There has been lots of excitement about Felicity Ford’s fantastic new project, The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. The kickstarter campaign has reached and exceeded it’s target with 424 backers when I last checked. I’ve loved following the campaign and reading the blog posts about the project. I was so relieved when the target was reached because this is a knitting book that really needs to be made! I love the concept -it’s a knitting book and a fibre arts book and so much more! It’s looking at knitting in an innovative way and also encouraging knitters to look at the world around them for inspiration. Knitters will be able to create unique knits that are properly art! In Grayson Perry’s Reith Lectures he quoted a student as saying that art is about noticing things. That’s certainly something that Felicity Ford appreciates.
Myself, I love designing knitted colourwork. I’m always on the look out for inspiration -usually found by exploring patterns and prints. Sometimes I feel so inspired by something but can’t quite figure out how to make it work in knitted colourwork. For that reason alone I am selfishly delighted about this book! When Felicity Ford (or Felix as I know her) sent me some photos to accompany this blog post she included one of canal boat painted roses. I have wrestled with canal boat roses desperately trying to incorporate them into a design but not quite managing it. I’m sure this book will help me and I expect many gorgeous projects and designs will come about thanks to the concept of this book.
I asked Felix some questions about some of the aspects about The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook that I am particularly interested in. As with every question she’s been asked along the blog tour Felix has given brilliant, considered answers. I know this book will be good!
As a fellow lover of stranded colourwork I’m very excited to see a book like this! Can you explain a little about how you came to develop the concept?
I have talked quite a lot on the blog tour so far about how I learnt to knit colourwork, and what some of my early experiments have been with stranded colourwork, so I’d like to reflect here on something I’ve not said elsewhere, which is how important walking has been in developing the concept for The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. Walking – especially with my partner, Mark – is I think my most important “research” activity. Not only because getting outside makes you notice lovely things like intricate brickwork, gorgeous light and shade, and the wonderful colour combinations present in the built environment, but also because walking is such a wonderful space for daydreaming.
I grew up in Croydon and remember taking Mark to my very favourite park there – Lloyd Park. We were on one of those kind of “this is where I grew up” dates, and I was delighted to show him the meadows between the park and the home of my teenage years. One field we were in has that grass which is shiny and green with slightly purple seed-heads, and when the wind blows over the field, it bends the stalks a certain way, and you get this gold/mauve blush rippling over the top. The wind blows back the other way, and it is plain green again. The grass looks slightly lacy, too. When we were there, admiring it, Mark said “wouldn’t it be amazing if you could knit something like that?”
This theme has informed many subsequent conversations in many other landscapes, and in every situation from walking to the local shops to buy milk, through to walking 200 miles together from Weymouth to the London Olympics Stadium for Mark’s Walk 2012 project. We walk together in all places, and – wherever we are – one of us invariably asks “wouldn’t it be amazing to knit that?”
…Frosted silver stones and grasses around a very cold lake in Glen Etive, Scotland, reflecting the golden light of the sun above…
…Pink light on the snow in the forests around Inkpen, in Berkshire, near Walbury hill…
…Ceruleans, sandy-shades, fawns, greens and whites on the cliffs around Portland, Weymouth, where Mark spent his teenage years…
…Scarlet poppies flushing red across fields outlaying the A4074 road which I drive on, regularly…
…Terracotta bricks in our street and the ones nearby…
I never tire of these conversations, or of the lovely pleasure of having flushed cheeks and tired limbs after a long walk, but a head full of ideas, and the feeling of having soaked up thousands of beautiful colours and colour combinations along the way. Some of the ideas found while out walking have already made their way into the knitting for the book, some of them are yet to come, and some will wait for future projects, but I think that being outside, looking, observing, noticing and sharing ideas have played a key role in the evolution of the ideas behind the book.
Here you can see that I was trying to translate the ideas of young maze growing in Oxfordshire and a hare spotted in the fields on an early dawn walk into the concept for what I called Mark’s “Harefields hat”.
In these socks, you can see how I tried to immortalise landmarks along the Walk 2012 walking route in two suitable yarns for walking socks.
And here you can see how I turned my beginner’s handspun – Jacob and Romney and some green merino from my felt-making stash – into a hat inspired by a Cairn we found in the Highlands while out walking there… ever since I rediscovered knitting in my twenties, I have wanted to celebrate things I discovered around me in yarn!
With the huge colour palette of the Jamieson yarns and your colourwork chart system I can imagine there would be potential for colourwork inspiration everywhere! I love the way you’ve chosen a range of subjects to show us as part of the kick starter campaign. What do you think are the main things to consider when picking sources for inspiration?
When thinking about things for the book, I only chose things I was really excited to explore in stranded colourwork, and things which other knitters would be able to relate to. I listed all the things I love, and narrowed the list down to things which I thought other knitters would have: – a personal collection; a favourite book; a favourite skein of variegated yarn; some favourite drinks and food; favourite tech – and of course – your neighbourhood and commute. I give a personal perspective on these things in the book, but with suggestions and ideas which make the ideas I’ve had about colours applicable in your life, too.
To captivate the imagination of everyone who reads the book, I think it needs to be stuffed with passion and enthusiasm. I can’t fake that, so everything in the book that I have chosen from my life is something I am totally into; there’s a genuine reason for everything I’ve included. That’s important for when you choose something you want to knit, too, because if you don’t really care about something, it’s hard to put the time into swatching and celebrating it in your knitting, whereas if you do, the process is a joy.
Whether or not I want to knit something in stranded colourwork comes down to either really loving THE THING or endlessly being fascinated by the colours of THE THING, if that makes sense? My EDIROL R-09 handheld recorder is not exactly pretty by any stretch. It’s a little smooth block of plastic with the buttons mostly worn away through use, and it is largely black and grey. But I lovethis device – it has enabled me to record and document and celebrate so many little moments of ordinary life! – and so I enjoy the discipline and the challenge of working with it to try and wrest colourwork charts out of its shapes and textures.
On the other hand, some lichen growing on white poplar bark struck me at first sight as being visually so arresting and interesting that I immediately wanted to knit it. I spotted the lichen on a tree in King’s Meadow in Reading, and thoughts about how to transpose it into knitting have been rolling round in my head ever since; I made a chart which I am not happy with about three years ago, and revisiting and updating that chart will influence what I produce for the book.
So I would really say that when picking your own inspirations, make it be something you feel a genuine connection to – either that you are just purely fascinated by the forms, colours, shapes and textures of THE THING, or that you just really love THE THING and find it personally symbolic or significant. Having a genuine connection to your source inspiration makes the swatching process pleasurable, because this becomes an opportunity for you to explore something in your life which is important to you, and to invest time in examining and celebrating that.
Following from the last question, what skills and tools will a knitter need to turn inspiration into a finished chart and on to make a knitted swatch?
To turn inspiration into a finished chart, you’ll need to be able to match colours, and to understand the difference between hue and value when thinking about colours. You’ll also need the ability to spot patterns in everyday things, and to work your discoveries into ideas that are appropriate to the medium of stranded knitting. If that sounds daunting, do not worry: the book will give you ideas about how to develop these skills! The book will also explain the restrictions and properties of stranded colourwork, which are important when we think about translating everyday inspirations into this specific medium. Because of the structure of stranded knitting, lots of straight vertical lines, big areas of one colour, or many rows requiring more than two colours can all create tension issues and even sometimes produce puckered or bulky fabric, which most knitters will not want for their hand-knits! To guard against these undesirable outcomes, the book advocates limiting the numbers of straight, vertical lines in a design; avoiding large areas of a single colour; and sticking to the use of a maximum of two colours per row. However rather than seeing these ideas as limitations, the book celebrates them as a set of rules within which to play: they are creative guidelines which help to direct your creativity rather than to confine it.
To then take your ideas forward into knitting, you will need to be able to draft and knit from a chart, and to physically knit stranded colourwork. The book will show you my preferred methods for these activities, which include sketching; carrying one shade per hand; and using DPNs for the construction of your swatch. All swatches are knit in the round and then a steek is cut, and your swatch is opened out and blocked. This will all be explained in the book, and one great side effect of working on the knitting for The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is that I now have absolutely no fear at all of cutting my knitting. You will feel the same after making and steeking your first swatch!
You’re planning a CD to accompany the book. I wondered how the CD would add to the experience and enjoyment of the book?
Yes, alongside the book I am producing The KNITSONIK Audible Textures Resource. This is an album of what I have described on my KNITSONIK podcast as ‘textural’ recordings, plus sounds recorded in Shetland, and a nicely mixed and mastered version of the Shetland Wool Week Song. What I mean by textural recordings is long recordings from a single location, where you can really get a sense of the place and what is going on there. As a knitting sound artist, the everyday world I want to knit is the same one I listen to…
…The KNITSONIK Audible Textures Resource explores the theme of being present to everyday life that inspires the knitting in The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. As its name hopefully suggests, it will be full of inspiring textures, and a sense of witness or presence to daily life. The audio will foreground and celebrate the ordinary contexts in which we lead our everyday lives, and celebrate Shetland wool and its origins in Shetland.
In terms of the overall experience of knitting from the book while also listening to the CD, my hope is that as you knit stranded colourwork in Shetland wool, you will be able to hear the textures and places which inspired me and hopefully recognise echoes of your own life in those sounds. I also hope knitters will enjoy listening to the distinctive landscape where your knitting wool was grown: Shetland.
I love the photography that I’ve seen for the project so far! I can’t wait to see more beautiful images of the inspiration sources and the knitting. Are there any aspects of this project that you’re most looking forward to working on or seeing come together?
Thank you for your kind words on the photography for the project so far! I have been really enjoying experimenting with the best ways to present the ideas, and to show – in pictures – how to travel from a source inspiration in the landscape or in your home to a beautiful end piece of knitting.
I’m actually looking forward to all the parts of the process, in different ways. Like you, I can’t wait to see more images which relate source inspirations to knitting, and I can’t wait to start working with Nic Blackmore and Fergus Ford on the visual side of things. Nic Blackmore has worked with some of my favourite knitwear designers, and I love her work and know that she will have amazing ideas for the design and layout that will really bring my ideas to life. Similarly, Fergus’s photographic skills will add a lot. Fergus is my brother and a professional photographer, and what I found while working with him on the Kickstarter campaign video is that he is both a superb technician and a great artistic director. Although he is not a knitter, he has a great feeling for the project, and understands what needs to be foregrounded through the shots. He did a lovely blog about it here.
I’m also really looking forward to the writing! A few months ago, Deb Robson introduced me to Donna Druchunas and an amazing thread on her forum on Ravelry, exploring what can go into a knitting book. It was a really inspiring, long discussion about the scope of the knitting book genre, and it really inspired my thinking around The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. Donna has been fantastically supportive of my vision for the book, and as her contribution to getting it off the ground, she offered me a place on one of her online writing courses. I am really looking forward to having a group of online comrades, and polishing our writing skills together. You and all the fantastic folk who have sent me questions to answer and hosted the various legs of the blog tour have been an enormous help with the writing, already. I have spent a long time on each Q&A, and each set of questions has reflected the knitterly instincts of the asker. Thinking about what to write every time has helped me to shape my own ideas, and to clarify a lot of things in my own mind… I think the course will be an amazing place for editing and refining the ideas so that only the best things end up in the book.
Finally, and perhaps most of all, I am massively looking forward to November and the process of physically sending all the books and rewards off to the many amazing people who are making this venture possible. Funding a project through Kickstarter is quite a unique experience: the support and enthusiasm of everyone who has backed the project will make it very rich; it will be a shared achievement when copies of the book start physically coming off the rollers at the printing depot… I am looking forward to being able to share the excitement of that moment with the generous crowd of people who’ve made it all possible.
You are an artist with a diverse range of skills! With an appreciation of the mundane, an interest in sound and in the visual reconstruction of your environment into knitterly form it must be pretty exciting being in your brain! I know that this is a big question but can you explain how it feels to be you?
That’s a tough question! I’ll do my best to answer! I love the “infra-ordinary”: stuff which surrounds us all the time, but which is so familiar that we don’t really see it. I record that stuff. I take photos of it, and I record it in sound. Documenting the everyday turns normal life into something you can share with others. Once you have created a record of something – in any medium – you can refer to it, you can put it in your podcast, you can give it to other people.
Have you ever stood and listened to the three minutes that it takes to fry an egg? So many tiny explosions happen inside that sound… it’s an amazing sound, and it’s always three minutes long. When you crack an egg into the pan, do you ever think “I will be three minutes older by the time this is ready to eat?” If I record that sound, I can present the time passing to other comrades; that momentary texture of everyday life happening… One of my favourite photographs ever is of our kitchen sink. You can see the lime scale, the unglamorous green foamy sponges, the discount washing up liquid. But that is our sink. We have washed so many things at that sink that it seems worth mentioning.
It may sound pointless to record eggs frying and to photograph the crusty old sink, but why would it be more worthwhile to paint a sunset? Much more time is spent cooking and cleaning than enjoying beautiful skies; why not find a celebratory way to refer to that, rather than making art be about what is abstract, distant, sublime or rare? I love what happens when you share the little things of daily life; the way that it instantly chimes with the experiences of whoever is listening or watching, and the way that it encourages discourse. “That is your sink? Well our sink looks like this…”
To me, there is a radical, affirmative power in working with the stuff of everyday life – and especially with the contexts, materials and practices that have traditionally belonged to women. One good reason for making art is to underscore that something is important; worth documenting, representing, celebrating. Food is important. Knitting is important. Washing up is important. I like pointing that out over and over again in my work, and I think that still needs saying.
I have also found that – not only in the home but also in my town – witnessing and documenting normal life gives me a sense of possession and belonging. This where I live, this is my home, this is my town, I belong here. There is the street I photographed, there are the ducks I recorded. I think the modern world can be profoundly alienating: cities are loud, complex, overstimulating… for me, strategies for navigating that, for finding our own place in the dizzying colours and noise, are not only fun, but increasingly necessary.
Sound recording is one way I have found to give presence to the mundane, and I am really enjoying developing the KNITSONIK podcast as a framework for sharing those. But The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook takes things a stage further, because it opens up my process of celebrating the everyday to the whole community of knitters! Sharing the joy of documenting the normal with others is what I am most looking forward to when the book is done; I hope it will inspire more people to photograph their sinks and listen to their eggs frying.
I am really delighted that throughout my Kickstarter campaign, people have started taking photos and sending them to me – of their bricks, their favourite plants, their neighbourhoods. This makes me think that many knitting comrades share my wish to document and celebrate – to make special – the stuff of daily life which surrounds us. Right now, that is really exciting to me.