An Eggy Post

This morning when I, for the millionth time, started picking up recently-laid eggs and marveling at the little differences between them, I detected the slightest hint of an eye-roll from Mark. Mark loves the eggs and he loves the chickens. But it’s difficult for anyone to keep up with my ongoing fascination with THE EGGS and so, recognising that he might have had enough of my eggy ravings, I’m going to share them with you.

THE THING IS, THE EGGS ARE JUST SO AMAZING.

Amazing eggs laid by my chickens on a plate in our kitchen

I just can’t get over the fact that the darling hens, with their constant scratching, little bleating noises and clucks, pecking, excitement over OMGMEALWORMS and deranged vertical jumping after FLIES are, at all times, somewhere within their mysterious internal passages, building and shelling the pearly rounded wonder of AN EGG.

a bowl filled with lovely round chicken eggs

I had extra cause to contemplate just how amazing eggs are when, right before Easter weekend, our dear Lauryn took ill with a mysterious EGGY COMPLICATION.

For context, Lauryn is normally the most boisterous hen, AKA Mark’s favourite. You can see her standing proud on the right of this picture.

Two chickens - a white hen (Becky) and a gingery hen (Lauryn) standing tall and proud

When worms are being dug up or distributed as treats, Lauryn makes sure that she gets THE MOST. If a cat is foolish enough to walk into our garden it is Lauryn who will See It Off. And as the self-appointed spokeshen for The Chickens, Lauryn can very often be found officiously making demands at the door of the pen such as WHY ARE WE NOT ALLOWED TO DEMOLISH THE SEEDLINGS? WE SEE THEM AND DEMAND OUR LIBERTY SO THAT WE CAN CHOW DOWN ON THEM AND SCRATCH THEM OUT AT THE ROOTS.

Lauryn and her beaky face peeping out challengingly from the chicken pen

Sometimes I think there has been a mix up, and Lauryn is actually a tiny little gingery, feathered dragon.

But, just before the Easter weekend, Lauryn was very evidently not herself.

With none of her usual vim or vigour, she was sulking in the corner; allowing other hens to have the best of the treats without protest; and looking unsure of how/where to sit. We did all the usual hen-care things; epsom-salt bath (AKA Chicken spa day); deluxe indoor hotel overnight; special calcium-garnished OMGMEALWORMS treats; fuss; tonic-water and a hot-water bottle wrapped in brown paper.

A handsome, smiling middle-aged white guy (Mark) lovingly but firmly holds Lauryn the chickn in a warm tub of epsom-salts water

But no egg, and no improvement.

Luckily we have a good vet near here who know about poultry, and they advised us to bring Lauryn in for a check up. I broke social-isolation to drive there with Mark and, as per the very sensible social-distancing measures of the practice, we deposited Lauryn in the car-park in her chicken crate several metres from us. From here, she was collected and taken into the surgery by the vet, who emerged a few moments later to discuss the situation from a safe distance through our open car window.

“Well I’ve pulled one soft egg out of her, but she’s clearly *full* of eggs. I don’t want to go poking about too much in there, so I’m thinking of giving her a calcium shot to boost up her internal calcium reserves, and some oxytocin to help her push out the remaining eggs.”

With a thumbs up from us, the vet disappeared back inside the building and then re-emerged a few moments later with a rather proud looking Lauryn sitting happily beside a freshly-laid and correctly-shelled egg. The vet explained that he’d got as far as giving her the calcium shot when she dutifully produced this second egg, so he was going to hold off on the oxytocin as it seemed unnecessary to be giving her hormones when her laying system is clearly working well.

The soft-egg that the vet had removed from Lauryn is something that most poultry will occasionally produce; it’s like the membrane part of an egg, but without the hard outer shell. We’ve had several of these over the last few years from all our birds, and they are usually a sign that either changes in weather or hormones or the laying pattern are occurring, or that a bird is low in calcium. It’s harder to push out an egg that has no firm outer shell, so I think that in the case of Lauryn’s pre-Easter weekend MALAISE, the soft egg must have temporarily blocked her egg vent. After the vet had removed it, there was still some yolk about, which coated the normal, shelled-egg which followed in a sort of yellow layer. After we paid the vet’s £49 bill over the phone, it really did recall a mythical GOLDEN EGG. Myself and Lauryn admired it in the crate beside her; Mark, I fear, was rather less impressed.

Lauryn proudly sitting beside her posh, yolk-encrusted, £49 "GOLDEN EGG"

When we got home, my anxious vigil of watching and checking for further signs of EGGY WEIRDNESS continued and I monitored Lauryn in a fussing, clucking, mother-hen-ish type of way. Observing the laying behaviour of the chickens was very sweet; they fuss over whose turn it is, they go in and out of the house excitedly, taking turns to make an egg and occasionally skawking/fighting over whose go it is. Sometimes when the laying for the day is complete, Missy will sneak back into the house and cuddle up on top of the eggs. I noticed during my vigil that Lauryn was spending a long time in the hen house one morning, so I went out to see her. Perhaps knowing something wasn’t quite right, she was tugging at an egg laid by another hen and sort of thoughtfully pulling it under herself, as if to say “I know this nice strong egg is what I want to make. Please let me make this kind of egg again” and I marvelled at her instinctive chicken wisdom. The chickens are not bright, as anyone who has spent any time with chickens will know… but after watching Lauryn for this past while, I am convinced they are possessed of a kind of bodily EGG WISDOM.

Following her moody spell in the hen-house, Lauryn laid a very strange egg – a soft egg WITHIN a soft egg. Would you like to see? I am weirdly egg-obsessed in case you hadn’t noticed, but I do get that not everyone will be as excited by this anomily as I am, so if you are squeamish you might want to scroll past quickly.

WEIRD SOFT-SHELLED EGG WITHIN AN EGG

Behold, a weird egg within an egg! It’s an egg membrane, filled with egg-white, in which there is an INTERIOR EGG which has a half-formed soft, chalky shell around it.

A soft egg within the weird soft egg white

THE MIND BOGGLES.

To me this amazing object speaks to the complexity of the egg-laying system and apparatus of the chicken. Even after studying several diagrams of the interior workings of a hen, I am not sure how Lauryn produced THIS MARVEL. However, this EGGY WEIRDNESS was also a sign to continue dosing Lauryn with calcium shots. I have some food-grade calcium carbon powder which I mix with water and then put into a syringe; Mark and I team up to hold Lauryn and squirt this chalky mess into her mouth, and since we’ve been doing this – touch wood – all her eggs have been normal. I’ve also been mixing calcium carbonate powder with all the treats I give the hens, and am trying to keep their oyster shell and grit feeder full at all times (though they are wont to fill it with mud from time to time, which is un co-operative of them if you ask me). Sometimes as well I pound up their egg shells and feed them back to them, to try and replenish their interior mineral reserves, which are constantly being drained by THE EGG PRODUCTION PROCESS.

After all this, the symbolism of eggs around Easter held an extra-special resonance for me this year.

I am not a Christian and for me, Easter has for a long time been a secular holiday of giving thanks for the spring, for the new life, for the seedlings and the newborn animals that mark the start of various and important agricultural and natural growing cycles. After spending time with poorly Lauryn and nursing her back to full egg-laying strength, no chocolate-covered, praline-encrusted hazelnut-wonder egg could compare to the relief, the beauty, the magnificence and wonder, of a nice brown ordinary hen egg from her, and seeing her full chicken/dragon powers restored.

The seedlings are once again under threat from her beak; the neighbourhood cats must beware; and little darling Lauryn and all my other beautiful chickens keep on laying eggs. I couldn’t be more thankful for them, and for that, and so every morning must inevitably – at least for the foreseeable future – begin with reverence for the SO AMAZING EGGS.

Amazing eggs laid by the chickens

YOURS IN ALL THE EGGS,
and thank you for reading my EGGY POST,
FX

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Wild & Woolly Knit 15

Do you remember the Balance for Better Blanket project on which I collaborated with the amazing team at KDD & Co. last year? It was formally recognised by International Women’s Day as an example of best practice, and it’s one of my favourite projects to date because it speaks to friendship; collaboration; creativity; stranded colourwork; and to the contemplation and celebration of womens’ lives and histories. On a more personal note, I love Kate and cherished this opportunity to work together.

celebratory stranded colourwork blanket, made up of many different, intricately-designed squares

I was due to speak about our blanket at the fabulous emporium of my friend Anna: Wild & Woolly – and was really looking forward to meeting some of you there and sharing the Balance for Better Blanket.

However, because of Covid-19 and social distancing, my talk – like so many other fibre events scheduled for this year – had to be cancelled.

Happily, Anna had the idea that we could maybe talk about the blanket on the phone instead and so last Friday, covered in microphones and wires, I sat down on the sofa with a stack of books and notes beside my mobile phone and we spoke for half an hour or so about the project.

You can hear our conversation here.

It was wonderful to sit down and reflect on the process and the context for this project. From meeting last August, to discuss the project; to setting the parameters for the project and thinking about how to work with Kate’s carefully considered Milarrochy Tweed palette; to our methods for remote working which enabled me to work with the KDD & Co. team across the four-hundred mile distance between Reading and Glasgow which separates us; to the final designs for the 30 squares honouring a diverse range of amazing creative women.

In the Wild & Woolly podcast, we briefly touch on a bit of historic context – on projects of mine and Kate’s from the past which speak to this idea of celebrating or making visible the women history has not recorded (such as my Hearing Catherine project for the Charles Dickens Museum, or Kate’s In the steps of Jane Gaugain walk and article originally written for Twist Collective.) I love this square by Kate which celebrates Jane Gaugain and which speaks to the pattern for a PINE APPLE BAG featured in her book, The Lady’s Assistant for executing useful and fancy designs in knitting, netting, and crochet work.

Jane Gaugain square by Kate Davies for the Balance for Better Blanket; the design features a pineapple, in honour of the pineapple purse pattern in Jane Gaugain's first book of knitting patterns

We also talk a little bit about the non-literal translation of Rocky Rivera’s gorgeous music video for Best Shot, from which I took the angles and the palette for my square celebrating this amazing artist…

Blanket square celebrating Rocky Rivera, with visual elements taken from the music video for Best Shot

…the complexity of trying to condense the vast body of text produced by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper into a single square, and deciding to focus in on the title line from her iconic poem, BURY ME IN A FREE LAND…

a square that features the words BURY ME IN A FREE LAND repeated in each quarter, with the suggestion of soil, mountains, skies and land in the palette used in the background

…the incredible joy of Alma Thomas’s magnificent art and her painting, Resurrection.

Resurrection - a beautiful painting by Alma Thomas, in which concentric circles of luminous colours are arranged in disciplined yet organic brushstrokes around a glowing centre

This was the first piece of work by an African-American Woman to be acquired for the permanent collection for The White House, and the inspiration for my square celebrating the legacy, brilliance and colourful joy of this amazing 20th century abstract painter.

Resurrection by Alma Thomas, translated into stranded colourwork

I hope you enjoy listening to our conversation over on the Wild & Woolly Knit 15 Podcast and huge thanks to Anna for hosting me and for finding a way for the talk to go ahead!

If you are inspired to design your OWN celebratory blanket, our Square Share template is freely available to download from here.

Yours in celebratory knitting, friendship, collaboration and stranded colourwork –
Fx

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Rainbows in the kitchen

Joey Muffkins is very partial to hanging out in the sink. He sits there for hours and is most put out if we have inconsiderately left any cookware there. He likes to stare into space and soak his head, back and tail. The light comes in at just such an angle, in the morning, that the combination of sunbeams and water – when photographed – turns into a little rainbow.

Joey Muffkins sitting in the sink, catching a lovely rainbow between the sunbeams and the water from the dripping tap

Joey Muffkins licking his nose and sitting in a rainbow of sunbeams and tap drips

A prism, placed in the sink, will also make rainbows on the walls and on the metal basin.

A rainbow on the wall, the result of sunlight and a prism placed in the sink

A prism in the sink, making a little rainbow on the metal

Mark also had the lovely idea for a fun Easter video… so we have had a couple of other rainbows in our kitchen this week.

A massive jar of multi-coloured sprinkles, labelled "Chicken Treatz"

Hens' eggs dyed with special egg dyes, so they are beautiful pastel rainbow shades

Sending rainbows to you all.
Much Love,
XF

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Hanami at Home

When we got married, Mark and I went to Japan for our Honeymoon. We were so lucky to be able to travel to this amazing place, and fell in love with it immediately. Something which especially spoke to me is the beautiful sense of presence and celebration attending daily life. The rubber stamps at every JR station and cultural institution; the comforting warm towel with which hands are cleaned at the start of a meal; the magnificent ways in which everyday food and drink are presented, ceremonially… and of course it was incredible to see, in person, the discrete acts of commemoration that are Yumi Shimada’s gorgeous stranded colourwork swatches.

Felix and Yumi in Tokyo, with Yumi Shimada's AMAZING stranded colourwork swatches

Yumi's gorgeous swatches, commemorating stills from an old Japanese film; on the left, a red kettle and tatami mats translated into stranded colourwork; on the right, the woven fabric of a kimono and an obi transposed into knitting by Yumi Shimada

We travelled in early February and up to Hokkaido for the Sapporo Snow Festival.

Welcome to Sapporo - the JR rubber stamp, featuring the famous clock tower, a snowman, snowflakes, and a JR train

This deeply moving festival seemed to really honour, elevate and celebrated snow, and the seasonal fact of the Winter itself. Drinking hot sake in the crisp cold air, slipping about on the ice, and moving in crowds infused with an atmosphere of untainted wonder, I kept welling up because everything was just so joyous.

an enormous anatomically correct heart, carved out of snow, at the Sapporo snow festival

There were many such moments on our Honeymoon. And almost as soon as we got back to the UK, we began planning our return to Japan.

Happily, we learnt that not too far from us, in The Harris Gardens, stands a glorious collection of flowering Japanese Cherry Blossom trees known as The Cherry Bowl. The trees are planted in a circular clearing, and all the different varieties represented showcase the range of flower shapes and colours to magnificent effect.

a circle of blossoming cherry trees in the Harris Gardens in Reading; many shades of pin are represented

At the end of March/beginning of April, there’s nowhere in Reading more lovely than the paths beneath these trees, looking up into the pink.

glorious cherry blossoms in full bloom against a blue sky, with lovely russet leaves

Every year we go, and every year I take ten million photos – the exact same photos I took the previous year – and it doesn’t matter because I enjoy taking these pictures every year just as much as before, and because every year the beauty of the blooms feels brand new.

a bright pink, double-flowered cherry blossom with tight pink buds in behind

Trying to bring the same joy, wonder and presence we felt for snow in Sapporo to cherry blossoms in Reading has become an annual tradition; our own small practice, if you will, of the world-famous Hanami – (花見, “flower viewing”) – of Japan. These quiet, floral pilgrimages felt particularly important through the springs of 2017 and 2018 when my hands were seized up and inflamed with arthritis, and the new medication I was on was knocking me sideways for two days a week… or when my mental health has been fraying apart at the edges. I’m forever grateful to the trees, the gardens and the people who manage them, for the solace they provided at these times.

lavish blousy double-flowered delicate pale pink cherry blossoms of joy

When I turned 40 and Mark turned 50 last year, we wanted to mark our collective age of 90 by returning to Japan for Hanami in Kyoto. We planned our trip and I started learning how to speak Japanese. We were going to fly out today.

Obviously, in the face of everything that is going on in the extraordinary times of the covid-19 pandemic, our cancelled trip feels completely unimportant and are the least of anyone’s problems. Priorities have shifted so much in the last month that now when I think about Japan, all I want is for our friends there to be OK; for everyone to be protected from the spread of the covid-19 virus; and for the cherry blossoms to bloom in crowdless parks.

But I mention this here because I’m trying to process how my world – like many of yours – has shrunk. A few weeks ago, we were planning International travel and booking up hotels. But today I am putting a stricter plan in place for myself, following advice from my local GP surgery. The same drugs that were wiping me out a few years ago also mean that I am in an extremely vulnerable category and have been advised to stay in my house for the next 12 weeks, cocooning from potential infection. I’ve been going back and forth over the evidence, the articles, the government advice; and then balancing this against my management of my mental health – for which walks are a vital part of my self-care. Up until this weekend, I’d been going out for a walk to a favourite place once or twice a week, carefully and usually wearing a face mask and gloves. But out on such a walk at the weekend, the stress – by which I mean the social anxiety of trying to maintain social distancing for mine and others’ well-being, combined with an acute sense of viral vulnerability and larger numbers of people doing the same thing – vastly outweighed any mental health benefits to be gained. I’m not going to be doing any more recreational outings for the next 12 weeks; I’ll take my exercise in the garden where the darling chickens will benefit from my constant presence and OMGMEALWORMS. Hello, beauties!

Two chickens in shot - one is a gingery colour with a lovely red comb; in the background there is a black chicken

I have a carefully-considerd plan in place which means I can still operate my business safely, but any other outings are out of bounds for me, for now.
So no more cherry-blossom appreciation trips for me.

Happily, I took a million photos at the weekend.

big white pompoms of cherry blossoms bouncing against a greyish sky

YASS beautiful, upward-reaching branches of cherry blossom, big white ones

a profusion of lovely, lovely blooms from various cherry blossom trees, all present in a giant cloud with branches breaking them up like inky lines

very delicate little white and link cherry blossom flowers - so tiny with single petals

shameless pink blousy blooms of delight - cherry blossoms of course

Blousy, various, shamelessly gorgeous, profuse, bright, resilient, many-petalled beauty.

They are as lovely as ever. Knowing they are blooming out there in The Cherry Bowl fills me with joy as I potter in my garden; bake bread; work on my online KNITSONIK bullet-journaling course and count my (very many) blessings. What my friend Kate wrote here resonated so deeply when I read it yesterday; the deep sense of gratitude and the usefulness of that feeling is something we need very badly, right now. The cancelled trip, the staying in for three months – none of it matters. What matters in these new days is a beautiful sense of presence and celebration, attending daily life. I feel it all the time, now. I’m thankful for our kind and messy home which – like so many times in the past – wraps itself around us like a blanket. I’m thankful for Mark, and for our marriage and our shared years, and for his kindness and for how he makes me laugh. I’m thankful for the amazing NHS workers who are working so hard to keep everyone alive and to keep everything going; and for the compassion of the doctor I spoke to yesterday who answered all my questions with patience, and who warmly told me to stop saying sorry for taking up her time.

Instead of going out for walks, my new mental health regime incorporates beautiful mornings where I tend to the little things, try to breathe properly, and avoid social media and the news. I refresh the hand-bathing station beside the kitchen sink; water the seedlings (also there); fetch in the eggs and say hello to the chickens. Admire my fuzzy little succulent. Plan meals from the cupboard contents and bake bread, soak beans, knead dough, peel things as necessary. I feel so lucky to have these things – to have flour and a warm house and beans and eggs and chickens and a messy, lavish, life-filled garden. I am looking forward to the onions coming up later this year – it would be such a thing of wonder to grow an onion from seed.

a tiny little onion seedling peeping out of the mud in a pot on the kitchen window sill

Twelve years ago at around this time of year, I had surgery on my feet to correct bunions and a lot of wonky toes bent out of shape by arthritis. This morning I looked back at the photos from that time and found a journal entry I had made, meditating on the amazing support and staff at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre where this surgery took place. I was off my face on Tramadol when I wrote this, but it made me smile today and it reminds me of how I feel about the entire NHS right now.

To all the amazing staff... I'm sorry I don't know all your names by now, (I blame all those painkillers for my terrible short-term memory!) but I remember all your lovely smiles, voices and acts of kindness + care. You've sped up my recovery no end with your sense, humour, practicality, encouragement, kindness and warmth. I think this is an amazing hospital with amazing staff. Lots of love from Felix and Monkl xxx WE LOVE THE NOC STAFF! <3 THANK YOU!

My other photos from this time are all of seedlings; of things in the garden; of things I was knitting and – in classic foolish Felix style – a collection of foot-shaped cheesy scones that I baked in honour of my operation.

cheesy scone, cut out using a foot-shaped cutter

There’s something deeply comforting about the inevitable return to the same healing sources that have always helped me. Like a sheep hefted to its own place in the hill, I find myself returning to the medicine of bread, breathing, bones, beans, butter, eggs, flour, seeds, water.

our mganificent kitchen sink in all its ancient, scummy, aluminium realness and comfort

From the little reading I’ve done about Hanami, the appreciation for cherry blossoms is as much about cherishing and mourning the intense but fleeting beauty of our lives as it is about admiring blooms for their own beauty. In these strange times when I can’t leave the house to go and see the trees twenty minutes’ from here, let alone experience firsthand the glorious bounty of the Kyoto cherry blossom parties, I nevertheless feel that this spring may offer, yet, our deepest experience of Hanami. As I stand in the kitchen in the morning, giving thanks for the lovely sound of kidney beans pouring into a pan, my heart is as full of thanks for life as when gazing up at the prettiest flowers.

Too, maybe that I can’t get out again to see the trees blooming later this spring makes the ten million photos I took last weekend feel that extra bit precious. Happy Hanami, friends, even if we can’t gather under the trees safely this year, isn’t it a comfort to know that they are flowering anyway? Please, please, may as many of us as possible return next year to celebrate their blossoming again.

sunlight pouring beautifully through white cherry blossom blooms

XF

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I Love My Chickens

Yesterday we went for a big walk along the canal to one of my favourite spots, near Theale, but quite a few folk were out and about enjoying the fresh spring air and I confess it left me feeling rather anxious about leaving the house again today. So, instead of going for a Sunday walk, we spent the day in the garden. In all our tasks, we were accompanied by the chickens who were Very Interested In Everything.

Two chickens in shot - one is a gingery colour with a lovely red comb; in the background there is a black chicken

We are so lucky to have a garden and to be able to keep hens.

A lovely dark hen - Lizzo - peeks through the chickenwire of her enclosure to the lush green grass beyond

I wish I could share these things with everyone who is feeling afraid or sad in the strange days of this pandemic. The clucking, bustling presence of the chickens plus their dear little sounds are a massive comfort. Since everyone doesn’t have chickens, but lots of us are feeling anxious and worried at the moment, I thought I’d try to share them with you here.

Little white chicken standing beside waterer

First, let’s talk about the chickens’ eggs. I swear it doesn’t matter how many times I pick up a warm, smooth egg from under a hen, or from the little depression they make in their bedding before they lay, each time it feels like a miracle. How can these characterful little creatures produce these tasty items from their fluffy arses? I think it is magic. I pay very close attention to my chickens’ eggs. If the shells are a little bit thin or seem fragile, I make them a fortifying porridge of oats and ground up eggshells, with some tasty herbs – fennel or chilli or whatever I have on hand – to replenish them. Because of this, the chickens follow me everywhere, optimistically anticipating Treat Porridge. I love to fuss and pamper them and like to think their eggs are extra tasty because of it.

a gingery coloured hen eats treats from her feeder

Next let’s talk about their feathers. My chickens have got lovely feathers.

Lizzo – who is the darkest of the flock – has an almost bottle-green iridescence. She is the most laid back of the hens and her shiny emerald plumage is super silky to the touch. You can see the greeny tinge here, in this photo where Lizzo is hanging out with the speckledy Princess that is Missy, and they both have their heads down scratching in the ground for tasty morsels.

Lizzo and Missy with their beautiful dark feathers - two pretty hens seen from the back

Silky Lizzo peeks to the side, her bright red comb sparkles and she is all shiny and lovely

Lauryn is a gingery-coloured hen; she is extremely food-focused and more adventurous than the others when it comes to “Stuff I Will Do For Food”. She experimentally pecks everything (can I eat it?); wolfs down massive earthworms in three terrifying gulps; jumps or flies up to wherever OMGMEALWORMS are being kept; and will literally *sprint* for food. Lauryn also has a horrible habit of jumping in any treatbowl offering and immediately kicking all the contents on the ground, while she ruthlessly sifts through it with her beak in case there are any OMGMEALWORMS in there. I love Lauryn’s biscuity feathers and we are allowed to pick her up and give her a cuddle, as long as we don’t come between her and her food.

Lauryn - the gingery hen - face down scratching in the ground looking for treats

Missy is shy.

Missy the speckled hen with the red comb, she stands with her back to the camera

She had a chest infection last year and has never trusted me since I put her in TRAVEL CAGE and took her to VET. She is fleet of foot, impossible to catch, and very interested in caring for The Eggs. Lauryn and Becky sometimes forget themselves and lay in random places – yesterday, for example, we had a bit of an “oops, it’s on the patio however did it get there?” moment with those two. However, Missy feels there is an order to The Eggs with which all hens should comply. Sometimes she stands outside the coop and yells for hours – a long, complainy sort of noise – because the proper order of laying is not being observed. Once The Eggs are laid, Missy likes to fluff herself up and cover and warm them.

I very often have to scoot my hand gently underneath her toasty little body to retrieve The Eggs, but she is very sweet tempered about this, and tends to slightly chide me before standing up, fluffing out her magnificent speckled wings, and then settling back down again. Missy is the only chicken to have a fetching little top knot on her head; it bobs about like a fascinator when she runs towards us because OMGMEALWORMS.

a speckled black and white hen and a black hen face one another, their bright red combs aligned

The pecking order IS A REAL THING. Becky is at the bottom; she swiftly understood this and, as a matter of survival, has perfected a grab and run manouevre. Little, swift, and the colour of clotted cream, she is relaxed about being picked up and cuddled and will often just hunker down when you’re near and wait to be scooped. The combination of her grab and run moves and her very sweet nature are very winsome and although she is bottom of the flock in the eyes of the others, she might just be our favourite.

Becky the white hen, peeping through the chicken wire

Speaking of Becky brings me to my third favourite thing about chickens: Dust Bath.

Becky has a real knack for finding a good spot for a dust bath. She’ll burrow with her feet and beak until she’s sculpted a perfect, chicken-sized divot, in which she’ll then roll around happily for ages – or until another member of the flock turfs her out to take a turn. The main rule of Dust Bath is that everyone wants to be in Dust Bath and the only one of interest is the one that already has a chicken in it.

I wish I had a photo for you of the chickens taking it in turns to enjoy Dust Bath, or rather of the chickens fighting over whose turn it is, but hopefully you can imagine it.

A black and white chicken scratch in the dirt together

Eggs, Feathers, Dust Baths, OMGMEALWORMS.

In conclusion, Chickens are the best. I love mine so much and wish that I could transmit a tiny chicken cuddle to you, a little cluck, and a perfect poached egg to wherever you are in the world. In the meantime, this post will have to do.

I hope you are finding comfort in whatever you’re doing, wherever you are.
YOURS IN I LOVE MY CHICKENS –
XF

Becky and Lizzo scratching in the dirt

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MDK March Mayhem

Greetings, Friends!

How are you doing? This global pandemic is a scary time and I thought that while so many of us are at home – and perhaps unused to being at home – it might be a good thing to dust off the KNITSONIK blog and share news here a bit more regularly.

Today I want to tell you about something my friends at Mason Dixon Knitting have put together – MDK March Mayhem – which uplifts and celebrates knitwear designs and designers through a series of voting events, the first of which starts TODAY! I am thrilled that my Skystone Hat design has been placed in the Head & Hands bracket.

A montage of knitwear design images taken from the MDK website

From Kay and Ann: –

MDK March Mayhem is a light-hearted championship of knitting patterns published in 2019. It’s our way of shining light on great independent design.

Ann and I selected 16 patterns in each of 4 categories. All the patterns have two things in common: Ann and I think they’re beautiful, and we want to knit them!

Over several weeks in March and April, MDK readers will vote for their favorite patterns in 4 categories.

The bracket of 64 designs will be revealed on Friday, March 13 (tomorrow) on masondixonknitting.com. The bracket is fun and interactive, with a photo and notes on each design, plus a direct link to the design’s pattern page on Ravelry.

After a week of category previews on Mason-Dixon Knitting, Round 1 voting will open on Friday, March 20. Voters will vote for 8 patterns in each of 4 categories, and the winners will be announced and advance to Round 2 on Tuesday, March 24.

I was thrilled last week to learn that my design has been picked as part of this joy and today, as the voting opens, I’m really enjoying looking through the other designs Kay and Ann have selected and appreciating this boost to independent knitwear design. Thank you, Mason Dixon Knitting!

If you are looking for a welcome distraction from everything going on in the world today, want to spend some time appreciating and admiring independent knitwear design, and wish to support creativity through voting, your input will be uplift everyone involved.

There’s a downloadable printable, for keeping track of whom you voted for; a wondrous page where you can see and read about all the designs selected; and clear instructions here.

As suggested on the website, I’m going to sit down now with a mug of coffee and my print outs, and enjoy looking through all the categories and voting for my favourites.

Join me?
YOURS IN MDK MARCH MAYHEM,
XF

Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

KNITSONIK MIXTAPE #7: SONIK Balance For Better Blanket

This year in celebration of International Women’s Day, I decided to work on a SONIK accompaniment to the Balance for Better Blanket on which I collaborated last year with my amazing friends at KDD & Co.

celebratory stranded colourwork blanket, made up of many different, intricately-designed squares

The result is a rather long and dense audio mix which blends readings of texts written by the women featured in the blanket with field-recordings or audioworks related in some way to their work or its creative context. There are also compositions or songs created by some of the women celebrated in the blanket; clips of reportage or interviews relating to their work; and music which is connected in some other way. You can hear the mix here and today on the blog I’m sharing a detailed tracklist citing all my sources and the timings of when each one enters the mix.
Women’s names in bold.

Happy Listening!

00:00:00 – Source by Nubya Garcia
https://nubyagarcia.bandcamp.com/

00:02:05 – With my Hammer by Shannon Smy of Seize the Day
http://www.shannonsmy.org/

00:02:36 – excerpts from The Hammer Blow – how 10 women disarmed a warplane – by Andrea Needham
https://peacenews.info/node/8245/hammer-blow-%E2%80%93-how-10-women-disarmed-warplane

00:08:46 – excerpts from How to destroy a warplane with a Hammer – by Undercurrents Media featuring the women of Seeds of Hope: Jo Blackman, Lyn Bliss, Clare Fearnley, Emily Johns, Lotta Kronlid, Andrea Needham, Jen Parker, Ricarda Steinbrecher and Rowan Tilly
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zs1Ah3eIo-8

00:11:41 – Source (Maxwell Owin remix) by Nubya Garcia

00:11:49 – excerpt from The Birth of Cool by Carol Tulloch, featuring the words of Beryl Gilroy
https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-birth-of-cool-9781859734704/#sthash.NXcwELP9.dpufwebsite

00:12:26 – excerpt from Black Teacher by Beryl Gilroy
https://www.peepaltreepress.com/authors/beryl-gilroy

00:14:50 – Land Of The Midnight Sun, Aurorora Borealis by Wendy Carlos
http://www.wendycarlos.com/

00:16:04 – excerpts from Alma Thomas by Ian Berry and Lauren Haynes featuring the words of Alma Thomas
https://prestelpublishing.randomhouse.de/book/Alma-Thomas/Ian-Berry/Prestel-com/e508285.rhd

00:19:59 – Diamond by Little Simz (Simbiatu ‘Simbi’ Abisola Abiola Ajikawo)
https://littlesimz.bandcamp.com/

00:21:02 – excerpts from Buchi Emecheta interview | Civil Rights | women’s rights | Today | 1975, featuring Buchi Emecheta
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJPIJ8JpOFk

00:22:21 – Ready by Vicky Sola
https://vickysola.bandcamp.com/

00:25:31 – One Blank Summer by Caroline McKenzie
https://carolinemckenzie.bandcamp.com/

00:25:55 – Britain’s Unsung First World War Hero by Forces TV, highlighting the work of Dr Elsie Inglis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rC2B99zQJI0

00:30:34 – Slave Driver by Our Native Daughters who are Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla and Allison Russell
https://ournativedaughters.bandcamp.com/album/songs-of-our-native-daughters

00:30:53 – Bury Me in a Free Land by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper read by Nefeli Vidali for LibriVox
https://librivox.org/short-poetry-collection-184-by-various/

00:35:15 – excerpt from We Are All Bound Up Together by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
https://awpc.cattcenter.iastate.edu/2017/03/21/we-are-all-bound-up-together-may-1866/

00:36:43 – Oceano Pacifico by Chloé Despax
https://archive.org/details/aporee_27202_31349

00:37:51 – Lear by Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster and Panaoiotis
https://www.roughtrade.com/us/pauline-oliveros-stuart-dempster-panaoiotis/deep-listening?utm_source=CJ&cjevent=2d47bf31620711ea838f019e0a18050d

00:38:20 – excerpts from An Atlas Of The Difficult World by Adrienne Rich read by the poet herself at the 1995 Santa Cruz County Artist of the Year Awards
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3O_N7vQVBFs

00:39:47 – Rattlesnake Mountain by Pauline Oliveros on Maritime Rites by Alvin Curran
https://paulineoliveros.us/

00:41:36 – Los Angeles Without Palm Trees by Geneva Skeen
https://genevaskeen.bandcamp.com/

00:43:36 – The Ocean at Portland Bill by Felicity Ford (that’s me)

00:44:05 – reading of Oread by H.D.
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48186/oread

00:44:40 – Washing Up Wineglasses by Felicity Ford
http://www.sound-diaries.co.uk/previous-sound-diaries-projects/2010-2/uk-soundmap-sonic-time-capsule/

00:45:35 – reading of excerpt from Washing Day by Anna Laetitia Barbauld
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51901/washing-day

00:46:40 – Up, Up and Away by Fifth Dimension whose members were Billy Davis Jr., Florence La Rue, Marilyn McCoo, Lamonte McLemore, and Ronald Townson
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfxqQmWtGNM

00:49:08 – How High The Moon (Live in Berlin 1960) by Ella Fitzgerald
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iR1__k-BxhY

00:55:47 – Preserve by Maiya Hershey
https://maiya-hershey.bandcamp.com/

00:56:14 – excerpt from 13 Question Interview on Angela Davis Speaks featuring Angela Yvonne Davis
https://angeladavisspeaks.bandcamp.com/album/angela-davis-speaks

00:57:40 – US (ft. Rocky Rivera, Klassy, and Faith Santilla) by Ruby Ibarra
https://rubyibarra.bandcamp.com/

01:01:40 – Turn You (DJ Nphared Remix) by Rocky Rivera (Krishtine De Leon)
https://rockyriverabeatrock.bandcamp.com/

01:04:41 – Erilegh Ifanata by Les Filles de Illighadad who are Fatou Seidi Ghali and Alamnou Akrouni
https://lesfillesdeillighadad.bandcamp.com/

01:05:09 – reading of excerpt from Stitched from the Soul: Slave Quilts from the Ante-Bellum South by Gladys-Marie Fry
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gladys-Marie_Fry

01:07:33 – A Stream near Ben Dorian by Felicity Ford

01:08:00 – reading of excerpt from The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd
https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-living-mountain/nan-shepherd/robert-macfarlane/9780857861832

01:08:00 – Pebble Beach by Felicity Ford

01:08:16 – Petit Jardin by Magali Babin
https://www.magalibabin.com/magalibabin.com/1.html

01:08:29 – The Rustle of Paper by Lau Mun Leng
https://syrphe.bandcamp.com/album/art-of-the-muses

01:09:04 – reading of Dr Darwin’s description of the paper flowers of Mary Delaney, taken from The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mrs. Delaney, by Mary Delaney
https://archive.org/details/autobiographyan01coolgoog/page/n8/mode/2up

01:10:00 – Breatheeyesmemory: Still Ill Installation Soundtrack by Raman Mundair
https://soundcloud.com/user-188666667-76863612/breatheeyesmemorystillill-installation-soundtrack
https://youtu.be/ArEpaNrg1dk

01:23:08 – In My Dreams by Anohni
https://anohni.bandcamp.com/album/paradise

01:23:12 – Rain on the Car Roof by Felicity Ford

01:23:15 – Let Glasgow Flourish sung by St Mungo Music; this is a religious musical interpretation of the same Glasgow Phrase – Let Glasgow Flourish – with which Ann Macbeth embroidered her Women’s Suffrage banner.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Macbeth

01:26:00 – Karma by Anohni

01:26:13 – Roxana Marcoci discusses the work and legacy of Untitled by Claude Cahun
https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/claude-cahun-untitled-c-1921/

01:27:40 – Gillian Wearing reads from Disavowels by Claude Cahun
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QI03GvB6bls

01:29:18 – Even the Outline Fades by Caroline McKenzie

01:30:00 – Slow traffic on the Street by Felicity Ford

01:30:27 – reading of Why Brickwork? by Jane A. Wight from Catching the Sun [an anthology of poetry and prose]
https://library.reading.gov.uk/cgi-bin/spydus.exe/FULL/WPAC/BIBENQ/179967159/391782229,2

01:31:13 – Turiya & Ramakrishna (Album Version) by Alice Coltrane
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUMuDWDVd20

01:39:21 – Introduction by Daphne Oram
https://boomkat.com/artists/daphne-oram
01:40:43 – Look at Oramics by Daphne Oram

01:41:38 – Studio Experiment No. 2 by Daphne Oram

01:41:52 – Melodic Group Shapes i by Daphne Oram
https://trunkrecords.greedbag.com/buy/electronic-sound-patterns-and-el-0/

01:42:19 – Pop Tryouts Part 1 by Daphne Oram

01:42:27 – Oramics Demonstration by Daphne Oram

01:44:23 – Rita by Be Steadwell
https://bsteady.bandcamp.com/

01:44:34 – In Conversation with Alison Bechdel featuring Alison Bechdel speaking to members of the Young Vic
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1_r8F2ubCo
http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/

01:58:40 – Nothing Really Blue by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, led by English guitarist Simon Jeffes and co-founded with cellist Helen Liebmann
https://penguincafeorchestra.bandcamp.com/

01:49:30 – reading from The Lady’s Assistant for executing useful and fancy designs in knitting, netting, and crochet work by Jane Gaugain
https://ia800202.us.archive.org/21/items/krl00394037/krl00394037.pdf

01:50:46 – Hazel Tindall Knitting with a Belt recorded by Felicity Ford and featuring the fast makkin’ wires of Hazel Tindall
https://aporee.org/maps/work/projects.php?project=shetlandwool

01:51:14 – Yodel 3 by Penguin Cafe Orchestra

01:52:52 – reading from Elizabeth Friedlander: one of the first women to design a typeface by Billie Muraben and reflecting on the life, work and legacy of Elizabeth Friedländer
https://www.itsnicethat.com/features/elizabethfriedlander-graphicdesign-internationalwomensday-080318

01:54:32 – History of Mary Barbour with The History Girls on Live at Five, in which Karen Mailley-Watt and Rachael Purse explore the life, work and legacy of Mary Barbour
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-S4ecGYwQ4

01:56:11 – Snow by Daphne Oram
https://britishmusiccollection.org.uk/article/50-things-daphne-orams-snow

01:57:51 – excerpts from Kitchen Show by Bobby Baker
https://dailylifeltd.co.uk/our-work/daily-life-series-1991-2001/daily-life-series-1-kitchen-show/

02:03:55 – Bodies by Phonodelica (Donia Jarrar)
https://phonodelica.bandcamp.com/releases

02:04:00 – What I Will by Suheir Hammad
https://www.ted.com/talks/suheir_hammad_poems_of_war_peace_women_power?language=en

02:07:05 – reading of an excerpt from Building Britannia: Life Experiences With Britain featuring the words and recollections of Althea McNish
https://www.newbeaconbooks.com/black-british-non-fiction/building-britannia?rq=althea%20mcnish

02:08:42 – Castilianne (Juliana) by the Girl Pat Oildrum Orchestra (some of whose members include Hazel Henly, Irma Waldron, Celia Didier, Elle Robertson, Joyce Forde, Norma Braithwaite, Eugene Gowen and Ellie Mannette)
https://www.google.com/search?q=girl+pat+site:panonthenet.com+OR+site:whensteeltalks.ning.com&cad=h

02:11:17 – Uptown Top Ranking by Althea and Donna (Althea Rose Forrest and Donna Marie Reid)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Althea_%26_Donna

02:14:53 – reading from Fashion For Disabled People by Nellie Thornton
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4613559-fashion-for-disabled-people

02:15:55 – Sewing Machine by Chicks on Speed (Alex Murray-Leslie and American Melissa Logan)
https://chicksonspeed.bandcamp.com/

02:14:00 – Winter by Wendy Carlos
http://www.wendycarlos.com/+sslms.html

02:19:38 – Winter (out-take) by Wendy Carlos

Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS, KNITSONIK PROCESSES, KNITSONIK SOUNDS, KNITSONIK THOUGHTS | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A square for Wendy Carlos

A few weeks ago, my friend Kate and I shared the Square Share/Balance for Better Blanket project on which we worked earlier this year, together with all at team KDD&Co., to mark International Women’s Day, 2019. The blanket has been officially recognised as an example of best practice and I feel incredibly honoured to have been involved. Thank you, KDD & Co., and thank you, IWD!

Winner International Women's Day - Best Practice

As you may have gathered from the post I wrote about designing the square which celebrates Bobby Baker, or Kate’s amazing account of her square commemorating the poetry of Adrienne Rich – or, as you’ll know if you are currently designing your own square(s) using our template on Ravelry – the process of designing and charting squares can be quite involved. I relished this aspect of the project and found that working on each square provided rich opportunities to deepen my appreciation for, and to pay especially close attention to, the work of the person it celebrated. There are messy notes in my bullet journals accompanying many of the squares I designed which remind me of how I thought about them all and which I am enjoying revisiting for these posts.

bullet journal page with written notes, stuck in chart and glimpses of washi tape

There is a particular kind of focus required to transpose ideas from other people’s work into the language of stranded colourwork and – as a long-term co-ordinator of knit/sound projects – it was especially joyful for me to work on squares that related to the work of other creatives whose main work is with sound.

Today I want to tell you about my square celebrating the work of American musician and composer Wendy Carlos. Wendy first rose to fame with Switched-On Bach (1968) – an album of music by Johann Sebastian Bach performed on a Moog synthesizer which won three Grammy Awards and helped to popularise the synthesizer (and the music of J.S. Bach) throughout the 1970s. The commercial success of Switched-On Bach led to several more keyboard albums from Wendy, who also composed the score to two Stanley Kubrick films: A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980); as well as the film score for Walt Disney Productions’ 1982 film, Tron. These are some highlights of a long career and Wendy Carlos’s Discography is rich and varied. But my favourite release from her is Sonic Seasonings.

album cover for Sonic Seasonings by Wendy Carlos

I love this album, first composed in the 1970s. Although I might now try and describe it as “ambient music”, it prefigures that term – coined by Brian Eno later that decade – by several years:

“on the level of pure enjoyment, these records were designed to be a part of the decoration, so to speak – a sonic ambience that enhances the listener’s total environment. On still another level, Sonic Seasonings takes listeners out of their environment and into the countryside of their fantasy: the weary urbanite can eavesdrop on the conversation of chattering bids; the mountain dweller can leave his soul with the sound of the surf, and so on.

We ask, however, tht you, the listener, supply one element that we could not possibly blend into the final mix – your own imagination and his remembrance of Nature’s blessings.”

– Rachel Elkind, 1972

When it came out, the idea of an album like this was a new concept. Wendy describes how “there was no existing category for music of its kind.” The release was not Classical Music, while also not being Popular music, nor Jazz. Wendy writes that Sonic Seasonings was “intended to work on a timbral and experiential level, so the sound could “flow over you,””. Even with the development of later categories – ambient; minimalist; electronic; mood etc. – and the benefit of time and hindsight, it still feels difficult to pigeonhole this album as anything other than itself. I’ve not heard anything else quite like its vast, meandering world of creatures, moods, weathers, melodies and places and the CD booklet is full of thoughtful meditations and quotes on the nature of sound.

Quote from CD liner notes: "There's music in the sighing of a reed; There's music in the gushing of a rill; There's music in all things, if man had ears; The earth is but the music of the spheres." - George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824)

Sonic Seasonings was released on vinyl in 1972 and then reissued on CD in 1998 and it brings together the electronic textures of synthesisers with field recordings from nature. It follows the structure of a year and the four seasons – Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter – are loosely suggested in spacious, 20+ minute long tracks. Rachel Elkind worked closely with Wendy on the production and concept for this work and describes it as “an aural tapestry, [containing] natural sounds… subtly mixed with electronic and instrumental sounds in an effort to create four evolving, undulating cycles evocative of the moods of the earth’s seasons….an amalgam of the natural and the synthetic.”

There’s something really strange and beautiful about the hermetically-sealed electronic sounds of the synthesiser mixing and melding with the volume of space present in many of the field recordings with which they are mixed. That, to me, is what the mix of “the natural and the synthetic” means. It’s a gentle, pattering melody of electronic sine waves and tones blurring with the noisy smash of ocean waves in Fall; or the thunderstorm in Spring mixed with the voices of birds. As the days grow increasingly short, cold and dark, I have lately been taking a special pleasure in Winter with its shimmering, tingly sounds (is this what icicles sound like?) layered with drifts of wind; with the song of wolves; and with vocals by Rachel Elkind.

How to suggest such delicious sonic complexity in the finite canvas of a knitted square, 142 sts at its edge and decreasing dramatically towards its centre?

I decided to start by thinking about soundwaves since Wendy’s free, open, playful and curious approach to sound itself is what defines Sonic Seasonings, and since it is a picture of an island surrounded by waves and movement with which she chose to illustrate the cover of this body of work. Poring over the CD-liner notes, I noticed a further reference in a quote shared on the back cover and attributed to anonymous: “I am moving all day and not moving at all. I am like the moon underneath the waves that ever go rolling.”

To speak to these themes of waves and soundwaves, I opened the track Winter in my sound-editing software and printed out a screen-grab of its waveform which I then stuck in my bullet journal.

a photo of a wave-form taken from Winter by Wendy Carlos, as seen in audio-editing software

A waveform is something I’ve tried to represent in stranded colourwork before, but I’ve always been deterred by the problem of how to handle long strands between the peaks of different waves. Also, there is phenomenal detail in a waveform which is immediately lost once it is transcribed into the low-resolution medium of stranded colourwork. Tinkering with the peaks and troughs of my soundwaves and consulting the image taped into my bullet journal, I decided I needed to be less literal. I started to chart an approximation of shapes suggesting soundwaves. I decided there would be two tiers of soundwaves in my final square design to speak to the idea of left and right stereo channels.

sound waveform charted for stranded colourwork knitting

The artwork with which Wendy Carlos illustrated Sonic Seasonings is called Waves at Matsushima. It is a painted screen produced during the Edo period by the artist Ogata Kōrin (Japanese: 尾形光琳; 1658 – June 2, 1716) – a Japanese painter, lacquerer and designer of the Rinpa school. This amazing image shows the movement of the waves around the islands of Matsushima. Wendy and Rachel saw the original in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where, Wendy comments, they “fell in love with it.” I decided to colour my soundwaves chart with the shades that had so captivated Wendy and Rachel in shades from Kate’s Milarrochy Tweed palette. Hirst provided the creamy background; Horseback Brown and Hare described the warm dark to mid-browns; Stockiemuir and Garth provided the bright pops of green to describe the island flora in the painting; and Buckthorn evokes the blush of hot orange used by Ogata Kōrin in the original painting.

Waves at Matsushima by Ogata Kōrin; a rich palette of greens, oranges and browns shows a sequence of waves rolling against large islands which rise out of the water

Wedge swatch featuring my Wendy Carlos motif in the same colours as used in the painting "Islands of Matsumisha" by Ogata Kōrin

Do you remember the wedge-swatch of which I wrote in this post? I used the same technique – a swift way to swatch one quarter of the square – to test my design ideas out. While I worked, I listened to Sonic Seasonings. I then transferred my design into the proper chart template and sent it off to Mel who deftly turned it into this:

Soundwaves represented in a hand-knitted square, as visual wave forms in shades of green, brown and orange

I so enjoyed spending time with Wendy’s music and with the notes that came with her CD. I particularly like that she chose, in this 1998 re-release, to also share an early incarnation of Winter:

About the out-take: Winter went through a few more revisions than the other movements. It was not as obvious what sounds might best suggest this ostensibly cold, quiet time of the year (snowfall is nearly soundelss, and snow on the ground tends to absorb sound.) Originally I pictured a scene in a cozy cabin somewhere up North, with a roaring fireplace, a comfortable old rocking chair, a friendly purring kitty, and a music box playing, what else, music from S-O B (Switched-On Bach, Wachet Auf.) The first definitive mix of this attempt can be heard on this bonus track. It didn’t (and doesn’t) quite work, and so we looked in other directions, before coming up with the wolves plus haunting vocalise that more musically ends Sonic Seasonings.

I really like the quiet, domestic texture of this outtake – with its purring kitty! – and I appreciate Wendy sharing it with us as a record of her creative process and as something that she felt “didn’t (and doesn’t) quite work”. I thought about this a lot during the whole project and the idea – and the comforting soundscape of “out-take” gave me courage when anything I was working on didn’t quite come together right away; the sonic/track equivalent of a swatch.

Winter as described in the CD liner notes

I also thought about how, in several years of studying field recordings and the adjacent discipline of Electroacoustic composition at University, Wendy Carlos and this groundbreaking ambient project undertaken with Rachel Elkind were never mentioned by my tutors; all the more reason to celebrate them in our work.

bullet journal edge with soundwave washi tape and screengrab of editing software printed out and stuck inside

Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS, KNITSONIK PROCESSES, KNITSONIK SOUNDS, KNITSONIK THOUGHTS | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A Q&A with Nichola McGuire of Eclectic Gift

Following on from yesterday’s post, and celebrating the launch of my new greeting cards, we are joined today on the KNITSONIK blog by Nichola McGuire of Eclectic Gift. This post discusses mental health issues openly and is dedicated to anyone else who – like me, like Nichola – needs support in this area. All images © Nichola McGuire of Eclectic Gift and used with kind permission.

Thanks so much for agreeing to join us on the KNITSONIK blog today, Nichola. First of all, could you say a little bit about your work and your business, Eclectic Gift?

Nichola McGuire - a smiling black lady wears bright red tights and co-ordinated hair bow; she smiles confidently ahead

Hi I’m Nichola (of course!) and my work was born out of my need to find a way to express my feelings and have an escape where I could truly just be myself. As a teenager I loved to draw but I suffered badly with low self esteem. I decided at some point that I wasn’t any good, and I just stopped. I didn’t pick up a pencil to really draw again until I was having therapy for severe depression and anxiety as an adult. I realised it was the perfect vessel to transport my innermost feelings out into the world around me… my images also helped conversations with my therapist.

Once I began to draw and started to feel the relief and release of putting my feelings into pieces of art, I realised that I could also draw things that brought me joy or happiness. That started when I wanted a picture of a ballerina for my little girls and couldn’t find one that looked like them. I started to think about myself as a young girl, and how I never had a toy, piece of artwork or book that had a person who looked like me in it and how low my self esteem was. I decided to draw a ballerina just for my daughters and their reaction and the reaction from friends and family was amazing.

A black girl wears a traditional ballet outfit in soft, pretty pinks, and is surrounded by a cascade of glitter. She stands delicately and happily, with her arms out, as if making - or granting - wishes

People started to ask if I was selling my artwork. I thought they were crazy but here I am trying to carve out a little section in the world of art for Eclectic Gift: Etsy shop | Electicgift.co.uk

That lack of representation is something you are directly changing. There’s an atmosphere of joy and uplift running through your work. You’ve sort of answered this already but, when you speak about your daughters, I wonder if part of your creative motivation is a wish for them to grow up with the positive, affirmative images that were missing when you were young? I’m thinking about the rucksacks you had printed with your artwork for your daughters… and your amazing range of superhero greeting cards…

Two black girls on the bus, each wearing a rucksack featuring positive, uplifting representations of black women. One is a ballet dancer, the other is a superhero; these are Nichola's designs, printed onto schoolbags

Definitely. I was drawing when my son, who is now 20, was growing up. However, no matter the feelings I had regarding my lack of worth, I instilled a sense of pride, worth and belief in him and I envy his determination and self belief and that which my daughters have also. I think I overcompensated, not wanting them to experience what I have experienced, and my artwork became part of the systematic, positive reinforcement that is the foundation of their upbringing.

A black superHERo - a girl with a natural black hairstyle stands with cloak billowing, superHERo outfit on, and a background featuring a joyful golden crown and lines of energy radiating outward

One of the things I love about your work is the prominent roles that female friendship and sisterhood play; I wondered if you could say a bit about what friendship means to you when it comes to well-being?

It’s about connection; empathy; compassion and understanding. I’m lucky that my close friends allow me the space to say that I’m not well or that I don’t feel like getting out of bed without judgement or expectation. I used to feel like unless I was catatonic, rocking in a fetal position, bawling or inconsolable that nobody could believe how bad a place I was in. I’d wonder how I could get help or support if I looked and behaved like I was “normal”. It’s the understanding and space that my people give me to “do me” and just be how I need to be. That help me to feel supported and able to speak to them openly. Some days I feel like I cannot get out of bed and I’ll be very matter of fact about it. No hysterics. No crying. No fuss. But that doesn’t mean it’s not really shit and my people are there to encourage and support me and more often than not…I get up. So, to my people, thank you.

Squad goals - a group of black women wearing beautiful, brightly-coloured outfits stand in line, looking forward with an air of friendship, strength and support

What you’re saying resonates so strongly – I think very often mental health conditions like Depression and Anxiety are associated with certain types of outward presentation such as you describe: rocking in the fetal position; crying; hysteria; fuss. Yet, speaking from my own experiences – like you say – the bottom of the world dropping away can be weirdly undramatic, silent and interior. We just can’t know what is going on with anyone from how they appear outwardly. This is why it’s so important to speak openly about mental health and also to represent it, as you do with such honesty in your work. Addressing this is obviously key to your practice – what else is important to you as an artist?

Truth. I only draw what I connect with; feel something from; am inspired by; or which sparks my interest. For me that is most often falls into two brackets which are representing women of colour and representing mental health awareness. Sometimes I am just blending colours and doodling and something just appears on which I build but ultimately I hope to convey kindness, solidarity, sisterhood, empowerment and love.

I’ve had so many people offer ideas for “gimmicks” or “money makers” but I just can’t do it. If I’m not loving it then I’m not drawing it! Every piece I’ve drawn has a story, a journey, a meaning or both. Drawing is my release, my pleasure, my insides turning out. What you see on the paper is me!

As I am - an honest and sincere portrait of a black woman sitting in her underwear and represented honestly and in a mode of total self-acceptance. She looks down towards her body, her hair is worn naturally; the curves and bumps of her body are presented with celebratory and respectful honesty; she looks inward and down, appreciating herself on her own terms

YES YOU CAN! A young black woman holds up, and points to, a glorious card in which a stylishly dressed black woman wearing smart black clothes and a jaunty beret points authoritatively to the words YES YOU CAN

It means a lot to me that you have brought so much authenticity to your beautiful designs for my KNITSONIK cards; thank you so much. Of the amazing illustrationg you have produced, do you have a favourite? And, if so, why?

This is very difficult as there are aspects of each that have a piece of my heart. I think I have to say that the Missy Elliot piece is my favourite. When I look at it I feel as though I can hear the music and feel the rhythmic movement I was trying to create. I spent a long time creating the stitches for the dancer’s jumper and, although from a distance you probably cannot tell, I worked very hard to make the movement in the wool look as real and natural as possible. When I look at that piece I actually spend a lot of time zooming in on the stitches, haha!

A black woman wears a sweater with motifs on it that celebrate Missy Elliott's music, with the words SUPA DUPA FLY in the background, against the pink

I love this design as well – it reminds me of my friend Madeleine who has been encouraging and helping me to write up the pattern, and who bravely danced in it at Woollinn Yarn Festival this year – I say bravely, because that is thick, 100% wool, stranded colourwork fabric and dancing to the energetic beats of an iconic Missy Elliott track in that much wool can easily lead to over-heating! I confess I have zoomed in on the stitches several times too, in order to admire your work. I feel like each stitch you have drawn is the illustrated equivalent of each one I have knitted.

One element of this commission was to try and show the relationship between a knitter and their environment; could you say a bit about how you created the “world” each knitter is in? And what inspired your ideas for each one?

I felt that it was very important to listen to you and read your blog posts and articles and study the reference photos until I felt a sense of connection. The first one I did was Bricktastic and that’s the one I found hardest as I was very concerned about being able to bring your idea to life.

A black woman with an upright posture, a natural afro-hairstyle and a nice knitting bag filled with brick-coloured yarns strides along a street lined with highly-patterned brick walls and a sleeping black and white cat, who is curled up on a window sill

It took me a while to believe in myself and to work instinctively – which is where I thrive – rather than working very literally. So the ideas for each piece came from your words and images but I felt like I was imagining myself within the world of each idea. The expressions on the subjects’ faces represent the feelings I had while creating them and which rise in me when I look at them.

I love that and am particularly thrilled with the joy on the face of the girl listening through the EDIROL R-09 digital sound recording device (she just looks as happy as I feel when I am recording everyday sounds in the world around me) and the contented smile of the polka-dot knitter, who is scooped up in the perfect knitting chair and just enjoying her knitting in the way I hope all crafters can enjoy our work.

Your creative process for the bricks design was so interesting. Could you say a bit about the process of developing that design? Just to add that our cat – Joey Muffkins – is honoured to be part of it!

Ha! Hello Joey! The bricks were created in a way that I’d assume people would find boring but which I found very therapeutic. I started by mixing colours to create a space with naturally different tones. I then used different brushes to create texture and depth. Then I made slight differences in colours in order to have lots of bricks with similar colours but different enough amongst themselves to seem real. Then I built the wall one brick at a time, being careful to follow pattern rules all the way through. I’d show people who’d look at me and say “err…nice wall”, haha! They don’t understand how long the wall took!

This piece came directly from the cowl. The colours, tones and warmth were built from looking at it and drawing it in the same colour pattern and same stitches so that I almost felt as though I’d made one myself.

Drawn, hand-knitted stitches, in the shape of a hand-knitted cowl

Drawn, hand-knitted stitches, in the shape of a hand-knitted cowl, duplicated and filled with carefully-considered shades of brick colours

Drawn, hand-knitted stitches, in the shape of a hand-knitted cowl, duplicated and filled with carefully-considered shades of brick colours; the evolutions of the idea are shown clearly in the drawing

It’s so interesting to hear your process and it’s been my experience too that, although at first it seems boring (brick walls, really?), the process of paying attention to something solid and commonplace can be, in and of itself, incredibly therapeutic. People often look at my knitting based on brick walls and at my extensive photos of, urm, bricks!!! and say – just like they did to you – “err…nice wall!” so that’s something we share, now. I’m not sure people realise how long it take to knit bricks, either.

Thank you so much for sharing your process and the context for your work so generously with us. Finally – and most importantly! – where can my readers find more examples of your amazing work?

I have a website http://www.eclecticgift.co.uk. But honestly my kids keep expecting to be fed and looked after so I don’t get to update it too often. For more regular updates please come and follow me on Instagram @eclecticgift or treat yourself to some goodies from my Etsy shop. You can also follow my hashtag #eclecticgiftarttherapy and if you’re sharing an image online where I have talked about mental health in some way, you can tag your share as well.

It’s been a massive privilege to work with you on this and I am humbled to see some of my KNITSONIK ideas reframed through your creative vision; thank you for being willing to explore my knitting concepts in your beautiful illustration work, and for your generosity in collaboration.

Thank you for believing in me and giving me the space and time to create these pieces for you x

A collection of greeting cards by Eclectic Gift for KNITSONIK, arranged with their colour co-ordinated envelopes

Really hope you have enjoyed this Q&A and getting an insight into the creative world of Nichola McGuire. You can find the Eclectic Gift x KNITSONIK greeting cards in my online shop here; they are priced £8.99 and come in sets of five, containing all the designs.

Until soon –

Yours in the joy of collaboration and creativity,
Fx

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KNITSONIK & Eclectic Gift: A Collaboration

Hello, today I want to introduce a collaborative project between myself and Nichola McGuire – the artist behind Eclectic Gift. Nichola has designed a new range of KNITSONIK greeting cards which will launch in my shop tomorrow. We’ll celebrate their arrival there with a Q&A with Nichola but today I thought I’d show you a sneak peek at the artwork and give you a bit of background.

For the last few years I’ve been buying cards from Nichola’s Etsy shop, drawn to her uplifting and inclusive aesthetic.

Four women of different ethnicities, each doing a powerful yoga pose and wearing brightly-coloured outfits

Nichola’s work uses bright colours; takes a playful, bold approach; and unapologetically centres and celebrates black and brown girlhood.

A row of black and brown women, wearing matching outfits of black leotards and berets and standing in formation, in homage to the dancers in Beyoncé's music video of the same name

I think her images are beautiful.

Three full-bodied women linking arms in a beautiful embrace, each with different skin tones and wearing cropped black t-shirts, matching briefs and high heeled shoes. We see them from the back

After placing several orders of cards from Nichola, I searched for her instagram account and learnt that she shares my wish to demystify, de-stigmatise and remove shame around representations and discussions of mental health.

I started wondering whether we might be able to collaborate across the shared ground of our different practices, and wrote to ask if Nichola might be interested in working together. I sent her copies of my books so she could see if anything in them spoke to her. We met to agree a brief for a set of greeting cards, each of which was to frame KNITSONIK practices of knitting and listening as mental self-care; self-expression; and uplift. After some months of correspondence, drawing, writing and planning, Nichola came back to me with a beautiful set of images.

There are five greeting cards in all and they range from a beautiful image of a girl enjoying – as I have enjoyed, for many years – the enhanced auditory qualities of hearing the world through the microphones of an EDIROL R-09 digital sound recording device

A black girl holds an EDIROL R09 and takes enormous pleasure from hearing everyday sounds around her amplified, as if listening through a microscope

…to a woman dancing, like my friend Madeleine, to the glorious textures of Missy Elliott’s music (while wearing her Missy Elliott Sweater)…

A full-figured black woman wears a sweater with motifs on it which celebrates Missy Elliott with lyrics and drawn motifs from her albums. The dancer is in a pink environment surrounded by musical notes and the words SUPA DUPA FLY in the background in colours that match the sweater she wears

…to a knitter who draws comfort from the patterned brickwork of her town and knits them into an uplifting cowl

A black woman with an upright posture, a natural afro-hairstyle and a nice knitting bag filled with brick-coloured yarns strides along a street lined with highly-patterned brick walls and a sleeping black and white cat, who is curled up on a window sill

…to another knitter who, like all the knitters who joined in with the POLKAMANIA! KAL at the start of this year, delights in the pleasures of dotty design…

A black woman sits in a lovely curvy egg-shaped chair, knitting a dotty cowl. The pyjamas she wears are dotty; the walls are dotty; the rug under her feet is dotty; the curtains are dotty... everything is dotty and all the dots are inspiring her happy-making knitting. She smiles as she knits her dots.

…to a disabled knitter who, like a good friend of mine, uses a wheelchair as a mobility aid and is a wonderful knitter.

A disabled knitter sits in a stylish, self-propelled wheelchair, knitting a complex stranded colourwork blanket based on dandelions. As she knits, Dandelions from the ground around her feet are caught in the wind and fly up all around her

These cards feature the kinds of images I want to share and I hope you’ll want to share them, too: women confidently enjoying sound-recording technology; the ecstatic brilliance of Missy Elliott; brickwork, weeds and other commonplace items as everyday sources of inspiration; the endless permutations and possibilities of polka dots; and the normalisation of images of people with disabilities. When I look at them, I feel they reflect the joy that creative practices of drawing and knitting can induce. I wanted them to be applicable year round; to be blank inside for your own messages; and to reflect the direct, emotional language at the heart of Nichola’s illustrative style.

I really love the end result. Thank you so much Nichola for agreeing to collaborate with me; for bringing your gaze, vision, perspective and skill to this work; and for representing KNITSONIK designs with so much warmth and sensitivity. You rock!

The A6 size cards will go on sale in the KNITSONIK online shop tomorrow in sets of five at £8.99 per set. They are printed on high quality 350gsm postcard board and are supplied with colour co-ordinated envelopes made from 100% recycled paper. To celebrate their appearance in the online shop, I’ll share a Q&A with Nichola so you can hear more about her amazing work. We’ve spent a little while writing back and forth and it’s been lovely. I’m so excited to share our conversation with you all.

Until then,
Yours in greeting cards, greetings, and gratitude –
Fx

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