Meet Bev and her glorious stranded colourwork

Following on from the recent Q&A with Yumi, today I want to introduce you to another online friend whose beautiful work I felt you all should see! I discovered Bev’s work some time last year through our mutual interest in stranded colourwork, and have wanted to share her work with you for a while. Her amazing applications of the KNITSONIK system are both striking and distinctive, and if you are working on designing your own stranded colourwork, I think you will find her approach really inspiring. Some of you may already know Bev from the Jamieson & Smith Winter Woolies KAL; this was a fun contest organised by my buddies at the Shetland Woolbrokers in which knitters were invited to create their own designs using a limited palette of yarn shades. Bev won with her beauteous tam and mitts set, incorporating all eight colours selected for the KAL (you can see other entries on this thread on Ravelry).

The winning tam in the Jamieson & Smith Winter Woollies KAL, designed by Bev
The winning tam in the Jamieson & Smith Winter Woollies KAL, designed by Bev
The winning mitts in the Jamieson & Smith Winter Woollies KAL, designed by Bev
The winning mitts in the Jamieson & Smith Winter Woollies KAL, designed by Bev

For those of you who have not yet met Bev, pull up a chair and a large mug of something warm and comforting, and prepare yourself for a feast of glorious colours and patterns!

Felix: First of all, I notice from your Ravelry projects page that you have knitted many beautiful Fair Isle projects and are clearly a fan of colours! Could you tell us how you got interested in stranded colourwork? What was your ‘gateway project’ so to speak, and which projects stand out to you now as feeding your interest in colours, patterns and shading?

Bev: I have knitted on and off for years but it’s really only been in the last few years that I have become interested in stranded colourwork. I bought some “wool” on ebay and it turned out to be shetland wool. I had originally bought it to sell but it was so lovely I kept it. This led me to buy a book, which then turned in to quite a few books! I have spent hours looking through them and eventually took the plunge and tried knitting with some of it.

My “Traditional Fairisle Tam and Mittens” (The purple and green ones on my project page) were probably my “gateway project”. I am a member of my local Scottish Womens Rural Institute and had been asked to knit a hat for the Perth Show. I was given a theme of “Heather on the Hills”. I immediately knew it had to be traditional Fair Isle but was worried as I hadn’t actually completed a stranded colourwork project before. I had visions of green and purple. I remember it took me a while to finalise my choice of colours, especially the greens. When I had finished the hat, I was asked if I could make mittens to go with it. I’m pleased to say that I received a 9.5 out of 10 and a “Highly Commended” award from the SWRI.

This project really got me thinking about colours, shading and contrast; it’s all quite straightforward if you use the colours suggested by the designer for a knitting pattern, but it’s a completely different story if you’re choosing them yourself.

Traditional Fair Isle Tam & Mittens, pattern by Alice Starmore, yarn selection and knitting by Bev
Traditional Fair Isle Tam & Mittens, pattern by Alice Starmore, yarn selection and knitting by Bev

Felix: Did you find that there was a large leap or a steep learning curve in going from working from other people’s stranded colourwork designs to coming up with your own?

Bev: Actually, I feel it was more a natural progression. The next logical step. I already knew the “rules” – 2 colours per row, no long horizontal strands etc. – it was a case of coming up with some patterns other than the traditional Fair Isle, peerie & border patterns that I found exciting. It was your book Felix, that explained everything that I wanted to do so it’s all your fault! ;)

Felix: I’m very glad to hear that, thank you! Looking at the mitts you have designed yourself using the KNITSONIK system, it strikes me that you have a real knack for sequencing your shades in a way that makes your patterns and motifs shimmer and stand out from the background. To me getting the contrast right between background and pattern and getting a nice shading sequence where you can always see the motif but the whole thing seems to sing is the Holy Grail of Stranded Colourwork! Are there any tips you’d like to share on how you manage this, or patterns you knitted by other designers which helped you to understand how to change the shades without losing a design?

Bev: I have been known to sit for hours working out which colours I’m going to use for a project. I have to have daylight (preferably sunshine which is in short supply where I live) and a white background (I have an A1 piece of white card that I use especially for this). I find that this shows the colours to their best. I may start with a pile of 30 colours or so. I will first put them into colour groups i.e. blues, pinks etc, then I will see if it’s possible to blend from light to dark within the colour groups. After that, I sit various colour groups together to look for pleasing contrasts and to see if it’s possible to blend from one colour to another, from a blue to a brown for example. I’ll sit and play like this until I’m happy that I have found a contrasting group of background colours and pattern colours that I like.

Kaffe Fassett, in his earlier work, used so many colours in a single project. I love his “Poppies” pattern and have a partially knitted project that I may get round to finishing one day. I also adore Alice Starmore. Both of these people have been an inspiration to me because of their incredible colour sense.

Bev's beautiful blue mitts, based on a pattern found on a chinaware bowl
Bev’s beautiful blue mitts, based on a pattern found on a chinaware bowl

Felix: I was blown away by the beautiful blue mitts that you produced from looking at your patterned chinaware… I’m really struck by how many ideas you were able to find for your knitting in such a simple inspiration source. Did you realise at first how much there was to see in the bowl, or was the process of swatching from the bowl a kind of gradual unfolding of ideas?

Bev: I’d had my eye on that bowl for a while I can tell you! So there wasn’t really anything gradual about it, I just needed to find the time. I didn’t realise until I had a “proper look” at the bowl but there is a subtle pattern of white dots across it and a Chinese dragon in the bottom (which I’d like to do one day!) although it was the diamond pattern that drew me to it in the first place. It’s actually a cheap, mass produced bowl and so the colouring on it isn’t glazed on very evenly. I noticed that it’s a bit blurry in places so I wanted this to come across in my swatch.

The blue bowl that was the inspiration source for the beautiful mitts
The blue bowl that was the inspiration source for the beautiful mitts

Felix: I love how you have worked with that uneven glazing, representing it in your knitting with varying blues that lighten and darken the simple shapes of the pattern. But before you knitted the mitts, you first worked a swatch in order to refine your ideas as you went. Could you talk us through the swatch and the different patterns you found in the chinaware as you went?

Bev's design process
Bev’s design process

Bev: I had already drawn the diamond pattern on to graph paper so the swatch was all about sitting with a pile of different blues and knitting the swatch until I’d completed an area that I liked. I tried to convey the blurry edges of the blue against the white but I also wanted to show that the contrast was quite pronounced in other areas.

Felix: Something I sense from your answers here is that you have got lots and lots of colours stashed over years, all from various sources. Do you mind telling us about your stranded colourwork stash… how you acquired it, how you manage it, and some of the kinds of projects that are only possible when you have many little bits of lots of different colours? (I’m thinking about your glorious beachcomber sweater in particular…)

Bev: Thankyou! I am very lucky to have lots of shetland wool. Most of it is on cones. I have managed to buy it from car boot sales, auctions, gumtree, charity shops… I have large plastic boxes with lids. Each box contains a different colour. I have found that for me, this is the best way of storing it. If I’m working with greens, they are all in one place. The beachcomber sweater was actually a crocheted blanket that I started but then I frogged. I didn’t want to waste the wool (there were lots of long pieces of wool as it was a chevron blanket) so I decided to knit a sweater using Elizabeth Zimmeremans recipe!

Felix: You have worked a couple of swatches recently that celebrate colours from nature. This is a popular subject, but always tricky as well because there are millions of colours to be had, and always so much beauty on which to focus! In your Autumn swatch, you celebrate your neighbour’s tree. How did you edit down all the possibilities to the wonderful leaf motif on which you eventually settled?

Knitting from Autumn Leaves
Knitting from Autumn Leaves

Bev: It was all about the leaves and the colours (I didn’t even get round to the branches and the trunk and the bark!) Every Autumn this tree is a blaze of colour and I was determined that I wanted to capture this and re-create the effect in my swatch. I wanted to get the effect of falling leaves and all of the colours I could see. Standing underneath the tree and looking up at the blue sky through the leaves, there were so many glorious colours. Even my photographs don’t do them justice.

The colours of the tree in Autumn
The colours of the tree in Autumn
A closeup of the shapes of the leaves
A closeup of the shapes of the leaves
...Translated into stranded colourwork
…Translated into stranded colourwork

Felix: I love how you have used that very restrained greyish green palette in the background – so like the smooth silver trunks of the tree itself – as a backdrop to the drama of the reds and pinks! So lovely.

Another wonderful nature swatch on which you’ve worked lately is the Eryngium Zabelii Swatch.

Eryngium Zabelii Swatch designed by Bev
Eryngium Zabelii Swatch designed by Bev

This strikes me as presenting very particular challenges to the KNITSONIK knitter as the plant itself is very delicate and frondy, and there is a limit to how much detail you can show working at the graphic resolution of knitting! And yet you have found wondrous ways of communicating the essence of the plant in your swatch. Can you talk us through your thinking process, how you started with the flowers and gradually turned them into workable charts?

Jackie's photo of the  Eryngium Zabelii flowers - the inspiration for Bev's swatch
Jackie’s photo of the Eryngium Zabelii flowers – the inspiration for Bev’s swatch

Bev: Thanks! My friend Jacky took the photo and put it on Facebook one day after she had been out on one of her walks. I was immediately blown away by the colours and the delicate fronds. In order to get to know the flower better, I sketched it first.

A beautiful drawing, getting to know the shapes of the flower
A beautiful drawing, getting to know the shapes of the flower

I liked the centre of the flower as it looked quite solid and three dimensional yet the petals seemed to be delicate but spiky at the same time. I also liked how they grew together in a “clump” and the flowers themselves were almost joined together. The chart was quite tricky. I started with the centre of the flower and then added the petals. I began to knit from the chart and initially had the flowers in rows but then changed and extended my chart as I decided that it would be good if I could make it an “all over pattern” by shifting the alternate rows and joining the ends of the petals. I’m not entirely happy with the colours or contrasts in this one, in particular the green. So I may have to do another swatch but I do quite fancy making a skirt with this pattern on it!

The swatch on the needles...
The swatch on the needles…

Felix: That’s interesting what you say about shifting the alternate rows and joining the ends of the petals… I find that as soon as you repeat an image in stranded colourwork, it gives you a new way of thinking about how the shapes relate. Your drawing is so singular and lovely, but as soon as you repeat that shape across the canvas of your knitting, it takes on a new kind of rhythm… yes you must make a skirt! How good would that be? Then you will just have to find some more of those lovely blooms with which to pose…

You have knit 4 swatches using the KNITSONIK system now; what have you discovered through the process of swatching that you might not have found by other means?

Bev: I have discovered that I love symmetry (maybe a bit too much?) and I have fallen in love with blues and greens. I always thought I was a kind of purples girl myself but I was wrong.

The beauty of blues
The beauty of blues

Felix: That’s really funny – I always thought of myself as loving greens and blues but when I was working on my book, I really fell in love with purple!

I’m very excited by the mitts and matching tam you made in the recent mitts-a-long; did you swatch for the mitts first, or treat the mitts themselves as a swatch? And was it while you were knitting the mitts that you got the idea to make a matching tam?

Look, no swatching!!!
Look, no swatching!!!

Bev: No swatch, I just dived straight in to making the mitts! Once I’d finished them, I loved them so much, it would almost have been a crime NOT to make a matching Tam! I wear them all the time.

KNITSONIK mitts-a-long mitts and tam
KNITSONIK mitts-a-long mitts and tam

Felix: I just love the little assymetric shape that you used on both the mitts and on the tam – it looks exactly like a mossy rock, turning in the light. Can you tell us a bit about it?

The little mossy flint in Bev's design
The little mossy flint in Bev’s design

Bev: I’m so glad that’s what you see because that’s exactly what they were meant to be. I loved the rows of rocks in your photo. I wanted to show them in rows but didn’t want them to be square or round or one colour because in the picture they are all different. By using the shades of grey with black and green, I hoped to convey a sense of light and shade and the fact that they were topped with moss. I also “zoomed in” to your picture so that I could see the pixels, revealing additional shapes and colours that aren’t noticeable in the picture when you zoom out.

Roman Wall at Silchester - the inspiration source for Bev's mitts and tam
Roman Wall at Silchester – the inspiration source for Bev’s mitts and tam

Felix: In general I love the everyday-ness of your inspiration sources. A friend’s photo; the china bowls you use often; the neighbour’s tree… I have been experimenting with swatch-a-longs and the mitts-a-long – as you know! – but I think the best one so far was #knitsonikpomegranates, because everyone could find their own relationship with their pomegranate. Working from someone else’s photos is just not quite the same as getting to know an inspiration source on your own terms. I wondered if you have any comments on that, and whether having the inspiration sources close by has helped you with your swatches?

Bev: That’s an interesting point and I agree. I do tend to feel a much stronger connection with my own things and pictures that I have taken myself because I have actually been there and seen it with my own eyes. If I can actually “touch” “feel” or “smell” something, then that connection for me is amplified and I will remember it better and in more detail. It’s about so much more than just looking at something for me and I might add things into my swatches that no-one else will “see” but I will know how I got that idea.

I just missed the Pomegranates swatch but I have been admiring them all on Ravelry. What lovely colours you had to work with!

swatches created during the #knitsonikpomegranates swatch-a-long
swatches created during the #knitsonikpomegranates swatch-a-long

Felix: Thank you so much for sharing your insights into working with the KNITSONIK system with me and with comrades everywhere! Where can people go online to see more of your beautiful work?

Bev: Thanks you for asking me so many questions. It’s really made me think a lot more about what I’m doing and how I do it! I can be found on Facebook as “Beverley Dott – Fair City Knitter” and on Ravelry I am DottyBev.

Malachite Tam by Bev
Malachite Tam by Bev
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10 Responses to Meet Bev and her glorious stranded colourwork

  1. Hivetender says:

    Another fine blog entry. I learn so much from these! Beautiful work Bev.

  2. Pamela Butler says:

    Ahh, lovely!

  3. I have been involved with wool for a long time….but my interaction with hand knitting yarns, designers and knitters has been relatively short and started when my wife had her own hand knitting business. She would design a sweater, knit it and then send it out to local hand knitters to make up.
    It was a difficult business and I learned the hard way that it is not as easy as it looks. So, my unending respect goes to designers, knitters and innovators of original thought.
    These designs are really good. Many thanks to all you very talented people for your support for our industry.

  4. Terry says:

    Another brilliant designer and knitter! These photos make my eyeballs feel good *g*. Most inspiring!

  5. Mark says:

    Wow the pictures are amazing! I love the Silchester wall tam and the autumn leaves in particular :-)

  6. Becky Skidmore says:

    What gorgeous, unique colourwork! Inspiring. Thanks.

  7. Janet says:

    I so enjoyed the delving deep into the Knitsonik system as used by Bev, prompted by Felix! I am inspired to get back to trying my own colors in a fair isle pattern. Thanks for all the detail.

  8. Freyalyn says:

    Excellent and inspiring interview. Off to Rav to favourite things…

  9. Administration says:

    Yes, yes! Shower Bev’s projects in hearts!!!

  10. Beverely Dott says:

    Thanks for the lovely comments everyone.

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