A square for Wendy Carlos

A few weeks ago, my friend Kate and I shared the Square Share/Balance for Better Blanket project on which we worked earlier this year, together with all at team KDD&Co., to mark International Women’s Day, 2019. The blanket has been officially recognised as an example of best practice and I feel incredibly honoured to have been involved. Thank you, KDD & Co., and thank you, IWD!

Winner International Women's Day - Best Practice

As you may have gathered from the post I wrote about designing the square which celebrates Bobby Baker, or Kate’s amazing account of her square commemorating the poetry of Adrienne Rich – or, as you’ll know if you are currently designing your own square(s) using our template on Ravelry – the process of designing and charting squares can be quite involved. I relished this aspect of the project and found that working on each square provided rich opportunities to deepen my appreciation for, and to pay especially close attention to, the work of the person it celebrated. There are messy notes in my bullet journals accompanying many of the squares I designed which remind me of how I thought about them all and which I am enjoying revisiting for these posts.

bullet journal page with written notes, stuck in chart and glimpses of washi tape

There is a particular kind of focus required to transpose ideas from other people’s work into the language of stranded colourwork and – as a long-term co-ordinator of knit/sound projects – it was especially joyful for me to work on squares that related to the work of other creatives whose main work is with sound.

Today I want to tell you about my square celebrating the work of American musician and composer Wendy Carlos. Wendy first rose to fame with Switched-On Bach (1968) – an album of music by Johann Sebastian Bach performed on a Moog synthesizer which won three Grammy Awards and helped to popularise the synthesizer (and the music of J.S. Bach) throughout the 1970s. The commercial success of Switched-On Bach led to several more keyboard albums from Wendy, who also composed the score to two Stanley Kubrick films: A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980); as well as the film score for Walt Disney Productions’ 1982 film, Tron. These are some highlights of a long career and Wendy Carlos’s Discography is rich and varied. But my favourite release from her is Sonic Seasonings.

album cover for Sonic Seasonings by Wendy Carlos

I love this album, first composed in the 1970s. Although I might now try and describe it as “ambient music”, it prefigures that term – coined by Brian Eno later that decade – by several years:

“on the level of pure enjoyment, these records were designed to be a part of the decoration, so to speak – a sonic ambience that enhances the listener’s total environment. On still another level, Sonic Seasonings takes listeners out of their environment and into the countryside of their fantasy: the weary urbanite can eavesdrop on the conversation of chattering bids; the mountain dweller can leave his soul with the sound of the surf, and so on.

We ask, however, tht you, the listener, supply one element that we could not possibly blend into the final mix – your own imagination and his remembrance of Nature’s blessings.”

– Rachel Elkind, 1972

When it came out, the idea of an album like this was a new concept. Wendy describes how “there was no existing category for music of its kind.” The release was not Classical Music, while also not being Popular music, nor Jazz. Wendy writes that Sonic Seasonings was “intended to work on a timbral and experiential level, so the sound could “flow over you,””. Even with the development of later categories – ambient; minimalist; electronic; mood etc. – and the benefit of time and hindsight, it still feels difficult to pigeonhole this album as anything other than itself. I’ve not heard anything else quite like its vast, meandering world of creatures, moods, weathers, melodies and places and the CD booklet is full of thoughtful meditations and quotes on the nature of sound.

Quote from CD liner notes: "There's music in the sighing of a reed; There's music in the gushing of a rill; There's music in all things, if man had ears; The earth is but the music of the spheres." - George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824)

Sonic Seasonings was released on vinyl in 1972 and then reissued on CD in 1998 and it brings together the electronic textures of synthesisers with field recordings from nature. It follows the structure of a year and the four seasons – Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter – are loosely suggested in spacious, 20+ minute long tracks. Rachel Elkind worked closely with Wendy on the production and concept for this work and describes it as “an aural tapestry, [containing] natural sounds… subtly mixed with electronic and instrumental sounds in an effort to create four evolving, undulating cycles evocative of the moods of the earth’s seasons….an amalgam of the natural and the synthetic.”

There’s something really strange and beautiful about the hermetically-sealed electronic sounds of the synthesiser mixing and melding with the volume of space present in many of the field recordings with which they are mixed. That, to me, is what the mix of “the natural and the synthetic” means. It’s a gentle, pattering melody of electronic sine waves and tones blurring with the noisy smash of ocean waves in Fall; or the thunderstorm in Spring mixed with the voices of birds. As the days grow increasingly short, cold and dark, I have lately been taking a special pleasure in Winter with its shimmering, tingly sounds (is this what icicles sound like?) layered with drifts of wind; with the song of wolves; and with vocals by Rachel Elkind.

How to suggest such delicious sonic complexity in the finite canvas of a knitted square, 142 sts at its edge and decreasing dramatically towards its centre?

I decided to start by thinking about soundwaves since Wendy’s free, open, playful and curious approach to sound itself is what defines Sonic Seasonings, and since it is a picture of an island surrounded by waves and movement with which she chose to illustrate the cover of this body of work. Poring over the CD-liner notes, I noticed a further reference in a quote shared on the back cover and attributed to anonymous: “I am moving all day and not moving at all. I am like the moon underneath the waves that ever go rolling.”

To speak to these themes of waves and soundwaves, I opened the track Winter in my sound-editing software and printed out a screen-grab of its waveform which I then stuck in my bullet journal.

a photo of a wave-form taken from Winter by Wendy Carlos, as seen in audio-editing software

A waveform is something I’ve tried to represent in stranded colourwork before, but I’ve always been deterred by the problem of how to handle long strands between the peaks of different waves. Also, there is phenomenal detail in a waveform which is immediately lost once it is transcribed into the low-resolution medium of stranded colourwork. Tinkering with the peaks and troughs of my soundwaves and consulting the image taped into my bullet journal, I decided I needed to be less literal. I started to chart an approximation of shapes suggesting soundwaves. I decided there would be two tiers of soundwaves in my final square design to speak to the idea of left and right stereo channels.

sound waveform charted for stranded colourwork knitting

The artwork with which Wendy Carlos illustrated Sonic Seasonings is called Waves at Matsushima. It is a painted screen produced during the Edo period by the artist Ogata Kōrin (Japanese: 尾形光琳; 1658 – June 2, 1716) – a Japanese painter, lacquerer and designer of the Rinpa school. This amazing image shows the movement of the waves around the islands of Matsushima. Wendy and Rachel saw the original in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where, Wendy comments, they “fell in love with it.” I decided to colour my soundwaves chart with the shades that had so captivated Wendy and Rachel in shades from Kate’s Milarrochy Tweed palette. Hirst provided the creamy background; Horseback Brown and Hare described the warm dark to mid-browns; Stockiemuir and Garth provided the bright pops of green to describe the island flora in the painting; and Buckthorn evokes the blush of hot orange used by Ogata Kōrin in the original painting.

Waves at Matsushima by Ogata Kōrin; a rich palette of greens, oranges and browns shows a sequence of waves rolling against large islands which rise out of the water

Wedge swatch featuring my Wendy Carlos motif in the same colours as used in the painting "Islands of Matsumisha" by Ogata Kōrin

Do you remember the wedge-swatch of which I wrote in this post? I used the same technique – a swift way to swatch one quarter of the square – to test my design ideas out. While I worked, I listened to Sonic Seasonings. I then transferred my design into the proper chart template and sent it off to Mel who deftly turned it into this:

Soundwaves represented in a hand-knitted square, as visual wave forms in shades of green, brown and orange

I so enjoyed spending time with Wendy’s music and with the notes that came with her CD. I particularly like that she chose, in this 1998 re-release, to also share an early incarnation of Winter:

About the out-take: Winter went through a few more revisions than the other movements. It was not as obvious what sounds might best suggest this ostensibly cold, quiet time of the year (snowfall is nearly soundelss, and snow on the ground tends to absorb sound.) Originally I pictured a scene in a cozy cabin somewhere up North, with a roaring fireplace, a comfortable old rocking chair, a friendly purring kitty, and a music box playing, what else, music from S-O B (Switched-On Bach, Wachet Auf.) The first definitive mix of this attempt can be heard on this bonus track. It didn’t (and doesn’t) quite work, and so we looked in other directions, before coming up with the wolves plus haunting vocalise that more musically ends Sonic Seasonings.

I really like the quiet, domestic texture of this outtake – with its purring kitty! – and I appreciate Wendy sharing it with us as a record of her creative process and as something that she felt “didn’t (and doesn’t) quite work”. I thought about this a lot during the whole project and the idea – and the comforting soundscape of “out-take” gave me courage when anything I was working on didn’t quite come together right away; the sonic/track equivalent of a swatch.

Winter as described in the CD liner notes

I also thought about how, in several years of studying field recordings and the adjacent discipline of Electroacoustic composition at University, Wendy Carlos and this groundbreaking ambient project undertaken with Rachel Elkind were never mentioned by my tutors; all the more reason to celebrate them in our work.

bullet journal edge with soundwave washi tape and screengrab of editing software printed out and stuck inside


A Q&A with Nichola McGuire of Eclectic Gift

Following on from yesterday’s post, and celebrating the launch of my new greeting cards, we are joined today on the KNITSONIK blog by Nichola McGuire of Eclectic Gift. This post discusses mental health issues openly and is dedicated to anyone else who – like me, like Nichola – needs support in this area. All images © Nichola McGuire of Eclectic Gift and used with kind permission.

Thanks so much for agreeing to join us on the KNITSONIK blog today, Nichola. First of all, could you say a little bit about your work and your business, Eclectic Gift?

Nichola McGuire - a smiling black lady wears bright red tights and co-ordinated hair bow; she smiles confidently ahead

Hi I’m Nichola (of course!) and my work was born out of my need to find a way to express my feelings and have an escape where I could truly just be myself. As a teenager I loved to draw but I suffered badly with low self esteem. I decided at some point that I wasn’t any good, and I just stopped. I didn’t pick up a pencil to really draw again until I was having therapy for severe depression and anxiety as an adult. I realised it was the perfect vessel to transport my innermost feelings out into the world around me… my images also helped conversations with my therapist.

Once I began to draw and started to feel the relief and release of putting my feelings into pieces of art, I realised that I could also draw things that brought me joy or happiness. That started when I wanted a picture of a ballerina for my little girls and couldn’t find one that looked like them. I started to think about myself as a young girl, and how I never had a toy, piece of artwork or book that had a person who looked like me in it and how low my self esteem was. I decided to draw a ballerina just for my daughters and their reaction and the reaction from friends and family was amazing.

A black girl wears a traditional ballet outfit in soft, pretty pinks, and is surrounded by a cascade of glitter. She stands delicately and happily, with her arms out, as if making - or granting - wishes

People started to ask if I was selling my artwork. I thought they were crazy but here I am trying to carve out a little section in the world of art for Eclectic Gift: Etsy shop | Electicgift.co.uk

That lack of representation is something you are directly changing. There’s an atmosphere of joy and uplift running through your work. You’ve sort of answered this already but, when you speak about your daughters, I wonder if part of your creative motivation is a wish for them to grow up with the positive, affirmative images that were missing when you were young? I’m thinking about the rucksacks you had printed with your artwork for your daughters… and your amazing range of superhero greeting cards…

Two black girls on the bus, each wearing a rucksack featuring positive, uplifting representations of black women. One is a ballet dancer, the other is a superhero; these are Nichola's designs, printed onto schoolbags

Definitely. I was drawing when my son, who is now 20, was growing up. However, no matter the feelings I had regarding my lack of worth, I instilled a sense of pride, worth and belief in him and I envy his determination and self belief and that which my daughters have also. I think I overcompensated, not wanting them to experience what I have experienced, and my artwork became part of the systematic, positive reinforcement that is the foundation of their upbringing.

A black superHERo - a girl with a natural black hairstyle stands with cloak billowing, superHERo outfit on, and a background featuring a joyful golden crown and lines of energy radiating outward

One of the things I love about your work is the prominent roles that female friendship and sisterhood play; I wondered if you could say a bit about what friendship means to you when it comes to well-being?

It’s about connection; empathy; compassion and understanding. I’m lucky that my close friends allow me the space to say that I’m not well or that I don’t feel like getting out of bed without judgement or expectation. I used to feel like unless I was catatonic, rocking in a fetal position, bawling or inconsolable that nobody could believe how bad a place I was in. I’d wonder how I could get help or support if I looked and behaved like I was “normal”. It’s the understanding and space that my people give me to “do me” and just be how I need to be. That help me to feel supported and able to speak to them openly. Some days I feel like I cannot get out of bed and I’ll be very matter of fact about it. No hysterics. No crying. No fuss. But that doesn’t mean it’s not really shit and my people are there to encourage and support me and more often than not…I get up. So, to my people, thank you.

Squad goals - a group of black women wearing beautiful, brightly-coloured outfits stand in line, looking forward with an air of friendship, strength and support

What you’re saying resonates so strongly – I think very often mental health conditions like Depression and Anxiety are associated with certain types of outward presentation such as you describe: rocking in the fetal position; crying; hysteria; fuss. Yet, speaking from my own experiences – like you say – the bottom of the world dropping away can be weirdly undramatic, silent and interior. We just can’t know what is going on with anyone from how they appear outwardly. This is why it’s so important to speak openly about mental health and also to represent it, as you do with such honesty in your work. Addressing this is obviously key to your practice – what else is important to you as an artist?

Truth. I only draw what I connect with; feel something from; am inspired by; or which sparks my interest. For me that is most often falls into two brackets which are representing women of colour and representing mental health awareness. Sometimes I am just blending colours and doodling and something just appears on which I build but ultimately I hope to convey kindness, solidarity, sisterhood, empowerment and love.

I’ve had so many people offer ideas for “gimmicks” or “money makers” but I just can’t do it. If I’m not loving it then I’m not drawing it! Every piece I’ve drawn has a story, a journey, a meaning or both. Drawing is my release, my pleasure, my insides turning out. What you see on the paper is me!

As I am - an honest and sincere portrait of a black woman sitting in her underwear and represented honestly and in a mode of total self-acceptance. She looks down towards her body, her hair is worn naturally; the curves and bumps of her body are presented with celebratory and respectful honesty; she looks inward and down, appreciating herself on her own terms

YES YOU CAN! A young black woman holds up, and points to, a glorious card in which a stylishly dressed black woman wearing smart black clothes and a jaunty beret points authoritatively to the words YES YOU CAN

It means a lot to me that you have brought so much authenticity to your beautiful designs for my KNITSONIK cards; thank you so much. Of the amazing illustrationg you have produced, do you have a favourite? And, if so, why?

This is very difficult as there are aspects of each that have a piece of my heart. I think I have to say that the Missy Elliot piece is my favourite. When I look at it I feel as though I can hear the music and feel the rhythmic movement I was trying to create. I spent a long time creating the stitches for the dancer’s jumper and, although from a distance you probably cannot tell, I worked very hard to make the movement in the wool look as real and natural as possible. When I look at that piece I actually spend a lot of time zooming in on the stitches, haha!

A black woman wears a sweater with motifs on it that celebrate Missy Elliott's music, with the words SUPA DUPA FLY in the background, against the pink

I love this design as well – it reminds me of my friend Madeleine who has been encouraging and helping me to write up the pattern, and who bravely danced in it at Woollinn Yarn Festival this year – I say bravely, because that is thick, 100% wool, stranded colourwork fabric and dancing to the energetic beats of an iconic Missy Elliott track in that much wool can easily lead to over-heating! I confess I have zoomed in on the stitches several times too, in order to admire your work. I feel like each stitch you have drawn is the illustrated equivalent of each one I have knitted.

One element of this commission was to try and show the relationship between a knitter and their environment; could you say a bit about how you created the “world” each knitter is in? And what inspired your ideas for each one?

I felt that it was very important to listen to you and read your blog posts and articles and study the reference photos until I felt a sense of connection. The first one I did was Bricktastic and that’s the one I found hardest as I was very concerned about being able to bring your idea to life.

A black woman with an upright posture, a natural afro-hairstyle and a nice knitting bag filled with brick-coloured yarns strides along a street lined with highly-patterned brick walls and a sleeping black and white cat, who is curled up on a window sill

It took me a while to believe in myself and to work instinctively – which is where I thrive – rather than working very literally. So the ideas for each piece came from your words and images but I felt like I was imagining myself within the world of each idea. The expressions on the subjects’ faces represent the feelings I had while creating them and which rise in me when I look at them.

I love that and am particularly thrilled with the joy on the face of the girl listening through the EDIROL R-09 digital sound recording device (she just looks as happy as I feel when I am recording everyday sounds in the world around me) and the contented smile of the polka-dot knitter, who is scooped up in the perfect knitting chair and just enjoying her knitting in the way I hope all crafters can enjoy our work.

Your creative process for the bricks design was so interesting. Could you say a bit about the process of developing that design? Just to add that our cat – Joey Muffkins – is honoured to be part of it!

Ha! Hello Joey! The bricks were created in a way that I’d assume people would find boring but which I found very therapeutic. I started by mixing colours to create a space with naturally different tones. I then used different brushes to create texture and depth. Then I made slight differences in colours in order to have lots of bricks with similar colours but different enough amongst themselves to seem real. Then I built the wall one brick at a time, being careful to follow pattern rules all the way through. I’d show people who’d look at me and say “err…nice wall”, haha! They don’t understand how long the wall took!

This piece came directly from the cowl. The colours, tones and warmth were built from looking at it and drawing it in the same colour pattern and same stitches so that I almost felt as though I’d made one myself.

Drawn, hand-knitted stitches, in the shape of a hand-knitted cowl

Drawn, hand-knitted stitches, in the shape of a hand-knitted cowl, duplicated and filled with carefully-considered shades of brick colours

Drawn, hand-knitted stitches, in the shape of a hand-knitted cowl, duplicated and filled with carefully-considered shades of brick colours; the evolutions of the idea are shown clearly in the drawing

It’s so interesting to hear your process and it’s been my experience too that, although at first it seems boring (brick walls, really?), the process of paying attention to something solid and commonplace can be, in and of itself, incredibly therapeutic. People often look at my knitting based on brick walls and at my extensive photos of, urm, bricks!!! and say – just like they did to you – “err…nice wall!” so that’s something we share, now. I’m not sure people realise how long it take to knit bricks, either.

Thank you so much for sharing your process and the context for your work so generously with us. Finally – and most importantly! – where can my readers find more examples of your amazing work?

I have a website http://www.eclecticgift.co.uk. But honestly my kids keep expecting to be fed and looked after so I don’t get to update it too often. For more regular updates please come and follow me on Instagram @eclecticgift or treat yourself to some goodies from my Etsy shop. You can also follow my hashtag #eclecticgiftarttherapy and if you’re sharing an image online where I have talked about mental health in some way, you can tag your share as well.

It’s been a massive privilege to work with you on this and I am humbled to see some of my KNITSONIK ideas reframed through your creative vision; thank you for being willing to explore my knitting concepts in your beautiful illustration work, and for your generosity in collaboration.

Thank you for believing in me and giving me the space and time to create these pieces for you x

A collection of greeting cards by Eclectic Gift for KNITSONIK, arranged with their colour co-ordinated envelopes

Really hope you have enjoyed this Q&A and getting an insight into the creative world of Nichola McGuire. You can find the Eclectic Gift x KNITSONIK greeting cards in my online shop here; they are priced £8.99 and come in sets of five, containing all the designs.

Until soon –

Yours in the joy of collaboration and creativity,

Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

KNITSONIK & Eclectic Gift: A Collaboration

Hello, today I want to introduce a collaborative project between myself and Nichola McGuire – the artist behind Eclectic Gift. Nichola has designed a new range of KNITSONIK greeting cards which will launch in my shop tomorrow. We’ll celebrate their arrival there with a Q&A with Nichola but today I thought I’d show you a sneak peek at the artwork and give you a bit of background.

For the last few years I’ve been buying cards from Nichola’s Etsy shop, drawn to her uplifting and inclusive aesthetic.

Four women of different ethnicities, each doing a powerful yoga pose and wearing brightly-coloured outfits

Nichola’s work uses bright colours; takes a playful, bold approach; and unapologetically centres and celebrates black and brown girlhood.

A row of black and brown women, wearing matching outfits of black leotards and berets and standing in formation, in homage to the dancers in Beyoncé's music video of the same name

I think her images are beautiful.

Three full-bodied women linking arms in a beautiful embrace, each with different skin tones and wearing cropped black t-shirts, matching briefs and high heeled shoes. We see them from the back

After placing several orders of cards from Nichola, I searched for her instagram account and learnt that she shares my wish to demystify, de-stigmatise and remove shame around representations and discussions of mental health.

I started wondering whether we might be able to collaborate across the shared ground of our different practices, and wrote to ask if Nichola might be interested in working together. I sent her copies of my books so she could see if anything in them spoke to her. We met to agree a brief for a set of greeting cards, each of which was to frame KNITSONIK practices of knitting and listening as mental self-care; self-expression; and uplift. After some months of correspondence, drawing, writing and planning, Nichola came back to me with a beautiful set of images.

There are five greeting cards in all and they range from a beautiful image of a girl enjoying – as I have enjoyed, for many years – the enhanced auditory qualities of hearing the world through the microphones of an EDIROL R-09 digital sound recording device

A black girl holds an EDIROL R09 and takes enormous pleasure from hearing everyday sounds around her amplified, as if listening through a microscope

…to a woman dancing, like my friend Madeleine, to the glorious textures of Missy Elliott’s music (while wearing her Missy Elliott Sweater)…

A full-figured black woman wears a sweater with motifs on it which celebrates Missy Elliott with lyrics and drawn motifs from her albums. The dancer is in a pink environment surrounded by musical notes and the words SUPA DUPA FLY in the background in colours that match the sweater she wears

…to a knitter who draws comfort from the patterned brickwork of her town and knits them into an uplifting cowl

A black woman with an upright posture, a natural afro-hairstyle and a nice knitting bag filled with brick-coloured yarns strides along a street lined with highly-patterned brick walls and a sleeping black and white cat, who is curled up on a window sill

…to another knitter who, like all the knitters who joined in with the POLKAMANIA! KAL at the start of this year, delights in the pleasures of dotty design…

A black woman sits in a lovely curvy egg-shaped chair, knitting a dotty cowl. The pyjamas she wears are dotty; the walls are dotty; the rug under her feet is dotty; the curtains are dotty... everything is dotty and all the dots are inspiring her happy-making knitting. She smiles as she knits her dots.

…to a disabled knitter who, like a good friend of mine, uses a wheelchair as a mobility aid and is a wonderful knitter.

A disabled knitter sits in a stylish, self-propelled wheelchair, knitting a complex stranded colourwork blanket based on dandelions. As she knits, Dandelions from the ground around her feet are caught in the wind and fly up all around her

These cards feature the kinds of images I want to share and I hope you’ll want to share them, too: women confidently enjoying sound-recording technology; the ecstatic brilliance of Missy Elliott; brickwork, weeds and other commonplace items as everyday sources of inspiration; the endless permutations and possibilities of polka dots; and the normalisation of images of people with disabilities. When I look at them, I feel they reflect the joy that creative practices of drawing and knitting can induce. I wanted them to be applicable year round; to be blank inside for your own messages; and to reflect the direct, emotional language at the heart of Nichola’s illustrative style.

I really love the end result. Thank you so much Nichola for agreeing to collaborate with me; for bringing your gaze, vision, perspective and skill to this work; and for representing KNITSONIK designs with so much warmth and sensitivity. You rock!

The A6 size cards will go on sale in the KNITSONIK online shop tomorrow in sets of five at £8.99 per set. They are printed on high quality 350gsm postcard board and are supplied with colour co-ordinated envelopes made from 100% recycled paper. To celebrate their appearance in the online shop, I’ll share a Q&A with Nichola so you can hear more about her amazing work. We’ve spent a little while writing back and forth and it’s been lovely. I’m so excited to share our conversation with you all.

Until then,
Yours in greeting cards, greetings, and gratitude –

Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Classes at Vogue Knitting Live, Austin, Texas

Hello! If you follow me on Instagram you may know that last weekend I was at Vogue Knitting Live Intensive, held in Austin, Texas. I did two classes while there and thought you might like to hear about them.

The first was Dive Into Dipped Stitches with Jeanette Sloan. If you know Jeanette’s work as a designer, you’ll know that she loves bold colours; exciting stitch textures; and projects which enable you to create interesting, structured fabrics. Her class on Dipped Stitches brought all these elements together in a really inspiring way.

selection of hand-knitted swatches by Jeanette Sloan, featuring a variety of colours and variations on the dipped-stitch technique

Like me, Jeanette is a fan of swatching. I love the spontaneity and variety of ideas embodied in her swatches shown above – so much creativity, curiosity and play at work here. The dipped stitch technique explored in this class is so-called because it involves “dipping down” into a stitch several rows below the one you are knitting to create vertical floats which lie up the knitted fabric. The floats and how they are tensioned affect how the fabric behaves structurally and, of course, they are also highly decorative design elements. You can vary the placement of your dipped stitches, thereby changing the direction and height of your floats, and varying the colours and stitches used opens the door to an infinite range of creative possibilities. Each piece of Jeanette’s knitting highlights a different line of inquiry, and she finishes all her swatches with a neat length of i-cord which I think is a very elegant way to complete them. I got a lot out of looking at this little stack of swatches and thinking about the different variables explored in each one. To me, they buzz happily with an infectious mood of creative curiosity: “what about using this colour with that one?” “what about adding in a garter stitch row here?” “how about if I put my dipped stitch four to the right?”…

swatches made by students in Jeanette's class

…inspired by this approach, all of us in the class produced a little sampler documenting our understanding of the technique as Jeanette walked us through it in stages. First a left-leaning dip, then a right-leaning dip; then a V-dip; then whatever we wanted to do to apply and extend our growing knowledge of the method. The four swatches above are what we made in class and mine is the obscenely bright pink and orange swatch because really, what other colours would one bring to a workshop with Jeanette Sloan?

Bright pink and orange swatch

I had such a good time playing with my brightly-coloured yarns in Jeanette’s class and came away brimming with ideas for how to apply the endless possibilities of the dipped stitch technique. I cherished this invitation to play; the time and space to try something new; and the joyful and inspiring atmosphere with which Jeanette infused her class. I was so inspired that I stayed up late on the Friday night continuing with my swatch and trying out new permutations of pink, orange, and dipped stitches… Thank you for helping me Dive Into Dipped Stitches, Jeanette!

Pink and orange notions in Jeanette Sloan's dipped stitches class

The other class I attended was a day-long class with Denise Bayron exploring the construction and techniques in her carefully-planned out Hatdana design. This design can be worn like a hat or a bandana and is intentionally versatile, minimalist and elegant in all its thoughtful details. It’s also a beginner-friendly pattern which appealed to me a lot! I knew I’d be taking two long flights in a short space of time to get to and from the event and really wanted to pace myself and manage my resources in order to not end up frazzled and unwell. When I looked at the schedule I felt instantly relaxed at the thought of a day-long class with an achievable goal and not too many new-to-me techniques. Sometimes I think at knitting retreats there can be a temptation to try and cram in as much new knowledge as possible and although I was extremely tempted by the classes with both Connie Peng (HELLO COLOURWORK!!!) or Olga Buraya-Kefelian (HELLO TEXTURES AND CONSTRUCTION!) I was also mindful of jetlag and the need to manage my own event-anxiety, energy levels, and overwhelm. I had initially planned to cast a Hatdana on during my flight but when I saw I could spend a day knitting it with Denise herself, I thought that would be so much more fun.

Felix (on the left) and Denise Bayron (on the right). We are leaning into each other and beaming big smiles!

I wasn’t wrong.

I really enjoyed having a day-long class. It made me think about presence and process; accessible pattern design; accessible class structures; and the pleasures of revisiting and refreshing long-established skills. I loved the firm way Denise kept us on task “let’s keep knitting while we’re talking” and how she really got us into understanding what our stitches were doing at each stage of our making.

Hatdana on the needles

We spent the first part of the morning brushing up on basics like slipping the stitches at the edges of the Hatdana to make a lovely neat selvedge; managing our markers; and working cables without a cable needle. I really appreciated the careful way that Denise explained each step of the process of knitting the Hatdana to us, and how she managed our time throughout the day so that each of us ended up producing a miniature version of the finished thing. It felt like slowing down to knit; slowing down to appreciate my yarn; slowing down to appreciate the company; slowing down to appreciate it all. We cast on our Hatdanas and then slowly grew our skillset throughout the day, from the cast on at the beginning to the ribbed section that forms the front band and, finally, to the sewn bind off that so perfectly and tidily completes the Hatdana, framing the face and finishing the knitting neatly.

A row of miniature Hatdanas - little cones of knitting with cable detailing, yarn overs and a ribbed band at the top

There’s something so affirming about setting out with a plan to achieve something in a set amount of time, then getting it all done. This aspect of Denise’s approach is reflected in her patterns, which have lovely little check-boxes so that you can cross off every stage as you go. One of my bad habits is unachievable lists which make me feel bad (“boo! I didn’t finish everything, I failed” etc.) and it was really nice to remember the value of the opposite of this – achievable lists which make me feel good. Or, as Denise would say, “we had a plan and we followed it through.”

a brown cone of knitting with yarn-overs on one side and a neat selvedge on the other

I learnt so much in Denise’s class – not just all the technical skills for finishing my Hatdana, but also ways of ensuring a class is accessible at many levels of knitterly experience. I left a little more certain in my techniques for magic-loop; sewn bind-off; slipped stitches at the edge of my work; and stitch-marker management… but I also left with a refreshed appreciation for inclusive teaching practices and thoughts about how I could make what I do with KNITSONIK more accessible to less experienced knitters.

Thank you for a great class, Denise!

A word about the yarn I was using…

In Denise’s class, I was working with a precious skein of Castlemilk Moorit DK from my friend Rachel AKA Daughter of a Shepherd. I’d remembered I had it while listening to this beautiful clip, recorded by Raman Mundair, in which Shetland/Tanzanian teen Elsie shares her favourite Shetland dialect words. She says, of the word Moorit, “another word I love… describing the colour of your classic, brown, Shetland sheep. So… not really dark brown but kind of like a very earthy, natural brown… and that’s moorit. It’s a very popular colour.”

The moorit brown in the fleece of the Castlemilk Moorit sheep is partly derived from the brown Shetland sheep of Elsie’s description. Her enthusiastic description of the word “moorit” (which to me recalls a tasty digestive biscuit) sent me stash-diving for my precious skein of Castlemilk Moorit with which to make a lovely, oaty-brown Hatdana.

I’m so glad I took this yarn to a class where there was enough time and space to really savour working with it.

There is quite a bit of KNITSONIK news coming up so stay tuned for more posts and, if you’re subscribed to my newsletter, keep an eye on your Inbox!
Until soon –

Yours in the joy of learning,

Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS, KNITSONIK OPINIONS, KNITSONIK PROCESSES | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A square for Bobby Baker

I so enjoyed reading Kate’s account of designing a square for Adrienne Rich for our blanket. The poem she describes – An Atlas of The Difficult World – is one of many amazing works to which Kate introduced me through this project. If you are thinking about designing your own blanket with other people, I reckon that researching your squares, sharing stories, and making time to talk about what they represent are at least of equal importance to the actual knitting.

Like Kate, I use Adobe Illustrator to generate my charts, but I always feel the curvy shapes of knitted stitches do unexpected things to a charted design and that the only way to be absolutely sure of how the thing is going to look is to make swatches. I admire the efficiency of Kate’s design process immensely, and one of the treats for me about working on this project was gaining an insight into how she and Mel work together with charts and knitting. I loved seeing the seamless way that Mel’s hands translate Kate’s charts, and also her concise and thoughtful comments coming back “Should this square be blue?” “Have changed this one” etc.

My own process is less efficient and quite a bit slower. Although Adobe Illustrator definitely features, I also find I need some slow time spent with pencils and paper, and knitting on my swatches. This is time to think about the context of what I’m making, and also to get into the details of my designs. To describe how I work, I thought I’d start by introducing the square that I designed to commemorate one of my favourite artists of all time: Bobby Baker.

knitted square depicting four interwoven curls of moulded bread dough on a background of bread dough

This square features four moulded loops of bread dough, and recalls the protective breast pizza from the outfit Bobby creates in one of her iconic performances, Cook Dems. I chose this motif because it is the same one that Bobby herself wears on the cover of her magnificent book, Redeeming Features of Daily Life, and because it is emblazoned on a celebratory cupcake which Bobby Baker gave out at a talk I attended over a decade ago and which I have kept as a cherished memento, (time has turned it rather grey and ghoulish).

black and white book cover in which Bobby Baker is shown wearing white cookery overalls, a protective breast pizza and a pair of hand-baked antlers

Commemorative cupcake featuring Bobby Baker's Breast Pizza motif printed on icing in green and black shades

the cupcake, a decade old, with printed edible icing now faded beyond recognition and light fossilising evident at the edges of the very old icing

About Bobby Baker

I knew that a celebration of Bobby Baker would need to reference bread, cake, cooking implements or other materials found in British, middle-class domestic space, for these form the expressive basis of her work. In the 1970s, Bobby Baker had newly graduated from art school and felt deeply alienated from the art world and the domineering, vast, metal sculptures that were popular at the time. As a young, emerging artist, she supplemented her income by selling decorated cakes by mail order. One day, upon completing a baseball-boot cake, she had the amazing revelation that cake was her sculptural medium:

Suddenly it was like the heavens opened and a new thought shone into my brain – I’d made a Work of Art, a sculpture of equal status to Anthony Caro’s epic and huge metal sculptures. For a long time I just laughed with delight at the sheer irreverence of this decision to name such a pathetic, poorly crafted object ‘A Work of Art of Great Significance’. But I knew at the same moment that it was a pivotal turning point for me as an artist – I had discovered my own language, material, form – something that began to echo my fleeting thinking.

Bobby Baker's now iconic baseball-boot cake

Soft, perishable, undeniably drenched in complex social meanings, using this material as a sculptural medium enabled Bobby Baker to begin making art in a way that fit the complex, social themes she wanted to address. Thirty years later, as an MA and then PhD student exploring the significance of the everyday and domestic soundscape, I was drawn to the potent sonic materials of everyday life by the same forces which had inspired Bobby to start making art out of cake. I felt I had found a creative ancestor in Bobby Baker, and her work remains a vital reference point for my own.

In 2009, I was commissioned by Sound & Music to produce a contextualising series of podcasts for the Cut & Splice Festival which was, that year, themed around domestic spaces and living rooms. With kind permission, I used audio from some of Bobby Baker’s amazing performances to give a socially-engaged, feminist perspective on the tensions and complexities of the domestic soundscape. (You can hear that here.) In projects like this one, and in my doctoral research, I examined the links between our work. I also gained confidence in using humour by seeing how Bobby Baker did the same to broach complicated subjects like post-natal depression; class oppression; and the lack of respect and recognition for the domestic labour that produces and maintains the human race. For a long while, I had Marina Walker’s essay about Bobby Baker – The Rebel at the Heart of the Joker – stuck on my studio wall, where it exercised a kind of magical influence over my ideas.

Bobby Baker is intentionally naughty, deliberately playing with her food and making a mess, all the while carving out a space of agency and creative freedom in the same domestic contexts which have historically been restrictive spaces for women. Shocking, uncomfortable, vulnerable and teetering between tragedy and comedy, Bobby Baker’s work takes the very stuff of the Nice White Lady Home and turns it into a radical, liberatory critique of itself. Flour and juice become spattering paints that speak viscerally to the physical experiences of motherhood; cake becomes a sculptural medium “Of Great Significance” and packed lunches become a vehicle for pointed explorations of social class and identity.

The breast pizza (designed to protect the wearer against criticism) is a fantastic emblem of the spirit of invention and vulnerability that characterises Bobby’s practice. Cook Dems – the performance of which it is a part – also involves the creation of bread antlers (to increase one’s status) and a bread-ball skirt (to add that touch of glamour).

Cook Dems - Bobby Baker wearing breadball skirt, bread antlers, and protective breast pizza

After baking and donning these items, the piece culminates in a triumphal kitchen dance. In her book, Bobby gives a very moving description of taking this show on the road in the 1990s and bringing it to community centres around the country. She describes arriving “at a windswept estate overlooking the Clyde on the edge of Greenock” with her friend Pol (Polona Baloh Brown). They were greeted by a “group of sewing ladies” who were clearly expecting a fairly standard cookery demonstration and were surprised to find themselves in the middle of a subversive, feminist art performance:

In this instance, as with most, there comes a moment when people stop trying to make sense of what’s going on and just get into the swing of things. This was a particularly joyful occasion – my dream success event. They all chipped in and bantered all the way through. Their gritty, bawdy wit and appreciation of the innuendo was far greater than mine, so they took the concept miles further. When I did my final dance they all joined in and we shrieked with laughter together at the need for most women, and a lot of men, to wear a pair of baked antlers and just laugh, laugh, laugh.

To me, this description epitomises the value, impact and potential of community art projects, and the special genius of Bobby Baker’s work which is somehow able to unite people briefly in life-affirming experiences which reframe daily life as magical and transformative. I would love to hear from the women involved in this performance, and to ask whether they found – as I do, thinking about it now – that bread and the act of baking took on a special significance after being explored through this joyful creative lens. Thinking of this story again, the protective breast pizza comes to symbolise the pathos and risk in Bobby Baker’s work. How many of us would drive hundreds of miles to meet with a group of strangers in a community centre, and persuade them to join us in a potentially ridiculous, definitely uncertain, creative adventure? To be so willing to be that vulnerable with strangers takes immense bravery.

A closeup of the protective breast pizza Bobby Baker wears on the cover of her book

I certainly have found myself in various community arts settings over the years drawing strength from the stories of Bobby Baker’s practice, and perhaps emboldened by the thought of her valiant bread shield. In this, and in so many other ways, Bobby Baker’s work has had a profound impact on my own work with domestic sounds. However, she’s also influenced how I view knitting as a deliberate and feminist choice of medium which – like cake – is steeped in social and domestic references which make it a potent mode of expression. Bobby Baker is one of a generation of artists who insisted on the significance of women’s material culture, and who fought for it to have its own space and recognition in art history. Including her amongst my 15 blanket squares was about celebrating a particular branch of feminist arts practice using the fitting medium of knitted stitches.

About Bobby Baker’s Square

To design a square in honour of Bobby Baker, I first of all examined the shapes of the sculpted bread dough featured in her protective breast pizza. The four quarters of my blanket square were to be identical – which the four quarters of Bobby Baker’s protective breast pizza are not – so I knew I was aiming for an approximation, at best. A homage.

How to plan and visualise the quarters of my square? The actual chart used to knit the squares is bisected by the column of decreases that runs up the centre, which makes it hard to imagine how the finished square will look.

template showing the blank outline of the chart for Square Share

To help me visualise things more easily, I made a template for swatching which places one quarter of the finished square into its own space. I then filled the space outwith the quarter with a “lice” pattern (*k1 in background shade, k1 in pattern shade, repeat from * until all the stitches have been filled). This allowed me to get a sense of what each quarter of my square would look like in far less time than it would have taken me to knit an actual square, and enabled me to modify my designs in response to seeing them appearing in knitted form.

A blank chart which shows one quarter of the knitted square that will comprise the eventual design

Hirst – a lovely oatmeal shade – seemed an ideal base to suggest the breadiness of Bobby Baker’s protective breast pizza and then the rest of my design process focused on using Birkin, Bruce, Hare and Horseback Brown – (grey, charcoal, mid and dark browns, respectively) – to try to describe the pleasing, loafen materiality of Bobby Baker’s bread sculpture.

Shades of Milarrochy Tweed: Bruce, Horseback Brown, Hare, Birkin and Hirst

First chart attempt - a slender roll of bread charted as one quarter of ablanket square

Skinny Bread roll knitted from first chart

The first attempt looked, to me, too skinny. Although it is proportionately close to the size of the bread swirls on their background of bread in Bobby Baker’s shield, in this low-resolution rendering, without all the pleasing texture present in the original, I felt the knitted lines had to all be thickened by way of a compromise. It just didn’t look hefty enough for a shield. I tinkered with my chart in Adobe Illustrator until the moulded piece of bread looked thicker. Increasing the width of the loop of the bread dough in my square quarter enabled me to add in some more of the cracks and fissures that would be present on an actual baked bread crust.

Second chart attempt - a thicker roll of bread dough charted as one quarter of a blanket square

Thicker Bread roll knitted from second chart

This is one of the swatches for which the chart was developed in Adobe Illustrator, but once I printed out the charts, I made some marks in order to indicate where each of my double-pointed-needles ended, and to show myself where to change colour. I always knit from printed or drawn charts, which I place on a magnetic board. A magnet, which is also a ruler, helps me keep track of which row of the chart I am on. For this design I refined my chart in Adobe Illustrator but in many other cases, I did all my chart workings in pencil on my printed out paper template. Once it was clear to me that the second idea for the chart was working for me as knitting, it was a case of transferring my design from the wedge template into the chart template proper, for Mel.

Proper Bobby Baker Bread chart blanket square

This whole process – and sharing it with you today – have been an amazing opportunity to revisit the artistry and influence of Bobby Baker; I hope you have enjoyed reading about her work as much as I have enjoyed commemorating it in our blanket.

If you would like to make a swatch to help visualise your finished squares, you are very welcome to download my template for doing so here: blanket workshop worksheet LGF 1; this morning Kate also added the worksheet template I used for making my swatches to the Square Share Pattern, so that if you would like to try my swatching method for yourself, you can.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Bobby Baker and my knitted celebration of her work – until soon,


Square Share

Towards the end of last summer my friend Kate of KDD & Co. visited me here in Reading so we could plan a collaborative project. Our idea was to design something together which would speak to our shared interests in the creative possibilities of stranded colourwork, and the textures of womens’ lives, history, and creativity. We wanted to build on our many conversations over the years, and to work with our mutual friend, collaborator and comrade, Mel.

That meeting of many months ago has culminated in the co-creation of a celebratory, commemorative blanket.

celebratory stranded colourwork blanket, made up of many different, intricately-designed squares

This blanket represents many hours of exploring our own feminism; thinking about the people whose creative practices have informed our own; and the slow process of finding ways to appropriately and respectfully translate their work into stranded colourwork designs. Kate has written a bit about this process on the KDD & Co. blog today and we will both share more in coming days but, in the meantime, if you want to have a go at designing your own squares, you can download the blank chart template for doing so here.

In our friendship Kate and I are always enthusing to one another about artists, writers, designers and makers whose work speaks to us: “have you read…” “have you seen…” “have you heard…”. We wanted to infuse our blanket with that same spirit of joyous sharing. The final piece features 30 squares, each of which is inspired by the work of a maker who has, in turn, inspired us. Kate and I designed 15 squares each which Mel then knitted up, making helpful improvements to our charts and joining in with the conversations prompted by the background story for each square.

celebratory stranded colourwork blanket, made up of many different, intricately-designed squares

The process of celebrating anyone’s life and work is complex and researching and developing our squares for this project challenged us to think carefully about representation and commemoration. Also, a small colourwork square presents very particular limitations. It’s a low-resolution medium; the format of the squares and the shape of their chart means that designs repeat four times around each one; and working with Kate’s Milarrochy Tweed restricted us to a palette of 16 shades. These constraints imposed structure and discipline onto our ideas and forced us to regard the work and legacy of each of the women celebrated in a very particular way. Like the knitted postcards of Yumi and Muriel’s magnificent #KnittedCorrespondence project, each square offers a very small canvas for experimentation, learning, and exchange.

Too, there were questions about what our final choices should be, and what sort of feminist celebration our finished blanket would represent. This led to many challenging and thoughtful conversations as we thought about different intersections of identity and the shifting definitions of what feminism has meant to us at different stages in our friendship of over a decade. The process of poring over poems, letters, paintings, album covers and other manifestations of womens’ creativity was deeply moving and made me appreciate the many messy and multi-layered ways in which other women inspire me and influence my ideas. From the books beside my bed, to the sweaters I knit and wear, to what I watch, to the images stuck up on my kitchen cupboards, to the music I listen to, record, and mix, my life and my work are messily and joyously and intentionally connected with the creative expressions of a very diverse range of women. These connections lift me up and give me hope; they challenge me; they affirm me and my experiences but they also teach me about places within my feminism where I need more understanding, awareness and empathy. All these different layers and levels of inspiration and connection are stitched into our blanket and sketched into the pages where we worked out the details of our squares.

The collaborative nature of the project also meant that while exploring both old and new feminist ideas, I was also introduced to new perspectives, identities and makers by Kate and her designs. What a gift, for example, to find the moving performance poetry of Suheir Hammad…

a knitted square featuring a swirly red heart motif against a background of black, beige and green

…and to be introduced to the inspiring world of Alice Coltrane’s compositions and performances, whose album cover for Ptah the El Daoud, influenced Kate’s swirling commemoration of her work.

knitted square featuring swirling motifs in black and red against a background of blues, greys and greens

There are many more stories and connections embedded in our blanket – each of which deserve their own posts, really – but while we’re working on those, you can read more about the whole project here.

knitted blanket comprised of complex stranded colourwork squares

Working on this together was an immense privilege – a project both personal and political, and one that has made me think about what sort of feminist I want to be and why I even knit in the first place. From our first conversations about the blanket until now, we have hoped our project might inspire other groups to get together to create collaborative, commemorative blankets and to use that process as an opportunity for growth, dialogue and creative exploration. In that spirit, we’re starting to share what we’ve made together with you.

We really hope our work will give you ideas for your own Square Share.
Who will you celebrate, how will you commemorate their work? Who will you recognise and what will you learn from engaging with their work through creative processes of charting, knitting, swatching and design?
Perhaps – most importantly – with whom will you share your squares?

With greatest thanks to Kate and Mel for being such willing, thoughtful, challenging, supportive and constructive comrades through this creative project: it has been amazing to KNITSONIK with KDD & Co..

Until soon –

a multicoloured blanket comprised of stranded colourwork squares, photographed from a dramatic angle

Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS, KNITSONIK PROCESSES | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Skystone Hat

In my last post I shared the Skystone Armwarmers I was knitting in August.

Skystone armwarmers in pinecone colourway

These armwarmers were knit using the pattern I produced for Arnall-Culliford’s well thought out book, Boost Your Knitting: Another Year of Techniques. The motif is meant to suggest any inspiration source that has lots of little, differently-sized bits in it… from puffs of cloud in the sky above, to the little rocks and stones underfoot on any beach, or embedded in tarmac. Hence the name, Skystone.

I changed the palette to one of browns, greys and creams to make pinecone-inspired armwarmers, but kept thinking that the motif would look amazing arranged around the crown of a hat, so I designed the Skystone Hat.

In this form, and in these colours, the geometry of the pattern really begins to suggest a pine cone to me.

On Sunday, my friend Sasha modeled the Skystone hat for me. She patiently hugged trees…

…held pine cones…

…peeped from between branches…

…and helped me find the best puddles of sunlight on a sunny, September day.

Thank you so much, Sasha.

Now that I have written this pattern up, I keep imagining it in other palettes which celebrate organic forms. Artichokes, succulents, roses, cacti, sea anemones… what will you use as inspiration for YOUR Skystone Hat?

Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS, KNITSONIK PROCESSES | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Under the Himalayan White Pine

The KNITSONIK System emerged, in part, out of my continually picking things up, or being in places, and thinking I WANT TO KNIT THIS… but then having no clear way to action that vague, common impulse. My Sourcebook is full of strategies for tuning my wish into reality, and for ploughing through what can sometimes seem the insurmountable gap between being inspired and knitting a thing.

A few months ago I found something under a tree in The Harris Garden which instantly made me think I WANT TO KNIT THIS.

Large woody pinecone from the Himalayan White Pine

A pinecone, large and comely, and possessed of an elegant geometry.

Closeup of pinecone and shapely spines

Its shapes instantly reminded me of the motif for the Skystone Armwarmers I had just finished designing for Arnall-Culliford Knitwear’s Boost Your Knitting Programme & Publication.

Geometric knitting motifs for Skystone Armwarmers

Knowing a KAL would be integral to the launch of this pattern, I filed the pinecone under INSPIRATION. It meandered around our shelves and tables, winking at us with its glorious warm brown blush and resinous patina, and I wondered which shades I might use.

The more I looked at it, the more tones and hues I saw.

Different shades of brown, FC44, FC58 and 4 in the J&S yarn range read from left to right

As the KAL drew nearer, I toyed with various palettes but eventually settled on FC44, FC58 and 4 for the browns in the background which are respectively goldish, purplish and softish browns.

Pinecone pictured beside paler shades of yarn sequenced from top to bottom, 202, 2, 61, FC45 and 32

Then for the pattern, to speak to how the light hits the sticky pinecone spines, I chose 202, 2, 61, FC45 and 32 which I’d describe as cool cream, warm brown, milky coffee, caramel and cinnamon brown.

These colours have been comforting to knit and the connection between the pinecone and the restorative pleasures of walking in the Harris Garden drew me back there a couple of weekends ago to share my knitting with its inspiration source and to learn more about the tree that made the pinecone.

Himalayan White Pine

It’s a Himalayan White Pine. it is tall and lovely.

Looking up into the branches of the Himalayan White Pine

Himalayan White Pine needles

You can make tea from its needles;

Himalayan White Pine Needle Tea

you can make incense from the dried, resinous pinecones;

incense bowl with resinous pine cone smoking in it

you can sit underneath it and knit.

Felix sitting underneath the Himalayaln White Pine and knitting

Knitting needles and yarns on the forest floor underneath the pine tree

The whole experience of knitting from the tree, reading about the tree and studying the fruits of the tree sent me down a rabbit-hole of ALL THINGS PINE.

Pinecone rubber stamp and Pinecone armwarmers

While knitting my Skystone Armwarmers, I decided to split-splice my ends together as I went, rather than weave them all in at the end. Various techniques exist, but I like to run a needle-tip through an inch or so of each of the yarns I wish to join, separating the two plies. I then lay the four plies of yarn side by side in the palm of my hand, spritz them with water, then roll vigorously between my palms until they are felted together. I have a tiny aluminium bottle for spritzing while I splice to which I had the idea to add a few drops of pine and cedar essential oils. This made my knitting smell nice while I worked on it, but it also kept bringing me back to the joy of the tree that had inspired it.

Skystone armwarmers in pinecone colourway

It’s been so amazing to be part of this KAL and to find all the different ways in which other comrades are inspired to turn everyday life into stranded colourwork. There’s a great post mentioning some of the different projects here on the Arnall-Culliford blog and the projects on Ravelry offer a real feast of colours.

There is so much colour and joy in the KAL thread, that I was inspired to produce a special playlist dedicated to exploring the theme of colours in sounds, songs and soundart – subscribers to my newsletter will hear more about that in coming days.

For now, I’ve been working on a more forest-themed playlist. Knitting my pinecone into a pair of armwarmers has deepened my appreciation for the Himalayan White Pine, and given these cooler August days a soft brown edge – a whisper – of autumn.


Pinecone Armwarmers, incense, prints and glove blockers


Skystone Armwarmers

Do you know about Boost Your Knitting? It’s an empowering and thoughtful knitting programme devised and co-ordinated by my friends at Arnall-Culliford Knitwear.

Boost Your Knitting is a year of techniques taught through monthly knitalongs; video tutorials; and a specially-curated set of patterns by different designers. It will culminate in the publication of a printed book later in the year. Knitting the designs results in accessories that are warm to wear, yet which also offer manageable routes into learning new techniques. I love that all the patterns produced for Boost Your Knitting are intentionally conceived as markers of process and learning: such projects are my very favourite to knit, wear, and design. For all these reasons, I was thrilled when Jen and Jim asked me to be part of their project last autumn. Yesterday, my design – Skystone Armwarmers was revealed.

So, what technique does my design – Skystone Armwarmers – explore?

This project is about choosing colours for stranded colourwork. I wanted to produce a pattern with an adaptable motif, which could be knit in different colours to suggest a wide range of different inspiration sources. In knitting stranded colourwork from daily life, I continuously come up against things which could be loosely described as ‘surfaces with differently-coloured “bits” in them’. A bowl of salad; pebbles in a riverbed; spatterings of lichen on a tree; a jar full of odd buttons; a posy of flowers… Rather than reinventing the wheel and trying to invent a new motif every time I encounter such an inspiration source, I thought it might be useful to devise one motif suggestive of differently-sized “bits”, the palette for which could be modified to convey a variety of inspiring contexts. Once I had come up with the motif, my job for the tutorial section of Boost Your Knitting was to provide a simple framework for putting colours together. In developing the pattern and tutorial, my hope is to offer a more tightly-contained and bite-size entry point into the concepts, ideas and processes on which my KNITSONIK books and classes are based.

I developed the designs and colourways for the samples which appear in Boost Your Knitting based on bits of cloud over a darkening sky spotted last autumn in our beloved park…

…and on differently-coloured stones spotted on Porlock Beach.

The process of how I picked the colours for each of these designs is explained in the video below, which I made with Jen and Jim some months back. It’s about half an hour long so it’s worth getting a tea or coffee ahead of sitting down to watch, but I hope that it will help you with what I know is a continuous source of angst for many knitters: choosing colours for stranded colourwork.

If you feel inspired by all this to cast on some stranded colourwork you are very welcome to join the KAL that’s taking place in the AC Knitwear Ravelry group this month. Many folk will be knitting Skystone Armwarmers, but this is not compulsory. If you want to knit with us, you can join in with any stranded colourwork pattern/yarn combination of your choice – just use the free video tutorial to help you pick your yarn shades.

Here are the KAL details copied across from the AC Knitwear group:

AC Knitwear will be awarding the following prizes, chosen at random from eligible entries, at the end of the knitalong month:

  • A £20 voucher for use in the AC Knitwear online shop
  • Three prizes of a single pattern download from the KNITSONIK Ravelry store

In order to be eligible for a prize you need to…

  • Be a member of the Arnall-Culliford Knitwear Ravelry group
  • Post a photo of your work in progress in the KAL thread
  • Tag your project page on Ravelry with BoostYourKnitting
  • You need to choose colours for stranded colourwork, but it doesn’t have to be for the Skystone Armwarmers pattern
  • Works in progress are fine as long as there is a sensible amount of work remaining
  • You don’t need to complete your project within the month – it’s the taking part that counts. 🙂

AC Knitwear aim for knitalongs to be as inclusive as possible. You are welcome in our knitalongs regardless of race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, size, ability, financial circumstances, language, or where you are from. We will not tolerate any form of hate speech, whether intentional or not. We are working on the ways in which our business can be more inclusive and have better representation of all knitters. We are continuing to work on this behind the scenes, but we also welcome being informed if we miss something that goes against this aim. You can contact us via our website here.

I’m really excited about this project and have massively valued the opportunity to reframe what I do with everyday inspirations and stranded colourwork to fit the format of Boost Your Knitting. It’s really nice to see the pattern laid out in the clear, crisp format of the other designs in the collection, and great to be able to play with other stranded colourwork knitters this month in the AC Knitwear forum.

I’ll be joining in with a pair of Pinecone Armwarmers, based on this beautiful pinecone that I found in the Harris Gardens, here in Reading.

I’m still reviewing my selection of browns and – as per the video we made – using black and white photos to help understand the values of the different shades I’ve chosen.

Thanks to Jen and Jim for inviting me to be part of Boost Your Knitting – BRING ON THE TULIPS AND PINECONES, I SAY!

Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS, KNITSONIK PROCESSES | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The richly-patterned world of Sarina Mantle

I am so happy to have found the work of the artist Sarina Mantle and have spent quite a lot of time colouring illustrations from her amazing book, Women + Patterns + Plants, in recent weeks. Her drawings offer a lot of joy; they centre women in uplifting, glorious contexts, surrounded by flowers and leaves. I think her work is amazing.

Finding Sarina’s creative practice – vibrantly documented through her colourful instagram feed – has rekindled nostalgia in me for the formative 1990s in my own life. This was a joyous time for me, largely focused on anti-road protesting, and full of a rich, earth-based spirituality. I was obsessed with the idea of the sacred feminine, and Sarina Mantle’s work has reminded me of that. Exploring her work – mostly through the joy of colouring in – has also expanded my perspective on patterns.

In KNITSONIK knitting, I think about patterns all the time – but I think about patterns in terms of knitted fabric; pattern repeats; symbolic motifs that form a personal syntax or library: I think about patterns as part of hand-knitting and knitwear design. But Sarina Mantle’s work open new windows onto how we might contemplate patterns more broadly, beyond our knitting.

Sarina Mantle’s colouring book – Women + Patterns + Plants – also speaks tenderly to how patterns and colours can be related to our self-care. I wrote to Sarina to ask if she might do an interview about her work and happily, she’s agreed! To coincide with publishing this Q&A, I’ve also put together a playlist on Mixcloud. This mix features some of Sarina Mantle’s music, and has been produced as a sonic accompaniment to your colouring in adventures. Our Q&A is presented below, with images taken from the KNITSONIK archive and from Sarina’s instagram feed, for context. I really hope you enjoy this exploration of Women + Patterns + Plants – it’s quite a long one, so fetch up a tea and get comfy before you dig in.

FF: Your book reminds me slightly of artists like Monica Sjöö, or some of the writings of Alice Walker, which celebrate a kind of earth-based spirituality, and which suggest magical connections between women and plants. Could you share some of the artists and writers who have been an influence for your practice?

SM: One of my favourite artists is Frida Kahlo; I’ve seen her original works in her home Coyoacan (now turned into a museum in Mexico), also in Italy at the Scuderie del Quirinale, and in London at the V&A. Every time I’m in close proximity of her work my breath is taken away. She celebrates flora and fauna in her work in such a mystical & enchanting way. I also love so many poets; recent favourites include Warsan Shire, Nayyirah Waheed, Alex Elle, Liza Garza & Rupi Kaur.

I love strong women and powerful affirmations for healing.

FF: In knitting, the pattern and rhythm of an overall design come through repeating motifs many times, over hand-knitted fabric.

I make a chart, I knit the design, and as it is repeated, it takes on a sort of rhythmic form.

Could you describe some of your own creative processes with developing patterns in other mediums like print, paint and drawing?

SM: One of my favourite creative processes of developing patterns is my 100 days challenges where I do block-printed patterns every day exploring freethinking, non-attachment, fluidity and connection to a divine energy or source.

This process is about a flowing energy which lets the design become by itself and I don’t control or criticise the outcome, it just is. I make my blocks and use mark-making materials which form varied and unusual textures. I love the rhythmic form of endlessness, and tapping into the cosmic and ancient. I feel patterns are a connection to this unseen geometrical grid we live in and are made of.

FF: The first plant I ever drew was a spider-plant; I was about seven years old and that’s probably the first time I consciously drew stripes – one of the most basic and universal elements of design. Do you have a memory of the first time you drew a plant, and do you know when you started to think of plants as having a sort of underlying structure from which patterns might be developed?

SM: One of my early memories of drawing something which made me realise how complex and astounding we are as humans was my hands.

My secondary school art project in the first year was still life’s and drawing the lines on our palms. This kind of detailed study of still objects inspired my interest in looking at things in detail. I drew plants at school and I remember seeing deeply into the leaf’s pattern.

Plant consciousness really opened itself to me when I learnt more about the connection of mankind and plants through sacred geometry, Fibonacci sequence, flower of life, tree of life and so on… I saw balance, order, infinities… I traveled to South America and facilitated a pattern cutting workshop with Shipibo plant medicine people of the land; healers who are master painters and embroiderers. This was a huge turning point in my own awareness that plants hold much knowledge in ancient cultures. I realised that flora and fauna are frequently found in textiles globally across all cultures as if they all tap into, or flow out of, the same consciousness.

FF: As well as having beautiful illustrations to colour, your book features poems and prompts for the colouring book owner to fill in. How do you hope people will use these prompts?

SM: An example is my mother. She was the first to fill in the prompts. She made time for herself to reflect on her feelings, slow down, and put herself first, and it really touched me seeing my mum write down her feelings in my colouring book like that.

FF: One of my biggest hopes for carrying Women + Patterns + Plants in my online shop is that it will give fans of the KNITSONIK system more tools for thinking about, and developing, patterns for knitted designs to create and wear.

What do you think it means for us to wear patterns which celebrate our connections with our everyday lives? I mean, beyond decoration, do you think patterns perform a deeper function?

SM: I originally come from a fashion design background and love the construction of garments and hand-making textiles; this background sowed the seeds for my deep fascination for ancient culture textiles & patterns. I learnt that there is intention behind certain designs; that they can have deep meanings and cultural importance. I learnt that certain shapes and/or colours can be symbolic, ritualistic, ceremonial; that they can serve as identifiers of being from a certain community; that patterns can express individuality and also status. In daily life I feel patterns serve the same or similar function for me as a deep reminder that I am connected to an infinite source.

FF: I feel special connections to several plants: spider plants (for the reason mentioned above); dandelions (because they are so resilient and will grow anywhere, and because the whimsical timing of a “dandelion clock” reminds me of when my own body is slowed by illness); and cherry blossoms (because they are incredibly beautiful and the way they are celebrated in Japan during cherry blossom season is amazing and makes me want to be better at celebrating and thanking every season).

Do you have any special plants to which you are particularly drawn, and could you say why?

SM: I did a workshop in Mexico 2018 in an area called Oaxaca and we did a workshop based around our Uteruses and 28 day cycles. We were asked to visualise flowers on our womb; I loved visualising this part of myself with sacred flowers… that was powerful for me.

I love Aloe for its healing properties; I also love Hibiscus – it grows all over the island of St Lucia, where my mum was born.

I love cacti; they remind me of strength and protection and South American landscapes;

I love birds of paradise – they remind me of my aunty’s garden in St Lucia because she grows them in her back yard. I deeply love the lotus as a symbol of awakening and spiritual growth and yagé for her healing and wisdom, also.

I love sunflowers and orchids too… they simply make me smile.

FF: I love that your book blurs boundaries across places, plants and people, with patterning appearing across all those different contexts. Like the woman who is wearing stripy trousers, kneeling on patterned tiles, with a basket that has a patterned weave behind her, and then the plants forming a kind of rhythm around her. It’s so pattern-tastic! There’s a wonderful Shetland knitwear designer called Wilma Malcolmson who once said to me “we are always in colour” do you maybe feel we are always in pattern? To build on that question a little bit… can I ask, what do you end up taking photos of when you are out and about? I know loads of colour-obsessed knitters (including me) who take endless pictures of moss, rocks, lichens, for the colours… have you noticed any trends in what you document in photos, through your love of pattern?

SM: Yes I feel we are always in pattern, that we are pattern on a cellular level …. one of my favourite sayings is “everything is geometric, everything is vibration” the fact that we vibrate and are not as solid as we think makes me think of pattern. I research topics such as cymatics, Masaru Emoto research into human consciousness and the effect on the molecular structure of water and I love science and how it depicts aura, energy and so on.

Photos I take would be of tree bark, or layers of ripped billboard posters, speckles of paint split on street pavement, car tires on snow, a pile of autumn leaves… Anything which catches my eye and has a form of pattern.

FF: Same, same!

My favourite knitted motif I have ever designed is based on my digital sound recorder…

…it’s a motif based on the settings on the back of the recorder for stuff like “stereo mode” “high level sensitivity” etc. and how I always have those options set.

Just on a really mischievous level, I love that the visual pattern I produced from these settings really reflects the pattern of use and how I routinely use the recorder for documenting everyday sounds. Similarly, there are two levels of pattern in your colouring book – one that is the actual patterns to draw, but another deeper level which points to a pattern of use, and the idea that working through the book can be part of a daily ritual of self-care. Could you say a bit about rituals of self-care and where you feel this book fits in?

SM: I love this question, because self-care and the routine of self-care really taught me what it means to know unconditional love for yourself. No matter what we are going through in life, we can get to a point where we come back to ourselves and become present to how we feel. What we choose to do with how we feel can be very empowering. It can transform how we move, stand, speak, grow, feel… It can change our whole perspective on life, on how we want to be treated.

My ritual of self-care starts with meditation, breath-work and drawing.

My book really is about losing yourself in the meditation of simply being, in order to then tap into a kind of inner peace and creative consciousness. My drawings are a reminder to connect to nature which may lead to a stroll in the park or garden or perhaps wearing flowers in your hair or buying some flowers to arrange in your home.

FF: Could you tell us about other projects you have on and where people can find your work?

SM: I am a singer songwriter via my other Instagram @sarinaleah and I’m currently doing a monthly project where I create and produce music to a painting which is inspired by the energy of the sound. I’m also preparing for my first full solo painting exhibition on the 20th June and am very excited about this! All updates can be found via my Instagram, @wildsuga.

FF: Last question! If you had to pick just one design in the colouring book to form the basis of your ultimate dream woolly sweater, which one would it be? And why?

SM: I love meditation and women whose eyes are closed in deep reflection. I’d choose this as the basis for my ultimate woolly sweater, because it would be a reminder for me to connect to myself in this way and I’d wear the jumper while I meditated too, LOL! Magical.

Thank you so much to Sarina Mantle for agreeing to this interview and for taking such time and care with your answers. If you would like to buy a copy of Sarina Mantle’s amazing colouring book, Women + Patterns + Plants, you can do so here in the KNITSONIK online shop. You can also buy Sarina’s music from her bandcamp site here, and see more of her amazing original artwork here. Thank you again, Sarina, for doing this interview but also for your uplifting and celebratory arts practice.

Posted in KNITSONIK NEWS, KNITSONIK THOUGHTS | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments