I’m writing this post seven weeks into the UK Covid-19 lockdown and in our household I am relieved to say that so far we are fit and well. As an artist and designer, an excuse to sit around in my PJs all day making stuff and drinking wine was kinda my dream job so I adapted quite quickly to the new way.
However, a month in to social distancing and a few weeks past my regular hair cut appointment, a minor problem arose and some choices needed to be made:
wear a hat (yep, always!)
let it grow and use elastic bands (least favourable as most annoying and time consuming)
shave it off (and we have a winner!)
Wear a Hat
I did, with the help of Mr B, clipper it all off in the end.
But I do like a hat. I have an assortment of knitted beanies, baseball caps, boonies, a tweed flat cap, and a fedora.
Me knitted beanie
Tweed flat cap
And as the lockdown hair crisis options, listed above, are not mutually exclusive, and in my opinion you can never have too many hats, a bit of knitting was in order.
I am a huge fan of 1940s knitwear and have an ever growing collection of books from that era. I am particularly interested in the innovative use of stitch type to create garment shape, and the economical use and reuse of yarns. While I was flicking through one of my favourite books the other evening (the hand written dedication in the front was dated 1943) I came across a section on hats. While the beautifully styled black and white photos showed dewy faced models in tailored outfits and serious expressions, the hats themselves were pure comedy.
It’s foolish but it’s fun
I was particularly drawn to the “Three-cornered Hat” described in the title as “It’s foolish but it’s fun” and had to have a go. Not least because the three styling options presented in the book (and notated as “there are three angles to every triangle you may remember; so there are three angles from which to consider this enchanting trifle of a triangular hat”) looked like some serious photo shoot fun.
I knitted my hat striping odds and ends of sock yarn (4ply) on 3.25mm needles. The instructions were simple (particularly when I had translated them to modern knitspeak):
CO 286sts, placing a marker to highlight the half way point (143sts), and work thus:
Row 1 and every row thereafter: *K2tog, work to 2 sts before the marker, k2tog, SM, k2tog, work to last 2 sts, k2tog. This is repeated until 6sts remain.
Nxt row: K2tog three times. 3sts.
Nxt row: K3tog.
Once finished the fun began in constructing the hat.
The CO edges were folded in half and sewn together (the original pattern suggested crocheting them together). I then used a 3mm circular needle to pick up and knit 138 sts around the head opening and worked 7 rows of garter stitch before BO. (Again the original pattern suggested working a crochet border).
The result was indeed a foolish but fun hat.
When I showed it to my Mum she laughed out loud as apparently her Mum used to make her and her sisters this type of hat when they were children.
I can throughly recommend taking some time at the moment to create something whimsical and foolish. If the knitters of the early 1940s could maintain their sense of humour during a World War, then I think we can too.
I hope you are staying safe and well, wherever in the world you are.
If you’ve ever fancied learning the double knitting technique but have been unable to get to a class, I’ve just the thing for you. Based on my experiences of teaching this popular workshop in a classroom environment, I’ve put together a pdf and video based workshop for you to try it at home.
In the workshop I explain and demonstrate the basics of the technique from casting on, working in two colours, working a simple heart motif from a knitting chart, and casting off.
The workshop consists of a 16 page pdf document containing written instructions and photographs, along with private access to over 30 minutes of video (via Vimeo) to illustrate the technique.
If you are interested to find out more, this mini workshop is listed in my Independent Designer shop on Lovecrafts.com. The link can be found here.
This time of year can seem crazy busy for many. Preparing for a family holiday, often involving entertaining significant numbers and/or travel, can become a blur of manic activity. Combine this with finishing up of work projects before the end of the year, and it isn’t surprising that so many folks hit the Christmas season frazzled and potentially full of cold.
To help you make a little time for yourself, or (if I really can’t persuade you to take a bit of time out) as an entertainment for young artists to keep them calm ahead of Santa’s visit, I’ve a little gift for you.
A Free Festive Outline for you
Print him out and use your coloured pencils, paints and/or collage scraps and glue stick to bring him to life.
Christmas Colour Scheme Ideas
If you struggle with colour schemes have a look at this blog post from Creative Market. It gives you 8 different combinations to try.
Consideration of tonal values can make a big difference to your colouring in (and other art work). A light tonal value next to a dark tonal value will create a striking visual contrast. Two similar tonal values together will be more subtle. If you are not sure, a black and white photo of the colours will turn them in to tonal values and you can then compare them.
The above said, I’m pretty sure that as children we didn’t sweat over these types of things (although we did learn pretty quickly what we liked and didn’t through trial and error). And let’s face it. Children are masters of colouring in so maybe throw design caution to the wind, embrace your hidden five year old and just do it!
Get your Stitch on
If textiles are more your thing, then the outline would work really well as a basis for some stitchery.
Again, print out the outline and then transfer it to a piece of fabric. I’ve done a blog post previously with methods to do this if you are unsure.
Once you’ve the main lines on, how about some embellishment? A bit of applique would work really well. Sequins, beads, ribbons…. lots of exciting things to try.
Coloured pencils and watercolour paints also work well on cotton fabrics and add another method of providing interest to a stitched piece.
Happy Christmas and New Year
I hope you have fun creating your own version of the kitty bauble. I’d love to see what you do with it (if you are on Instagram please post and tag me (@nickybarfoot)).
So for those of you who do celebrate at this time of year, I wish you a wonderful time. And for everyone, I look forward to connecting with you again in 2020.
I was recently interviewed for Hampshire Life magazine about the Hampshire Open Studios an event I have taken part in regularly in recent years. During the interview we talked about the visitor experience and how the artist can make this less intimidating for people who perhaps would not normally feel at home in an art gallery. I thought it might also be helpful to share some tips on how to get the most out of a visit based on my observations of stewarding over the years, and also my own experiences as a visitor to other people’s studios and galleries.
The Hampshire Open Studios
For those of you not in the know, over the 10 days leading up to and including the August bank holiday, artists and makers open up their studios, homes, or rent venues, to show and sell their work to the public. While this costs the artist a fee to be included, it is a free event for visitors and a wonderful opportunity to buy from the artist directly if they see something that they would like to have in their life more permanently.
Why visit an art exhibition?
From the artists point of view, sales put food in our mouths and keep a roof over our heads (or at least enable us to buy more paint, paper etc to keep our creative practice going). However, there are many reasons why visitors look forward to this event (gleaned from talking to, observing and listening to many over the years), aside from increasing their personal art collection. These are (among others):
being inspired by others to reignite their own artistic or craft practice.
learning about workshop opportunities, and art education.
supporting, meeting, and talking to other artists (networking).
a good day out with family and friends.
visiting interesting venues that are not always open to the public.
having a nose around other peoples houses (freely admitted to by many folks I’ve spoken to!)
Making the most out of every visit
With nearly 300 venues taking part over a wide area, and a limited amount of time, choosing who to visit can be difficult. While artists include a photo or two in their advert in the book/on the website, unless you know their work (follow them on social media or have seen them before), there is always a bit of a gamble turning up. What if you are the only person there, in an artist’s living room, in front of work that doesn’t immediately speak to you? How do you make a quick exit without appearing rude?
From the artist’s point of view we have all experienced the Twirl: that person who steps through the door, tries (with varying degrees of success) not to look disappointed, does a rapid spin around the room (sometimes on the spot) and leaves hastily with mumbled “thanks” or “nice” to cover their embarrassment.
While recognising that art is subjective and for every Twirl there is the person who spends a significant amount of time engaging with and enjoying the work, I always feel sad that the former has made the effort to come in and got nothing out of the experience. While some Art does jump off the wall/plinth at you (this is when you know you are in the right place) and creates a connection straight away, some art is much quieter and needs a little time to speak to you. If you don’t give it that time, you may miss out on a rewarding experience.
Hints and tips on slowing down the visit
Having seen the exhibition experience from both sides, I thought it might be helpful to give some hints and tips on how I’ve learn’t to slow down and make the most of visits, even when the art itself, on first glance, doesn’t appear to be my thing.
Be methodical (if space allows) and work around the room. Be aware that hanging an exhibition from the artist point of view takes much planning. The work is placed intentionally in relation to that around it. There may also be an obvious progression of a series i.e. what came first? You can liken this to how musicians create an album. Dipping in and out on random shuffle may give you an idea of each piece in isolation, but the album overall has an impact if listened to in the order that the artist intended.
Commit to standing in front of each piece for a number of seconds. Stand back (if space allows) and then look up close. For 3 d work, walk around it if possible and view from different angles. Often there is an interesting feature hidden around the back!
Consider the colours, the composition (what has been placed where) and how your eyes are drawn to certain elements of the work. Note the materials used (they are often surprising and only obvious on closer inspection). Remember that the artist is using these things to communicate with you. What is the piece saying to you? As a viewer these can be negative or positive reactions, both are interesting. Not least as our reaction to elements such as colour, can change over time e.g with seasons, and things going on in our lives. You may have gone in to the room thinking that you liked blue landscapes and finished realising that you are starting to enjoy charcoal figures.
Read the titles. Personally I spend a lot of time naming pieces. They add another clue and often can be quite enlightening if not laugh out loud entertaining as the penny drops.
If there are sketchbooks or information to leaf through about the artist and their work, have a look. These can help if you are struggling to “get it” and sketchbooks in particular can be a fascinating insight in to process and background (and occasionally shopping lists if mine are anything to go by).
Often at Open Studios artists will be creating work or demonstrating. Watch them for a bit and ask questions if appropriate.
If there are chairs available, sometimes sitting down in front of the work gives you more time to let the introvert pieces show their worth. It can give another view (particularly if you are considering buying something to put in a room where you will be sitting in front of it regularly). There may also be an opportunity to partake in refreshments offered by the artist/venue at this stage.
Talk to the artist if they are there, about their work. Ask them questions: what inspires them, how did they get in to art, what is their favourite piece, how long does a piece of work take them, where can you see more of their work, ask how something you are interested is made etc etc.
I hope that this has given you some ideas on how you might get more out of exhibition visits. It isn’t all about shopping and spending money, but if you have enjoyed yourself and got something rewarding from the experience, a small token of thanks to the artist is always appreciated to help cover their costs for being there. While you may not want a piece of their work hanging on your wall (and we do understand that, I assure you), buying a card (or something small and affordable) can help them keep doing what they are doing, providing entertainment, inspiration and pleasure to others through the creation of their work.
For the 3rd year in a row I have been taking part in #the100dayproject over on Instagram. For those of you who are unaware of this creative endurance test, it is a free, annual, worldwide, participative event where creative souls of all genres publicly commit to a project and post a daily update for 100 days on their Instagram accounts. This year we started on 2 April and at time of writing, we are on day 79.
The benefits of daily practice
I’ve talked before in a previous post about how this type of accountability helps my commitment to daily practice. Artistic procrastination can be a common occurrence. How many times have any of these thoughts prevented you from making?
I can’t think of anything to do,
I don’t have enough time,
I can’t find the right sketchbook,
what’s the point of it anyway,
by the time I’ve got my stuff out I won’t have time to do anything.
Much like learning to play a musical instrument, doing a little something everyday makes a difference. As pointed out by the multi talented Maya Angelou in a 1982 interview for Bell Telephone Magazine (and not Oscar Wilde as sometimes attributed): “You can’t use up creativity, the more you use, the more you have.” And this doesn’t even take in to consideration how using the materials regularly makes us more skilled in their handling and application.
I have found this in all of the previous 100 day projects I’ve participated in. I won’t deny that more than three quarters of the way through I’m flagging a little. And my house is even more of a mess than usual. Leaving my art supplies out means no wasted time setting up and taking down.
But just knowing that I have committed to a daily post makes it hard to stop prematurely. Waiting for something to be “good enough” isn’t possible and the 100 posts required means that experimentation and pushing outside of a comfort zone is the only way I’ll hit that volume. This opens up all sorts of new directions, experiences and practices to enrich and inform my ongoing work when the project is over.
This year I’ve chosen to work in collage as my project. This technique has been used by many well known artists such as Kurt Schwitters, Man Ray and Eileen Agar, as well as Matisse in later life with his famous paper cut outs. Dictionary.com gives the definition of collage (noun) as “a technique of composing a work of art by pasting on a single surface various materials not normally associated with one another”. This is why it was so popular with the surrealists having the effect of creating weirdness and humour by these strange and unusual juxtapositions.
As I do love a bit of weird, collage really tickles my creative fancy. Working in it also has another big benefit for a control freak like myself. It adds a bit of serendipity to the work, an unexpectedness and helps me to let go of the outcome (to some extent anyway!).
Working with collage
One of my favourite ways to use collage is to ask what the bits of cut paper want to be. It is the scraps on the desk that are the most exciting. They will tell me if they want to be a cat, a horse, a bird or a dog and I just need to find them the right background and one or two play mates.
Sometimes a piece of random hand painted paper (my acrylic paint brush cleaning papers are my favourites) makes an interesting way to “colour in” a drawing, or add a bit of textural interest to a painting.
Collaged papers make wonderful backgrounds. In the same way that many people paint their sketchbook pages before they work on them, I’ve started sticking bits of interesting paper on to my pages, often adding some acrylic paint and texture, and then drawing, painting, printing, collaging on top of them.
If you’d like to find out more
If you’d like to see more of my collages, my project on instagram is #100daysofnickyscollagepics and can be found here.
A great and inexpensive book if you fancy having a go yourself and would like a bit of inspiration is “The Collage Ideas Book” by Alannah Moore, available on Amazon here.
Carla Sonheim is running a year long, on line course called “Year of the Collage”. It features herself, Lynn Whipple and Anne Marie Grgich as tutors. More information can be found on Carla’s website here.
(The recommendations above are from my own paid up, personal experience and not part of a financial/partnership arrangement).
It’s amazing how a Pritt Stick and a pair of scissors can transport you back to childhood and the satisfaction of making things purely for the fun of it. Be warned though. You’ll never end up throwing any scraps of paper away again!
Sometimes known as picture knitting, intarsia is a method of creating a single thickness knitted fabric with a motif on it. As yarns are not stranded/carried across the back of the work (as with stranded colour work or fair isle knitting) each time you come to a new colour, you start a new bobbin/length of yarn.
How to work it
In order to prevent gaps appearing in the work at the edges of the colour changes, the yarn that is being put down is twisted with the new yarn that is being picked up. On vertical lines the yarns are twisted every row.
When working on a diagonal slant, the yarns are twisted every other row. For a diagonal slant to the right, the yarns are twisted on the right side. For a left slant, they are twisted on the wrong side.
The result as mentioned above, is a single thickness fabric comprised of sections of different colours.
When to use Intarsia and when to strand?
Intarsia is usually used for blocks of colour and single motifs where colours are not regularly repeating. Stranding is usually used for repeating patterns where each motif is only a few stitches width and colours are repeating all the way across a row/round.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that intarsia can’t be knitted in the round. As yarns are being left at the end of each motif they require a wrong side row to pick them back up again.
Sewing in the ends
Lots of bobbins means lots of ends to sew in (as well as a few tangles during the knitting process). Where possible I try to follow the edges of motifs when weaving my ends in during finishing.
Patterns to practice your intarsia skills
The following two designs use an intarsia motif for decoration. Follow the links in the captions to the pattern.
I hope I’ve given you a taste for picture knitting. It is a lot of fun despite the tangles, and is a method I’ve often used for my knitted art work as well as knitwear. If you’d like to watch a video on how to make a butterfly “bobbin” then visit my Instagram page and take a look at my stories.
I thought it might be helpful to create a post to act as an aide-memoire to you lovely folks who have attended my introduction to fair isle workshops. So here it is.
No right or wrong with knitting, just what’s best for you
Of course there is no right or wrong with knitting. There are many ways of holding the needles and manipulating the yarns. Comfort and tension are always your main measures of success. However, learning to hold the yarns in both hands makes life a lot easier. Less tangle, less puckering and hopefully a smoother tension.
My apologies to left handers as what follows below is a right handed version (mine).
A right handed example
The first photo shows how to knit from the left hand in the contrast colour (pink). I hold the contrast over my forefinger and use this finger actively to create the desired tension on this yarn. I also use this finger to push down on the RH needle, if needed, to help the catch and pull through of the contrast yarn to complete the knit stitch.
The second picture shows how I have taken my right needle over the top of the contrast yarn, hooked under it and pulled it through the stitch on the row below.
The third picture shows a second stitch created in the contrast yarn in the same way.
This final picture shows how I have carried the background yarn across the two contrast stitches I have created, to knit the next stitch from the right hand needle.
It is wise to keep your background yarns consistently in one hand (e.g. right) and the contrast (motif) yarns in the other. This greatly assists with creating a smooth tension and does help stop the yarns tangling.
Practice makes perfect
If you are new to knitting with two hands I do advise you persevere with this technique. You may find it slow and cumbersome at first as your fingers get used to manipulating the needles and yarns in a different way. However, once you get a few hours of practice in to them you’ll find it becomes much smoother and does speed up.
Remember also if you are new to stranding and the results are not looking terribly even, a good blocking/washing helps the stitches and strands to settle. Also using a wool rich yarn such as a Shetland yarn will make your initial projects look much more pleasing (particularly after washing when they can bloom a little). Smooth, slippy and non stretchy yarns (some acrylics, cottons, merino) are unforgiving and are probably best avoided until you have practiced a bit first.
Some patterns to help you practice your technique
I have just published the pattern for this playful beanie in my Etsy shop. It is knitted using the stranding technique described above, in the round (no purl stitches to worry about!). More information on the pattern can be found by clicking here.
Hill Head Mitts
Inspired by my favourite coastal haunt, these practical mitts are also knitted in the round using stranded colour work. The pattern can be found by clicking here.