KNITSONIK in December

I didn’t mean to disappear from the KNITSONIK blog for two months but I have been hard at work on the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook!

It has been like old times working with Nic in our virtual office and pinging files and proofs and PDFs back and forth. We are over the hump and I am really excited to begin revealing what we’ve been up to in coming weeks. The Playbook is very much a sequel to the Sourcebook and the focus on creativity, interpretation and celebrating the everyday continues with a selection of projects, each of which is presented with enriching extra content so you can make them all your own. The best way to make sure you don’t miss publication info is to sign up to the dedicated newsletter here but here are some pictures of the work and projects in progress…

Themes from the first book have continued in this second one but are presented in new ways and with new ideas so that there are lots of opportunities to get deeper into the KNITSONIK system and to find more ways of celebrating daily life in stranded colourwork.

As you can see from the shots above, my brother Ferg has brought his wondrous feeling for light and colour to this book as he did with the first. He also brought a helper in the form of George seen here climbing inside the soft-box. (What is the point of a photo shoot of knitting with no cat?)

I had a question in the KNITSONIK Ravelry forum about whether or not to get the Sourcebook or wait for the Playbook if you are new to my work; the Playbook is going to continue ideas from the first book, but if you want the full KNITSONIK System the Sourcebook is still the one you need.

If you want to order over the festive season, please be aware that I am away this weekend teaching in Amsterdam. I will post all orders on my return on 19th December. UK orders should reach you in time for Christmas, but if you’re ordering from further afield, check with my lovely stockists to see whether anyone can ship more expediently.

Here are the National and International dates as listed on the Royal Mail website;
UK Service
Wed 20 Dec

International Standard
Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg

Sat 16 Dec

Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland
Fri 15 Dec

Canada, Finland, Sweden, USA
Thur 14 Dec

Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Poland
Wed 13 Dec

Greece, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand
Sat 9 Dec

I’m very excited about teaching in the Netherlands this weekend and am looking forward to seeing some of you in the palace of dreams that is Stephen & Penelope. Amsterdam is one of my favourite places especially at this time of year when the light is all low and glinty. The shapes and colours of the windows and the crooked old houses are beautiful and of course I found lots of bricks to love last time I was there in winter.

I can’t wait to see what those of you coming to Colours of Amsterdam will knit from these elements of the city. I also can’t wait to see what those of you coming to Quotidian Colourwork will bring as your inspiration source… for those of you who can’t make it, please join in vicariously by singing along with this magnificent video from Stephen West (the Stephen in Stephen & Penelope) whose enthusiasm for colour and for knitting bring essential light and joy in these dark winter days:


Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FO: Bousta Beanie

There has been a lot of charting and knitting to do this year for Book No. 2. However, although I have been staunchly committed to using All Available Knitting Time for working my own patterns, I confess that the joyous prospect of working a Bousta Beanie for Shetland Wool Week proved irresistible so I bunked off swatching for a few days and boy am I glad I did.

I’ve been a fan of Gudrun’s lovely work ever since knitting her Simmer Dim restored my mojo in 2011. Like Simmer Dim (and many other designs by Gudrun) Bousta Beanie is effortless and pleasurable to knit; sophisticated without being overly complex; and a refreshing, contemporary update to the knitting heritage of Shetland on which she draws. I love how the zigzagging motif draws its inspiration from Bousta in Sandness, Shetland, yet is abstract enough for knitters to adapt to their own contexts and favourite colours. The pattern is simple and easily memorised for first-time Fair Isle knitters; doesn’t demand ten million yarn shades; and is offered in enough colourways to give knitters many options but also the inspiration to innovate. I saw many, many Bousta Beanies in Shetland during Wool Week and it was really exciting to see how Woolweekers had enthusiastically embraced the official hat pattern on their own terms.

At the eleventh hour, packing my suitcase, I looked at the copy of the pattern I’d picked up from the Shetland Wool Week stand at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and felt a pang of longing to make my own version. In true KNITSONIK style, my Bousta Beanie is totally informed by an appreciation for the everyday and mundane details of my town here in Reading.

You see, looking for patterns everywhere and in everything has the unexpected side effect of meaning that I end up – in reverse – sometimes finding objects from daily life in knitting patterns. When I returned from Edinburgh Yarn Festival in the spring, I spotted a manhole cover with a repeating surface design most reminiscent of Gudrun’s motif.

It’s pretty hard to capture the saturated metallic tones of a manhole cover… my phone camera can’t really cope and tends to wash out the hues in lovely rusted metal and document a dull impression of flat greyness. However, I know from looking at manhole covers that their weathered surfaces contain petrol shades; warm complex purples; browns; and many other rich hues. I have bumped up the contrast and saturation in my phone photos of manhole covers to try and foreground the shades that I can see.

With rich purples, browns and creams in mind, I organised a palette for my manhole-cover inspired Bousta Beanie. I used five shades in my colour scheme. In the background I used FC44 (a spicy sort of brown with hot yellow heathered through); FC58 (a complex and mercurial heavily heathered blue/brown/purple/gold shade); FC14 (a complex deep tealy-blue purple). For the pattern, I used FC17 (like a pale chicken egg) and a now discontinued J&S shade that is the colour of a strong milky coffee. I shoved part-balls of all these shades into a bag along with needles and the pattern and cast the hat on during the long ferry ride from Aberdeen to Lerwick.

I was a bit sad knowing that my hat would never be ready to wear to the opening ceremony, but working on my Bousta Beanie during Wool Week turned out to be very cheering. Knitting my hat offered a lovely holiday from working on my own designs (a pattern! by someone else! fun and quick! a chance to use a discontinued J&S yarn shade!) and my work-in-progress was a sweet companion throughout my time in Lerwick.

After teaching the last of my classes, I had that slight feeling of the day after Christmas. Feeling a bit flat I walked back to where I was staying. It was a grey day and my suitcase of swatches and class supplies had an annoying broken wheel that slowed my pace. However, the sad slope home was improved immeasurably by pausing to document the manhole covers of Lerwick as I went. I even found one with a sort of Bousta Beanie crown-shaping design.

A much needed early night was comforted by cranking on the hat in my Airbnb in front of 50 Tips from Shetland Knitters by Hazel Tindall and Elizabeth Johnston and I got pretty overexcited about my brown rusty metal shading scheme and raved about it to anyone who would listen. I finished working on it several days ago after which it got a good soak and a turn on my vintage hat blocker. This transformed the hat into a slouchy beanie shape. My wonderful husband Mark (who is my number 1 comrade in photographing mundane details of Reading) then helped me to document the hat together with its urban inspiration source.

Thanks for the lovely photos, Mark! And thank you Gudrun for writing such a wonderful pattern that so many knitters have enjoyed. I hope you don’t mind that I messed with your well thought out colour scheme and options, but know that every time I pass a manhole cover bearing what I now think of as YOUR motif, I shall think of you with a giant smile and not a small dose of mischief.


Posted in KNITSONIK PROCESSES | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What people made…

…in my KNITSONIK classes during Shetland Wool Week.

My swatches laid out at the start of the class

One of my favourite things is teaching the KNITSONIK System to comrades excited about translating their world into their own unique palettes, patterns and shading schemes. This year I offered three different types of class during Shetland Wool Week, each of which was a variation on this central theme.

About my classes

In Quotidian Colourwork comrades choose an inspiration source that matters to them and then bring it to the class. I provide a vast array of yarn shades from which each knitter draws a palette based on whatever they brought with them.


Class time is spent developing motifs and shading schemes from individual inspiration sources and talking about problems and solutions viz translating the everyday world into stranded colourwork. Everyone leaves the class with the beginnings of a swatch documenting their thought process thus far; with clear, printed instructions; and with small quantities of yarn for finishing work in their own time. With this class, I especially love seeing the individual things that knitters bring along. Here is a very small subsection of some of the amazing things people made in Quotidian Colourwork classes this year at Shetland Wool Week!

Shetland Colours is a variation on Quotidian Colourwork. Instead of bringing along an individual inspiration source, we all work together from the same source. I document the inspiration ahead of the class, print out many photos, and pre-select a tailored yarn palette.

yarn palette for Shetland Colours, Hermaness edition

Again, class time is spent developing motifs and shading schemes and everyone leaves with the beginnings of a swatch and everything they need to finish it in their own time. What’s particularly special about this class is seeing the unique ways in which a roomful of knitters interpret, celebrate a shared inspiration source. You really get to see how individually everyone views and perceives the world. I also like that this class has a kind of collective feeling and can often bring some of our focus to the present context of the class… like, when we’re in Shetland for Wool Week, it’s really nice to celebrate the beautiful sunsets and distinctive light around the islands; and to turn our knitterly eyes towards the greys and blues of Hermaness in Unst. These photos offer a glimpse of some of the knitterly translations of sunsets and cliffs worked by knitters this year in Shetland at my Shetland Colours classes this year.

I especially enjoy seeing how two different knitters will uniquely translate the same inspiration source… how beautiful are these contrasting views of water seen through rocks? Maja has concentrated on the warm tones within the rocks whereas Lene has been looking at the gradations of blue… and how the scale of a motif changes our perceptions of the shades with which it is knit.

Maja’s rock strata
Lene’s sea and rocks

The J&S Mittsalong class was developed exclusively as a class for J&S this year because I have now run quite a few #knitsonikmittsalong online kals (knit-a-longs) and thought it would be fun to do a class from the same premise.

Gunnister sunset mittsalong class setup

The Mittsalong classes this year for Wool Week used the same inspiration sources as my Shetland Colours classes, but we had an even more restricted palette from which to work, because everyone took 8 balls away with them with which to finish making their mitts. If we used more than 8 yarn shades, the cost of the class would have gotten out of hand! As with the other classes, the focus in the workshop is on developing motifs and shading schemes from individual inspiration sources and talking about problems and solutions re: translating the everyday world into stranded colourwork. However, unlike the other classes, the outcome at the end of this workshop is not a swatch but the beginnings of a pair of mitts, the colourwork portion of which is full of stranded colourwork experimentation! A swatch you can wear, if you will. It’s a nice way of addressing the fact that not all knitters like to swatch, and making sure that even when you are playing and experimenting, you end up with something useful and wearable at the end. The discipline of working within a much more restricted palette also has a lovely real-life knitterly practicality about it as well, and I hope that this class gives knitters who don’t want to buy ten million balls of yarn the confidence to develop beautiful ideas within a limited palette. Here are the beginnings of some Shetland inspired mitts begun in Shetland during Wool Week!

For all KNITSONIK classes I bring my growing swatch collection as I have found my swatches to be invaluable tools to have on hand. They are a living library of ideas about palettes, patterns and shadings and every time I teach I am grateful to them! This year ahead of Wool Week I washed, blocked and ironed all the KNITSONIK swatches and packed them neatly with a tea-towel infused with cedar essential oil and little fabric pouches containing lavender. It was beautiful to lay these clean, fragrant, hardworking pieces of knitting out at the start of each class and also to share some of the swatches from the new book. I love swatching for its own sake – a topic that came up frequently in my classes – but at the same time, it is always amazing to see designs growing out of swatches begun in my classes, and to see knitters wearing or making things to wear that began life in a KNITSONIK workshop. Keen eyed spotters and long-term readers might remember Lene’s beautiful fern swatch, started in a KNITSONIK workshop in Edinburgh back in the spring? Now it’s becoming the yoke of one of her distinctive floral cardigan designs.

Lene’s fern swatch and cherry blossom cardigan
Lene’s Yoke (left) KNITSONIK Sloes swatch (right)

I was also made up to get an update on a swatch begun in a Shetland Colours class… Linda did not like the “wave” shape she had designed and kept working into her swatch until she was happy with the results. It is always joyful to see how comrades solve problems in stranded colourwork.

Linda’s initial Shetland Colours swatch
Linda’s swatch-in-prorgess

Christine finished one of her mittsalong mitts and brought them along to show me and I was made up to see her friend wearing a swatch begun in my Shetland Colours class as a fringed arm-warmer.


Since returning home I have really loved seeing the completion of Christine’s mitts on instagram. They are a beautiful testimony to her love of birds and coastal landscapes and I especially like the clever detail of the waves breaking around the ribbing! I’ve also been blown away by Kristi’s hat, for which a holiday photo provided the palette inspiration.

All of this is very topical as the joy of swatching and ways to develop concepts sourced through swatching into things that you can wear are key elements of the second KNITSONIK book. The second book also builds very much out of questions and issues that have arisen in my workshops over the years.

As I get into the writing I’ll be thinking of these classes I taught in Shetland… of the questions you all asked; of the beautiful things you made; of our conversations; and of your knitting. Thanks for giving me so much to work with, for your willingness to play and experiment, and for bringing your unique ways of seeing and knitting to KNITSONIK classes. I learn so much every time I teach a workshop, and it’s really one of my very favourite things to do.

Thank you to everyone who came, and to Shetland Wool Week for having me.
If you have enjoyed this post, you may be interested to learn that I’m teaching more workshops at the following places in coming months:

Amsterdam (Stephen & Penelope) in December
16th December, Colours of Amsterdam
17th December, Quotidian Colourwork

I’m also teaching at Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2018, for which tickets went on sale today

…and I’m really happy to say I’ll be teaching in Dublin on 3rd and 4th February at This is Knit; details to be announced shortly.

For now, I’ve a book to write!

Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS, KNITSONIK PROCESSES | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Shetland Wool Week 2017

Shetland Museum proudly flying the flag for Wool Week

As you may have gathered, I’m back from Shetland Wool Week 2017!

I thought this year’s event was particularly good and I had a truly amazing time. Today I want to reflect a bit on what makes Wool Week so special; every year I return invigorated, inspired and humbled by being in this beautiful place surrounded by so many wonderful people and I thought that those of you unable to attend would appreciate reading about it and seeing some pictures.

Lovely misa Hay speaking on the opening night ceremony

The success and popularity of Shetland Wool Week come down to exceptional people organising the event; a close-knit community with wool and knitting embedded deeply throughout; a loyal global fanbase for Shetland Wool and Shetland Knitting Traditions; and a focus on developing the Shetland Wool Week programme in ways that ensure that the benefits and exposure of Wool Week are felt throughout the Islands. Inclusive, culturally enriching, people-focused and life-affirming, Shetland Wool Week is a true community effort, the beating heart of which is a superbly talented and hard-working team. Thank you Misa, Emma, Carol and Victoria for all the work you do each year to make Wool Week amazing… and to all the other Shetland businesses and wool workers whose labour makes this event so wondrous (I’m looking at you particularly, Woolbroker buddies).

Sanda Manson at the Shetland Woolbrokers matching the wool on the wall behind her

Wool Week has grown from strength to strength since it started eight years ago, and is more widely attended each year. There are people who return annually, but I saw many new faces this year too. Comrades come from all over the world to experience the rich programme of classes, exhibitions and events and there really is something for everyone.

One of the most successful traditions that has emerged out of the festival is the Wool Week hat – a trend started by Hazel Tindall in 2014, with her iconic Shwook design.

Shwook hat, designed by Hazel Tindall for Shetland Wool Week 2014

The premise is superb: the Wool Week patron for the year designs a hat. For the last couple of years this special design has launched at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival giving several months’ time for Shetland Wool Week buddies to make up the pattern. Many knitters go to Shetland wearing their hats, where they create a rich sense of knitterly camaraderie and collectivism amongst their wearers. For knitters unable to attend, knitting the official hat produces a feeling of vicarious participation.

Ella Gordon launching her Crofthoose hats – the official hat pattern for SWW 2016 – at Edinburgh Yarn Festival

I have knit all the designs so far – Shwook by Hazel Tindall (2014); Baa-ble hat by Donna Smith (2015); Crofthoose hat by Ella Gordon (2016) – and on the ferry to Shetland, I finally cast on my 2017 Bousta Beanie by Gudrun Johnston (it’s blocking as I type). The Bousta Beanie is brilliantly simple and addictive and I can see why many folks have knitted more than one.

An amazing collection of Bousta Beanies knitted by a member of the Shetland Guild of Weavers, Spinners, Dyers and Knitters

The motif is suitable for anyone new to the technique of using two colours at a time and the palette is infinitely customisable. You can use the three shades called for in the pattern, or expand on the palette to use more shades. You can even incorporate the motif – as this lady did – into your own hybrid hat celebrating several patrons’ designs in a single hat.

A genius woolweeker creation, this hat celebrates Baable, Crofthoose and Bousta Beanie designs all in one!

The hats have not gone unnoticed by the non-knitters of Lerwick. I had to get some antibiotics while in Shetland and the Doctor I saw commented on how wonderful Wool Week “and the hats” are each year. The lovely friendly folk at the Isleburgh Community Centre where I teach many of my classes said something similar, and my Airbnb hosts also commented on the joyous annual influx of colourful, proudly hatted knitters. The hats make Wool Week visible to the town, and Wool Weekers visible to each other. Through the unique visions of each of the patrons, each hat designed so far has foregrounded an aspect of Shetland’s textile heritage – Fair Isle colour combinations in Hazel’s Shwook; Shetland sheep in Donna’s Baa-ble hat; the history of crofting in Ella’s Crofthoose hat; and the colours of the Shetland landscape (particularly Bousta in Sandness!) in Gudrun’s Bousta Beanie. Hurrah for the hats and everything they represent!

As well as spotting all the hats around town, I love walking down Commercial Street and seeing how local businesses have decorated their shop windows in honour of Wool Week.

Ninian’s shop window, commercial street
Kirsty Johnston’s magnificent floral Fair Isle in the window of a shop on Commercial Street

This year I was delighted to discover that the local chocolatier – Mirrie Dancers – have produced chocolate bars on which Fair Isle designs are printed with edible ink. I love this and all the other ways in which the whole of Shetland seems to embrace Wool Week. The chocolate is a happy reminder of how deeply wool and knitting heritage are embedded in everyday life in Shetland, but it also demonstrates the economic opportunities presented by the continuing success of Wool Week. It was super this year to see so many home-grown Shetland products launching to coincide with Wool Week. Donna Smith’s Langsoond Yarn; Hazel Tindall and Elizabeth Johnston’s highly recommended instructional DVD; and Jamieson & Smith’s eponymous book of history and patterns, to name just a few. Last year the Shetland Times reported that Wool Week boosts the economy in Shetland to the tune of £500k which surely goes some way towards ensuring a vibrant future for wool in Shetland.

The wonderful map on which visitors pin tags to show from where we’ve come

Shetland Wool Week attracts tutors and attendees from all over the world, yet maintains an innate and precious sense of place. This balance is down to the team who have a brilliant ability to think both globally and locally. Introducing visitors from outwith Shetland to the all the great things happening on a community level around the isles, they simultaneously find ways to recognise Shetland’s position as an International epicentre of cultural exchange. Last year the renowned Estonian designer Kristi Jõeste taught and spoke about Estonian knitting and contributed a beautiful Estonian glove design to the Annual and this year, Japanese designer Chihiro Sato launched her gorgeous book Enjoy Fair Isle Knitting at the Shetland Times Bookshop. These are just two examples from a much longer list but to me they demonstrate perfectly how Shetland manages a justified pride in its native textile traditions, whilst also warmly welcoming and embracing outside influences and celebrating the work of comrades (like Chihiro) who have taken those traditions in new directions.

Muhu Fly Gloves by Kristi Jõeste, SWW annual 2016

As an outsider myself, Chihiro Sato’s words at the opening of her book really resonate and I’m sure if you are a visitor, they will resonate with you too.

The reason why I keep coming back to Shetland is not only that I love knitting but also that the nature and the people enchant me.

Wool Week is brilliant for highlighting what people in Shetland are doing with wool. On the night of the opening ceremony it was inspiring to hear from Caroline Simpson who runs the Maakin and Yaakin group at Anderson High School. Caroline explained how, throughout the week, young knitters at the school are discovering the joy of knitting in lunchtime breaks and after-school knitting sessions. Several of these comrades visited the Shetland Wool Week hub to knit and meet knitters from outwith Shetland and it was a joy to see what they are making, and to hear Caroline speak about how the Maakin and Yaakin group is popularising knitting amongst Shetland’s teenagers. Knitting was taught as part of a Shetland education up until the funding was cut in 2010. Since then, it is grassroots initiatives like Maakin and Yaakin and the Peerie Makkers that are keeping the craft alive amongst schoolgoers. For those of us like myself who returned to knitting in our twenties, it is beyond inspiring to see the complex and ambitious things being made by Shetland’s young knitters.

Caroline and Donna wearing vests made from Langsoond Yarn; Caroline bust these out in a week!

Also at the opening ceremony we saw a fantastic fashion show including work by recent graduates of the University of the Highlands and Islands. I failed to take any photos but was thrilled to see how the next generation of textile graduates are taking Shetland’s knitting traditions forward in unique ways. I was especially struck by the poetry of Kirsty Nicolson’s creations which, as this article puts it, incorporate “some thought-provoking political inspiration – among them an armoured knit representing an ‘assertion of power’ for women, and also a cardigan inspired by the coarse Scottish language used in recent protests against Donald Trump”. Drawing inspiration from the gansey (traditionally worn by fishermen), Nicolson had developed a beautiful bomber jacket for women to wear and I think the other garment to which the above quote refers is a cardigan with all kinds of words inscribed inside it. It was fantastic to see handknitting classics being appropriated and developed like this to speak to the current political moment and a privilege to see the work in person.

We also heard some very moving words from Jacqui Clark. Her poems about knitting, dementia and memory feature in the booklet Reflections Apo Hands beside John Coutts’ sensitive photographs of older knitters’ hands. The booklet was produced by Alzheimer Scotland and Shetland For Wirds and was launched at the opening ceremony.

Reflections Apo Hands, produced by Alzheimer Scotland and Shetland For Words, featuring poems by Jacqui Clark and photos by John Coutts

Throughout the week, representatives from Alzheimer Scotland were at the hub, speaking with knitters about the role that knitting can play in the lives of older people living with Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It was really good and thought provoking to learn a bit about the real and important ways in which our craft can play a positive role here for people with dementia and their families.

Another highlight of Shetland Wool Week this year was seeing the launch of Donna Smith’s beautiful Langsoond Yarn. Spun from the fleeces of her own and her neighbours’ fleeces, this soft and characterful wool is imbued with the same sense of place and thoughtful beauty as Donna’s distinctive knitwear designs. One of my happiest memories from this year’s Wool Week is of helping to tie tags onto these precious skeins, and feeling lucky to be able to play a tiny role in the living wool industry that is, after all, the very point of Shetland Wool Week. Thanks for having us over, Donna! Such a jolly evening.

Donna Smith, photographed by Alex Boak

A gorgeous portrait of Donna with her yarn features in People Who Touch Wool – a superb exhibition of photographs of Shetland’s wool-workers, taken by photographer Alex Boak. I felt it was inspired to programme this exhibit to coincide with Wool Week. The hub this year was amazing – lamps and sofas and free tea and coffee in a large, well-lit space facilitated endless knitterly meetups and conversations. Every time I popped in it was packed! And because of the exhibition, we were surrounded by images reminding us of the many hands through which our wool has passed on its way to our needles. To me, the presence of Boak’s photos in the hub is emblematic of how Shetland Wool Week always foregrounds and emphasises connections between Shetland’s working landscape and our contemporary craft of knitting. I love the quiet dignity of Boak’s portraits which celebrate wool workers in a way I find reminiscent of Tom Barr’s portraits in the book, Shetland Oo.


Sheep have always had their place in Wool Week and this year a very jolly time was had at Gremista farm, meeting Shetland sheep, eating Shetland lamb and learning about what constitutes a good fleece.

detail of Maja Siska’s Ode to Sheep – this piece is woven with locks of Icelandic sheep wool

Also on the theme of sheep, I confess I shed a tear at the magnificently sheepy exhibit displayed in the Shetland Museum and fittingly titled Ode to Sheep. Maja Siska’s woven, felted, embroidered works are an evocative meditation on the character and beauty of the Icelandic sheep with which she is surrounded in her home in Iceland. Again, it is just like Shetland Wool Week to programme a thoughtful, soulful, deeply sheepy exhibition to coincide with Wool Week; a reminder to all of us in attendance of the magical creatures on which our work is ultimately based.

In conclusion, what a wonderful week full of local and International woolly talent; world famous Shetland hospitality; ten million amazing Bousta Beanie hats; a tide of enthusiasm; an inclusive programme; and a celebration of wool that draws on the past but that is always looking forward to the future. Such an honour to be able to come and teach at this event, and so wonderful to be able to share wool on this level with so many buddies.

Thanks to everyone I met in Shetland… you too helped make Shetland Wool Week 2017 rich and memorable.
I’ll say more about my classes in another post but, for now,

Shetland sheep
Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

World Mental Health Day 2017

Greetings, Comrades!

I’m just popping in to share a few things in honour of today being World Mental Health Day 2017.

10 October is World Mental Health Day

Firstly, for my Reading buddies: a date for your diary!

At 20:00 on Saturday 4th November 2017, Doris Allimadi will perform her monologue on depression at South Street Arts Centre:

#damnthestigma is a monologue showing a journey through depression, a blend of personal accounts with fiction. The monologue also explores the general public’s perception on the topic and stigma attached to depression, suicide and mental health in general.

You can buy tickets here and I am going because I found Doris’s book – Lost, my battle with depression – comforting, honest and relatable. I love the life-affirming mantra that she repeats throughout like a kind and wise reminder – “self-love, self-respect and self-belief” – and her brave and candid discussion of mental health. She also gives context for the specific ways in which mental health affects women of colour which is a focus, too, for the magnificent gal-dem blog and a specific area of mental health that requires greater understanding.

I discovered Doris and her book through our mutual interest in addressing Reading’s appalling homelessness problem. This year I have been increasingly concerned about the rise of homelessness in my town. Austerity cuts to the local council’s budget have directly affected provisions for homeless people here and you can see the consequences everywhere. There are many people in need and clearly suffering on these streets. In a place as affluent as Berkshire this seems just plain wrong and earlier this year I started looking for ways to help directly. Searching for solutions I found this article about Doris making up food parcels to distribute to homeless people here.

I’ll say more about homelessness and what I’m doing about it in a later post but for now, and because of today’s blog focus, let’s just say that Doris is a bit of a local hero of mine and I’m really looking forward to hearing what she has to say on November 4th.

Doris Allimadi – author of ‘Lost, my battle with depression’

Another thing I always think about in connection to mental health is #mindapples. My dear friend Lara blogged about this concept back in 2011 and I have kept this in mind ever since:

When I read about Mindapples I got quite excited, it is a social enterprise that takes a “5-a-day for your mind” approach. It encourages people to write down 5 mood boosting things, mindapples, that they do every day to look after their mental wellbeing. I’m not sure whether we need a separate organization to do this but it’s an interesting approach… I reckon that my mind doesn’t get as many treats or as much TLC as it should. There are definitely things that make me feel more cheerful or happy: sleep, making dinner at home, going for a walk on a lunch break, spending time outdoors, volunteering, contact with animals, hugging people, quality time with my family or girls, waking before my alarm clock, natural light (lots of it), yoga, making things. But its harder when you think about what you do every day or regularly.

For most of 2017, I have maintained a wellness habit-tracker in my bullet journal. It’s a simple list of stuff I try to do every day to look after myself and includes stuff like “stay hydrated” “take vitamins” etc. but my favourite thing – my juiciest and tastiest daily mindapple, if you will, is “lap of the park”.

My park!

I love my park so, so much. We used not to go very often as we only knew of one very noisy and circuitous route. However I recently discovered a sneaky shortcut through a housing estate which means that I can be there inside of ten minutes. It is a place of joy.

A large oak tree in the park

Bordered on most sides by luscious tall trees, the park also has a wide open football pitch that is the site for many joyous games. There are also a well-used playground area and basketball court, and benches and outdoor gym apparatus are spaced along the path that runs around the edges. Best of all, the vast grassy area in the middle creates a magnificent sense of space in which to think.

miles and miles of sky

I love the feeling of being alone but also surrounded by my community when I go to my park. A glorious array of dogs are walked here every day and often they are very keen to come up and say their waggy hellos; bats zigzag in the sky at dusk through the summer months; and just now the squirrels of the park are highly active and possessive of their nuts. There is always a lot of activity… many different communities use the green and the courts for games; young people power walk in pairs with pedometers or use the exercise machines stationed around the park; teenagers cluster on benches round stereos; and people walk together, often talking or sometimes walk alone, talking on their phones. But it never feels too noisy, those great big leaves and all that sky just cradle us all together in space and there’s room for all of it with plenty of peace left over besides.

The park is full of people yet always peaceful

I’ve been stopped before to discuss the politics of the day (the run up to the election was super for park bench discussions) and sometimes I say hello to strangers when our eyes meet under the trees. But sometimes I feel shy and introverted and just want to keep myself to myself. Somehow in the forgiving arms of this beautiful space, however you feel is allowed.

I love my park

So although I have deadlines to meet, a lot to get done, and frankly the worst bill of health I’ve had in years, I’m keen to make sure I get my favourite mindapple every day this Winter… my “lap of the park”. As Doris might say, it’s part of a practice of “self-love, self-respect and self-belief”. And at least one fellow park user agrees with that idea and its association with our precious, shared green space.

“Love yourself you goof” – graffiti in the park

I hope you are getting all your mindapples and that wherever you are in the world, you have a place like my park to go to when you need it.
Yours in Mental Health and glorious, kindly trees,

Further Reading
Cintra Park by the excellent Whitley Pump blog
Mindapples by Lara Clements
World Mental Health Day 2017
Lost, my battle with depression by Doris Allimadi

Posted in KNITSONIK THOUGHTS | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

KNITSONIK Trunk Show, Shetland, 29th September 2017

Following my earlier post, I wanted to let you know that if you are going to Shetland for Wool Week and are free on the afternoon of Friday 29th September, you can see some of the projects and swatches from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook in person and talk to me about the book.

29 September, 14:30–16:30
Jamieson & Smith Shetland Wool Brokers
90 North Road, ZE1 0PQ Lerwick

I am really excited to be able to show you the projects in person and in their spiritual home! Everything in the Stranded Colourwork Playbook has been worked in Jamieson & Smith’s signature 2-ply Jumper Weight Yarn. Shetland Wool Week is the birthplace of the KNITSONIK System so it feels awesome to be able to unveil this new project there, too.

Looking forward to it, and really hope you can join me!

Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Announcing the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook

Greetings, Comrades, FROM THE KNITTING ROOM!

It’s been hard keeping a lid on this and going for so many months with NO KNITTING here on the blog but now I’m ready to start telling you all about my second book: the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook and I have the sense that now I’ve started, I won’t be able to stop! My amazingly talented brother Fergus Ford was here last week taking pictures. Here I am, peeping over some of the Playbook projects and swatches…

…and doing the obligatory over-excited FLIXFACE…

1. What is this book about?

The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook builds on concepts from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. It contains five in-depth creative stranded colourwork projects for you to take forward in your own individual way. Each Playbook project addresses issues that have arisen in the KNITSONIK workshops I have taught since publishing the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, and each project is offered with a wealth of support information (extra/alternative charts and colourways; inspirational photographs and other design aids to be announced more fully in coming weeks). There are projects here to help with motif proportions; with developing your own site-specific knitting from a simple starting point; with making swatching more enjoyable and sociable; with customising patterns to your own unique palette and personal style; and with developing stranded colourwork as a collective project with your friends and knitting groups. The book contains a great many pictures, charts and colourways and is a feast for the eyes throughout.

2. When is the book coming out?!

Current estimated publication time is Winter 2017 but to be first in line for regular updates and pre-ordering information please sign up to the dedicated mailing list here.

The Playbook was made with many comrades and features the words and knitting of my friends Deborah, Judith, Liz, Mel, Muriel, Tom and Yumi. I shall be hard at work on it for the coming weeks and cannot wait to share it with you!


Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

KNITSONIK Shetland Wool Week Classes – FAQ

I can’t believe how near we are to Shetland Wool Week! This is one of the highlights of the year – a fantastic celebration of wool and knitting in Shetland, where we all have the opportunity to meet Shetland’s amazing knitters, to learn about Shetland’s amazing textile traditions, and of course to do lots of knitting with lovely Shetland Wool.

I’m teaching several classes during Wool Week and have received a few emails with questions about skill level and materials needed. I’ve also received some requests from folk hoping to buy my book during Wool Week. If you’re coming to my classes, I’m really looking forward to meeting you, and I’ve written this post to answer your FAQs!


SUNDAY 24TH SEPTEMBER, 1000 – 1300, Isleburgh Community Centre
MONDAY 25TH SEPTEMBER, 1000 – 1300, Isleburgh Community Centre

Learn how to creatively translate things you love into stranded colourwork using the KNITSONIK system. Bring a treasured object or image from which to develop a yarn palette, charts and shading schemes. You’ll also need your favourite double-pointed or circular needles for working small-diameter stranded colourwork in the round with fingering weight yarn: 2.5-3.25mm depending on your tension. Knitters must know how to knit stranded colourwork in the round.

SUNDAY 24TH SEPTEMBER, 1400 – 1700, Isleburgh Community Centre
WEDNESDAY 27TH SEPTEMBER, 1000 – 1300, Isleburgh Community Centre

Discover the KNITSONIK system and use it to create your own colourwork patterns and shading schemes based on the Shetland landscape. We’ll explore how to turn the vast landscape into manageable knitting, using a pre-selected Shetland inspiration and a carefully curated palette of Jamieson and Smith yarn. Bring your favourite double-pointed or circular needles for working small-diameter stranded colourwork in the round with fingering weight yarn: 2.5-3.25mm depending on your tension. Knitters must know how to knit stranded colourwork in the round.

TUESDAY 26TH SEPTEMBER, 0930 – 1230, or 1330 – 1630, Jamieson & Smith

Join Felicity Ford in this mitts-a-long class exclusive to Jamieson & Smith for Shetland Wool Week. Using the KNITSONIK system, you will design a pair of mitts using J&S yarns, a curated palette and a Shetland inspiration chosen by Felicity. The price of this class includes 8 full balls of yarn to take away for finishing your mitts.


In QUOTIDIAN COLOURWORK, you will work from an inspiration source of your own choosing. My pro-tips for this are, make it small, portable, something you can carry with you. If working from a photo, I suggest you print it out. I’ve found in the past that it’s harder to match yarn shades to an inspiration source when you’re staring at a glowy screen that keeps on going dark, or with a slowly draining battery! Here are some of the sorts of things people have brought to previous classes to give you ideas…

…in SHETLAND COLOURS, I have pre-picked a palette and inspiration source, which some people prefer… it’s also a really nice way to explore a specific sense of place in our knitting, whilst in Shetland…

Some of the beautiful swatches produced during Shetland Wool Week and the “Colours of Shetland” workshop in 2015

…and in J&S MITTS-A-LONG we will be starting a pair of mitts which themselves be a kind of swatch and a record of Shetland.

All three classes place a very heavy emphasis on creative process; learning to source palettes, patterns and shading schemes in the world around us; and celebrating life through the medium of stranded colourwork.


NEEDLES: QUOTIDIAN COLOURWORK and SHETLAND COLOURS classes are both based on working small-diameter swatches in the round. Knitters each have their own method for this; magic loop; double-pointed-needles; two circulars… and they are all suitable as long as you can manage working two shades of yarn at a time with whichever needles you intend to bring to the class. This is why the class description doesn’t specify dpns, circulars etc. I use 2.5mm double-pointed-needles for all my swatches because I knit very loosely. However, I’ve found that this needle-size is a little tight for knitters whose gauge is less relaxed, so have suggested 2.5mm – 3.25mm needles depending on your own tension.

KNITSONIK mitts made using the same basic pattern as provided for the #knitsonikmittsalong

NEEDLES: as the name suggests, the J&S MITTS-A-LONG class involves the production of an actual pair of mitts. This is another small-diameter project worked in the round and whichever needle combination/method you like to use for socks or mittens will be fine for this! The suggested gauge for the mitts is as follows, so you might wish to make a small swatch ahead of the class to ensure you are bringing needles of the right size, but the pattern is very forgiving and if you don’t have time IT WILL BE FINE!

30sts/36rnds to 10cm/4” over colourwork pattern using 2.75mm needles, or needle size to meet gauge
28sts/34rnds to 10cm/4” over colourwork using 3mm needles, or needle size to meet gauge

This is a different swatching-colourwork-in-the-round technique to the one I teach in my classes, but you may find it useful if swatching for the mitts.

And for a rough idea of what the MITTS-A-LONG entails, please check out my KNITSONIK YouTube video, noting that in Shetland we will be using a Shetland-based inspiration rather than the Magnolias detailed here!


Yarn for classes will be supplied; you do not need to bring yarn.

A huge sack of J&S, photo © Jeni Reid and used with kind permission


The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook goes into a lot of detail about the ideas and processes explored within my classes and is a valuable companion for continuing classwork under your own steam afterwards! However, I hope you can appreciate that it is not practical for me to be selling copies during Shetland Wool Week and especially during classes where my number one priority is always on teaching and exploring the KNITSONIK System! If you wish to get a copy of the book, the best thing to do is order one here in plenty of time for me to post it to you well ahead of Wool Week. If you really want to get the book during Shetland Wool Week, it is sometimes stocked by my friends at the Shetland Museum and Archives and at Jamieson & Smith. And if you want to save on postage and are coming to Shetland from outwith the UK, please check out my lovely stockists page and see whether your local yarn store stocks the book.

Swapping publications with Hazel Tindall in 2014!


YES! I always bring my KNITSONIK swatches to classes as they are invaluable teaching aids. This year there will be many new swatches not previously seen; I can’t say more than that for now, but let’s just say the more I work with the beautiful palette of J&S, the more possibilities I find…

Swatches from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook photo © Jeni Reid and used with kind permission

I hope that’s answered all your FAQs about KNITSONIK at Shetland Wool Week 2017; I really am thrilled to be heading to Lerwick in just over a month and can’t wait to see you there!


Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Celebrating 44 years of hip hop

Today, the 11th August, 2017, marks the 44th anniversary of the birth of hip hop. 44 years ago DJ Kool Herc was playing records at a party in the recreation room at Sedgwick Avenue, when he introduced the musical innovations that ultimately produced and defined this legendary musical genre.

DJ Kool Herc – founding father of hip hop; image found here

From Wikipedia

DJ Kool Herc developed the style that was the blueprint for hip hop music. Herc used the record to focus on a short, heavily percussive part in it: the “break”. Since this part of the record was the one the dancers liked best, Herc isolated the break and prolonged it by changing between two record players. As one record reached the end of the break, he cued a second record back to the beginning of the break, which allowed him to extend a relatively short section of music into “five-minute loop of fury”… For his contributions, Herc is called a “founding father of hip hop,” a “nascent cultural hero,” and an integral part of the beginnings of hip hop.

On 11 August 1973, DJ Kool Herc was a disc jockey and emcee at a party in the recreation room at Sedgwick Avenue [at which he] “extended an instrumental beat (breaking or scratching) to let people dance longer (break dancing) and began MC’ing (rapping) during the extended breakdancing. … [This] helped lay the foundation for a cultural revolution.”

— History Detectives

The front of 1520 Sedgwick Ave., where Kool Herc lived with his family and threw his first parties, image found here

From its inception, hip hop has been the integral sound of a vibrant, grassroots culture of resistance and resilience; a call to, as Tupac said, “Keep Ya Head Up” in the face of ongoing systematic oppressions:

Like its contemporary UK descendant – grime – it has always been inherently political. Forged in the context of the poverty, ghettoisation, and structural racism faced by people of colour in the South Bronx of New York, its legacy continues to shape culture today, as has been explored in my favourite documentary: How Hip Hop Changed The World (highly recommended viewing). Princess Nokia gives a contemporary definition of the sustained relevance of hip hop; of its roots and origins in New York; and of the continuance of the social problems that gave rise to hip hop in the first instance:

I’m hip hop because I’m a black and brown woman from New York: that’s enough as it is. My parents and me are Nuyoricans, from New York. Our lives, our narratives, how we grew up: that’s hip-hop in itself. Hip hop is a joyful and yes, also tragic, form of expression, that takes from the old… you know, origin of storytelling, from African diaspora. It comes from poverty, and creating celebration IN POVERTY… I try to navigate my harshness and my life, and I use joyful expression. I create a compositional album, and I use narratives and ways of expressing myself to uplift myself… and that’s hip hop. For this dark time and period of life, I have the pleasure of making some happy, joyful, resilient for people – that, yes, may need it… you may not realise that, darling, but on the opposite side of town, black and brown people are herded into the ghetto like cattle. And the stigmas and circumstances put against them, are disgusting and gross and saddening.

Like a lot of white, middle class kids, I first enjoyed hip hop as a teenager where the main attraction was the swearing. Growing up in a Christian state school with a staff whose moral integrity struck me as being deeply questionable, and who were more about the joy of punishing children than spreading the loving message of Jesus, Fuck tha Police was a fantastic incitement to defy authority. Our fundamentally racist school neglected to give us any deeper context for understanding hip hop music, and we only learnt the smallest and most basic details about the civil rights movement in America. We definitely didn’t learn anything about the history of racism in Britain; and it wasn’t until far later that I found a deeper and more critical way to engage with, and appreciate, what Fuck tha Police is really about (both in the USA and here in the UK).

Missy Elliott’s discography was what first got me really listening. In my early twenties, the resilience and creativity of her records and videos spoke to me. Swollen on steroids, finding it difficult to walk, sick of being patronised and pitied by people around me, angered by the lack of provision for disabled people in an ableist world, I Can’t Stand The Rain offered a game-changing perspective on ways to resist injustice. White as I am, privileged as I am, the defiant mood of self-definition embodied in that record spoke – and still speaks – to my experiences of being both disabled and a woman. I owe hip hop music, for this.

I saw Missy Elliott play at Bestival in 2015. I cried over-excitedly all the way through the gig and it was the greatest live music performance I have ever seen in my life. It’s hard to put into words what it meant to me to see her performing live… her vocal flow; the fun, innovation and breadth of her discography; the incredible energy of her dancing; but most of all the epic power of her presence. It was legend.

I am gutted I didn’t finish my knitted THIS. IS. A. MISSY. ELLIOTT. EXCLUSIVE. sweater in time to wear to that concert, but it remains a staple of my wardrobe and a lasting testimony to my deep love for all Missy Elliott’s records.

The Missy Elliott Sweater!

Since discovering Missy Elliott’s music, I have found many other amazing artists making hip hop records, and have learnt more about the context and history for hip hop. I think it is incredible; a sustained, beautiful, colourful form of creative protest; the soundtrack for revolutionary dreams and resistance to structural racism.

But whatever hip hop means to me, its origins, its roots and the conditions in which it was born must never be forgotten. To all my fellow white hip hop fans whose lives have been massively culturally enriched by the invention of this life-giving, vibrant music, I say this: enjoy playing with the amazing virtual mixer and record crate set up on the Google homepage; bust out your favourite hip hop records; shout out your favourite artists on Twitter and instagram. But don’t forget that the social problems called out in hip hop music have not gone away, and that the social injustices that gave rise to this resilient music are still very much here and present.

We have a lot of work to do and, in the words of the amazing Speech Debelle (another vital voice in hip hop music today) “the work can’t done”.

DJ Kool Herc does not have medical insurance; when he fell gravely ill in early 2011 his family set up an official website through which you can donate towards his continued well-being. In 2007 Herc successfully campaigned for 1520 Sedgwick Ave to be officially recognised as hip-hop’s birthplace; today he campaigns for universal healthcare. If you don’t feel you owe him anything personally, and if you don’t much like hip hop but are a knitting buddy who believes in social justice, you could also honour this auspicious date by contributing to The Yarn Mission in America who are to knitting what hip hop is to musi: a knitting group that centers people of colour; is pro-rebellion; and which collaborates “with other likeminded organizations for the advancement of justice and the end of oppressive systems.”

Thank You for hip hop music; Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Posted in KNITSONIK OPINIONS | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

The Glen of the Downs

In the Autumn of 1997 I went to live on a road protest in Ireland in the Glen of the Downs Nature Reserve. I had just finished doing my A-Levels through which I had become obsessed with the poetry of Alice Walker and with saving the Earth as a full-time, spiritual, eco-feminist vocation. This is an embroidered picture of Daphne, Greek tree goddess, which I completed the summer before I left for the Glen.

I had £20 and a rucksack and I hitch-hiked over on the ferry with a boy I barely knew. I had a mandolin and a flute; a striped woolly hat; some impractically heavy crystals; a tent; a sketchpad; a sleeping bag. My heart was full of dreams and my head was full of stars. I was very, very young. Last weekend I attended a 20-year reunion at which some of us who lived in the Glen gathered to commemorate that time and what it meant.

A flier for a gig at The Old New Orleans on Dame Street had drawn me to Ireland: a crumpled, photocopied piece of paper that travelled across back-packs and pockets spreading its vital message. I remember entering the gig and thinking I’d found the most earnest folk on earth. Drum ‘n Bass boomed upstairs but downstairs there was a studious kind of feeling. People sat quietly and respectfully, watching grainy 1990s camcorder footage from the Glen of the Downs Road Protest which had by then been running for a few short months, spearheaded by folk wishing to halt the progress of a destructive road-widening scheme through a designated nature reserve. People were quietly and urgently discussing EU policies; the environmental implications of the Celtic Tiger Economy; “Special Area of Conservation” and the European Route E01. I honestly can’t remember if we went to the Glen directly from that gig, or whether I camped on a Dublin kitchen floor overnight somewhere before heading Glenwards the next day; it is difficult to remember the exact sequence of events and, when I think back to that time, my mind is like an old tin of photos all in the wrong order and bundled up with ribbon.

I do remember that the main camp in which I very briefly lived was situated just over a stream to the right as you entered the woodland from the car-park. I set up my tent near the main fireplace. I slept in there quite a bit, but was also keen to get up into the actual trees and to learn how to ascend and descend in a harness. I remember a glorious day spent 80ft up in the crown of a beech tree, building a platform for a treehouse on the opposite side of the valley. I remember sleeping in a tree house directly above the stream and being awoken each night by its beautiful, tinkling sound. I remember waking and falling asleep to the sounds of cars, and to the terrifying feeling that they were going to career off the N11 road and run right over us. I remember boys and men from that campaign as well, the romance of being at war with everything together, the way men look in the forest at night, the way I felt living by firelight and rain. I sang songs around the fire, and was reminded during the recent reunion that I also did some unflattering comedy impressions of the insalubrious characters who came to live in the Glen.

I also remember ingloriously having an accident in a beech tree, during which my foot slipped through a loop-shaped branch and I fell backwards. I hung suspended in the tree for an hour or so screaming for help and lacking the upper-body strength to pull myself up and out of this predicament. I was preparing to break my own ankle so that I could wriggle free when some women who were luckily passing nearby heard me and were able to help me down. I was shaken and afraid of tree-climbing after that and had badly bruised and pulled tendons in my leg. The symptoms of what has now developed into my psoriatic arthritis were also beginning to make themselves known when I was 17 or so and I think that the wet, cold discomfort of tree-house dwelling is ill-suited to that. At some point I left the camp and became more involved in the Dublin-based aspects of the campaign.

One day in maybe December 1997? January 1998? We heard through the phone tree that Wicklow County Council had begun illegal tree-felling in the Glen. I went there and was photographed in an emotional embrace with a friend. I still remember the chainsaws buzzing, the traffic and the helpless rage at watching trees we had defended with our bodies coming down. Our crying faces were plastered on the front of the Irish Times and the local employment office cut my benefits immediately, citing the photo as evidence that I had not been available for gainful employment on the day when the trees were cut down. I took a part-time job in a florist, continued sharing a 1-bedroom flat with a good girl friend in a bad part of town, and ranted non-stop to my fellow flower-arrangers about the dark wrongness of the entire Capitalist system and why we should all be anarchists. Later I moved in with a beautiful man who had a large, kind heart, a shining spirit, and a way with a guitar. Together, when I was not making floral displays for The Flower Box, we worked hard fund and awareness raising; flier-designing; magazine-writing; poster and window-display creation; supporting comrades during court appearances and hearings; making art about what was happening; painting (and singing about) the trees, the people, and the feelings associated with the campaign. I designed this flier at some point during the campaign.

The ins and outs of the campaign have been extensively documented elsewhere so I won’t go into all that here, but it lasted approximately three years and was emotional, amazing, depressing, heartening, horrendous and magical by turns. By the early 00s I was no longer involved with many folks from those times. But days spent in the forest, in the rich culture of 1990s Direct Action in Ireland, have had lasting legacies for who I am now and I have a lot of love for what we shared.

When I was doing my art degree at Dun Laoghaire, I returned to the Glen to make field recordings of the sounds I remembered from living there. Because of our proximity to the road and the extraordinary contrast between the tinkling stream and the roaring juggernauts, the Glen lodged itself in my consciousness as a place of sonic significance. Those memories pushed me to listen more in my life. You can hear some of those early recordings in this podcast but you can also hear more recent sounds from the Glen here.

In my mind the SONIK part of the KNITSONIK mission was born in the Glen of the Downs, where I first heard the world through a microphone and began telling stories with sounds.

Apart from the horrors of watching my favourite trees being bulldozed to widen the N11, the Glen held a more personal pain for me that has also had lasting effects on whom I’ve become, and how I see the world. It’s a feminist thing. My encounters with men in road protest culture were not always positive; something about living in the forest and being at war with the state brought out in some cases what I would now call toxic masculinity. The mythologies we created in which the earth was personified as a woman being “raped” by post-industrial human societies were difficult to reconcile with building a positive and empowered self-image as a young woman. If the earth – our best and most beautiful female icon – was not strong enough to withstand the violence of the patriarchy, what chance did I have?

We were against authority and within that context it was complex to understand how to make rules; when and how to tell people NO; when to make and maintain boundaries; and especially when to tell men who were talking too much to shut up. The right-on-ness of us all, how fashionable it was to be casual about sex, the male posturing “I know all about Irish Goddesses / The Irish invented Feminism etc.” coupled with years of patriarchal feminine socialisation made it difficult for younger me to spot the psychological, gender-based abuses of power that went on back then in the guise of being “liberated”. I remember being told by one individual that I ought to stop giving my power to men – advice that followed the classic pattern through which abusers always tell their victims that abuse is their own fault.

In 2017 I look back on those aspects of camp life with a bit of sadness; a good dose of healthy anger; and some fierce love for younger me and the girls and femmes everywhere who are still dealing with this shit. Last weekend I walked along old pathways as if beside my younger self. I touched beloved trees, knitted beside my cherished stream, listened to the traffic, and thought about how different my life is now and how awesome it would have been to have had me around as a big, big sister when I first set foot in the forest. Breathing and listening between the trees, I found myself feeling that in my past there is a lot of feeling to channel into the more contemporary mood of feminist resistance in which I remain engaged. Every time I read the word “gaslighting” online in posts about social justice, it’s good to remember what that is and how it feels.

I’ve spent years reconciling disability with my former hardcore environmentalist self as well. Aged 18, I went to live on a road protest and was uncompromisingly anti-road building. I was also against corporations, governments and Capitalism and it was easy because I was young and I felt invincible.
Aged 25, I learnt to drive on a government sponsored mobility scheme for people with severe mobility difficulties, and my opinion of roads was drastically altered forever. I got a speeding fine almost immediately and embraced roads as new frontiers of freedom. Getting a car when I couldn’t really walk was incredible. It changed my opinion in ways that make conversations with anti-road protestors deeply uncomfortable today. When we get to the part where I say “what about disabled people who can’t walk or use a bicycle?” the conversation either dries up or turns dark. The most hardcore environmentalists I’ve met have told me they believe that serious illnesses like Arthritis, Cancer, and AIDS are either the earth’s solution to overpopulation, or further evidence that evil corporations are making the world unfit for healthy human life. There is a troubling shred of truth in the latter and companies must be brought to justice for pollution or deregulatory actions that result in people getting ill. However, neither of these explanations centre the needs or feelings of disabled people. For this reason, when I was coming to terms with the limitations and beauty of my arthritic body, my disabled identity, my flawed genes and my raging pain, I had to take a break from environmental activist circles. I still can’t deal with the incredulity and hostility that ensues when I reveal the inconvenient truth about my long-term disability. No combination of special leaves, homeopathy, prayer or magic potions has ever helped and I am increasingly offended by invasive questions about what I have/haven’t tried and an obsessive focus on finding me a “natural” cure. What has worked for me are years of therapy to come to terms with being in pain and needing help, plus genetically engineered anti-TNF drugs made by a giant pharmaceutical company.

All of which is to say that last weekend was a precious time for measuring a distance of 20 years and gauging how things have changed, and how they are still the same; to look at the evolution of my own politics; and to be in the forest with the same people who changed my life 20 years ago.

In the summer of 2017, I didn’t hitch-hike to the Glen. I travelled on the ferry and the train with money I made myself, selling the book that 447 of you helped me to produce, and producing art commission for various museums, using sound. There were no crystals in my rucksack; instead I brought a sensible selection of items designed to sustain me for two nights in the woods. These objects were all purchased for different long-distance walks shared with Mark; kettles, sporks, titanium mugs, sleeping mats and a tent that has sheltered us in Scotland and along the South West Coastal Path. Our tent is full of memories of laughter and shared adventures, and though being in the Glen brought back many memories for me, our marriage is a bridge under which many things from my past life in Ireland feel like old water. This time I had no mandolin with me, but carried my recording devices to document the special sonic magic of the forest.

Rather than traveling with a random boy, I met with three of my dearest girlfriends in Dublin en route to the Glen. We laughed, told stories, ate well, bought cheese, stayed up late, and spoke of ALL THE THINGS.

It was beautiful to see so many familiar faces, and so many old friends. Many folk sacrificed a lot to be in the Glen and to defend the trees from the road expansion project; it was good to celebrate what these comrades gave; to say thank you; to light fires; and to remember absent friends. It was lovely to sit by fires again; to hear the crackle of dead wood; to smell the smoke; and to share food cooked in the same old pot that we used years ago.

I don’t have a sketchpad like the one I had 20 years ago, though I do keep a bullet-journal which is at least as colourful as the book I had back then. There are less mystical paintings of trees, less sad paintings of heartbreak, and more to-do lists, knitting charts and washi-tape now… and I’m still celebrating trees, in yarn…

On the ferry on the way home, I found myself ultimately feeling glad for my time in the Glen and for everything I learnt there. In the Glen I learnt to act with conviction and to take action when I think that things are wrong – a feeling I remembered strongly this year in January at the women’s marches, marching against Donald Trump (the ultimate in gaslighting and abuse of power). In the Glen I learnt to listen and to connect to places through their sounds and textures – ideas that have remained central to my art practices ever since. In the Glen I learnt how to play a tiny part within a much larger story. In the Glen I learnt a deep and abiding love for trees that has never gone away. And In the Glen I learnt that my body is not invincible. I’m so grateful for everything I found there. I wonder how everything we experienced 20 years ago has manifested in each of our different lives. We don’t live on the road protest any more, but the road protest lives on in all of us somewhere, I’m sure. And this weekend, looking into familiar and well loved faces, it looked as strong and shiny and radical and flawed and beautiful in 2017 as it was in 1997.

Thank you, old friends.

Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS | Tagged | 11 Comments