Listening for Change: on #diversknitty

Julia Farwell Clay has written a blog post called Listening for the Voices You Can’t Hear. In it, she speaks about diversity, inclusion and race and representation in the world of knitting. She reflects on what we privileged white ladies of knitting can do about the fact that our industry, at its top levels, is still predominately white and why that is a problem:

I’m a middle aged white lady comfortably represented in the knitting world around me so it’s my privilege and responsibility to listen and amplify that call for Diversity. I have welcomed the choices some knitting magazines have made towards casting non-white models… Meanwhile, Dyers and Designers and Teachers and Shop Owners and just regular knitters of color still haven’t achieved a complimentary visibility equal to the percentages they occupy in our industry.

– Julia Farwell Clay

The lack of representation of knitters of colour is the driving force behind Lorna Hamilton-Brown’s film, Knitting Ain’t Whack, made as part of her MA in textiles as a creative response to a brief titled “Identity”:

I created the character Lorna HB who is a knitting, rapping MC. I’m keen to break down the stereotypes associated with who knits.

– Lorna Hamilton-Brown

This conversation about who knits and who doesn’t knit also informed Lorna Hamilton-Brown’s dissertation title, Myth − Black People Don’t Knit: the importance of art and oral histories for documenting the experiences of black knitters. The title for the dissertation comes from Lorna’s lived experience of being told by a white academic at a knitting conference “black people don’t knit – they crochet”. Being erased from history is all too common an experience for black people – and especially for black women. Lorna Hamilton-Brown’s amazing dissertation goes some way towards putting the stories that have not been told back into the frame. It’s enormously important:

The question ‘do black women knit?’ is possibly asked due to the lack of visibility of black knitters. I am not alone in wanting to debunk this myth. On the 16 October 2016 user ‘gillyffish’ posted a message on the social media site Tumblr. It encouraged black knitters and spinners to use the hashtag #KnittingWhileBlack to raise visibility and awareness. ‘Knitting is an art that is visually dominated by white parties, let us show the world we are out there.’

– Lorna Hamilton-Brown

The call for representation continues in other hashtags. If you’re not an instagram user you might not have seen the current conversation that’s evolving around the #diversknitty hashtag. Started by Nathan Taylor AKA The Sockmatician, the hashtag has been enthusiastically taken up (mostly) by knitters of colour as a means to achieve greater representation and visibility on social media. Julia reflects that this year Rhinebeck felt more inclusive and diverse and that maybe hashtags which have helped knitters of colour to find and see one another have contributed to this. One of the privileges of being white is that we never have to think about whether there will be people like us present when we attend events and social media may have played a role in making Rhinebeck feel safer and more inclusive for knitters of colour… but maybe, rather than being instigators of long overdue change, hashtags like #diversknitty and #blackpeopledoknit are symptomatic of it. Magazines are doing more in terms of hiring models of colour and PomPom magazine’s magnificent cover for issue 26 was well received everywhere, testifying to the fact that there is a collective thirst for diverse images in the knitting community.

PomPom Magazine, Issue 26

Visible, high profile, positive change like this is fantastic, but there is still a great deal of work to do. Change needs to happen at *all* levels of the knitting industry and diverse customers feeling welcome (rather than unwelcome) is not enough. We need to see more vendors, designers, teachers, publishers and podcasters of colour across the board and we need to change our own thoughts and behaviour if the knitting industry is to become a truly inclusive place. To this end, Jeanette Sloan has been crowdsourcing an incredible list of POC designers and crafters which must be circulated in discussions around event planning, vendor booths, conference organisation and anywhere else where professional opportunities exist.

However we can do more on an individual level, too. To try and redress the unbalanced dominance of whiteness in our industry, we can prioritise buying yarn and patterns from businesses owned by people of colour; we can give our support to events and magazines that are actively promoting diversity; we can champion, amplify and celebrate the work of people of colour on social media; when we are researching folks to interview for our blogs and podcasts we can ensure we are being inclusive in our searches and not just referring back to our existing and primarily white networks. We can support initiatives like The Yarn Mission and we can follow the #diversknitty hashtag without inserting ourselves into the conversation. We can educate ourselves about the incredible work being made and done by people of colour and we can support and amplify that work. We must do these things in a meaningful and sustained way – not tokenistically – towards making our industry genuinely inclusive. To me, the work ahead looks alot like building relationships, extending networks, sharing skills and resources and consciously supporting people of colour in our industry the way that we already support each another. We can – and must – hold one another to account.

Like Julia says, we can listen for the voices that are missing and use whatever leverage we have to try and change the status quo. In the SONIK half of what I do, listening is the most important activity. Something changes when you change what – who – you listen to, and powerful shifts in mindset can happen when we are being quiet and paying attention. There is a wealth of writing about diversity in knitting available right now and written by people of colour: we need to listen to this and we need to really hear it.

Recommended Reading/Listening/Watching

Read Lorna Hamilton-Brown’s thesis already.

Jeanette Sloan recently wrote a fantastic piece in Knitting Magazine as well as this blog post. You can find her amazing list of POC designers and crafters here.

Gaye Glasspie, AKA GG Made it has written a fantastic piece here reflecting on Diversity in crafting, and this video by her comes highly recommended for LYS owners.

The Yarn Mission is a revolutionary, black-led organisation based in the USA; their support page is very helpful for anyone who wants to not only be inclusive but to actively fight racism through knitting.

This instagram post from Lady Dye Knits is important, as well as this amazing blog post from 2015 on the need for greater diversity in the Knitting Industry.

There are some important reflections on racism, representation, feminism and knitting in this video produced by PomPom Knits.

This Ravelry group set up by Sahara Briscoe is “is a global platform to showcase the knitted and crocheted patterns of underrepresented designers of African Descent throughout the Diaspora, and to foster productive dialogues between crafters and designers.” Check it out.

Reni Eddo-Lodge’s fantastic book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race is not about knitting, but it gives vital context to conversations about inclusion and diversity.

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The Slow Wardrobe Podcast

Greetings, Comrades!

I’m just popping in to tell you about a video podcast put together by my friend Linda of The Slow Wardrobe (formerly Tall Yarns ‘n Tales). As long-term readers may know, I am a HUGE fan of the wonderful workwear produced by Linda and Andrea. I often use their Layercake range of pinnies, smocks and tabards when styling KNITSONIK stranded colourwork handknits and I love the flexible and accommodating shapes they use. Some years ago I interviewed Linda and Andrea for the KNITSONIK podcast. Linda has just launched a video podcast for The Slow Wardrobe and this time it was my turn to be interviewed. We met up last Friday to talk about colours, creativity, gradients, what we’re knitting now and some of the ways in which we like to pair sewn garments with handknits. We talk for a while before launching into a joyous dressing up session involving ALL THE LAYERCAKE and ALL THE HANDKNITS. If you want to join us in this fun for an hour or so, you can do so via the video below.

When I first launched the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook four years ago, Linda generously invited me to join her on her stand at Harrogate at the Knitting & Stitching Show. Tomorrow I’m joining Linda again at the wonderful Yarnporium event organised by Yarn In The City. Linda has copies of all my books on her stand and I’ll be there from around midday. If you’re coming too, please do stop by to say hello.

I’ll be there wearing Layercake and Polkamania!
See you there?

YOURS IN ALL THE LAYERCAKE,
XF

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Polkamania!

Earlier this year when I launched the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook I had this idea that I could knit everything from the book again, sharing the progress of my work as I went and showing how each of the patterns might be adapted. This idea slowed to a glacial pace when my psoriatic arthritis got so much worse back in the spring. I still had the desire to adapt my patterns… I just had to take things a bit slower (boo).

One of my ideas was to show how Bricken might look worked in an alternative, fingering weight yarn. With this plan in mind, at Edinburgh Yarn Festival I picked up all the greys and all the oranges in the Knit By Numbers range produced by John Arbon. This is a rare thing – a worsted spun merino yarn that has not been superwash treated. The result is a soft, smooth, gently lustrous buttery yarn that has good squooshiness, but also still feels like something that’s come from a sheep. I thought it would be ideal for a cowl.

I also loved how many of the colours in my beloved Reading bricks are reflected in the soft peachy oranges and grey brown colourways of Knit By Numbers. These shades appear here in quite a different way from how they are represented in the wondrous palette of Jamieson & Smith 2ply Jumper Weight, but many of the colours are there… and I’m interested in how many different colour interpretations you can have, in yarn, of a single inspiration source.

With a view to re-knitting Bricken, I cast on in Knit By Numbers only to immediately discover that I had no real enthusiasm to make the same project twice.

The thing is that the original Bricken cowl is a true representation of many actual brick walls in Reading. It contains moments of looking at walls, photographing bricks, analysing their colours, finding matches in the J&S Jumper Weight Yarn range and knitting them, section by section.

It’s like a minimalist, modular representation of details from the walls of the town in which I live. When I created the colouring book that goes with the main book, I asked Nic to lay out the colouring pages for Bricken to aid a similar creative process; there are 2 pages laid out with sections for you to colour in, each of which can be used to celebrate a particular wall that you love, and to plan the shades in which you’ll knit it.

This process of recording places was enthralling and as much a reward of the project as the end result itself. Attempting to replicate the same cowl in a different yarn range held no appeal without the joy of the search for new brick colour combinations. However, the lovely yarns in their brickish shades still sang from my knitting basket and I knew there was still a cowl – and a joyous creative process – tucked up in their cosy plies.

My aforementioned arthritis found me pouring a lot of my creative energy this year into getting well; managing my small business with extremely painful hands and very low energy; finding ingenious ways to do things with malfunctioning thumbs (hurrah for pliers and living aids!); and having a lot of extra medical administration to manage. My bullet journal played a key role in helping me to keep track of All These Things, but I also used its pages as a place to lift my spirits and console myself. Very few things are more useful in this regard than joyous POLKA DOTS.

Dots provide an endless source of pleasure and fascination. The Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, expresses the power of the polka dot beautifully in her autobiography, Infinity Net:

My desire was to predict and measure the infinity of the unbounded universe, from my own position within it, with dots – an accumulation of particles forming the negative spaces in the net… One polka dot: a single particle among billions. I issued a manifesto stating that everything – myself, others, the entire universe – would be obliterated by white nets of nothingness connecting astronomical accumulations of dots… And the spell of the dots and the mesh enfolded me in a magical curtain of mysterious, invisible power.

One day an artist who had found success in Paris and become renowned around the world called at my studio. This ebullient Frenchman, a savvy self-promoter who had gained and maintained popular success thanks to his agility at leaping from trend to trend, seemed to live only to win all the awards he could get his hands on. He berated me. ‘Yayoi! Look outside yourself! Don’t you want to listen to Beethoven or Mozart? Why don’t you read Kant and Hegel? There’s so much greatness out there! How can you repeat these meaningless exercises, day and night, for years? It’s a waste of time!’

But I was under the spell of the polka dot nets. Bring on Picasso, bring on Matisse, bring on anybody! I would stand up to them all with a single polka dot. That was the way I saw it, and I had no ears to listen. I was betting everything on this and raising my revolutionary banner against all of history.

I don’t create anything on the scale of Yayoi Kusama’s magnificent, dazzling, polka dot artworks. But much of what she says here – about dots; about personal conviction; about an inner power; and about her resistance to Patriarchal ideals of artistic greatness – resonates. Dots are a kind of language for me too… a language of self expression and chromatic invention; of self-defining my disability and its representation. When I used a walking stick in my early twenties, it was a polka dot cosy that made it feel like my stick.

I realised that maybe my creative process with Knit By Numbers could be an investigation of different combinations of dots and backgrounds. The playful way in which I might lay red and white or grey or black or translucent or big or small dotted washi tapes beside or over one another on a page might surely become something to do in my knitting, too, no?

YES!

Revitalised, I went back to my delicious yarns. Knit By Numbers offers unprecedented opportunities to explore hue (colour) and value (dark/light) in your knitting; the yarn is made by blending dyed wool tops with successive amounts of white wool, producing colour ranges that move from saturated intensity to delicate pastels. Stranded colourwork is all about the interplay between hue and value, so I decided to sequence my yarns in ways that would give me a really rich sampler of possibilities… orange and grey explored from dark, through light… from high contrast to low contrast. Instead of a search for interesting brick walls in my city, this would be an introspective journey through dots and colour possibilities. I cast on again, taking the large dotty motif from Polka Dots & Dolls as my starting point, and then letting the glorious shades of Knit By Numbers yarns show me the rest of the way.

I knit on through the summer, each section of the new cowl revealing different combinations of orange with grey brown, and different levels of contrast between background and pattern yarns. It was a reflective and happy adventure, recorded in my bullet journal – of course – with dots. Thinking again of Yayoi Kusama and of her fantastic artwork – Obliteration Room – I decided to record progress on the polka dot cowl with a dot shaped sticker, stuck on a dedicated page, each time I knit on it.

It’s an easily memorised stitch pattern and a fairly portable project, so I took it everywhere and worked until it was complete. The result is a wide, soft cowl that travels from light to dark through two of my favourite colours. On Sunday, Mark and I went out to my favourite park to take photos of the cowl against the bricks which, long ago, were part of its design story.

It is, as predicted, warm and massive and snuggly, and I love it.

I learnt a lot about hue and value while knitting my polka dots, and the process has deepened my love of spotty patterns. All this has – as you know – inspired the production of some special knitted, dotty washi tape, and there’s a pattern coming soon. If you have a copy of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook you can probably work out your own version by combining the charts from Polka Dots & Dolls with the idea of Bricken. However, if you want a nicely laid out pattern that’s ready to go with no maths for you to do, plus a tutorial section on sequencing your yarn shades, there is one in the pipeline which is currently being tech-edited.

Looking for a name for my new cowl pattern, I found the term Polkamania which was used to describe the immense popularity of the polka dance when folk first discovered it. Polka dots are thought to be so-named because of the prevalence of spot pattern fabrics or dotty motifs in costumes worn to dances. The title Polkamania! perfectly summarises my love for the humble dot. It also points to the shared sense of repetition and rhythm that define both music and knitting; and it celebrates how every section in this cowl is like a rhythmic set of steps worked between yarn shade partners.

Stay tuned if you’d like to knit one; I’ll let everyone know when the pattern is out so that the joy of colours, of dots, of Polkamania! can be shared!

Until then –
YOURS IN ALL THE DOTS (and thanks to Mark Stanley for capturing so much joy and mischief in these amazing photos),
FX

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KNITSONIK is making washi tape

I have written here before about my deep appreciation for printed washi tape but today I want to say more, and to tell you about the new line of KNITSONIK washi tapes that I am currently producing.

First, a bit about washi tape. The word ‘washi’ comes from wa meaning ‘Japanese’ and shi meaning ‘paper’ so ‘washi tape’ means paper tape of the sort popularised by, and originating from, Japan. Washi tape is low-tack paper tape. It often features incredibly decorative and colourful designs, and is traditionally made using natural fibers from the bark of the gampi tree, a mitsumata shrub, or paper mulberry. It is generally biodegradable and non-toxic, and has a huge variety of applications from decorating objects…

…to enhancing gift-wrapping and correspondence.

However, my favourite uses of washi tape are all bullet journal related. I am an intensely visual and playful person, and I find that theming pages and projects in my bullet journal really helps me to keep track of all the different ideas running in my head at any one time. When I was working on the KNITSONK Stranded Colourwork Playbook, I found it helpful and motivational to use different washi-tapes to theme particular work days. I collected different washi tapes (mostly through Etsy) and used them to mark out different pages and projects.

I fold washi tape over the edge of pages that contain charts; this was invaluable when I needed to produce those charts for the printed books. The pages are indexed but, when I need to find the original idea, it is always quicker to simply flick to the pages edged with pink and white washi tape to locate the roughly drawn pencil charts that are my starting point for all KNITSONIK designs.

Washi tape also features in the layout of pages where particular ideas are taking shape. So when I was thinking about my Tarmac Tuesdays chapter, I used this washi tape…

…and for Polka Dots & Dolls, I used these.

There is a lovely correlation between the richly patterned and highly colourful worlds of KNITSONIK designs and washi tape. Viewed from a distance, stranded colourwork designs have the same tiny and pleasing complexity as washi tape. Thematically, I love how washi tape – like KNITSONIK designs – can be a very small celebration of everyday things.

Like bricks…

…and Tarmac…

…and Dandelions…

…and Polka Dots…

…and Bunting…

…and Cherry Blossom.

I use washi tapes in my bullet journal and around my home to feed and inspire designs, and also to affirm what I am working on. I loved that during a phase when I was designing cherry blossom motifs, I could add bits of this idea to notes sent to friends and to pages where the ideas were developing in my bullet journal. And that when I sent out the copies of the book to Tarmac Tuesdays contributors, I was able to add little bits of tarmac celebration to our correspondence. In these ways, washi tape acts as a sort of conduit or shorthand for ideas I’m working on. It’s a visual note-taking format that’s shareable and playful, and it criss-crosses the surfaces of my home, my work and my bullet journals.

The history of washi tape is one of art and creativity. The Internet legend goes that in 2006, the Japanese company Kamoi Kakoshi – a Japanese manufacturer of adhesive papers – were contacted by 3 women from Tokyo*. These women had been using the factory’s industrially produced tapes to make their own artists’ books, and wanted the company to produce more colourful tapes for them to use. Intrigued by this surprising repurposing of their products, Kamoi Kakoshi invited the women to visit their factory. This creative visit inspired the development of a new and original category of tape: MT brand washi tape: colorful tape that is easy to tear by hand and that can be repositioned on nearly any surface. MT stands for “Masking Tape” and this subdivision of Kamoi Kakoshi is the brand that launched the explosion in tapes of this type. Fast forward to 2018 and washi tape is now produced not only in Japan but throughout Asia, where the raw materials used – and the expertise and infrastructure for processing them – are well established. My washi tape collection was made in Taiwan, in Korea, in China, in Hong Kong, and in Japan.

One of my favourite things about visiting Japan in 2017 was meeting artists – many of whom had their own signature washi tape. We bought several tapes of this sort as special mementos of our trip and, of course, I started to imagine what an amazing extra level of joy it would be to design my own washi tapes and to share my designs, along with tips of how they might be used to organise and manage knitting projects in a bullet journal.

After much searching, I found a company based in Hong Kong who work with artists like me. I’m working with them to bring you KNITSONIK washi tape designs. I have one design in stock (and only a few rolls of it) but there are more designs coming in the next few weeks, and I’m working with the factory to develop a cardboard wrapper rather than having the rolls shipped in shrink-wrapped plastic. The washi tape is made of grain shell and corn bran with a non-toxic adhesive. The first batch is shrink-wrapped in plastic to protect it, but subsequent batches will come in cardboard boxes without plastic wrapping.

As some of you who follow me on instagram will know, I have been working on a polka dot cowl design which uses the dots motif from the large size of my Polka Dots & Dolls design. I used a combination of dot stickers and polka dot washi tapes to manage the pages in my bullet journal where I was working on this design.

I decided to celebrate the original knitted dots from the Playbook in washi tape.

These rolls are currently for sale in the KNITSONIK shop but I’ll be adding more as soon as they arrive! I would love to hear in the comments how you use washi tape. I love the original spirit in which washi tape was originally conceived, and feel as though that spirit lives on in the amazing ways that comrades employ washi tape for creative projects. Please tell me how you like to use washi tape – I’d love to know.

More soon – until now,
YOURS IN WASHI TAPE,
FX

*if anyone has any further information on who these women are, or any clues about the original artworks made with Kamoi Kakoshi industrial tape, I would absolutely love to see them! I’ve found several versions of the story of the history of washi tape, but it would be truly wonderful to learn more about the women whose creativity gave rise to this awesome phenomenon!

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The Joy of Color (AKA The Joy of Janine)

If you’ve been following KNITSONIK for a while, you’ll know that earlier this year I went to the USA. I stayed with my friend Janine in California, and then we travelled together to Wisconsin to Knitting Camp. I loved every single moment of this magical adventure but today I want to talk specifically about staying with Janine Bajus AKA The Feral Knitter.

Janine is every bit the angel of colour that this image suggests, and she has a magical ability to translate almost anything into glorious, shimmering knitwear. She lives in Berkeley, and the home she shares with her family is a colourful, nurturing paradise filled with wool, projects and books. A lush Santa Rosa plum tree presides over the garden and in its shade grow dye plants which Janine uses in her textile projects. Janine’s home is infused with an atmosphere of creativity and curiosity; there are beautiful things everywhere and I loved staying there.

One of the things I miss most of all about being in full time art education is seeing other people’s creative workspaces. Glimpsing other people’s desks and wall-spaces was one of the best bits about being enrolled in an arts department. I get a fantastic kick out of seeing what other artists collect; watching fellow creatives’ projects-in-progress; and perceiving how peers are solving problems and evolving ideas. In art school I adored the creative ferment of group sessions. The frank discussions we used to have about our work are what I miss most of all. Nowadays I work almost entirely alone at home but I get the same feeling enjoyed during my former art-student life when I spend time in the workspaces of fellow creative practitioners. Staying with Janine was a feast on this score. It was fascinating and inspiring on every level to see how she brings her stranded colourwork garments from concept through to fruition.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the little booklets she creates for herself for each design she knits; staying in the same room as her vast and wide-ranging library; and exploring her precious piles of knitting – a practical, living archive of stranded colourwork theory and practice.

Translating everyday inspirations into stranded colourwork is a rather niche area within knitting and it just blew me away to see the unique way in which Janine approaches what is also my passion. I will treasure forever the memory of pulling all Janine’s work out of the shelves and onto the bed, and hearing her speak about the details and memories of each one.

Janine seems to turn everything into sweaters (and hats and shawls and vests but mostly sweaters). These are breathtaking sweaters that glow and glisten in the light. Every evening when I was falling asleep in Janine’s craft room I would peep at the folded wonderment. I was desperate to haul all the sweaters out and see them in all their glory, and I know you will want to see them, too.

…Shall we?

This is the first sweater Janine ever designed. It’s called Dragon Fly Vest and is a stylised and spare celebration of one of Janine’s favourite watery landscape. I just love how those bands of greens, golds and blues suggest the strata of water, land and flora.

Her Acorn Sweater has a much more autumnal palette, based on a photo of curry spices! The sweater was devised for John – Janine’s lovely husband – and the photo helped them to settle on a palette that John would like to wear and that Janine would like to knit. It’s so clever, because John wanted a brown sweater. As per the brief, the sweater does certainly – from a distance – give a brown impression…

…but, when examined closely, you can see many other colours sitting around and speaking to that central hue.

Janine’s Rainforest Vest also has a sort of brownish tint when regarded as whole…

…yet when you peep more deeply into the fabric, you can see there are glorious purples and golds in there as well.

THAT PURPLE! My heart.

I love how Janine’s endless creativity is not limited to experimenting with colour; she’s also fascinated by shapes. Her sweater collection contains many differently shaped garments and is full of sartorial ideas about how to wear stranded colourwork. I really love the neat silhouette of this tee with its unfussy dark edges and understated, moody palette…

…and this glorious jacket, which draws its inspiration (in part) from Japanese sashiko stitch dictionaries. Janine designed it with princess seaming and waist shaping “to wear with black pants when going into the city.”

Yellow Island is a gloriously wearable cardigan with a cosy marled shawl collar and sleeve edgings; it’s exactly the kind of cardigan you want for chilly autumnal days and I love all its details from its palette to its chunky edges, and to the innovative treatment Janine has given the raglan shaping around the shoulders and the side seams.

Janine’s attention to detail and experimentation with construction seem to spring from the same curiosity that informs her amazing approach to colour. “Why does everything have to have corrugated ribbing” she shrugged as I commented on an especially lovely sleeve cuff on one of her designs. After hearing her say this, I could see her working the question over in all of her designs.

Why not finish a neckline like this one, in Janine’s Sea & Sand sweater?

Why not place a detailed pattern band around the bottom of your cardigan, creating a facing to stabilise the fabric?

Why feel compelled to stick to corrugated ribbing for sleeve openings when you could finish them like this instead?

Janine’s work just takes my breath away. I can’t stop showing you photos of it.

I mean… just look at that. It’s a vest inspired by a storm in New Mexico, and I think the colours are so amazing, really speaking to that moody, threatening quality of the sky when it is both the colour of a bruise, and lit golden from within. It’s perfect.

And who can argue with the magnificent exuberance of Starburst Shawl with its bold, oversized motifs, and radiant palette, inspired by a photo (taken by Meg Swansen) of magic lillies?

I mean…

…WOW.

Seeing these garments in Janine’s home was very special to me. I only have a bad photo of this, but my abiding memory is of Janine ensconced in her knitting chair either knitting, laughing, or commenting on the news via Twitter and her iPad. When I think about Janine, it is this that I picture, and it’s a magical thing because it’s from this space that all this incredible knitting has ultimately come.

Sadly not everyone can have the same opportunity as me to spend time with this wonderful woman in her glorious palace of dreams! But, having been lucky enough to have had such an experience, I can really see how much of herself Janine has poured into her magnificent tome, The Joy of Color.

I really appreciate how she and her designer Kate Godfrey have worked together to create a layout that reflects Janine’s magpie-like approach to design. The images of workbooks, of swatches, of little pieces of torn paper taken from here and there are friendly and inspiring, and reflect the way Janine collects and organises resources. The book feels friendly, too, and is – like its author – incredibly encouraging, and chock full of bit-sized nuggets of wisdom.

In life and in print, Janine is extremely generous with her knowledge, and shares the stories of her creative process with candour and wit. I loved reading The Joy of Color when it first came out, because it was full of glimpses into a creative process parallel to, but not the same as, my own. It made me see topics with which I am really familiar in fresh and different ways and from a different perspective… from Janine’s perspective.

When I went to stay with Janine, we had only met the one time. But I had an idea it would be wonderful, because when I read the following passage in her book, it made me cry (in a good way) and I knew I had found a kindred spirit:

Wear your sweater whenever you can – don’t save it for special occasions. Let it become your signature in the world, a quiet symbol of intelligence, skill, persistence, and the power of individual beauty in an over-commodified world.

Revel in its warmth, privately thanking the thousands of people who helped you bring your vision to life: the shepherds, the veterinarians, the fence builders, the shearers, the mill workers, the truck drivers, the dyers, the label printers, the shop owners, the teachers, the needle makers, the book publishers, the designers, the editors, your knitting friends – in the deepest sense your sweater is an expression of your place in an interconnected web spanning time and place whose strands are too numerous to name.

– Janine Bajus, The Joy of Color

All of which is a very long preamble to the announcement that I am now stocking Janine’s book in my online shop. I am extremely excited about this as the book is one I truly believe in.

The Joy of Color contains instructions and templates for a cap, a tam, fingerless mitts and a scarf, but it’s not exactly a book of patterns… rather, it is a book of process stories and enabling colourwork knowledge. There is also a genius – nay, Janinius – method for speed swatching shading sequences that I think all lovers of stranded colourwork design will find inordinately useful to learn. The stories shared throughout this book include the process behind each of Janine’s sweaters, as well as those made by some of the many students who have enjoyed her renowned classes. The goal of making beautiful knitwear from the things you love runs through the book like a golden seam, the case-studies continually reassuring that it’s an achievable one. As in Janine’s creative practice, the book is rich with variety, curiosity and, like Janine herself, JOY. I feel very lucky to have been able to sit down with Janine and knit and, having had that experience, can say with total confidence that reading her book is the next best thing.

Like Janine, the book is supportive; inspiring; colourful and full of wonderful ideas, and it will make you want to knit All The Things. I have thought for a long time that The Joy of Color and the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook are natural friends, and it’s really wonderful to be able to say that Janine and I are, too. I’m so thrilled to bring her book to the UK because I just know that you will love her knitting as much as I do.

Yours in THE JOY OF JANINE,
XF

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Bullet Journaling

Some of you may know from instagram that I keep a bullet journal. I don’t rigidly follow The Official Bullet Journalling System, but I do love finding ways to structure ideas and to keep track of projects in a notebook. When I was much younger, I used to keep amazing, elaborate sketchpads which documented all my artistic ideas; as I took on more complex projects, sketchpads gave way to notebooks with long “to-do” lists in them. I am a very practical person – you simply cannot get creative ideas off the ground if you are not – and I heartily love a good list. But my imagination, sense of play, mischief and fun also really benefit from my having a colourful and expressive space in which to record and test out my ideas. The bullet-journal is a perfect amalgamation of practical task-management space and flexible play-space. Today I thought I’d ramble through some of my bullet-journals with you, sharing some of the pages, and reflecting on the different ways in which I use bullet journals to organise myself.

I really love using the Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks best of all. I like that the blankish pages provide just enough structure for me to organise my thoughts. I can use the dots to support the creation of knitting charts formed in a grid system, or lists written out in a more linear way.

The dots are faint enough that I can also sketch freely on the pages if required. I like that if I don’t do anything in the book for a few days, I have not – unlike with a monthly planner that allocates space to specific days and dates – wasted any paper. There will be a lack of continuity in the dates, but I just pick up exactly where I left off. I like that there is an index so that when I need to know where my recipes for deodorant or face cream or Brenda’s rice salad are, I can easily find the appropriate pages. I use washi-tape tags atop the relevant pages too, so they can be immediately and visually identified by their tag, as well as by the page number.

This is just one of the fun/practical ways in which I really enjoy adorning my bullet-journals with all manner of washi-tape and stickers – indeed some of you may have seen my efforts to get #maximumwashitapeandstickers trending on instagram whenever I share pages from my bullet journals there!

I manage projects, chores and healthcare alongside each other in my bullet journal, and because it has everything in it, it’s always with me. This total life/work conflation really suits how I work and think, and it gives me a space in which to see ALL THE THINGS moving along together.

However, for me, the Bullet Journal is not just about getting things done: it’s also become the self-care tool par excellence. As long term readers will have gathered, my psoriatic arthritis got much, much worse in 2017. I marked the change with a renewed commitment to my own health. Every month from March 2017 onwards begins with a bullet journal tracker full of daily health reminders. Across the top of each self-care tracker I put the days of the month, and down the side I put things like “go to bed at a reasonable time” “drink enough water” “walk at least 6,000 steps” etc. I review and modify the list of self-care things at the end of every month and each night I sit down to colour in the squares corresponding to the self-care things I managed that day; if I didn’t do the thing, I don’t colour in the square. I love these abstract records of self-care. Sorry the photos are a bit blurry, these are really personal and I wanted to share the gist of what I do without sharing the actual details of my self care with The Internet!!! I love that these visual records look a bit like knitting charts, and that they are a sort of homemade lofi data visualisation. I like how the practice of colouring in each square has given me pause each night – for over a year and a half now – to think about ways in which to better help myself and to care for my body with psoriatic arthritis.

I love that these trackers make visible the invisible work of self-care.

Each tracker is beautifully decorated with stickers and washi-tape from Japan – from the amazing Honeymoon Mark and I took there at the start of 2017 – framing my intentions in love and happy memories…

…and these wondrous stickers poking out of the top of the tracker pages help me to find them instantly when I pick up the journal. Over time, friends have come to know of my stationery love, and so stickers and washi tape from them have made their ways into my pages. I love this Sakura washi tape from my friend Kate, and these beautiful autumn leaves from my friend Yumi.

I really, really like using my bullet journal in this way as a tool for managing all the things I do connected with disability and wellbeing. If any of you have long term health conditions you will know it’s like an unpaid part-time job to keep up with things like monthly blood-tests, weekly injections, managing fatigue and side-effects, keeping on top of supplements and prescription medication, lining up appointments with the appropriate professionals, and making sure the basics – sleep, diet, exercise – are properly in place. My bullet journal has become a place to manage this stuff in an incredibly fun and colourful way. The trackers have really helped me to develop good habits, but they are also a joyous visual reminder of resilience and how creativity can be used as a practical tool for uplift and self-management. For me, they are also about one of the most important aspects of having a disability, which is about authoring and managing your condition in your own way, in your own terms, in your own flavour. My disability management style is #maximumwashitapeandstickers.

It is hard to express just how much joy I got out of a gradient pen that enabled me to make gorgeously graded self-care trackers throughout this summer – what an endless surprise to see the colours mixing and shifting across the pages of my self-care.

In March 2017 I taught at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, Shetland Wool Week, and at Stephen & Penelope in Amsterdam; I worked on a sound-map for the Museum of English Rural Life, exploring Reading’s town/country identity through its soundscapes; and I continued work on the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook. Charts and pattern notes, yarn-weights and book-production to-do lists dominate the pages of my bullet journals around the times of those projects.

With the help of friends and guest contributors, and under the wise guidance of my amazing comrade in Wool, Louise Scollay, we produced Wovember 2017 with a focus on woolness: where wellness meets wool. I also began a new project with the MERL combining knitting and sound to explore some of the objects in their collection that relate to shepherding. I love looking back and seeing how each project begins life in my bullet journals, and I love how adaptive the pages are to what each project required.

As I turn towards a busy and exciting winter full of projects, I am experimenting with new systems for managing my projects; with new ways of playing with plans and lists and of recording processes and progress… it’s a really exciting time both in my work and in my bullet journal, and looking back at my stack of books so far has given me loads of ideas for new pages and practices to try. I hope you have enjoyed this short tour of my bullet journalling practice, too.

The KNITSONIK System is about celebrating the everyday through creativity in our knitting and, to me, it makes loads of sense to see the weeks, months and to-do-lists of life happening next to charts and notes on chapters. I really dislike the notion that art is some sort of rare process that happens in a hallowed and mysterious place and prefer to see it all jumbled up next to shopping lists, addresses for posting wholesale orders, and reminders to go to bed at a sensible time. To me, those connections between our creativity and our daily lives are the very things that make creativity so special and I love how the Bullet Journal provides a context in which to play with those ideas.

In coming weeks I’d like to share more about Bullet Journalling, and how daily life/creativity and KNITSONIK knitting can be managed in the pages of your very own Bullet Journal, and here’s where I’d really like your input; is there anything you struggle with when it comes to planning and managing your knitting or your life, or anything you’d especially like me to cover in forthcoming weeks? I’d love to hear your thoughts on planning and managing knitting in the context of All The Things that all need doing in all our lives, and whether there are things – like the self-care trackers – that I do in my Bullet Journalling practice that may be of use to you.

Let me know in the comments!
YOURS IN BULLET JOURNALLING,
XF

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Shetland Wool Week Bunting

Earlier this year I got an exciting message from my friend Caroline Simpson to say that the Maakin’ and Yakkin’ group at Anderson High School had commenced a school-wide bunting project using Liz’s pattern from my second book. Because of the way my health has been this year I wasn’t going to go to Shetland Wool Week. However, as soon as I saw Caroline’s glorious flag, I knew Liz and I needed to get to Shetland to see the finished project.

Caroline’s Biology Department Flag

We left for Shetland last Wednesday. On Thursday morning we got to meet some of the amazing knitters who have worked on this special bunting. We were both completely blown away to see their stunning work. So fun! So colourful! So glorious!

Knitters and Knitting!

When Liz originally wrote the KNITSONIK Bunting pattern, it was for mine and Mark’s Wedding. Liz created the pattern and sent it to all our knitting friends. The original KNITSONIK bunting spoke to ideas of community, love, and friendship… and it’s come to every class I’ve taught ever since.

The Wedding Bunting!

We reprised the idea of collective joy and celebration for the Tarmac Tuesdays themed Bunting created for the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook, and we hoped that other groups of knitters would use the pattern for other community projects.

Tarmac Tuesdays bunting from the Playbook
Welcome to Anderson High School

However, when we talked about putting Liz’s bunting pattern out into the world, I don’t think either of us imagined anything quite as impressive, inclusive and fun as the flags knitted for the opening ceremony of Shetland Wool Week by the knitters of Anderson High School.

Look at these amazing flags!

Every element of School life is celebrated in the bunting. Each department has a flag…

Music by Rebecca
Business studies by Violet
Home Economics by Sara
Chemistry by Marion Yeaman
Art + Design by Donna
Languages by Marion Ockendon
History by Nancy
Computer Studies
Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies
Maths
Physics with intarsia prism

…But other aspects of school life are also celebrated.

Pupil Support
The Maakin’ and Yakkin’ group flag by Caroline
The School Canteen flag by Sara
Support For Learning
Lab Technicians and Safety by Sara

There are also some special flags designed by Nancy which celebrate the iconic hats designed by Wool Week Patrons since Hazel Tindall started the trend in 2014. Nancy used Deborah Gray’s handy 2-flags-at-a-time technique to produce pairs of flags, each of which bears a Wool Week hat design on one flag and traditional peerie motifs on the other.

Shwook flag using Hazel Tindall’s glorious hat motif
Baable-hat flag incorporating Donna Smith’s wondrous sheepy hat design
Ella Gordon’s fantastic Crofthoose Hat motif, adapted to include Anderson High School (the big yellow building top right!)
Gudrun Johnston’s magnificent Bousta Beanie design
Elizabeth Johnston’s superb Mirrie Dancers Toorie in flag form

Isn’t it fantastic to see Shetland Wool Week flags hanging side by side with flags celebrating Physics, the School Canteen, Pupil Support and Maths? And to see traditional Shetland motifs worked in the distinctive greys and oranges of the new Anderson High School interior?

Traditional motifs in Anderson High School palette
Anderson…
…High…
…School!

Liz and I were so inspired that we each contributed a flag of our own. Our flags drew palettes and motifs from the grellow school crest that decorates the floor inside the shiny new building.

Dö Weel and Persevere – the Anderson High School motto
Viking ship, wave and torch motifs inspired by the school crest
Liz’s flag (left) my flag (right) and the AHS crest
The bunting in the foyer of the school

As well as being a fantastic expression of collective creativity, this wonderful bunting speaks to the determined way in which Shetlanders are keeping knitting alive in schools. Following a decision made in 2010, knitting is no longer officially taught in Shetland schools. However, initiatives like the Maakin’ and Yakkin’ group set up by Caroline Simpson and the Shetland Peerie Makkers established by the Brough Lodge Trust are ensuring that knitting skills are passed on to younger generations in Shetland. The fantastic bunting hanging in the foyer of the school celebrates these skills as a rich part of school life as do the informal knitting sessions held at Anderson High. I wish I’d be able to stay in Shetland long enough to attend the special “Tak your sock” night hosted there this Wednesday as part of Shetland Wool Week.

Nancy, Caroline and Sara with the bunting!

It was really something to be able to go to the Opening Ceremony for Wool Week in the prestigious new school building, and to see so many knitters from all over the world gathering together to celebrate and learn from the incredible textile traditions of Shetland. Caroline took this photo from the balcony, looking down at the crowd; the photographer was trying to get a picture of us all and asked us all to put our phones away. People’s phones were out because they were looking up towards the bunting and trying to take its photo. No wonder, really; it looks amazing. I wish I’d been able to get some better pictures of it myself!

Wool Weekers at the Opening Ceremony

It was really inspiring to have the opening ceremony in the school; people like me come to Shetland for Wool Week to learn from the talented wool workers of the islands and to celebrate the rich knitting culture. Whether or not it’s officially part of the curriculum, knitting remains at the heart of learning, exchange, and knowledge in Shetland and I’ve never seen a better expression of that than the superb bunting made by Anderson High School.

A closeup of one of the sections of the bunting

The bunting will be there at the Makers Market tomorrow if you are still in Shetland and would like to see it, and apparently Nancy has taken some proper pictures of each of the flags which you may be able to see soon if you check on the AHS Maakin’ and Yakkin’ blog. If you’re up at the school tomorrow, do stop to look at the glorious flags – all 55 of them – knitted by Anderson High School. And if you see Caroline there, please give her a massive hug from me. She is the force of life, enthusiasm and fun that made this bunting happen and I think she’s amazing.

Caroline Simpson – the organisational force behind the AHS bunting!

The most exciting thing about my work always involves seeing what other people make using the techniques, patterns and ideas from my books; it’s my favourite thing ever when other people join in. I love celebrating daily life in stranded colourwork, and I love how Liz’s genius bunting pattern has given people a framework within which to play with the KNITSONIK System. It’s been just magic to see what Anderson High School have done with these ideas. From the janitors’ Henry Hoover to the designs on the dinners ladies’ breeks to the bunsen burners in the chemistry lab to the shiny new school crest to the sports hall, all the textures of school life are celebrated here in technicolour glory. You could spend all day looking at it (I nearly did on Friday when it was being put up). The bunting is a thing of joy; I feel really honoured that the school used the pattern from my book in this way and am thrilled Liz and I got to see what they made for ourselves.

YOURS IN ALL THE JOY OF BUNTING,
Felix XXX

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Sourcebook: Fourth Print Run

This morning I pressed GO on the fourth print run of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. I have always had relatively small print runs in order to manage the storage space required for distributing books myself, and the financial risk involved in stumping up for lots of printed materials all at once. Still: it feels pretty exciting to me to be ordering another whole fresh batch of books and pretty amazing to think of all those books already out in the world, on people’s bookshelves, and – happiest of all – stashed in folks’ knitting baskets along with needles and yarn.

I’ll freely admit that when I started my Kickstarter Campaign back in 2014, I genuinely thought I’d print a couple of thousand books, send copies to all the Kickstarter backers, sell enough books to pay myself for my time, and move on to The Next Big Thing. I never imagined that I’d still be working with this book four years later, nor that the ideas I put into it would have become so central to my life.

In the course of writing the Sourcebook I discovered that teaching my ideas is one of my greatest passions; that translating everyday inspirations into stranded colourwork is my vocation; and that I had another whole book inside me – the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook – just waiting to come out. I still get all the feels and have been known to cry when I meet people at knitting events who say “I backed your Kickstarter” because you – yes, you – genuinely changed my life.

I now spend a couple of days a week organising stock and managing fulfilment for orders and wholesale. The rest of my time is spent working on new knitting patterns and projects, trying to get back to regular podcasting, and working on sound art commissions and projects. Since 2015 I’ve been experiencing a massive arthritis flare up that has hugely infringed on my capacity for all my work. The impact of disability and arthritis on my hopes and dreams has been rough and I don’t want to get into it here but let’s just say that through this whole time I have felt incredibly lucky to have been able to support myself and to grow my little business largely through book sales.

All of this is awesome, but do you know what is even awesomer? Seeing what people do with my ideas once they are out and in the world. I wanted to celebrate ordering the fourth print run of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook by sharing some of the amazing things people have been making based on the ideas in my books. Thank you Lucy, Jane, Julia and Marshall for permission to share your gorgeous knitting here and for finding such inventive and magnificent ways to put the KNITSONIK system to work. Readers: please shower these amazing projects with hearts over on Ravelry!

First up, how beautiful is this inventive, commemorative phone cosy created by Lucy Kershaw? Lucy designed and knitted this after coming to one of my workshops earlier this year at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and I love her attention to detail in picking out a palette by looking carefully at the tiles and how ingeniously she has adapted their intricate patterning for the medium of stranded colourwork. Gorgeous.

Chart was designed from some tiles in a restaurant we were at in Paris earlier this year.

– Lucy Kershaw

I’m always amazed at the many different ways in which people put my ideas to work. Lucy’s beautiful swatch shows her thought process in designing her whole phone cosy herself, but it’s equally inspiring to see how a completely unique piece of knitting can be created through adapting and reworking the charts provided in my books.

In this magnificent project Jane Monk has modified my Cherry Blossom motif by reworking the palette to reflect her chosen inspiration source and combining it with her own rosehip and leaf inspired charts. The results are stunning and she had the brilliant idea to work two swatches at once, then have them framed. Jane’s mum received one copy of this beautiful knitterly exploration for Mother’s Day, while Jane kept the other for reference. Isn’t that a lovely way to share knitterly inspiration and adventures?

I’m blown away by how Jane’s adaptations have transformed my Cherry Blossom motif (from the Playbook) so that it is, indeed, a glorious blossoming of Wild Roses in her work.

Jane’s mellow palette and inclusion of pinks and greens is gorgeous and there is something both restful and diligent about her swatches. From using up stash in unexpected ways, to the glorious charts and notes on the Ravelry project page, to the lovely framing of the end result, everything speaks to carefulness and an appreciation of process. In our correspondence Jane says she found this a really absorbing knit, and I think you can see that in what she’s knitted.

My first attempt at a Knitsonik style swatch, inspired by rose bushes on my walk by the river.

– Jane Monk

A different sort of adaptation (and one I really love as we draw into Autumn) is Julia Walker’s combination of my Hops Legwarmers pattern (from the Sourcebook) with the charts from the “My Street” inspired edition of KNITSONIK Fingerless Mitts. I *love* seeing these charts transposed to legwarmers, and the clever ways in which Julia has tinkered with the motifs to fit in more bricks and weeds than could ever have fitted onto a pair of mitts. Shade 2 – the toasty warm grey that makes up the ribbing here – is one of my all time favourite shades of Jamieson & Smith 2-ply Jumper Weight. The proportions are a bit different for legwarmers than for mitts and I feel that shade really gets to shine with the extra space afforded by a larger stitch count.

Julia Walker has some helpful notes on her Ravelry project page about wearing a completed legwarmer as motivation to finish its partner (second legwarmer syndrome perhaps?) and a comment that really celebrates the relationship between the knitted project, its real life inspiration source, and the joy of wearing your Finished Objects amongst the very things that inspired their creation. How perfect is it, too, that Julia’s legwarmers also match the plumage of those chickens in the background? I swear the big grey one has some shade 2 in its feathers!

I put the finished legwarmer on for motivation today and and seem to have worked through my obstruction. I’m hoping to finish them soon, as the dandelions are currently in full bloom.

– Julia Walker

Finally, another special project I’ve really enjoyed seeing recently which utilises the KNITSONIK System to great effect is Marshall Dozier’s spectacular stranded colourwork vest, knitted for the Nature’s Shades Along organised by my dear comrade in wool, Louise Scollay.

Marshall Dozier’s vest embodies the sort of inventiveness that can often result from a tight deadline, a competitive context, and some creative limitations. Louise’s brilliantly thought out Nature’s Shades Along included the following rules: cast on in July; finish by August; project must be wearable; and project must utilise undyed, unbleached wool. The vest is a triumphant response to these guidelines and makes superb use of the creative potentials (and restrictions) of Jamieson & Smith’s fantastic Shetland Supreme Jumper Weight yarn range which is created entirely from different natural shades of Shetland wool. As well as satisfying the criteria for Nature’s Shades Along, Marshall’s vest also speaks to the broader spirit of Louise’s clever KAL in that it specifically celebrates the versatility and creative potential of natural, sheepy shades. The whole gallery for the Nature’s Shades Along is really inspiring and I recommend some happy time spent scrolling for ideas on just how many different ways we knitters can use natural shades of wool!

I just love seeing how Marshall used them to translate graphic elements from the world to produce an adapted version of Ysolda Teague’s Bruntsfield vest pattern. Here are some amazing collages by Marshall that reveal how each motif was designed.

There’s something so joyous and vibrant about Marshall’s whole project and the magpie-like way in which charts have been derived from buildings; an old portrait gallery; and door handles and chairs. What a fresh appraisal of the possibilities for knitwear design presented both by a super sheepy palette, and overlooked architectural details. I’ll freely admit that I dislike this sort of chair – uncomfortable! Always feels flimsy to sit on and somehow cuts into the sides of my thighs! But next time I encounter such a chair, I will forget these things and see instead their interesting shape immortalised in Shetland Black.

The subtle use of greys in the background to make the ball like shapes “glow” in knitting as in this lighting is perfect!

Just look how those “beads” of white knitting pop and glow on their banded grey background.

Elsewhere in the vest, the repurposing of portraits feels pleasingly subversive.

I’m rather pleased by transformation of “dead white dudes” to smudges.

– Marshall Dozier

I’ve really enjoyed charting the progress of this project on Twitter, and how the urban landscape with its details will now forever be bound up in my mind with the lovely Shetland names of the yarns in the Supreme Jumper Weight range: Mooskit, Shaela, Moorit, Shetland Black, Gaulmogot, Sholmit, Katmollet, Yuglet… I think it’s such a super project, and how it cross-pollinates with ideas of celebrating daily life AND celebrating nature’s shades, in knitting.

Each of these projects speak to the ingenuity of its maker. From translating the world into stranded colourwork motifs for a phone cosy, to adapting charts for the purposes of celebrating a favourite flower, to mixing and matching different KNITSONIK patterns and motifs, to exploring the possibilities of a limited, sheepy palette and the shapes and patterns of the built environment, KNITSONIK readers are exercising creativity in wonderfully varied ways. I love, too, how all these projects solve problems in daily life on some level. The problems of what to do if you keep losing your protective phone cosy, what to do with finished swatches, and how to overcome second legwarmer syndrome are all solved here alongside the more abstract problems associated with turning the rich 3D world into things to knit and wear.

Seeing my ideas acting as a springboard for so much knitterly innovation is an enormous privilege and something for which I feel grateful every day; projects like these are why I wrote the Sourcebook in the first place. I am happy beyond words to have found such resonance in a community of knitters who, like me, also seem to enjoy the possibilities afforded by embracing everyday life as the subject for our knitting. I feel like I have found my home amongst you all.

Here’s to the fourth print run of the Sourcebook and to my amazing, talented readers. I can’t wait to see what you make next!
YOURS IN TRANSLATING EVERYDAY INSPIRATIONS INTO STRANDED COLOURWORK,
FX

Credits
Many thanks to Lucy Kershaw, Jane Monk, Julia Walker and Marshall Dozier for kind permission to share your gorgeous work here; photos all © their creators apart from the wondrous legwarmers + chickens photo, which was taken by Fenn Martin.

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Self-care, self-employment, and Magical Minibreaks…

I sometimes find that working from home means I’m never quite “at home” and never quite “off work”. When in peak physical condition and feeling my absolute best, I really enjoy this situation and can be found bustling around the house, smashing through a to-do list like a champ and doing nice life maintenance tasks in and around work activities. But this year has been a little different; my hands are sore and my energy and mood are really low… I really don’t have the spoons to crack on with everything in the way I’d like to. Currently, when working, I can see all the housework that needs doing and, when houseworking, I feel bad because I can see the creative work I’m neglecting. I love what I do and am lucky beyond measure to be able to focus on KNITSONIK as my full-time vocation; I truly wouldn’t want to do anything else and am thrilled that this is where I get to focus my creative energy. However, for me the discussion about how wonderful it is to be self-employed and following our dreams etc. is sometimes mismatched with the realities of being self employed and disabled. Speaking for myself, there are some significant gaps in my knowledge regarding how to make self-employment include good and positive self-care. I feel like if I was employed by someone else, I would want them to make the workplace accessible for a disabled employee like me, and also to create a nurturing and positive environment to actively encourage my participation and confidence. However, as my own boss, I’m not sure I get this right all the time.

It feels scary and difficult to talk about this publically, but in thinking about how to make KNITSONIK LTD. a more nurturing and sustainable place to work, I have been really inspired by Jen Gotch – founder of ban.do – who is refreshingly honest about managing a massively successful company and her mental health. I also love Allison Sadler – who, together with her husband Christian Sadler – founded The People Shop. Allison Sadler really shows the highs and lows and freedoms of running your own business, but she never does it in a way that makes you forget she’s a person with a whole life outside of work. Her instagram makes me so hopeful, inspired and happy. I love the realness with which both Jen Gotch and Allison Sadler talk about self care and self-employment… and the inspiring and truthful ways in which they negotiate between what they need as human beings with what they need to do for work.

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Two years ago (left) I was sitting in a meeting at work trying to be a strong leader, while internalizing a great deal of pain and carrying the burden of emotion turmoil, years of stress on my brain and body, and a myriad of mental health issues that I was ignoring and discounting. My marriage was over, my life was drastically changing and I felt disconnected from my work, my friends, my family and myself. My body was a foreign object and my heart was packed up in a shoe box under a pile of old video tapes in the attic. And even with this intense disconnection to myself my body somehow managed to literally erupt in tears, right in the middle of a marketing meeting. Proof of life, I guess, and a blatant reminder of the work I desperately needed to do. Two years later (right) I am on the other side of so much pain. I have done the work to get here, moved through the pain instead of burying or circumventing it and skipped out on a shitload of McDonald’s French fries in order to feel healthier. My body looks different. My skin, my face, my extremely long hair 😜. And you’ve seen that. You’ve even noticed a change in my mental state and all of that recognition has fueled me. Tank you! Now I’m working on my spirit and it is the most empowering thing I have done and I’m incredibly grateful to have that opportunity. Today my body erupted in tears of joy and gratitude and I let it wash over me in the same way I let my pain do so long ago. That’s all. Just wanted to share and give hope and remind you that we all have the potential to change and grow at any age and any time. Have a good weekend.

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This is a woman who gives zero f*cks about what society says she should be doing and instead does exactly what she wants to be doing 99% of the time. I’ll give the meagre 1% to the food shopping. We gotta go to the supermarket to buy the gin right?… Everything in life is set up for us to follow a pattern. When you should work, when you should holiday, when you should buy a home, when you should start a family, when you should sleep… sheesh even what time you should wake up in the morning! Ffs! One formula does not suit everyone. And it sure has hell has never suited me. I swear I’m allergic to routine and the rat race of regular living. It makes me feel suffocated if I try to do it. So basically I don’t. I decided a long long time ago, actually .. it was never a decision I had to make .. to just let myself be and this was the outcome. So here I am, after a couple of weeks of hustling, back in my favourite place having another holiday… We all have the power to decide how we want to live, so take that 🖕🏽 society. You can put your rules and restraints in the bin. If you’ve fallen into the trap of following that ‘outdated’ formula it’s never too late to break free. Be brave my friends, you can do it x x x P. S this is also a woman who does not like to waste a drop of deliciously chilled rosé! 😆

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For work right now, I’m feeling like I need to be here at home all the time, cracking on with ten million projects… but for myself, I need to break up the scenery a little bit so it’s not all being at work but not being at home, all the time. I thought some of my reflections might resonate with fellow comrades who are also self-employed and managing long term chronic illnesses or disabilities. For me the main things to focus on right now are boundarying the time I spend on administration and fulfilment so that there is time to work on the creative side of my business; making sure I support my body and mind properly; doing what I can to not be in the house and therefore at work ALL THE TIME; and putting plans in place so that much-needed time off occurs. Thinking through things on here helps, even though I find it hard to write about this stuff and feel conditioned by toxic capitalist business culture to never show any weakness, any sense that I don’t know what I’m doing, or the slightest whiff of vulnerability. Nevertheless, I shall plough on.

Social media and having a phone with work stuff built into it are part of the problem. I have been putting some careful boundaries in place around my phone usage (I love you, OFFTIME app) but Magical Minibreaks and seeing people in real life and not only ONLINE are essential. I loved my break in the US so much. It made me realise how the always-at-work-never-at-home feeling can be shifted by a simple change of scene, even when what I am doing, while away, involves some work. Last week I went to North Devon – a destination I cannot recommend highly enough – for one such Magical Minibreak.

For the drive, I was accompanied by the amazing chapters of Jes Baker’s recently published book, Landwhale. This book is an essential companion to any mood of self care; in it, Jes talks about body image and body liberation in terms that are funny, moving, poignant and utterly real. It’s opened up an amazing space in my head for rethinking everything I thought I knew about diet culture and my body size and – just like its author – it’s beautiful, ranty and unapologetic. The miles of my drive disappeared into a haze of new insights about fatness and joy. Hurrah for Jes – if you are interested in her work, I recommend this TEDx Talk as a starting point.

First on my list of joyful things to do in Devon was a date with my friend Nic and The Ocean. Is there anything nicer than swimming in the sea? We bobbed around in the water off Minehead, which was about the temperature of a tepid bath, for an hour or so. Then we had chips, which tasted amazing because swimming makes everything extra delicious.

I’m an enthusiastic but unskilled swimmer and I have a lot of fun in the sea, but not too much confidence. I found that a pair of prescription goggles were game-changing for me. From leaving the car in my bathing suit to jumping into the water, I could see everything. This was enormously empowering and if you are a short-sighted swimmer I feel these will change your life. It’s just so nice to be able to properly see your surroundings and I love how the water supports my sore body and how easy it is to move while in it. Regular swimming sessions must be established. And I have to give a shout out to my fellow disabled business owner, Kate Davies, for giving me the prompt I needed in this direction with her amazing account of swimming in the lochs where she lives.

Hurrah for swimming!

Next, there were stones I wanted to see.

My number one activity for filling the creative well is taking close-cropped photos on my SLR camera, using a prime lens, of things like lichen, flowers, bricks… I was so happy to play on Porlock beach with Nic, Russell and Maisie the dog, filling up an SD card with rocks…

The next day included a mill tour with John Arbon and my friends Anna and Adam. I’m currently knitting with John Arbon’s Knit by Numbers range (more of which in a future post) and am in love with the chromatic possibilities that it presents.

Each Knit By Numbers colour range is made by blending a Falklands merino base that is dyed a very saturated shade, with successive proportions of white merino fibres. This is what enables a mathematically precise gradient to be achieved through each different hue. This kind of gradient is magical for exploring values and patterns in stranded colourwork and I’m enjoying a new direction of thought for my knitting… KNITSONIK By Numbers, if you will. I always love to have more connection with where my yarns come from, and it was superb to meet all the machines in the mill (they all have wonderful names) and to hear John talking about the processes of combing and blending through which different yarns are produced. I recorded all the sounds for future KNITSONIK purposes and thoroughly enjoyed the enthusiasm and joy with which John told us how yarns are made in his mill.

After the tour, social fun was had at a legendary local pub – The Rising Sun. The night ended with a delicious pie (thank you Juliet) and some old records from John’s incredible vinyl collection. A pot of tea primed me for the road home, on which I was again accompanied by the amazing words of Jes Baker.

It was so good to get away… and good to return home, too. I’m learning that rest, research and development trips are vital. While my business is home-based, I think more Magical Minibreaks like the North Devon adventure are needed; I felt like I did do some good work while I was away, but it was a really nice change from the home office and paced with joyful things like swimming and talking in real life to friends.

Magical Minibreaks are one way to make sure that working from home all the time doesn’t send me into a spiral of mess-induced depression; daily walks are another vital element to the working day. While I have this much going on with my health – monthly blood tests, regular doctor appointments, vitamins regimes, weekly and fortnightly injections, medication side-effect management and other time-consuming health admin – I find I need fun things to make the work easier. Nice stationery helps (hello washi-tape) and I am very much drawn to both bullet journalling (which lets me include both self care and self employment tasks into my scheduling) and the colour pink.

If you’ve made it this far, well done and thanks for reading. I’m interested to hear from other folks who are self-employed and disabled, and who work from home: how do you balance self-care with self-employment and how’s it working out for you? I’d be really interested to hear… I don’t know if it was listening to Jes Baker, drinking in the fresh sea air, the bright colours of Porlock beach, the superb company or the glorious tones of Knit By Numbers, but I’m feeling totally done with my own internalised ableism and the toxic capitalist culture that says that when we are talking about running our businesses, we should only talk about our bulletproof success. I’m here for the ways in which we can lift each other up, make businesses that really support our disabled bodies, and change the culture into one that celebrates interdependence and humanity.

FOR NOW, FEELING LUCKY AND JOYOUS,
YOURS IN STONES, FRIENDSHIPS, SWIMMING IN THE OCEAN AND KNIT BY NUMBERS,
FX

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Chapter 5: Efflorescent

If you follow me on instagram you’ll know I’ve not been feeling amazing recently. I decided to start this week with a multicoloured post of joy, celebrating flowers in stranded colourwork; I just can’t see how a week that starts out like that can fail. I hope you are in the mood for an image-heavy post filled with photos of flowers!

As well as starting off the week with maximum flowery amazingness, this post concludes our tour of the projects in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook, as I’m going to talk about the knitting pattern in the last chapter of the book: Efflorescent. The name of this shawl means something that is blossoming… I feel this really fits its floral content as well as describing how it grows on your needles as you knit it from the short edge outwards to its fullest point.

A generously sized semi-circular cape-like shawl, Efflorescent provides a lovely big canvas over which several iterations of a single flower can be worked, celebrating – in knitting – how light and shade play on the petals of real flowers.

Six case studies are given in the book: Cherry Blossom, Dandelion and Lobelia are shown with knitted samples worked by me, Tom van Deijnen and Judith Daykin…

…while the other colourways detailed in the book – Tulip, Scabious and Snakeshead Fritillary – are presented as ready-to-knit charts, along with my workings, my swatches, and artistic impressions of how the fabric of each one might look, once knitted.

I devised the chapter to speak to two things often heard in my workshops: ‘I want to knit from my favourite flower but don’t know where to start’ and ‘I love that design… but those really aren’t my colours’. When planning my book, I felt the rich, polychromatic world of flowers would provide an ideal context in which to explore these conundrums and that, across the selection of flowers, I could cover a rich mix of different yarn palettes and flower shapes to speak to different knitterly persuasions and aesthetics. In my experience of working from flowers in my knitting, I’ve found that a tall chart is helpful as this provides lots of space for different colour richness and variance to be celebrated. Thinking about a garment that might provide some such suitable canvas, I kept returning to Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Pi Shawl and wondering whether it might be adapted to accommodate stranded colourwork charts. In Elizabeth’s original, whenever the diameter of the shawl doubles, an increase round is worked in which the stitch count is doubled, too. I thought this architecture would provide large sections where the colourwork patterns could just repeat on top of one another without having to incorporate any increases. Tom was concerned that the different stitch architecture of stranded colourwork would not have the same flexibility as the open lace with which Elizabeth originally designed her Pi Shawl and, after talking things through with him, I worked out a way to distribute increases more evenly throughout the shawl. Working increase rounds more often prevents the motifs from bunching together or becoming distorted by sudden rounds of drastic increasing. Tension is dispersed throughout the fabric while the construction still allows for working nice big sections where colourwork can happen, undisturbed by changing stitch counts or the need to incorporate increases. The construction breaks the knitting up into something that feels pleasingly modular, too. While knitting my Cherry Blossom Efflorescent I was continually spurred on by the prospect of ‘just knitting to the next set of yarn-overs…’.

After creating a knitterly canvas on which to explore a floral theme, I wanted to demonstrate its versatility and to explore how motifs and palettes might be varied to produce shawls that would speak to the individual preferences of their wearers. The Efflorescent chapter of the book contains a discussion between myself and my friend Judith in which we discuss our very different approaches to colour, and tools are provided to further your adventures in the form of black and white charts (in the complementary digital copy of the book that accompanies each print book) and in the KNITSONIK Playbook Colouring Companion, which invites you to imagine each motif in as many different colourways as your pencil collection will allow.

The Lobelia Efflorescent that Judith knitted for the book was built around her preference for cool and jewel tones, and styled to fit her own unique fashion aesthetic. My Cherry Blossom Efflorescent grew out of my love affair with the pinks and blues of cherry blossoms against spring skies; and the Dandelion Efflorescent that Tom knit for the book is full of greens, greys and yellows that speak to my appreciation for Dandelions as an everyday expression of resilience and ordinary, often overlooked, beauty.

When talking about the best way to photograph the shawls for the book, my super talented brother Ferg had the idea to use bold, coloured paper backgrounds to underscore the central themes of colour and to accentuate our styling decisions for our different outfits. I love, love, love the big blocks of colour provided by these backdrops!

…however, we also managed to take some pictures in one of my favourite spots in Reading; the roof garden at RISC, on top of the building where our local knitting group – Sticks ‘n’ Strings – have met most Tuesdays for almost a decade. This garden is a beautiful example of an edible urban garden, boasting Japanese Wineberries; Mulberries; a Medlar tree and all sorts of other glorious things, nestled quietly into the skyline of our town… I think our Efflorescent shawls look particularly radiant in this green and leafy setting and I just love the pictures Ferg took.

However to me there is an additional pleasure to be found in photographing the shawls near their sources of inspiration. I confess that even after the book had been sent to press, a part of me just couldn’t wait for the spring and a chance to bring my Cherry Blossom Efflorescent back to the trees that had inspired its luscious colours.

The Efflorescent chapter of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook is a practical workshop on producing your own stranded colourwork from flowers; but it’s also an exploration of the idea of different knitters’ colour preferences and sensibilities and a giant celebration of blooms and blossoms in daily life. I love the different look of all the shawls made for the Playbook and the feelings of friendship and support stitched into the amazing samples that Judith and Tom made. Thank you so much for your magic, friendship and skill. I feel it whenever I am showing the samples to anyone, and still smile when I think of how Judith sent me WhatsApp photos of her potted Lobelias while updating me on the progress of her knitting. These projects bloomed on our needles all of last summer and the weather right now is making me think of that time – of that season of stitching.

Most of all I hope that what we have knitted will inspire you to find ways to cover your shoulders in blooms and blossoms that lift your spirit and bring you some of the same cheer that we can get from the flowers.

YOURS IN PETALS AND JOY,
XF

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