I, like many other knittingcomrades, am in the throes of preparing for the wonderful Edinburgh Yarn Festival. I am so excited to be teaching classes on Thursday and Friday and if you’re coming to one of those classes, hurrah and welcome: I’m really looking forward to it.
I always like to bring examples of the KNITSONIK System in action to my classes for comrades to see and this year, in addition to the swatches from my book and several mitts-a-long mitts, I will be bringing – in all its magnifient glory – the wondrous swatch-bunting made by comrades everywhere for our Wedding. Liz is an immensely kind and practical person and, true to form, the amazing bunting that she co-ordinated is colourful and joyous and a fantastically useful tool for demonstrating the KNITSONIK system in action. I love this photo of Liz putting the bunting up around the staircase at our Wedding!
Here are some of the flags in closeup:
I especially love this flag knitted by Deborah Gray, who was working on this idea for willow-pattern inspired stranded colourwork at the very first every Quotidian Colourwork Class. Deborah also knitted an amazing sweater for Monkl based on bananas, the creation of which clearly inspired this flag!
Of course, Monkl wore his 100% WOOL KNITSONIK sweater from Deborah to our wedding as you can see in these photos…
…this one from the wondrous Mel (whom all of you will know from Kate’s blog) that I immediately recognised as an interpretation of our two Keith Moon sweaters together in Edinburgh when I was there for the EYF several years ago…
…DUCKS from my lovely friend Mandy, who endures much talk of Honey & Pretzel at weekly knit nights…
…sewing notions including machine, pins and zippers, from Gabrielle who is also a regular Sticks’n’Strings-er…
…waves in beautiful blues and aquas from Hannah…
…a tribute to extreme the joyous and merry time we shared together in Shetland in 2013 from my dear friend Tom of Holland, complete with resplendent tassel…
…and many examples of BEAUTIFUL stranded colourwork from lovely Cecilia, whom I feel has an extra specially deep and rich connection with the Plants chapter of my book, having proof-read and discussed several aspects of it with me when I was working on it. I especially love that she made some bunting flags based on fruitcake, ensuring there were two kinds of KNITTED CAKE at our wedding!
…to go with the cake, my friend Mikal made this wondrous tea and biscuits flag, recalling the Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin gallery we admired together in Reading Museum one day when she visited here…
…like Liz, Mikal is one of the Oxford Bluestockings knitters. That’s the group I joined when I revisited knitting in my early twenties, while I was living in Oxford. It’s amazing to think how central knitting has become to my life thanks to the initial inspiration and important friendship I found in that group. I adore all the bunting flags but I confess to having a particular soft spot for Liz’s witty and elegant interpretation of hot pot in stranded colourwork:
There are many, many flags on the amazing bunting – far more than I can show here, this is just a glimpse of the splendour – so I will be very happy to show this to comrades at my classes, and may bring it to the EYF Podcast Lounge on Saturday where I intend to spend at least some of the day with my EDIROL and podcast buddies!
…keen-eyed spotters will also see some KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork in action on Lilith’s stand as she very kindly invited me to contribute a design to her BEAUTIFUL book, Coming Home. Wild Mountain Time is my design celebrating good times had on the West Highland Way with Mark, and Lilith’s magnificent and distinctive palette.
Working on the book was a fantastic experience and I felt really honoured to be asked, and to be able to develop my design in the company of amazing women – many of whom will be at EYF this year, hurrah! Lilith has come up with a very fun game of designer bingo, the idea for which as as follows:
‘if you’re coming to EYF, get ready to play Coming Home bingo!!!! everyone except for Kirsten Kapur, Clara Parkes, and our marvellous book designer Nic Vowles will be at EYF; working on stands, teaching, or just drifting about being fabulous. the aim of the game is to get EVERY contributor who’s at EYF to sign your copy of Coming Home (you can collect all the signatures on the “contributors” page at the back of the book, or anywhere else in the book you fancy – although it’s probably best to get them all on the same page or two). then, instagram or tweet a photo of your signature collection with the hashtag #OMAcominghome – and don’t forget to tag me in the photo (i’m @oldmaidenaunt)! if you get a full house, i’ll add you to the draw to win one of a few fab prizes – there’ll be yarn to knit one or more of the projects in the book, a notions pouch kit from lorna (aka stitchbirdie), and possibly more!’
– Lilith, AKA Old Maiden Aunt
I SHALL BUY A MAGIC SHARPIE JUST TO PLAY!!!
I am bringing no copies of my book to sell at EYF this year, but two of my favourite businesses will be carrying the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook on their stands: Purlescence and Ysolda. Do pop over to see them!
A little bit of housekeeping
I will be closing the KNITSONIK shop tomorrow and doing what I can towards celebrating International Women’s Day to support this. The shop will reopen on 9th March and I’ll post orders out again following my return home from Edinburgh; thank you for your understanding.
HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY FOR TOMORROW; I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING YOU AT EYF!
Two reasons we chose Japan for our honeymoon are SNOW and OPPORTUNITIES FOR SNOWBOARDING we knew we’d find there in February. Before you ask, dear comrades, I do not snowboard*. However, I married a man who does.
Happily, I’ve learnt through our Japanese adventures that there are many other ways to enjoy SNOW and I thought I’d share some of them with you! Be warned I got very excited with our travel photos so you might want a mug of tea before settling in to read this!
We traveled from Tokyo to Sapporo for its famous snow festival. This festival mainly takes place in Odori Park throughout which you can see the most amazing giant snow sculptures…
…we saw snow Star Wars…
…a snow knitter with snow yarn balls and a snowy garment on her snowy needles…
…a brilliantly unflattering snow Donald Trump holding the big apple in his tiny snowy hands…
…a snow moomin…
…a snow heart…
…and a beautiful snow Japanese house, complete with tiny snow tassels at each corner.
As you can see, the sculptures are all beautifully lit at night and range from professional sculptures the size of buildings to smaller pieces made by local snow sculptors. Some of our most magical evenings were spent wandering through the park, watching laser shows projected onto the big snow sculptures, enjoying the ingenuity and beauty of some of the smaller pieces, sipping hot sake from little glass jars and feeling the snow coming down in drifts around us.
Snowy Sapporo is also lovely in the daytime; we loved looking at the city and its encircling mountains from the wondrous T38 Observatory deck of the JR Tower; from 38 floors up you get a fantastic perspective.
We headed east of Sapporo on our adventures in search of Crane sanctuaries and Ainu culture. On our way a mix up about where we were meeting our host meant that, on the down side, we were temporarily stranded at the smallest, snowiest most isolated train station I’ve ever seen… but that, on the up side, we traveled around Lake Akan on a tiny train seeing deer and snow and long tracts of a completely mesmerising landscape of snow, trees and mountains…
…we arrived by the shores of Lake Akan in time to see an amazing fire festival down on the frozen lake. The evening began with a moving performance by folks wearing traditional Ainu costume on a snowy, owl-shaped stage, after which there were fireworks on the deeply frozen lake. I wished I could understand more of what was taking place but I got enough of it to comprehend that Ainu culture lives on in modern Japan through ceremonies, performances, dance and representations like this one: it was a privilege to be there to see it.
Shops in which descendants of the Ainu people make and sell traditional wood-carvings line the main street on the shores of Lake Akan and the distinctive patterns and carvings can be seen everywhere – even on boats and buildings – and there were ice-lanterns there as well, to light the way at night…
…by daylight the cats of Lake Akan seek and gather round warm manhole covers…
…and the forests and mountains are clad in mist and snow…
…and sometimes people do a little dance on the lake because the snow makes them a bit giddy.
On our way back to Sapporo we stopped to see and hear the Cranes at Akan International Crane Sanctuary; this was magic. We had watched Japanese Cranes on various nature programmes but nothing beats seeing them with your own eyes, all elegant and tall with a majestic, trumpeting call.
From Kushiro station we traveled back to Sapporo to fly down to Nagano, where we had a date with yet more snow and snowy creatures. I took about ten million photos from the plane because it was so amazing to see the snowy, mountainous landscape come into focus as we began our descent.
A ponderous train ride took us across further snowscapes to our destination of Yudanaka – a destination that I heartily recommend to anyone contemplating a February jaunt to Japan. This is an onsen town, which is to say that while the whole place is blanketed in snow, hot volcanic water courses through its veins and is channeled by ingenious piping into many delicious public and private bathing contexts. It’s a beautiful place in which the sound of flowing water is a constant accompaniment, and where gorgeous old Japanese buildings can be seen everywhere.
We stayed in a wonderful old Ryokan with paper dividing walls, tatami mats, mattresses on the floor and this view.
In Yudanaka we discovered there are few pleasures greater than feeling the deep freshness of snowy air on your face whilst simultaneously luxuriating in blisteringly hot volcanic water… and nobody knows this better than the star attraction of the area: THE SNOW MONKEYS. I forgive you if you scrolled through this whole post just to see these guys for they are, by far, THE BEST THING EVER WHEN IT COMES TO SNOW AND WAYS THAT SNOW CAN BE TRULY AWESOME.
Here they luxuriate in their natural spa…
…here they do important MONKEY STUFF in the snow…
…warming up again…
Meeting the snow monkeys was absolutely amazing – it was everything we had hoped it would be and more. However, I am also blown away by all the other ways in which SNOWY Japan is beautiful; by the loveliness of lines of trees and mountains standing out starkly against so much crystalline white; by the restrained palette that results from blanketing everything in snow; by how inky shadows appear against such a bright background; and by just how fricking magical the world looks when it is covered in snow.
There is so much for the knitter’s eye to pick up on… so many special palettes, patterns, and shading schemes that seem particular to snow. More generally, the different festivals and celebrations of snow that we felt and experienced in all the snowy places we visited were really inspiring in terms of aligning oneself to, and living with, the rhythm of the seasons. I feel so inspired by having this new perspective on winter and by my memories of how snow looks in different kinds of light… most of all, I keep thinking of the special way a forest sounds when all its trees are covered in snow, of tracks that lead off and away into the snowy distance, and of one magical evening spent recording water flowing beneath the streets of Yudanaka while the snow fell silently all around us and the lights of the buildings lay in glowing circles on the white ground.
Thank you all so much for your kind wishes and lovely comments on my last post! It was so nice reading them together and so nice to share that special day with you a little bit on here.
I have been sorting through some of my sound files from the trip and thought you might enjoy hearing one or two of them. As long-term SONIK buddies will know, I am very fond of the aporee sound project run by my friend Udo Noll, and I generally upload my sounds there. I love that you can pinpoint exactly where in time and space each sound was recorded, and find recordings made by other people, too. The aporee sound maps are a fantastically collective undertaking: I think there are 1,000+ aporisti currently uploading sounds there, and I love following the adventures of the community of listeners that build the site. If you would like to hear a very general impression of Japan (not only including my sounds) I heartily recommend searching for “Japan” under places, then pressing play to hear the map play itself and all the sounds uploaded in that amazing country. You could also look up your own postcode there and see whether anyone has been uploading sounds to the map to aporee that you recognise…
…although I am a huge fan of aporee, I upload sounds to soundcloud from time to time as well, because sounds are slightly easier to embed in blog posts and across social media if they are hosted there.
Today I uploaded two special sounds to soundcloud and it is these that I shall share with you today. I’d read about both of these sounds before visiting Japan when I came across an amazing project called 100 Soundscape of Japan. This was set up in 1996 by the Ministry of the Environment to combat noise pollution and to foster greater awareness of, and engagement with, local sounds. 738 submissions were received from all over the country from which a shortlist of 100 was derived by the Japan Soundscape Study Group. The final soundscapes chosen are intended to function as symbols for local people and to promote the rediscovery of sounds in everyday life.
The clock tower was designed and built by some of the Americans who helped establish modern-day Sapporo in the late 1800s, bringing their farming skills and knowledge. The clock tower was built in 1878 and still chimes on the hour and keeps time for the city. I like listening to the combination of the newer sounds of the city (such as the electronic sounds at pedestrian crossings that can be heard in this recording) along with this older, mechanical sound that has been part of the soundscape there for a little over a hundred years.
The Sapporo Clock Tower is a celebrated local symbol and features on the rubber stamp at the JR rail station (there are rubber stamps at many attractions in Japan, and at the railway stations too!) as well as having its own handsome stamp!
The second sound I want to share is also a bell, but this one is much older; it is the Bell of the Zenkō-ji Temple.
Zenkō-ji is a Buddhist Temple in Nagano and its special bell was cast in 1667 and, according to this sign, the Nagano Olympic Games were commenced with “its solemn peal”.
My recording is of the bell being struck several times at around 1pm. The bell-ringer approached the tower, untied a special beam held in ropes, and then gently used the beam to strike the bell. The sound is amazing, listen with headphones so you can hear all the amazing harmonics in the sound… it was a sunny day and the snow all around me was melting, which is what you can hear in the recording, as well as the bell and the bell-ringer.
As with the Clock Tower, the Temple is a celebrated local symbol and features on the rubber stamp for the local train station of Nagano.
I love bells as objects with enormous sonic and cultural fields. This sign in the Sapporo Clock Tower Museum shows “how far the sound of the Clock Tower bell could be heard in olden days” and long-term listeners of the KNITSONIK Podcast may remember me speaking a few years ago about “Of This Parish” – a sound project that explores the range of bells as a way of defining the territory of a particular church or religious building.
Foundries in different places favour different casting techniques and harmonics, so that bells from different places offer a kind of signature timbre and song.
I’m curious to know: what bells ring or are rung or struck where you live? Are they an important part of your sense of place? And do you feel there ought to be a rubber stamp that comrades who visit and listen to your special bell(s) might be able to use to commemorate that sonic occasion?
Things have been quiet round here because in January myself and Mark got married! I’ve always found January a tricky time of year – the grey light, the short days, the cold. Though I have one of those SAD light box thingies (which definitely helps) I felt January could be fixed forever by turning it into an annual celebration of epic, wonderful LOVE: the kind of LOVE you want to celebrate for the rest of your life. Plus, getting married in January enabled us and our guests to enjoy the benefits of wearing WOOL!
Those of you who know us won’t be surprised to learn that our wedding was pretty big on WOOL as well as featuring FRUITCAKE and BEER, and many things made by ourselves, our friends, and our families. I thought you might enjoy reading a bit about them.
Mark’s suit and my dress are made from 100% wool fabric, purchased at Cotswold Woollen Weavers. Mark’s suit was bought in their shop, where I got several metres of fabric that my awesome, gifted friend Emmylou turned into The Wedding Dress Of My Dreams. My bridesmaids all had woolly tabards made by my friends at Tall Yarns’n Tales in the same dotty fabric as my bolero.
The gorgeous herringbone tweed of which my dress was made provided inspiration for my gauntlets. Using the KNITSONIK System from (ahem!) my own book, I played with shades of Jamieson & Smith 2ply Jumper Weight yarn worked with a lovely fingering weight Portland sheep yarn in a natural white from Farnell Farm. I wanted to pick up the shades in the tweed, and to make something elegant and understated to match. After swatching, I settled on an extremely simple pattern, and concentrated on exploring the subtle shifts between different beiges, creams and whites.
The Portland breed originates from close to where Mark grew up (Weymouth) and Shetland is my spiritual home, so working the two yarns together felt very special and I felt I couldn’t get married without a little bit of KNITSONIK included in my outfit.
The KNITSONIK System was present in other ways as well; unbeknownst to me, in the lead up to our wedding, my good friend Liz had been secretly scheming with many comrades to create some very special KNITSONIK bunting. Each flag uses a different inspiration source and the whole thing features contributions from many, many friends. It is the most colourful and glorious thing I have ever seen, and really deserves its own blog post. For today I’ll just share that the bunting was there when we said our vows, and later on when we cut our cake, and that we are deeply thankful to Liz and all the other knitters who made beautiful flags for it… the whole thing brought so much love and colour to our wedding: IT IS AMAZING!
We made our cake ourselves using the recipe from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook with a few minor adjustments (more fruit and more booze!) It felt really good and right to make it there on this counter where we have made so many other meals and cakes and feasts together over the past decade or so.
The ducks stopped laying for several weeks and a fortnight before the wedding I gave them extra food and oyster shell and a good talking to. Luckily, they busted out an emergency supply in time for us to use their eggs in the cakes, which meant they could be there in spirit if not in person (thank you Honey and Pretzel)!
Our friends Vic and Lou did a stunning job of turning our home baked cakes into The Wedding Cake Of My Dreams; using fondant in gloriously sheepy shades, they created an entire “knitted” cake, complete with a knitted heart on the top! Here I am with Vic and the insanely amazing knitted wedding cake, trying my best to express my feelings about said cake with my face.
THE CAKE! THE BUNTING!
I investigated flowers many months back and for various reasons decided I wanted to use wool. I wasn’t sure what to do for greenery until I spotted a photo on Pinterest of a bridal bouquet with ivy trailing down from it… the ivy reminded me of my friend Cecilia’s Hand Spun Yarns and she very kindly made me enough green coily yarn for us to decorate my hair and all the tables in glorious green, spirally joy.
Jo Stringer did my hair and makeup and I absolutely love her approach to our woolly theme and how she incorporated our handmade woolly flowers and Cecilia’s special yarn.
The flowers were the product of several hen-dos organised by my beautiful and lovely maid of honour: Lara. These gathering were all incredible opportunities to come together with cherished friends, and they were also very crafty, involving the production of 100% wool wrapped sheep, pompoms and bouquets for use at the wedding!
I love my woolly bouquet, and my friends at Sticks ‘n Strings clubbed together to buy me a special vase in which it now lives: a constant reminder of all the times spent with friends making the flowers, and of the happy occasion of our wedding.
We gave all our guests Wovember badges as favours and you can see my dear Pops here, sporting his badge with pride beneath a corsage made from fabric left over from mine and Mark’s outfits. Lara made the most amazing giant cross-stitch version of the rubber stamp we used on all our invites (amazingly, I don’t seem to have a photo of this to share with you just now but do not worry: there will be one soon) and we had readings from Thomas Hardy (read by Isolde) and Kate Tempest (read by my brother Fergus).
The DJ played four tracks by Missy Elliott to which I danced my woolly boots off, and we drank beers made by me and Mark and by my brother Thaddaeus.
There were other incredible sounds for the wedding too, including sheep bells rung by my niece and nephews – a gift from my friend Josh Moll – and some wonderful live music. My brother Ned arranged some of our favourite songs for the Ford Family brass (and saxaphone and clarinet) ensemble. This meant that we were able to enjoy The Book of Love, The Floral Dance, and my all time favourite ever piece of fun music: Jazz – Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold at various points on the day… all made extra special by being played by people we love.
We had cheese from our wonderful local business – The Grumpy Goat – including a sheep’s cheese (of course!) called Fosse Way Fleece!
And we made our wedding rings together under the careful supervision of Sue Lane, who is a warm and encouraging teacher; making each others’ rings was very special and we are now really enjoying wearing them!
Everyone embraced our woolly dress code with panache… did you ever see a woollier wedding posse???
We are still landing after being on cloud 9 on this wonderful day, which felt like an amazing handmade celebration of love, and a fantastic way to begin a new chapter of our shared life. The cloud of joy was created by LOVE and by our friends and family, and after our wedding, we went on an amazing honeymoon to Japan which included yet more joy that I am looking forward to sharing with you in coming weeks. For now I just wanted to say a MASSIVE THANK YOU to everyone who made our wedding so wonderful, and to tell you about it on here. I am so happy to be married to Mark: say hello to Mr KNITSONIK!
The shop has been closed for the last three weeks but is now open again and I am hoping to be back again very soon with news of bunting and Japan! For now,
YOURS IN WOOLLY WEDDINGNESS AND LOVE,
All our wedding photos shared here were taken by our lovely and talented photographer, Catherine Hadler and used with kind permission.
Continuing the reflective theme of yesterday, today I want to share some of the amazing inspiration sources and swatches that KNITSONIK comrades everywhere shared on instagram in 2016.
I love when people share an inspiration source; I love reading the comments others leave and seeing what treasures have been discovered in the everyday. Above all, I feel that posts like these express a collective sense of celebrating the creative possibilities lying around us all the time… and that they are richly suggestive of joyous future knitting. Most importantly of all, they are FUN!
Here are some awesome inspiration sources (and some knitting) shared by instagram buddies in 2016. Here’s hoping we find more palettes, patterns and shading schemes together next year…
Whatever your faith or philosophy, I sincerely hope that the depths of winter have afforded you quiet moments for reflection and joyous ones in which to party too; and that you are well and happy and enjoying a fine break with loved ones.
Things at KNITSONIK HQ are a little bit busy just now because in just under a month, myself and no. 1 comrade Mark are getting married.
Nevertheless, I find it is important around this time of year to take a breath to think about the year that has almost passed, the year that is to come, and the hopes, dreams and projects that lie ahead.
2016 was a good year. Best of all, Mark and I got engaged.
However, there were many more things I had hoped to do in 2016 that I was not able to manage. Apart from a series of extremely depressing world and political events that I won’t go into here, it was a difficult year because ill health somewhat slowed me down. If you’ve ever had a serious long-term health condition you’ll know how frustrating it is when your body can’t keep up with your mind, and I confess that at times I’ve felt rather down and frustrated – especially when arthritis has wrecked my hands, or when drugs to manage it have wrecked my head.
I’m planning a more sustainable 2017 and things are hopefully on the up with new drugs and regimes, so to kick-start a positive slide into 2017, I thought I’d do some posts that celebrate some of the good things that happened in 2016; the things I managed and the things I did.
Today’s celebration is all about stranded colourwork produced using The KNITSONIK System: a year of KNITSONIK, if you will.
As well as prancing around in my giant woolly eulogy to the amazing Missy Elliott, I launched a new class at Edinburgh Yarn Festival in 2016 called Colours of Edinburgh. Colours of Edinburgh celebrates the colours of the beautiful landscape around Arthur’s Seat, and comrades who came to this class explored how to translate rocks, moss, grass, sky and stone into glorious stranded colourwork; I am teaching it again in 2017 and am already looking forward to it.
At the Edinburgh Yarn Festival I also met up with many buddies from Shetland who were there representing Shetland Wool Week and launching Crofthoose Hat – the signature design from this year’s patron, Ella Gordon. I knitted one up in April, theming the colours to the bricks of our wee home here: The Red House.
In May my soundpieces launched at the Charles Dickens Museum, as part of their wonderful exhibition: The Other Dickens, Discovering Catherine. One of the installations featured the very tiny sounds of making and knitting, and was presented within a sewing basket. I examined some of Catherine’s needlework to pick shades of Appletons Crewel Wool from which to knit covers for the little speakers, and you had to hold them to your ears to hear the tiny sounds.
In June, many comrades (including me) finished projects produced during the spring 2016 Magnolia mittsalong. In this mittsalong, myself and other comrades knitted KNITSONIK fingerless mitts using Magnolia flowers as our inspiration source. You can see some examples in this video produced for my YouTube channel and celebrating our collective creative investigations of magnolia blossoms.
I have a bit of a *thing* about polka dots and in July, I was obsessed with knitting polka dots in natural shades of wool from a dear friend’s flock of sheep. This design is languishing but I keep looking at its pleasing dottiness and I think we are not done yet, me and the dots…
…in August I began swatching for a new design for Old Maiden Aunt’s new book: Coming Home. My design takes its inspiration from the glorious shades of the Old Maiden Aunt yarn collection, and the flora that line the paths of the West Highland Way. Its name – Wild Mountain Time – refers to a very jolly walking holiday I had there with lovely Mark in 2009. I wrote about this on Lilith’s blog and you can see how much fun I had experimenting with the new-to-me palette of her glorious 4-ply Shetland yarn in August and September 2016.
In October, stricken with FOMO and not able to attend Shetland Wool Week, I hosted my own celebrations here in the South, of which a long-distance #knitsonikmittsalong with a Shetland-theme was a key part. Knitters bought kits from my friends at Jamieson & Smith and Purlescence and we made mitts inspired either by the Croft House Museum, or by the knitting sheaths held in the Shetland Museum and Archives.
In November, some dear friends of mine got married and I made them matching his’n’his hats. I used colours inspired by the European Union – Gold and Blue – whose freedom of movement laws enabled their love to flourish, and I charted two wee figures that are extremely simplified portraits of these glorious men. The little charts top and bottom of the hats are an abstraction of their initials, and the hats are complimentary opposites – just like their wearers.
This December I have continued on the theme of stranded colourwork for weddings, but this time the knitting is for me. It’s taken me a while to settle on a design, but in the end the gauntlets I shall wear when me and Mark are wed will be like all my other mitts: swatches that celebrate new ideas as they progress; I think that is a good omen for a marriage, no?
I hope you have enjoyed this retrospective of a year of KNITSONIK and will see you again very shortly!
YOURS IN CONTEMPLATION,
For some months now my friends Kate Davies and Tom Barr have been working together on an important book: Shetland oo : wool , textiles , work. Published by Kate Davies Designs, this book celebrates the people in Shetland who work with wool (or oo as it’s known there). It features essays by Kate paired with photographic portraits by Tom. I really love the monumental and textural quality of Tom’s photography and especially the way he captures the tactile qualities of wool.
He has a knack for capturing the atmosphere of a moment in a way that I try to do too, with sound. Therefore, when I heard that Tom was intending to document Shetland’s rich and diverse wool industry in photos, I was excited to hear more! I went to Shetland myself in 2013 to make recordings for Listening to Shetland Wool: where Tom was packing lenses and tripods into bags this summer, I’d often been before, but with microphones and wind baffles.
Though taking photos and making sound recordings are different practices, they are both about perceiving and exploring the world around us. I thought it would be really interesting to talk to Tom about taking photos for this book, and to share our perspectives as comrades who have been to Shetland and fallen in love with the amazing people who work in the thriving wool industry there. I’ve also created a new video for the KNITSONIK YouTube channel that combines some of Tom’s photos from the book with my field recordings which you can watch (and hear) below.
F: Hi Tom, I’m extremely excited about yours and Kate’s forthcoming book – Shetland oo : wool , textiles , work. Some readers will be familiar with Shetland textiles through attending Shetland Wool Week. However, with your unique perspective and photographic focus, I feel that this book will offer new and enriching ways of looking at Shetland textiles. I’ve also worked on a documentary project in Shetland celebrating the wool industry there and I thought it might be interesting for us to compare notes.
T: Thanks for inviting me for this chat, Felix.
F: Many readers will know you from Kate’s blog as the talented photographer for all her amazing books and knitwear designs. However, this new book is a departure for you both as the focus is not on Kate’s knitwear designs but rather on the people and landscape behind Shetland oo. Could you say a bit about how this book came about, and what you have aimed to capture in your images?
T: I suppose there are two things that especially interest me as a photographer (as well as from a socio-political or humanist perspective): people at work (or play) and where that work (or play) takes place. Shetland is a fascinating place to think about the relationship between human labour and place, and my starting point with the project was a desire to show how a particular landscape has been shaped by the work of wool, and to illustrate the many different ways in which wool shapes humans lives in turn. I wanted to show people at work, and in the places where that work occurs, and in Shetland those spaces are very varied – from the cosy interiors of sheds and living rooms, to the drama of wind-blown hills and cliffs. My guiding principle was that the images should suggest the real dignity and beauty of the work that’s done with wool and textiles in Shetland, and hopefully capture some of those same qualities in working Shetlanders themselves.
F: Listening to Shetland Wool is a sound map I created in 2013 for Shetland Wool Week that year, and it features sounds from all over the islands that relate in some way to the context of Shetland Wool. I wanted to do that project because I think that sometimes when you look at a skein of yarn, you can all too easily forget the long story of its creation and – particularly in the case of Shetland – the extraordinary social history with which it is associated. In recording and amplifying different sounds related to the history of Shetland Wool and knitting, I wanted to foreground those stories and that history and to celebrate them. Did you have similar motivations for wanting to document Shetland oo?
T: Yes, absolutely. It’s interesting to hear what you say about amplification, because I suppose that is exactly how I think about the effect of different photographic media, like black and white photography, or film work (examples of both of which you’ll find throughout the book). The black and white images of many photographers I really admire (such as Sebastião Salgado) lend ordinary human actions a monumental quality, and I was particularly keen to explore how black and white photography might allow us to see Shetland wool work for the incredible and—yes—monumental thing it is—especially the kind of work that is sometimes overlooked because it is conducted by women in domestic spaces. I hope that some of my black and white images of Shetlanders engaged in skilled activities like spinning and knitting have a similarly amplified quality to the sounds on your map.
F: When I was recording sounds in Shetland, I started by listening to oral histories from the Tobar an Dualchais archives and emailing friends in Shetland for their views on the sounds that were important to them… I wanted to hear Shetlanders speaking about sheep and wool first-hand, and was listening out for ideas of what to record. Then when I got to Shetland, I found many more sounds through people being helpful and making suggestions, and also just through listening and the luck of being in the right place at the right time. I wonder if you could talk about the process by which you found your images for this book – research; friends; suggestions made by others; and good old fashioned luck?
T: You’ll know yourself what a welcoming place Shetland is, and I really did find kindness and generosity everywhere I went. Folk I’d never met before were keen to help with suggestions for locations and subjects, and because people allowed me to see the reality of their working lives, my eyes were genuinely opened to what work with wool involves. There were certainly several moments of good luck (or good light), but I know that what will stick in my mind about the project when I look back in years to come is the good humour and warm welcome of Shetlanders, many of whom I now count as my friends.
F: The process of pootling about and recording my sounds gave me the impression of Shetland as a very welcoming place, in which there is an extraordinary community of wool workers who have an infectious passion and pride for Shetland Wool. I especially remember a lovely afternoon with Elizabeth Johnston spinning on her gorgeous wheels; a wonderful time spent listening to Oliver Henry talking about the history of Shetland Oo; and a joyful morning with Hazel Tindall, spent recording her knitting on steel needles with a belt. What was your experience of travelling round Shetland to take photos for Shetland Oo?
T: I completely agree about Shetland’s passion for and pride in wool, and the beneficial effects of travel around the islands. There were two aspects of this I equally enjoyed: the particularly intense sociability of talking to and photographing people about their work, and the meditative solitude of being out in the Shetland landscape, and engaging in a different kind of photographic activity. I love the great Shetland outdoors, and these solitary landscape shoots often gave me time to reflect on the work I’d done, and that which was to come. Over the course of the project, I don’t think there was a single day I didn’t return to my accommodation with wet feet, or covered in mud and sheep shit. Apart from obviously needing some sort of washable boiler-suit uniform in which to conduct my photography, I couldn’t have been happier.
F: One of the reasons I like working with documentary sound is that I feel it has an almost textural quality. When I think of Shetland, I think of the sounds of Arctic Terns and Oystercatchers mingling in the air with those of sheep, and of the broad sonic vocabulary of the North Atlantic Ocean that whispers and roars, depending on where you are and what the weather’s like. To me these sounds speak to the geographic context of Shetland and help describe it as a very particular sort of wool-growing environment. Also, when I head out with my recording equipment, I nearly always pick up lots of wind. There aren’t many trees in Shetland and I think you can hear that when you listen to recordings made there. I wonder if there are equivalents or parallels between my experiences of listening to soundwaves and yours of watching the light? How do you go about capturing texture in your photographs and evoking the special tactile qualities of Shetland? Are there particular materials or textures with which you now associate the Shetland landscape, and do you think the light there has a certain quality that you really notice as a photographer?
T: Texture is something that really interests me as a photographer, and this is one of the reasons I enjoy shooting images in black and white. Sometimes colour can be distracting, and I find that without it you can have your attention drawn to the interesting specificity of rough or smooth, hairy or woolly textures. But with our without colour, I think that Shetland is full of fascinating texture. There’s so much variety in the land itself, from cliffs to sandy shorelines. Also, because there’s generally a wind, and because that wind is constantly moving the grasses and other vegetation, textures are continually being reshaped and recreated. I know the special quality of the Shetland light is something of a cliché but its completely true. There’s just a certain something about being 60 degrees north on these windswept islands under an always rapidly-moving sky.
F: My first field recording in Shetland was made at Sumburgh Head. It was actually strange because, as I was approaching the lighthouse there, I noticed the colours which I had first seen in your photographs in Kate’s book, Colours of Shetland. I walked all around the lighthouse, looking at the bright sunlight striking the pale paint, and I listened to the distant surf below; the nice sounds of families walking about trying to see the Puffins; and the baas of all the sheep around the headland. There were oystercatchers and terns too, and I was filled with the joyous feeling of having really arrived. Do you remember your first ever photograph in Shetland, and what was that made you want to go back and look again with this deeper focus on Shetland Oo?
T: I first travelled with Kate to Shetland in 2010, but the first time I really went there with a photographic mission was when we shot the pictures for Colours of Shetland in 2012. For Kate’s Stevenson designs (inspired by Shetland lighthouses) we shot a set of images at the Bressay lighthouse. It was a very bright, contrasty day, and I became obsessed with getting exactly the right wide-angled shot of Kate, the lighthouse, and the bright blue Shetland sky.
I’ve learned an awful lot about photography since then, but I still find myself obsessed with the Bressay lighthouse, and the dramatic arch on which it sits. On my last Shetland visit, I stayed in one of the lighthouse cottages, and spent many happy hours clambering about on the rocks beneath the buildings, trying to capture the lighthouse and its iconic arch. I found I couldn’t photograph the arch without falling in the sea, but managed to shoot a couple of nice images from both above and below.
I feel that lighthouse has still got more to show me, and I am looking forward to visiting it again in February, when I’ll have the honour of joining the jarl squad for the Bressay Up Helly Aa.
F: Finally, I think my favourite sound from Listening to Shetland Wool is the clock ticking in the Shetland Croft House Museum. I love that sound because it’s so subtle and so everyday, and yet it speaks to the many hours that Shetland women spent knitting between around the 1850s and the late 1900s. Those American mantel clocks were fashionable in Shetland at that time and when I heard one ticking away in the Shetland Croft House Museum, I recognised its sound from all the oral histories that I’d listened to, recorded in croft houses in the 1970s. It was a combination of luck, research and just noticing, but I always think of that sound as the soundtrack to all the incredible knitwear on display in the Shetland Museum and Archives. I wonder if you might tell us the story of your favourite photograph in the book?
T: I am fond of so many of the book’s images and seem to develop a new favourite every day. But top of my list has to be a photo I shot at the Shetland marts, during a particularly busy sheep auction. The photograph shows the young lad whose job it is to open and close the gates of the pens, releasing and re-penning the animals after they have been sold and painted with the identifying mark of their new owner. There are many things I like about the image. It is a portrait of someone at work, but that someone is not aware of me or my camera, and there’s nothing posed about it. This lad has got a particular job to do, and he has been caught in the momentary pause between one set of actions and another. The sunlight streams in through the open doors, and he squints against it, illuminating his face. I particularly like the textures of the image: his clothing, the metal bars, the concrete walls, the woolly sheep. I also like that you can see his cuffed left hand lightly tapping up and down on the bars of the gate—perhaps beating time to a tune playing out in his head. The photo captures a brief moment of individual distraction and quiet amidst all the bustle and noise and hard work of the marts. It’s an image of the ordinary and the everyday, but there’s just something in the way that the bright light falls on the boy and the sheep that makes it really special too —like a benediction.
Thank you Tom for sharing your process with us here on the KNITSONIK blog and on the KNITSONIK YouTube channel! To see more of Tom’s stunning photos you can check out the beautiful gallery on Kate’s website or buy a copy of the book mentioned in this post from the KDD webshop.
Over the past week or so I’ve been on a short wee break to Antibes in the South of France with my favourite person in the world, Mark. We ate fromages, drank bieres, paddled in La Mer, snorkeled, slept and read our livres (me, Hope in the Darkness by Rebecca Solnit; Mark, More Human by Steve Hilton). I feel really lucky and grateful for this break, and filled up with the creative energies of having been somewhere different and wonderful for a short spell. Merci, d’Antibes!
We tried to speak more Français and did lots of easy walking around the Port.
I love Antibes. We were last there in 2013 and were both very taken with its dreamy pink/gold light, the soft blue waters of the French Riviera, the wonderful market that opens each morning to sell fresh produce, the quantity of artists in the town, the bohemian flavour of many of its eateries and bars, and the splendid tones of its many different bells ringing in the hours.
Mark has recently finished a superb project developing a device which measures the number of people and the temperature and sounds in a venue, enabling you to gauge the popularity or quietness of that venue. It’s called the Hot Spot project, and uses the Internet of Things. Mark has written all about it here. Our friend Alex has 3D printed a case for the Hot Spot device, and we had fun positioning this all over Antibes and taking its photo…
I have been thinking lots lately about bricks and about yarns… a long-term preoccupation of mine, as well you know.
But it’s always super to revisit an old obsession in a new place.
We visited the Picasso Museum in Antibes as well on this trip – something to which I was weirdly resistant to last time we were in Antibes – and I have come away full of ideas about how artists respond to places, to everyday textures, sounds, and inspirations.
I took nearly 1,000 photos and discovered the pleasures of purple, as well as rediscovering those of peach, pink, gold and turquoise.
I did a little knitting while away, and quite a bit of knotting of ends…
…I’m slowly catching up on things I couldn’t do while away; preparing for this year’s Wovember; posting out orders; and catching up on emails and messages. I also realise I’m a little bit overdue in announcing the winner of the book giveaway from this year’s Shetland Wool Week in the South Celebrations!!! Thank you Kara for your comment – your name was picked at random using the random number generator found here – and thanks to all who so thoughtfully contributed to that rich discussion on charting.
Thanks also to those of you who have taken the time to listen to, and comment on, my latest podcast. I enjoyed doing it so much that I’m hoping to make another one shortly, so that you too can hear the wonderful bells that characterised our trip in Antibes!!!
Yours in inspirations and holidays, in breaks, in colours and, as ever, in bells.
I have a new podcast out in honour of Shetland Wool Week, in which I share and reflect on sounds recorded at previous Shetland Wool Weeks; I am so happy to share these sounds with you and I hope you enjoy listening to them and my rather enthusiastic commentary throughout. (Can you tell I really, really love Shetland Wool Week?)
I always love to hear your thoughts on the podcast and welcome your feedback. This is quite a long one, so you might want to enjoy it with a very deep cup (or pot!) of tea.
Sounds + links in the show:
The birds roosting in the back of Harald Street in Lerwick; the soundtrack of our evenings staying there in 2015.
An excerpt of my song ‘Eddie’ (an ode to my digital sound recording device).
‘The Gansey’ composed by Tommy Stove, announced at the opening ceremony of Shetland Wool Week in 2013. Announced by Stephen Gordon.
Niela Kalra of Neilanell and Margaret Robertson of the Hjaltibonhoga Fiddlers speaking about music and knitwear collaborations at the opening ceremony of Shetland Wool Week in 2015. The Hjaltibonhoga Fiddlers playing music at the opening ceremony of Shetland Wool Week in 2015.
‘Knitting Pundits’ by myself and Louise Scollay including the live audience at the opening ceremony of Shetland Wool Week 2015 and the edited version of the piece including our punditry.
Outtakes from recording ‘Knitting Pundits’ including the glorious laugh of Louise Scollay, one of the happiest and best sounds for me during Shetland Wool Week 2015.
Sounds recorded at The Flock Book up at the marts during Shetland Wool Week 2015, including Oliver Henry and Jan Robertson judging ‘Wool on the Hoof’, gates opening and closing, rams baaing and the sounds of the auctioneer.
Oliver Henry giving a talk during Wool Week 2014 about Shetland Oo, and the grading and sorting of it. (Includes a lovely story about a ram called Martin that belongs to Jan Robertson.)
The calming tones of a spinning wheel recorded during a spinning demonstration at the Shetland Museum. Laureen Robertson’s magnificent ode to Leg-waarmers, sung by many of us during the Fianna, put on by Shetland For Wirds during Shetland Wool Week 2014.
The sound of the Lerwick town hall bells striking midnight and eleven pm in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
The sound of the Reading town hall bells striking four pm in 2015.
Wild Weather recorded at Papal, East Burra, in Shetland 2015.
The beautiful sounds of Burramin Beach, East Burra, also recorded in Shetland 2015.
The sounds of the Shetland-themed Sunday Tea that we held in Berkshire at Purlescence last Sunday, in which our collective knitwear display celebrated the influence of Shetland Wool Week on the knitting in the South of England!
A shout out to Saskia of Jawol in Rotterdam, for bringing a bit of KNITSONIK to Shetland Wool Week this year.
Some talk of the KNITSONIK totes, and also the KNITSONIK YouTube Channel, home of this fun video featuring the jingle, ‘It’s got KNITSONIK on it’ by Mark Stanley.
I close with some lovely bells that were given to me by Josh Moll, and which I cherish in the KNITSONIK palace.
Josh has recently released a beautiful shawl called Tatjana, after her godmother (who also owned the gorgeous bells) which you can see here;
800 miles South of the legendary Tingwall Teas put on by the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers, comrades of Berkshire, Oxfordshire and other nearby shires gathered yesterday at Purlescence to partake of homebaked fare, admire one another’s work, knit, and drink tea.
It was a very jolly afternoon and Sarah and Jonathan were amazing hosts.
I made bannocks adapted from this recipe by Peter Sinclair of Hillswick. Peter specifies that one should use self-raising flour from the Johnson & Woods bakery in Voe, Shetland, and a Shetland hen’s egg, and buttermilk. I did not have these items so instead I used a duck egg courtesy of my irascible ducks, Happy Shopper flour from the corner shop, and some of my homemade kefir in place of the buttermilk. Even with these hacks, the bannocks came out well and happily I came home with far fewer than can be seen in this photo from the start of our Sunday Tea!
I also brought along my collection of Shetland publications for browsing, to which Francoise joyously added a copy of The Shetland Times. Scooped on her recent trip to Shetland, this copy of the newspaper has a massive Wool Week pull out, and it was wonderful to see familiar faces and such good coverage of Shetland Wool Week there.
The knitwear display was wonderful – Jonathan and Sarah had cleared a table on which people were invited to share knitting projects with a material or conceptual connection to Shetland, and there were some utterly beautiful things to see. Here are some highlights;
This wondrous vest worked by Shazknits was much admired with its bold, graphic patterns and luminous colour scheme.
This gorgeous Shetland Shawl by AuntiFred tells a lovely story; the pattern was purchased by her parents on their honeymoon in Shetland, and knitted for her as a baby, by her Father. This is her own later version, worked in J&S lace-weight yarn. I love the inter-generational story of knitting and visits to Shetland, bound up in this lovely object.
It was beautiful to see the Shetland Croft House Museum Mitts on which Chopkinsknits is currently working. How jolly are those lovely big dots? and how soft and playful the lines?! I’ve been lucky to have Catherine in a couple of my workshops and I really love her playful and celebratory approach; these mitts to me are the epitome of having fun and making something wearable at the same time. The abstract shapes she’s used are really pleasing expressions of elements of the Croft House Museum; the wiggly line is the winding path; the big happy spots are the old round stones; and the soft palette of fawns and greys and blues is very descriptive of the luminous light over the water in Shetland, I think.
As expected, there were a few examples of this year’s immensely popular Shetland Wool Week Hat pattern – the Crofthoose Hat by Ella Gordon – and this example was knitted by Jonathan’s mother, Val. She was at the workshop myself and Brenda Dayne gave at Purlescence near the start of this year, where she drew inspiration for her stranded colourwork from some very ornate tiles she had seen on holiday. She’s taken that palette and now applied it to her Crofthoose Hat, aren’t the results just lovely?
My friend Liz is an amazing knitter; she was one of the sample knitters for the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, and here you can see her wonderful version of Kate’s Wee Bluebells pattern, plus a matching tam of her own devising She also handspun enough Portland fleece to make a Miss Rachel’s Yoke; I am just blown away by Liz’s mad skillz and can barely believe that this is handspun because it is so even and so neat.
It was brilliant to see so many of Kate’s iconic designs on the table yesterday. Two knitters independently brought along a Sheepheid Hat and a Rams and Yowes blanket, worked in Jamieson & Smith Jumper Weight Supreme…
I felt extremely lucky to be able to wear a Scatness Tunic from Kate’s book, Colours of Shetland, knitted by my Aunty Gill. I got her the book for her birthday a couple of years ago and she knitted the tunic but then found she wasn’t wearing it much at all… she asked if I would like it and I said I WILL WEAR IT WITH PRIDE FOR THE WHOLE AUTUMN IT WOULD BE THE BEST THING EVER and so here I am, proudly sporting it yesterday :)
There was much talk of knitting, much knitting, much admiring of knitting, much drinking of tea, and much talk of Shetland, and I was really made up because Jonathan set up the television so we could enjoy my Listening to Shetland Wool Week sound map in the background. This is the sound map I produced in 2013 for Shetland Wool Week using the aporee sound maps platform; you can press play all on the map and it will play sounds from all over Shetland that relate in one way or another to sheep and wool. Though it was disconcerting at a couple of moments – the cows at the Voe Show were very loud, and the crowd at the Clickimin Bowling Halls whom I recorded last year for the Knitting Pundits were wonderfully rowdy – overall it was very fine to be able to hear the wind, the birds, the sheep and the labour that goes into Shetland wool, while we were admiring the end products that can be made with it. Thank you for playing the sounds!
This morning I’m listening to several albums that I can’t recommend highly enough if you are feeling the FOMO and experiencing any sort of Shetland Wool Week withdrawal symptoms:
The Best of Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham
Yella Hoose / Goodnight Ginger by John McCusker
Fiddle Music from Shetland and Beyond by Curlew
The Silver Bow – The Fiddle Music of Shetland by Aly Bain and Tom Anderson
It was magic to see folks yesterday who had just come back from Shetland, and to reminisce with buddies about previous Shetland Wool Weeks. Thanks so much to everyone for making it such a lovely afternoon. Finally, I hope you’ve enjoyed joining in a little bit here, I’ll be back soon with a special Shetland-themed podcast for you all,