage fatigue, which can make me feel like shite, and damage the deeply needed powers of restorative sleep. Underslept, in pain and introspective is the worst place to be when managing a long-term pain condition but luckily this can be avoided by building a positive cycle of joy, distraction, gentle exercise and deep rest. I’m finding something like that in 10,000 steps a day, with the comforting company of clay, and my number one comrade for all daily walks, Mark.

So in a way at the moment my daily walking space is a kind of workspace not only for developing exciting creative projects, but also for a very personal and no less important sort of work. I’m grateful for such sturdy foundations for making, creating and being.


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Town & Country soundmap: knitSONIK at MERL

On May 18th 2017 from 7-10pm, as part of the Digital Takeover late night event at The Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL), I’m sharing a soundmap of Reading, featuring sounds broadly themed around “Town & Country”. The map is being created using the superb aporee platform created by my friend Udo Noll, and you’ll be able to explore it at the event with your friends using wireless headphones. You can also check it out at any time from your own home. In the weeks leading up to the event, I’ll be expanding on what’s currently featured so what you can see today is a work in progress. I’m mainly using recordings from my archives and new recordings made especially for this. However, if you are a fellow aporee contributor living in Reading and would like your sounds to feature, please get in touch or leave a note in the comments – I would love to hear other perspectives on this place!

Town & Country

Working on this project is making me think about the ways in which we categorise places as “Town” or “Country”. Reading Museum and The MERL respectively represent the histories of urban Reading and English Rural Life, but many objects in their collections speak across a shared history. Reading (Town) like most urban centres grew through utilising the natural resources found in the encircling working landscape (Country) – a relationship immediately evident in old maps.

Map of Redding by John Speed, 1611

When I was writing the chapter in my book about my special Huntley & Palmer’s biscuit tin, I learnt that barges used to travel up the Thames to the mills at Sonning and Mapledurham to collect flour for use in Huntley & Palmer’s biscuits. This is just one example but it’s a good one for illustrating how Town & Country were once aligned to common enterprises; similar examples illustrating interdependent relationships between working landscapes and nearby urban centres of trade can be found everywhere.

Huntley & Palmers biscuits postcard

However, each context seems to have become more discrete as the commercial activities of the Town have lost their direct connections to the nearby natural resources of the surrounding Countryside. This has happened gradually and is a shift enabled by transportation technology. Now goods can be grown in one place and transported almost anywhere else for sale, so towns like Reading are no longer commercial hubs for the surrounding landscape, but conurbations in which goods from all over the world might be bought or sold… and the countryside is no longer bound by the commercial demands of its nearest towns, but rather by the needs and opportunities of the global market. To go back to my example, the mill at Mapledurham still produces flour, but it also now produces and sells electricity with a state of the art hydro-turbine; the mill at Sonning is now an arts venue; and Prudential Plc. – a multinational life insurance and financial services company – now stands where Huntley & Palmers once had its headquarters. The sonic story of Town & Country in this case may once have involved the sounds of wind through wheat in the fields; the sounds of millstones grinding it to flour; the sounds of the working waterways bringing the flour to the factory; the sounds of biscuit production in a Victorian factory and then its art deco successor… now the same journey would feature the sounds of lorries and tarmac rather than boats; and there is no biscuit factory here to record, but instead, the new sounds of the water turbine; theatre and dance; and the sonic textures of a globally connected office and all its telecommunications. The major change between an 1800s recording and a 2017 recording would be the sounds of the roads that encircle it all in 2017.

Sounds in the street: Ladybird Leaders series – Sounds
Sounds in the country: Ladybird Leaders series – Sounds

Today, the sounds of transportation and the tones of the combustion engine really have come to define the sonic textures of both Town & Country… yet there are still differences, and for all the presence of cars, lorries, planes and trains in the soundscape of Reading, distinctions of “Town” & “Country” persist.

Urban/Country Meditations (1988)

Listen to a roadway – eyes closed – distinguish size shape and make of car by the sound – also speed and health of engine.
Sit by the trees – what kind of tree makes what kind of sound?

– Pauline Oliveros, Deep Listening, A Composer’s Sound Practice

Even in a globalised world, Reading still draws on the heritage and identity formed from its agricultural past – from its specific geographic position, natural resources and subsequent trades. I have been thinking a bit about how to speak across those ideas – those concepts of Town & Country – in sound. I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, I’d love your feedback on the map if you have time to explore it, and please do get in touch if you are an aporist of Reading and would like me to add your recordings to my map!


Looking in Japan 2: hanami

In Japan I was blown away by the beautiful ways in which the seasons are culturally celebrated. We were there during winter, and the Sapporo Snow Festival about which I wrote here is a good example of what I mean – a glorious collective celebration of winter, using all the creative potentials of snow. Elemental, exciting, inspiring, public-spirited and outdoors, I found the snow festival deeply moving. It was a wonderful way of using civic space to pay tribute to the snow and ice, and to bring everyone together to experience them at their most inspiring. Memories of joy and beauty bound up with slippery pavements and not being able to see for snowflakes will stay with me forever.

With its urban placement, lasers and music, the snow festival has an almost futuristic texture… but it also felt old; a contemporary expression of something deep and special embedded in Japanese culture long ago. Visiting the highly recommended Ukiyo-e museum in Harajuku, I was struck by how something similar to the snow festival and its feeling goes back much further back in time and can be seen in wood block prints from the Edo-period in Japan (1603-1868), which show people sculpting the snow, playing in the snow, falling over in the snow, admiring the beauty of the snow, having fun in, and at the same time giving thanks for, the snow, much the same then as now…

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…at the same time as appreciating and loving the snow, I couldn’t help but notice that the stationery shops wherever we went were preparing for the next seasonal celebration: hanami.

Hanami or “flower viewing” is described as follows on Wikipedia:

Hanami is the traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers. Flowers are “hana” in this case almost always referring to those of the cherry (sakura) or, less frequently, plum (ume) trees. From the end of March to early May, cherry trees bloom all over Japan, and from around the first of February on the island of Okinawa. The blossom forecast is announced each year by the weather bureau, and is watched carefully by those planning hanami as the blossoms only last a week or two. In modern-day Japan, hanami mostly consists of having an outdoor party beneath the sakura during daytime or at night. Hanami at night is called yozakura meaning “night sakura”. In many places temporary paper lanterns are hung for the purpose of yozakura.

A more ancient form of hanami also exists in Japan, which is enjoying the plum blossoms instead, which is narrowly referred to as “umemi” (plum-viewing). This kind of hanami is popular among older people, because it tends to be calmer than the sakura parties, which usually involve younger people and can sometimes be very crowded and noisy.

I would love to go back to Japan in order to enjoy hanami for myself in that country. I imagine that like the snow festival, the modern forms the celebrations take draw on a much older tradition that can be glimpsed in woodblock prints from the Edo period, and that they are elemental, exciting, inspiring, public-spirited and outdoors.

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The evident enthusiasm for cherry blossom in Japan is beautiful and uplifting. Motifs and colours and artwork based on the distinctive five-pointed petals can be seen everywhere and were even the focus for the artwork decorating a room in which we stayed.

Instagram buddies may have already seen that my talented friend and comrade Yumiket has immortalised a version of sakura in this very beautiful piece of knitted correspondence – I love how she has captured the delicacy of cherry blossom in her knitting.

As long-term readers of KNITSONIK may have detected, I’m a huge fan of celebrating the everyday. Many aspects of Japanese culture speak to that creative instinct, and it was amazing for me to go to a place where such importance is given to things like the changes of the seasons and everyday rituals like making tea. Since we returned from our honeymoon I have been looking for ways of drawing some of the magic of our honeymoon into daily life in Reading.

Memories are present in Japanese stickers, washi tape, tableware and textiles, but we also formed impressions there that have stayed with us as more lasting, subtle souvenirs. For example I am more aware than I have ever been before about blossoming times here in Reading, and of the colours of blossom, and of its presence in the green spaces around where we live. I am more thankful for it, too.

There’s a wonderful botanical garden – the Harris Garden – about a half-hour walk from our home in which there is a circle of Japanese cherry blossoms. We went to see them last weekend and found that while one great pink tree was fully in bloom, many were just on the brink of blossoming. Yesterday we went back with my trusty SLR and spent much time admiring and smelling the open flowers. It was lovely to share this experience with other comrades doing the same including several Japanese families and students. The jolly, informal gathering of people out in the sunshine admiring blossoms was not on the same scale of the National celebrations of Japan, but it gave me the slightest feeling for hanami, for which I’m grateful. In our current depressing political climate it feels to me both sensible and necessary to give thanks for reassuring things like spring and flowers.

Thank you, Japan, for helping us love and appreciate the appearance of the blossom more than we did before. I have tried to capture a little bit of hanami in my photos and to share that with you here, sorry, I got a bit carried away.

Just as we were leaving the gardens, we saw a glorious crab apple tree with flowers much darker than the cherry blossoms from which we heard some glorious birdsong…

…peeping up through the branches we found this guy (a Goldfinch I think?) singing his heart out…

…I hope to return to the Harris Gardens soon so I can record his song and share that with you too.

In the meantime, I hope you can find time to admire the blossoms wherever you are, and to enjoy some sense of hanami for yourself.


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Colours of Edinburgh at EYF

Following on from my earlier post, I thought you might like to see some of the beautiful knitting done in my Colours of Edinburgh workshops at EYF. This is a slightly different class from Quotidian Colourwork, as I’ve designed this workshop to speak directly to the wondrous geographic context of Edinburgh, and attendees get photos and a pre-selected palette from which to work rather than using their own inspiration sources. I designed this class firstly to help address how a vast landscape can be edited down into a manageable source of inspiration, and secondly to celebrate that EYF takes place IN EDINBURGH!

I’m really grateful to my friend Gordon Anderson for the photos we use in Colours of Edinburgh, and for introducing me to Arthur’s Seat – my favourite place to go in Edinburgh, and one of the sources of the stone used to build (and colour) that city. Thank you, Gordon!

Each class begins with looking at the photos and defining one element for exploration. In my notes for my first class on Thursday I have scribbled things like “green and orange in a triangle” “stone with a ghost in it” “speck with a particularly pleasing colour combo” “lichens with a graphic yellow line standing out” “yellow and orange speckles, BIG BLOBS” “hard shapes against soft pinks” and other details that sang from Arthur’s Seat to the knitterly instincts of the workshop group…

Nora’s “green and orange in a triangle”
“stone with a ghost in it”
“the graphic lines of shadows”
Catrin’s “reds and fades and a tiny skull”
“greenish and the dark shadow”
Fi’s “little yellow green popping out from a dark background”
“lichens with a graphic yellow line standing out”
Vicky’s “yellow and orange speckled BIG BLOBS”
“lichens with a graphic yellow line standing out”
Maria’s “graphic pattern of shadows and a speckly texture”

For the second workshop, I have written “moss light shade” “skyline and shadows” “graded shading” “GREEN plants” “spikiness of grass gingerbread to green transition” “geometric form” and “lichen circle and black gashes” among other notes…

Vera’s “skyline and shadows”
Deb’s “spikiness of grass gingerbread to green transition”

(keen-eyed spotters will note that this is a very different interpretation of the same grassy inspiration source shown from the earlier class)

Rachel’s “texture of grass and shape”
Yvonne’s “green plants”

(I love the refinement of Yvonne’s design here; she was drawn to the glowing orange tips of the moss… in her first design the shading evoked the colours of this, but the shape felt too straight and blocky… in her second iteration, the pattern has a more slender, diagonal shape that more accurately communicates the delicacy of the original inspiration)

“geometric form”
Julie’s “leaves then pink”
“diagonal lines”
“lichen circles and black gashes”
Lesley’s “strata”
“mustard and greys and dots”
“rounded shadows”

I really, really love the ways in which comrades at Colours of Edinburgh classes parsed the textures, surfaces and details of Arthur’s Seat into stranded colourwork, and the different ways in which knitters have individually transposed lichens, rocks, geology and light into unique designs… I think this class in particular shows how differently each of us views the world. Thanks for your willingness to adventure into knitting the landscape together, and for bringing such a variety of knitterly perspectives to this special place. Apologies for the sometimes blurry photos but hopefully the collection here gives a tiny glimpse of the joy we had exploring THE COLOURS OF EDINBURGH!


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Quotidian Colourwork at EYF

For me the best thing about EYF is getting to teach my classes there: Quotidian Colourwork and Colours of Edinburgh. I *love* seeing what people bring as inspiration sources, and the many various and unique ways in which comrades translate these into stranded colourwork. This morning I thought I would share some of them with you in two posts; one featuring Quotidian Colourwork and one featuring Colours of Edinburgh! I’ve tried to be brief but there is lots of glorious creativity to enjoy in the photos, so I suggest getting a cuppa before you dive in! Thanks so much to everyone who knitted with me at the awesome Edinburgh Yarn Festival and for blowing my mind all over again about how much fun it is to swatch the world around us into stranded colourwork.

Anna’s beautiful hostas

Sometimes the way a photograph captures or enhances the colours of nature can be a great starting point for knitting stranded colourwork, as for Anna here with her photo inspiration source of hostas, and the beauteous blue green palette that she extrapolated from it…

Geraldine’s special Indian fabric

…for folk like Geraldine, it is the sumptuous materials of physical things that provide inspiration, like this gorgeous embroidered fabric found on a recent trip to India…

Louise’s landscape

…landscapes are a time-honoured and popular inspiration source, but I especially loved the contrast in Louise’s photo between the lilac bushes and the deep red sand…

Jesse’s suburban rail ticket

…a palette that resonates, too, in Jesse’s beautiful suburban rail ticket, with its peaches, purples and deep coral hues…

Tabea’s new shoes!

…you can’t beat stuff that’s just ON YOUR PERSON for an instant inspiration source, and I love the enthusiasm with which Tabea set about translating her new sneakers into stranded colourwork, and the way that knitting the shoes inspired a discussion about their distinctively bold, high-contrast aesthetic…

Alex’s amazing roof tiles

…and there is something deeply satisfying about transposing the grid-like structure of the built environment into the grid-like structure of charted knitting, as in Alex’s translation of the roof tiles of the Matyas Templom in Budapest, shown here!

Angela’s moss on rocks

…I believe every knitter has a secret stash of lichen photos, documented for future repurposing in knitting… is it the way the soft texture and beauteous colours sing to our knitterly instincts? or the way that heathery yarns so perfectly resemble the semi-solid (often pastel) tones of lichens? I’m not sure, but there is always lichen in my classes, and it’s always a treat to see. I think Angela has done a beautiful job here of drawing out the subtleties of her pastel-dotted rock picture…

Johanna’s salad

…Johanna’s salad is another reminder of the inspiration that daily tasks such as cooking can provide, and it was great fun working out how to shade from green to purple as in the radicchio leaves pictured here…

Joanne’s magazine page

…I love how Joanne drew specific shading schemes and ideas for her knitting from this magazine page, and how in trying to describe the fiddly pattern on the bag pictured in the scene we coined the verb “to specklise” – i.e. to change colours very frequently across your stranded colourwork in order to produce a “speckly” or “detailed” effect…

Dominique’s Abbey

…Dominique bought in this photo of an Abbey in her hometown, from which she drew together a calm and subtle palette of greys, blues and golds, reflecting the light in the sky and glinting off the architecture…

Jannike’s Iceland sky

…while Jannike found some similar (but darker) tones in the beautiful grey blue skies from her photos in Iceland…

Sabine’s lipstick tin

…everyday things are a wondrous source of inspiration, and I was really made up that Sabine brought in this bright, jolly lipstick tin from which to experiment with high contrast, acid bright shades of stranded colourwork…

Andrea’s yarn truck

…and who can argue with the charms of Andrea’s beautiful yarn truck – the itinerant home of Laines & Co.? The found stripes, the restrained reds, the greys and the brick lines behind…

Rhiannon’s picture

…someone always brings a big THING to my Quotidian Colourwork classes – it’s one of the highlights for me to see what it will be each time! – and this year at EYF it was an amazing painting that Rhiannon brought along as her material inspiration source for knitting glorious turquoise and gold ideas…

Rhiannon’s painting translated into stranded colourwork

…the natural world is a popular source of inspiration and I really enjoyed watching the progress of Lene’s ferns, so perfectly matched to her famous cherry blossom yoke cardigan

Lene’s fern bag, charts and knitting
Lene’s fern swatch and cherry blossom cardigan

…I fancy you can really see Lene’s distinctive style when you see the cherry blossoms and the ferns together, and it really is magical to see how every knitter’s different approach distinguishes their ideas from that of their comrades. In Verity’s swatch – also botanical in nature – daffodils are not literally translated into stranded colourwork: instead, they provide the basis for a gloriously bold, striped design. I love how she has reversed the motif to create a kind of symmetry and rhythm…

Verity’s daffodil design
Loret’s Dutch hats

Similarly, I love how Loret has simplified the shapes of these traditional Dutch hats, and found ways to shade the background that reflect the colours in traditional National dress.

Thank you so much to everyone who came and who knitted, who swatched, who took risks, who tried different inspiration sources and who brought so much colour and flair and creativity to QUOTIDIAN COLOURWORK classes at EYF! If you would like to continue your swatches and the conversations we started in Edinburgh, please visit the KNITSONIK Ravelry group, where you’ll find experienced KNITSONIK swatchers happy to help and share ideas. YOURS IN SWATCHING! XF

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