Over the past week or so I’ve been on a short wee break to Antibes in the South of France with my favourite person in the world, Mark. We ate fromages, drank bieres, paddled in La Mer, snorkeled, slept and read our livres (me, Hope in the Darkness by Rebecca Solnit; Mark, More Human by Steve Hilton). I feel really lucky and grateful for this break, and filled up with the creative energies of having been somewhere different and wonderful for a short spell. Merci, d’Antibes!
We tried to speak more Français and did lots of easy walking around the Port.
I love Antibes. We were last there in 2013 and were both very taken with its dreamy pink/gold light, the soft blue waters of the French Riviera, the wonderful market that opens each morning to sell fresh produce, the quantity of artists in the town, the bohemian flavour of many of its eateries and bars, and the splendid tones of its many different bells ringing in the hours.
Mark has recently finished a superb project developing a device which measures the number of people and the temperature and sounds in a venue, enabling you to gauge the popularity or quietness of that venue. It’s called the Hot Spot project, and uses the Internet of Things. Mark has written all about it here. Our friend Alex has 3D printed a case for the Hot Spot device, and we had fun positioning this all over Antibes and taking its photo…
I have been thinking lots lately about bricks and about yarns… a long-term preoccupation of mine, as well you know.
But it’s always super to revisit an old obsession in a new place.
We visited the Picasso Museum in Antibes as well on this trip – something to which I was weirdly resistant to last time we were in Antibes – and I have come away full of ideas about how artists respond to places, to everyday textures, sounds, and inspirations.
I took nearly 1,000 photos and discovered the pleasures of purple, as well as rediscovering those of peach, pink, gold and turquoise.
I did a little knitting while away, and quite a bit of knotting of ends…
…I’m slowly catching up on things I couldn’t do while away; preparing for this year’s Wovember; posting out orders; and catching up on emails and messages. I also realise I’m a little bit overdue in announcing the winner of the book giveaway from this year’s Shetland Wool Week in the South Celebrations!!! Thank you Kara for your comment – your name was picked at random using the random number generator found here – and thanks to all who so thoughtfully contributed to that rich discussion on charting.
Thanks also to those of you who have taken the time to listen to, and comment on, my latest podcast. I enjoyed doing it so much that I’m hoping to make another one shortly, so that you too can hear the wonderful bells that characterised our trip in Antibes!!!
Yours in inspirations and holidays, in breaks, in colours and, as ever, in bells.
I have a new podcast out in honour of Shetland Wool Week, in which I share and reflect on sounds recorded at previous Shetland Wool Weeks; I am so happy to share these sounds with you and I hope you enjoy listening to them and my rather enthusiastic commentary throughout. (Can you tell I really, really love Shetland Wool Week?)
I always love to hear your thoughts on the podcast and welcome your feedback. This is quite a long one, so you might want to enjoy it with a very deep cup (or pot!) of tea.
Sounds + links in the show:
The birds roosting in the back of Harald Street in Lerwick; the soundtrack of our evenings staying there in 2015.
An excerpt of my song ‘Eddie’ (an ode to my digital sound recording device).
‘The Gansey’ composed by Tommy Stove, announced at the opening ceremony of Shetland Wool Week in 2013. Announced by Stephen Gordon.
Niela Kalra of Neilanell and Margaret Robertson of the Hjaltibonhoga Fiddlers speaking about music and knitwear collaborations at the opening ceremony of Shetland Wool Week in 2015. The Hjaltibonhoga Fiddlers playing music at the opening ceremony of Shetland Wool Week in 2015.
‘Knitting Pundits’ by myself and Louise Scollay including the live audience at the opening ceremony of Shetland Wool Week 2015 and the edited version of the piece including our punditry.
Outtakes from recording ‘Knitting Pundits’ including the glorious laugh of Louise Scollay, one of the happiest and best sounds for me during Shetland Wool Week 2015.
Sounds recorded at The Flock Book up at the marts during Shetland Wool Week 2015, including Oliver Henry and Jan Robertson judging ‘Wool on the Hoof’, gates opening and closing, rams baaing and the sounds of the auctioneer.
Oliver Henry giving a talk during Wool Week 2014 about Shetland Oo, and the grading and sorting of it. (Includes a lovely story about a ram called Martin that belongs to Jan Robertson.)
The calming tones of a spinning wheel recorded during a spinning demonstration at the Shetland Museum. Laureen Robertson’s magnificent ode to Leg-waarmers, sung by many of us during the Fianna, put on by Shetland For Wirds during Shetland Wool Week 2014.
The sound of the Lerwick town hall bells striking midnight and eleven pm in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
The sound of the Reading town hall bells striking four pm in 2015.
Wild Weather recorded at Papal, East Burra, in Shetland 2015.
The beautiful sounds of Burramin Beach, East Burra, also recorded in Shetland 2015.
The sounds of the Shetland-themed Sunday Tea that we held in Berkshire at Purlescence last Sunday, in which our collective knitwear display celebrated the influence of Shetland Wool Week on the knitting in the South of England!
A shout out to Saskia of Jawol in Rotterdam, for bringing a bit of KNITSONIK to Shetland Wool Week this year.
Some talk of the KNITSONIK totes, and also the KNITSONIK YouTube Channel, home of this fun video featuring the jingle, ‘It’s got KNITSONIK on it’ by Mark Stanley.
I close with some lovely bells that were given to me by Josh Moll, and which I cherish in the KNITSONIK palace.
Josh has recently released a beautiful shawl called Tatjana, after her godmother (who also owned the gorgeous bells) which you can see here;
800 miles South of the legendary Tingwall Teas put on by the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers, comrades of Berkshire, Oxfordshire and other nearby shires gathered yesterday at Purlescence to partake of homebaked fare, admire one another’s work, knit, and drink tea.
It was a very jolly afternoon and Sarah and Jonathan were amazing hosts.
I made bannocks adapted from this recipe by Peter Sinclair of Hillswick. Peter specifies that one should use self-raising flour from the Johnson & Woods bakery in Voe, Shetland, and a Shetland hen’s egg, and buttermilk. I did not have these items so instead I used a duck egg courtesy of my irascible ducks, Happy Shopper flour from the corner shop, and some of my homemade kefir in place of the buttermilk. Even with these hacks, the bannocks came out well and happily I came home with far fewer than can be seen in this photo from the start of our Sunday Tea!
I also brought along my collection of Shetland publications for browsing, to which Francoise joyously added a copy of The Shetland Times. Scooped on her recent trip to Shetland, this copy of the newspaper has a massive Wool Week pull out, and it was wonderful to see familiar faces and such good coverage of Shetland Wool Week there.
The knitwear display was wonderful – Jonathan and Sarah had cleared a table on which people were invited to share knitting projects with a material or conceptual connection to Shetland, and there were some utterly beautiful things to see. Here are some highlights;
This wondrous vest worked by Shazknits was much admired with its bold, graphic patterns and luminous colour scheme.
This gorgeous Shetland Shawl by AuntiFred tells a lovely story; the pattern was purchased by her parents on their honeymoon in Shetland, and knitted for her as a baby, by her Father. This is her own later version, worked in J&S lace-weight yarn. I love the inter-generational story of knitting and visits to Shetland, bound up in this lovely object.
It was beautiful to see the Shetland Croft House Museum Mitts on which Chopkinsknits is currently working. How jolly are those lovely big dots? and how soft and playful the lines?! I’ve been lucky to have Catherine in a couple of my workshops and I really love her playful and celebratory approach; these mitts to me are the epitome of having fun and making something wearable at the same time. The abstract shapes she’s used are really pleasing expressions of elements of the Croft House Museum; the wiggly line is the winding path; the big happy spots are the old round stones; and the soft palette of fawns and greys and blues is very descriptive of the luminous light over the water in Shetland, I think.
As expected, there were a few examples of this year’s immensely popular Shetland Wool Week Hat pattern – the Crofthoose Hat by Ella Gordon – and this example was knitted by Jonathan’s mother, Val. She was at the workshop myself and Brenda Dayne gave at Purlescence near the start of this year, where she drew inspiration for her stranded colourwork from some very ornate tiles she had seen on holiday. She’s taken that palette and now applied it to her Crofthoose Hat, aren’t the results just lovely?
My friend Liz is an amazing knitter; she was one of the sample knitters for the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, and here you can see her wonderful version of Kate’s Wee Bluebells pattern, plus a matching tam of her own devising She also handspun enough Portland fleece to make a Miss Rachel’s Yoke; I am just blown away by Liz’s mad skillz and can barely believe that this is handspun because it is so even and so neat.
It was brilliant to see so many of Kate’s iconic designs on the table yesterday. Two knitters independently brought along a Sheepheid Hat and a Rams and Yowes blanket, worked in Jamieson & Smith Jumper Weight Supreme…
I felt extremely lucky to be able to wear a Scatness Tunic from Kate’s book, Colours of Shetland, knitted by my Aunty Gill. I got her the book for her birthday a couple of years ago and she knitted the tunic but then found she wasn’t wearing it much at all… she asked if I would like it and I said I WILL WEAR IT WITH PRIDE FOR THE WHOLE AUTUMN IT WOULD BE THE BEST THING EVER and so here I am, proudly sporting it yesterday :)
There was much talk of knitting, much knitting, much admiring of knitting, much drinking of tea, and much talk of Shetland, and I was really made up because Jonathan set up the television so we could enjoy my Listening to Shetland Wool Week sound map in the background. This is the sound map I produced in 2013 for Shetland Wool Week using the aporee sound maps platform; you can press play all on the map and it will play sounds from all over Shetland that relate in one way or another to sheep and wool. Though it was disconcerting at a couple of moments – the cows at the Voe Show were very loud, and the crowd at the Clickimin Bowling Halls whom I recorded last year for the Knitting Pundits were wonderfully rowdy – overall it was very fine to be able to hear the wind, the birds, the sheep and the labour that goes into Shetland wool, while we were admiring the end products that can be made with it. Thank you for playing the sounds!
This morning I’m listening to several albums that I can’t recommend highly enough if you are feeling the FOMO and experiencing any sort of Shetland Wool Week withdrawal symptoms:
The Best of Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham
Yella Hoose / Goodnight Ginger by John McCusker
Fiddle Music from Shetland and Beyond by Curlew
The Silver Bow – The Fiddle Music of Shetland by Aly Bain and Tom Anderson
It was magic to see folks yesterday who had just come back from Shetland, and to reminisce with buddies about previous Shetland Wool Weeks. Thanks so much to everyone for making it such a lovely afternoon. Finally, I hope you’ve enjoyed joining in a little bit here, I’ll be back soon with a special Shetland-themed podcast for you all,
I had the most amazing video of all time ever planned for today; I set up the space, I lit it really nicely, I washed my face and made myself presentable, and then I set up all my Shetland books and Shetland wool things around the table, ready for the absolute mother of all video shoots. I did several takes with great gusto and gave it my full KNITSONIK heart, including many shout-outs to all my buddies in Shetland, and I wore my Crofthoose Hat WITH PRIDE!
It was going to be my greatest video accomplishment to date, and it was going to pay homage to Shetland Wool and celebrate and share the enormous joy of the Shetland themed #knitsonikmittsalong. However when I came to edit my masterpiece, I discovered that all the audio was unusable.
I know. I just can’t even.
Mark asked me “is it really bad audio or is it just Felix bad audio?” as he knows I can be a tad persnickety about such things as levels and unwanted noise… but either way, this was not something I felt I could inflict on you good people.
So I’ve abandoned this particular video for a while and will come back to it later with a better microphone setup. The good news is, more time means more opportunities to share some of the AMAZING projects that people are making on the Shetland-themed #knitsonikmittsalong; let’s take a look so far…
Props to EvaL8 who has finished her Shetland Crofthouse themed mitts in record time! I think these are so beautiful with their clear design ideas; grass in the wind, stones with their shadows, the beautiful thatched roof, the sea beyond. EvaL8 recently visited Shetland and I feel that the inspiration from that trip has just poured into these lovely mitts.
The Shetland love continues in mitts by Verveine, whose wall is covered in memorabilia from her trip there last Wool Week where we met :) I love the glimpses of the gate and the stones and the grass, in similar shades to those used by Eval8, but used in a different way, uniquely hers…
Here are the gate and stones yet another way, celebrated in lovely soft round shapes, by Chopkinsknits…
…and again, in another way, in THE FIRST EVER STRANDED COLOURWORK PROJECT COMPLETED BY Lilli55!
I love that approach of just diving both feet first into the process, casting on and going for it; the results are stunning don’t you think? The lovely thoughtful shading of the yellow and the caramel colour, to make a peachy effect, right next to the hard cold greys… and then the soft blush of green near the cuff.
Also going for it with a first-time stranded colourwork project is Kaliknit, who’s using the Knitting Sheaths as her inspiration source, and who decided to utilise a traditional Fair Isle pattern in her design, in order to get the hang of how you make a fantastic pattern using just two colours per round. Top pro-tip there I think: try an existing pattern out to give you confidence with designing your own! I love the way the reds are shaded one into the other throughout her designs…
…Tabusn is also knitting from the Shetland Knitting Sheaths as her inspiration source, and has picked a beautiful palette from yarns local to her.
We have started knitting some very similar motifs from looking at our shared inspiration source, and I think that is lovely; a kind of knitted equivalent of finishing each other’s sentences, and – as she puts it – some patterns are super obvious.
I love the big watercolour charts that HappyLucky has been making; what a clever and swift way of filling in charts, and what lovely objects the charts are, painted like that.
There is a lot of creative fun in this #knitsonikmittsalong and I have to say a massive thank you to everyone joining in – you are what makes this sort of collective swatching/mittsmaking endeavour really great!
And in lieu of the super awesome video of my dreams that I was planning to make, I leave you this offering instead; a time-lapse video of my #knitsonikmittsalong process set to the sounds of sheep and seabirds at Sumburgh Head in Shetland, and an accordion phrase from my eulogy to Shetland. I’m going to try and treat the technical set-back of my video-making endeavours like I treat my swatches… the mistakes are all part of the learning, and they only help it to be better the next time around.
Thanks for listening and watching and #knitsonikmittsalonging!
YOURS IN MITTSALONGS,
Sunday Teas are something of an institution in Shetland and are held all through the summer months on Sundays in community halls throughout the isles, often to raise money for the hall or for charity. These teas can be attended by anyone and there is always an amazing spread of home-baked treats including cakes, breads, scones, biscuits, sandwiches and other tasty fare… plus lots of tea and coffee. There are nice big tables at which you can sit and chat, and opportunities to see local crafts and produce.
I always come away with a full heart and tummy, feeling massively inspired. You can see some of the best knitting you will ever see in your life at the Sunday Teas, but it’s relaxed and friendly and everyone is smiling and asking each other “are you having a good Wool Week?”
I am always blown away by Kathleen Anderson’s Lace…
…and the Fair Isle Knitting is a feast for the eyes.
Each year at the teas, I especially enjoy seeing how members of the Guild have risen to Jamieson & Smith‘s Colourbox Challenge. In this contest J&S select 8 yarn shades of which knitters must use a minimum of 4, in any combination at all, in a knitted project. The entrants are judged at the different regional shows throughout Shetland but if you weren’t in Shetland to see them all there, the Sunday Teas are a good place to see some examples. (I am sorry but I forgot to note down the name of that beautiful tam’s creator…)
I love seeing the variety of ways in which knitters put the yarn shades to us!
Last year at the end of Shetland Wool Week, feeling sad about having to head home, I vowed to try and bring some of the magic of Shetland home with me. I live 800 miles South of Shetland, in Reading, so it’s a bit of a stretch, but I always try to bring back the inspiration I’ve found in Shetland when I return home after Wool Week.
Purlescence is much nearer, and they are my closest outpost of wondrous Shetland yarns; they are not far from me, and so I asked my friends Sarah and Jonathan whether they might consider hosting a tea this Sunday, inspired by the amazing Shetland Teas.
Sarah and Jonathan went to Shetland earlier this year and I think they found they love it there as much as I do. They are also stockists of Jamieson & Smith yarn along with many other glorious and tempting yarns, and they have a beautiful space which Sarah has filled with gorgeous samples made from the patterns and yarns they carry.
When I’ve taught at Purlescence I’ve always appreciated the warm and friendly atmosphere, and the standard of the cakes which are, I think, often baked by Sarah and by Jonathan’s mother.
We thought that to end my Shetland Wool Week in the South celebrations, it might be nice to bring together some of the elements of the Shetland Teas – appreciation for other people’s work; tasty home-baking; a relaxed and friendly gathering of comrades bonding over teas; and a love for Shetland knitwear. I am going to try my hand at baking bannocks, because I have never forgotten the delicious ones given to me by Donna when I visited her just after last year’s Shetland Wool Week.
You are very warmly invited to come and we hope to see you there! You’re welcome to join in with the bakefest and the knitting and crochet display if you so wish; The Sunday Tea is a great opportunity for anyone working on the #knitsonikmittsalong to compare progress and we are setting up a temporary display of knitting so that everyone can see and appreciate and admire each others’ work. Knitters make such beautiful things, and the Shetland Guild Sunday Teas have really impressed upon me how wonderful it is to put it on show so that everyone can see and admire it. All the info is below; please leave a comment if you are planning to come and join us in the KNITSONIK and Glamorous Knitting Groups on Ravelry if you’d like to co-ordinate on baking efforts!
See you there?
YOURS IN SUNDAY TEAS XXX
Shetland-themed Sunday Tea
Sunday 2nd Oct 13:00–16:00
Unit 4 Firs Farm
Knitting and Crochet Display
If you’d like to contribute to the display, please bring your Shetland-inspired knitting, your Shetland wool projects or things you knit or made in or about Shetland, or with Shetland wool…
If you’d like to try your hand at baking something Shetland inspired, you are most welcome! Let us know, so we can make sure there’s a nice even spread of sweet and savoury :) bakes don’t have to be Shetland themed, but I am using this as an opportunity to make bannocks…
Tell your friends
The idea is for us to have a lovely time hanging out with friends, sharing tales of Shetland, drinking tea, knitting, and being surrounded by glorious, inspiring work and beautiful yarn… please bring your friends if you think they will enjoy this…
For today’s “Shetland Wool Week in the South” celebrations I am just going to share some of my favourite moments from Shetland Wool Weeks 2013 which was the first Shetland Wool Week that I was lucky enough to attend.
This was my first Shetland Wool Week! I was there with my friend Tom and I have some especially lovely memories of his workshop at Jamieson & Smith.
Alexis Odie and Lillian Leslie in incredible allovers
A meeting of sweater aficionados
A throng of Shetland Wool Week knitters at the Woolbrokers
Sandra, Tom and Ella after Tom’s amazing darning masterclass
Ella wearing a beautiful cardigan which I think Sandra knitted
Tom and I also demonstrated our joint project, Aleatoric Fair Isle (that is, Fair Isle Knitting decided by dice rolls) at Shetland Wool Week 2013. We rolled many die and knit many interesting swatches, and I learnt a lot about how not to combine colours, and also a lot about the building blocks of Fair Isle Knitting. It was a jolly evening, sharing our swatches and processes with other knitters at the Shetland Museum & Archives.
Shetland Wool Week 2013 was also where I debuted the Quotidian Colourwork Class that formed the basis for my book. I have very happy memories of my friend Deborah Gray turning up with a willow-pattern china bowl that belonged to her mother, and many fragments of willow patterned china found on the beach at Bressay, as her inspiration sources.
Willow pattern pieces found on the beach at Bressay
Louise‘s translation of fabric print into stranded colourwork
Deborah’s inspiration source and knitting
In 2013 I also experienced my first Flock Book; this is a wondrous day in Shetland when all the rams are judged for the Shetland Sheep Flock Book, and when everyone sells and buys rams ahead of tupping season. It’s a fantastically sheepy day in which one can learn about the people and animals who grow Shetland wool. I love watching all the crofters and their animals and seeing what goes into making the flocks that produce my knitting yarn; it’s really a privilege to wander around meeting the sheep, taking photos, and trying to learn what distinguishes a Shetland from other breeds of sheep.
Oliver Henry gives talks all through Shetland Wool Week, sharing the amazing expertise he has accumulated over a lifetime spent grading and sorting Shetland Wool. In the bright, Autumnal light the doors of the wool shed at the Shetland Woolbrokers are left wide open, and you can always spy a little crowd of knitters within, clustered around him, listening intently. This is one of the best parts of Shetland Wool Week because it connects up woolworkers in a way that is truly unique. As knitters, we do not often get to meet the people who have had a hand in grading and sorting the wool with which we work: it is amazing to have an opportunity to do so, and to be able to learn about the history and future of Shetland wool. Standing in the wool shed, surrounded by fleeces yet to be sorted and baled all ready to go down to Haworth for scouring, listening to Oliver Henry and huffing the wool fumes is a joyous reminder that the wool industry here is thoroughly alive. I really love the warm welcome that hand-knitters receive at the Shetland Woolbrokers and it is a magical place where you can feel how your knitting is connected to agriculture, history, sorting, grading, the industrial past, and an exciting, knitterly future. I think Oliver’s talks are really important for doing this, for joining up the work that goes on in the crofts of Shetland with the knitwear for which Shetland is world famous.
In 2013 I also got to visit the Shetland Textile Museum for the first time and was blown away by the extraordinary colours of the knitwear on display there. I feel very bad that in my excitement to see all these incredible samples of knitwear, I did not note down any details! As you can see from my pictures, I was just blown away to see the details of colour, pattern, texture, shapes…
Incredibly fine handspun, used for knitting lace
Beautiful hand-knitted Shetland lace
Shetland lace detail
A magnificent Tam
Crown detail, tam
A stunning tam
Fair Isle Sweater detail
Fair Isle Sweater detail
…I also attended my first Shetland Teas.
Shetland teas feature, as the name suggests, teas and cakes. However at Wool Week – most importantly – there are also opportunities to see the outstanding work produced by members of the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers. I especially enjoyed seeing all the samples for the book A Legacy of Shetland Lace on display. This is a magnificent collective publication featuring lace patterns by Guild members and a glossary of wonderful knitting words from Shetland. Together the patterns really showcase the versatility and beauty of Shetland lace. My friend Kate wrote a brilliant review that you can read here, and I want to share this quote from her review as I completely agree with the sentiment;
I don’t think it is going too far to say that the group of women behind this book are among the best knitters in the world. Their work is certainly the very finest that Britain has to offer. In this wonderful tome, key members of The Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers share their knowledge of the old traditions and contemporary practice of Shetland fine lace knitting.
The generosity of the knitting on display and the convivial atmosphere of teas, cakes and flowers make the Sunday Teas one of my highlights for Shetland Wool Week and if you are in Shetland right now, I strongly encourage you to go!
Gairdins Top by Hazel Tindall
Chapelside Stole by Susan Johnson
(clockwise from top) Shoormal Scarf by Ina Irvine, Gilda Scarf by Zena Thompson and Shelley Scarf by Lauretta Robertson
Shelley Scarf by Loretta Robertson
Gorgeous flowers from the gardens of Guild members
Amazing cakes baked by members of the Shetland Guild!
I also remember how lovely it was, in 2013, to see my friend Hazel Tindall at the teas. She was wearing a sweater on which she had been working when I met her earlier in the summer, her version is adapted from a much older and much-mended sweater that had been in her family and I love her faithful and beautiful recreation of it. Isn’t it wonderful?
I’ve really enjoyed going through these photos today and I hope you have enjoyed seeing them too! I was originally going to do my photos from 2014 and 2015 as well but as you can see, every single Wool Week is packed with so much to see that I think I had better save those for another day of Shetland Wool Week in the South!
Really missing all my buddies in Shetland and sending you all a massive woolly hug from down here in Reading,
At least I have lots of glorious Shetland 2ply Jumper Weight Yarn with which to knit…
A photo posted by Alix McCulloch (@happyluckyalix) on
I personally enjoy casting on for the ribbing of the mitts in any colour and thinking ahead to what I’ll do next while I churn out the ribbed cuff. Once the ribbing’s done, I chart a bit, then knit what I’ve charted, then review the success of the shades and patterns, and figure out the next part. For the last two #knitsonikmittsalongs, I have then used the second mitt as an opportunity to refine or improve whatever I did in the first mitt. I like to approach it in a very modular way and I think you can see that in the way the motifs are stacked in segments in my finished mitts:
For my process I generally work in whatever pen or pencil I have to hand.
Once I’ve got a design roughly sketched out, I write the yarn shade names beside each row in two different columns; one for the pattern shade and one for the background shade. It doesn’t matter if the actual pattern shade is light and the background shade is dark because my monochrome charts have nothing to do with shading or colours… they just tell me, in my motifs, which stitches relate to the pattern, and which relate to the background.
I like to get my shapes down on paper ASAP so that I can get on with the joy of actually knitting them, and black and white charts give me the speed and flexibility I need. I can work one round of my design, look at it and, if I don’t like it, write a new shade name beside the next row of the chart and swap it into my knitting for the next round. As a result of this gung-ho approach, all my notebooks and #knitsonikmittsalong charts look a bit like this, and I confess that I feel a deep affection for my working drawings and all the happy knitting they enable.
However, though I most often generate monochrome charts for speed and efficiency, I also find coloured pencils DEEPLY PLEASING – a sentiment in which I am clearly not alone!!! It seems that for many people (including me) organising coloured pencils is an essential part of gearing up for a good #knitsonikmittsalong.
Although no amount of colouring in charts with pencils will tell you precisely how your yarn shades will behave once knitted, exploring how colours work together before you begin knitting can be really helpful for planning shading sequences.
Too, there is pleasure and joy in looking at coloured charts. Though they can be a bit less flexible to knit from in terms of swapping yarn shades in and out, a good coloured chart has a glorious suggestive power, and serves many other important and inspirational functions. Coloured charts show the whole look and feel of a design; they convey a sense of what a finished garment might look like; they speak to the colours and palettes of specific regions and cultures and – perhaps most importantly of all – they excite and inspire your own innate, knitterly sense of colour.
In a stunning book recently published by the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers, the role of coloured charts is expanded even further; A Shetlander’s Fair Isle Graph Book contains pages reproduced from two notebooks dating primarily from the 1930s and 1940s. These pages detail many possible Fair Isle patterns and colour combinations, and the notebooks from which they’ve been taken were once held in the possession of William (Bill) Henry. Here, coloured charts are not only a useful reference for your own stranded colourwork, but an amazing insight into, and record of, a particular moment in the history of Shetland knitting.
Bill Henry was born in North Yell and, by the mid-20th century, was in charge of the Hosiery Department at one of the largest and oldest woollen businesses in Shetland – at Anderson & Co. It isn’t clear whether the drawings in the notebooks are all his, or whether they have been compiled by a range of different, knitterly hands. we can however say with certainty that looking at these stunning drawings reveals an enormous amount of information about colour and pattern in Fair Isle Knitwear at this point in history.
In a fascinating introductory essay, Dr Carol Christiansen gives a rich background to the charts, speaking about Anderson & Co., the knitters who supplied the hosiery trade, and the ways in which the patterns found in Bill Henry’s notebooks relate to the broader historical context of their time. We learn that the swastika – an ancient symbol sometimes used in early examples of Fair Isle Knitting, prior to the rise of Nazism – is not recorded in Shetland knitwear made after 1934; and that Bill Henry had a son called Colin Noel, who seems connected, in some way, to ‘The Colin N Henry “Salad” Pattern’ that appears in the book.
Carol also writes about the Norwegian influence on Shetland knitting, pointing to the Norwegian motifs labelled as such and appearing in the reproductions from the second of the notebooks; and about how industrial developments and the increasing availability of machine-spun and commercially dyed yarns expanded the availability of materials and colours for the knitters of Shetland supplying the hosiery trade. She also intriguingly describes the differences between the notebooks reproduced in this book and another book produced by Ethel Henry, knitwear designer and knitter. Ethel was married to Bill’s older brother, and her book – unlike Bill Henry’s notebooks – has all the patterns ordered according to how many rows there are in each motif. She also doesn’t present her designs as completed colourways. In her books charts are shown with a white background, a yellow background beneath the centre of a motif, and motifs in dots of red, blue or green. The changing shades in her designs are there to guide the knitter as to when to change shades in pattern and background but are not prescriptive in showing the exact shade of every stitch involved. I have not seen Ethel Henry’s charts but from Carol’s description I am reminded of the charts of Robert Williamson featured in Fair Isle Knitting Patterns by Mary Macgregor; the green and red dots show where, in your particular shading scheme, you should change the colour of the working yarns.
These differences are intriguing; both the organisation and the presentation of charts in Ethel’s book sound imminently practicable; organising them mathematically helps the knitter to plan a garment, and colouring them as described allows the knitter to adapt them to any given colourway. However as Carol suggests, Bill Henry’s book – in which the individual colour of every stitch in a motif is recorded – suggests that they were copied from knitwear itself. As such they sing of a vibrant moment in Shetland’s knitwear design history that was alive with richly patterned knitwear in glorious bright colours.
I really love that the physical quality of the notebooks has been preserved in this reproduction, and that we can glimpse the notebook pages as material objects with a tangible connection to the knitwear trade in Shetland. There is an argument that they may be easier to knit from if cleaned up, tidied into black and white charts and ordered more mathematically. However to do this would lose all the information about colours in knitwear during this period of history, and it would also strip the patterns of their important chronological order, and of the way that over a decade or so, they document shifts in trends and ideas. The little incidental notes – the names of people and of patterns – are details that tie these magnificent charts to history and people who are also remembered in the book’s beautiful dedication:
This book is dedicated to the many women and girls who knitted at all hours of the day and night, in all conditions, to keep the knitwear industry supplied with quality, hand-crafted garments.
The book, however, while celebrating the particular and intriguing history of these notebooks, is also firmly focused on the future. In the spirit of generosity and warmth that everyone who has ever been to a Shetland Guild Sunday Teas will instantly recognise, the opening page of the book invites you, the reader, to be inspired by the patterns and “to try them for yourselves in your own knitting.”
The temptation to do so is very great indeed! The prospect of knitting from these wonderful old notebooks is made all the richer for the book’s tangible connections to Shetland’s industrial past, and to real Fair Isle garments and knitters from history. Turning each page I feel you can sense the labour of the person colouring in the squares, and the presence of knitwear so exciting that you instantly want to recreate it for yourself.
You can buy this amazing book from the Shetland Times Book Shop, and I also have a copy to give away! To be in with a chance of winning a copy of this fantastic book, leave a comment about charting. Tell us about your favourite way to chart, charts you especially like, how you chart – it can be anything at all as long as it relates to charting! A name will be drawn at random from the list some time next week and I shall arrange postage of the book to you.
I hope you have enjoyed this evening’s discussion of charts, and a glimpse inside the beauteous pages of A Shetlander’s Fair Isle Graph Book in Colour. Many thanks to the amazing Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers for publishing this wonderful book; it is a gift to the knitting world and to anyone who is interested in tracing the history of Fair Isle knitwear!
Right now, the Opening Reception for Shetland Wool Week 2016 is taking place. From previous experiences of the opening of Shetland Wool Week, I am sure this is a very jolly gathering with many wondrous knitters, an astounding collection of Crofthoose Hats, traditional Shetland music, and an inspiring address on the value and specialness of Shetland Wool. It is always a great night out and I’m sending a massive woolly hug to all my comrades there!
This time last year, at the Shetland Wool Week Opening Ceremony, I shared an idea that had been rolling around in my head for a long time: Knitting Punditry. Today I want to tell you about Knitting Punditry so that if you ever find yourself knitting alone, you can imagine the cheers and company of other knitters, and perhaps even visualise a jolly pundit commenting on your mad knitting skillz, (especially if you ever find yourself doubting them).
So, what is Knitting Punditry?
Good question. I feel that knitting is incredibly important, but that it does not receive the same level of blanket media coverage as, say, for example, Football, and I am interested in exploring how this might be changed or challenged.
Now, I will not knock Football here.
But I will say that it would be good if, as well as all the Football on the television, there could be some equivalent knitting-related programming. I’m not talking about some patronising, sad little low-budget craft special every now and then: I mean SKY KNITTING as the serious knitterly equivalent to SKY SPORT. I’m talking about stadiums filled with thousands of knitters. Pundits commenting on the nuance of each knitters’ work. Endless re-runs and multiple camera angles to showcase the technical accomplishments and techniques of knitters. Opportunities for knitters to cheer on heroes and roar for joy when faced with knitterly excellence; that kind of thing… to me, that is Knitting Punditry. It is about pundits, but it’s also about love and dedication and commitment and enthusiasm; the pundits in Football are part of an infrastructure of awe and unchecked collective appreciation… I like the idea of a similar cultural framework for knitting and I say, it’s 2016, why not.
For quite a while I had been wanting to make sound pieces that demonstrate the amazing world where this dream is real; I asked my magnificent pal Louise Scollay if she would help me and in a flurry of texts, we wrote a sketch drawn from our collective knowledge of football and knitting. We borrowed ideas from the esteemed pundits of football, and we egged each other on.
However, what gives a live Football match its magical atmosphere is the sense of a present and engaged crowd urging the players onwards. I can think of no crowd more able to supply the sounds of a rapt knitterly audience than the one assembled for Shetland Wool Week, and so last year, to bring Knitting Punditry to life, I recorded this wondrous gathering.
A year ago today myself and Louise got up on stage in front of that audience and presented our vision for SKY KNITTING. We set our digital recorders up and then painted some scenarios involving a knitting foul; a knitting goal; a knitting victory etc.
The audience were AMAZING!!! We left with an incredible little set of sounds created by a mass of enthusiastic and generous knitters; oohs and aahs and cheers and whoops and the occasional low boo (when visualising a terrible knitting foul being committed). We later re-recorded our script to make it much clearer, and then we mixed the magnificent sounds generated by the audience together with our words. A dodgy accordion rendition of the theme for “Match of The Day” and my recording of Hazel Tindall knitting with a belt at fiendish speed brought our Knitting Punditry mix to its completion. I feel this is a truly collective and collaborative sonic enterprise and I really hope that when you listen to it, you can hear all the fun of its creation.
I also hope you agree that everyone who is binding off a second sock should have this much cheering and accordion music.
All the sounds were recorded in Shetland and if you were whooping and clapping and whistling and shouting at the opening ceremony for Shetland Wool Week 2015, then YOU are here in the mix somewhere.
Thank you to everyone who helped bring Knitting Punditry to life; I have the feeling that Mucker & Comrade have only just begun…
…and thank you to the lovely Jeni Reid for taking these wondrous photos, which are used here with kind permission.
Whoop whoop, it’s time to CAST ON for the #knitsonikmittsalong!!!
Cast On date: 24/09/2016 Bind Off date: 24/10/2016 Brief: knit a pair of KNITSONIK Fingerless Mitts. Use the mitts as a canvas on which to develop your own stranded colourwork motifs and shading schemes using a shared inspiration source. Inspiration source: there are two shared inspiration sources for this #knitsonikmittsalong and these are 1. the collection of Knitting Sheaths held in the Shetland Museum and Archives and 2. the Shetland Croft House Museum. Where to find the pattern: a basic template + pattern for KNITSONIK Fingerless Mitts is provided in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. However, this pattern has also been redesigned to reflect each of the two Shetland themed inspiration sources. Patterns and books are stocked by Purlescence UK and Jamieson & Smith. You can buy the pattern as a standalone product, or in a kit along with 8 suggested shades of 2ply Jumper Weight Yarn, RRP £26.00.
Option 2: SHETLAND CROFT HOUSE MUSEUM; J&S 2 ply Jumper Weight Yarn in shades: FC61, FC62, 121, FC45, 202, 29, 77 and 81.
However, you are OF COURSE free to work from stash with whatever yarn you prefer!
Share your work: the beauty of doing a #knitsonikmittsalong is that you can see other people’s progress in the KNITSONIK Ravelry Forum and on Twitter and instagram, using the hashtag #knitsonikmittsalong. This enables us to see each others’ work, to encourage one another, and to learn together about palettes, patterns and shading. Shetland: Shetland is an amazing place with a rich, knitterly history. Knitting together from Shetland-based inspiration sources enables us to celebrate this place together in the most apposite medium of wool from its wondrous sheep.
Some trail blazers to inspire you!
Some comrades have already made a start; you can see their progress (and share your own) using the #knitsonikmittsalong hashtag. I don’t know about you, but I just love seeing the different ways in which people organise their creative process.
A photo posted by Catherine Hopkins (@chopkinsknits) on
Pro-Tips for joining the #knitsonikmittsalong
If you are at Yarndale this weekend and would like a kit, you can pick one up from Purlescence. Please say hello to Sarah and Jonathan for me if you see them; they are on stand 110.
There is no exact hour for casting on as everyone is in different time zones, but let’s keep checking in on Ravelry, Twitter and Instagram, and sharing our progress as we go. Because I know some of you will ask, of course it’s totally fine to Cast On later; the deadlines are there to motivate and help and not to exclude anyone.
I confess that, though I am not normally excited about colouring in my charts with coloured pencils, the new book – A Shetlander’s Fair Isle Graph Book – released earlier this week by the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers, has got me all inspired to use a lot of colouring pencils for this #knitsonikmittsalong.
I have been preparing accordingly…
Since 2013, the turn towards Autumn has seen me sorting out final details for classes and deciding what to pack for Shetland Wool Week. This year – for several practical reasons – I’m not going (BOO!). Instead I shall be beavering away on multiple projects here, where I live, 800 miles South of what can only be described as one of the greatest woolly gatherings on Earth.
The incredible team at Promote Shetland have turned Shetland Wool Week into a World Class Event featuring an exciting set of workshops; a rich activities programme; opportunities to meet Shetland sheep and to learn about the supply chain for Shetland wool; and – most importantly – an amazing chance to meet and learn from the supremely skilled wool workers of Shetland.
If you are in any doubt at all about how much I love Shetland and in particular, Shetland Wool Week, please watch my song, composed for Shetland Wool Week 2013.
I’m sad not to be going this year, and I’m also sure I’m not the only person with a serious dose of FOMO*. To remedy this, I’ve decided that if I can’t go to Wool Week then maybe I can bring a bit of Wool Week here. Towards that end, I’ll be writing much more about Shetland here in coming days with a particular Wool Week focus between 24th September – 2nd October. I’m also creating several Shetland-themed activities in which you can join in if you would like.
The first of these is a special KNITSONIK Mitts-a-long devised to coincide with Wool Week. As I am sure you know, Shetland Wool Week is the birthplace of my Quotidian Colourwork class, on which the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is based. A highlight of my year is traveling to Shetland to teach this class and to meet with the wondrous knitters who attend and who are, like me, excited about translating everyday inspirations into stranded colourwork. I will dearly miss seeing what comrades do with yarn, pictures, imagination and needles, and the Mitts-a-long is a way of having a bit of that experience distantly.
As in previous Mitts-a-longs**, the idea is to work together from a shared inspiration source and to use the Fingerless Mitts template from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook as a canvas on which to develop motifs and shading sequences. The official cast on date is September 24th, 2016, and the bind-off date is October 24th! The timing of the Mitts-a-long will hopefully enable us to converge in the KNITSONIK Ravelry group and the KNITSONIK Facebook group and to knit on our mitts while Shetland Wool Week is taking place.
For the Shetland Wool Week Mitts-a-long, I’ve produced two editions of my KNITSONIK Fingerless Mitts templates, each with a Shetland theme. One is based on Shetland Knitting Sheaths – about which I wrote last year – and the other is based on the Shetland Croft House Museum. I chose these inspiration sources because each of them speaks directly to Shetland’s knitting history and because I wanted to offer both a muted palette and also something very bright in order to suit different knitterly preferences.
The printed patterns contain clear instructions for knitting a pair of mitts; blank chart templates in which to sketch your own motifs; several inspiring photos from which to work; and links to a Dropbox folder in which you can find extra information about each inspiration source plus large copies of my photos to print out or keep on your phone or computer for easy reference while knitting.
I’ll tell you more about the Knitting Sheaths and the Crofthouse Museum in coming days but, for now, if you want to join in the KNITSONIK Mitts-a-long as part of my Shetland Wool Week in the South celebrations, the best way to get your hands on a kit is to order from my friends at Jamieson & Smith or Purlescence. Kits cost £26 each, and contain 8 specially chosen shades of Jamieson & Smith 2 ply Jumper Weight Yarn plus a printed paper pattern.
I hope to MITTS-A-LONG WITH YOU THIS AUTUMN!
Yours in Shetland Wool,
*Fear Of Missing Out
**To understand how a KNITSONIK Mitts-a-long works, you might enjoy this video that documents that last one we did on the theme of Magnolias: