Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Traces (part 1)

For my last post of 2014 I want to give you a glimpse of a long - running project - or really a series of projects, under the title of TRACES.

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.
In the museum in Lerwick I found a display about the importance of tea in the Shetland knitting economy, illustrated by a tea table set with Willow Pattern china and knitted cakes.
I started to think of a project that would incorporate the fragments, placing them in to the whole design of the intact pieces in the collection,
I was thinking about the variations in the design on different pieces and how the fragments, some with the transferred design almost completely worn away, represented traces of the lives of people who had used, and ultimately broken and discarded, the china. And about involving knitting, of course. I started to think about translating elements of the designs on the china fragments into knitting, using stranded colourwork which is a technique so closely linked to Shetland. So the china fragments came home with me and ideas percolated slowly in my brain...

On my next visit to Shetland, for Wool Week 2013, I was signed up for Felicity Ford's Quotidian Colourwork workshop. Felicity invited us to bring our 'everyday' inspiration, and she would help us translate it into a stranded colourwork design. Bingo! And so, carefully packed in my hand luggage for the flight to Shetland I had not only the precious bag of fragments, but also the smallest item from my late mother's collection of Willow Pattern - which turned out to be a large and heavy soup plate!

The class was just what I needed to start getting the first design down on paper, and most importantly to start actually knitting it. The Jamieson & Smith palette of colours in their jumper weight Shetland wool yarn provided three perfect shades of blue, as well as the natural white and a soft yellowy beige for some of the stained areas. After a few rows I knew I would have to revise the chart, but I was a bit stuck. Felix carefully considered the problem and came up with a very simple but effective solution. This time the swatch was just what I had had in mind! So Traces 1 was born.

Once I returned from Shetland, life, and other more pressing projects got in the way of any further work on Traces until it was almost time for Shetland Wool Week 2014. I charted another design based on a different fragment - not Willow Pattern, so I will have to look out for the design that this one is from. I restocked my supply of blue and white Shetland yarn, and cast on the swatch. Traces 2 has parts which require three colours per row which makes it more fiddly to knit, but I do prefer it to the sample I knitted using just one shade of blue throughout.

When I got home I wanted to experiment with different combinations of blues, but Christmas was also approaching with the need for some small knitted gifts for friends and family. By starting and ending each swatch with a few rows of corrugated rib in blue and white, and adding a steek, the swatches became mug cosies.
L-R 1b, 1a, 2a, 2b

I worked three colour variations of each design - my favourites are 1a, the very first one, and 2c which uses a greyer blue for one of the contrasts - unfortunately this was just a scrap in my stash and I don't think it is a J&S colour.
L-R: 1a, 2c, 1c

I have more fragments with different design elements to work on, and also ideas for using the designs in different projects, so Traces will be continuing for some time. Its a great excuse for beachcombing!

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook

Its here at last!

 You might remember that about six months ago I blogged here about the Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund Felicity Ford’s inspired plan to publish this wonderful book.

 The story begins a bit earlier than that – or at least my small involvement in it does. It all started with Wovember – the month long blog campaigning for REAL WOOL to be valued and celebrated, which has run each year in November for the past few years (catch this year’s Wovember while you can). Felicity is one of the founders of Team Wovember, so I ‘met’ her (virtually) and came to appreciate her thorough approach to understanding WOOL and THINGS WOOLLY.

Then during Shetland Wool Week 2013 I was lucky enough to get a place at her Quotidian Colourwork workshop. What a joyful day that was – I’ve described it here.

The idea behind Quotidian Colourwork – and the Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook – is that you can celebrate your everyday inspirations – your surroundings and favourite objects – in woolly form. And, most importantly I think, Felicity shows you how to do it for yourself.

A day or two after that first workshop, over a delicious Nepalese curry in Lerwick (am I the only person to find that a bit incongruous?!) Felicity revealed her ambition to produce a book which would demonstrate a process or system for people to follow to translate their inspirational object or image into stranded colourwork knitting.

Fastforward a year, via a hugely successful funding campaign and an enormous amount of hard work and creativity, to Shetland Wool Week 2014. The first ever printed copies of the Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook were sent hot off the press to Felicity care of Jamieson & Smith (the Shetland Wool Brokers) and actually arrived while I was teaching a spinning class there! Many of Felicity’s comrades-in wool were there to share the excitement of seeing those first copies.

 So – what is in the book? Mainly Felicity’s infectious enthusiasm and her deep love of WOOL, coupled with her keen observation and connected-ness with the places and objects around her. She takes us through worked examples with inspirations as diverse as buildings, electronics, plants, a road and fruitcake.
There are charts and even a few patterns you could follow to replicate Felicity’s work, but the real purpose of the book is to give you the tools to develop your own colour palettes and charts from the things that inspire you.

The book is copiously illustrated with beautiful photos taken by Felicity’s brother Fergus Ford – it is clear that he obviously understands the essence of the work – and the pictures, rich colours and layout make it a pleasure just to leaf through it. Felicity has also written about the objects and places, their history and her connection to them, in a way that not only explains why she wanted to celebrate them in knitting, but also reminds you of your own connections, and that these are deeper than a solely aesthetic appreciation.

Most importantly, the combination of the content and the way it is written, the book's design and all those gorgeous photos really carries the conviction that you too can play with yarn, colours and shapes to bring your own inspiration to life. Choosing colours, drawing your own charts, and then knitting them, is way too much fun!

By way of illustration, here are a couple of projects I have underway – the Willow Pattern pieces found on Shetland beaches – two of the details now charted


And a chart, not yet swatched, based on the tooling on the spine of a book which has been in my family for about a hundred years


You will see more of these as they progress!

Buying the book also gives you access to a pdf version which includes black & white versions of the charts in the book and space for drawing your own charts, so you don’t have to write on your lovely book.

this one's mine - buy your own!!
You can order your copy here

And while you’re about it, I strongly recommend that you order a shade card from Jamieson & Smith here because once the book arrives you will want to get started straight away!

  Felicity and I were reflecting on some of the Q&A in my original blog post about the funding campaign. This is what she wrote:

The questions that you and others asked me on the first blog tour (the one that coincided with the Kickstarter campaign) really helped me to clarify my approach to making the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. I thought it might be interesting to revisit a couple here and to share how they influenced the book.
These are two questions which you asked me which were really key to my approach to the structure and feeling of the book and I think they are really related;

1. There is a world of difference between giving someone precise instructions to follow to produce a more-or-less identical product (for example, a knitting pattern which specifies yarn, needle size, number of stitches and charts etc), and encouraging people to follow their own inspiration to create something unique, while giving them enough guidance. Can you say something about the balance between directing and supporting creativity?

2. Is there something in there about learning that 'making mistakes' is part of the creative and learning process?

One of the challenges was how to show creative process without being overly proscriptive. The balance lies somewhere between offering structure and maintaining openness. Rules and guidelines are really helpful and often aid creativity because they give clear starting points; on the other hand, you don’t want to make so many rules that people start panicking that they are doing things wrong.

I was really aware of the need to strike this balance between structure and freedom when writing The KNITSONIK System, and I found it quite nerve-wracking and scary! 

Just like in swatching, there were a lot of early drafts and mistakes before the words came right. I was helped by Tom ( and Kate ( and by the folks I have affectionately termed “the book midwives” in the acknowledgements section of the book; all these wondrous folks gave me great feedback and helped me to reflect on how to improve the writing. Feedback is vital to creative process and having folks read through my work and give me constructive criticism along the way was key. I think that’s worth mentioning, because it’s also true for the swatching process that is celebrated in the book. Showing the swatches to comrades, getting feedback – it all helps your ideas to form along the way.

I realised that friendliness would be important, too; I think enthusiasm and warmth go a long way towards opening up the creative process and when you’re in a room full of people you can smile and make jokes and play! However it’s harder to concentrate those elements into a printed format. That’s where the talents of Nic Blackmore ( and Fergus Ford ( come in; they added so much.

Nic Blackmore
Nic really understood the project from the outset, and was an amazing collaborator on the design side of things. We drank a lot of coffee, laughed with her lovely dog, Maisie, and discovered a mutual appreciation for fonts and typefaces.
Maisie and Felicity looking at proofs - Felicity is the one in the Shwook hat
 Having these wondrous things in common laid a great foundation for our work, and a feeling of affinity. The first time I saw The KNITSONIK System laid out on the pages, my first thought was THIS LOOKS FRIENDLY! NIC HAS MADE IT LOOK FRIENDLY! I am not sure exactly how she has done that, but I think it is magic.

Ferg’s great passion is wedding photography. He originally studied theatre and though he has a lot of technical knowledge about cameras and light, I think his background in drama comes through in the emotions he captures in his work. I learnt a lot about getting a mood or a feeling into a photograph from working with my brother.

For instance we had a couple of frustrating afternoons trying to put everything on a white studio background. I wanted to show all the things you need to have at the start of the creative swatching process – needles, pencils, paper, yarns etc. – and was really stuck on this idea of showing them all neatly laid out and itemised. feeling of starting a creative project; of getting your pencils and paper and your photos, of ordering your yarn and picking the shades from your shade-card, and Ferg said that he felt the plain white studio background was sterilising the joy of creativity.
But then we started talking about the loveliness of the feeling of starting a creative project; of getting your pencils and paper and your photos, of ordering your yarn and picking the shades from your shade-card, and Ferg said that he felt the plain white studio background was sterilising the joy of creativity.
He suggested instead that we lose the white background for those shots and use my lovely old worn work table as a background surface. The table is so much more charismatic than the plain white studio background was, and the photos we took against the warm wood are a far richer invitation to play and create and enjoy colour than my original idea had been; Ferg just knew the feeling was all wrong in the original white studio setup.

Felicity calls this photo 'messy work table - all I can say is - she hasn't seen  my work table!!
Another happy experience was when we went around my garden picking leaves and organised them from dark green to pale yellow. I think our excitement at finding such a rich palette right there among my plants comes across in the final image that we got, and I remember still the energy of us both exclaiming “that one is such a great colour next to that one” “that one is definitely lighter” and then “let’s get all the yarn out to match!”
Experiences like these kept reminding me of your question about whether ‘making mistakes’ would be celebrated in the book the whole time I was working on it; I think it’s fundamental. For me the number one maxim of all creative processes is that you have to be allowed to make a mess along the way; to get it wrong, muddle it up, do bad things to colours and so on. Remembering this helped me to really enjoy making the book and to savour the process – even the bad chapters that will never see the light of day and the photos that didn’t make it into the book... they are all part of the process.  

I especially relished writing the captions for the swatch pages in the book that deal with my own creative experiments. It felt very liberating to put my mistakes and bad knitting into a knitting book, because it is a way of celebrating the process of how we learn and create and because I hope it will give other knitters courage. One of my favourite photos from the book is the one where I am standing under my walnut tree holding the swatch which I designed from it; I told Ferg the image needed to be really triumphant: I want to spread the idea that we really can feel this good about knitting swatches full of original stranded colourwork.

Thanks so much for asking me about creative process and mistakes back in April – your questions really helped me!



Saturday, 18 October 2014

ICELAND: Knitting and hiking in the enchanted north

There has been a lot going on in the 3 months since I was in Iceland with Helene Magnusson and others, so my blog is very behind. I'm mostly going to let the photos tell the story. I flew to Reykjavik on 5th July, from Edinburgh

Clear skies as I flew over the Forth
The tour was organised by Icelandic Mountain Guides. We met up at the Sunna Guest House in Reykjavik, an easy bus ride from the airport. As we all arrived at different times we didn't really meet each other until breakfast the next morning. 
In the group were  3 French, 2 Swiss,  a German, 3 Americans, an Australian, a New Zealander and me, with Helene (who is French but has lived in Iceland for a long time) and our Icelandic driver, the only man.
We set off in our minibus, handily labelled 'Knitting women' (I think!)
We headed up the West coast past Mosfellsbaer
 Under Hvalfjordur

one kilometre deep under Hvalfjordur
 and on towards Borgarnes, and to the farm and tree nursery at Grenigerdi run by Rita and Pall
Rita in her wool store

sacks of lovely Icelandic fleece

Pall with a lamb - and a gorgeous lopipeysa jumper

Rita and Pall's sheep among the birch trees
 Refreshed by  homegrown rhubarb juice, we may have purchased some wool as well as lovely reindeer horn buttons and necklaces made by this busy couple.
then we went a few miles further to Hespuhusid (skein house), the home and studio of Gudrun the dyer.

Gudrun in her dye studio

dyeing with lupin leaves

a small selection of Gudrun's beautiful naturally dyed yarn
 We had a picnic lunch here and some wool may have been purchased (but this time not by me, which I later regretted!)

The lovely view from Gudrun's house

Hvanneyri church

Helene's flock starting to scatter

the woolshop (Ullarselid) is on the signpost

I'm knitting one like this at the moment, but not so fine

the wool co-operative and museum at Hvanneyri
 A visit to the wool co-operative where quite a lot of wool was purchased (by all of us)


 Then on to visit a goat farm, which has the last remaining pure Icelandic goats
What can you do when a two-week old goat kid falls asleep in your arms?


Helene (with kid) wearing one of her own designs


Sue G in another of Helene's designs, with a lively little goat

 We heard that the farm was in danger of foreclosure, but thankfully it has since been saved by an online crowdfunding campaign. Such a lovely place where these unique animals are cared for and provide a family's livelihood should not be lost. And where would the Game of Thrones sequel find its caprine stars? (some of the goats from this farm were eaten by a dragon in the Game of Thrones film)
Some of these goats produce lovely cashmere

 Back on the road for the long drive to Blonduos on the north coast

The view from my bedroom in Blonduos - maybe not the prettiest but this photo was taken at MIDNIGHT!

 In the morning we walked around to the famous textile centre and museum. It is full of fascinating exhibits
Traditional wool shoe inserts - garter stitch intarsia

everyday objects like clothespegs

A collection of national costumes and these stern ladies in their traditional headgear

a room dedicated to Halldora Bjarnadottir including this lovely knitted blanket

meticulously woven braids

lots of mittens including several with two thumbs, like this pair

very fine handspun yarn in a gradient of shades

 After a picnic lunch we had a workshop in the textile centre's dining room, knitting with unspun plotulopi and working a sample for an afterthought thumb, to practice for our Skagafjordur mittens (like the black embroidered ones above)
the new museum building - it used to be in the old cowshed at the back

The Textile College at Blonduos

The shoogly bridge to Hrutey
That evening Helene and our driver made us a delicious Icelandic dinner, and afterwards we set off for a walk on the island of Hrutey, in the Blanda river
Geese lay large clutches of eggs on the island - it is a nature reserve - we thought these were old infertile eggsas there were no adult geese around

lots of wild flowers on Hrutey

Black volcanic sand beaches at the mouth of the river at Blonduos

 After two days at Blonduos we set off again, visiting the turf farm museum at Glaumbaer
The farm buildings are constructed of thick slabs of turf, under turf rooves

part of each building is below ground level

the turves are laid herring-bone style

everything was small as there was little space
inside were lots of the things used by the family in their daily lives, all made with great care and attention to detail
a carved spindle

I could use one of these to keep my spinning things in

the carved board on the side of the bed had a symbolic meaning to create privacy in a bedchamber shared by all

I use something quite similar for making skeins

Horsehair in different colours was spun using large drop spindles, then braided into patterned ropes for harness - probably for the same horses

examples of traditional natural dyes - including rhubarb, birch and several gallium species

this is where you kept your most personal posessions

and this is your personal dish for soup or stew, with a lid to be used as a plate

beautiful painted chests for clothes or blankets

interesting carders - one free and one fixed into a device with a long part you sat on to hold it still (I think)

mitten stretchers

absolutely huge stocking stretcher (and stockings) to fit a giant, or maybe a troll...

fine handspinning and knitted lace

wooden facades to the interconnected buildings

Tea and knitting (and yummy cakes) in the vintage tea-room at Glaumbaer, - Sue G,  me , Karen and Dawn

 A bit more travelling and a picnic in a park, and then we visited a tannery where they process sheepskins and make fishskin leather
tanned salmon skins

skins with foiled metallic finishes

Helene found a comfy place to knit!

 From there we headed to our next overnight stop, Hofsos, a very pretty village on the shore of Skagafjordur
 We swam in the public outdoor pool overlooking the fjord and lounged in the (very) hot tub, and walked along the top of cliffs made of columnar basalt  - I saw a whale!
 knitting  thumbs on mittens - workshop on the cliff top


Restaurant where we had an excellent dinner - and went back for breakfast next morning

 From Hofsos we headed further north, round the headland to Dalvik.
 From the headland we could see the island of Grimsay about 30km away, it lies on the arctic circle
At Skjaldarvik we checked in to the nicest guesthouse of the whole trip.
 and immediately took over the lounge for knitting (with a telescope for birdwatching)
Dawn and Sue E working on their mittens

 We went in to Akureyri, a lovely little town where we made for the wool shop and we may have purchased some yarn. Purchases were also made in a fab craft shop, and in the ice-cream parlour

I met these two in Reykjavik last winter! (the trolls, not the girls)

Midnight view from our guesthouse

 In the evening after a  dip in the hot tub and a fabulous dinner we had a workshop on the special embroidery for the mittens which we had been knitting since Blonduos, mostly on the bus but also in cafes, on the beach, in parks and just about everywhere we had been.
the d├ęcor in the guesthouse was full of interesting little touches


lots of upcycling and vintage, especially the black-bound books used everywhere

loved this chair!

in the grounds

Next day  we went to Godafoss, where legend has it the king threw all the pagan idols when Christianity came to Iceland (so they can still be worshipped beneath the waterfall).
A bunch of knitters - are they discussing a knitting problem? No, I think they have got chocolate!! Wait for us!!!

 Then to the Myvatn area, where we spent some time walking among the pseudocraters (created when hot lava flowed across the lake and the water vapour exploded upwards)
flowers amongst the lava

very windy at the top - Sue G, Annegret, Helene, Sue E and Dawn

 A short drive away we stopped for a picnic in a very flowery place
troll cave?

We visited a well-preserved system of sheep fanks where the sheep would be rounded up in the central ring and sorted into separate enclosures round the edges

the lava blocks are surprisingly light - and support lots of moss and lichen, although they take many years to grow

 From there we went to a geothermal area where we saw sulphurous steam vents which sound like jet engines, and pools of boiling grey mud, as well as hot sandy areas and steaming hillsides
mud pots look like boiling grey paint


We had a wonderful swim in a hot pool  - the Blue Lagoon of the North - with opaque milky blue hot (sometimes very hot) water and stunning views over an almost lunar landscape. A chill wind meant we kept as much as possible under the water, which leaves the skin feeling silky smooth for days. We were reluctant to get out but eventually had to make a rather rushed journey back to Akureyri to catch our flight to Reykjavik.
near Godafoss

sometimes the scenery reminds me of Scotland

Akureyri across Eyjafjordur

 Of course when we got there our flight had been cancelled - but we had plenty of knitting to occupy ourselves while waiting for the next one
Dawn, Annegret, SueG, Sue E (with tablet) and Helene

The francophone contingent - Patricia, Nadeige, Emmanuele and Laurence, with Karen and Beverley (hidden) behind them

 back in Reykjavik we had dinner in an apltly named restaurant
 And then went to the Laundromat (it really is, as well as a pub!)
Sue G, Dawn, me, Annegret and Sue E in Laundromat at about 11.30pm


Midnight in cloudy Reykjavik

 On our last full day in Reykjavik we visited the fleamarket
 where I acquired this very fragile but lovely spindle box, from a very anxious stallholder who wanted to make sure I knew what it was (!!!!) and would take care of it as it was made in 1883, in Eastern Iceland. I think I was able to reassure him...
it needs some TLC

I took Sue to see the steam vents in the city centre, and we browsed shops and cafes but no more wool was purchased!!! Just several books, some Icelandic moss and flatbread. I've forgotten what I thought I was going to do with the Icelandic moss - dye with it probably, but you can eat it too so that's a dilemma!
an appropriate name for my suitcase by this time

much prettier than a net curtain

mural with volcano, pony, waterfall......

Reykjavik's iconic church, from outside our guesthouse


 By Saturday evening most of the group had left Reykjavik. I spent my last night in a different guesthouse - thankfully just far enough away from the city centre, which is party central on Saturday night - all night!
another midnight photo

 I had time on Sunday for more sightseeing - and knitting! The mittens were finished apart from some of the embroidery, so I started a lace scarf in Istex Einband yarn. I called the design Reykjavik 2am because I found myself drawing up the chart for it at that time. It is almost impossible to go to bed when it is daylight all night. Maybe I could shorten the pattern name to Insomnia
knitting at  the Sun Voyager sculpture

great potential for a bit of yarn graffiti

 As I walked back towards the harbour I spotted a small boat approaching on the calm water. It turned out to be the boat that does puffin-spotting trips, and as it arrived in the harbour at the same time as I did I just had to go for a trip on it. Well no holiday is complete without a boat trip, is it? Also, we had a running joke about puffins which had lasted for days, instigated by Beverly and maintained mainly by Annegret (well, me too just a bit!)
Lundi is Icelandic for puffin

 So I set sail on the Lundi round two small islands just off Reykjavik
there were lots of puffins but this isn't a very good photo

 back on shore I visited the concert hall, Harpur, an extraordinary glass structure
Harpur from the inside

 Then it was time to catch the airport bus - at which point the sun came out and the lava fields of Reykanes looked lovely
And what about all the wool that was purchased?
Two kilos of Rita's lovely Icelandic fleece is still waiting to be spun - I want to experiment with separating the tog and the thel. I got four different colours so lots of fun to be had with that.
I finished embroidering my Skagafjordur mittens - they will be very cosy for winter being knitted in Istex Lettlopi on small needles. I still have a ball of the Lopilett left.
Skagafjordur mittens by Helene Magnusson

The lacy green Einband scarf (Insomnia in Reykjavik?) got finished at Edinburgh airport on my way to Shetland, and while there I learned from Ann Eunson the proper way to dress (block) a lace scarf, (so that is tomorrow's task. I'll add a photo later ).
I have two balls of red Einband still to use.
I bought enough plotulopi to knit a lopipeysa cardigan, which I finished just before I went to Shetland Wool Week (and was very glad to have it during the two days of gales). It is really warm but being unspun yarn it is very light - just over 500g.
Snjoflyksa by Linnea Ornstein - pattern on Ravelry
I only needed two-thirds of the yarn for the cardigan so I am now knitting Helene's Margret shawl with the rest.

The finished projects are on my Ravelry page
Lovely Sue E gave me two balls of a very soft fuzzy yarn which I think I will include in my next fair isle hat , having seen Felicity Ford's Shwook which includes some of her Granny's angora yarn. She also gave me a part ball of some very pretty sock yarn which might become wristwarmers.
The WOOLCANO has been tamed!!! (but I've been to Shetland since then.....some yarn may have been purchased!!
As for Iceland - this was my second visit, I went first in winter and now in summer, and I love it - the people, the geology and of course THE WOOL. I already have plans for a MUCH LONGER VISIT in 2018 - you have been warned, Iceland!