Wondrous Waltz

A Black model with locs - Faith Makawa - wears orange dungarees and a white t-shirt, which pick up on the orange in her purple and orange hat, and matching pair of mitts. In her hands she holds a record in an orange DECCA sleeve, she is facing towards shelves of music, as if looking to position or place the record somewhere on the shelf

Thank you so much for your encouraging feedback and comments on my last post – I’m so happy it resonated with so many of you!

Today I want to provide an update on my main project for this spring and summer – Yarnadelic Remixes 0.1 – on which I’m working with my good friend and collaborator, Muriel Pensivy. If you’re signed up for it, I hope you’re enjoying our first chapter. I’m happily beavering away on various editing and writing tasks to end our first month while also preparing for the release of the second pattern in the collection but, before we get to that, I wanted to tell you a bit about Wondrous Waltz with which we launched the project on 3rd April.

Wondrous Waltz

A Black model with locs - Faith Makawa - wears orange dungarees and a white t-shirt, which pick up on the orange in her purple and orange hat, and matching pair of mitts. In her hands she holds a record in an orange DECCA sleeve, she is facing towards shelves of music, as if looking to position or place the record somewhere on the shelf.

This matching set of hat and mitts is worked using the double-knitting technique. This means that just like a componium punch-card – which can be played any way around inside the componium (really!) – the set is entirely reversible. If you look closely, you can hopefully see the musical phrases in the punch-card that inspired the motifs that appear in this knitted accessory set. Yes, the punch-card played by Faith in this picture features the same patterns of notes that decorate the hat and mitts she is wearing – how cool is that?

Faith Makawa wears a matching set of hat and mitts, bearing dotty motifs that are very exaggerated versions of the shapes that can be seen on the punch-card that she is playing through a componium (a programmable music box)

Musical Inspiration

These motifs are taken from the bass lines of two songs: Wondrous Place and Waltz (a mashup of which is also the name of the pattern). The original sample is worked in Yarnadelic yarn shades of the same names and I am really pleased with the strong links to actual music that I managed to achieve with this set. Put simply, one song is in 3/4 time, and so the emphasis falls every three beats; and the other song is in 4/4 time, with the emphasis falling every four beats. The rhythms running together phase in and out of alignment, synchronising only every twelve beats. In the hat, the blocks of colour bearing the notes that represent each bass line also align only every twelve beats – represented here by big blocky dots. I wanted to avoid vague references to music in my work for this collection and to truly root the shapes on my knitted designs in those of rhythm and pitch. My trusty little componium has proved indispensable to this task and I think it’s fair to say of both Muriel and me that the punch-cards ended up influencing all our ideas with their distinctive aesthetic of grids and holes. The visual world in which you find yourself when you start making punch-card versions of songs is one of dots – big dots, little dots, lace dots, repeating dots, scattered dots… At the end of a card-punching session, you’re left with little stacks of cardboard dots; these are the notes you’ve punched out of the card, usually with biro stars on them, marking their place on the grid.

A little wooden bowl of punched-out componium notes; tiny cardboard dots with biro marks on them from where they were marked on the grid

The Knitting Part…

After finding the musical shapes I wanted to use on my punch-cards, I tried many different methods for representing them in knitting – including in stranded colourwork! Here’s the punch-card (with the musical shapes that ended up on the hat highlighted in purple and orange)…

Wondrous Waltz punch-card - a componium strip on a cream background, with notes on it (represented as small black holes) and speaking to different musical aspects of two songs, repeated as phrases in sound.

…and my first idea for a chart, with a fairly literal one stitch = one note translation of ideas.

A very literal stranded colourwork translation of the design with one stitch per note and some fairly insurmountable stranded issues during the spaces between notes (which would have to be massive strands, were I rigid about sticking to this method)

Now, if you’ve ever explored a knitting idea like this, you’ll know that the proportions in which colours are used together in knitting can really affect their interactions. In my work on this design, I found that using smaller shapes in the warm palette created by the purple (Waltz) and the orange (Wondrous Place) created an effect far less distinct and interesting than the one I could achieve using larger shapes in the same shades. It’s a bit like with paint: lots of tiny little dots blur the colours. I also disliked that in this initial idea, I’d need some sort of neutral background against which to place the notes – and that this background would determine the overall appearance of the design, by being the most dominant colour! If you look at my hand-drawn chart, it is by far and away the white/cream of my journal pages that appears in the greatest proportion as the ground of space within which the “notes” appear. I did not want this! I wanted strong fields of Wondrous Orange and Waltzy Purple! A further point that pushed me towards the bold double-knit motif concerns the yarn itself. If you’ve ever knit with John Arbon Textiles Yarns, you’ll know this company tends to favour richly-blended shades that combine many colours to create a satisfyingly complex final colour – a bit like the iridescence of a feather that appears to be black, but reveals itself on closer inspection to be also blue and green and petrol and so forth. This characteristic heathery quality means that combining shades must be approached thoughtfully – otherwise you can end up with too many colours in the mix, cancelling one another out. The more I swatched with Wondrous Place and Waltz, the more I wanted to only use those shades, and to have big fields of them, rather than a fiddly mess that would blur and blend their similar warmth too much. Big shapes in stranded colourwork, however, would mean long strands and an unpleasant knitting experience. So I tackled my fear of double-knitting, knowing this technique would allow me to make big dots with big space around them, and that there would be no stranding issues, due to the double-sided nature of the fabric. In double-knitting, the colour not in use on the outside of the work is always being worked in the inside of the work – no strands and no “wrong side”! I must give a big shout out here to Jen of Arnall-Culliford Techniques, whose wonderfully clear instructions and Peaks & Troughs pattern gave me the confidence and toolkit I needed to learn and explore double-knitting. THANK YOU FOR THE BOOST, JEN!

Once I’d settled on a big bold graphic shape and the double-knitting technique as the key to realising it, I placed the three beats rhythm around the lower part of the hat, and the four beats rhythm around the crown, carefully interspersed with crown decreases. After knitting these, I realised the set really needed a matching pair of mitts – and why not have the option to have one hand with the three beats rhythm upon it, and the other with the four? (Of course, you can make an identical pair if this idea of mismatched rhythms on your hands does not appeal).

A pair of hands roam around a shelf full of sheet music; the left hand bears a three beats rhythm while the right hand bears a four beats rhythm and they are worked in a blocky orange and purple colourway

The Aesthetic

For the photos in this collection Muriel and I put together an inspiration board with a strong focus on visibilising and celebrating different creative sonic practices, and an atmosphere of play. We shared this board with our incredibly talented stylist for this project – Kupa Matondo. Kupa put together outfits designed to bring each of our designs to life and her eye for colour and picking out just exactly the right shade of blue, peach or green proved second to none. I love how she chose shapes and props that speak to the theme of play: dungarees, swingy dresses, a fedora hat, an oversized blouse dress… I will be forever grateful to Kupa for bringing an outside eye to this collection. Faith Makawa modelled our designs, bringing a palpable sense of joy to all the photos and gamely playing the piano, playing records, playing the music box and listening to headphones etc. to give context to our musically-themed hand knits. Belle-Amie Kaldjob (Bella) did a fantastic job on the makeup, carefully and creatively picking out shades from within each design in eyeshadows, lipstick shades and nails to help the colours pop. This is my favourite thing to do with makeup when styling my own knits, and it was really amazing to see this strategy put to work by a professional.

Faith Makawa wears the orange and purple hat, with beautifully shaded orange eye makeup; and a coral cheek blush that pick up on the warm tones in the wool used in the design

Deepest thanks to Kupa, Faith and Bella for your amazing work bringing the Yarnadelic Remixes 0.1 collection to life!

Bella carefully and precisely applies makeup to Faith's face; she is painting around her eyes and both women are deeply still and absorbed carefully in the task at hand

from left to right; Bella applies makeup to Faith's eyes (centre, green check dress) and Kupa (on the right) documents proceedings on her phone; in her other hand is the iPad that she used to organise us during the photoshoot

To ground our collection in a totally musical setting, we took the photos at Blewbury Studio where there is an actual Steinway Piano (!!!) and an amazing collection of sheet music and CDs. I brought tons of props – including both the records that inspired this design and my record player – so we could have some music while we worked.

Faith drops the needle on the record 'And Yet It's All Love' on which Fatima's song - Waltz - appears; in the background is the orange Decca wrapper containing the record Wondrous Place by Billy Fury

Faith holds and looks upon the orange Decca-sleeved record, Wondrous Place, by Billy Fury

I love how in the final photos you can see the beautiful artwork Fatima chose for her album (by artist Monica Kim Garza) – And Yet It’s All Love (featuring the song Waltz) – and the orange Decca sleeve of Billy Fury’s Wondrous Place. I also think the graphic colour-block aesthetic has a bit of a 1960s vibe that is a nice nod to the era in which Wondrous Place was recorded.

Faith removes Fatima's record from its sleeve; on the cover can be seen the artwork of Monica Kim Garza, featuring a Black woman relaxing on a bed enjoying her own space and not catering to any outsider gaze

Many of the musical links for this project are more easily described through video, which is why Yarnadelic Remixes 0.1 has its home on Teachable… but I hope that this post has given you a wee glimpse into our process and the nature of this project! I’ll be back soon to tell you more about Wondrous Waltz’s sister – Indigo Lover by Muriel but, for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting this first design from the collection and learning a bit more about the context and approach that we have taken with this collection.


4 thoughts on “Wondrous Waltz

    1. Yes – there are definitely some parallels with Braille. For example the grid on which the embossed dots are created is very precise and specific so that the readers’ fingers can read the resulting shapes; just like with the punch-card, if the dot is in the wrong place, it cannot be accurately read. According to Wikipedia there is also a musical notation version of Braille – I didn’t know that so thanks for your comment, which sparked the search that led me to that gem! It’s amazing how useful grid-based systems can be for translating data between different systems including from visual to tactile or from aural to visual… and certainly our punch-cards bear resemblance and connection with many other similar systems such as loom punch-cards, early data and computing systems, knitting charts and – as you point out – Braille.

  1. Oh, Felix! Now I get it!!! Although I have strong music and knitting backgrounds, I was struggling to understand your process of fusing music and knitting designs.
    This post was so clear and understandable to me that I got the oh-so-welcomed AHA moment. Suddenly I saw the knitted up pattern of music and its timing! WOW. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Kathleen

    1. Thanks for hanging in there with us – this is a complex project to explain and I appreciate your sticking with us until it made sense to you. It’s a tricky thing as I think each example in the collection helps to explain/exemplify the idea, but showing them all at once up front really ruins the surprise and stops each design from having its moment in the sun, so to speak. I hope as the collection unfolds, the concept will become even clearer :)

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