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!