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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Through June I was obsessed with the idea of knitting a chicken and made this one, using Retrosaria Brusca and this pattern.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
YOURS IN KNITTING AND UPLIFT –