Chapter 2 part 2: Deborah Gray’s Willow pattern china flags, worked two-at-a-time

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post, today I want to reveal the other special section tucked inside chapter 2 of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook: Deborah Gray’s pattern hack for working 2 flags at a time featuring her gorgeous motifs derived from looking at Willow pattern china.

This photo was taken at the inaugural KNITSONIK Quotidian Colourwork Workshop, and my first book – the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook – happened largely because of a very encouraging conversation I had with Deborah Gray afterwards. Over a delicious curry in the Ghurkha Kitchen in Lerwick I confessed to Deborah that I felt we’d not had time in the workshop to fully explore the topic of translating everyday inspirations into stranded colourwork and asking her if she thought anyone would be interested in a book on the subject. She replied with an emphatic YES and was immensely supportive during the Kickstarter campaign that enabled me to publish the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. Thank you, Deborah!

Deborah came to my workshop bearing a precious set of fragments of worn Willow pattern china she’d found on the beach in Shetland, and a vast soup bowl bearing the iconic design, which had belonged to her mother.

She made some self-effacing jokes at the time about the madness of bringing a huge piece of chinaware on the small plane to Shetland, but her instinct to do so immediately spoke to me. I also own some special Willow pattern china which belonged to my dearly loved Aunty Hilary, so Deborah’s wish to celebrate the everyday objects of the women in her family tree really resonated. Also, you just can’t argue with that kind of commitment to creative process! Things passed down through families hold real significance, and there is no substitute for bringing REAL THINGS from which to work when translating them into stranded colourwork.

In the months following that workshop, I was inspired to see the many ways in which Deborah creatively applied, and continued to explore, her theme. If you don’t know her work already, Deborah is a thorough and thoughtful maker and, like myself, seems to enjoy creative processes that span long distances of time and develop ideas along a theme. Her Traces series is inspired and she has written a lovely post about it here in which she ties together histories of Shetland, of her family, and the past and present of tea-drinking vessels.

A few years ago I went to Shetland for the first time, and on several beaches I found sea-worn fragments of blue and white china. Much of it I recognised as Willow Pattern – a design which links back to my childhood when my mother used to tell me the story of the two runaway lovers depicted on the plates she collected

When Liz revealed the amazing wedding KNITSONIK Bunting to me, I instantly identified Deborah’s flags with her now iconic stranded colourwork interpretations of Willow pattern china.

I was also intrigued by how this set of flags – and another one based on bananas, made for Monkl, and instantly recognisable to me as Deborah’s work – seemed to have been worked cleverly in pairs. I thought this technique was really rather nifty and asked if she would allow me to include her instructions and charts in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook. I’m so happy Deborah agreed. Her elegant designs, based on Willow pattern china will find resonance, I feel, with anyone who remembers or uses chinaware bearing this design. I also wanted to offer knitters who are less enthusiastic than myself about tarmac to see bunting flags derived from a totally different (yet still everyday) inspiration source.

As I mentioned earlier, Deborah seems to like developing nice long-term projects along a certain theme and, after making the Traces mug cosy series and a pair of beautiful flags for our wedding bunting, she went on to make a truly lovely tea-cosy using the same motif as a wedding gift for myself and Mark. It is gorgeous and very special with its many layers of memories and meanings. Thank you, Deborah!

I visited with Deborah last year after EYF and was really touched to see, in her lovely place in Oban, all the evidence of the beach-combing that continues to inspire her work.

Staying with her, in a beautiful space filled with things she has made or is making, I was filled with nostalgia. I realised I was being reminded of the beloved home of my Aunty Hilary, whose house was full of her oil-paintings and of things she had collected in her travels. When I got home with out lovely teapot and its bespoke cosy, I couldn’t wait to combine my warm memories of both these amazing women in a refreshing yet ceremonial cup of tea.

I hope that in studying Deborah’s charts and notes in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook, you may be similarly inspired.

YOURS IN TEAS, CHINAWARE AND BUSTING OUT BUNTING FLAGS TWO-AT-A-TIME!
XF

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Chapter 2 part 1: KNITSONIK Bunting, Tarmac Tuesdays edition

Continuing from my last post, today I want to talk to you about KNITSONIK Bunting: Tarmac Tuesdays edition – which is the main focus for the second chapter of my new book, the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook.

This bunting has a lovely, long, colourful history so let’s start at the beginning (you might want to get a hot beverage, I got really into this as I was writing).

Many months ago in Reading Town Hall where my friend Lara had arranged a wondrous hen-do for me and my friends, I was completely blown away to see – draped around the room – a glorious, technicolour length of knitted bunting. At first, because I was overwhelmed and also because some of the flags use the same motifs as in my swatches from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, I momentarily wondered what my swatches were doing there, why they were in triangle shapes and – OMG horror of horrors – whether someone had cut them up???!!! As I peeked closer I saw that each flag bore a different hand… that some of the flags had notes pinned to them… and that there were many unfamiliar motifs, shapes, patterns, palettes and colours running through the bunting. These were not my swatches; these were something else… something more.

I spotted a couple of motifs from the notebooks of knitting friends: Monkl’s special banana-themed motifs, designed by Deborah Gray…

a glorious sunset-coloured flag that instantly reminded me of Hazel Tindall

…a flag in yellows and purples reminiscent of some purple-sprouting broccoli whose colours had been admired by myself and my friend Brenda Dayne on a walk in a walled garden some years back.

Slowly it dawned on me that these magical flags had been made by people I love.

My friend Liz had diligently written to many of my buddies in secret in order to prepare some special KNITSONIK Bunting for our upcoming wedding. The instructions she’d sent with her pattern were simply to make a flag that reminded them of me, or that would remind me of them. The results are incredibly moving… Liz’s flags based on hot-pot – a recipe she shared with me once and the photo at the back of my first book…

…Cecilia’s versions of some of the motifs from it – especially from the Plants chapter with which she helped me enormously…

…Mel’s rendition of our Keith Moon jumpers side by side…

…Mikal’s ode to Huntley & Palmers biscuit tins, celebrating an afternoon we once spent in Reading Museum…

…Mandy’s glorious ducks commemorating my sadly now demised poultry…

…and a flag featuring the most outlandish and perfectly formed tassel in handspun Shetland wool from my friend Tom…

However, as well as being deeply personal and touching, the flags are also really instructive and helpful. Each one reveals different strategies for increasing in pattern and acts as a small canvas on which its designer can practice skills like centring motifs or thinking about placement and repeat-width in relation to available stitch count. They put me in mind of an oft-quoted thing said by William Morris when speaking to the values of the Arts and Crafts Movement: “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

YES! Useful and Beautiful! It is impossible to overstate the value of a gift like this.

The original KNITSONIK Bunting was proudly displayed over the mantelpiece in the room where Mark and I were married and then transferred to the stairs, where it hung as a backdrop to cutting our amazing knitted cake (iced by my friend Vic and her sister Lou!).

These magical flags accompany me on all KNITSONIK teaching adventures.

In its friendly combination of love, usefulness and beauty, the KNITSONIK Bunting reminds me of another gift Liz gave me once when I was in a deep depression: a massive, jolly mug that says BIG LOVE on it, designed by Emma Bridgewater. Both the mug and the bunting are inspiring, thoughtful and uplifting objects, but they are also eminently practical. The glorious starry mug in blue and cream has helped me through several successive bouts of poor mental health, and is an inspiring and beautifully designed thing. However, the mug is also a jolly good size for a massive half-pint of coffee, a thing of everyday use, and – naturally – dishwasher safe. Similarly, the wedding bunting is gorgeous and very touching, yet knitters in workshops always learn something technical through looking closely at the flags and thinking about how each one was made.

I kept thinking that a gift like this was too good to not share with other knitters.

Knitters know what it is to make something practical and technically accomplished, yet which is also lavished and embedded with personal meaning and intention and Liz’s pattern for KNITSONIK Bunting really speaks to this and especially to the potentials for collaborative and collective creative fun. I was completely thrilled when she agreed to let me include her wondrous pattern in my second book so that other groups of knitting friends could have her blueprint for making special, significant, symbolic and magical flags for one another.

We talked about making a sample for the book and I kept thinking about Tarmac Tuesdays – the amazing, collective online weekly celebration of tarmac that takes place each Tuesday on the Internet through the hashtag #TarmacTuesday – and how this project would make an ideal celebratory context to inspire a brand new set of flags. Established by Coranda Berry and Gemma Dudley at Edinburgh Yarn Festival in 2015, Tarmac Tuesdays are one of my favourite projects ever. For those of you new to the concept, every Tuesday, buddies around the world who know about the project take interesting photos of tarmac and upload them on Tuesdays (usually to instagram but sometimes on Twitter as well) with the hashtag #TarmacTuesday. What I love most of all about this project is that it can be done by anyone with a smartphone and an Internet connection, and that it proves – time and time again – that beauty, wonder and creativity can exist even in the dirtiest and most unloved urban spaces if viewed through the right frame. I love seeing the new uploads every week and, just like the BIG LOVE mug Liz gave me, the images remind me that stars and joy and colours and mischief and fun can be found in even the greyest places.

As well as its subversive joyousness, I knew that using Tarmac Tuesdays as the creative context for the KNITSONIK Bunting sample for the second book would mean including the photos of friends who join in with the project, using your gorgeous images as knitterly inspiration for our flags, and writing an essay expressing my appreciation for this project and its amazing community of participants. Liz and I squirreled away a folder of potential inspiration and sent flag-charts and yarn back and forth; I wrote to various Tarmac Tuesdays friends asking if it would be OK to use images for our super secret project; and Liz knitted up the sample for the book. All of this is featured in the second chapter of my new book. If you are one of the people whose photos we used, thank you so much; I hope you like what we did with your work. I wanted to include every single Tarmac Tuesdays image I could find but, if you check out the hashtag, you can see that would be a lifetime’s work! As well as working on the chapter for the Playbook, I really enjoyed deriving illustrations for the KNITSONIK Playbook Colouring Companion from the charts Liz and I made celebrating everything from flea-darts at the roadside to a DO NOT FOUL THE PAVEMENT sign spotted in Shetland by one of our contributors, Wendy Booth.

The photoshoot for the special Tarmac Tuesdays edition of KNITSONIK Bunting was one of my favourite points in the production of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook.

Mark had this idea that we should use the vast cavern of dirty concrete on a roundabout under a flyover on Reading’s Internal Distribution Road (The IDR) for our photo-shoot, and I knew of a footbridge over the same road that might also speak to our theme.

We headed out with all the bunting and Ferg set about capturing the joy of the flags and their relationship to urban space. It was magical to see how fluently KNITSONIK Bunting: Tarmac Tuesdays edition speaks to its inspiration source. I am convinced that wherever you take these flags, they will resonate with the roadscapes, the signage, the roadside weeds and the roadside markings.

Ferg was really excited by the contrast between the glorious colours of the knitted bunting and the dinge of the concrete space beneath the overpass and just for fun we took lots of photos of both the original wedding bunting and the new sample for the book wrapped around a pillar and immeasurably brightening up the roundabout.

When I look back through the photos from that day, I keep coming back to this one. It’s not the best one for showing off Liz’s spectacular knitting… but to me – and with Ferg’s insightful photographic approach – it says an awful lot about the larger idea of Tarmac Tuesdays. Just as with every local spot from which I’ve created a Tarmac Tuesdays post, the roundabout now feels a bit more magic… like it’s ordinary and grey, but also carries a magical, alternative, super vibrant version of itself within: a version dressed in wondrous knitting.

Every time I pass it I will think of the flags hung there briefly, of jumping and playing and laughing there with Liz and Ferg, and of finding ways to take a sorry looking thing and make it feel special and treasured for a moment.

That is what Tarmac Tuesdays are all about.

The beautiful thing about Liz’s pattern is that it is adaptable to many different contexts; to weddings, to birthdays, to retirement parties – to any sort of celebration, really. There is already a conversation on Ravelry about some kind of Knitted Correspondence/KNITSONIK Bunting mashup where folks would exchange flags in lieu of postcards! But when it comes to celebrating with my KNITSONIK family, I felt the sample for Liz Ashdowne’s pattern featured in the book should speak to the idea that beauty really is everywhere and to the creative vision of our wondrous online knitting community. I can’t think of a more appropriate project than Gemma and Coranda’s magnificent invention and all the cheering pictures uploaded under their genius hashtag. Thanks for reminding us to find all the colours in the greys and to everyone who joins in with this project, everywhere.

And thank you, Liz, for creating such a practical, thoughtful and brilliant canvas on which we can all inscribe and share our knitting inspirations… and for agreeing to share it with the world in my new book!

YOURS IN FLAGS, TARMAC TUESDAYS AND BIG LOVE,
FX

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Chapter 1: Knitted Correspondence

It’s so exciting spotting updates on Instagram and Twitter announcing the arrival of KNITSONIK books all over the world… thank you for sharing them!

わくわくする本が到着😃💕 . #knitsonik

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I thought those of you still waiting on your books might enjoy reading more about what they contain. I’ll be posting about the different chapters in coming days, and thought we’d begin at the start with Knitted Correspondence. This chapter foregrounds the beauteous work of Muriel Pensivy (France) and Yumi Shimada (Japan), who have been posting each other a stranded colourwork postcard every month or so for the past two years. Their knitted correspondence is always posted on instagram so if you use that platform, follow @labistrake and @yumiket to see their stunning knitted missives for yourself. They have just each produced a gorgeous postcard in celebration of the launch of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook so, if you have not done so already, please go and smother these wondrous posts in hearts!

Dear @yumiket, Here's my postcard for march. As yours, it is a very special one. We are celebrating @knitsonik 's amazing new books Stranded Colour Playbook and its colouring companion!! So this march postcard is a humble tribute to the gorgeous "Efflorescent" chapter of the book. We are also celebrating 2 years of #knittedcorrespondence! I couldn't imagine two years ago that it would be such an amazing adventure! I am so happy to share more about it in @knitsonik #strandedcolourworkplaybook. So THANK YOU both Yumi and Felix for your creativity, inspiration and precious friendship ! And you too wonderful knitters and knitting lovers! PS : March has been very cold with rain and even snow around here. The only flowers I spotted during a very cold sunday walk were crocus. I wish there is a bit more sun on my knitted postcard … but who knows, maybe next month ! #knitsoniksystem #colourwork #crocus #happyknitter

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This is a monthly knitted postcard to @labistrake and also a very special one to celebrate the launch of super brilliant new books by @knitsonik ! . It was in March 2016 when we started our #knittedcorrespondence . Can't believe two years have flown by. And I'm pleased to announce that our little swatches are in her new book. Many many thanks to everyone who has been traveling along with us in the wondrous journey and always cheering me up, to @labistrake who is my amazing partner, and to @knitsonik , I'm so happy to be a part of your glorious work! . This Pansy Swatch was originally inspired by a postcard (real one!) from @avaughan77 , one of my amazing penpals. Georgia O'Keeffe's pansy is so beautiful, elegant and sensual that I couldn't resist swatching it. It is spring now here in Japan. We can see so many lovely pansies everywhere. . #miniswatchoftheday #fairisleknitting #jamiesonandsmith #swatching #knittedswatch #knitswatch #pansy #pansies #georgiaokeeffe

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Each chapter of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook builds on ideas from my first book but also speaks to feedback I have received from folk using the KNITSONIK system. In teaching many classes and workshops since I began this work I’ve learnt that not everyone enjoys knitting a massive KNITSONIK swatch as much as I do… And that adventures in stranded colourwork are infinitely more fun when they are shared. Nobody has taught me more about these things than my friends Muriel and Yumi who have made their knitted postcards small and manageable enough to fit in around their busy lives, and whose small pieces of work act as rich sites of meaning and cultural exchange as well as being exquisite samplers of stranded colourwork design.

For me the project started like this. In 2015, I bought the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook and used the system in the book to knit two swatches: Lotus and Paris, Texas. I really enjoyed making these swatches and was pleased with my results. However, I also noticed that making large swatches required a lot of time and energy. In my case, it took about 3 months to finish each full-sized swatch and, though it gave me great joy to finish them, I thought it would be freeing to work on a more manageable scale: to knit small swatches inspired by my everyday life – like sketching or doodling or keeping a diary.

– Yumi Shimada

Muriel and Yumi’s knitted correspondence of the past two years speaks to something above and beyond the pure technicalities of translating everyday inspirations into stranded colourwork. Though each of their knitted postcards are technically accomplished and brilliant, they are also deeply moving tributes to commemoration and celebration. Together they map a friendship that has grown slowly, stitch-by-stitch, across the distance between France and Japan. Real moments of lived experience are crystalised into their knitted postcards and, as the body of work has expanded, their project has become as much about what it means to mark special moments in knitting as how this is practically achieved.

When I published the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, I wanted it to be a practical manual for translating everyday inspirations into stranded colourwork. However, the KNITSONIK System is also threaded through with the subversive, life-affirming message that you really can find inspiration everywhere, including when looking at old biscuit tins, A-roads, battered digital recorders or even just the bricks of the neighbourhood. I tentatively hoped it would give people practical tools for knitting… but also that it might inspire people to find ways to more deeply treasure the overlooked and underloved contents of daily life.

What Muriel and Yumi have done with my first book has surpassed all my hopes by miles and, in their knitted correspondence, they truly take my ideas to the next level. I know I’m not the only one who eagerly awaits the next instalment of #knittedcorrespondence each month, and it’s uplifting to witness their appreciation of everything from DM boots to gingham fabrics, but also to see their ideas – and online friendship – growing through their postings. Encouraging and egging each other on, inspiring and delighting each other, they remind us how much joy is to be found in appreciating ordinary things and how important it is to create in community and within friendship. Their knitted postcards, shared on instagram, reveal how creativity is fed when we share what we know with people we love in a spirit of fun and wonder.

In the winter of 2016 I wrote to Muriel and Yumi to see if we might be able to create a chapter together in my new book exploring some of the nuances and richness of their knitted correspondence and to my delight, they agreed that we could. I had magical encounters with Muriel and Yumi in the course of working on the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook and it is truly a massive honour to be able to share their work with you! Together we produced an 18-page chapter filled with glorious photos, wondrous wisdom, and tons of practical tools to set you up for your own adventures in knitted correspondence.

The chapter opens with letters between Muriel and Yumi, describing how they met online and began exchanging knitted postcards. This is edited down from a much longer conversation – really, we could have made a whole book purely on knitted correspondence!

We then each offer a knitted postcard pattern based on a view through a window. Muriel chose the view from her kitchen window; Yumi chose the view from her Tokyo apartment balcony; and I chose the view of our amazing Mulberry tree – which I can see year-round through my studio window. We talk a bit about how we went about breaking our individual inspirations down into our respective designs and the chapter closes with some grey-scale charts from daily life provided for your own adaptive purposes, should you wish to begin designing and exchanging your very own knitted correspondence. All through the chapter Nic used her incredible design instincts to lay things out in a way that makes perfect sense and which conveys the atmosphere and feeling of Muriel and Yumi’s work, as well as showing it off to best effect… and my talented brother Ferg brought maximum turbos to the photoshoot, having the brilliant idea to photograph all our postcards peeping through the letterbox of our house.

Working on this chapter was one of my favourite parts of producing the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook; I learnt lots from reading through Muriel and Yumi’s answers to the initial questions I sent them… and through consulting the amazing materiality of their lovely swatches. I really enjoyed thinking about the similes between individual knitters’ stitch-making movements and handwriting; and the different ways in which our imaginations respond to the world around us. Best of all, I enjoyed deepening my friendship with two amazing women who are making beautiful work and whose sense of magic in daily life really resonates with my own. I hope one day we will be able to get together and knit around the same table. In the meantime, we can keep in touch with knitted correspondence!

The view-through-a-window basis for our individual postcard patterns was Yumi’s idea. I loved it at once, because I felt all knitters would have, somewhere, a window with a view. I’m always looking to tempt folk into designing stranded colourwork via a really achievable starting point and if you buy the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook, I hope you will be inspired to look through your windows with fresh eyes. I know the view from my work room looked different after spending time with the glorious words and stitches of Muriel and Yumi.

Thanks from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to publish your knitted correspondence in my book and for sharing your inspiration with the world,

YOURS IN KNITTED POSTCARDS,
FELIX XXX

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Books books books…

It’s been a really busy week because I am preparing for this workshop on Saturday at the MERL, and because I have been shipping books! If you pre-ordered my new book(s) earlier this month, then your order shipped this week.

There are a couple of stages to posting out your books. Mark helped me last weekend with stickering books with download codes…

…and then my parents came to help with The Grand Pre-order Packing.

It’s amazing how much can be accomplished with a couple of extra pairs of hands, some good cheer, and the joy my Bam and Pops bring. We had a very jolly time involving an amazing curry, a massive roast chicken lunch, a late-night packing session and a wondrous numbered boxing system organised with unwavering enthusiasm by my Dad. Bam was the key CUSTOMS-LABEL COMPLETER (technical job description), book-stickerer, and nurturing voice of encouragement. Pops was the box rationaliser, and the main tea and refreshments overseer. He made about eight pots of tea, causing me to mentally rename the day of their visit as TEASDAY.

They both helped immeasurably, and I felt quite humble after they left realising that it doesn’t matter how old and independent I get… sometimes I just need my parents.

Thank you, wondrous Bam & Pops!

I had a rubber stamp made up so that those of you who requested a signature in your books could have one. I can still do most things with my hands but all tasks are slow and most of them are painful – especially writing old-school style with a pen. Thank you for your understanding and I hope my ingenious workaround will suffice. I wish I could use it on the customs labels too but I fear inspecting mail officials have no use for “best wishes” or “happy knitting”. However, if you are a customs label inspector and you are reading this, I would appreciate a steer on whether rubber stamps are allowed in lieu of a signature for disabled senders of mail.

The highlight of all the posting, stickering and stamping is seeing the books arriving with you. I’m loving spotting glimpses of them on social media when they land. It feels like I’ve been waiting for ages to share this book with the world and it’s really joyous to see it getting out there and appearing in your laps and on your knitting bookshelves… Thanks so much for posting the pictures.

As I’ve been packing up the orders, I confess I have been really enjoying how the Stranded Colourwork Playbook and the Playbook Colouring Companion look next to one another and also how they look next to my first book, the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook.

Nic and I spoke a lot about how to get the feeling of a sequel, and also how to show the relationship between the Playbook and its Colouring Companion and I think Nic’s triangular grid design is genius. Nic has a real gift for giving form and coherence to the ideas of different knitwear designers. Every time we work together I’m blown away by her intuitive feeling for layout and design. Thank you amazing Nic for making the books look so lovely and for being so turbo talented.

I’ve also been feeling thankful for my hands, slow and sore as they are, and for Angela’s Nails in Reading.

A shellac manicure with holographic powder and top-coat will do nothing to physically assist with psoriatic arthritis, but EVERYTHING for morale: fingernails of rainbows really help with packing parcels!

In final book-related news, I’m planning a small launch party on April 20th from 6-8pm in Reading… further details to be announced, but if you’re local and would like to eat fruitcake, play with samples and get your book, urm, STAMPED, please save the date.

MORE SOON,
YOURS IN BOOKS!
XF

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Home from EYF

I’m home from another magnificent edition of the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and am just blown away. This was a tremendous year in terms of MAXIMUM JOY FACTOR, seeing lots of my favourite people, and getting to enjoy a truly inspiring marketplace emporium. I loved the capacious marquee; the giant, well-spaced out seating area in the podcast lounge; and the beautifully curated Ysolda Wing. The slightly more spread out programming also helped regulate the intensity of the event and made it possible to be there every day and for it to never feel too much. All these elements of space and time at EYF are meticulously planned and are the product of Jo and Mica’s hard work and organisational brilliance: I take my woolly hat off to them both. They are building this festival in a truly wondrous way; it is loads of fun to attend and I always love teaching here. Thanks for having me along and for making KNITSONIK so welcome!

This year was different for me from previous years because of the massive psoriatic arthritis flare-up in which I currently find myself. My hands and especially my thumbs are badly affected and, emboldened by my friends on instagram, I decided to get a proper manicure ahead of coming so that 1. looking at my hands would cheer me up even when they were super painful and 2. I wouldn’t feel self conscious when teaching and pointing to people’s swatches or drawing in their notebooks (I am very naughty and forever doing messy drawings in other people’s notebooks to show what I mean…). I went for an amazing golden-cream gel manicure with a holographic powder on top. My idea was to go for something that would look sort of golden and cream on first glance, but which would tone with anything next to it. I can confirm that for every hurty thumbs moment experienced at the EYF, there were moments of mitigating joy and unapologetically smug feelings of THIS REALLY DOES GO WITH EVERYTHING. Hurrah for self-care and especially when it involves colours that make us feel happy!

Top of my highlights from this festival were two full days of teaching Quotidian Colourwork and Colours of Edinburgh workshops at The Risk Factory. Many items of personal significance were brilliantly translated into stranded colourwork and folk also produced many wonderful and unique interpretations of Arthur’s Seat. I truly love teaching my classes, and seeing unique ideas coming to life on the needles of the people who attend. Check out the galleries to see some of the amazing work!

Colours of Edinburgh sees moss, rock, stone, sky, cityscape and flora transformed into delicate lines, patterns and palettes…

Quotidian Colourwork celebrates people’s inspirations, from holiday photos to special tins, to paintings and favourite places…

THANK YOU TO ALL THE AMAZING COMRADES WHO CAME TO THESE CLASSES. I have really enjoyed seeing some of the swatches completed since – both in person and on instagram. I always love to see what becomes of work begun in my workshops so if you’ve still got a swatch on the needles, please let me know what it becomes.

On Friday, I met Claire of the New Hampshire Knits podcast and we had a lively interview including much talk of celebrating the everyday in knitting (KNIT) and sound (SONIK). We have been trying to meet up for a few years now and it was great that it finally happened.

Friday was also my friend Kate’s magnificent talk, in which she spoke about creativity and limitation. She read from a chapter in her forthcoming book – Handywoman – describing her glorious handmade childhood and the mood of invention and creativity that enabled her parents to thrive even when money was tight, and even as Thatcher was destroying the industrial North where Kate grew up. In the second part of her talk, Kate correlated this sense of working within limitation to having a stroke at the age of 36 and being compelled to make, for herself, new frameworks within which to knit, walk and create. Much of the content of this talk resonated very deeply with me and I found it very moving. Though mine is a very different sort of disability, I share Kate’s sense of working within a limited framework; of finding certain designs for daily use either humanising or disabling; of needing to prioritise self-care and – perhaps most importantly of all – of needing to create and amplify my own narrative. Stories of disability are often focused on “overcoming” and “not being defined” by disability – or on “miracle cures” or fixing things with diet (sigh) but I have always found these dominant narratives oppressive because of their damaging flipside, which is the implication that not overcoming, not triumphing, and feeling severely limited by disability – and failing to be miraculously cured through diets etc. – mean that one is failing at being disabled. I have much more to say on this subject but for this post let’s just say it thrilled me to the bottom of my heart to hear Kate talking about her experiences in life-affirming ways that avoided these painful cliches and which centred, instead, on her lived-experience following serious brain injury. At the end of her talk, Kate specifically said “I am not someone who has triumphed over disability” – a phrase so liberating and true to hear that it made me cry. I have no photos from this talk but it will stay with me for a long time and I cannot wait for Kate’s book: it’s going to be amazing.

I had to take a methotrexate injection on Friday which often leaves me feeling not quite right the next day. I decided the comforting joy of my Dandelion Efflorescent shawl was required for Saturday’s EYF adventures.

Efflorescent (which means “in the process of blossoming”) is one of the designs from my forthcoming book, and the sample was knit by my immensely talented friend Tom. Dandelions hold a special significance for me because when I was only able to walk at a very slow pace in my early 20s, I decided to creatively reimagine my arthritis-impeded body as being timed to a Dandelion clock. This was/is much more fun than saying “I am slow because my feet hurt” and many years ago I made a special walking-stick cover out of felt and created many field recordings to commemorate the lilting and unpredictable pace of my sore-footed steps. The Dandelion also represents precisely the sort of undercelebrated and unloved context that excites my KNITSONIK heart the most – TARMAC! BRICKS! WEEDS! – and green is one of my favourite colours to wear. I can confirm that if you are feeling wonky at the yarn festival, you NEED a giant shawl of flowers. The shawl won a special ribbon at the Stephen & Penelope booth, and every single person who came up and said “I love your shawl” helped to lift my methocarnage (methotrexate/carnage) mood. Best of all, I fancied I could feel the joy and mischief of my dear friend Tom in all the lovely stitches. THANK YOU, TOM!

A high point on my Saturday was meeting Gemma Dudley on her Little Grey Girl stand and being able to thank her in person for co-creating Tarmac Tuesdays several years ago at EYF along with Corrie Berry. Here are Gemma and myself in 2015, pictured with the tarmac photos that Gemma won following my talk/clownshow about my first book…

…and here we are now, on the cusp of the publication of my second.

Writing about Tarmac Tuesdays for one of the patterns in my forthcoming book was one of the most enjoyable parts… I will say more about this in coming days, but for now let’s just say I was thrilled to be able to give Gemma a thank you hug in person; I’m sending one to Corrie, too! THANK YOU FOR INVENTING TARMAC TUESDAYS – THEY ARE THE BEST.

On Sunday I was in the marquee at the Meet The Shepherdess event, along with all my samples for the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook + the Colouring Companion. It was really a massive treat to be able to have this little display up, and to be able to hang out there from 10 – 2 meeting comrades, talking about stranded colourwork, and catching up with friends from classes held at EYF in previous years, or at Shetland Wool Week. Also nice to be able to share the Tarmac Tuesdays bunting, and to reflect on its origins in the Edinburgh Yarn Festival itself. My corner looked very festive and I must make a big shout out to Mica’s sister, who helped me out with buying emergency safety pins and also using them, as arthritic thumbs + safety pins really don’t work well together! Look how much fun was had at the KNITSONIK marquee corner…

…loved meeting Mary Jo Bayliss, a sculptor with a knitted project/commission in mind; we talked about the places where Fair Isle knitting and Hip-Hop intersect as art-forms for making something magnificent out of nothing. She gave me one of these stickers and I am looking forward to seeing her knitting sculpture come to life as she works on it this year…

…I was blown away by how quickly this lady had worked up one of the new Shetland Wool Week hats. The pattern – Merrie Dancers Toorie – was unleashed this weekend at EYF, and is by this year’s patron, Elizabeth Johnston. Isn’t this version fantastic? Churned out on Saturday during the Rugby!

SVM came to show me her completed Colours of Edinburgh swatch (based on a triangle of gorse peeping out of the rocks under a bright blue sky) and we enjoyed seeing how nicely it played with the glorious swatches of my friends Muriel and Yumi (which were on show during the trunk show, as there is a chapter on Knitted Correspondence in the forthcoming book)…

I have long admired Pauline’s lovely football scarf made as a 30th Wedding Anniversary present for her husband using the KNITSONIK system and was thrilled to see it in person. It celebrates the Hibernian football club from Edinburgh. Isn’t it wonderful?

I was teaching in Amsterdam back in December and was sorry that my friend Yvonne couldn’t make it. I remember her swatch in last year’s Colours of Edinburgh class at EYF and her warm, encouraging words about KNITSONIK. It was great to see her and Daphne at the trunk show as you can see by our beaming grins.

The little bits of light on the moss in Yvonne’s swatch from last year…

…Daphne, me and Yvonne this year!…

…Also loved seeing my friend Jeni again and learning that the little round parts on this bunting flag that she knit for our Wedding represent THE NOSES OF SEALS…

…it was also tremendous to see Kirsten again, whom I first met on the train to EYF a few years ago. We were both admonished then for whisper-talking too loudly in the Quiet Carriage (naughty) but luckily being noisy and bouncy was completely allowed at Meet The Shepherdess so we did not get told off this time.

Finally, it was amazing to see Sonya and Tom, who were both wearing beautiful clothes they had made themselves, accessorised with mischievous smiles. There were so many friends I saw on this trip whom I failed to photograph but I hope you all know who are you and that I loved seeing you and being at EYF together. THANK YOU ALL for making it such a wonderful festival x

YOURS IN YARN FESTIVAL AFTERGLOW & WOOL FUMES XXX

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OMG IT’S TWINS!

GREETINGS, COMRADES!

I have been quietly beavering away here for the past few months on several projects and, following a quiet spell on the KNITSONIK blog, now have so much to say, I’m not quite sure where to start. The most important news item is that the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook and its twin – the KNITSONIK Playbook Colouring Companion – are now available to pre-order. Orders placed now will be processed by the end of March 2018. I’m really proud of these books and it has been hard to keep them under wraps for the last few months, so expect an explosion of stranded colourwork and coloured-in drawings on my social media channels in coming days.

The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook

This second book is very much a sequel to my first book, the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, and some of the themes may seem familiar. Like its predecessor, it is all about celebrating everyday life in stranded colourwork. The projects inside continue to speak to some of my favourite and long-standing quotidian obsessions like bricks, roads, weeds and flowers…

…however, where the first book was all about swatching to develop your own palettes, patterns and motifs, this second book is all about filling up your life with stranded colourwork to use, to share, and – of course – to wear.

I wanted this second book to continue in a similar vein to the first – to celebrate creative process and to get you playing with palettes, patterns and shading schemes that hold significant personal meaning. Additionally, having taught many KNITSONIK workshops in the years since my Sourcebook was published, I wanted the designs in this book to speak to some of the recurring questions that arise in my classes. Finally, The KNITSONIK System has been adopted and enhanced by the amazing community of knitters who use it and I wanted this book to shine a light on some of the work that has grown out of this rich, collective context.

The result is a book of projects that includes patterns by me and my friends. The collection spans a broad range of inspiring themes, practical issues and approaches for working with stranded colourwork. Each design is presented with beautiful photos, drawings and notes that enable you to customise it to reflect the things and places that matter to you.

In the book you’ll learn how to draft your own International knitted correspondence with my amazingly talented friends, Muriel Pensivy (France) and Yumi Shimada (Japan)…

…how to produce stranded colourwork bunting with your knit-buddies with my friends Liz Ashdowne (who wrote the KNITSONIK pattern for our wedding)…

…and Deborah Gray (who was at the first ever KNITSONIK workshop and who’ll show you how to work flags two-at-a-time in her beautiful Willow Pattern china inspired design)…

…you’ll also meet many other friends from the online KNITSONIK community who participate in #TarmacTuesdays…

…and discover how to turn the textures of your town into a cowl with an easily customisable and minimalist design…

…the book also explores scale and proportion when working with motifs, in a series of differently-sized device cosies developed with the help and input of my friends Judith Daykin and Melanie Patton…

…and in the final chapter, you’ll find out how to produce a stunning shawl based on your favourite flower. For this last project I’m joined by my friend Judith Daykin, and we speak about adapting palettes and patterns to suit your individual style and flavour. My friend Tom van Deijnen also helped with this last chapter, knitting an enormous sample that celebrates Dandelions. There are a lot of technical WhatsApp conversations threaded through those rings of colour and we discovered, while trying to style them, that they encourage you to throw many foolish shapes, including the being butterflies pose and the look, I’m peeping at you from inside my shawl pose.

The KNITSONIK Playbook Colouring Companion

Working on the Playbook, I thought very carefully about what kinds of tools I could provide to sit beside the main book and support the customisation of the designs. Those of you who have come to my workshops will know I am not a fan of spending many hours carefully plotting out hyper-detailed coloured charts on squared paper, prior to knitting: just casting on and swatching away seems almost as speedy to me! But, if you know the design you wish to knit and merely want to play with colours and shading schemes before you buy any yarn, wouldn’t a drawing of the motif that resembles the shapes of knitted stitches be useful? Why yes I think it would!

And wouldn’t it be nice to be able to briefly get an impression of how your overall design might look once knitted, through the use of a nice schematic?

The Playbook Colouring Companion contains simplified versions of all the motifs and schematics from the main book for you to colour-in before you start to knit.

I thoroughly enjoyed colouring in pages to feature on the front cover of the book and I think that you will too!

THANK YOU

If you follow me on instagram, you’ll know that this last year has been tough for me, healthwise. The psoriatic arthritis I’ve had since I was 19 has re-inflamed itself to the max, impacting my ability to work, my schedule, and my wellbeing. Developing these books in that context has been an immense source of joy and uplift. I feel immensely grateful for the atmosphere of love and support within which I have been able to create them, and my whole team of collaborators has been AMAZING. Therefore I’d like to say a massive shout out to Nic Blackmore – designer extraordinaire and peerless book doula; Fergus Ford – my photographer and little brother, who brings some special sibling magic to the images; Kate Davies – editor of dreams and voice of encouragement; Rachel Atkinson – my careful and enabling tech-editor; Cecilia Hewett – the queen of grammar, proofreading and correct comma-usage; and Mark Stanley for all the many ways in which he has lifted up this work. Also, shout out to the massively talented knitters – Deborah Gray, Judith Daykin, Liz Ashdowne, Melanie Patton, Muriel Pensivy, Tom van Deijnen and Yumi Shimada – whose labours have hugely reduced pressure on my hands whilst knitting the designs. Enormous thanks also to Jamieson & Smith for providing the magnificent material basis for all my work. Your Shetland 2-ply Jumper Weight is the best, it is the sunshine on every rainy day. The reason I can remember so many of the colour numbers is that I HEART THEM SO!

Finally – and well done for making it this far in this monster blog post! – I’d like to say enormous thanks to you. As I hope this post shows, my KNITSONIK ideas are not developed in a cultural vacuum, but in a rich, collective context. Big thanks to all the comrades who bring questions, ideas and creativity to my workshops and who join in with my games on instagram. I hope this book returns some of the immense joy given me by this wonderful, creative community and – best of all – that it provides more opportunities for us to PLAY!

EYF

If you are coming to the EYF, you will be able to see all the knitted samples from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook on Sunday at Meet The Shepherd/ess. I will also have some of the original drawings from the colouring book to show you, and all the swatches developed in the process of working on the book. Tickets for Meet The Shepherd/ess are still available here.

I’ll also bring the swatches developed in the production of the book to all my workshops and am very excited for more rounds of Quotidian Colourwork and Colours of Edinburgh! Those of you coming to my classes my like to see these posts for an idea of what to expect: Quotidian Colourwork, Colours of Edinburgh.

I will not have any copies of the book at the festival for sale – unfortunately the timings just haven’t worked out – so the quickest way to get the book is to pre-order it through my website here!

YOURS IN FURTHER SELF-PUBLISHING ADVENTURES AND KNITTING ALL THE THINGS IN STRANDED COLOURWORK,
Fx

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KNITSONIK in December

I didn’t mean to disappear from the KNITSONIK blog for two months but I have been hard at work on the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook!

It has been like old times working with Nic in our virtual office and pinging files and proofs and PDFs back and forth. We are over the hump and I am really excited to begin revealing what we’ve been up to in coming weeks. The Playbook is very much a sequel to the Sourcebook and the focus on creativity, interpretation and celebrating the everyday continues with a selection of projects, each of which is presented with enriching extra content so you can make them all your own. The best way to make sure you don’t miss publication info is to sign up to the dedicated newsletter here but here are some pictures of the work and projects in progress…

Themes from the first book have continued in this second one but are presented in new ways and with new ideas so that there are lots of opportunities to get deeper into the KNITSONIK system and to find more ways of celebrating daily life in stranded colourwork.

As you can see from the shots above, my brother Ferg has brought his wondrous feeling for light and colour to this book as he did with the first. He also brought a helper in the form of George seen here climbing inside the soft-box. (What is the point of a photo shoot of knitting with no cat?)

I had a question in the KNITSONIK Ravelry forum about whether or not to get the Sourcebook or wait for the Playbook if you are new to my work; the Playbook is going to continue ideas from the first book, but if you want the full KNITSONIK System the Sourcebook is still the one you need.

If you want to order over the festive season, please be aware that I am away this weekend teaching in Amsterdam. I will post all orders on my return on 19th December. UK orders should reach you in time for Christmas, but if you’re ordering from further afield, check with my lovely stockists to see whether anyone can ship more expediently.

Here are the National and International dates as listed on the Royal Mail website;
UK Service
Wed 20 Dec

International Standard
Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg

Sat 16 Dec

Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland
Fri 15 Dec

Canada, Finland, Sweden, USA
Thur 14 Dec

Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Poland
Wed 13 Dec

Greece, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand
Sat 9 Dec

I’m very excited about teaching in the Netherlands this weekend and am looking forward to seeing some of you in the palace of dreams that is Stephen & Penelope. Amsterdam is one of my favourite places especially at this time of year when the light is all low and glinty. The shapes and colours of the windows and the crooked old houses are beautiful and of course I found lots of bricks to love last time I was there in winter.

I can’t wait to see what those of you coming to Colours of Amsterdam will knit from these elements of the city. I also can’t wait to see what those of you coming to Quotidian Colourwork will bring as your inspiration source… for those of you who can’t make it, please join in vicariously by singing along with this magnificent video from Stephen West (the Stephen in Stephen & Penelope) whose enthusiasm for colour and for knitting bring essential light and joy in these dark winter days:

YOURS IN EVERYDAY INSPIRATIONS AND IN ALL THE COLOURS,
XF

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FO: Bousta Beanie

There has been a lot of charting and knitting to do this year for Book No. 2. However, although I have been staunchly committed to using All Available Knitting Time for working my own patterns, I confess that the joyous prospect of working a Bousta Beanie for Shetland Wool Week proved irresistible so I bunked off swatching for a few days and boy am I glad I did.

I’ve been a fan of Gudrun’s lovely work ever since knitting her Simmer Dim restored my mojo in 2011. Like Simmer Dim (and many other designs by Gudrun) Bousta Beanie is effortless and pleasurable to knit; sophisticated without being overly complex; and a refreshing, contemporary update to the knitting heritage of Shetland on which she draws. I love how the zigzagging motif draws its inspiration from Bousta in Sandness, Shetland, yet is abstract enough for knitters to adapt to their own contexts and favourite colours. The pattern is simple and easily memorised for first-time Fair Isle knitters; doesn’t demand ten million yarn shades; and is offered in enough colourways to give knitters many options but also the inspiration to innovate. I saw many, many Bousta Beanies in Shetland during Wool Week and it was really exciting to see how Woolweekers had enthusiastically embraced the official hat pattern on their own terms.

At the eleventh hour, packing my suitcase, I looked at the copy of the pattern I’d picked up from the Shetland Wool Week stand at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and felt a pang of longing to make my own version. In true KNITSONIK style, my Bousta Beanie is totally informed by an appreciation for the everyday and mundane details of my town here in Reading.

You see, looking for patterns everywhere and in everything has the unexpected side effect of meaning that I end up – in reverse – sometimes finding objects from daily life in knitting patterns. When I returned from Edinburgh Yarn Festival in the spring, I spotted a manhole cover with a repeating surface design most reminiscent of Gudrun’s motif.

It’s pretty hard to capture the saturated metallic tones of a manhole cover… my phone camera can’t really cope and tends to wash out the hues in lovely rusted metal and document a dull impression of flat greyness. However, I know from looking at manhole covers that their weathered surfaces contain petrol shades; warm complex purples; browns; and many other rich hues. I have bumped up the contrast and saturation in my phone photos of manhole covers to try and foreground the shades that I can see.

With rich purples, browns and creams in mind, I organised a palette for my manhole-cover inspired Bousta Beanie. I used five shades in my colour scheme. In the background I used FC44 (a spicy sort of brown with hot yellow heathered through); FC58 (a complex and mercurial heavily heathered blue/brown/purple/gold shade); FC14 (a complex deep tealy-blue purple). For the pattern, I used FC17 (like a pale chicken egg) and a now discontinued J&S shade that is the colour of a strong milky coffee. I shoved part-balls of all these shades into a bag along with needles and the pattern and cast the hat on during the long ferry ride from Aberdeen to Lerwick.

I was a bit sad knowing that my hat would never be ready to wear to the opening ceremony, but working on my Bousta Beanie during Wool Week turned out to be very cheering. Knitting my hat offered a lovely holiday from working on my own designs (a pattern! by someone else! fun and quick! a chance to use a discontinued J&S yarn shade!) and my work-in-progress was a sweet companion throughout my time in Lerwick.

After teaching the last of my classes, I had that slight feeling of the day after Christmas. Feeling a bit flat I walked back to where I was staying. It was a grey day and my suitcase of swatches and class supplies had an annoying broken wheel that slowed my pace. However, the sad slope home was improved immeasurably by pausing to document the manhole covers of Lerwick as I went. I even found one with a sort of Bousta Beanie crown-shaping design.

A much needed early night was comforted by cranking on the hat in my Airbnb in front of 50 Tips from Shetland Knitters by Hazel Tindall and Elizabeth Johnston and I got pretty overexcited about my brown rusty metal shading scheme and raved about it to anyone who would listen. I finished working on it several days ago after which it got a good soak and a turn on my vintage hat blocker. This transformed the hat into a slouchy beanie shape. My wonderful husband Mark (who is my number 1 comrade in photographing mundane details of Reading) then helped me to document the hat together with its urban inspiration source.

Thanks for the lovely photos, Mark! And thank you Gudrun for writing such a wonderful pattern that so many knitters have enjoyed. I hope you don’t mind that I messed with your well thought out colour scheme and options, but know that every time I pass a manhole cover bearing what I now think of as YOUR motif, I shall think of you with a giant smile and not a small dose of mischief.

YOURS IN MANHOLE COVERS AS INSPIRATION AND FINDING STRANDED COLOURWORK IN THE EVERYDAY DETAILS OF LIFE,
FX

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What people made…

…in my KNITSONIK classes during Shetland Wool Week.

My swatches laid out at the start of the class

One of my favourite things is teaching the KNITSONIK System to comrades excited about translating their world into their own unique palettes, patterns and shading schemes. This year I offered three different types of class during Shetland Wool Week, each of which was a variation on this central theme.

About my classes

In Quotidian Colourwork comrades choose an inspiration source that matters to them and then bring it to the class. I provide a vast array of yarn shades from which each knitter draws a palette based on whatever they brought with them.

MANY COLOURS FOR QUOTIDIAN COLOURWORK!

Class time is spent developing motifs and shading schemes from individual inspiration sources and talking about problems and solutions viz translating the everyday world into stranded colourwork. Everyone leaves the class with the beginnings of a swatch documenting their thought process thus far; with clear, printed instructions; and with small quantities of yarn for finishing work in their own time. With this class, I especially love seeing the individual things that knitters bring along. Here is a very small subsection of some of the amazing things people made in Quotidian Colourwork classes this year at Shetland Wool Week!

Shetland Colours is a variation on Quotidian Colourwork. Instead of bringing along an individual inspiration source, we all work together from the same source. I document the inspiration ahead of the class, print out many photos, and pre-select a tailored yarn palette.

yarn palette for Shetland Colours, Hermaness edition

Again, class time is spent developing motifs and shading schemes and everyone leaves with the beginnings of a swatch and everything they need to finish it in their own time. What’s particularly special about this class is seeing the unique ways in which a roomful of knitters interpret, celebrate a shared inspiration source. You really get to see how individually everyone views and perceives the world. I also like that this class has a kind of collective feeling and can often bring some of our focus to the present context of the class… like, when we’re in Shetland for Wool Week, it’s really nice to celebrate the beautiful sunsets and distinctive light around the islands; and to turn our knitterly eyes towards the greys and blues of Hermaness in Unst. These photos offer a glimpse of some of the knitterly translations of sunsets and cliffs worked by knitters this year in Shetland at my Shetland Colours classes this year.

I especially enjoy seeing how two different knitters will uniquely translate the same inspiration source… how beautiful are these contrasting views of water seen through rocks? Maja has concentrated on the warm tones within the rocks whereas Lene has been looking at the gradations of blue… and how the scale of a motif changes our perceptions of the shades with which it is knit.

Maja’s rock strata
Lene’s sea and rocks

The J&S Mittsalong class was developed exclusively as a class for J&S this year because I have now run quite a few #knitsonikmittsalong online kals (knit-a-longs) and thought it would be fun to do a class from the same premise.

Gunnister sunset mittsalong class setup

The Mittsalong classes this year for Wool Week used the same inspiration sources as my Shetland Colours classes, but we had an even more restricted palette from which to work, because everyone took 8 balls away with them with which to finish making their mitts. If we used more than 8 yarn shades, the cost of the class would have gotten out of hand! As with the other classes, the focus in the workshop is on developing motifs and shading schemes from individual inspiration sources and talking about problems and solutions re: translating the everyday world into stranded colourwork. However, unlike the other classes, the outcome at the end of this workshop is not a swatch but the beginnings of a pair of mitts, the colourwork portion of which is full of stranded colourwork experimentation! A swatch you can wear, if you will. It’s a nice way of addressing the fact that not all knitters like to swatch, and making sure that even when you are playing and experimenting, you end up with something useful and wearable at the end. The discipline of working within a much more restricted palette also has a lovely real-life knitterly practicality about it as well, and I hope that this class gives knitters who don’t want to buy ten million balls of yarn the confidence to develop beautiful ideas within a limited palette. Here are the beginnings of some Shetland inspired mitts begun in Shetland during Wool Week!

For all KNITSONIK classes I bring my growing swatch collection as I have found my swatches to be invaluable tools to have on hand. They are a living library of ideas about palettes, patterns and shadings and every time I teach I am grateful to them! This year ahead of Wool Week I washed, blocked and ironed all the KNITSONIK swatches and packed them neatly with a tea-towel infused with cedar essential oil and little fabric pouches containing lavender. It was beautiful to lay these clean, fragrant, hardworking pieces of knitting out at the start of each class and also to share some of the swatches from the new book. I love swatching for its own sake – a topic that came up frequently in my classes – but at the same time, it is always amazing to see designs growing out of swatches begun in my classes, and to see knitters wearing or making things to wear that began life in a KNITSONIK workshop. Keen eyed spotters and long-term readers might remember Lene’s beautiful fern swatch, started in a KNITSONIK workshop in Edinburgh back in the spring? Now it’s becoming the yoke of one of her distinctive floral cardigan designs.

Lene’s fern swatch and cherry blossom cardigan
Lene’s Yoke (left) KNITSONIK Sloes swatch (right)

I was also made up to get an update on a swatch begun in a Shetland Colours class… Linda did not like the “wave” shape she had designed and kept working into her swatch until she was happy with the results. It is always joyful to see how comrades solve problems in stranded colourwork.

Linda’s initial Shetland Colours swatch
Linda’s swatch-in-prorgess

Christine finished one of her mittsalong mitts and brought them along to show me and I was made up to see her friend wearing a swatch begun in my Shetland Colours class as a fringed arm-warmer.

WEARING ALL THE SWATCHES AND EXPERIMENTS WITH JOY!

Since returning home I have really loved seeing the completion of Christine’s mitts on instagram. They are a beautiful testimony to her love of birds and coastal landscapes and I especially like the clever detail of the waves breaking around the ribbing! I’ve also been blown away by Kristi’s hat, for which a holiday photo provided the palette inspiration.

All of this is very topical as the joy of swatching and ways to develop concepts sourced through swatching into things that you can wear are key elements of the second KNITSONIK book. The second book also builds very much out of questions and issues that have arisen in my workshops over the years.

As I get into the writing I’ll be thinking of these classes I taught in Shetland… of the questions you all asked; of the beautiful things you made; of our conversations; and of your knitting. Thanks for giving me so much to work with, for your willingness to play and experiment, and for bringing your unique ways of seeing and knitting to KNITSONIK classes. I learn so much every time I teach a workshop, and it’s really one of my very favourite things to do.

Thank you to everyone who came, and to Shetland Wool Week for having me.
If you have enjoyed this post, you may be interested to learn that I’m teaching more workshops at the following places in coming months:

Amsterdam (Stephen & Penelope) in December
16th December, Colours of Amsterdam
17th December, Quotidian Colourwork

I’m also teaching at Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2018, for which tickets went on sale today

…and I’m really happy to say I’ll be teaching in Dublin on 3rd and 4th February at This is Knit; details to be announced shortly.

For now, I’ve a book to write!
YOURS IN LEARNING,
FX

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Shetland Wool Week 2017

Shetland Museum proudly flying the flag for Wool Week

As you may have gathered, I’m back from Shetland Wool Week 2017!

I thought this year’s event was particularly good and I had a truly amazing time. Today I want to reflect a bit on what makes Wool Week so special; every year I return invigorated, inspired and humbled by being in this beautiful place surrounded by so many wonderful people and I thought that those of you unable to attend would appreciate reading about it and seeing some pictures.

Lovely misa Hay speaking on the opening night ceremony

The success and popularity of Shetland Wool Week come down to exceptional people organising the event; a close-knit community with wool and knitting embedded deeply throughout; a loyal global fanbase for Shetland Wool and Shetland Knitting Traditions; and a focus on developing the Shetland Wool Week programme in ways that ensure that the benefits and exposure of Wool Week are felt throughout the Islands. Inclusive, culturally enriching, people-focused and life-affirming, Shetland Wool Week is a true community effort, the beating heart of which is a superbly talented and hard-working team. Thank you Misa, Emma, Carol and Victoria for all the work you do each year to make Wool Week amazing… and to all the other Shetland businesses and wool workers whose labour makes this event so wondrous (I’m looking at you particularly, Woolbroker buddies).

Sanda Manson at the Shetland Woolbrokers matching the wool on the wall behind her

Wool Week has grown from strength to strength since it started eight years ago, and is more widely attended each year. There are people who return annually, but I saw many new faces this year too. Comrades come from all over the world to experience the rich programme of classes, exhibitions and events and there really is something for everyone.

One of the most successful traditions that has emerged out of the festival is the Wool Week hat – a trend started by Hazel Tindall in 2014, with her iconic Shwook design.

Shwook hat, designed by Hazel Tindall for Shetland Wool Week 2014

The premise is superb: the Wool Week patron for the year designs a hat. For the last couple of years this special design has launched at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival giving several months’ time for Shetland Wool Week buddies to make up the pattern. Many knitters go to Shetland wearing their hats, where they create a rich sense of knitterly camaraderie and collectivism amongst their wearers. For knitters unable to attend, knitting the official hat produces a feeling of vicarious participation.

Ella Gordon launching her Crofthoose hats – the official hat pattern for SWW 2016 – at Edinburgh Yarn Festival

I have knit all the designs so far – Shwook by Hazel Tindall (2014); Baa-ble hat by Donna Smith (2015); Crofthoose hat by Ella Gordon (2016) – and on the ferry to Shetland, I finally cast on my 2017 Bousta Beanie by Gudrun Johnston (it’s blocking as I type). The Bousta Beanie is brilliantly simple and addictive and I can see why many folks have knitted more than one.

An amazing collection of Bousta Beanies knitted by a member of the Shetland Guild of Weavers, Spinners, Dyers and Knitters

The motif is suitable for anyone new to the technique of using two colours at a time and the palette is infinitely customisable. You can use the three shades called for in the pattern, or expand on the palette to use more shades. You can even incorporate the motif – as this lady did – into your own hybrid hat celebrating several patrons’ designs in a single hat.

A genius woolweeker creation, this hat celebrates Baable, Crofthoose and Bousta Beanie designs all in one!

The hats have not gone unnoticed by the non-knitters of Lerwick. I had to get some antibiotics while in Shetland and the Doctor I saw commented on how wonderful Wool Week “and the hats” are each year. The lovely friendly folk at the Isleburgh Community Centre where I teach many of my classes said something similar, and my Airbnb hosts also commented on the joyous annual influx of colourful, proudly hatted knitters. The hats make Wool Week visible to the town, and Wool Weekers visible to each other. Through the unique visions of each of the patrons, each hat designed so far has foregrounded an aspect of Shetland’s textile heritage – Fair Isle colour combinations in Hazel’s Shwook; Shetland sheep in Donna’s Baa-ble hat; the history of crofting in Ella’s Crofthoose hat; and the colours of the Shetland landscape (particularly Bousta in Sandness!) in Gudrun’s Bousta Beanie. Hurrah for the hats and everything they represent!

As well as spotting all the hats around town, I love walking down Commercial Street and seeing how local businesses have decorated their shop windows in honour of Wool Week.

Ninian’s shop window, commercial street
Kirsty Johnston’s magnificent floral Fair Isle in the window of a shop on Commercial Street

This year I was delighted to discover that the local chocolatier – Mirrie Dancers – have produced chocolate bars on which Fair Isle designs are printed with edible ink. I love this and all the other ways in which the whole of Shetland seems to embrace Wool Week. The chocolate is a happy reminder of how deeply wool and knitting heritage are embedded in everyday life in Shetland, but it also demonstrates the economic opportunities presented by the continuing success of Wool Week. It was super this year to see so many home-grown Shetland products launching to coincide with Wool Week. Donna Smith’s Langsoond Yarn; Hazel Tindall and Elizabeth Johnston’s highly recommended instructional DVD; and Jamieson & Smith’s eponymous book of history and patterns, to name just a few. Last year the Shetland Times reported that Wool Week boosts the economy in Shetland to the tune of £500k which surely goes some way towards ensuring a vibrant future for wool in Shetland.

The wonderful map on which visitors pin tags to show from where we’ve come

Shetland Wool Week attracts tutors and attendees from all over the world, yet maintains an innate and precious sense of place. This balance is down to the team who have a brilliant ability to think both globally and locally. Introducing visitors from outwith Shetland to the all the great things happening on a community level around the isles, they simultaneously find ways to recognise Shetland’s position as an International epicentre of cultural exchange. Last year the renowned Estonian designer Kristi Jõeste taught and spoke about Estonian knitting and contributed a beautiful Estonian glove design to the Annual and this year, Japanese designer Chihiro Sato launched her gorgeous book Enjoy Fair Isle Knitting at the Shetland Times Bookshop. These are just two examples from a much longer list but to me they demonstrate perfectly how Shetland manages a justified pride in its native textile traditions, whilst also warmly welcoming and embracing outside influences and celebrating the work of comrades (like Chihiro) who have taken those traditions in new directions.

Muhu Fly Gloves by Kristi Jõeste, SWW annual 2016

As an outsider myself, Chihiro Sato’s words at the opening of her book really resonate and I’m sure if you are a visitor, they will resonate with you too.

The reason why I keep coming back to Shetland is not only that I love knitting but also that the nature and the people enchant me.

Wool Week is brilliant for highlighting what people in Shetland are doing with wool. On the night of the opening ceremony it was inspiring to hear from Caroline Simpson who runs the Maakin and Yaakin group at Anderson High School. Caroline explained how, throughout the week, young knitters at the school are discovering the joy of knitting in lunchtime breaks and after-school knitting sessions. Several of these comrades visited the Shetland Wool Week hub to knit and meet knitters from outwith Shetland and it was a joy to see what they are making, and to hear Caroline speak about how the Maakin and Yaakin group is popularising knitting amongst Shetland’s teenagers. Knitting was taught as part of a Shetland education up until the funding was cut in 2010. Since then, it is grassroots initiatives like Maakin and Yaakin and the Peerie Makkers that are keeping the craft alive amongst schoolgoers. For those of us like myself who returned to knitting in our twenties, it is beyond inspiring to see the complex and ambitious things being made by Shetland’s young knitters.

Caroline and Donna wearing vests made from Langsoond Yarn; Caroline bust these out in a week!

Also at the opening ceremony we saw a fantastic fashion show including work by recent graduates of the University of the Highlands and Islands. I failed to take any photos but was thrilled to see how the next generation of textile graduates are taking Shetland’s knitting traditions forward in unique ways. I was especially struck by the poetry of Kirsty Nicolson’s creations which, as this article puts it, incorporate “some thought-provoking political inspiration – among them an armoured knit representing an ‘assertion of power’ for women, and also a cardigan inspired by the coarse Scottish language used in recent protests against Donald Trump”. Drawing inspiration from the gansey (traditionally worn by fishermen), Nicolson had developed a beautiful bomber jacket for women to wear and I think the other garment to which the above quote refers is a cardigan with all kinds of words inscribed inside it. It was fantastic to see handknitting classics being appropriated and developed like this to speak to the current political moment and a privilege to see the work in person.

We also heard some very moving words from Jacqui Clark. Her poems about knitting, dementia and memory feature in the booklet Reflections Apo Hands beside John Coutts’ sensitive photographs of older knitters’ hands. The booklet was produced by Alzheimer Scotland and Shetland For Wirds and was launched at the opening ceremony.

Reflections Apo Hands, produced by Alzheimer Scotland and Shetland For Words, featuring poems by Jacqui Clark and photos by John Coutts

Throughout the week, representatives from Alzheimer Scotland were at the hub, speaking with knitters about the role that knitting can play in the lives of older people living with Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It was really good and thought provoking to learn a bit about the real and important ways in which our craft can play a positive role here for people with dementia and their families.

Another highlight of Shetland Wool Week this year was seeing the launch of Donna Smith’s beautiful Langsoond Yarn. Spun from the fleeces of her own and her neighbours’ fleeces, this soft and characterful wool is imbued with the same sense of place and thoughtful beauty as Donna’s distinctive knitwear designs. One of my happiest memories from this year’s Wool Week is of helping to tie tags onto these precious skeins, and feeling lucky to be able to play a tiny role in the living wool industry that is, after all, the very point of Shetland Wool Week. Thanks for having us over, Donna! Such a jolly evening.

Donna Smith, photographed by Alex Boak

A gorgeous portrait of Donna with her yarn features in People Who Touch Wool – a superb exhibition of photographs of Shetland’s wool-workers, taken by photographer Alex Boak. I felt it was inspired to programme this exhibit to coincide with Wool Week. The hub this year was amazing – lamps and sofas and free tea and coffee in a large, well-lit space facilitated endless knitterly meetups and conversations. Every time I popped in it was packed! And because of the exhibition, we were surrounded by images reminding us of the many hands through which our wool has passed on its way to our needles. To me, the presence of Boak’s photos in the hub is emblematic of how Shetland Wool Week always foregrounds and emphasises connections between Shetland’s working landscape and our contemporary craft of knitting. I love the quiet dignity of Boak’s portraits which celebrate wool workers in a way I find reminiscent of Tom Barr’s portraits in the book, Shetland Oo.

SHETLAND SHEEP!

Sheep have always had their place in Wool Week and this year a very jolly time was had at Gremista farm, meeting Shetland sheep, eating Shetland lamb and learning about what constitutes a good fleece.

detail of Maja Siska’s Ode to Sheep – this piece is woven with locks of Icelandic sheep wool

Also on the theme of sheep, I confess I shed a tear at the magnificently sheepy exhibit displayed in the Shetland Museum and fittingly titled Ode to Sheep. Maja Siska’s woven, felted, embroidered works are an evocative meditation on the character and beauty of the Icelandic sheep with which she is surrounded in her home in Iceland. Again, it is just like Shetland Wool Week to programme a thoughtful, soulful, deeply sheepy exhibition to coincide with Wool Week; a reminder to all of us in attendance of the magical creatures on which our work is ultimately based.

In conclusion, what a wonderful week full of local and International woolly talent; world famous Shetland hospitality; ten million amazing Bousta Beanie hats; a tide of enthusiasm; an inclusive programme; and a celebration of wool that draws on the past but that is always looking forward to the future. Such an honour to be able to come and teach at this event, and so wonderful to be able to share wool on this level with so many buddies.

Thanks to everyone I met in Shetland… you too helped make Shetland Wool Week 2017 rich and memorable.
I’ll say more about my classes in another post but, for now,
YOURS IN MAXIMUM SHETLAND WOOL WEEK APPRECIATION,
XF

Shetland sheep
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