Chapter 2 part 1: KNITSONIK Bunting, Tarmac Tuesdays edition

Continuing from my last post, today I want to talk to you about KNITSONIK Bunting: Tarmac Tuesdays edition – which is the main focus for the second chapter of my new book, the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook.

This bunting has a lovely, long, colourful history so let’s start at the beginning (you might want to get a hot beverage, I got really into this as I was writing).

Many months ago in Reading Town Hall where my friend Lara had arranged a wondrous hen-do for me and my friends, I was completely blown away to see – draped around the room – a glorious, technicolour length of knitted bunting. At first, because I was overwhelmed and also because some of the flags use the same motifs as in my swatches from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, I momentarily wondered what my swatches were doing there, why they were in triangle shapes and – OMG horror of horrors – whether someone had cut them up???!!! As I peeked closer I saw that each flag bore a different hand… that some of the flags had notes pinned to them… and that there were many unfamiliar motifs, shapes, patterns, palettes and colours running through the bunting. These were not my swatches; these were something else… something more.

I spotted a couple of motifs from the notebooks of knitting friends: Monkl’s special banana-themed motifs, designed by Deborah Gray…

a glorious sunset-coloured flag that instantly reminded me of Hazel Tindall

…a flag in yellows and purples reminiscent of some purple-sprouting broccoli whose colours had been admired by myself and my friend Brenda Dayne on a walk in a walled garden some years back.

Slowly it dawned on me that these magical flags had been made by people I love.

My friend Liz had diligently written to many of my buddies in secret in order to prepare some special KNITSONIK Bunting for our upcoming wedding. The instructions she’d sent with her pattern were simply to make a flag that reminded them of me, or that would remind me of them. The results are incredibly moving… Liz’s flags based on hot-pot – a recipe she shared with me once and the photo at the back of my first book…

…Cecilia’s versions of some of the motifs from it – especially from the Plants chapter with which she helped me enormously…

…Mel’s rendition of our Keith Moon jumpers side by side…

…Mikal’s ode to Huntley & Palmers biscuit tins, celebrating an afternoon we once spent in Reading Museum…

…Mandy’s glorious ducks commemorating my sadly now demised poultry…

…and a flag featuring the most outlandish and perfectly formed tassel in handspun Shetland wool from my friend Tom…

However, as well as being deeply personal and touching, the flags are also really instructive and helpful. Each one reveals different strategies for increasing in pattern and acts as a small canvas on which its designer can practice skills like centring motifs or thinking about placement and repeat-width in relation to available stitch count. They put me in mind of an oft-quoted thing said by William Morris when speaking to the values of the Arts and Crafts Movement: “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

YES! Useful and Beautiful! It is impossible to overstate the value of a gift like this.

The original KNITSONIK Bunting was proudly displayed over the mantelpiece in the room where Mark and I were married and then transferred to the stairs, where it hung as a backdrop to cutting our amazing knitted cake (iced by my friend Vic and her sister Lou!).

These magical flags accompany me on all KNITSONIK teaching adventures.

In its friendly combination of love, usefulness and beauty, the KNITSONIK Bunting reminds me of another gift Liz gave me once when I was in a deep depression: a massive, jolly mug that says BIG LOVE on it, designed by Emma Bridgewater. Both the mug and the bunting are inspiring, thoughtful and uplifting objects, but they are also eminently practical. The glorious starry mug in blue and cream has helped me through several successive bouts of poor mental health, and is an inspiring and beautifully designed thing. However, the mug is also a jolly good size for a massive half-pint of coffee, a thing of everyday use, and – naturally – dishwasher safe. Similarly, the wedding bunting is gorgeous and very touching, yet knitters in workshops always learn something technical through looking closely at the flags and thinking about how each one was made.

I kept thinking that a gift like this was too good to not share with other knitters.

Knitters know what it is to make something practical and technically accomplished, yet which is also lavished and embedded with personal meaning and intention and Liz’s pattern for KNITSONIK Bunting really speaks to this and especially to the potentials for collaborative and collective creative fun. I was completely thrilled when she agreed to let me include her wondrous pattern in my second book so that other groups of knitting friends could have her blueprint for making special, significant, symbolic and magical flags for one another.

We talked about making a sample for the book and I kept thinking about Tarmac Tuesdays – the amazing, collective online weekly celebration of tarmac that takes place each Tuesday on the Internet through the hashtag #TarmacTuesday – and how this project would make an ideal celebratory context to inspire a brand new set of flags. Established by Coranda Berry and Gemma Dudley at Edinburgh Yarn Festival in 2015, Tarmac Tuesdays are one of my favourite projects ever. For those of you new to the concept, every Tuesday, buddies around the world who know about the project take interesting photos of tarmac and upload them on Tuesdays (usually to instagram but sometimes on Twitter as well) with the hashtag #TarmacTuesday. What I love most of all about this project is that it can be done by anyone with a smartphone and an Internet connection, and that it proves – time and time again – that beauty, wonder and creativity can exist even in the dirtiest and most unloved urban spaces if viewed through the right frame. I love seeing the new uploads every week and, just like the BIG LOVE mug Liz gave me, the images remind me that stars and joy and colours and mischief and fun can be found in even the greyest places.

As well as its subversive joyousness, I knew that using Tarmac Tuesdays as the creative context for the KNITSONIK Bunting sample for the second book would mean including the photos of friends who join in with the project, using your gorgeous images as knitterly inspiration for our flags, and writing an essay expressing my appreciation for this project and its amazing community of participants. Liz and I squirreled away a folder of potential inspiration and sent flag-charts and yarn back and forth; I wrote to various Tarmac Tuesdays friends asking if it would be OK to use images for our super secret project; and Liz knitted up the sample for the book. All of this is featured in the second chapter of my new book. If you are one of the people whose photos we used, thank you so much; I hope you like what we did with your work. I wanted to include every single Tarmac Tuesdays image I could find but, if you check out the hashtag, you can see that would be a lifetime’s work! As well as working on the chapter for the Playbook, I really enjoyed deriving illustrations for the KNITSONIK Playbook Colouring Companion from the charts Liz and I made celebrating everything from flea-darts at the roadside to a DO NOT FOUL THE PAVEMENT sign spotted in Shetland by one of our contributors, Wendy Booth.

The photoshoot for the special Tarmac Tuesdays edition of KNITSONIK Bunting was one of my favourite points in the production of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook.

Mark had this idea that we should use the vast cavern of dirty concrete on a roundabout under a flyover on Reading’s Internal Distribution Road (The IDR) for our photo-shoot, and I knew of a footbridge over the same road that might also speak to our theme.

We headed out with all the bunting and Ferg set about capturing the joy of the flags and their relationship to urban space. It was magical to see how fluently KNITSONIK Bunting: Tarmac Tuesdays edition speaks to its inspiration source. I am convinced that wherever you take these flags, they will resonate with the roadscapes, the signage, the roadside weeds and the roadside markings.

Ferg was really excited by the contrast between the glorious colours of the knitted bunting and the dinge of the concrete space beneath the overpass and just for fun we took lots of photos of both the original wedding bunting and the new sample for the book wrapped around a pillar and immeasurably brightening up the roundabout.

When I look back through the photos from that day, I keep coming back to this one. It’s not the best one for showing off Liz’s spectacular knitting… but to me – and with Ferg’s insightful photographic approach – it says an awful lot about the larger idea of Tarmac Tuesdays. Just as with every local spot from which I’ve created a Tarmac Tuesdays post, the roundabout now feels a bit more magic… like it’s ordinary and grey, but also carries a magical, alternative, super vibrant version of itself within: a version dressed in wondrous knitting.

Every time I pass it I will think of the flags hung there briefly, of jumping and playing and laughing there with Liz and Ferg, and of finding ways to take a sorry looking thing and make it feel special and treasured for a moment.

That is what Tarmac Tuesdays are all about.

The beautiful thing about Liz’s pattern is that it is adaptable to many different contexts; to weddings, to birthdays, to retirement parties – to any sort of celebration, really. There is already a conversation on Ravelry about some kind of Knitted Correspondence/KNITSONIK Bunting mashup where folks would exchange flags in lieu of postcards! But when it comes to celebrating with my KNITSONIK family, I felt the sample for Liz Ashdowne’s pattern featured in the book should speak to the idea that beauty really is everywhere and to the creative vision of our wondrous online knitting community. I can’t think of a more appropriate project than Gemma and Coranda’s magnificent invention and all the cheering pictures uploaded under their genius hashtag. Thanks for reminding us to find all the colours in the greys and to everyone who joins in with this project, everywhere.

And thank you, Liz, for creating such a practical, thoughtful and brilliant canvas on which we can all inscribe and share our knitting inspirations… and for agreeing to share it with the world in my new book!


7 thoughts on “Chapter 2 part 1: KNITSONIK Bunting, Tarmac Tuesdays edition

  1. Swoon! What a great post and love the photos against the grey landscape. Once again I am humbled by your talent and eye for finding the unique everywhere you look. I am so excited to have been a wee part of this. I am not sure there are any friends yet that have not been subjected to my excitement about being part of it! I am in process of finding way to add the little dog and his little unwanted pile of steaming poo to my Shetland Sweater (still working on it) inspired by your class at SWW2015. Looking forward to more posts about this fabulous book and companion.

  2. My mother often quotes a couplet ‘Two men looked out from prison bars: one saw mud, the other saw stars’. After reading a lot of your posts I feel it now needs a new version saying how the first man noticed that the mud was really really beautiful when wet and shining and when dried and cracked and by the way have you noticed how many different colours mud is really?….. !

    1. I love your revision of this quote; there is much to notice and admire in the mud that was previously overlooked!

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