Under the Himalayan White Pine

The KNITSONIK System emerged, in part, out of my continually picking things up, or being in places, and thinking I WANT TO KNIT THIS… but then having no clear way to action that vague, common impulse. My Sourcebook is full of strategies for tuning my wish into reality, and for ploughing through what can sometimes seem the insurmountable gap between being inspired and knitting a thing.

A few months ago I found something under a tree in The Harris Garden which instantly made me think I WANT TO KNIT THIS.

Large woody pinecone from the Himalayan White Pine

A pinecone, large and comely, and possessed of an elegant geometry.

Closeup of pinecone and shapely spines

Its shapes instantly reminded me of the motif for the Skystone Armwarmers I had just finished designing for Arnall-Culliford Knitwear’s Boost Your Knitting Programme & Publication.

Geometric knitting motifs for Skystone Armwarmers

Knowing a KAL would be integral to the launch of this pattern, I filed the pinecone under INSPIRATION. It meandered around our shelves and tables, winking at us with its glorious warm brown blush and resinous patina, and I wondered which shades I might use.

The more I looked at it, the more tones and hues I saw.

Different shades of brown, FC44, FC58 and 4 in the J&S yarn range read from left to right

As the KAL drew nearer, I toyed with various palettes but eventually settled on FC44, FC58 and 4 for the browns in the background which are respectively goldish, purplish and softish browns.

Pinecone pictured beside paler shades of yarn sequenced from top to bottom, 202, 2, 61, FC45 and 32

Then for the pattern, to speak to how the light hits the sticky pinecone spines, I chose 202, 2, 61, FC45 and 32 which I’d describe as cool cream, warm brown, milky coffee, caramel and cinnamon brown.

These colours have been comforting to knit and the connection between the pinecone and the restorative pleasures of walking in the Harris Garden drew me back there a couple of weekends ago to share my knitting with its inspiration source and to learn more about the tree that made the pinecone.

Himalayan White Pine

It’s a Himalayan White Pine. it is tall and lovely.

Looking up into the branches of the Himalayan White Pine

Himalayan White Pine needles

You can make tea from its needles;

Himalayan White Pine Needle Tea

you can make incense from the dried, resinous pinecones;

incense bowl with resinous pine cone smoking in it

you can sit underneath it and knit.

Felix sitting underneath the Himalayaln White Pine and knitting

Knitting needles and yarns on the forest floor underneath the pine tree

The whole experience of knitting from the tree, reading about the tree and studying the fruits of the tree sent me down a rabbit-hole of ALL THINGS PINE.

Pinecone rubber stamp and Pinecone armwarmers

While knitting my Skystone Armwarmers, I decided to split-splice my ends together as I went, rather than weave them all in at the end. Various techniques exist, but I like to run a needle-tip through an inch or so of each of the yarns I wish to join, separating the two plies. I then lay the four plies of yarn side by side in the palm of my hand, spritz them with water, then roll vigorously between my palms until they are felted together. I have a tiny aluminium bottle for spritzing while I splice to which I had the idea to add a few drops of pine and cedar essential oils. This made my knitting smell nice while I worked on it, but it also kept bringing me back to the joy of the tree that had inspired it.

Skystone armwarmers in pinecone colourway

It’s been so amazing to be part of this KAL and to find all the different ways in which other comrades are inspired to turn everyday life into stranded colourwork. There’s a great post mentioning some of the different projects here on the Arnall-Culliford blog and the projects on Ravelry offer a real feast of colours.

There is so much colour and joy in the KAL thread, that I was inspired to produce a special playlist dedicated to exploring the theme of colours in sounds, songs and soundart – subscribers to my newsletter will hear more about that in coming days.

For now, I’ve been working on a more forest-themed playlist. Knitting my pinecone into a pair of armwarmers has deepened my appreciation for the Himalayan White Pine, and given these cooler August days a soft brown edge – a whisper – of autumn.

YOURS IN PINECONES AND ARMWARMERS,
Fx

Pinecone Armwarmers, incense, prints and glove blockers

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Skystone Armwarmers

Do you know about Boost Your Knitting? It’s an empowering and thoughtful knitting programme devised and co-ordinated by my friends at Arnall-Culliford Knitwear.

Boost Your Knitting is a year of techniques taught through monthly knitalongs; video tutorials; and a specially-curated set of patterns by different designers. It will culminate in the publication of a printed book later in the year. Knitting the designs results in accessories that are warm to wear, yet which also offer manageable routes into learning new techniques. I love that all the patterns produced for Boost Your Knitting are intentionally conceived as markers of process and learning: such projects are my very favourite to knit, wear, and design. For all these reasons, I was thrilled when Jen and Jim asked me to be part of their project last autumn. Yesterday, my design – Skystone Armwarmers was revealed.

So, what technique does my design – Skystone Armwarmers – explore?

This project is about choosing colours for stranded colourwork. I wanted to produce a pattern with an adaptable motif, which could be knit in different colours to suggest a wide range of different inspiration sources. In knitting stranded colourwork from daily life, I continuously come up against things which could be loosely described as ‘surfaces with differently-coloured “bits” in them’. A bowl of salad; pebbles in a riverbed; spatterings of lichen on a tree; a jar full of odd buttons; a posy of flowers… Rather than reinventing the wheel and trying to invent a new motif every time I encounter such an inspiration source, I thought it might be useful to devise one motif suggestive of differently-sized “bits”, the palette for which could be modified to convey a variety of inspiring contexts. Once I had come up with the motif, my job for the tutorial section of Boost Your Knitting was to provide a simple framework for putting colours together. In developing the pattern and tutorial, my hope is to offer a more tightly-contained and bite-size entry point into the concepts, ideas and processes on which my KNITSONIK books and classes are based.

I developed the designs and colourways for the samples which appear in Boost Your Knitting based on bits of cloud over a darkening sky spotted last autumn in our beloved park…

…and on differently-coloured stones spotted on Porlock Beach.

The process of how I picked the colours for each of these designs is explained in the video below, which I made with Jen and Jim some months back. It’s about half an hour long so it’s worth getting a tea or coffee ahead of sitting down to watch, but I hope that it will help you with what I know is a continuous source of angst for many knitters: choosing colours for stranded colourwork.

If you feel inspired by all this to cast on some stranded colourwork you are very welcome to join the KAL that’s taking place in the AC Knitwear Ravelry group this month. Many folk will be knitting Skystone Armwarmers, but this is not compulsory. If you want to knit with us, you can join in with any stranded colourwork pattern/yarn combination of your choice – just use the free video tutorial to help you pick your yarn shades.

Here are the KAL details copied across from the AC Knitwear group:

Prizes
AC Knitwear will be awarding the following prizes, chosen at random from eligible entries, at the end of the knitalong month:

  • A £20 voucher for use in the AC Knitwear online shop
  • Three prizes of a single pattern download from the KNITSONIK Ravelry store

Rules
In order to be eligible for a prize you need to…

  • Be a member of the Arnall-Culliford Knitwear Ravelry group
  • Post a photo of your work in progress in the KAL thread
  • Tag your project page on Ravelry with BoostYourKnitting
  • You need to choose colours for stranded colourwork, but it doesn’t have to be for the Skystone Armwarmers pattern
  • Works in progress are fine as long as there is a sensible amount of work remaining
  • You don’t need to complete your project within the month – it’s the taking part that counts. 🙂

Aims
AC Knitwear aim for knitalongs to be as inclusive as possible. You are welcome in our knitalongs regardless of race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, size, ability, financial circumstances, language, or where you are from. We will not tolerate any form of hate speech, whether intentional or not. We are working on the ways in which our business can be more inclusive and have better representation of all knitters. We are continuing to work on this behind the scenes, but we also welcome being informed if we miss something that goes against this aim. You can contact us via our website here.

I’m really excited about this project and have massively valued the opportunity to reframe what I do with everyday inspirations and stranded colourwork to fit the format of Boost Your Knitting. It’s really nice to see the pattern laid out in the clear, crisp format of the other designs in the collection, and great to be able to play with other stranded colourwork knitters this month in the AC Knitwear forum.

I’ll be joining in with a pair of Pinecone Armwarmers, based on this beautiful pinecone that I found in the Harris Gardens, here in Reading.

I’m still reviewing my selection of browns and – as per the video we made – using black and white photos to help understand the values of the different shades I’ve chosen.

Thanks to Jen and Jim for inviting me to be part of Boost Your Knitting – BRING ON THE TULIPS AND PINECONES, I SAY!
YOURS IN CHOOSING COLOURS,
FX

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The richly-patterned world of Sarina Mantle

I am so happy to have found the work of the artist Sarina Mantle and have spent quite a lot of time colouring illustrations from her amazing book, Women + Patterns + Plants, in recent weeks. Her drawings offer a lot of joy; they centre women in uplifting, glorious contexts, surrounded by flowers and leaves. I think her work is amazing.

Finding Sarina’s creative practice – vibrantly documented through her colourful instagram feed – has rekindled nostalgia in me for the formative 1990s in my own life. This was a joyous time for me, largely focused on anti-road protesting, and full of a rich, earth-based spirituality. I was obsessed with the idea of the sacred feminine, and Sarina Mantle’s work has reminded me of that. Exploring her work – mostly through the joy of colouring in – has also expanded my perspective on patterns.

In KNITSONIK knitting, I think about patterns all the time – but I think about patterns in terms of knitted fabric; pattern repeats; symbolic motifs that form a personal syntax or library: I think about patterns as part of hand-knitting and knitwear design. But Sarina Mantle’s work open new windows onto how we might contemplate patterns more broadly, beyond our knitting.

Sarina Mantle’s colouring book – Women + Patterns + Plants – also speaks tenderly to how patterns and colours can be related to our self-care. I wrote to Sarina to ask if she might do an interview about her work and happily, she’s agreed! To coincide with publishing this Q&A, I’ve also put together a playlist on Mixcloud. This mix features some of Sarina Mantle’s music, and has been produced as a sonic accompaniment to your colouring in adventures. Our Q&A is presented below, with images taken from the KNITSONIK archive and from Sarina’s instagram feed, for context. I really hope you enjoy this exploration of Women + Patterns + Plants – it’s quite a long one, so fetch up a tea and get comfy before you dig in.

FF: Your book reminds me slightly of artists like Monica Sjöö, or some of the writings of Alice Walker, which celebrate a kind of earth-based spirituality, and which suggest magical connections between women and plants. Could you share some of the artists and writers who have been an influence for your practice?

SM: One of my favourite artists is Frida Kahlo; I’ve seen her original works in her home Coyoacan (now turned into a museum in Mexico), also in Italy at the Scuderie del Quirinale, and in London at the V&A. Every time I’m in close proximity of her work my breath is taken away. She celebrates flora and fauna in her work in such a mystical & enchanting way. I also love so many poets; recent favourites include Warsan Shire, Nayyirah Waheed, Alex Elle, Liza Garza & Rupi Kaur.

I love strong women and powerful affirmations for healing.

FF: In knitting, the pattern and rhythm of an overall design come through repeating motifs many times, over hand-knitted fabric.

I make a chart, I knit the design, and as it is repeated, it takes on a sort of rhythmic form.

Could you describe some of your own creative processes with developing patterns in other mediums like print, paint and drawing?

SM: One of my favourite creative processes of developing patterns is my 100 days challenges where I do block-printed patterns every day exploring freethinking, non-attachment, fluidity and connection to a divine energy or source.

This process is about a flowing energy which lets the design become by itself and I don’t control or criticise the outcome, it just is. I make my blocks and use mark-making materials which form varied and unusual textures. I love the rhythmic form of endlessness, and tapping into the cosmic and ancient. I feel patterns are a connection to this unseen geometrical grid we live in and are made of.

FF: The first plant I ever drew was a spider-plant; I was about seven years old and that’s probably the first time I consciously drew stripes – one of the most basic and universal elements of design. Do you have a memory of the first time you drew a plant, and do you know when you started to think of plants as having a sort of underlying structure from which patterns might be developed?

SM: One of my early memories of drawing something which made me realise how complex and astounding we are as humans was my hands.

My secondary school art project in the first year was still life’s and drawing the lines on our palms. This kind of detailed study of still objects inspired my interest in looking at things in detail. I drew plants at school and I remember seeing deeply into the leaf’s pattern.

Plant consciousness really opened itself to me when I learnt more about the connection of mankind and plants through sacred geometry, Fibonacci sequence, flower of life, tree of life and so on… I saw balance, order, infinities… I traveled to South America and facilitated a pattern cutting workshop with Shipibo plant medicine people of the land; healers who are master painters and embroiderers. This was a huge turning point in my own awareness that plants hold much knowledge in ancient cultures. I realised that flora and fauna are frequently found in textiles globally across all cultures as if they all tap into, or flow out of, the same consciousness.

FF: As well as having beautiful illustrations to colour, your book features poems and prompts for the colouring book owner to fill in. How do you hope people will use these prompts?

SM: An example is my mother. She was the first to fill in the prompts. She made time for herself to reflect on her feelings, slow down, and put herself first, and it really touched me seeing my mum write down her feelings in my colouring book like that.

FF: One of my biggest hopes for carrying Women + Patterns + Plants in my online shop is that it will give fans of the KNITSONIK system more tools for thinking about, and developing, patterns for knitted designs to create and wear.

What do you think it means for us to wear patterns which celebrate our connections with our everyday lives? I mean, beyond decoration, do you think patterns perform a deeper function?

SM: I originally come from a fashion design background and love the construction of garments and hand-making textiles; this background sowed the seeds for my deep fascination for ancient culture textiles & patterns. I learnt that there is intention behind certain designs; that they can have deep meanings and cultural importance. I learnt that certain shapes and/or colours can be symbolic, ritualistic, ceremonial; that they can serve as identifiers of being from a certain community; that patterns can express individuality and also status. In daily life I feel patterns serve the same or similar function for me as a deep reminder that I am connected to an infinite source.

FF: I feel special connections to several plants: spider plants (for the reason mentioned above); dandelions (because they are so resilient and will grow anywhere, and because the whimsical timing of a “dandelion clock” reminds me of when my own body is slowed by illness); and cherry blossoms (because they are incredibly beautiful and the way they are celebrated in Japan during cherry blossom season is amazing and makes me want to be better at celebrating and thanking every season).

Do you have any special plants to which you are particularly drawn, and could you say why?

SM: I did a workshop in Mexico 2018 in an area called Oaxaca and we did a workshop based around our Uteruses and 28 day cycles. We were asked to visualise flowers on our womb; I loved visualising this part of myself with sacred flowers… that was powerful for me.

I love Aloe for its healing properties; I also love Hibiscus – it grows all over the island of St Lucia, where my mum was born.

I love cacti; they remind me of strength and protection and South American landscapes;

I love birds of paradise – they remind me of my aunty’s garden in St Lucia because she grows them in her back yard. I deeply love the lotus as a symbol of awakening and spiritual growth and yagé for her healing and wisdom, also.

I love sunflowers and orchids too… they simply make me smile.

FF: I love that your book blurs boundaries across places, plants and people, with patterning appearing across all those different contexts. Like the woman who is wearing stripy trousers, kneeling on patterned tiles, with a basket that has a patterned weave behind her, and then the plants forming a kind of rhythm around her. It’s so pattern-tastic! There’s a wonderful Shetland knitwear designer called Wilma Malcolmson who once said to me “we are always in colour” do you maybe feel we are always in pattern? To build on that question a little bit… can I ask, what do you end up taking photos of when you are out and about? I know loads of colour-obsessed knitters (including me) who take endless pictures of moss, rocks, lichens, for the colours… have you noticed any trends in what you document in photos, through your love of pattern?

SM: Yes I feel we are always in pattern, that we are pattern on a cellular level …. one of my favourite sayings is “everything is geometric, everything is vibration” the fact that we vibrate and are not as solid as we think makes me think of pattern. I research topics such as cymatics, Masaru Emoto research into human consciousness and the effect on the molecular structure of water and I love science and how it depicts aura, energy and so on.

Photos I take would be of tree bark, or layers of ripped billboard posters, speckles of paint split on street pavement, car tires on snow, a pile of autumn leaves… Anything which catches my eye and has a form of pattern.

FF: Same, same!

My favourite knitted motif I have ever designed is based on my digital sound recorder…

…it’s a motif based on the settings on the back of the recorder for stuff like “stereo mode” “high level sensitivity” etc. and how I always have those options set.

Just on a really mischievous level, I love that the visual pattern I produced from these settings really reflects the pattern of use and how I routinely use the recorder for documenting everyday sounds. Similarly, there are two levels of pattern in your colouring book – one that is the actual patterns to draw, but another deeper level which points to a pattern of use, and the idea that working through the book can be part of a daily ritual of self-care. Could you say a bit about rituals of self-care and where you feel this book fits in?

SM: I love this question, because self-care and the routine of self-care really taught me what it means to know unconditional love for yourself. No matter what we are going through in life, we can get to a point where we come back to ourselves and become present to how we feel. What we choose to do with how we feel can be very empowering. It can transform how we move, stand, speak, grow, feel… It can change our whole perspective on life, on how we want to be treated.

My ritual of self-care starts with meditation, breath-work and drawing.

My book really is about losing yourself in the meditation of simply being, in order to then tap into a kind of inner peace and creative consciousness. My drawings are a reminder to connect to nature which may lead to a stroll in the park or garden or perhaps wearing flowers in your hair or buying some flowers to arrange in your home.

FF: Could you tell us about other projects you have on and where people can find your work?

SM: I am a singer songwriter via my other Instagram @sarinaleah and I’m currently doing a monthly project where I create and produce music to a painting which is inspired by the energy of the sound. I’m also preparing for my first full solo painting exhibition on the 20th June and am very excited about this! All updates can be found via my Instagram, @wildsuga.

FF: Last question! If you had to pick just one design in the colouring book to form the basis of your ultimate dream woolly sweater, which one would it be? And why?

SM: I love meditation and women whose eyes are closed in deep reflection. I’d choose this as the basis for my ultimate woolly sweater, because it would be a reminder for me to connect to myself in this way and I’d wear the jumper while I meditated too, LOL! Magical.

Thank you so much to Sarina Mantle for agreeing to this interview and for taking such time and care with your answers. If you would like to buy a copy of Sarina Mantle’s amazing colouring book, Women + Patterns + Plants, you can do so here in the KNITSONIK online shop. You can also buy Sarina’s music from her bandcamp site here, and see more of her amazing original artwork here. Thank you again, Sarina, for doing this interview but also for your uplifting and celebratory arts practice.

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THE JOY OF DOTS: KAL winners announced!

I’ve enjoyed thinking about how DOTS can inspire us creatively for the last few posts on here… however, of course the *best* dots are the ones knitted by you. The POLKAMANIA! is a fairly big knitting commitment – it’s a lot of dots, and a lot of stranded colourwork. There are a few still in progress (cheer for those buddies!) but these are the cowls completed for the KAL deadline of 28th February.

01: Bev

Easy pattern to remember and lots of stonking colour. YAAAS! Just what I need right now!

Find Bev’s POLKAMANIA! project page here.

02: Mary Jo

This was a wonderful project – maybe not wonderful in its usefulness since I live in a climate which is almost always too warm to wear a cowl! – but so much fun. It was just a pleasure to sit down and work on it. There were revelations about how the color of the background affected the color of the dots – for instance on a warm red background the gray looks like blue. Definitely something to think about when planning Fair Isle projects.

Find Mary Jo’s POLKAMANIA! project page here.

03: Maylin

Need a happy project to get me through the winter months so this will certainly fit the bill. I may add a second darker background colour half-way, but for now, I’m just letting the Crazy Zauberball do its thing and having fun watching the dots change colours.

Find Maylin’s POLKAMANIA! project page here.

04: Muriel

Colours: aquamarine, geranium, Venetian,carmine, jasper, sugarsnap, poppy, iced, navy heather, vintage heather, robins egg and marlin.

Find Muriel’s POLKAMANIA! project page here.

05: Takako

Looking at the knitted fabric from a distance, the background color may appear to float.
The relationship between color combination and eye illusion is interesting.

Find Takako’s POLKAMANIA! project page here.

06: Vivienne

Colours from stash, inspired by the fabulous skies in Flash Gordon.

Find Vivienne’s POLKAMANIA! project page here.

These projects are all so beautiful. From the luminous tones of Takako’s cowl (which she PERFECTLY GRAFTED IN PATTERN) to the radiant, Flash-Gordon inspired palettes of Vivienne’s… to the spring-like petals of Muriel’s cowl to the mellow gradients of Maylin’s cowl… to the subtle colour play of hot and cold reds with different shades grey in Mary Jo’s cowl… to the bold, confident joy of Bev’s cowl… they’re all just brilliant: bright, playful and DOTTY.

Thank you SO MUCH for joining in with this adventure in dots, comrades!

Asking this random number-generator to pick numbers from these six completed projects has thrown up the following numbers: 02, 04, 01. If prizes are awarded in the same sequence as I wrote about them then CONGRATULATIONS – IN DOT SPACE will soon be on its way to Mary Jo; REACH FOR THE STARS will soon be on its way to Muriel; and THE CALMNESS OF DOTS will soon be on its way to Bev.

THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH FOR JOINING IN THIS ADVENTURE WITH ME,
YOURS IN DOTS FOR ALWAYS –
FX

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DOT PRIZE #3: THE CALMNESS OF DOTS

Concluding our dot-themed prize tour, I wanted to write about the wonderful use of calming blues throughout one of my favourite dot-themed publications: Making #3: Dots.

I have particularly happy associations with this magazine because I initially spotted it (haha!) at Loop in London, when I was meeting my sister-in-stranded-colourwork Janine Bajus for the first time. We’d agreed to meet there so that Janine and her friend Chris could see this yarny palace of dreams. When I saw this magazine (drawn INSTANTLY in by the word DOTS on the front cover) I flicked through and thought “this is absolutely lovely, but I’ll never have time to make any of these projects”. I left it there on the shelf.

But I kept thinking about it.

About those dotty projects in all those gorgeous shades of blue… the recipe including blueberries (how had I never conceived of blueberries as dots before?); the pebbles clad in crochet (why yes! pebbles ARE like dots…); the tiny, round pincushions dotted with stitches (and later to be dotted with pins…); the dots made of Yarn-Overs (so many ways to make dots and spots beyond stranded colourwork…); and the moon-themed bag with its singular dot of undyed white… there were just so many different and imaginative creative explorations of my favourite thing: dots. The sheer scope of what might be considered to fall within this theme, and the thoughtfully curated projects just kept popping into my mind. I ordered a copy.

As predicted, I’ve been a bit busy with my own stuff to make anything from it yet… however, this has not prevented me from stockpiling supplies to make some of the projects one day, and flicking through its quiet pages with their many tones of blue fills me with rare feelings of calm. I am keen to share all this with a fellow appreciator of dots and decided this magazine should form the main part of the final prize for the POLKAMANIA! KAL.

To accompany Making #3: Dots, I have included some stickers which are also dots, and which are also blue and white…

…I put these stickers in my bullet-journal to remind me to breathe, to look at the sky, to drink water, to pause for a few moments.

I’ve also included a set of Knit By Numbers 4-ply Mini-Skeins in a range of blues that reminds me of those found throughout the pages of this lovely magazine.

YOURS IN SPOTS AND PUDDLES OF CALMING BLUE,
MORE SOON –
FX

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DOT PRIZE #2: REACH FOR THE STARS

My plan for these posts about DOT-THEMED-PRIZES was always to explore the vast scope for creativity and reinvention that might be found by playing with dots. Yesterday I spoke about the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama who has really redefined what you can do with these seemingly simple shapes.

Today I’m following up with more thoughts on creative adventures in dotland. My quest for dot-themed prizes led me on all sorts of exciting online searches, one of which involved the discovery of the wonderful dot-themed stickers designed by Sophie of TigerFraeulein.

TigerFraeulein is a very small stationery business producing all sorts of amazing things for use in planners, sketchpads and bullet journals. However, I particularly love Sophie’s dot-themed stickers in which circles are used to encase a wide variety of themes.

Sophie makes watercolour dots, patterned dots, dots with nature scenes in them, dots with calm colours, dots with loud colours, and dots containing galaxies.

How could I not include some of these special sticky dots amongst the prizes for this KAL?

To complement these stickers and to add a knitterly dimension to them for a prize, I sought out yarns with a similar palette, eventually settling on these two contrasting skeins of Gytha Worsted Weight Yarn dyed by Lola Johnson of Third Vault Yarns.

The yarn-base Lola uses for Gytha is superwash-treated worsted-weight Falklands merino, spun by John Arbon… so a not too distant cousin of the John Arbon Knit By Numbers Yarn with which I designed POLKAMANIA! This is what Lola says about this yarn:

Gytha Worsted is named after a Nanny Ogg, from the Discworld Series. She is a loveable and much liked character, to all but her many daughters in law (which is said by many to be her only failing). This warm, welcoming, fully-figured mother and witch embodies this yarn. Its ridiculous softness and ability to take colour, along with its good wearing qualities, make it the perfect yarn for something next-to-the-skin-soft or to wrap you up in warmth as a jumper; it’s almost magical ;D. This superwash Falklands merino yarn is specially spun for Third Vault Yarns, it’s hand-sourced in the Falklands, treated and spun in the UK.

I love this description, and how Lola celebrates Nanny Ogg (secretly my favourite Discworld character) so appositely in yarn. To my mind, these two plump, contrasting skeins in the moody blue-purples of Locs and the soft grellow tones of Charcoal Ash go perfectly with Sophie’s spotty stickers.

There’s also something really pleasing about combining galaxies and stars in stickers with the magical, mythical worlds that inspire Lola’s colourways and the book/yarn clubs that she runs through Third Vault Yarns: there really can be universes in our knitting. And who can argue with the lovely connections between the smudgy watercolour dot stickers, and the painterly quality of hand-dyed yarn?

Along with creating her delicious colourways or rather, as part of that creative practice, Lola runs book clubs in which richly-dyed yarns are released along with details of the science fiction that inspired them. This framework offers knitters a really rich knitting and reading experience, and in 2019, Lola has been using this format to centre and celebrate female and non-binary led science fiction and fantasy. Each month involves a custom-dyed yarn which celebrates a particular book or author. I really like how books and stitches can be combined in our laps and imaginations when we sit down to knit. It’s not science fiction, but reading Yayoi Kusama’s autobiography while knitting on my POLKAMANIA! cowl infinitely enriched the experience of its making, and changed how I think about its dots.

I called this second prize REACH FOR THE STARS because I wanted to share, with another KAL buddy, that sense of a universe within a book, a ball of yarn, a knitting project. I hope this yarn from Third Vault Yarns and these stickers from TigerFraeulein will give someone further adventures in knitting which – of course, because of the contrasting shades I’ve chosen – may yet include more dots.

YOURS IN STARS AND STITCHES,
MORE SOON –
FX

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IN DOT SPACE: the infinite world of Yayoi Kusama

I didn’t mean for so much time to pass between my last post and this one. I’m continuing my dot-themed blogging today and hoping to finish this series of prize-related posts ahead of leaving for EYF later this week. Prize-winners for the POLKAMANIA! KAL will be announced tomorrow, and I’ve loved seeing all your finished projects over on Ravelry.

I’m on the final section of my second cowl and it’s been a long and thoughtful knit.

IN DOT SPACE Prize #2

In my last post, I spoke about these beautiful African wax print bags from Shop Joli – the dotty fabric of which is remeniscent of three-dimensional space.

Today I’m going to talk about the second part of the IN DOT SPACE prize, which is a children’s book titled Yayoi Kusama, From Here to Infinity. It was produced by MoMA to celebrate the art and life of the amazing Japanese superstar artist, Yayoi Kusama.

I chose this prize because Elle Weinstein’s illustrations perfectly capture the links between the textures of the world and the distinctive dots that underpin Yayoi Kusama’s iconic art practice.

The book does a great job of transmitting Yayoi Kusama’s sense of the infinite within the everyday. Its illustrations clearly show dots in the raindrops on a plane window, dots in the cars when viewed from the top of a skyscraper, dots in the pebbles on the bottom of a riverbed, and dots as the foundation of Yayoi Kusama’s phenomenally exciting artistic vision.

I hope it will inspire further adventures in dot-knitting, colourwork, and ways of seeing the world.

Perhaps understandably for a book that is aimed at making a complex artist accessible to young children, Yayoi Kusama’s lifelong struggles with mental health and the radical, sexual content of her 1960s Happenings are not explored in Yayoi Kusama, From Here to Infinity. However, I thought I’d say a bit about these missing elements to add some background for a more adult audience, and because frankly after immersing myself in the amazingness that is Yayoi Kusama’s back-catalogue of work, I have far too much to say about her powerful use of DOTS to end my blog-post here.

While I’ve been knitting away on my cowl, I have been exploring the rich world of Yayoi Kusama’s art practice. I really enjoyed watching the documentary made about her life and work – Kusama: Infinity – and her autobiography, Infinity Net. I can’t say everything about Yayoi Kusama – she’s best understood in her own words, in her own work, and on her own terms – but here are some some of the things I’ve taken away from researching her amazing art practice.

DOT SPACE IS INFINITE, DOT SPACE IS OBLITERATION…

Yayoi describes her first solo exhibition in New York in 1959 in this book, and the following is excerpted from the brilliantly titled chapter Taking My Stand with a Single Polka Dot:

My desire was to predict and measure the infinity of the unbounded universe, from my own position in it, with dots – an accumulation of particles forming the negative spaces in the net. How deep was the mystery? Did infinite infinities exist beyond our universe? In exploring these questions I wanted to examine the single dot that was my own life. One polka dot: a single particle among billions. I issued a manifesto stating the everything – myself, other, the entire universe – would be obliterated by white nets of nothingness connecting astronomical accumulations of dots. White nets enveloping the black dots of silent death against pitch-dark background of nothingness. By the time the canvas reached 22ft it had transcended its nature as canvas to fill the entire room. This was my ‘epic’, summing up all that I was. And the spell of the dots and the mesh enfolded me in a magical curtain of mysterious, invisible power.

In Yayoi Kusama’s amazing and foundational Infinity Net paintings, the negative space encircling each dot has been painstakingly rendered. The movement that produces each mark is organic and soft and the final painting is slowly generated through a process of accrual. The early works are thickly textured records of restless, repetitive action. To my knitter’s eyes, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Nets feel like the painterly equivalent of garter-stitch. Each loop is formed through a discrete gesture which contributes to the whole – to the “enfolding curtain of mysterious, invisible power”; as with knitting, the finished work is constructed loop by loop.

There is no centre to these paintings; no background or foreground… instead, Yayoi Kusama’s dots seem to map an interior place. These early paintings relate to Yayoi Kusama’s later light and mirror installations in which we can also see places that feel less like tangible geography, and more like internal states.

In her 1960s New York Happenings, Yayoi Kusama continued to use dots in events where body-painting nude dancers or attaching dots to herself and her surrounding environs became the means to obliterate individual egos and identities; a way to blur figures into the background:

…by covering my entire body with polka dots, and then covering the background with polka dots as well, I find self-obliteration. Or I stick polka dots all over a horse standing before a polka-dot background, and the form of the horse disappears, assimilated into the dots. The mass that is ‘horse’ is absorbed into something timeless. And when that happens, I too am obliterated.

Dots as records of human actions, and as a way to obliterate space, appear in my favourite Yayoi Kusama piece: Obliteration Room. A pristine white space is slowly transformed through visitors applying little dot stickers which, like Yayoi’s round brushstrokes in her Infinity Net paintings, slowly collapse all the planes and perspectives of space into a mesmerising and overwhelming continuity of dots.

…DOT SPACE IS TRANSFORMATIVE…

In her autobiography, Yayoi Kusama describes the events and experiences events which contributed to her lifelong aversion to sex and to her troubled mental health. In her work, she continually confronts and recycles these sources of trauma, transforming them into a distinctive means of expression. She speaks about disturbing visual and aural hallucinations and the difficulties of her childhood. But she is also articulate about how her creative practice has allowed her to reclaim herself from these experiences, and to rewrite them in her own way:

Artists do not usually express their own psychological complexes directly, but I do use my complexes and fears as subjects. I am terrified by just the thought of something long and ugly like a phallus entering me, and that is why I make so many of them. The thought of continually eating something like macaroni, spat out by machinery, fills me with fear and revulsion, so I make macaroni sculptures. I make them and make them and then keep on making them, until I bury myself in the process. I call this ‘obliteration’.

A soft-sculpture work Yayoi created in 1965 for the Castellane Gallery – Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field – perfectly embodies the transformative qualities of her creative processes:

The walls of the room were mirrors, and sprouting from the floor were thousands of white canvas phallic forms covered with red polka dots. The mirrors reflected them infinitely, summoning up a sublime, miraculous field of phalluses. People could walk barefoot through the phallus meadow, becoming one with the work and experiencing their own figures and movement as part of the sculpture. Wandering into this infinite wonderland, where a grandiose aggregation of human sexual symbols had been transformed into a humorous, polka-dotted field, viewers found themselves spellbound by the imagination as it exorcised sexual sickness in the naked light of day.

There’s so much more I could write about Yayoi Kusama – about how difficult it was for her when she first came to New York as a young, Japanese woman; how sexism, racism and the conservatism of her parents made her early years as an artist incredibly difficult; how she used nudity, dots, and the vastness of her vision to protest Capitalism and the Vietnam War; and how she has become a paragon of self-care and self-discipline in her eighties, continuing to work in her studio, and being cared for in the psychiatric hospital in Tokyo into which she admitted herself almost forty years ago.

There’s just so much there to explore; so much to appreciate and to try and understand; and so much more to dots than I could ever have imagined before taking this deep dive into the amazing, radical, anti-ableist, feminist, anti-war and infinite world of the artwork of Yayoi Kusama. But if I get into it in yet more depth today, this blog post will never be finished.

DOT SPACE IS AMAZING!

I really hope that the IN DOT SPACE prize featuring African wax print bags by Shop Joli plus the children’s book Yayoi Kusama, From Here to Infinity, will offer new dimensions for appreciating your hand-knitted dots and contemplating how much can be said with this seemingly simply motif.

YOURS IN INFINITE DOTS –
FX

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IN DOT SPACE: African Wax Print Dots

Hello,

As promised yesterday, I’m back to talk to you about being IN DOT SPACE and the glorious visual effects that can be produced by endlessly repeating dots in different colours and sizes.

One of the prizes in this category comes from ShopJoli – an independent fashion business run by Taneshe Oliver, who produces African-Inspired handmade bags & accessories for her online shop. One of the sets she has created features a distinctive dotty motif to which Taneshe was drawn because “the placement of the dots create a three-dimensional illusion”.

Taneshe kindly agreed to say a bit more about her work for this blog post and prize giveaway:

Every bag / headwrap is sewn by myself.
For me as a designer, it is overall the aesthetics combined with the meaning that attracts me to different prints. Wax has become an integral part of African heritage; at ShopJoli we source our wax prints from both Ghana and the United Kingdom.
The vibrant colours and prints of African wax are loaded with meaning. White, for instance, is a sign of peace; blue of power; green of life/ renewal and orange a sign of joy. These colours are all present in the NICHE Collection featuring a Clutch, Large Makeup Bag and matching Headwrap.
The wax is not only a piece of fabric or an item of clothing but also a means of cultural expression used to unite customs, beliefs and traditions.

– Taneshe Oliver, ShopJoli

Thanks to Taneshe for helping us dig more deeply into what lies behind the colourful creations at ShopJoli and for showing us how to see past the dots to the stories and context beyond. IN DOT SPACE, the print used in the NICHE Collection is both a proud and celebratory signifier of West African textile heritage, and a window into the complex history of African Wax Print fabric.

In her eponymous book, Anne Grosfilley explores what lies behind this “most emblematic of African fabrics”. Originally introduced to West Africa by Europeans as a profitable export, its distinctive aesthetics were born in a very particular set of circumstances. The Industrial Revolution and the invention of new fabric-printing processes in the UK and in Holland; a trade war between the British and the Dutch; the avarice and opportunism of Imperialism and the distinctive and highly coveted batik prints made by Javanese artisans are all part of its past – part of our past:

“African print is more than a fashion style. The name refers to fabrics that are invested with emotion and meaning, that evolved with the times, and which cannot be reduced to simple “African prints”, or be described as by-product or one of little value: they bear the mark of a collective history, and are all common “threads” which help us comprehend the global society that we are building together. A combination of diverse influences, these fabrics absorb and recount the changes that have taken place during the 20th century and express hopes for the 21st century. They are dedicated not only to the African legacy to the point of being landmarks of identity, they are also a part of our common human heritage”.

– Anne Grosfilley, African Wax Print Textiles

In my own work I am interested in how the technology of hand-knitting and the material of wool might be used to produce repeat-patterns in stranded colourwork, based on the world around me.

Like African Wax Print, the history of wool and hand-knitting is complicated and one which also includes The Industrial Revolution; trade wars; Imperialism and avarice. (If you’re not sure what I’m on about, this excellent instagranm post from Jessie is a good place to start.) Too, from this messy past, we have found and are finding new ways to embed uplift, meaning, kindness and significance in what we create for ourselves and one another. I don’t think it hurts our creativity to lean into those histories and to think more carefully about what we celebrate and uplift when we make things… even when we are just making dots, we are connecting to long and histories of creativity and textiles. I’ll close today with what Taneshe said about the significance and meaning of what she makes because I think her words will resonate with many of you:

I hope that my customers will appreciate that at ShopJoli our bags are pretty yet practical. A seemingly meaningless bag can be so beautiful and the colours represent the deep-rooted African culture of Ankara / wax fabric.

– Taneshe Oliver

Thank you Taneshe for kindly agreeing to this interview and for your gorgeous, colourful bags which give us yet another way to think about dots.
You can find ShopJoli here and revisit KNITSONIK in coming days for further ruminations on dots and patterns.

Until then,
YOURS IN DOT SPACE,
Fx

This post is the first of several; I promised there would be prizes with a dotty theme for comrades who made a POLKAMANIA! My plan was always to choose things that would be joyful and knitterly, but which would – like the KAL itself – provide opportunities to consider and celebrate dots and the myriad ways in which these simple, repeating, circular shapes can be used to different artistic ends. Over coming days, I’m putting together a series of posts about the KAL prizes, each of which celebrate dots and the different ways in which people create with them. I hope you’ll enjoy learning about some other independent businesses who are making things with dots, and that – even if you didn’t enter the KAL – you’ll find something inspiring in the posts in this series.

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The last day of the POLKAMANIA! KAL…

As you’ll know if you’ve been following for a while, there has been a POLKAMANIA! KAL going on in the KNITSONIK Ravelry group over these past couple of months; for those of you who have been participating, today is the last day to complete your cowl… don’t worry if you haven’t finished, I haven’t either.

The gallery of FOs is looking SO BEAUTIFUL and SO DOTTY. There’s a lovely variety of projects to see… from Takako’s gloriously calming blue cowl

…to Vivienne’s joyful exploration of the palette in the film Flash Gordon

…to Muriel’s evocative spring-blossom-like pinks and blues

…there are a lot of different things to see and this isn’t even all the projects, though I’m hoping to share the rest with you in the course of the next while.

It’s surprising how rich the simple context of dots turns out to be, as a vessel for playing with colours. I hope you are inspired by this glimpse into the making that has gone on for this KAL. If you are on Ravelry, you can see the project gallery here.

I promised there would be prizes with a dotty theme for comrades who made a POLKAMANIA! My plan was always to choose things that would be joyful and knitterly, but which would – like the KAL itself – provide opportunities to consider and celebrate dots and the myriad ways in which these simple, repeating, circular shapes can be used to different artistic ends.

Now that we’re at the end of the KAL, I’m putting together a series of posts about the prizes, each of which celebrate dots and the different ways in which people create with them. I hope you’ll enjoy learning about some other independent businesses who are making things with dots, and that – even if you didn’t enter the KAL – you’ll find something inspiring here in the next week or so.

For now I just want to say a huge massive WELL DONE to all the KAL-ers – I’ve really enjoying knitting with you. To everyone else,
go and shower the dotty projects in Ravelry hearts! Thanks again to everyone who joined this KAL and knit dots with me this winter.

See you all soon x

YOURS IN MYSTERY DOTTY KAL PRIZES,
FX

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Let’s Cast On Together!

Thank you all so much for your wonderful, thoughtful comments on my last post; I really loved reading your comments and hearing your thoughts on what you like about Knit-A-Longs…

…Themes of friendship, community and shared endeavour cropped up several times, as did the motivational aspects of a deadline…

Many of you seem to enjoy knowing there are folk right there to ask, should help be required… and almost all of you share my feeling that seeing what other people are making is always really inspiring.

From being good for mental health, to overcoming a sense of isolation, the joy of the KAL really is just all about doing something together and helping each other out. I’m really excited about our POLKAMANIA! cowl and glad to be preparing to knit dots together through the festive season. I struggle with the darker months of the year and a colourful, playful, yet not-too-tasking project is perfect to bring on journeys to visit relatives or for working on while watching holiday TV. I know this can be a stressful and busy part of the year, but I find that a soothing, portable project is just the thing to have on hand at such times. We can check into the Ravelry group KAL thread whenever suits and turn it into a joyful little corner of encouragement, colour-play, and dots.

KAL Rules
Cast on date: Monday 17th December, 2018
Completion deadline: Thursday 28th February, 2019
3 PRIZES (details to be announced): Monday 11th March, 2019 THE PRIZES WILL BE DOTTY

KAL Stats
Days of knitting time: 74
Segments in cowl: 24
Number of dots to knit in each cowl: 2592 (unless my maths is badly wrong!)

Between now and the cast-on date, there are a few fun things to do including making your project page on Ravelry; choosing your colours; and – very importantly! – knitting your gauge swatch. Feel free to use the KAL image above for your Ravelry project page, for your social media, or anywhere else where it will cheer you to remember that we are knitting dots together this winter.

Choosing colours
You can either plan out the whole cowl using the tutorial given in the pattern or go for an improvisational segment-by-segment approach, making up your colour combinations as you go; I’ve tried to design the pattern to allow for a completely freestyle approach, recreating the sample exactly, or something in the middle; do whatever feels good. There are 24 sections to the cowl which offer many opportunities to try out different colour combinations on the fly, if that’s your kind of thing, but if you prefer planning colours ahead, I have some suggestions: if you have a copy of the KNITSONIK Playbook Colouring Companion, you’ll see that the same motif as appears in the cowl is also there on pages 16 and 19 as part of the Polka Dots & Dolls pattern; you could colour this in to get your ideas going. If you don’t want to work directly into the colouring book for this project, you can redeem the digital download code on the inside cover of the book and get a PDF copy, from which to print out the relevant pages.

It’s also fairly easy to plot the polka-dot motif from the chart in the pattern onto squared or gridded notepaper, so that would be another way to plan your cowl before casting on if that’s what you would like to do. Equally, finding all the random balls of fingering weight yarn you have and putting them into a basket with the idea to pick combinations at random is also completely fine.

Knitting a gauge swatch
I am an extremely loose colourwork knitter and I hold my yarns in a very relaxed way in order to avoid exacerbating the arthritis in my fingers and wrists. I produce an open, soft fabric when knitting fingering weight yarn on 2.75mm needles, and many knitters I know require a needle size several sizes larger than mine in order to attain the same gauge. Additionally, if you are knitting POLKAMANIA! using 4-ply mini-skeins from John Arbon, I had just a metre or two of most of my mini-skeins left over after finishing my cowl and I actually ran out of one shade 2 rounds before the end of a segment (I sneaked in a couple of rounds of the next colour in the sequence and it’s impossible to see unless you’re really looking hard). All of which is to say that if you don’t get close to the gauge specified in the pattern – and especially if you end up making a much looser fabric that uses slightly more yarn per stitch – you may run out of yarn at a more critical point. My friend Kate has written a magnificent post about the importance of swatching to get gauge, and I heartily recommend that you read it and, also, that you either knit a swatch for your POLKAMANIA! cowl or relax into the idea that you may require different quantities of yarn to those specified in the pattern, and that – if you don’t feel like swatching – you may end up with a differently-sized cowl at the end of the process.

Finally, I’m thrilled to reveal who won the giveaway! I wrote out the names of everyone who commented on my last post on pieces of paper, folded each one twice, then asked my enthusiastic comrade, Mark*, to pick one out at random.

He chose Mary Jo, who says “This sounds like a lot of fun! My wonderful local yarn shop closed and I miss the group that used to meet there, though some of us continue to get together. There were often group projects going on at the shop and a KAL sort of reproduces that feeling of knitting together with a group and helping each other with problems that come up.”

Congratulations, Mary Jo! I’ll email you directly for your postal address and post out your goodies tomorrow.
Thank you – and thanks to everyone else, too – for affirming how much fun it can be to Knit-A-Long together.
See you in the Ravelry group?

YOURS IN KNITTING ALL THE DOTS,
XF

*who specifically instructed me to use the silliest photo of him picking out a winner for this post.

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