Knits of 2020

With huge immediate uncertainties about the COVID pandemic and the unknown impact of BREXIT, I’m finding that time feels very strange at the moment.
At the end of 2020, I felt burnt-out and dispirited, and had the unsettling simultaneous sensation of the year having dragged on and on, AND a big question around where all the time went.

When my grasp on tasks, time and plans starts to feel loose, I turn to my journal for grounding and reassurance.

bullet journal with an array of rubber stamps and pens in shades of red, orange and pink. The SUPER stamp and a stamp featuring an egg-timer are evident

I spent an hour or so going back over my notebooks and photos from last year. Most of what I’m working on, thinking about, making or doing appears in one of these places. Looking through, I made a not particularly pretty but surprisingly reassuring list of what I did last year. Most of my creative energies were poured into The KNITSONIK School but I was surprised to find I had done more knitting than I thought, and that so little of it had made it onto the KNITSONIK blog. Today I want to tell you about some of the things I enjoyed knitting last year.

Felix in pure joy pose, stretching upwards while wearing delightful knitted skirt in greys, yellows, oranges and pinks, with yoke sweater in grey and yellow

Felix with hands on hips, stretching upwards while wearing delightful knitted skirt in greys, yellows, oranges and pinks, with yoke sweater in grey and yellow

A project I really enjoyed, and from which I got loads of wear, is Jimenez Joseph’s glorious A-line stranded colourwork skirt: Tower of Strength. Tower of Strength is published as a standalone pattern on Ravelry or Lovecrafts, and it also appears in JimiKnits Volume 1. I love how Jimenez’ designs combine the wearability of athleisure with glorious bold colours, graphic patterns, and pleasing knitterly details. My go-to outfit in 2020 has been to pair this skirt with a brightly-coloured pair of tights and plain grey trainers, and I’ve found the neat A-line silhouette makes me feel extra skippy and purposeful; I had so much fun knitting it and even more fun wearing it. If you are new to stranded colourwork this design is an IDEAL beginner project. A simple tube with some well-placed shaping, it creates a dense and structured fabric which will let you play with colours but will also – perhaps most importantly – keep your arse warm when you’re finished! I knit Tower of Strength in various shades of Retrosaria Brusca. This 100% Portuguese yarn is superlatively soft and strong, and has a pleasing ultra-matt quality which wears well over time and really brings out the saturated shades with which it has been dyed. The only modification I made to Jimenez’s pattern was to enclose a very wide band of elastic within a folded woolly hem for the waist of my skirt. I might have to make another Tower of Strength, as it really was such a fun and swift knit. Even Joey Muffkins – who is the ultimate knitted project connoisseur – has given this project his sacred seal of approval by deeming it worthy as a Joey Muffkins napping place.

closeup of the stranded colourwork details in Tower of Strength by Jimenez Joseph

Joey Muffkins curled up on Tower of Strength

Another pattern on which I really enjoyed working is the Yin Yang Shawl by Angela Tong. This is such a clever pattern in which one side of the crescent has “wrong-side” garter-stitch stripes, and the other side of the crescent has “right-side” garter stitch stripes. I love this as a way to make a 100% reversible striped garter-stitch shawl, it’s a lovely easy shape to wear, and it lets you really explore two different shades and their relationship as you get to see them individually in the big field of colour either side of the central, striped section; in muddled stripes; and in clean stripes. It’s like a whole colour-study in one shawl. It was, for me, the perfect context in which to explore two lovely skeins of Bear Twist, which is a lovely high-twist, low-lustre 100% Corridale yarn from Bear in Sheep’s Clothing. I used colourways Sriracha – a deep, hot paprika shade; and Tickle – a very soft and muted blush pink. My only modification to Angela’s pattern was to continue the stripes after the main crescent was finished, to avoid having two random part-balls lying around; I think you can see that join a little bit, but I don’t mind it.

The colours in this shawl have haunted my thoughts about colours all year.

Felix holds up a big garter-stitch crescent shawl in shades of delicate pale pink and luminous dark orange

Felix peeks mischievously from under her lovely bright pink and orange shawl

closeup of some marled knitting and also a big orange dot on a purple-ish background

super secret swatch containing many dots and shades of purple and orange

Much of Feburary and March were taken up developing a super secret knitting thing which I will be able to tell you about later on this year, but it’s nice to dig these out and to remember that I *was* knitting something through the early spring.

Knitted Chicken!

Through June I was obsessed with the idea of knitting a chicken and made this one, using Retrosaria Brusca and this pattern.

Peeping tiny knitted chicken

* Elliott * Exclusive! - closeup of the new swatch for the Missy Elliott Sweater

I also re-swatched for the Missy Elliott Sweater design in a much sturdier yarn than was used for the original sample; one of the barriers to releasing the pattern has been finding an appropriate Aran-weight yarn for colourwork on this scale but I love how bright and saturated these colours are, and how the fabric wears.

Basket made from neon yellow lopi wool and Jacob sheep roving

OK not technically knitting but I made it with 100% Wool and a Needle so am including it here! The yarn is neon Lopi and some carded Jacob fleece I have had sitting around for years, waiting just for this. I asked Mark for the book Baskets by Tabara N’Diaye of La Basketry for my birthday this year and just fell in love with all the amazing projects in it. The instructions and photos are inviting and enabling and I wanted to make everything right away. Because of my restricted wrists and the ongoing joint issues in my hands, I am wary of the cane projects. I opted instead to apply the Senegalese methods and principles of basketry to the elastic and forgiving material of wool. Once my basket was made, I felted it in the washing machine to make a little nest in which to keep the chickens’ eggs.

Sturdy little felted egg-basket made of neon lopi yarn and grey Jacob fleece

Garter stitch triangle worked in Dapple yarn, overdyed in purple to create a purple yarn

I really admire of Diane Ivey AKA Lady Dye Yarns and the intentional way she is building her business and using yarn and knitting as a focus for political change. From her clubs – which platform and amplify other small, mostly BIPOC-owned businesses – to her Rebel with a Cause tour, to her thoughtful podcast series (please do check out her amazing conversation with Ifé Franklin), everything Diane does is an artful fusion of craft and activism. When I heard from Diane about The emPower People Project, which she co-founded along with Casapinka (Casapinka Designs), Laverne (Bzy Peach) and Ashley (A Jackson Illustrations), I immediately loved its straightforward and simple message to connect our creativity with our political intentions:

Knit, crochet, or sew the emPower People Bandana & wear it proudly while…

  • Speaking against injustice
  • Attending gatherings
  • Marching
  • Voting

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot this year – and it’s too big to fully unpack here – are the links between structural racism, fibre-cultivation, and land-ownership. I wanted to make this the focus for knitting my bandana. I decided to use Dapple – a yarn from Brookyln Tweed from which 3% of profits, in perpetuity, go to the National Black Farmers Association in the USA – and which combines wool and cotton – two fibres whose histories are inexorably imbricated in histories of Displacement, Industrialisation, Empire, Colonialism and Slavery. Working on my bandana led me to revisit once again the amazing photography (especially Pastoral Interlude) of Ingrid Pollard; to listen again to the New York Times podcast series, 1619; to attend a webinar featuring Leah Penniman of Soulfire Farm and presented by the Landworkers’ Alliance and Land In Our Names and to revisit the visionary perspectives of Vandana Shiva which underpinned the anti-GMO activism of my youth. I love how straightforward and accessible the bandana pattern is to knit (there are also sewn and crocheted versions on the website), as working on it keeps your hands busy but provides loads of space to think.

A closeup of knitting with beads; the beads are in shades of gold and green and the yarn is green. Green dot stickers and a int green washi tape with gols foil spots on it complete the matchy matchy vibes of the scene

In another knitting chapter of the year that’s been, I learnt to use beads in my knitting, inserting them where required with the assistance of a tiny crochet hook. Ever since seeing the beaded Snowfall hats that Susan Rainey shared at Meg Swansen’s Knitting Camp in 2018, and the gorgeous samples of beaded knitting that Jeanette Sloan brought to VKL Austin last year, I have wanted to figure out how to use beads in my knitting. The little green and gold sample above is my first exploration of beaded knitting but, as we shall see momentarily, there were many more beads in 2020… but let’s talk more about Jeanette Sloan before getting too side-tracked by beads.

Felix peeps from behind a lacy scarf worked in orange, lilac, mauve and blue shades of variegated yarn

Felix wears a cinnamon-coloured needlecord dress and a lacy scarf worked in orange, lilac, mauve and blue shades of variegated yarn

In 2020, Jeanette Sloan worked with Modern Daily Knitting to produce OPEN – an enabling and encouraging collection of lace-knitting patterns, exuding Jeanette’s distinctively playful and inviting approach to knitting lace. Even as a reluctant lace knitter – it always feels too DAINTY, too FUSSY, too FIDDLY – I was tempted by this book to dive in and just try being open to the idea of knitting lace and I am so glad for that! Over many evenings, I sat and worked the simple, two-row repeat of Rib Lace Scarf, and enjoyed the occasion to finally put some sock yarn purchased in Miami over ten years ago to good use.

Felix grins in brown needlecord dress, sporting lovely open rib scarf by Jeanette Sloan

closeup of pastilles tin, charts, and a little peep of swatch in dusky pinks and purples and lilacs and muted browns

The last few months of the year were taken up completely with production of The KNITSONIK System course, for which I worked a KNITSONIK swatch in real-time, and discussed the process of decision-making and the evolution of shading-sequences and motifs as I went, in filmed sections for the course.

KNITSONIK swatch - a selection of swirly, busy, knitted patterns in dusky pinks, golds, browns and lilacs, all based on a cinnamon-pastilles tin

The inspiration source used for my example swatch was a little cinnamon pastilles tin I think purchased in Italy on holiday thirteen years ago. The culmination of the course was all about applying stranded colourwork motifs discovered through swatching to a final design, using blank templates uploaded into the course environment, and I decided to finish with a hat.
With beads.

A continual frustration for me in swatching from my design was my failure to adequately capture the metallic gleam of my tin and so for the final version of my hat, I took the best colourwork ideas from my swatch and added some glorious sparkling glass beads. The hat is not perfect and I have IDEAS about how to refine the design but for now, what I knit can be a fitting close to 2020; something like a very silent firework going off in the dark.

Strnded colourwork hat with beads, seen from the side

Corwn of stranded colourwork hat seen from the top

Thank you for reading and joining me in this review, it has been so cheering to write it and I hope also fun for you to read. If you, like me, have been feeling weird about time and the new threshold of 2021, I heartily recommend making a scrappy list. I hope, like me, you’ll find there is more to celebrate than you perhaps initially thought.


11 thoughts on “Knits of 2020

    1. The neon lopi was purchased directly from Alafoss but it was a few years ago, and I’m not sure they are still manufacturing it. Sorry not to be more helpful! I am sure a dedicated online search will bring up some neon wool but sadly the one from this post doesn’t seem to be readily available anymore…

      1. thanks ! I’ve had a good google but looks like people bought it and its now out of the range… maybe ebay… I’ll look out for it

  1. Tower of strength is on my list, and yours encourages me to bring it forward!
    And the hens…
    I’ve similarly enjoyed reviewing the year and drawing my plans for the year to come. Wish you all the very best!

  2. It’s good, no better than good, but I lack words, to see how revising a year con prove fruitful and inspiring. You’re inspiring me to do the same, as 2020 has been a sh*tty year for me – as for so many of us. My revision might never reach my blog. But still I hope to distill some positivity from it.
    Thanks for your optimism.

  3. This inspires me to review what I knit this year and what thoughts were going through my mind as I knit. A combination of retreating from troubles to find a place of meditation but then sometimes spending my knitting time as a place to re-educate myself (listening to podcasts) and formulate action plans (letting my mind wander).

    1. I really recommend the review process! As you say, there is so much more that goes on with our knitting – from finding it a meditative place through to enjoying it as a place of active thought and focus.

  4. I hope seeing all your wondrous 2020 knits gathered together here proved cheering. I LOVE the tower of strength skirt and the cinnamon pastille hat is amazing! I also hope you’ll write more about land / fibre processing / structural racisim when time and space allows.

    1. Aw thanks for taking the time to read my post! Yes – it was very cheering to sit down and go through all the projects of last year – TOWER OF STRENGTH must be reknit in a different set of colours, because it’s just such a super skirt to wear. And I like the firework-like bejeweled crown of the pastilles-tin inspired hat too; I feel there is more to be done with combining beads with stranded colourwork!

      So much to say about land / fibre-processing /structural racism, it’s hard to know where to begin. But I’ve wanted to write about Ingrid Pollard’s photos for a long time so they might be the best starting point for a series of related posts. This forthcoming title from Peepal Tree Press looks like the perfect antidote to some of the dangerous, Nationalistic nostalgia that has been peddled by the clownshoes of Westminster in recent years, and feels like a piece of the puzzle, somehow:

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