Shetland Wool Week Bunting

Earlier this year I got an exciting message from my friend Caroline Simpson to say that the Maakin’ and Yakkin’ group at Anderson High School had commenced a school-wide bunting project using Liz’s pattern from my second book. Because of the way my health has been this year I wasn’t going to go to Shetland Wool Week. However, as soon as I saw Caroline’s glorious flag, I knew Liz and I needed to get to Shetland to see the finished project.

Caroline’s Biology Department Flag

We left for Shetland last Wednesday. On Thursday morning we got to meet some of the amazing knitters who have worked on this special bunting. We were both completely blown away to see their stunning work. So fun! So colourful! So glorious!

Knitters and Knitting!

When Liz originally wrote the KNITSONIK Bunting pattern, it was for mine and Mark’s Wedding. Liz created the pattern and sent it to all our knitting friends. The original KNITSONIK bunting spoke to ideas of community, love, and friendship… and it’s come to every class I’ve taught ever since.

The Wedding Bunting!

We reprised the idea of collective joy and celebration for the Tarmac Tuesdays themed Bunting created for the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook, and we hoped that other groups of knitters would use the pattern for other community projects.

Tarmac Tuesdays bunting from the Playbook
Welcome to Anderson High School

However, when we talked about putting Liz’s bunting pattern out into the world, I don’t think either of us imagined anything quite as impressive, inclusive and fun as the flags knitted for the opening ceremony of Shetland Wool Week by the knitters of Anderson High School.

Look at these amazing flags!

Every element of School life is celebrated in the bunting. Each department has a flag…

Music by Rebecca
Business studies by Violet
Home Economics by Sara
Chemistry by Marion Yeaman
Art + Design by Donna
Languages by Marion Ockendon
History by Nancy
Computer Studies
Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies
Maths
Physics with intarsia prism

…But other aspects of school life are also celebrated.

Pupil Support
The Maakin’ and Yakkin’ group flag by Caroline
The School Canteen flag by Sara
Support For Learning
Lab Technicians and Safety by Sara

There are also some special flags designed by Nancy which celebrate the iconic hats designed by Wool Week Patrons since Hazel Tindall started the trend in 2014. Nancy used Deborah Gray’s handy 2-flags-at-a-time technique to produce pairs of flags, each of which bears a Wool Week hat design on one flag and traditional peerie motifs on the other.

Shwook flag using Hazel Tindall’s glorious hat motif
Baable-hat flag incorporating Donna Smith’s wondrous sheepy hat design
Ella Gordon’s fantastic Crofthoose Hat motif, adapted to include Anderson High School (the big yellow building top right!)
Gudrun Johnston’s magnificent Bousta Beanie design
Elizabeth Johnston’s superb Mirrie Dancers Toorie in flag form

Isn’t it fantastic to see Shetland Wool Week flags hanging side by side with flags celebrating Physics, the School Canteen, Pupil Support and Maths? And to see traditional Shetland motifs worked in the distinctive greys and oranges of the new Anderson High School interior?

Traditional motifs in Anderson High School palette
Anderson…
…High…
…School!

Liz and I were so inspired that we each contributed a flag of our own. Our flags drew palettes and motifs from the grellow school crest that decorates the floor inside the shiny new building.

Dö Weel and Persevere – the Anderson High School motto
Viking ship, wave and torch motifs inspired by the school crest
Liz’s flag (left) my flag (right) and the AHS crest
The bunting in the foyer of the school

As well as being a fantastic expression of collective creativity, this wonderful bunting speaks to the determined way in which Shetlanders are keeping knitting alive in schools. Following a decision made in 2010, knitting is no longer officially taught in Shetland schools. However, initiatives like the Maakin’ and Yakkin’ group set up by Caroline Simpson and the Shetland Peerie Makkers established by the Brough Lodge Trust are ensuring that knitting skills are passed on to younger generations in Shetland. The fantastic bunting hanging in the foyer of the school celebrates these skills as a rich part of school life as do the informal knitting sessions held at Anderson High. I wish I’d be able to stay in Shetland long enough to attend the special “Tak your sock” night hosted there this Wednesday as part of Shetland Wool Week.

Nancy, Caroline and Sara with the bunting!

It was really something to be able to go to the Opening Ceremony for Wool Week in the prestigious new school building, and to see so many knitters from all over the world gathering together to celebrate and learn from the incredible textile traditions of Shetland. Caroline took this photo from the balcony, looking down at the crowd; the photographer was trying to get a picture of us all and asked us all to put our phones away. People’s phones were out because they were looking up towards the bunting and trying to take its photo. No wonder, really; it looks amazing. I wish I’d been able to get some better pictures of it myself!

Wool Weekers at the Opening Ceremony

It was really inspiring to have the opening ceremony in the school; people like me come to Shetland for Wool Week to learn from the talented wool workers of the islands and to celebrate the rich knitting culture. Whether or not it’s officially part of the curriculum, knitting remains at the heart of learning, exchange, and knowledge in Shetland and I’ve never seen a better expression of that than the superb bunting made by Anderson High School.

A closeup of one of the sections of the bunting

The bunting will be there at the Makers Market tomorrow if you are still in Shetland and would like to see it, and apparently Nancy has taken some proper pictures of each of the flags which you may be able to see soon if you check on the AHS Maakin’ and Yakkin’ blog. If you’re up at the school tomorrow, do stop to look at the glorious flags – all 55 of them – knitted by Anderson High School. And if you see Caroline there, please give her a massive hug from me. She is the force of life, enthusiasm and fun that made this bunting happen and I think she’s amazing.

Caroline Simpson – the organisational force behind the AHS bunting!

The most exciting thing about my work always involves seeing what other people make using the techniques, patterns and ideas from my books; it’s my favourite thing ever when other people join in. I love celebrating daily life in stranded colourwork, and I love how Liz’s genius bunting pattern has given people a framework within which to play with the KNITSONIK System. It’s been just magic to see what Anderson High School have done with these ideas. From the janitors’ Henry Hoover to the designs on the dinners ladies’ breeks to the bunsen burners in the chemistry lab to the shiny new school crest to the sports hall, all the textures of school life are celebrated here in technicolour glory. You could spend all day looking at it (I nearly did on Friday when it was being put up). The bunting is a thing of joy; I feel really honoured that the school used the pattern from my book in this way and am thrilled Liz and I got to see what they made for ourselves.

YOURS IN ALL THE JOY OF BUNTING,
Felix XXX

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Sourcebook: Fourth Print Run

This morning I pressed GO on the fourth print run of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. I have always had relatively small print runs in order to manage the storage space required for distributing books myself, and the financial risk involved in stumping up for lots of printed materials all at once. Still: it feels pretty exciting to me to be ordering another whole fresh batch of books and pretty amazing to think of all those books already out in the world, on people’s bookshelves, and – happiest of all – stashed in folks’ knitting baskets along with needles and yarn.

I’ll freely admit that when I started my Kickstarter Campaign back in 2014, I genuinely thought I’d print a couple of thousand books, send copies to all the Kickstarter backers, sell enough books to pay myself for my time, and move on to The Next Big Thing. I never imagined that I’d still be working with this book four years later, nor that the ideas I put into it would have become so central to my life.

In the course of writing the Sourcebook I discovered that teaching my ideas is one of my greatest passions; that translating everyday inspirations into stranded colourwork is my vocation; and that I had another whole book inside me – the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook – just waiting to come out. I still get all the feels and have been known to cry when I meet people at knitting events who say “I backed your Kickstarter” because you – yes, you – genuinely changed my life.

I now spend a couple of days a week organising stock and managing fulfilment for orders and wholesale. The rest of my time is spent working on new knitting patterns and projects, trying to get back to regular podcasting, and working on sound art commissions and projects. Since 2015 I’ve been experiencing a massive arthritis flare up that has hugely infringed on my capacity for all my work. The impact of disability and arthritis on my hopes and dreams has been rough and I don’t want to get into it here but let’s just say that through this whole time I have felt incredibly lucky to have been able to support myself and to grow my little business largely through book sales.

All of this is awesome, but do you know what is even awesomer? Seeing what people do with my ideas once they are out and in the world. I wanted to celebrate ordering the fourth print run of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook by sharing some of the amazing things people have been making based on the ideas in my books. Thank you Lucy, Jane, Julia and Marshall for permission to share your gorgeous knitting here and for finding such inventive and magnificent ways to put the KNITSONIK system to work. Readers: please shower these amazing projects with hearts over on Ravelry!

First up, how beautiful is this inventive, commemorative phone cosy created by Lucy Kershaw? Lucy designed and knitted this after coming to one of my workshops earlier this year at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and I love her attention to detail in picking out a palette by looking carefully at the tiles and how ingeniously she has adapted their intricate patterning for the medium of stranded colourwork. Gorgeous.

Chart was designed from some tiles in a restaurant we were at in Paris earlier this year.

– Lucy Kershaw

I’m always amazed at the many different ways in which people put my ideas to work. Lucy’s beautiful swatch shows her thought process in designing her whole phone cosy herself, but it’s equally inspiring to see how a completely unique piece of knitting can be created through adapting and reworking the charts provided in my books.

In this magnificent project Jane Monk has modified my Cherry Blossom motif by reworking the palette to reflect her chosen inspiration source and combining it with her own rosehip and leaf inspired charts. The results are stunning and she had the brilliant idea to work two swatches at once, then have them framed. Jane’s mum received one copy of this beautiful knitterly exploration for Mother’s Day, while Jane kept the other for reference. Isn’t that a lovely way to share knitterly inspiration and adventures?

I’m blown away by how Jane’s adaptations have transformed my Cherry Blossom motif (from the Playbook) so that it is, indeed, a glorious blossoming of Wild Roses in her work.

Jane’s mellow palette and inclusion of pinks and greens is gorgeous and there is something both restful and diligent about her swatches. From using up stash in unexpected ways, to the glorious charts and notes on the Ravelry project page, to the lovely framing of the end result, everything speaks to carefulness and an appreciation of process. In our correspondence Jane says she found this a really absorbing knit, and I think you can see that in what she’s knitted.

My first attempt at a Knitsonik style swatch, inspired by rose bushes on my walk by the river.

– Jane Monk

A different sort of adaptation (and one I really love as we draw into Autumn) is Julia Walker’s combination of my Hops Legwarmers pattern (from the Sourcebook) with the charts from the “My Street” inspired edition of KNITSONIK Fingerless Mitts. I *love* seeing these charts transposed to legwarmers, and the clever ways in which Julia has tinkered with the motifs to fit in more bricks and weeds than could ever have fitted onto a pair of mitts. Shade 2 – the toasty warm grey that makes up the ribbing here – is one of my all time favourite shades of Jamieson & Smith 2-ply Jumper Weight. The proportions are a bit different for legwarmers than for mitts and I feel that shade really gets to shine with the extra space afforded by a larger stitch count.

Julia Walker has some helpful notes on her Ravelry project page about wearing a completed legwarmer as motivation to finish its partner (second legwarmer syndrome perhaps?) and a comment that really celebrates the relationship between the knitted project, its real life inspiration source, and the joy of wearing your Finished Objects amongst the very things that inspired their creation. How perfect is it, too, that Julia’s legwarmers also match the plumage of those chickens in the background? I swear the big grey one has some shade 2 in its feathers!

I put the finished legwarmer on for motivation today and and seem to have worked through my obstruction. I’m hoping to finish them soon, as the dandelions are currently in full bloom.

– Julia Walker

Finally, another special project I’ve really enjoyed seeing recently which utilises the KNITSONIK System to great effect is Marshall Dozier’s spectacular stranded colourwork vest, knitted for the Nature’s Shades Along organised by my dear comrade in wool, Louise Scollay.

Marshall Dozier’s vest embodies the sort of inventiveness that can often result from a tight deadline, a competitive context, and some creative limitations. Louise’s brilliantly thought out Nature’s Shades Along included the following rules: cast on in July; finish by August; project must be wearable; and project must utilise undyed, unbleached wool. The vest is a triumphant response to these guidelines and makes superb use of the creative potentials (and restrictions) of Jamieson & Smith’s fantastic Shetland Supreme Jumper Weight yarn range which is created entirely from different natural shades of Shetland wool. As well as satisfying the criteria for Nature’s Shades Along, Marshall’s vest also speaks to the broader spirit of Louise’s clever KAL in that it specifically celebrates the versatility and creative potential of natural, sheepy shades. The whole gallery for the Nature’s Shades Along is really inspiring and I recommend some happy time spent scrolling for ideas on just how many different ways we knitters can use natural shades of wool!

I just love seeing how Marshall used them to translate graphic elements from the world to produce an adapted version of Ysolda Teague’s Bruntsfield vest pattern. Here are some amazing collages by Marshall that reveal how each motif was designed.

There’s something so joyous and vibrant about Marshall’s whole project and the magpie-like way in which charts have been derived from buildings; an old portrait gallery; and door handles and chairs. What a fresh appraisal of the possibilities for knitwear design presented both by a super sheepy palette, and overlooked architectural details. I’ll freely admit that I dislike this sort of chair – uncomfortable! Always feels flimsy to sit on and somehow cuts into the sides of my thighs! But next time I encounter such a chair, I will forget these things and see instead their interesting shape immortalised in Shetland Black.

The subtle use of greys in the background to make the ball like shapes “glow” in knitting as in this lighting is perfect!

Just look how those “beads” of white knitting pop and glow on their banded grey background.

Elsewhere in the vest, the repurposing of portraits feels pleasingly subversive.

I’m rather pleased by transformation of “dead white dudes” to smudges.

– Marshall Dozier

I’ve really enjoyed charting the progress of this project on Twitter, and how the urban landscape with its details will now forever be bound up in my mind with the lovely Shetland names of the yarns in the Supreme Jumper Weight range: Mooskit, Shaela, Moorit, Shetland Black, Gaulmogot, Sholmit, Katmollet, Yuglet… I think it’s such a super project, and how it cross-pollinates with ideas of celebrating daily life AND celebrating nature’s shades, in knitting.

Each of these projects speak to the ingenuity of its maker. From translating the world into stranded colourwork motifs for a phone cosy, to adapting charts for the purposes of celebrating a favourite flower, to mixing and matching different KNITSONIK patterns and motifs, to exploring the possibilities of a limited, sheepy palette and the shapes and patterns of the built environment, KNITSONIK readers are exercising creativity in wonderfully varied ways. I love, too, how all these projects solve problems in daily life on some level. The problems of what to do if you keep losing your protective phone cosy, what to do with finished swatches, and how to overcome second legwarmer syndrome are all solved here alongside the more abstract problems associated with turning the rich 3D world into things to knit and wear.

Seeing my ideas acting as a springboard for so much knitterly innovation is an enormous privilege and something for which I feel grateful every day; projects like these are why I wrote the Sourcebook in the first place. I am happy beyond words to have found such resonance in a community of knitters who, like me, also seem to enjoy the possibilities afforded by embracing everyday life as the subject for our knitting. I feel like I have found my home amongst you all.

Here’s to the fourth print run of the Sourcebook and to my amazing, talented readers. I can’t wait to see what you make next!
YOURS IN TRANSLATING EVERYDAY INSPIRATIONS INTO STRANDED COLOURWORK,
FX

Credits
Many thanks to Lucy Kershaw, Jane Monk, Julia Walker and Marshall Dozier for kind permission to share your gorgeous work here; photos all © their creators apart from the wondrous legwarmers + chickens photo, which was taken by Fenn Martin.

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Self-care, self-employment, and Magical Minibreaks…

I sometimes find that working from home means I’m never quite “at home” and never quite “off work”. When in peak physical condition and feeling my absolute best, I really enjoy this situation and can be found bustling around the house, smashing through a to-do list like a champ and doing nice life maintenance tasks in and around work activities. But this year has been a little different; my hands are sore and my energy and mood are really low… I really don’t have the spoons to crack on with everything in the way I’d like to. Currently, when working, I can see all the housework that needs doing and, when houseworking, I feel bad because I can see the creative work I’m neglecting. I love what I do and am lucky beyond measure to be able to focus on KNITSONIK as my full-time vocation; I truly wouldn’t want to do anything else and am thrilled that this is where I get to focus my creative energy. However, for me the discussion about how wonderful it is to be self-employed and following our dreams etc. is sometimes mismatched with the realities of being self employed and disabled. Speaking for myself, there are some significant gaps in my knowledge regarding how to make self-employment include good and positive self-care. I feel like if I was employed by someone else, I would want them to make the workplace accessible for a disabled employee like me, and also to create a nurturing and positive environment to actively encourage my participation and confidence. However, as my own boss, I’m not sure I get this right all the time.

It feels scary and difficult to talk about this publically, but in thinking about how to make KNITSONIK LTD. a more nurturing and sustainable place to work, I have been really inspired by Jen Gotch – founder of ban.do – who is refreshingly honest about managing a massively successful company and her mental health. I also love Allison Sadler – who, together with her husband Christian Sadler – founded The People Shop. Allison Sadler really shows the highs and lows and freedoms of running your own business, but she never does it in a way that makes you forget she’s a person with a whole life outside of work. Her instagram makes me so hopeful, inspired and happy. I love the realness with which both Jen Gotch and Allison Sadler talk about self care and self-employment… and the inspiring and truthful ways in which they negotiate between what they need as human beings with what they need to do for work.

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Two years ago (left) I was sitting in a meeting at work trying to be a strong leader, while internalizing a great deal of pain and carrying the burden of emotion turmoil, years of stress on my brain and body, and a myriad of mental health issues that I was ignoring and discounting. My marriage was over, my life was drastically changing and I felt disconnected from my work, my friends, my family and myself. My body was a foreign object and my heart was packed up in a shoe box under a pile of old video tapes in the attic. And even with this intense disconnection to myself my body somehow managed to literally erupt in tears, right in the middle of a marketing meeting. Proof of life, I guess, and a blatant reminder of the work I desperately needed to do. Two years later (right) I am on the other side of so much pain. I have done the work to get here, moved through the pain instead of burying or circumventing it and skipped out on a shitload of McDonald’s French fries in order to feel healthier. My body looks different. My skin, my face, my extremely long hair 😜. And you’ve seen that. You’ve even noticed a change in my mental state and all of that recognition has fueled me. Tank you! Now I’m working on my spirit and it is the most empowering thing I have done and I’m incredibly grateful to have that opportunity. Today my body erupted in tears of joy and gratitude and I let it wash over me in the same way I let my pain do so long ago. That’s all. Just wanted to share and give hope and remind you that we all have the potential to change and grow at any age and any time. Have a good weekend.

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This is a woman who gives zero f*cks about what society says she should be doing and instead does exactly what she wants to be doing 99% of the time. I’ll give the meagre 1% to the food shopping. We gotta go to the supermarket to buy the gin right?… Everything in life is set up for us to follow a pattern. When you should work, when you should holiday, when you should buy a home, when you should start a family, when you should sleep… sheesh even what time you should wake up in the morning! Ffs! One formula does not suit everyone. And it sure has hell has never suited me. I swear I’m allergic to routine and the rat race of regular living. It makes me feel suffocated if I try to do it. So basically I don’t. I decided a long long time ago, actually .. it was never a decision I had to make .. to just let myself be and this was the outcome. So here I am, after a couple of weeks of hustling, back in my favourite place having another holiday… We all have the power to decide how we want to live, so take that 🖕🏽 society. You can put your rules and restraints in the bin. If you’ve fallen into the trap of following that ‘outdated’ formula it’s never too late to break free. Be brave my friends, you can do it x x x P. S this is also a woman who does not like to waste a drop of deliciously chilled rosé! 😆

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For work right now, I’m feeling like I need to be here at home all the time, cracking on with ten million projects… but for myself, I need to break up the scenery a little bit so it’s not all being at work but not being at home, all the time. I thought some of my reflections might resonate with fellow comrades who are also self-employed and managing long term chronic illnesses or disabilities. For me the main things to focus on right now are boundarying the time I spend on administration and fulfilment so that there is time to work on the creative side of my business; making sure I support my body and mind properly; doing what I can to not be in the house and therefore at work ALL THE TIME; and putting plans in place so that much-needed time off occurs. Thinking through things on here helps, even though I find it hard to write about this stuff and feel conditioned by toxic capitalist business culture to never show any weakness, any sense that I don’t know what I’m doing, or the slightest whiff of vulnerability. Nevertheless, I shall plough on.

Social media and having a phone with work stuff built into it are part of the problem. I have been putting some careful boundaries in place around my phone usage (I love you, OFFTIME app) but Magical Minibreaks and seeing people in real life and not only ONLINE are essential. I loved my break in the US so much. It made me realise how the always-at-work-never-at-home feeling can be shifted by a simple change of scene, even when what I am doing, while away, involves some work. Last week I went to North Devon – a destination I cannot recommend highly enough – for one such Magical Minibreak.

For the drive, I was accompanied by the amazing chapters of Jes Baker’s recently published book, Landwhale. This book is an essential companion to any mood of self care; in it, Jes talks about body image and body liberation in terms that are funny, moving, poignant and utterly real. It’s opened up an amazing space in my head for rethinking everything I thought I knew about diet culture and my body size and – just like its author – it’s beautiful, ranty and unapologetic. The miles of my drive disappeared into a haze of new insights about fatness and joy. Hurrah for Jes – if you are interested in her work, I recommend this TEDx Talk as a starting point.

First on my list of joyful things to do in Devon was a date with my friend Nic and The Ocean. Is there anything nicer than swimming in the sea? We bobbed around in the water off Minehead, which was about the temperature of a tepid bath, for an hour or so. Then we had chips, which tasted amazing because swimming makes everything extra delicious.

I’m an enthusiastic but unskilled swimmer and I have a lot of fun in the sea, but not too much confidence. I found that a pair of prescription goggles were game-changing for me. From leaving the car in my bathing suit to jumping into the water, I could see everything. This was enormously empowering and if you are a short-sighted swimmer I feel these will change your life. It’s just so nice to be able to properly see your surroundings and I love how the water supports my sore body and how easy it is to move while in it. Regular swimming sessions must be established. And I have to give a shout out to my fellow disabled business owner, Kate Davies, for giving me the prompt I needed in this direction with her amazing account of swimming in the lochs where she lives.

Hurrah for swimming!

Next, there were stones I wanted to see.

My number one activity for filling the creative well is taking close-cropped photos on my SLR camera, using a prime lens, of things like lichen, flowers, bricks… I was so happy to play on Porlock beach with Nic, Russell and Maisie the dog, filling up an SD card with rocks…

The next day included a mill tour with John Arbon and my friends Anna and Adam. I’m currently knitting with John Arbon’s Knit by Numbers range (more of which in a future post) and am in love with the chromatic possibilities that it presents.

Each Knit By Numbers colour range is made by blending a Falklands merino base that is dyed a very saturated shade, with successive proportions of white merino fibres. This is what enables a mathematically precise gradient to be achieved through each different hue. This kind of gradient is magical for exploring values and patterns in stranded colourwork and I’m enjoying a new direction of thought for my knitting… KNITSONIK By Numbers, if you will. I always love to have more connection with where my yarns come from, and it was superb to meet all the machines in the mill (they all have wonderful names) and to hear John talking about the processes of combing and blending through which different yarns are produced. I recorded all the sounds for future KNITSONIK purposes and thoroughly enjoyed the enthusiasm and joy with which John told us how yarns are made in his mill.

After the tour, social fun was had at a legendary local pub – The Rising Sun. The night ended with a delicious pie (thank you Juliet) and some old records from John’s incredible vinyl collection. A pot of tea primed me for the road home, on which I was again accompanied by the amazing words of Jes Baker.

It was so good to get away… and good to return home, too. I’m learning that rest, research and development trips are vital. While my business is home-based, I think more Magical Minibreaks like the North Devon adventure are needed; I felt like I did do some good work while I was away, but it was a really nice change from the home office and paced with joyful things like swimming and talking in real life to friends.

Magical Minibreaks are one way to make sure that working from home all the time doesn’t send me into a spiral of mess-induced depression; daily walks are another vital element to the working day. While I have this much going on with my health – monthly blood tests, regular doctor appointments, vitamins regimes, weekly and fortnightly injections, medication side-effect management and other time-consuming health admin – I find I need fun things to make the work easier. Nice stationery helps (hello washi-tape) and I am very much drawn to both bullet journalling (which lets me include both self care and self employment tasks into my scheduling) and the colour pink.

If you’ve made it this far, well done and thanks for reading. I’m interested to hear from other folks who are self-employed and disabled, and who work from home: how do you balance self-care with self-employment and how’s it working out for you? I’d be really interested to hear… I don’t know if it was listening to Jes Baker, drinking in the fresh sea air, the bright colours of Porlock beach, the superb company or the glorious tones of Knit By Numbers, but I’m feeling totally done with my own internalised ableism and the toxic capitalist culture that says that when we are talking about running our businesses, we should only talk about our bulletproof success. I’m here for the ways in which we can lift each other up, make businesses that really support our disabled bodies, and change the culture into one that celebrates interdependence and humanity.

FOR NOW, FEELING LUCKY AND JOYOUS,
YOURS IN STONES, FRIENDSHIPS, SWIMMING IN THE OCEAN AND KNIT BY NUMBERS,
FX

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Chapter 5: Efflorescent

If you follow me on instagram you’ll know I’ve not been feeling amazing recently. I decided to start this week with a multicoloured post of joy, celebrating flowers in stranded colourwork; I just can’t see how a week that starts out like that can fail. I hope you are in the mood for an image-heavy post filled with photos of flowers!

As well as starting off the week with maximum flowery amazingness, this post concludes our tour of the projects in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook, as I’m going to talk about the knitting pattern in the last chapter of the book: Efflorescent. The name of this shawl means something that is blossoming… I feel this really fits its floral content as well as describing how it grows on your needles as you knit it from the short edge outwards to its fullest point.

A generously sized semi-circular cape-like shawl, Efflorescent provides a lovely big canvas over which several iterations of a single flower can be worked, celebrating – in knitting – how light and shade play on the petals of real flowers.

Six case studies are given in the book: Cherry Blossom, Dandelion and Lobelia are shown with knitted samples worked by me, Tom van Deijnen and Judith Daykin…

…while the other colourways detailed in the book – Tulip, Scabious and Snakeshead Fritillary – are presented as ready-to-knit charts, along with my workings, my swatches, and artistic impressions of how the fabric of each one might look, once knitted.

I devised the chapter to speak to two things often heard in my workshops: ‘I want to knit from my favourite flower but don’t know where to start’ and ‘I love that design… but those really aren’t my colours’. When planning my book, I felt the rich, polychromatic world of flowers would provide an ideal context in which to explore these conundrums and that, across the selection of flowers, I could cover a rich mix of different yarn palettes and flower shapes to speak to different knitterly persuasions and aesthetics. In my experience of working from flowers in my knitting, I’ve found that a tall chart is helpful as this provides lots of space for different colour richness and variance to be celebrated. Thinking about a garment that might provide some such suitable canvas, I kept returning to Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Pi Shawl and wondering whether it might be adapted to accommodate stranded colourwork charts. In Elizabeth’s original, whenever the diameter of the shawl doubles, an increase round is worked in which the stitch count is doubled, too. I thought this architecture would provide large sections where the colourwork patterns could just repeat on top of one another without having to incorporate any increases. Tom was concerned that the different stitch architecture of stranded colourwork would not have the same flexibility as the open lace with which Elizabeth originally designed her Pi Shawl and, after talking things through with him, I worked out a way to distribute increases more evenly throughout the shawl. Working increase rounds more often prevents the motifs from bunching together or becoming distorted by sudden rounds of drastic increasing. Tension is dispersed throughout the fabric while the construction still allows for working nice big sections where colourwork can happen, undisturbed by changing stitch counts or the need to incorporate increases. The construction breaks the knitting up into something that feels pleasingly modular, too. While knitting my Cherry Blossom Efflorescent I was continually spurred on by the prospect of ‘just knitting to the next set of yarn-overs…’.

After creating a knitterly canvas on which to explore a floral theme, I wanted to demonstrate its versatility and to explore how motifs and palettes might be varied to produce shawls that would speak to the individual preferences of their wearers. The Efflorescent chapter of the book contains a discussion between myself and my friend Judith in which we discuss our very different approaches to colour, and tools are provided to further your adventures in the form of black and white charts (in the complementary digital copy of the book that accompanies each print book) and in the KNITSONIK Playbook Colouring Companion, which invites you to imagine each motif in as many different colourways as your pencil collection will allow.

The Lobelia Efflorescent that Judith knitted for the book was built around her preference for cool and jewel tones, and styled to fit her own unique fashion aesthetic. My Cherry Blossom Efflorescent grew out of my love affair with the pinks and blues of cherry blossoms against spring skies; and the Dandelion Efflorescent that Tom knit for the book is full of greens, greys and yellows that speak to my appreciation for Dandelions as an everyday expression of resilience and ordinary, often overlooked, beauty.

When talking about the best way to photograph the shawls for the book, my super talented brother Ferg had the idea to use bold, coloured paper backgrounds to underscore the central themes of colour and to accentuate our styling decisions for our different outfits. I love, love, love the big blocks of colour provided by these backdrops!

…however, we also managed to take some pictures in one of my favourite spots in Reading; the roof garden at RISC, on top of the building where our local knitting group – Sticks ‘n’ Strings – have met most Tuesdays for almost a decade. This garden is a beautiful example of an edible urban garden, boasting Japanese Wineberries; Mulberries; a Medlar tree and all sorts of other glorious things, nestled quietly into the skyline of our town… I think our Efflorescent shawls look particularly radiant in this green and leafy setting and I just love the pictures Ferg took.

However to me there is an additional pleasure to be found in photographing the shawls near their sources of inspiration. I confess that even after the book had been sent to press, a part of me just couldn’t wait for the spring and a chance to bring my Cherry Blossom Efflorescent back to the trees that had inspired its luscious colours.

The Efflorescent chapter of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook is a practical workshop on producing your own stranded colourwork from flowers; but it’s also an exploration of the idea of different knitters’ colour preferences and sensibilities and a giant celebration of blooms and blossoms in daily life. I love the different look of all the shawls made for the Playbook and the feelings of friendship and support stitched into the amazing samples that Judith and Tom made. Thank you so much for your magic, friendship and skill. I feel it whenever I am showing the samples to anyone, and still smile when I think of how Judith sent me WhatsApp photos of her potted Lobelias while updating me on the progress of her knitting. These projects bloomed on our needles all of last summer and the weather right now is making me think of that time – of that season of stitching.

Most of all I hope that what we have knitted will inspire you to find ways to cover your shoulders in blooms and blossoms that lift your spirit and bring you some of the same cheer that we can get from the flowers.

YOURS IN PETALS AND JOY,
XF

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Find your Correspondent!

If you read my post from several weeks ago, or if you have my second book, or if you follow @yumiket and @labistrake on instagram, then you will know all about #knittedcorrespondence!

For those new to the concept, the idea is that you find a friend online (Yumi and Muriel use instagram) and agree to “post” knitted swatches to one another each month, with a few lines describing their significance. You could pick anything for your inspiration source… from a beautiful Marshall Amp, to the light passing through the leaves in your favourite park…

The best parts about #knittedcorrespondence are finding people – correspondents – to play with, and having that monthly deadline that gently pushes you to celebrate your daily life in glorious stranded colourwork. Yumi and Muriel have created many postcards now, and you can see them all under the hashtag #knittedcorrespondence in instagram…

…a few folk have been so inspired by their work that they’ve been asking where they can find their own magical knitted correspondent with whom to play. I made this image to help you find each other.

The rules are very simple: download this image, share it on your social media channels, and use it to find your perfect KnitPal*. If using instagram, please use the hashtag #knittedcorrespondence, as that will enable you to see all the work created under this project title, and the origins of the idea in Yumi and Muriel’s gorgeous monthly postcards.

Have you seen this month’s edition, themed around light and featuring lavender and hollyhocks? So beautiful. <3

This is a special edition of my mini swatch diary, as knitted postcard of Juny to dear @labistrake ! For this month's postcard, we had a predetermined common theme "light". . The excessive, brutal and fierce summer heat has been hitting my country. In the daytime, the sunlight is so bright that everything looks whitish and glaring. But when it gets dark, the light gradually weakens its brightness, as if the sun got tired of its activity. I am often amazed at how the evening sunlight makes all the colours deeper or richer. . I took this photo of lavender as the inspiration source at a nearby park a few years ago. I love this deep lavender colours the sun made at the evening. So I tried to capture the colours as well as the blurred lamppost lights in the background. . #knittedcorrespondence #miniswatchoftheday #fairisleknitting #strandedcolourwork #jamiesonandsmith #swatching #knittedswatch #lavender #lavenderlove #knittedlavender #lavendercolour

A post shared by @ yumiket on

If you are having problems finding other folk with whom to share #knittedcorrespondence, please leave a comment under this post and I’ll see if I can help in any way.

Until next time,
Yours in Knitted Correspondence,
FX

*Like a PenPal but communicating in stranded colourwork rather than in pen and ink.

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Of Polka Dots & Dolls

When I was planning the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook, I knew I wanted to include a project that would enable me to talk about translating printed fabric into stranded colourwork. This type of inspiration source has appeared in nearly all the classes I’ve ever taught…

…and I’ve always thought it was a wonderfully practical ideaa. Why not create wondrous stranded colourwork conceived to match things we own or have sewn that are made from woven fabric? However, printed fabric comes with its own design conundrums when we try to transpose it into stranded colourwork, and I really wanted to work on something that would let me speak to this. I knew exactly which printed fabric I’d like to use for such a project in the Playbook; a much-loved and sadly now retired-from-service coin purse, bought from a local Etsy seller (no longer trading) when I first moved to this town. I’d wanted to swatch from this for a long time… its use in daily life had given me many opportunities to admire its beauty.

I think it’s Japanese printed cotton. The little Matryoshka dolls are just so sweet, and the warm palette is so appealing. Also, look: it has DOTS! And APPLES!

…And the lining is a perfect match for J&S shade 1403.

I began swatching from the purse. I started with lots and lots of colours as per the fabric and eventually deciding to limit this in order to focus on just a few ideas from the printed fabric. There were some things to resolve on the way (as is always the case when swatching)… My doll motif looked a bit grumpy to begin with, and giving her a yellow base in my knitting meant she didn’t stand out as nicely in my fuzzy stitches as in the original, crisply-printed medium.

You can see my swatching process here… at some point with the first swatch, I realised it was going to get horribly long and be unwieldy to continue, so I started a second.

I was especially interested in two dolls from the printed fabric; one created with a series of lovely soft grey blues, yellows and greys, and the other featuring rich warm red and browns. I liked the idea of taking the dotty kerchief motif and using it as a band to separate the differently coloured dolls, and also varying the background to resemble the murky and somewhat stained patina of use on my beloved old purse. The dotty motif was something I had used in a much earlier project – in 2007, I covered my walking stick with a red and white dotted hand-knitted cosy to make it better fit my personal style! I love me some red and white polka dots and maybe the reason I like the dolls on my purse so much is that they are wearing them. I remembered the motif I’d made from this time and dug it out for the dotty element of the design…

…Anyway, as I knit on my swatches, I kept thinking about the prospect of Matryoshka dolls themselves; the idea of a large doll containing ever smaller versions of itself. And I kept thinking about the question of proportion and scale in motifs when we knit. It’s amazing to find that we have made the most beautiful design of all time… but annoying to later discover that it won’t fit into the required size of the garment or accessory we intend to make. I looked at my dolls and wondered: could this Polka Dots & Dolls project address this in some way, and explore the idea of knitted motifs retaining their style and essence across multiple sizes, just like the features painted onto wooden matryoshka dolls?

I had loved the purse as an object used in daily life; how could I recall the function of this inspiration source in knitting? Swatching is wonderful for pondering such things and, as I worked on my motifs and shading schemes, it struck me that I could design a laptop cosy; a mini-tablet cosy; and a smartphone cosy. I use these objects all the time in operating KNITSONIK LTD. and their comparative sizes would enable me to explore concepts of scale and proportion in design. I started to scale my motifs down…

…and to write the instructions for three sizes of lined, protective cosies.

Each of the cosies is closed with i-cord buttonholes and toggles and keen-eyed spotters will notice that I used small, medium and large sized toggles to match the sizing of the cosies.

Once I was into this idea of Matryoshka dolls, I really wanted to make a wooden set to match my knitted versions. You can buy wooden blanks online and I did this and painted them to match my knitted motifs. When Ferg came to do the photoshoot for the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook, we had an awful lot of fun playing with the knitted cosies and their matching dolls!

Eventually we brought things back full circle, and put my wooden dolls together with the original inspiration source; my loved and worn old printed fabric purse.

The resulting pattern in the Playbook details more closely the process of translating printed fabric into stranded colourwork, and re-sizing motifs to fit the stitch counts of your project, and there are illustrations in the Playbook Colouring Companion to enable you to experiment with different colour schemes. I think it would be amazing to do a set based on an actual set of Russian Matryoshka dolls but maybe that’s a project for another post! I was hugely helped by Melanie Patton and Judith Daykin who knitted the samples for this project; big thanks to you for bringing Polka Dots & Dolls to life. I hope you’ve enjoyed this process story; I’ll be back before too long to tell you about the last chapter in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook – Efflorescent, concluding our leisurely tour of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook and the KNITSONIK Playbook Colouring Companion.

YOURS IN POLKA DOTS & DOLLS,
FX

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LOVE READING

Just popping in to tell you about an event next weekend in Reading that’s being organised by one of our town’s amazing community leaders; Dee, AKA Doris Allimadi.

I first learned about Dee when I came across an article about how she had been distributing food parcels to homeless people here. I later discovered she’d written a book about her experience of depression, and encouraged her youngest daughter, Alyssa, to write, illustrate and self-publish an alphabet of fruit and veg. I got in touch and Dee spotted from my online presence that I could knit… I offered to show her how, and so a friendship was born! Earlier this year, Dee told me about her plan to have an amazing multicultural celebration of Reading; I remember her saying “We’re all here, together, all of us, people from all over the world, and I think that’s something we should get together to celebrate”.

The event she had in mind is called LOVE READING, or, rather…

READING!

It’s on next Saturday, 4th August 2018, from 11am TO 5pm
The address is: Battle Primary Academy, Cranbury Road, Reading, RG30 2TD
Ticket price is £1 for Adults and £0.50 for under-16s

I’m really hoping to see some of you there; I’m bringing my knitting and some records, and am hoping to play some tunes as part of my aspiring dream to be a DJ. In the meantime, I wanted to tell you more about Dee and ❤ Reading, so we did a short Q&A together.

Q: What inspired you to set up ❤ Reading?

A: I moved to Reading nearly three years ago from London and just love being here. I have met and made friends will some truly wonderful human beings. I love the diversity of it and thought that it ought to be celebrated with some of our food, fashion and music. It will be a fun family day. More than this though and, beyond Reading, I think that our world needs more love shared. There is just so much going wrong, especially with divides and intolerance… although I do not think that people should merely be tolerated! I think that we should all embrace each other with all our differences and similarities and just make this world a better place. You see, I too have a dream, to change the world one place at a time. I want Love Reading to be a huge annual success so that someone somewhere else, possibly in another country – who is equally as passionate about love and cohesiveness – will emulate it and, together, one city at a time, that dream will be realised.

Q: ❤ Reading is very much focused on food and there will be food stalls representing different, regional cuisines. Could you say a bit about what food and sharing food mean to you?

A: I love food, I love cooking. I have been known to pick a country at random and go on YouTube to research their cuisine and then attempt to make it. Food, just like love, is what brings us growth and sustains us. Sharing food is just like sharing love. It feeds us both physically and emotionally and brings people together.

Q: Who’s going to have stalls at ❤ Reading?

A: There will be food stalls from JB Catering (Caribbean Food); Maame Sika (African Food); Time 4 a Drink (Teas, Coffees, Cookies, Cakes); and Lubna (South Asian Food). There’ll also be Henna and Nail-Painting from Salma; an art stall from local artist Joe; Reading Young Labour; Alyssa selling her own range of ChooseLove clothing; and music from Ma Bessie and Real O’Rael.

Q: The posters say this event is put on by The Children and Women’s Trust, could you explain a bit about this organisation and your involvement in it?

A: The Children and Women’s Trust is a local organisation, new to Reading. The aims and objectives are to advancement of education, relief of poverty and promote good health.

We prepare food parcels for Reading’s homeless in the Town Centre and last year I was nominated for a Pride of Reading Award. Our previous projects included running parent and toddler sessions, and exercise and healthy eating workshops in London.

The next project for the CWT is to raise awareness of mental health, especially in the BAME community.

I am one of the Founders and Project Coordinator for the organisation.

Afterword: If any of you would like to have a stall, or volunteer at ❤ Reading, please get in touch with Dee at THECWT.PC (@) GMAIL.COM; otherwise please just come along. If you can’t come, please share this post on social media to help get the word out! Exactly like Dee says, there is a lot of divisiveness and intolerance in the world just now. Events which seek to heal divides, bring people together, and do so over the common language of food are things to get into, and to get behind. My friend Janine gave me a beautiful book while I was staying in the USA, called Feed the Resistance: Recipes + Ideas for Getting Involved and it feels fitting to quote from it here, in reference to the deeper message of ❤ Reading and Dee’s dream for finding shared humanity and commonality through food, fashion and music:

Food is about people, all people. It is the most democratic thing in the world, lower-case “d”, and affects all of us. All of us. It is the thing we, the entire world!, all have in common. Therefore it also has the power to inform us about where we come from, inform how we express and share ourselves, and ultimately has the power to bring us together with empathetic understanding.

In all times, but especially during uncertain ones, there is something so beautifully comforting about cooking a meal from start to finish. Peeling and slicing onions and watching them soften in hot butter might not be the answer to world peace, but it is nice to know that when I do just that I am one of millions around the world doing that exact thing at the exact same time. When we cook, we are in solidarity. There is power in that.

– Julia Turshen

See you next Saturday?
Yours in knitting, tunes and ❤ing Reading
FX

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KNITSONIK yarn crawl in the Bay Area

As part of my forthcoming adventures in the USA, I’ll be visiting yarn stores in the Bay Area and doing two book signing events on Saturday 7th July. At each event I will give a short, informal talk about my work, and bring some samples of my work for you to see. I’ll also bring my special turbo pen and stamp for signing your books.

I really hope to see some of you there. Here are the details:

Saturday 7th July

12.30 – 13:30 at A Verb For Keeping Warm
6328 San Pablo Avenue
Oakland
California
94608

16:00 – 18:00 at Avenue Yarns
1325 Solano Avenue (between Pomona Avenue and Ramona Avenue)
Albany
California
94706

Both shops will be stocking copies of all three KNITSONIK tomes. If you live in the Bay Area, would like to buy copies of any of my books, and do not want to pay shipping charges, this is your chance! Enormous thanks to A Verb For Keeping Warm and Avenue Yarns for agreeing to host me, and for stocking KNITSONIK. I can’t wait to meet you on the Californian yarn crawl of dreams.

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KNITSONIK is coming to America!

Greetings, comrades!

I didn’t mean to leave it so long between the last post and this one. And now, because it’s been so long, I’ve got loads to share! Pull up a chair and maybe fetch a beverage…

The headline is that I’m off to the USA on Sunday for two weeks. I’m beginning my adventures in the Bay Area, staying with my friend Janine Bajus, and ending up in Wisconsin for the legendary annual event that is Knit Camp with Meg Swansen and Amy Detjen.

Many of you will already know Janine’s work as the famed “Feral Knitter” and author of The Joy of Color – a book about designing stranded colourwork garments in your own colourways and styles or, as Janine puts it, “Fair Isle Knitting Your Way”. It contains a wealth of practical information about colours, steps in the creative process, resources for this kind of knitting, and a glorious array of case study garments designed both by Janine and those who have been lucky enough to take a class with her. The whole atmosphere of the book is inclusive, generous and celebratory, and every bit as colourful as the title promises.

It’s more a book about process than of patterns, but there is lots of useful information in it about garment construction plus a nifty appendix of templates and instructions for knitting a speed swatch; a hat; a tam; a scarf; and some fingerless mitts. There’s also an alphabet template with which you are warmly encouraged to “sign” your knitting – a fantastic detail that epitomises the rich philosophy at the heart of Janine’s work.

The Joy of Color is the culmination of many years of teaching and from Janine’s “unstoppable can-do attitude and step-by-step methods” and it was in my own workshops that I first discovered Janine’s work through students who spoke in glowing terms of “the Feral Knitter”. Although we do something quite similar, we each come to it from a different place. I feel I learn so much every time I dip into The Joy of Color and see the amazing things designed by Janine and those who have been lucky enough to take a class with her and I just love the way she writes about colours, about designing, about knitting, and about wool. I especially love this, which we shared on the Wovember blog last year:

Wear your sweater whenever you can – don’t save it for special occasions. Let it become your signature in the world, a quiet symbol of intelligence, skill, persistence, and the power of individual beauty in an over-commodified world.

Revel in its warmth, privately thanking the thousands of people who helped you bring your vision to life: the shepherds, the veterinarians, the fence builders, the shearers, the mill workers, the truck drivers, the dyers, the label printers, the shop owners, the teachers, the needle makers, the book publishers, the designers, the editors, your knitting friends – in the deepest sense your sweater is an expression of your place in an interconnected web spanning time and place whose strands are too numerous to name.

– Janine Bajus, The Joy of Color

The world of self-published authors working with the concept of “designing your own stranded colourwork based on personal inspiration sources” is pretty small, so you may imagine how super excited I am to spend some time with someone else who works with this concept professionally. Plus, I met Janine last summer and she is A WONDERFUL HUMAN BEING. Here we are with Janine’s friend Chris in London last summer, just about a year ago, at the end of a perfect day of talking and knitting and lunching. I was working on the Scabious swatch for the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook at the time.

I’m so looking forward to more time together and to seeing the Bay Area and San Francisco, where another good friend and textile talent – Sonya Phillips – lives. Sonya appears in Janine’s book, wearing Janine’s glorious Starburst Shawl of which there is a closeup above!

I love Sonya’s supportive, feminist, positive approach to fashion and, like many of you I suspect, avidly follow her instagram account which is a life-affirming palace of dreams and joyful outfits. It will be amazing to see Sonya in the beautiful place where she takes all her fantastic pictures in outfits of her own design and making. And of course I can’t wait to finally meet WILLIE THE DOG (also pictured).

The other part of my stay – Knit Camp – is quite simply the stuff of legends. These camps are run by Meg Swansen, owner of Schoolhouse Press and daughter of Elizabeth Zimmermann.

I love the air of curiosity and confidence that runs through everything produced by Schoolhouse Press and that knitting seems to run in the very veins of the family at the heart of the business. Some of the first knitting books I bought when I rediscovered knitting in my mid-twenties came from Schoolhouse Press and it’s difficult to overstate the enormous reach and impact of this publishing house when thinking about the recent history of handknitting. The influence can be felt everywhere in the contemporary knitting world. Who hasn’t knit a Baby Surprise jacket? Or used the famous EPS system to calculate stitch counts for a sweater for a loved one? My favourite design from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork PlaybookEfflorescent – develops its basic architecture from the underlying mathematics of the Pi Shawl by Elizabeth Zimmermann, which captivated me when I first read about it in Knitter’s Almanac.

All of which is to say that I am extremely excited to be on course to Knit Camp, where I will meet Meg Swansen and the incredible knitters who gather each year for her famous knitting retreat. Speaking of the incredible knitters… I need to give a special shout out to Amy Detjen. Amy has been Meg’s assistant at Knit Camp for 20 years and is the reason I’m coming this year. In Lerwick during last Wool Week, over a wonderful dinner with Amy’s Shetland tour group (pictured below with Hazel Tindall and me) Amy gave me such a warm invitation to Knit Camp that I knew I’d have to find a way to go. I’m really grateful to have been nominated for the scholarship that is enabling it to happen and I know Amy was a big part of that. THANK YOU, AMY! I can’t wait to see you again, and to have a chance to sit and knit together with all the shades of purple. I hope you still have that gorgeous purple tweed you brought to my class in Shetland. I feel so honoured and lucky to be able to go and am very grateful to Schoolhouse Press for making it possible.

I’m going to close the KNITSONIK shop for the duration of my trip, so if you would like to buy my books before I leave please do so this week before the cutoff date which is midday on Thursday 28th June. I’ll post orders out on Friday and, after that, the only places where you’ll be able to buy my books are through my stockists or from me, after 16th July, which is when my shop will re-open.

I will do my best to share my adventures with you however I can in both KNIT and SONIK; I’ll be back in the next few days with more news and announcements but, for now, the main thing is that KNITSONIK IS COMING TO AMERICA! (4 sleeps).

Yours in Adventures,
Fx

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Bricken: a story of mental ill health and also of healing

The third chapter in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook draws on the bricks of Reading for its inspiration. An essay titled Bricks to Knit charts my design process from start to finish, and the chapter culminates in a customisable cowl and instructions and notes for designing your own cowl, based on observing the place where you live. My brick-themed chapter is the result of many countless hours spent walking and watching, and it also charts the journey from the swatch I made in my first book (based on Reading’s brickwork) to the new one, developed for this second book. I imagined – hoped – when I put the chapter together that it would speak to you in your place in the world and particularly to the act of patrolling your neighbourhood and celebrating its moods and textures in knit.

What’s not in the book is the more contextual story of how my obsession with Reading’s brickwork has uplifted me through bouts of mental ill health and that’s what I want to write about today. If you are just here for the pretty pictures and the beautiful brickwork of Reading, I have just the book for you! However, if you are interested in a wider discourse on creativity, disability, mental health and bricks, please draw up a chair and settle in. CW: suicide ideation, mental health issues.

This story does and doesn’t begin with bricks.

I have Depression and Anxiety. I manage these things quite well, thanks to experience, really essential counseling interventions when I need them, and a few cherished friends who have helped me to understand these conditions and to find my way through with them. Still, a few times in my life, the whole bottom has dropped out of my world.

The last time I really remember that happening was in late 2010/early 2011. I had freshly completed my PhD which – as anyone who has undergone that process knows – can be immensely taxing on your mental health. Newly graduated as DOKTOR FELICITY FORD, I was desperate for work and paid opportunities in which to flex my hard-won expertise in The Domestic Soundscape and beyond… presenting everyday sounds to audiences. It was difficult to say no to opportunities, because of the fear of where the next job (and income) would come from… and I was struggling with managing many projects at once. I had not taken the time I needed to recover from the enormous push required to get my PhD completed in time, and there were other problems in my life which compounded my sense of not being where I wanted to be at that point in my life. In everything I’ve read about Depression and Anxiety – and my favourite books have all been written by these amazing people – my favourite explanation is that we come to a state of Depression and Anxiety when real life wears us down and our response ceases to be useful or helpful. It’s not about being sad because something bad happened, it’s about what happens when the stress of that sadness or fear somehow move across into a broken state of mind. At least that is how I understand my own mental health problems. In 2011, I thought I was managing OK until a fateful day at the dentist. I needed a filling, for which I was asked to pay £50 up-front. I paid knowing I’d just caned the absolute limits of my overdraft. I knew I could borrow money if necessary, but I felt deeply humiliated about being in such financial peril at the age of 32. A deep and disproportionate sensation of failure began to sink in. Tears pricked at my eyes and, as I walked home over the hill, staring at my shoes, an unhelpful monologue began to run amok in my head about my terrible life choices; my stupidity in attempting to follow a career as an artist; the horrors of my overfull work schedule and extremely empty bank account; and anger at having to phone various people begging them to action invoices (there is a special place in hell for people who don’t pay freelancers on time). Mark found me in a crumpled heap in our bedroom on the floor many hours later, and all I could say was “there is no point to me and I don’t want to live anymore. I don’t know how to exist, everything is awful. I don’t know how tomorrow happens.” As I got these words out through many tears I could hear that I had lost my perspective, but I honestly did not know where to begin with trying to get it back.

The next day I went to my GP and through great gulps of tears managed to say “I. Think. I. Am. Depressed. Nobody. Pays. Me. Properly. I’m. Working. All. The. Fucking. Time. And. I. Can’t. Even. Afford. A. Fucking. Filling. For. My. Fucking. Teeth.” He smile brightly and said “That would make me depressed, too! I’m going to refer you to talking therapies.”

A couple of days later I found myself in a room in a building with a bright blue and white NHS sign outside staring at two forms. Are you Depressed? Are you Anxious? Do you feel down, depressed or hopeless Not at all, Several days, More than half the days, Nearly every day? Do you feel afraid as if something awful might happen Not at all, Several days, More than half the days, Nearly every day? Do you feel bad about yourself — or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down Not at all, Several days, More than half the days, Nearly every day? The lists were amazing.

I am excellent at lists. You cannot juggle all the things I juggle without lists. As I went down, reading and circling, the document in my hands revealed an incredible inventory of symptoms of mental suffering. Seeing it all on the page in black and white starkly clarified why I was feeling so bad: nobody could hold all that in their head and not feel terrible. I realised that nothing in my life was going to work until I could address my state of mind, before trying to tackle anything else… as long as I was thinking about work, career and existential 30-something angst from this place of pain, I would not be able to solve any of my problems at all. I realised everything that had triggered my spiral into Depression and Anxiety was fixable, but not from the vantage point of extreme mental ill-health.

I started talking to Mark more about my mental health, and trying to think about how to care for it. We came up with plans together, he asked me how I was doing, we talked a lot about certain types of thoughts and thought patterns that signalled “I had gone to the bad place”. I started to learn to read my most unhappy thoughts as symptoms of a larger problem, and not to think of them as The Truth. I tried to eat better, to knit a little bit, to spend more time with the cat and with Mark, to take things one step at a time, to get any little piece of pleasure out of each day that I could. I went to and from that NHS building many times through those months, gradually shunting pencilled circles from Nearly every day to Not at all or Several days. On the journey to and from my talking therapies sessions, I began noticing the bricks.

I’d always loved the brickwork of Reading but now, with this thirty-five minute walk and the potential to expand the journey into adjoining streets (especially if the weather was fine), I began a dedicated practice of collecting pictures.

I learnt that if all my thoughts were running towards a tellingly unhelpful monologue of self-beratement and feelings of failure, I could usually manage to gently take myself outside with my SLR and coax myself into looking up. It became a useful self-distraction to seek out a street with an unusual collection of silver grey and cream bricks; to look for diamonds, interesting diapering, Xs or Os, stripes, edges or other joy. It didn’t cost anything for me to take the pictures, to go for walks, and to upload the photos onto my computer when I returned home, later.

I wrote about the bricks on my old blog, but I never wrote about how I’d felt when I took those pictures because, at the time, I wanted to use the bricks to tell a different story. To rebuild myself. To take the comforting, age-old solidity of the buildings and use it to shore up my life at a time when everything felt like it was drifting apart.

The manageable challenge of leaving the house every day to look at bricks in the neighbouring streets helped to draw me out of my head. I stopped looking at my shoes and learnt to look up.

This got me outdoors into daylight, and moving around: helpful tonics for an ailing soul. But, at a deeper level, this simple and achievable daily creative task also started to change the stories I was telling myself about myself, and disrupted the painful loops of thinking that kept Depression and Anxiety alive. The ongoing nature of the Bricks Project was a vital antidote to an ever-changing rosta of discrete pieces of paid work. While I was doing a talk here, a small commission there, looking at this theme, looking at that theme… the bricks provided an artistic point of interest that had no stressy delivery date, or miserable end point (I am always sad when projects come to an end). I love LONG art projects, where there is enough space and opportunity to keep thinking about something richly, in as much depth as I like: there was no deadline on my bricks project and I didn’t have to go anywhere special or spend any money to do it.

Gradually, as I filled up folders with images of well-built and sturdy brick walls, I began to get excited by everything they represented. I liked their permanence and strength as structures; I liked how they represented a sort of comforting ideal of certainty and security “as safe as houses” and I liked their plentiful abundance. It was joyous to discover that nearly every street contained an unusual or inventive patterned detail, laid over a century ago by the folk who built this town and all these houses for the workers that flocked here during the Industrial Revolution.

Who were these people who built these buildings? Who had lived in them? Who else had noticed them? What could their glorious patterning inspire? As I asked and answered these questions, burrowing into the local studies section of Reading Library, and tramping around the streets taking yet more photos of bricks, I began to see myself in a more positive light, as a wonderfully creative and curious sort of person, with an irrepressible sense of wonder and enthusiasm. I no longer felt like the person crying because I could not pay for my own filling but, rather, as an amazing, maverick brick-celebrator of Reading. Traveling to Estonia in 2012 (and still not in the finest of mental health) a new-found friend christened me “the eccentric Englishwoman” – a moniker with which, I confess, I was rather taken. Reading census data about the ironworkers, biscuit factory workers and biscuit men who’d lived in these houses and finding the works of Jane Wright – a world authority on bricks who wrote several books on the subject and curated an exhibition here in the 1970s – filled my head with ideas that pushed out other, less hopeful kinds of thoughts.

I’ve learnt that there is a very strong connection between my mental health and the stories I am telling myself about me. There are some really painful and sad stories that, once I get stuck in them, will quickly spiral into full on Anxiety and Depression. The bricks and the story of the eccentric Englishwoman are happier stories which have given me a different frame and focus and a kinder way in which to view myself. Photographing the bricks was the start of finding some of that lost perspective.

As time has marched on, I’ve found other ways to nurture my mental health.

But for me, the foundation for feeling well is made of sturdy Victorian brick in glorious, cheery patterns. I’ve published two books now, each of which form part of a plan to survive as an artist in a sustainable way, financially; and it’s no coincidence that both of them feature a chapter on Reading’s magnificent brickwork. The modular way in which the cowl in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook is made speaks, in particular, to walks around this town which, it’s no exaggeration to say, have literally saved my life.

Making art is not, to me, a sort of magical action that takes place in a special setting outside of normal life; rather, it is forged in the crucible of real experience. For me, being an artist is full of resilience and resistance; I think often of an amazing poem from Alice Walker’s beautiful book, Horses make a landscape more beautiful, in which she asks “What is the point of being artists If we cannot save our own life?” What, indeed.

Other people who have had Depression and Anxiety will have found your own deeply personal and special tools for managing these conditions. I say, WHATEVER GETS YOU THROUGH! My solution, when I begin spiralling down into what I think of as “the bad place”, is to try and rebuild myself, brick by brick, walk by walk, stitch by stitch, back up to some sort of tentative joy. I make knitting, sound recordings, images and interpretations of the world around me that resist the pain I’m in; I find creative processes that focus on the joyous potential of everyday life. I use artmaking as a tool for uplift, affirmation and healing… The KNITSONIK System I teach in my classes is the same one I taught myself in order to survive the onslaught of Depression and Anxiety. Yes, it is a practical system for translating everyday life into stranded colourwork and – yes – it is also a system for learning to celebrate life creatively when it feels like there is nothing to celebrate.

I think of all these things as a set of skills that can be passed on from person to person, like candles lighting one another. I have a secret mission to teach everyone how to turn the things you love into something to wear, and a super secret mission (though less so now it’s on the blog!) to share the pleasures of cultivating a love for life, as well.

One of the happiest moments of working on the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook was bringing my brother, Ferg, to some of my favourite brick locations in order to photograph my swatch, along with its inspiration source.

His pictures made me cry because I knew he could see the bricks as I saw them, through the lens of my knitting and my little daily walks.

I was really moved by the joy of sharing the bricks with someone who appreciated them immediately, and thrilled when Ferg suggested we get some shots of me just holding my SLR and standing near some of the beautiful bricks of this town. “We need a photo of you holding your SLR, walking near the bricks. ‘Cause that is what you do.”

I felt so witnessed. And it was special to be able to show my brick documenting/knitting artistic process to someone who could really see how much it mattered. Thank you, Ferg!

With this latest book – the Playbook – I feel really happy when I look at the brick-themed chapter. It is the culmination of a creative process of many years laid out just how I wanted it. When I look at it, I feel like I was not rushed with that work at all. I feel like I can remember the mood of uplift and pleasure that attended every brick-photographing walk lying behind each photo… and the beautiful spreads that Nic did give me a feeling of calm, that I was allowed to walk myself back to walkness in my own sweet time. And comfort, because I know that whenever things stop feeling solid again, the bricks will be right here, waiting.

Postscript:

I’ve written a bit here and there on different platforms about the psoriatic arthritis I’ve had since I was 19, but I’ve not talked much about my mental health or its connections with physical pain. Reasons have included the shame and stigma (still) attached to mental health problems; the real fear of becoming an object of pity; the desire not to attract unwanted advice from strangers (please, please read this if you are considering leaving advice in the comments below); and – my biggest fear of all – not having the resources to properly respond to messages from other comrades who are living with The Pain. However, I’ve been so lifted up and helped by the open approach of several women* and their magnificent approach to discussing mental health that I thought I should have a go at sharing my story. In the midst of a massive flare up, I feel my world is shrinking and I need, more than ever, to remember who I am. Writing is awesome for that and I know – because of how I have felt reading other people’s things – that if I share my real stories, they will resonate with someone and be affirming. If you are reading this and thinking YES THAT’S ME TOO then have a massive hug because I am writing this for all of us who are living with The Pain – of both the mental and physical kinds.

*Shout outs to some of the most uplifting and encouraging voices I’ve found online in discussions of mental health, which include my friend Dee, who has written a beautifully frank account of her own journey with depression; my friend Corrie Berry whose instagram story about mental health the other day really pushed me to get this done; my friend Woolly Wormhead whose online presence is life affirming containing, as it does, all the best hat designs and some awesome keeping-it-real content about her mental health; and the ongoing honesty of my wonderful comdrade in wool, Louise Scollay on social media and in the Knit British Podcast. Thank you all for giving me the confidence to share my own story here.

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