Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post, the video I’ve been working on most recently is now available to view on YouTube. It documents the process and outcomes of the Magnolia-themed #knitsonikmittsalong that took place this spring.
In the video you can expect to see my gurning face and wildly gesticulating hands, loads of enthusiasm for colours and patterns and shading, and FANTASTIC finished projects such as these glorious mitts, knitted by Sarahhandson.
About the video…
For the structure of the video, I took on board a comment from turtlebird26 in the KNITSONIK Ravelry group:
“My favourite part is seeing the progression – photo, sketch, and then several iterations of the knitting”.
I looked at the inspiration source for the mitts, then at at our different palettes, patterns and shading sequences. I included some feedback on the amazing mitts and swatches produced for the #KNITSONIKMITTSALONG… The result has turned out far too long at 15:28, but I’ve been working on it for over a week already and did not want to delay its release any further!
I’m still trying to understand what I can leave up to the camera and what I should explain absolutely clearly with words; the explanations and text were cut down with each successive filming and editing session, but it feels to me like I could still improve. Finding the right pace for talking is tricky too; I don’t want to rush too much but is it too slow as is?
Please tell me!
About the sounds in the video…
SONIK buddies may be interested to hear that the video includes a field-recording from the part of Pembrokeshire where I saw and photographed that beautiful Magnolia tree!
I uploaded the sound to my all time favourite collective sound project, the aporee sound maps, and comrade Vincent Duseigne – a fellow user of aporee – informs me that the birds you can hear are as follow;
Common wood pigeon
More far, a great tit
44s : I think an angry green woodpecker, but it’s quite far
1:16 : blackbird beginning
1:32 : shortly a common chaffinch
1:47 : a very young blackbird
2:00 : great spotted woodpecker
2:21 : wren
3:16 : humans ;-)
I heart the generosity of the global community of recordists who use aporee!!!
If you fancy a 15 minute multimedia journey into the microcosm of the Magnolia #knitsonikmittsalong, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Things have been very quiet around here for two reasons. Firstly, I have been learning new skillz.
For several months I have been quietly researching how to set up my own online school; I’m envisaging a digital palace of ideas where you can study the KNITSONIK System through different tutorials and creative projects, and where I can bring together my passions for knitting stranded colourwork and working with recorded sound.
A major reason for taking the self-publishing route with my book was that it allowed me to maintain creative control of the content, and to include things that a mainstream publisher might not have allowed! (I’m looking at YOU, beaten up EDIROL R-09 and YOU, dirty old tarmac road…)…
…having investigated different options, I’ve decided to create all the lessons myself using a combination of PDF downloads, new knitting content, and high quality videos. I love teaching, and one of the most important things is being able to respond to, and learn from, students; to me it is essential that I am able to change the format of my online classes if they aren’t working, and to respond instantly and creatively to feedback from students. I’ve therefore decided to use a platform that provides a beautiful structure for lessons, but which will also allow me to present my content however I like. My plan in coming months involves developing content that you can play and replay in your own time and lessons that can be fitted in around busy lives. If you are interested in attending the KNITSONIK school, the best way to keep on top of developments is to sign up to my mailing list.
In the meantime there is much to learn about scripting; lighting; framing; cutting between different types of shots; and presenting to a camera… There are also a language or media questions regarding how much to leave to visuals; how much to leave to sound; how much to say in words; and how much to say with captions.
While I’m finding my way with all these things, YouTube is an amazing place to share my adventures with this medium. Making videos is also an amazing way to celebrate and big-up the projects and work I love. For instance, Estonian Knitting; an amazing tome produced by my friends in Estonia – the Saara Publishing House. I reviewed Estonian Knitting in the first of many FELIX LEARNS VIDEO YouTube releases. At 07:47 it’s a bit on the long side but I hope you enjoy it, and the glimpses it provides of this highly recommended book about Estonian Knitting!
Estonia is just one of several amazing European countries in which I have had the privilege to work. I feel immeasurably enriched by my exposure to Estonian knitting and culture (the same is true of my time in Ireland and Belgium) and my adventures in such places were made possible because of the freedom of movement afforded to me as a proud citizen of the European Union.
The second reason I’ve been quiet is that, like many of my much-lovedfriends in KNITWERLD, I voted to remain in the EU last Thursday.
Because this was a vote concerning citizenship, the referendum campaigns and results have touched deeply on core issues of identity. For me, being in the European Union was connected broadly with cherished ideals of tolerance, multiculturalism and liberalism. The victory of the LEAVE win feels like a regression to less tolerant, multicultural and liberal times… in short, it feels like the destruction of the values I hold dear.
I have much to say on all this and I shall say it on my other blog which has always been a more personal space.
If you are reading this and are one of my EU buddies, please know that I did not vote to leave.
And please know that if you are a non-UK national living in the UK, KNITSONIK WELCOMES YOU.
As promised yesterday, today I have Karie Westermann here on the KNITSONIK blog speaking about her forthcoming tome, This Thing of Paper. In case you have not heard about This Thing of Paper, it is a knitting book inspired by Johannes Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press. Karie has been working with primary sources ranging from 14th century illuminated manuscripts to 16th century embroidery manuals and the book will contain ten knitting projects with accompanying essays.
If you have not yet visited Karie’s Kickstarter page, I hope today’s discussion will inspire you to pop over there for some intriguing glimpses at what promises to be a beautiful, thoughtful and unique book combining Karie’s passions.
I just love the buzz and enthusiasm surrounding this project – hurrah for all the backers who have ensured that this book is really happening!
Myself and Karie found we had much to discuss so I will dive straight in with the caveat that you might want to FETCH TEA before sitting down to read this!
Felix: As you may know, I like to work with knitting and sounds and am always searching for interesting connections between the two. I’ve found that once you go deep into something like that, there are all sorts of lovely links. I wonder if it is a little bit similar for you with books, and if you could talk a bit about the correlations for you between knitting and books; what are some of the different ways in which their relationship will manifest in This Thing of Paper?
Karie: I come to knitting from a literary background – a theoretical literary background, really – and I think that shapes the way I view knitting.
Because I teach a lot and I talk a lot about the importance of swatching, I always draw attention to how handwriting and knitting relate. We all have the same tools – whether that be a pen & paper or specific yarn & needles – but the end result is always slightly different. Both our handwriting and our knitting a fabric change depending upon circumstances: is this writer or knitter tired? stressed? tipsy? The movement of our hands change over time as well. Mark-making is so very individual – and there are autobiographical notes to all this mark-making too.
So there is that basic connection.
I also think about writing, reading, books, and knitting in another way. Quite apart from the whole textile/text collision, I was also struck by something the French philosopher Jacques Derrida wrote about the reading eye and how we follow written words on a page. He had this whole (somewhat dubious) theory about how Neolithic farmers tilled the fields and how writing grew out of those lines enforced by mankind on the landscape; how the movement of the reading eye can be traced back to farming. I’d argue that you could say the same way about textiles were worked: the movement of a shuttle moving across a loom, for instance.
But we do have very specific ways of engaging with both text and textile: in the Western world, our reading eye moves from left to right – and I’ve had pattern support queries where the problems genuinely arise because people were reading their knitted textiles (and charts) in a similar left-to-right fashion when in fact knitting is worked from right to left.
There is a lot of scholarly work being done about ‘the hand’ and ‘handling’ that can be applied to both knitting and books. I definitely do not think they are as separate or different as they may appear.
Felix: I was very intrigued by an image on your pinterest board showing the palette available to mediaeval manuscript illuminators and wondered how you have approached your design palette for This Thing of Paper?
Karie: It was such a joy to work on this colour palette. With my previous collection, Doggerland, I was limited by the very few material remains that had survived from Mesolithic times. As a result, the palette was very limited and very influenced by nature: flint stones, mud, green seaweed, lichen etc. With this collection, I had a lot more source material! So much of it has been digitised as well, so I was able to get very close to the sources.
However, I think many people don’t realise that richly decorated manuscripts are relatively rare objects that were made for an elite few. Illuminated manuscripts are gorgeous – but maybe not as representative as you’d think. I started looking at the way ordinary manuscripts looked: the play between surface decoration and the background. The idea of negative space became really important to me.
Once you begin to move away from illuminated manuscripts and begin to look at early printed books (which is actually where my real passion lies), the colour palette becomes even more intriguing. You start noticing things like rubrication – red handwriting inserted into printed books – and I started thinking about the colour red. Why was it significant? Woodcuts begin to be inserted and they are usually hand-tinted. That interested me as well.
And then when you hit the 16th century and printed books have become increasingly common, the colour palette is really quite limited. You have the cream colours of aged paper and the dark brown ink. Occasionally red lettering appears, but getting a second colour onto a printed page is a technical feat.
So, I had a core colour palette and then three different colour stories where you have this really rich mineral-derived colour palette but also very beautiful, subdued colours. And the way they interact with one another is really interesting.
Felix: I also wonder about the other ways in which the BOOKISH-ness of books has inspired your designs; are there more physical elements – paper, pages, ink etc. – that have also informed your plans?
Karie: Yes! When I was a young girl, I had penpals from all over the world and this one girl used to send me her letters in beautiful, beautiful envelopes. She really spawned an obsession: I began doing calligraphy which led to collecting typefaces back when I got my first computer. And so I’ve always been really interested in the materiality of books and what’s known as paratextuality – all these small elements that turn a text into a book like pagination, footnotes, title pages, end papers etc.
The designs in This Thing of Paper really reflect that. Each design is inspired by an aspect of book production – every pattern is part of a book both figuratively and literally.
Felix: Like I was saying yesterday, I find books like This Thing of Paper really exciting because they offer ways of connecting knitting with other interests, and ways of embedding extra meaning into everyday garments. I am fascinated by the idea that knitted garments can contain a sort of personal symbolism, or connect everyday clothes with stories and identity; I wondered if you could say a bit about what it means to you to produce knitting patterns that – while being wearable, knittable designs – have these links to wider concepts?
Karie: As a designer I really struggle to not tell stories. The way my design process works is quite laborious: I start with a story or a concept I want to communicate. I then work my way towards a design that communicates what I want to way whilst still being an accessible, easy-to-wear piece. Sometimes it can take me months to go from concept to workable design – thankfully I do have a lot of ideas and stories, so I have a steady workflow.
With Doggerland, I wanted people to reflect upon what it means to be human and how we define ourselves in the landscapes around us (and inside us). Some people just loved the pretty patterns and that’s okay too. Once I release a pattern, I cannot control how other people interpret it or modify it – and I find that so exciting that other people write/knit their own stories into a framework I have provided.
This Thing of Paper is the second part of what I tentatively think of as a trilogy of works about what it means to be human and how we relate to the world. This time I will be writing about objects and how we experience the world through our bodies. It is so exciting that knitting as a medium can both be a story-telling exercise and something that keeps us warm. I’m quite thankful that people seem to appreciate what I’m trying to do – mostly because I don’t know how to create things in any other way!
Felix: There have been quite a few crowd-funding projects for very individual styles of knitting books – including, ahem, my own Kickstarter campaign and related book! Taking the crowd-funding route allowed me to put my own stamp on the book, and to include elements that no traditional publisher would have allowed, such as including a dirty old A-road and my beaten up old Edirol R-09 field-recording device as an inspiration source for stranded colourwork. There was some risk involved in ignoring traditional conventions of beauty to include these things. However, since I published my book, I have received feedback indicating that people really enjoy seeing mundane and everyday things cast in an inspirational light, which makes me glad that I took those risks. To me it seems that taking the crowdfunding route for This Thing of Paper will enable you to produce the book exactly as you want to, and to put your distinctive own stamp on it! Can you tell us a bit about how you will use that extra freedom, and perhaps about some maverick element of the book that you are sure you wouldn’t be allowed to include, if working with a mainstream publisher?
Karie: One of the things I love about contemporary knitting is how broad a church it is. You have mainstream craft publications written for casual knitters who like a quick chunky hat; you have gorgeous small press magazines catering to knitters who like luxurious high-end projects; you have capital-K knitters who go on retreats & visit indie yarn festivals; you have people like Deirdre Nelson who use knitting as an art practise. I love how there is room for many, many different takes on what knitting and being a knitter means.
I chose crowd-funding because I know that a mainstream publisher would have found a knitting book about the invention of the printing press a tough sell. I used to work for a yarn company and I have worked with several mainstream publishers over the years, and they need to make numbers work in a whole other way to how me as an indie designer can make it work. I can take creative risks because I don’t need 20,000 people to buy the book. It is a privilege to work on a small scale and I can get away with much more such as writing semi-literary essays in a knitting context and designing projects inspired by footnotes in 15th century Latin treatises or blemished paper in 16th century pamphlets.
Thanks to Karie for dropping by today and sharing your vision for your forthcoming book! This post is part of a tour continuing on from Jacqueline’s lovely tutorial on making your own notebookyesterday, and traveling tomorrow to the blog of Clare Devine. You can find a full list of all the posts created during the blog tour here and, taken together, the posts offer a rich insight into the creative community to which Karie belongs, and to which This Thing of Paper will contribute.
Tomorrow I’m welcoming Karie Westermann to the KNITSONIK blog for a Q&A about her wondrous forthcoming book, This Thing of Paper. This Thing of Paper is to be a self-published collection of knitting patterns with accompanying essays and it takes its inspiration from Johannes Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press. This book project smashed its initial funding goal on Kickstarter in just 25 hours, proving among several things that knitters are more enthusiastic than ever about knitting books which come with stories and essays to inspire as well as with patterns to knit.
I’ve been thinking about Donna’s words a lot lately, and particularly about what she wrote about the potentially vast scope of knitting books. Happily, a couple of years since she wrote that post, I feel many designer/authors are as she puts it “taking things up a notch”. The definition of “knitting book” is being radically expanded by the distinctive voices and visions of independent designers. In an age of online communities, self-publishing and crowd-funding it is no longer necessary to make books solely targeting a mass-market and, because of this, there seem to be more books – like Karie’s – that have a very specific focus; that come in the voice and flavour of their maker; and that speak passionately to a small crowd, rather than blandly to a big one. This is largely due to the fact that there are lots of amazing, passionate and generous knitters out there who actively support the creation of such new books either by contributing encouragement, information or financial backing. Also, knitters bring knitting books alive by putting their contents to use once they are published. On the back of her own fresh and distinctive tome, Anna Maltz describes the online knitting community beautifully as “making the world more interesting with every stitch” which I think is a great summary of the current moment.
A few thousand books sold direct to the public without middlemen or an enormous publishing apparatus in between can sustain book ideas today that would have been difficult to fund just a few years ago.
There is little chance that my own book would have been published in its present form by a mainstream publisher. Photos of tarmac, the inclusion of a link to an online sound map, and the goofy, hand-drawn image I created envisioning the book at the start of my Kickstarter Campaign would almost certainly not have been allowed! In her amazingly thoughtful review, Ysolda wrote that if the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook had not been self-published it may “have lost some of what makes it so special”.
For me, the crowd-funding process not only gave me the funds I needed to make the book happen but also the confidence to stay true to my vision; my amazing backers showed me in their thoughtful feedback and comments that I could indeed publish the book I wanted to make and that it could include tarmac and weeds.
Kate Davies, author of several well-loved and distinctive self-published knitting books, has written thoughtfully about presenting knitting patterns in an expanded context; I love how she describes her creative process for Colours of Shetland in this piece about self-publishing;
When I decided to produce Colours of Shetland, what really drew me to doing things myself was that I could hopefully make the kind of book that would be a very hard sell to a mainstream publisher, but which I knew I would love to create, and which I also felt that knitters would hopefully want to read. By creating my own books, I could write about archaeology and knitting, puffins and jazz and lighthouses . . . and knitting. I could even write about Danish foreign policy and its representation in one of my favourite television series. . . and knitting. Creating your own books as a small publisher means that you retain control of all aspects of the process, from how things look on the page to the paper quality of the page itself.
Several books later, Kate has just published The Book of HAPS which promises, like her previous work, to contextualise wondrous knitting patterns with inspiring essays and gorgeous images. I love the personality with which Kate imprints her books and the presence of “puffins and jazz and lighthouses … and knitting” all together. She joins such themes joyously within her creative process and her knitwear designs, and respectfully connects her exuberant contemporary garments with the knitterly labour and traditions of the past.
The common theme of knitting can connect topics that seem at first disparate, and can also provide a very distinctive lens through which to reconsider familiar things. For example knitwear designer Anna Maltz‘s PENGUIN, a knitwear collection offers an inspiring model for thoughtfully integrating knowledge and admiration of penguins into your knitting projects and your wardrobe. All the designs are inspired “by penguins: their striking plumage, caring nature and (of course) the way they can withstand the cold.”
Anna’s book models a thoughtful and joyous mode of knitterly engagement with her chosen muse; as well as being about, well, penguins, it presents a fresh perspective on seeing the world and translating its elements in a knitterly way. I love how PENGUIN offers these creative elements in equal measure to sophisticated knitwear patterns, and how the book exudes its author’s sense of fun, personality and wit.
Also expanding on the scope for what a knitting book can contain, Donna Druchunas and June Hall injected their crowd-funded tome Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions with a feeling of travelogue and cultural exchange.
I feel I have just scratched the surface here and that there are many, many other books I could mention in the context of expanding the genre, and our expectations of, the knitting book. The books above indicate an emergent publishing model in which small print runs and close relations between creators and audiences – fostered through social media – are laying the foundations for wonderfully rich and specific types of knitting books to be created. It is precisely in this exciting context that a book like This Thing of Paper can come to fruition, and the runaway success of Karie’s Kickstarter campaign points to the growing desire for ambitious, creative knitting books within the online knitting community. It would seem that we all want to read and knit from books that are as passionate and specific as their creators.
I have the strong sense that, like the books mentioned above, This Thing of Paper will be artistic and reflective and full of amazing ideas. I’m really looking forward to sharing more about that with you tomorrow as part of the official blog tour, thank you for stopping by today!
You may recall that towards the end of February I wrote about the beautiful swatch-mittens produced by comrades participating in the KNITSONIK Mittsalong (MITTSONIK).
In a #knitsonikmittsalong, comrades all work from the same inspiration source to produce pairs of fingerless mitts that are swatches or records of thought. By seeing each others’ designs, methods and interpretations, we learn more about the ways in which colours interact. It is a good, practical way to explore the joys of The KNITSONIK System while also producing something wearable and useful. The first MITTSONIK was themed around translating the old Roman Wall at Silchester into stranded colourwork designs, and the current MITTSONIK is themed around translating the glorious blooms of Magnolia trees into stranded colourwork. I think Magnolias are beautiful, and felt sure other knitters would also be attracted to their fresh pink blooms, brightening the early months of spring.
The arbitrary deadline of 31st May is there as an incentive to finish. I don’t know about you, but I like deadlines for getting things done. With one week to go, I thought I’d share some of the beautiful things people have knitted so far for the Spring 2016 #knitsonikmittsalong. You can also see some of these projects on instagram by searching the hashtags #knitsonikmittsalong or #magnoliamittsonik, and clicking on the photos will take you directly to the Ravelry project page of each maker :)
Some knitters used the specially produced KNITSONIK kit, but several folks have put together palettes from stash. I love the variance in whites, pinks, greens, browns and greys shown across the different projects.
It’s amazing to see what happens when palettes and patterns come together, and to see how the lovely delicate shifts of pinks and whites on Magnolia blooms have informed different knitted interpretations. I also think it’s quite fascinating how something like shifting from blues to pinks can transform the whole feeling of a design.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the collective knitterly creativity in the Spring 2016 #knitsonikmittsalong, I will be knitting like the wind this week to make my own deadline!
Yours in lovely springtime colours, comrades and collective imaginative play,
Those of you who listened to the last episode of the KNITSONIK podcast may recall the interview with my good friend Patrick McGinley, AKA murmer. In that episode we spoke of our mutual love of sounds and shared some of our field-recordings.
I’m really excited to tell you that Patrick has been working on an album called songs for forgetting. Gruenrekorder – an amazing record label responsible for publishing some of my favourite field-recording releases – are currently running a Kickstarter to raise the necessary production funds to put this out there as a gorgeous vinyl LP. If the glimpses of sounds shared on the campaign video are anything to go by, it’s going to be a wonderful listen.
To help spread the word on Gruenrekorder’s campaign and to continue some of the conversations started in our interview here on the KNITSONIK podcast, I sent Patrick a few questions about his working process and about his forthcoming album which I’m sharing with you here today. I hope you enjoy hearing a bit from the SONIK world; I’ll be back with more news from the KNIT in coming days.
Felix: I would like to ask you to speak a bit about slowness involved in working with sounds; I also find that my work with sounds is very slow and I wonder what it is about this medium that needs more time?
Patrick: I think for me it’s largely about achieving distance. I want to hear a piece as a first-time listener hears it, and to come close to that (although of course it’s never really entirely possible) I need long breaks. I’ll work on a piece intensely for a few days or a few weeks and then put it aside for a year, sometimes more, and then when I come back to it again (or sometimes find it accidentally!) I have a much fresher perspective on it. It’s easy to get precious about choices as an artist, it’s a dangerous trap, and time gives us the ability to forget, and forgetting gives us the ability to improve. There’s that idea with writing that the best strategy is to write something, then burn it and wait a week, and after a week write it again from memory. Anything you can’t remember wasn’t worth remembering. I suppose it’s something like that for me and composition. Once I can’t remember why I did things a certain way, I’m perfectly happy to throw them out if they don’t work.
But I think this also has to do with the type of work this is. I’m not sure the same principles would work for writing a pop song (I don’t know, maybe they would, I’ve never written a pop song; I guess it’s much harder to do than what I do). I remember an album review for a CD of mine that I was really happy to receive, that spoke about ‘the invisible hand of the composer’. I think this attempt to remove one’s own hand, to forget oneself, to let the sounds dictate their own form, also requires extra time and space, for the ear to be able to hear what the sounds want to say.
Felix: As you know I am (still!) working on my first solo release as KNITSONIK. I find that when I am planning out the album and thinking about the sounds, I am organising thematically but also sonically. For example at the moment I am thinking a lot about the different maritime sounds of Portland in Weymouth vs. the sounds I recorded at the shoreline in Shetland, and I am thinking about the differences between near and distant baas. There are several really memorable and special listening experiences that have so far gone into the work for KNITSONIK Audible Textures Resource and I am sure you have similar things… either very particular ideas about how different sonic textures work together, or very specific memories of recording some of the sounds for songs for forgetting. I wonder if you could share some of those with us here?
Patrick: Yes, the sounds on songs for forgetting are all very evocative for me, memory-wise. I think of them in two categories: there are the field recordings (the rain in old soviet-era gutters in Tõravere, the surf on the pebble beach at Étretat, the mascletā fireworks in Valencia), and there are the ‘instruments’ – which are evocative of the specific moments when I played and recorded them, but also of the people through whom they came to me, whether those people knew it or not. They are also evocative of the times in my life when I did most of the work on the individual pieces – the first song was largely composed in 2007 in response to a particular life event, which brought about the title that would hold for the whole series of works. So maybe these are more personal connections than textural, but nonetheless…
The mascletā fireworks were a surprise treat lined up for me by Rubén García Villaplana, who had invited me to Valencia to perform at the Observatori Festival in 2008. Rubén booked my travel and chose my hotel, and he booked me to arrive just before the day’s mascletā fireworks were to begin, in a hotel just around the corner from where they would be happening. He said nothing about it to me. He knew I’d just be settling in after my journey, and that the incredible noise would undoubtedly be a shocking surprise, and that’s exactly how it happened. I was out the door within minutes with my microphones, and spent the rest of the day in a raucous festival that I had had no idea existed.
The rain in Tõravere happened while I was staying in that quiet village for another festival organised by some Estonian friends. It was a warm autumn evening, I can still feel the air, with distant thunder and an amazing smell and a lovely percussive rhythm coming from the old tin rain gutters on the soviet-era block houses.
The Ētretat beach recording I remember specifically because it was such a confusing sound. Listeners often think the recording is somehow manipulated, and on location it took a while to figure out what I was hearing. It was a pebble beach, or perhaps a rocky beach, much larger than pebbles, but smooth like them. The rock cover was quite thick, so as the gentle waves broke on the shore the water filled a labyrinth of tiny caverns between the rocks, and as the tide pulled the water back out to sea, a sound like the rewinding of a cassette tape was created by the water being sucked back out from amongst the rocks, creating tiny vacuums…
Felix: I love the list of instruments that you came across, played, or found in the course of developing this work. It seems to me that you are not including them in a virtuosic way – i.e you are not “performing” on these instruments in a traditional sense; instead you seem to be exploring them as sound-producing objects. Could you say a bit about that?
Patrick: That’s entirely correct; I am not including them in a virtuosic way because I am not a virtuoso! I ‘don’t play’ any of the instruments used on the album; most of the recordings were explorations, exactly as you say, first encounters and experiments. Some of the instruments I played without having any idea of what the actual ‘technique’ might be (since I didn’t really know what the instruments were), some were played by clearly incorrect means (one by a bit of shoelace on the end of a motor) and some weren’t even ‘instruments’ in the conventional sense anyway (like the antenna on the roof of a astronomical telescope that sang when bowed). So, just like my field recordings, these instruments were also about discovery, and wonder, and accidents.
Felix: I grew up playing instruments in a very traditional sense – for example playing the flute and the piano and later attempting to play the harp. And of course I love a bit of crap accordion playing to accompany my songs.
I found that moving towards less overtly “musical” listening experiences and working with field recordings has really expanded how I think about instruments. In Brussels a few years ago, preparing for the Tuned City festival with Valeria Merlini, we found a lovely drain into which an icicle was melting. It had a beautiful sound and we listened to it for a long time, knowing that it would be gone as soon as the icicle had melted away. I sometimes think about artificially recreating the drainpipe and the ice as a kind of temporal “instrument”. And I like to “play” railings with a stick when I am walking through a city… I guess in some ways listening and making field recordings have blurred the boundaries for me between what constitutes an instrument and what constitutes playing. Does this reflect any of your own experiences in working with sounds and towards this release?
melting ice in Brussels
playing the railings in Edinburgh
Patrick: I’m glad you’ve never tried to recreate your dripping icicle. Some situations should remain ephemeral – you’d never be satisfied if you tried to own that one. The resonance wouldn’t be right, the drips would be in the wrong rhythm, the ice would melt too fast. It would pale in comparison to your memory of that moment.
I love to ‘play’ environments. In fact, my current set-up for live performance is all about playing a space. I create my echo surveys performances entirely from field recordings made in the space where the performance will take place, mixed with the ‘playing’ of materials found there – bowing furniture, or rubbing walls and windows. I think of this as field recording as well – but ‘active’ field recording as opposed to the usual ‘passive’ variety. These sounds are also site-specific and present in a space, but sometimes a space needs a little help and interaction for it’s voice to be made audible.
On songs for forgetting there are several elements that could enter into this discussion. The fourth song features the mascletā recording – which, although passive for me, was definitely active for a lot of other people, and could definitely be considered playing – mixed with a trash-improvisation created under a footbridge by myself and two friends (Lasse-Marc Riek, of Gruenrekorder, and the drawing artist Elffriede). Our instruments were rubble, tin cans, plastic and glass, but we were definitely playing.
Felix: The glimpses of the sound worlds that are in your forthcoming release are very tantalising. I often think about where or how my sounds will reach a listener when I put them out into the world; I wonder how you picture listeners enjoying songs for forgetting when it is out?
Patrick: Well, I haven’t pictured it all all really; I guess if I think about an ideal environment, I picture a quiet autumn evening, windows open, light fading, a nice drink, and some time to be able to stare into the distance. But that’s not really up to me – I’ll just be grateful for it to be heard at all!
If I think about how these sounds will be experienced I think about the decision to make this a vinyl LP, and the care going in to the design and production of the artwork. I hope that the release will be experienced that way as well, as an audio-visual whole, with textures and smells and images and sounds all playing a part. That, for someone from my generation, is a very different experience to a virtual download.
Thanks so much to Patrick for joining us here on KNITSONIK today! You can hear more of Patrick’s work at murmerings.com and you can read details of the Kickstarter campaign for songs for forgettinghere.
In the “EYF over breakfast with Felix” Knit British podcast episode recently recorded by Louise Scollay, and in my own post about EYF, I mentioned Ella Gordon and her fantastic Crofthoose Hat Pattern. This pattern was designed by Ella for Shetland Wool Week and you can download it here. Crofthoose Hat continues the recent tradition whereby the patron of Shetland Wool Week designs a hat pattern in honour of the celebrations. This is a super tradition; it means that knitters who are in Shetland for Wool Week are instantly recognisable to one another, and that comrades outwith Shetland can join in by knitting the design.
To me, the Crofthoose Hat pattern embodies Ella’s whole approach to Shetland textiles; it is joyful and fun, and it also speaks to Shetland’s heritage. If you watched Ella and Kate’s talk at Shetland Wool Week last year then you will have a sense of how she combines a stylish and contemporary appreciation for knitwear with respect, thoughtfulness, an eye for detail, and a love of the past. In 2014, Ella also curated a beautiful exhibition for the Shetland Textile Museum that referred to knitwear in Shetland worn during the Oil Boom.
Ella’s ability to combine joy and heritage in her work feel really appropriate for Wool Week.
I was so jazzed by Ella’s pattern that I had to make a version of my own the very second I got home from Edinburgh Yarn Festival. There are already 70 projects listed on Ravelry so I am clearly not alone in my appreciation for Ella’s design!
I thought you might enjoy hearing a little bit more about Ella’s design, and so have put together a small Q&A with Ella.
F: I love the Crofthoose hat pattern that you have designed for Shetland Wool Week 2016. The design is great fun to knit and can be easily customised, but it also speaks to the history of knitting and crofting in Shetland. I know you also make amazing Crofthoose cushions like the one pictured above; can you tell us a bit about why you like working with the symbol and shape of croft houses so much, and are there any croft houses in Shetland that hold particular significance for you?
E: I’m so glad you like it! I think I love the imagery of a croft house so much because it speaks to me of a simpler time in Shetland. Historically Shetland was known for crofting, fishing and knitting. Obviously times have changed but these things are still part of many Shetlander’s lives and to me the shape of a croft house sums up my culture and connection to this place. Another reason I love them so much is probably because I haven’t lived in one. We had family friends in Ollaberry who we used to visit when I was peerie, and they lived in one of the last of a certain kind of Shetland crofthouse.
I grew up in a time of immense change and wealth in Shetland thanks to the oil, and people didn’t want to live in old, tiny houses anymore so gradually as older generations died out they began to sit empty and fall apart. Of course many are still there and occupied but I think it’s important to remember in a way where we came from and not to forget it especially since the economic climate of living in Shetland has changed so much since the 90’s when I was growing up.
F: There is always a balance to be struck between conveying the idea and shape of something while also making charts that are pleasant to knit. I feel you’ve managed this perfectly with your elegant Crofthoose motif. You have pared it down to its essence and got all the main features of a croft house in! Did it take a few goes to get this just right and could you tell us a bit about your design process?
E: Yes it took a few goes, I know people and especially Fair Isle purists probably don’t think much of the 7 stitch float I have on the roof, haha! But I was really pleased with how it came out. I began by just charting out some ideas for the body of the hat and knitting a few swatches (not many, unlike you I’m not a fan haha!)
I was trying to strike a balance between looking like how I pictured it but also being enjoyable to knit which I think it is. For the crown I found I just had to chart out some ideas and try them because it’s very hard to visualise how they will turn out from just looking at a chart.
F: Was it difficult to know where to start with picking shades for your design from the huge range at Jamieson & Smith where you also work? How did you narrow it down to just five colours and do you have advice to comrades wishing to pick their own colours in which to knit your magnificent design?
E: Yes it’s always quite tricky picking colours especially when you have the design first; usually I have an idea of colours first then get inspired to find a pattern. I am constantly putting colour combinations together at work for customers and orders but also sometimes just for fun. I remember I picked out about 8 colours at first and tried to do lots of complicated shading for roofs and backgrounds but it was ending up too muddy and over complicated for my liking so I got it down to a main shade; two colours for roofs and houses; and two background colours which works well. If you are struggling for colours the main thing to think about is contrast. As long as you can have that contrast it will work!
The J&S colourway I did was the first one so I’ll explain that one to show you what I mean – I chose FC58 (the dark brown) as my main shade because it’s quite dark so gives a good background for the corrugated rib. Then I chose FC39 (blue) and FC11 (green) for the two contrast colours as they’re nice and bright, and then shade 2 (mid fawn) and 202 (light fawn) as the background shades as they are nice and light. All together they balance nicely off each other. But if you’re not sure about your shades, just have a go and see. I also think taking a photo in black and white on your phone of the colours and seeing if they look different enough tonally will help you see if you’re on the right track.
F: That’s really interesting! When I was thinking about the colours for my version, I looked more at the shades you used (in terms of light and dark) than the colours. I took FC55 as my main and quite dark colour (dark cherry colour) and then FC38 and 1403 as my contrast colours (burnished orange and scarlet red). I used FC45 (light toffee colour) and 61 (cinnamon brown) as my two background colours.
You’ve offered a selection of four different colourways in the Crofthoose hat pattern; can you speak about how you chose the colours for each one? Were your colourways inspired by real croft houses in Shetland or by the different types of yarns you used?
E: No, I didn’t want to be too literal with my interpretation so I kept the houses fun and colourful. I wanted to offer colourways in 4 different kinds of Shetland Wool and rather than trying to find similar shades in each yarn range I thought it would be better to do four totally different ones so people could get ideas. The Shetland Organics yarn is undyed so that was quite easy to put together as the natural Shetland colours go so well together; the Jamieson’s colourway was chosen because I don’t knit a lot with purpley shades so wanted to try sometime in those kinds of tones; and the Naturally dyed version was made from yarn I bought at a Craft Fair long before I designed the hat. They went so well together I just had to try it!
I did the J&S colourway first so that came to me quite easily and although it’s quite subtle I really like it.
F: There are already 70 Crofthoose hat projects on Ravelry! It must be really exciting to see so many versions of your pattern appearing. Do you find that when you see other people’s versions you find yourself having ideas for new colourways and do you think you will knit any more Crofthoose hats before Shetland Wool Week?
E: I know, it’s crazy! I love seeing people’s different colour choices and that’s really what I wanted, of course people can follow my suggested colourways but I’m really glad people are choosing their own and personalising their hats. I did knit another one which I recently finished knit in Brooklyn Tweed Loft with a plain crown for people not wanting to do a Fair Isle crown and I am working on some other designs featuring the motif, so although I’m not making a hat at the moment, I’m sure I will before Wool Week!
F: Thanks so much to Ella for joining us here on the KNITSONIK blog today to talk about the wondrous Crofthoose Hat pattern, and to you for stopping by to read!
YOURS IN CROFTHOOSE HATS,
I had a truly lovely time at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and thought you might enjoy seeing some of my snaps from the weekend. If you would like a SONIK version of events, my friend Louise Scollay of the Knit British Podcast recorded us speaking about the festival just after it was all over, and you can hear that here!
I was fortuitously sat opposite Kirsten Kapur who recognised my knitting from instagram! I have admired Kirsten’s designs ever since I espied the wondrous Ulmus pattern, and I truly loved her work for the Shepherd & Shearer project. How wonderful to share a journey speaking about designing and knitwear, about sheep, about creativity and art school, about colours and patterns.
By the time I got to Edinburgh, many ends were woven in on Missy. The sweater kept me REALLY HOT all weekend and came with the added bonus that whenever I was wearing it, I could hear Missy Elliott’s music in my head. The wording on the design says THIS. IS. A. MISSY. ELLIOTT. EXCLUSIVE. with each of the words repeated in its own band and I will be writing more about it in a later post. For now, let us say that I am in love with the lustrous, puffy, steekable Aragon Romney Classic Yarn in which it is worked!
It’s no secret that I deeply love WOOL by which I mean sheepy wool with character and a sheepy smell; non-superwash wool; wool with a traceable provenance; wool that retains its links to land and to farming; wool with roots in specific places. It was the presence of MUCH WOOL LIKE THIS that blew my mind when I first stepped into the marketplace at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival on Friday.
Ten years ago ‘luxury’ yarns were mostly comprised of merino and/or cashmere, perhaps with some silk added. Those fibres certainly have their place but it is heartening and joyous to see the concept of ‘luxury’ broadened to include a more diverse range of wool and fibre types, and to be more connected with concepts of sustainability and durability rather than softness and softness alone. Many stalls at EYF proudly purveyed different sheep breeds’ wool and bespoke blends, presenting a diversity of materials that is hugely enriching from a creative point of view. So many yarns, each with their own personality and back-story; so many textures and tactile experiences for knitters; and so many more sheep breed names and fibre types appearing on ball-bands! These trends definitely point towards designers and makers having a wider variety of materials with which to work; hopefully they also point towards a greater return on labour for the shepherds whose work makes our knitting possible.
With this in mind the only knitting that I took with me to Edinburgh was some yarn from my friend Caro’s sheep, and the wool I was most intent on buying in the EYF marketplace was Rachel Atkinson’s beautiful Daughter of a Shepherd yarn. The back story of this yarn is truly inspiring – Rachel’s father received a grand total of 94p from the British Wool Marketing Board for his wool clip in 2014, prompting Rachel to seek ways of better valuing the wool. She decided to have the 2015 clip combed and spun by John Arbon and the result is a deliciously characterful, hairy, drapey, soft and precious yarn soaked in social history and smelling beautifully of sheep. I love the simplicity and clarity of Rachel’s stand; photos of her father and his sheep, surrounded by shelves covered in slinky dark skeins of joy.
Rachel was sharing a stand with Anna Maltz. Her PENGUIN book brilliantly uses the sheepy shades of Faroese wool to celebrate the plumage of penguins and Diagonapples is perfect for your inner colour-addict. Making use of the enormous palette of available shades of Appletons Old English Crewel Wool, you can choose 40 shades for your version. It was so lovely to see the samples in all their multicoloured glory!
(Anna’s stall also doubled up at times as a creche for Pinglewins and other small accomplices.)
The Shetland Wool Week stand was a joyous place to be! It was brilliant to see many friends from Shetland there, and to espy Ella Gordon – this year’s patron – in a magnificent Crofthoose Yoke sweater of her own design.
Ella makes Crofthoose cushions which celebrate crofting and the knitting – both central to Shetland’s heritage. Like these cushions, Ella’s stranded colourwork designs celebrate Shetland’s history and culture in a way that is engaging, unique and fun. I think Ella has a special talent for bringing historic Shetland knitting to contemporary audiences; if you read her blog, or if you saw her wonderful talk last year with Kate Davies, you will know what I mean. Ella’s Crofthoose hat pattern – designed for Shetland Wool Week – is already proving very popular with knitters and my fingers are itching to cast one on this weekend. You can knit one too!
Friday afternoon culminated in my first workshop of the weekend, The Colours of Edinburgh, for which we were using inspirational photos of Arthur’s Seat taken by Gordon Anderson (who was working on the KDD stand all weekend). I was blown away by the many inventive and glorious ways in which knitters in this class drew inspiration for stranded colourwork from Arthur’s Seat.
On Friday night I went to the Ceilidh and had a glorious time catching up with friends!
To my delight I found myself also meeting many folks whom I’d previously only known online… here’s looking at you Dianna Waller, Sonya Philip, Bristol Ivy, Thea Colman and Co. It was such a joyous, fun and giddy time… let’s do it again soon!
Saturday began with more teaching; this time it was Quotidian Colourwork, with a focus on translating everyday inspirations into stranded colourwork.
Just look at these interpretations of a Parisian apartment, Birch tree bark and vintage coffee cup…
On Saturday afternoon I also met Mae, who showed me the first of her Magnolia Mitts, worked for the current #knitsonikmittsalong.
It is always very exciting to see what people have made using the KNITSONIK System and I confess to having been perhaps a little bit overexcited to see this MITTSONIK in the wild! However, one of the things that is great about EYF is that nobody bats an eyelid when folk are this happy about a piece of knitting. I can’t wait to see your other mitt, Mae!
I spent some time with Kate on Saturday. Some of you may have heard it already but I am so thrilled about the traceability, provenance and creation story of Buachaille (a 100% WOOL yarn by Kate Davies) that I have written this yarn its own celebratory song. I love what Kate says about wool in the introduction to her book and it seems particularly befitting that this wool should have had its first public show/outing in Edinburgh in Scotland!
Buachaille is the realisation of a long-held dream for me – a yarn with bags of Scottish character, as hardy and beautiful as the landscape from which it hails. The yarn is “raised” in Scotland, but “made” in Yorkshire, and I am very proud that all of Buachaille’s processing was completed within a 10 mile radius of Bradford, the historic heart of the British wool industry. I feel particularly happy that, in all the work involved in Buachaille’s production, from the hill to the mill, it seems to me to embody the very best that British wool can be. I hope you love it just as much as I do.
It was stunning to see the Kate Davies Designs stand with its neat cubbyholes of Buachaille in shades representing the landscape where Kate lives, and to see her sheepy wool and glorious designs being admired and discussed with such love by so many comrades. I really enjoyed hearing all the snippets of discussions taking place about the forthcoming Haps book and meeting Roslyn Chapman and Jean Miles who are some of the folk whose stories, memories and research have informed Kate’s investigations for this forthcoming tome. I love Kate’s patterns for their colours and form, but what makes Kate’s work distinctive is the context and history with which she contextualises her designs. I just know the Haps book is going to be amazing.
Saturday evening saw more internet friendships becoming real ones; fantastic conversations over dinner with Åsa Tricosa and Melanie Berg followed by more late night chats with Woolly Wormhead and many other comrades gathered together for the festival. What a happy time! Alas, I have no photos, but thanks to everyone for that wonderful night!
More teaching on Sunday, beginning with Colours of Edinburgh. It was a smaller space so harder for taking lots of photos, but I think this temporary exhibit of swatches above gives some sense of the diversely creative approaches. I particularly like the way this very soft pink shades breaks up the greys in the swatch, exactly as it does in the stones…
How fantastic is the range from very graphic interpretations to softly shaded ideas, and how amazing it is to see the different ways in which folk used Gordon’s photos for inspiration.
After lunch, another Quotidian Colourwork class, and some lovely translations of everyday inspirations into stranded colourwork…
I spent Sunday evening catching up with Nadine – whose piece on the Coburg Fox Sheep you may remember from Wovember; and with Mel and Gordon, whose home was a peaceful sanctuary after the amazing busyness of the weekend.
My woolly comrade, the magnificent Louise Scollay, took FANTASTIC care of me in the days after the festival. We did a lot of walking around Edinburgh looking for addresses where Catherine Hogarth (later Catherine Dickens) grew up; I recorded some sounds for my current commission; we planned towards this year’s WOVEMBER; and I had my first ever periscope experience at Ysolda’s flat! In a special episode of Louise’s Knit British podcast, we reflect on our impressions of the festival. Sitting here today, back in my house, I feel EYF this year was a festival like no other; I met so many amazing people in my classes, in the marketplace, round and about in the city, and the whole event felt brim-full of friends. I have come away feeling very lucky to be working in an industry in which there are so many fantastic people. I think Jo and Mica have done something magic with this festival and it was a total honour to be a part of it. As Clara Parkes wrote last year in her lovely review of EYF;
I’d like you to meet Jo and Mica. All year, they’ve been working to prepare this event. While there was never a moment when they didn’t seem in total control, this was not “their” event, which is to say it was not, even for a moment, about them. They weren’t promoting a book or magazine or yarn store or company, they were simply intent on producing an outstanding event. Which they have, in spades.
Thank you to everyone I met, it was so brilliant to see you and I hope we can do it all again next year.
YOURS IN FESTIVALS,
Firstly, congratulations to Florapie whose name was randomly drawn to win a PDF copy of Spilly Jane’s magnificent tome, SPILLY JANE KNITS MITTENS.
SpillyJane has so many amazing mitten patterns that I could work her patterns exclusively for a couple of years and still not work my way through all of my favourites!
…with which we at KNITSONIK wholeheartedly agree. Cooperative Press will soon be in touch with you to deliver your PDF prize.
Next I’d like to say a HUGE thank you to my friend Gordon Anderson, whom many of you will know as the tourguide to Buachaille Etive Mòr in Kate Davies’s magnificent tome Buachaille. I’ve stayed with Gordon and Mel in Edinburgh on several joyous occasions and in those visits I’ve fallen in love with Arthur’s Seat, which we have climbed together. For this reason, I wished it to be the main inspiration source for my Colours of Edinburgh class. Gordon very kindly went up the mountain and took many photos of its glorious aspects for us to use in the Colours of Edinburgh classes. I can’t wait to show you the palette of yarns devised through looking at these images.
I’d also like to give a big shout out to Sarah and Jonathan of Purlescence. I’m travelling to Edinburgh on the train this year and, because of my teaching commitments, I’ll not be selling copies of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook directly at the festival. However Sarah and Jonathan will be carrying the book on the Purlescence stand so if you are intending to buy my book at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, they are the folks to find.
I can highly recommend visiting my friends from Shetland on the Shetland Wool Week stand and finding out about another truly wondrous woolly event in the calendar. Congratulations to Ella Gordon, who is this year’s patron for Wool Week!
I cannot be the only knitter who is thrilled at the prospect, too, of the Kate Davies Designs stall and two glorious new designs by Kate that are launching at the festival. Kate’s posts charting the route from inspiration to finished design for Miss Rachel’s Yoke and Gauntlets and Funyin (with its backstory in Hornsea pottery) have been some of my most joyous reading so far this year; it’s going to be just lovely to see those designs in real life and of course to see KATE!
My buddies from Tall Yarns’n Tales will also be there this year which is a huge temptation if, like me, you are a fan of beautifully made epic work-wear with deep pockets. You can hear Linda and Andrea talking about their amazing work with textiles here.
There will be many buddies at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and Jo and Mica have done an incredible job of making this event a joyous one in which the forces of wool can warmly converge for one weekend. I am stuffing as many hugs and smiles into the KNITSONIK luggage as will fit, as these are the main necessities when heading to a glorious congregation of fibre and friends. When I am not teaching, it is most likely that I will be found in the Podcast Lounge with Louise Scollay, AKA my woolly comrade.
I am looking forward to seeing you there: it’s going to be TURBO.
Today on the KNITSONIK blog we are speaking about this book by my friend Spilly Jane!
I first discovered Jane’s work when I visited a friend knitting some of her cupcake mittens. I did not then know how to knit with two colours at once, and the project struck me as pure magic. On the same afternoon that I saw those mittens on the needles with their little balls of buttercream and raspberry icing coloured yarns, I went home and immediately began learning how to strand myself. How could I not embrace a technique that could produce such wonderment?
When I tracked down Jane’s Ravelry page I was thrilled to see a wealth of other inspiration sources translated into mittens; bacon, gnomes, beer, chairs, pottery, architecture, electronic music generating devices… in Jane’s deft hands, every sort of subject may be transposed into the humble medium of the mitten. Her designs convey a wonderful restraint; although any subject might provide the inspiration, the end results always reflect a quiet, pleasing geometry, and often a very striking effect is achieved with just a few colours. In knitting Jane’s designs, you enter a rich world of references, and your hands get to stay warm afterwards in the useful mittens you have made. I’m thrilled to see thirteen of Jane’s signature designs now organised into a thoughtful tome. The book begins with a useful and encouraging section on techniques, and then patterns of increasing complexity build your skills up, providing confidence for even the most nervous mitten knitter.
Jane’s book will give you everything you need to knit mittens. Journey with her from the tips at the start, through her own glorious designs, and finally to blank templates at the end where you can design your own. On a conceptual level, you won’t be able to prevent yourself from seeing potential mitten inspiration everywhere you look. As Kate Davies writes in the foreword;
Smart and witty, bold and handsome, I also feel that Spilly’s designs have important implications in the way that they suggest how pattern plays a role in the structure of the everyday. After absorbing yourself in this book you may find yourself, like her, observing meadows and pavements and imagining them on a mitten.
After seeing my copy of Spilly Jane Knits Mittens, I had some questions which Jane kindly agreed to answer. I’m sharing our correspondence here in a Q&A format for the KNITSONIK blog, so pull up a chair, fetch up a tea, and settle in for some joyful MITTENTALK (Oh, and watch out for the gnomes…)
KNITSONIK: I really like your structure for the book, starting with pointers and tutorials and technical tips, presenting increasingly intricate designs, and ending with blank templates and an encouragement for your readers to design their own mittens. Could you say a bit about how you arrived at that structure, and how you hope comrades will MITTVENTURE their way through Spilly Jane Knits MITTENS?
Jane: My intention was to produce something that knitters of various experience levels would find useful and enjoy. For those with little or no colourwork experience, I wanted the book to read like I was sitting with them walking them through it, so the intro to colourwork section at the beginning is written in that kind of conversational tone. Someone who has never done colourwork before can go through the intro and tutorials and then take little nibbles with the first few patterns, which go from simple to more challenging. A lot of people seem to be afraid of colourwork, which is unnecessary; I don’t think colourwork is nearly as difficult as people think it is, and it’s a rewarding and valuable skill. It would make me very happy to hear from people who had never tried colourwork and learned to do it by working through my book. As for the knitter with more colourwork experience, I imagine she might browse the book and jump in at whichever pattern catches her fancy, maybe even go right to the back to use the blank charts if she wants to.
KNITSONIK: It seems that you have been influenced on different levels by your exposure to Latvian Mittens. The idea of using a useful, wearable accessory as a canvas for bold colours and designs seems important, but there is also something deeper concerning motifs and patterns with personal significance for the wearer. Do you think that in your approach to designing mittens you are inventing a sort of contemporary symbolism?
Jane: I love Latvian mittens, can’t get enough of them. Slavic folk art, folk patterns in general, actually, really appeal to me. I connect intensely to symbols and colours and I love it when they come together in a pattern. Folk patterns use colour and pattern not just for aesthetics, but as a sort of protective talisman to welcome luck and ward off danger. They have been used for so long there must be something to it. I would like to think my patterns work in a similar way. Even if the pattern is new, the repetitive motion of knitting works to focus intent in a sort of meditative way. The act of knitting infuses the garment with personal significance for the knitter and the eventual wearer. I recently read that, in the Latvian tradition, mittens were often knit in the summer so they would be infused with the warmth of the season. I have always thought about knitting mittens the same way, and would love to think that I am adding to, or at least working parallel to, that tradition.
KNITSONIK: In her foreword to your book, Kate Davies talks about entering the “world” of Spilly Jane Knits and I think that is just right. Your mittens have such rich back stories that knitting them is a bit like entering a world. Do you find that knitters connect with the meanings and associations with which you embed your designs as much as they connect with their aesthetic elements? And in working on the book did you find that writing about your mittens helped to deepen and enrich their stories?
Jane: I have always enjoyed entering the “worlds” created by musicians and writers that I like. I am flattered that some people, like Kate, think about my work in that way. My patterns are certainly infused with my own personal symbolism; they draw from things I have seen and with which I have connected and translated into knitting, often weird things that don’t immediately make sense as textiles. The act of turing an object into a pattern, the physical act of knitting it, and then the experience of seeing it become a new, separate but connected object makes it mine. Its like creating my own relic or writing a love letter to the object.
Knitters have told me that I’ve turned them on to new things they would not have experienced otherwise, like buddha machines for example. I really like the idea that people can connect with my patterns; even if they just like the patterning and don’t care about the story, I know it’s still there, and they are still engaging with it in some way. They knit it and wear it, and give life to the story even if they aren’t aware of it. Seeing the patterns in a physical book solidifies the collection for me in a way that digital or even individual paper copies of patterns don’t. Seeing a collection of my patterns in a proper book in a real shop makes it seem more concrete somehow. I have always been into books and records and enjoyed that feeling of cracking open a new book and browsing through it, or opening a new record for the first time and going over the track listing. I agonized over the order of the patterns in the book like I imagine a producer would over the sequence of songs on an album. I considered the mood and general feel of each one, as well as the colour of course. The book is one big finished object and feels like something more than the individual patterns would on their own.
KNITSONIK: One thing that really struck me when looking at your book was the role that travel has played in inspiring various designs. Midtown was inspired by your travels to New York and your glimpses of the ventilation grating on the subways; Wheatfields capture the sense of driving through Ontario in the autumn; and Abney Park celebrates one of the old London Cemeteries here in the UK. Do you think there is something about traveling that enables you to see things with fresh eyes?
Jane: I like the impact of objects observed while in motion. Objects seen from the windows of a car or train naturally have a fleeting, romantic aura. When I am in a new place everything takes on the fleeting romance of being seen in motion because I will only be in that place for a short time. When travelling I am getting a feel for my surroundings and purposefully seeking out the things my city doesn’t have, like subways and old Victorian cemeteries. In that way I am more aware while travelling, but I am always gawking at everything, even at home; I can’t not notice things. I have many locally inspired patterns like Guardian (based on an Art Deco building in nearby Detroit) and Willistead (based on an ironwork park gate close to my house).
KNITSONIK: The range of references in your designs is wonderful – songs, urban environments, confections and gnomes have all played their part in the creation of the book. I wondered if you could talk us through the creative process for some of these designs, perhaps sharing some photos or other things that reveal something of the journey from source inspiration through to completed mitten?
Jane: It’s difficult to explain how a pattern comes together. Every so often an object catches my eye and it just can’t not be a mitten. Patterns are a way to celebrate things that I love, and I am as surprised as anyone else when things turn into patterns.
Guardian – Sometimes when I am walking or driving around I’ll see something that ticks my boxes. One of those boxes is architecture, especially Art Deco, and another is pottery and tile work. I have been driving and walking past the Guardian Building in downtown Detroit for most of my life. I am Canadian and live in Windsor, but Detroit is pretty much home. Most people from outside the region don’t realize how close the two cites are, but the Guardian Building, an Art Deco masterpiece from 1929, is no more than a few kilometres from my front door. It’s facade is clad, uniquely for an Art Deco skyscraper, with orange brick. The effect of that much orange brick (it is 151 metres tall), and its stepped structure, gives the building a woven look that reminds me of textiles. A few stories above street level a band of green, gold and white terracotta tiles wraps around the circumference of the building like a belt or a scarf. I combined elements of the tiled band with some patterning based on brass gratings found elsewhere on the building to make my Guardian Mittens. The interior of the building didn’t have any influence on the mittens because I had not yet been inside when I designed them, but I have since taken a tour of the interior and it is spectacular. The lobby is ornately decorated in Rookwood and Pewabic pottery in a style that can only be described as 1920s American hubris. You can click this link for some photos of the interior because words don’t really do it justice.
Pewabic is a Detroit pottery company that goes back to the early 20th century. I have not designed a pattern that explicitly draws from its work, but I love the shapes and glazes of their pottery; and I always have one my Pewabic mugs within reach while knitting.
I have a nice memory attached to the Guardian Mittens pattern. A few years ago the Detroit Public Library hosted a lecture by the Yarn Harlot and held a knitting fair beforehand. At the fair a woman approached me who had bought a copy of Guardian. She explained that her father had been the mayor of Detroit years ago and she wanted to tell me that she appreciated the way my mitten celebrated the city and its architecture. A few years ago I was asked to contribute to book called Knitting Architecture and one of the patterns I did for that book was based on the Fisher Building, another Art Deco building in Detroit. Detroit really does have some great architecture and it makes me happy that my patterns can play a small role in celebrating it.
Abney Park – In addition to architecture and pottery, a few of my other “boxes” are: ruins reclaimed by nature, overgrown, Romantic, lichen, moss, decrepit, faded grandeur, and cemeteries. Abney Park Cemetery in London ticked all of those. I spent a grey and soggy New Year’s day a few years ago wandering around it. The ruined chapel captured the mood of the whole cemetery; damp and mouldering, infused with the untold stories of its thousands of residents, beautifully haunting and decrepit. The end product can be appreciated for the beauty of the 19th century ironwork that inspired it, or as a memento of the mood of Abney Park. The pattern also has a musical connection, however indirect. PJ Harvey’s “The Last Living Rose” describes England from the point of view of First World War soldier who misses home. The elements of “beautiful England” she describes are reminiscent of the mood I got from Abney Park. She describes the “damp filthiness of ages” and fog covering “graveyards and dead sea captains.” The line about dead sea captains in turn reminds me of the grave of a sea captain in Old Calton Burial Ground in Edinburgh. Various things that I have seen, read, and heard, either first or second hand, blend together in my head and sometimes find their way into patterns.
Jane: A couple a local yarn shops have asked me to make appearances with my book. I will be doing trunk show/book signing events at Pretty Skeins in Windsor and the Little Red Mitten in St. Thomas. The dates are to be determined, but they will be sometime in late spring. I am hoping to add some other events to my calendar as well.
KNITSONIK: Just for fun… can you tell me a bit about the pesky gnomes and where they fit into things? I often see them on your Twitter feed and I see now that they have snuck into one of the mitten designs as well.
Jane: The gnomes are my naughty little nature spirit buddies who remind me not to take things too seriously. They tell dirty but well-meaning jokes and have trouble controlling themselves around condiments and cutlery.
KNITSONIK: Finally, I love your “world” and the glimpses presented in the book… it feels like almost anything you like or love or enjoy or notice can make it into a Spilly Jane Mitten design. I am obviously a huge fan of this implication – can you say anything about what has inspired you recently?
Jane: I’m always finding inspiration for new patterns. In fact I am sitting on pile of pattern ideas that could eventually become another book, but not right now. Some will get released as individual patterns. I have a collection of richly patterned antique pots and serving ware that I want to turn into knitwear. Sometimes I’ll go a while without releasing a pattern and then it all comes together at once and several will come out in quick succession. Sometimes I actually worry when I release several patterns in a short time period that they will compete with each other and get lost in the onslaught. But the great thing about releasing patterns online is that they stay there. If someone is interested in one months or years down the road, all the patterns will still be there waiting for them.
KNITSONIK: Thank you so much for talking to us, Spilly Jane! For fans who would love a copy of the book, you can buy one online from Amazon (hardcopy) or directly from Jane’s Ravelry store (PDF). I also have a digital copy (PDF) to give away to one lucky winner, so if you would like to be in with a chance of winning that, please leave a comment saying which mittens in the book you like best, and why, and I will announce a winner in one week’s time on 15th March 2016. For fans who want more of SPILLY JANE, I highly recommend this Q&A with Kate Davies, and the links below will show you more of her wonderful work.