If you’ve been following KNITSONIK for a while, you’ll know how much I love the times when the KNIT and the SONIK come together. Today I’m thinking about two such lovely times, and I want to share them with you.
First, and most importantly, my dear friend Muriel AKA Labistrake has published her first pattern on Payhip. It’s called Knit Loud and features directions and charts for a cowl and a pair of Fingerless Mitts, the distinctive stranded colourwork pattern for which is inspired by a special Marshall amplifier-speaker.
Keen-eyed spotters may recognise Muriel’s work from the #KnittedCorrespondence project which she and Yumi established on Instagram a few years ago, or from the chapter in which I explored their knitted correspondence in my book, the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook.
This gorgeous project – in which Muriel (in France) and Yumi (in Japan) exchange stranded colourwork postcards by “posting” them online – is a thoughtful and moving celebration of place, culture and identity in colours and patterns. I have always admired the distinctive and precise approach taken by both these artists in their postcards, and how their swatches record everyday memories, moments and details. There’s something just so life affirming about stopping for long enough to record, in stitches, the colours of a favourite blanket; the summery joy of gingham; the presence and pattern of an always-present amplifier-speaker and the music it signifies.
This new release from Muriel marks the start of the really exciting process of her revisiting her #KnittedCorrespondence postcards and taking her motifs forward in glorious handknits we can all wear:
Recently, I have been revisiting these postcards. I want to explore how they can be incorporated into wearable designs, and worked in different yarns from producers and mills whose work I admire. The aim is to create simple, useful and sturdy designs for my family and friends, bearing motifs which celebrate the textures of our lives.
Of course, because of how it to themes of knitting and sound the Marshall-amp inspired stranded colourwork design featured in Knit Loud is one of my favourites! The amplifier-speaker fabric is just so perfectly represented in the small, well-observed motif.
The time spent designing the motif, knitting mitts and cowls and swatching for the pattern, and finally developing instructions so that we can make these SONIK mitts as well feel like a homage to the huge and important role that music plays in Muriel’s home life. Thank You, this design seems to say, for the life-giving power of music; for our ability to dance and sing together; for patterns which celebrate and represent fine, shared rhythms.
If you want to Knit Loud (and I just know that you do!) you can find Muriel’s pattern here on the LabistrakeMakes Payhip page for €6.00.
If that wasn’t enough KNIT + SONIK joy for one day, I have something else to share with you today which I’ve been saving up to coincide with Muriel’s pattern release; it is the essay which I wrote for Rachel Atkinson’s book, Daughter of a Shepherd Volume 1: Beginnings.
This was a really special commission for me – an opportunity to write about wool and the labour behind its production through my preferred creative focus of sound and listening. Thank you so much, Rachel, for asking me to write it and for including it in your book. It was published there to provide a celebratory and thoughtful context to the wool used in all the patterns. Here, I’m sharing it again to celebrate the woolly choice Muriel made for her first published design: Ram Jam Worsted. This yarn is spun from fleeces which would otherwise go to waste. Muriel’s pattern celebrates the technical means through which we hear amplified sounds while Rachel’s Ram-Jam wool reveals how wool can be saved from the compost heap with the right blend of fibres; with time, love, and attention.
I hope you enjoy this little burst of KNIT + SONIK – if you’d like a soundtrack while you read, you might enjoy this radio show I made eleven years ago for the framework:afield radio programme series. Just like when I wrote my essay, I was motivated in making this show, by a desire to amplify and celebrate the unsung labour that lies behind wool and its related fields of making. How wonderful to now be able to think of the means of amplification, now, in terms of Muriel’s lovely design.
Yours in Knitting + Sounds –
Listening to wool
by Felicity Ford
first published in Rachel Atkinson’s book, Daughter of a Shepherd Volume 1: Beginnings
Wool is soundless – even noise-cancelling. Pressed gently to your ear, a skein of woollen yarn softens and muffles the din of the world beyond. Wool is used for sound insulation because the same properties that make it warm and fuzzy to wear also make it excellent at absorbing stray soundwaves and dampening down noise. Yet as well as being innately quiet, to the listening imagination a skein of woollen yarn can also be richly suggestive of sound. Its pleasing animal texture recalls the fields and weather where it grew, and in its even plies it records the twisting beat of spinning machines.
If a yarn has retained the good sweet smell of sheep, it’s almost as if you can hear it baa.
Creating sound recordings is one way to reveal this inner sonic life of a yarn – a way of sharing and amplifying its stories – and as I am sure many of you will agree, the best story in any skein is always the one about the sheep. In my projects, I’ve been lucky enough to record some of the contexts where wool grows. In Cumbria, Estonia and Shetland I’ve recorded the sheep from whose backs it is shorn; the people who work with these creatures; the weather that rakes over their grazing ground; and the birds who sing in the skies above. Recording these sounds reveals much about our yarns and the places from which they come; you can hear the wind or its absence and the insects and fauna of the surrounding landscape. Through listening and searching, you can sometimes even learn a bit about the characters of different flocks and breeds. The length of time involved in documenting and listening to these sounds hints at the long, seasonal timeframes over which wool grows and the slow processes and steady labour by which it becomes yarn with which we can knit.
Seasons in sound
The sounds you hear depend greatly on when you visit. If you go to a field full of ewes and lambs in the spring just after lambing time, you will hear a glorious concert of baas. If you listen hard enough, you soon learn that each lamb has its own baa as does each ewe, and that they call to each other all day long.
If you visit the same field in the summer on shearing day you’ll hear those calls again, but with a slightly frenzied edge. The buzz of the clippers or the click of the shears is often accompanied by frantic baaing as the ewes and lambs seek each other out. I’m not sure if this is because they are separated out from one another in preparation for the shearing, or because the ewes’ haircuts make them appear strange to their young, but it’s a raucous day of noise on any sheep farm! I’ve also learnt that a large bucket of sheep food shaken loudly by the gate will bring out the baa in even the most reticent of sheep.
In late autumn you can sometimes hear the sad, unanswered baas of the ewes after their boisterous ram-lambs have been taken away – either to other farms to sire new flocks, or to the great deep freezer in the sky – and if you go to the auctions when the rams are being sold, you will sometimes hear the robust thuds of their horns or heads butting, and their low, recognisably masculine grunts.
Whether you eat meat or not, I think it is worth listening to such sounds. Doing so enables us to comprehend the agricultural patterns to which yarn production is most often tied, and to more closely perceive the rich, textural world of sheep farming lying behind each precious skein of wool.
One of the rarest and most precious sounds to hear – and to hear it normally requires that you are absent – is that of a flock happily grazing together in the late summer months. The ancestors of sheep are mouflon which, like deer, are shy creatures who live in herds and have a keen awareness that they are prey. You can hear the self-preserving quietude of this ancestry in the low, collective hum of a flock that is not being disturbed by humans. Theirs is the hum of grass being pulled up in delicate sheep bites; of sheep teeth grinding away at cud or at fresh mouthfuls of meadowland; of sheep nickering and bustling as they greet and pass one another at close quarters. The near constant accompaniment of birds and flies contributes to the sense of the sheep pasture as an originator of earthy drone music. Slow chords progress steadily over fields punctuated only now and then by the loud and unselfconscious sound of a sheep relieving itself. If you leave your microphones hanging near to such a flock and then wander away, you can hear in the recordings afterwards, how sheep move together in one woolly drift. A whispering crowd of low-level noisemakers, their hooves softly patter on earth hardened by sun, or splatter in mud wet with rain.
A concert of horns
As well as these generalities which apply to many (but not all) shepherding contexts, there are sounds distinctive to different breeds. When it comes to the sounds of sheep-horns, few breeds are better equipped than the Hebridean with its glorious crown of up to three pairs.
I was once trying to record a little gang of Hebridean rams and true to their feral and primitive nature, they scattered to the four winds and hid in the trees as soon as I entered their field, falling as silent as their mouflon ancestors. There was nothing for it but to bury my recorder in their bale of straw inside a low, sheltered feeding trough and walk away for several hours. When I listened back to the recordings made in this way, I heard the cautious approach of the animals and then the sounds of their horns gently butting against the metal bars of the trough. These sounds are rich with texture; dully clanging against the metal, they are the tones of keratin and bone banging up against the materials of modern agricultural methods. You can hear their sheepy breaths and how low to the ground they stand on their sturdy little legs, and the many ways in which they bustle against one another to gain access to the hay.
The sound of Hebridean yarn
When I knit with Daughter of a Shepherd yarn, I feel I can recall in its dark lustre some of that sheep-horned song; the sturdy hooves of these small and tough little sheep; and their resilient quiet. I dream of one day visiting their ancestral home in Uist and listening to the waves, the wind and the shorelines that gave rise to their protective, insulating fleece. I imagine their baas at shearing time and the steady progression through history from the rhythm of the shears to the drone of modern clippers. I find myself thinking of the soft flumping noise of each fleece peeling off apiece, ready to be rolled and baled.
In the soft quiet rhythms of my knitting, I hope to continue the song.