Blog

Exhibitions, General

2018 Ally Pally Knitting and Stitching Show

Indian Summer in London Town

2018 Knitting and Stitching Show copy

Last week I had a hectic but fun time stewarding our “Missing Elements” exhibition with my Room 6 colleagues at the Ally Pally Knit & Stitch Show. As I’m now rehydrated (it was very warm) and have caught up on missed sleep, I thought I’d share my highlights from this year’s event with you.

2018 Ally Pally Knitting and Stitching Show

As usual Upper Street Events put on a great do. There was an inspirational line up of artists in the Textile Galleries where we were honoured to have been allocated exhibition space. I didn’t have much time to go around the show in it’s entirety as I was too busy chatting with lots of lovely visitors. However, I did get to look at the other exhibitions in the mornings prior to opening once our own space was ready and my caffeine needs had been seen to. I’ve included some of the work that resonated with me below.

Libbertine Vale

Libbertine Vale Harm Chair
Harm Chair

This artist was new to me and I found her mix of social commentary and mostly monochromatic, illustrative imagery and sculpture compelling. She was encouraging audience participation by asking them questions and using free machine embroidery to record the answers on to an automaton’s clothing.

The Harm Chair, featured above, was a finished piece from a similar exercise where she had asked “what keeps you in your chair and not mixing with others?” on social media.

I shall be following this artist with interest to see what question she poses next.

Jenni Dutton’s Dementia Darnings

Jenni Dutton's Dementia Darnings
From Jenni Dutton’s Dementia Darnings

I’m not sure Jenni was quite prepared for the amount of emotion that her large scale portraits of her mother would evoke in her visitors. When I popped my head around the partition on the first day she was handing out the last few sheets from an already empty box of tissues.

It was quite difficult for me to spend time in her exhibition space as so many of us could relate to her lovingly rendered and honest images. I must admit that I did have a little cry and had to snuffle away when I viewed the pieces of her work which reminded me of the drawings I made of my Dad during his last few days.

Dawn Hemming

Dawn Hemming knitted mandala
One of Dawn Hemming’s hand knitted pieces

On a more cheerful note Dawn Hemming’s large hand knitted, one piece, circular wall hangings were a delightful mix of motif and colour. They were named inspired by place and some had been made during travel. A lot of pins were used to hang these beauties on the walls (Dawn’s “assistant” was relieved and pleased with himself in equal measures I think after the hanging was completed) with the result a welcome splash of colour to greet visitors as they entered the hall. This one was definitely a mood lifter.

Ross Belton

Ross Belton Wedding Collars
Wedding Collars

Studio 21 had an interesting and varied exhibition as usual, this time based on colour. I enjoyed Ross Belton’s contributions, with their tribal art feel and textural richness.

Emily Tull

Emily Tull Everybody has a little piece
Everybody has a little piece of someone they hide

The final artist I wanted to mention here is Emily Tull and her hand stitched thread paintings. I was particularly drawn to the unfinished feel of the work. It gave me a sense of transience and a glimpse into the perpetual motion of the lives of the people she was portraying. The piece shown above is inspired by layers of ripped wallpaper and how the inhabitants of homes leave behind a bit of themselves when they move.

My Birds

Nicky Barfoot Whose Bird
Chick, Duck and Hen (reading from left to right).

And finally, thank you to all the wonderful folks who visited our Missing Elements exhibition. It was great to hear what you thought of it and a particular delight to see how it inspired the budding young textile artists who visited with their schools and colleges.

The exhibition will be travelling to the Dublin show in the next few weeks. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend but if you are going, my Room 6 colleagues will be there to meet and greet and answer any questions about the work on display.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stitched Art

Three easy ways to transfer an image on to fabric for embroidery

Stitching a drawing

You’ve just done the most amazing design in your sketchbook and it is begging to be stitched. Mmm, now how to get that paper image on to a suitable piece of fabric?

There are lots of ways to transfer a drawing from paper to fabric for stitching and embroidery. In this post I am going to show you the three simple methods that I use most often. Which one I go for depends on:

  • the time of year,
  • whether I have an electricity point to hand,
  • how complicated the image is,
  • whether I want to have a permanent drawn line on my fabric,
  • and the type of fabric that I want to work with.

Finding your image

As I have mentioned in previous posts I try to draw in my sketchbook every day. Not only is it a workout and practice session it is also my way of problem solving, telling stories and generating ideas for further work. When a drawing evolves that is asking to be stitched (and I don’t want to go freehand on the fabric) the next step is to transfer it.

sketchbook page for image transfer blog post
A page from my sketchbook that is begging to be stitched

Using a sunny window

This method is weather dependant but if you, like me, are lucky enough to have a sun facing window you can simply stick your page on to the glass with masking tape, place the fabric over the top and with whichever tool you intend to use, draw over the image.

window shot for image transfer blog post
Using a window and sunlight to transfer an image on to calico

The advantages of this method is that it will only cost you a roll of masking tape. The disadvantages, other than requiring the sun which for some of us is in short supply at certain times of the year, is that the fabric needs to be relatively light coloured, not too thick and probably not patterned. It works very well with pale coloured cottons such as the unbleached, medium weight calico I’ve shown in the picture above.

It doesn’t work if you have drawn on the reverse of the paper as the light will pick up the lines from images on both sides of the page (unless you are going for something weird and wacky and probably semi abstract!).

Using a light box/pad

I have to say that one of the best and most used Christmas presents that my family have bought me in recent years was a good quality, A3 size, LED light pad. It isn’t much thicker than a digital tablet, is relatively lightweight and plugs in to the mains. Perfect for when the sun refuses to shine, the image is too big to fit on the window, or is too complicated to draw at a vertical angle.

Lightbox for image transfer blog post
My Huion LED light pad

Obviously the downside of the light pad is cost, although some basic light bulb and plastic versions are available at a fraction of the price of this one, from larger craft stores.

The comments I made about the window trace are also relevant here regarding single sided paper images and suitable fabrics.

Tissue paper 

While the previous two methods work very well when there is a single sided drawing and light coloured and relatively lightweight fabric involved, sometimes you want to use a thick, coloured, or patterned fabric and there is no way that an image will show through with even the strongest light source behind it. For these circumstances I use tissue paper.

tissue paper transfer blog post
The tissue paper method

Trace the image on to a piece of tissue paper and pin on to the fabric. Stitch over the lines through all the layers using your preferred stitch, e.g. back stitch. Tension is important when working with this method, as is fastening off and starting a new piece of thread. You don’t want the stitches to sag when the tissue is removed or the ends of thread to be pulled through. When all the relevant outlines are stitched, carefully tear off the tissue paper.

The advantages of this method, as opposed to the others, is that a pencil or pen line directly onto the fabric is not required. This could be useful if you decide during your stitching that you want to change something. It is easy to remove stitches, not so easy to remove all traces of pencil or pen (unless you’ve bought a fancy disappearing one).

It is also cheap and a great way of reusing the copious amounts of tissue paper that arrive as packaging with on line shopping and in shoe boxes etc. This method works best with simple line work as it can get a bit difficult to remove the tissue from under lots of close together stitches. It also works best with linear stitch types such as running stitch, backstitch, stem stitch, etc again to help ease of removal when the transfer is complete.

I hope that you have found this post helpful and maybe discovered a method that you haven’t tried before. If you try any of these for the first time I’d love to hear how you got on so please do leave a comment.

Right, I’m off to finish stitching a bulldog. Speak to you soon.

3 ways to transfer an image on to fabric

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibitions, Knitted Art

Room 6 at the Knit and Stitch Shows 2018

Missing Elements poster

What a privilege

I am excited to tell you that after a few years off, I shall be exhibiting again at the Knitting and Stitching Shows this year. My work will be alongside the five other talented artists who make up Room 6: Irene Belcher, Caroline Bell, Susan Chapman, Alison Hulme and Consuelo Simpson.

Missing Elements

We are a group who come together for exhibitions but work individually. We make to themes to create a cohesive show while allowing our artistic individuality to shine through. For the Knit and Stitch Shows we chose the title of “Missing Elements” and each artist has responded to this with their own body of work. Expect a varied exhibition, both interpretation of the theme as well as media and style.

 

female seated life pose
Seated life pose, a page from my sketchbook

Those of you who have followed my work for a while know that animals are my usual muses but I also have a fascination for the human body. This is driven by my other identity as a sports injury specialist and movement rehabilitator. I am also interested in the use of language and inspired by Pop Culture. It is these seemingly disparate sources of artistic interest that have come together in my body of work (no pun intended) for Missing Elements. Read on to find out how I’ve made the connection.

Whose Bird?

Bird, chick, duck and hen are all words used to describe human females. The first two are commonly prefixed by a male possessive “my”, while the latter are considered terms of endearment in certain parts of the UK. Interestingly, Bird and Chick are two of the four most hated “pet” names by women according to a well known British Tabloid.

Many suggestions are given as to why women are labelled in this way. These range from a middle English word “burde” meaning “young woman”, through to the more misogynistic explanations. These include comparisons of mental ability between our feathered friends and those of us of a homogametic persuasion (“bird brained”), and the similarities in sound emitted from a pen of fowl and a room full of young women.

Misogyny or endearment aside, while we may all share eggs as our reproductive tools, according to the Collins English dictionary a bird is a creature with feathers and wings. I would therefore suggest that the most defining characteristics are missing.

The Artwork

Bird sketches
Two sketchbook pages from my #100daysofinspiredbyart project

I started to develop the visual side of this work during this year’s 100 day project (I’ve talked about this in a previous post) back in June . These are two of the sketches that provided that aha moment.

Knitted Paintings

It’s been a couple of years since I made a knitted painting and these drawings were really begging to be knitted. So I dug out the graph paper and my colouring pencils and went about translating these pictures into hand knitted fabric.

Blue Bird knitted picture
“Blue Bird” knitted painting, WIP

The final pieces

Of the work that I have created for this series I have decided on four knitted paintings to display at the shows. I am excited to see (and hear) what people think of them. As with all of my work I hope it brings a few smiles to a few faces. I’ll leave you with a sneak peek of part of the piece I’ve called “Duck”.

Duck knitted painting lower res
“Duck” knitted “painting” by Nicky Barfoot

I’ll be stewarding at the Ally Pally show if any of you lovely folks are coming. Please do drop by and say hi. I’d love to see you.

x

 

General, knitting patterns

Knitted Poppy patterns – three versions to cater for all levels of knitter

100 years of remembrance

World War 1 ended at 11am on 11th November, 1918. This year, to mark its centenary, the Royal British Legion are leading a campaign to say a special #thankyou100 to all who served and sacrificed.

As part of this campaign I was asked by a local garden centre to teach a workshop on knitted poppies. As a number of my e mail subscribers and social media followers expressed interest but were unable to attend, I promised to share some patterns with you here that I’ve enjoyed making.

Simple rib Poppy

rib poppy

This is a lovely simple pattern which involves knitting a ribbed rectangle, performing a couple of decrease rows, sewing a seam and gathering an edge. I’ve finished my version with a button but you could use a knitted or embroidered centre. I think this would look lovely on the side of a knitted beanie as well as on a lapel. I used Rowan Felted Tweed DK in this version.

The pattern is a free one and can be found here.

Garter Stitch Poppy

garter stitch poppy

This more sophisticated poppy is a field poppy designed by Lesley Stanfield and is available in her lovely book “100 flowers to knit and crochet”. I knitted it in Rowan Cotton Glace. If you are a fan of knitted flowers I do recommend this book. Even more so if you can crochet as it has lots of gorgeous patterns including butterflies and vegetables.

knitted flower book

Stocking Stitch Poppy with leaf and stem

Stocking stitch poppy

This pattern is another free one, this time from Woman’s Weekly and can be found here. It is a little more complicated than the previous two as it involves some short row shaping but as you can see it is quite striking. I made this version in DK cotton and finished it with a reclaimed button for the centre.

I hope these patterns tempt you. They don’t take long and don’t use much yarn.

Happy knitting x

Knitted Poppies pinterest

General

5 ways to kick start your creativity this September

Making the most of the time of year

5 ways to kick start your creativity this september

I love September. It is probably my favourite month of the year. In the Northern hemisphere there is so much energy around after the lazy days of Summer. The light is beautiful, deep and golden, in contrast to the bright glare of the previous months. The air has a wonderful silky feel and ripe fruit smell to it.

I also find it my most creative time of year. This might be due to the build up to Christmas which as a maker and a teacher of crafts, is the highlight of the year for sales. It is also probably due to spending many years as a competitive athlete where Summer was race season. After a two week break, September always marked the start of a new training regime with all of its exciting promise.

So, if like me, you are itching to get those creative juices flowing this month but are not sure where to start, I thought I’d share some of the things that I use to get doing.

5 Ways to get those creative juices flowing

1. Your own 100 day project

If you are a user of Instagram you might already be aware of the growing phenomena of the 100 day project. The brainchild of Elle Luna, this happens every April where you choose and announce a creative project that you can realistically do every day for 100 days. To keep the motivation going and to introduce some form of accountability, participants are encouraged to post on Instagram daily with their output, both in the 100 day project hashtag as well as your own project specific hashtag.

2018 was my second year of participation in the official 100 day project and you can see my project here #100daysofinspiredbyart.

100 day project sketchbook
One of my 2018 100 day project sketchbooks

The official version will begin again next April but there is nothing to stop you committing to your own personal version now. 100 days was originally chosen as a time period where endurance starts to play a part. Many Instagram challenges are 14 days or a month long which is much easier to commit to but equally also much easier to forget about once completed. For 100 days there will be times where it is a chore to contribute to the project and other things will be competing with your time and motivation.

The upside of this is a daily discipline which can become a habit and something that is much harder to let slide. I created a habit of getting the sketchbook out first thing in the morning after grabbing a cup of coffee and letting the dogs out. I am still doing this now.

You will also have created a significant body of work in that time period. I have two full sketchbooks from this year’s project and many of the drawings that I did for it have led to follow on textile work with many more still to be developed.

Interestingly at time of writing we have 113 days to Christmas so another perfect reason to get going?

2. Mind Mapping a theme

In my creative work both making art and designing workshops, I am often given a theme to work to. As deadlines are also usually involved if I waited for a flash of inspiration I would probably end up in a last minute panic with an unsatisfactory piece of work or design. One of the best ways I’ve found for me to generate ideas in these circumstances is to get writing. Mind maps have a way of allowing me to participate in and record these mind dumps. You may remember the process from school or college.

mind map
Mind Mapping a theme

As part of my exhibiting group, Room 6, I will be at the Knit and Stitch Shows this Autumn with an exhibition called “Missing Elements” (more about this in later posts). The picture above shows how I started the process of creating a body of work for this theme. This is only one of many maps and is the start of the process. These are just initial ideas and word associations that came to mind during this 15 minute process. From this, a couple of the ideas would begin to peak my interest and require their own map for further development. Of course if you have a big enough desk you could create it all in one place using a huge piece of paper.

3. Join a class

If you want to learn something new a class or workshop is the perfect place to do it. If you find making time for your creative pursuits difficult as more “important” things always seem to override it, scheduling time in the diary at a venue away from your everyday distractions, for a paid fee, can be a great method of commitment. Hopefully once you get started and remember how valuable it is to you, you can begin to prioritise outside of a class.

classroom pic
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Now that the school and college terms are starting up again, there are plenty of workshops and classes on offer for adults (I’ve got a full workshop teaching programme myself between now and Christmas). Keep an eye out on social media too as many teachers and venues list their upcoming classes on their Facebook and Instagram pages.

There are also plenty of on line classes that you can sign up to.  Craftsy offers a wide range of classes at different price points, as does Creativebug. I’ve tried classes from both and enjoyed them. On line classes often seem an ideal option as they can be cheaper and they sell you the idea that you can do them at your own pace and schedule. However this might not be a good thing if you are struggling to prioritise the time for your creativity. I have plenty of classes queued up in my on line apps that I haven’t “had the time for” yet.

4. Buy or borrow a book

creative books
Just a tiny selection from my bookshelves

There are lots of fun books out there which encourage you to do something creative on a regular basis. They may be drawing related, writing related, or more general. Some of them are about inspirational starting points and some give you more detailed instruction on how and what to make/do. What they usually have in common is a prompt of things to do which takes away the procrastination of, e.g. what shall I draw today?

If, like me, you love books, enjoy a few hours in your local book store or library and see which of these types of books might suit you. I usually buy a book when I visit Tate Modern or Britain and read it on the train journey home. By the time I pull up at the station I can’t wait to get my sketchbook out.

5. Get together with friends and make it a social event

The last idea I have for you today is to make your creativity a social event. I have recently recruited a group of my friends in a “creative club” focused on a not so secret Santa idea. We have monthly meetings scheduled to get together over coffee and cake and have some fun drawing, snipping, sticking, writing and baking. I’ll let you know how we get on…….

Please share any tips you have on getting creative in the comments. I’d love to hear.

 

General, Knitting Know How

Selecting a colour scheme for colour work knitting

Selecting a colour scheme for colour work knitting

Choosing a colour scheme

A subject that comes up regularly in my workshops is how to choose a good colour scheme for fair isle, the double knitting technique and intarsia. I thought it would be helpful to write an article on it. But be warned. This post isn’t about colour, quite the opposite in fact. We are going to set the tone……

Assessing the tone

When faced with the sweet shop effect i.e. shelves full of knitty goodness at the local yarn shop or festival, it is very easy to pick the colours that you think will look great together, only to be confused and a bit disappointed when you’ve swatched them up. The colours appear to have merged in to each other and the motifs in the pattern aren’t standing out. How has that happened?

If you want a colour scheme to “pop” then looking at tonal values can be really helpful.

Tonal values in a yarn selection low res
Looking at tonal values

How do I know if the lovely yarn selection on the left will work in a four colour stranded colour work pattern for example? Without doubt the colours themselves go beautifully together. But how do I make sure that the motifs in my hypothetical chart stand out?

Instinct tells me that the cream is likely the lightest tone. I can hazard a guess at the other three colours but it is easy to get that wrong (in my experience!). The easiest way to confirm the tonal values is to take a photo and turn it into black and white (so easy for smart phones as it is an option in the edit photo function).

My black and white photo shows that I was correct with the cream. The turquoise and the green have very similar values, and the brown is the darkest (but not massively different from the turquoise). If I was to knit with the turquoise and the green in a two colour section of my motif (or the turquoise and the brown for that matter), e.g. a row of hearts on a background say, the hearts would blend in to the background. I may want this subtle effect. But if I wanted those hearts to be visible and pop out of the background I will be very disappointed. The best yarns to achieve this from the selection above would be the cream and the brown as there is the greatest tonal difference between them.

Choosing the tone

A great amount of time and effort is spent by designers swatching colours when designing knitting patterns to get the effect they want. So when you have a pattern in front of you that you have bought from a designer but you want to choose your own colours, a good way of assessing if you are going to get a similar effect, is to turn their photo in to black and white. Armed with the tonal values, you can then photograph your potential yarn selection in black and white and match the tonal values to the original.

Georgia beanie yarn selection tonal values low res
My Georgia Beanie pattern yarn selection and the tonal equivalent. Find the pattern download in my Etsy shop here

Designing your own

If you are designing your own colour work patterns, a great starting place is to choose a light tone, a mid tone and a dark tone. This will ensure that you have a good contrast to make your design lively. Take your camera phone with you to the yarn shop and do a black and white photo of your potential selection before you spend your money, just to be sure.

Enjoying colour

I hope that this post has been helpful and has given you more confidence in your yarn selections for your colour work projects. There is plenty more to colour theory but I’ve given you a good tip here.

As mentioned in previous posts about colour, don’t be put off by the theory. Carry your camera with you so whenever you come across a colour scheme that you like (a visit to the garden centre, the local park, a colourful door against a painted wall) take a picture of it and keep it for reference. Start a Pinterest board or a physical mood board if digital isn’t your thing. If you’d like an example of what I mean have a look at my public Pinterest board on colour inspiration which can be found here.

With the added bonus of black and white also at your fingertips, analyse the tonal values of your images too and see how they impact on the overall effect. Keep in mind that similar tonal values blend and merge producing subtle colour effects. While a big difference in tonal values creates a pop and allows colours to stand out on each other.

I wish you lots of fun with your colour adventures x

 

 

 

General

In the Loop 2018; a knitting conference

In the Loop pinterest graphic

A bi-annual gathering of knit enthusiasts and researchers

Last week I was delighted to be sitting in a lecture theatre at In the Loop. It is a bi-annual conference talking all things knitting. Over the years it has travelled to Glasgow and Shetland (which sadly I couldn’t make) but this year saw its return to the Winchester School of Art where I attended the very first conference in 2008. This venue has knitting significance as it has housed the knitting reference library since 1999 comprising the published works collected by Montse Stanley, Richard Rutt and Jane Waller.

10 Years On

I’ve got to admit that 10 years ago my first experience of an academic knitting conference was a little confusing. Back in 2008 I thought it was about designing and making something to wear, probably as quickly as possible, and hopefully for some financial reward. Since then my eyes have opened up to the possibilities and hidden depths of “making” by hand. A stitched textiles degree and a few years of teaching later I am now able to appreciate how academic papers can be submitted on subjects as wide ranging as knitting as an economic and cultural identity, through to knitting as sacred space, and on to knitting as a metaphor in children’s illustrated books.

A lot was covered in two days but a few discussions really stood out for me which I would like to share with you.

Knitting for wellbeing

We are hearing a lot at the moment about the health benefits of knitting and Rachael Matthews shared her thoughts about producing her book, “The Mindfulness in Knitting”. The advert for the book states:

Everyone can pick up a pair of needles and a ball of yarn. And everyone can be mindful.

This prompted a discussion about whether promoting knitting as a method of self care for people with money and time in this way, glosses over the fact that it is actually a neurologically challenging process. Rachael presented examples from her participative knitting events. She also discussed her experience of teaching knitwear design at degree level when presented with young enthusiastic designers embarking on a degree course who have never hand knitted before. Everyone might be able to pick up a pair of needles and a ball of yarn. But not everyone can knit competently.

Practice makes perfect

Knitting requires countless hours of practice to perfect and when faced with frustrated beginners in a class environment I often liken the physical process of knitting to playing the piano. It takes a lot of invested hours to produce a smooth and pleasant sound despite knowing where all the notes are from quite an early place in the learning process.

hands playing a piano
Photo by Elijah M. Henderson on Unsplash

However, unlike playing the piano, there is a perception that knitting is low skill and everyone can do it. I have yet to encounter someone who can’t pick it up at all in my beginners classes, but some folks are definitely quicker to execute the motor skills required to manipulate two sticks and a piece of “string” into something evenly tensioned and fit for purpose.

As a slight aside but again an example of the neurological challenges presented by learning to knit by hand, I urge you to watch a TED talk by talented knit designer Kate Davies. It is called Handywoman: Making a Creative Life in which she explains the process of relearning how to knit after suffering from a stroke at the age of 36. I’ve linked to the video at the end of the post.

Knitting as memory

stack of sweaters
Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Jean Oberlander presented a paper about the the power of softness. She discussed how knitted items form connections to lost family members and how fixing and darning makes that garment (and hence the connection) eternal. Stains and smells of the creator might remain in an unwashed hand knitted gift (and probably quite a bit of dog hair in my case!). There was also a discussion about the Ugly Jumper where relations become strained through an unwanted gift that obviously took much time and love to create (we’ve probably all been on both ends of that scenario?).

Knitting as sacred space

Alison Hood visiting from a Canadian University presented a very interesting discussion about knitting as sacred space. For those who were not familiar with the term “sacred space” Alison defined it as communication with the “Divine” or “Other” (not necessarily a religious experience). It is a place of power and transformation and can be positive or negative. I think she summed it up very well with the statement “knitting isn’t just something you do, it is a place you can go….”.

From a personal perspective this applies to many other activities in my life including drawing, running, sitting looking at the sea in my favourite place. The ritual and the intent makes something sacred and for knitting this could include chairs, timings etc. Note the word “can” in “can go“. Chatting over a glass of wine at Stitch n’ Bitch probably isn’t included here but sitting down after work in your favourite armchair, putting on a loved piece of music, facing the garden, and picking up your knitting, might be.

How does Society value knitting?

The discussions above led to an interesting debate about whether and how we can make a living out of something that is often portrayed as being about love, nurturing, mindfulness and spirituality. Society doesn’t tend to value mindful in a monetary way.

These perceptions potentially ignore the fact that:

  • knitting isn’t easy
  • it takes time and practice (and financial investment)
  • not everyone can do it

Knitting and wool in Norway

Dr Ingun Grimstad Klepp presented an interesting talk about knitting and the wool industry in her home country of Norway. Points of interest for me from her talk included:

  • 43% of Norwegian women knit! Knit and drink groups are very popular social gatherings (what we call Knit and Natter in the UK and Stitch n’ Bitch in the US).
  • Norway has twice as many knitters as other countries.
  • Acrylic yarn doesn’t exist in Norway, only natural fibres.
  • Underwear is the most popular wool garment in Norway.
  • The traditional Norwegian sweater is called a Kofte and is worn with much pride on special occasions and festivals.

Political Knitting 

knitters against Trump placard low res

The key note speaker on the second day was Professor Jessica Hemmings who presented a paper on Challenging Knitting. Some of the artists who have used knitting to raise awareness of complex topics such as immigration, racism and violence were highlighted including Kate Just, Cat Mazza, Patricia Waller and Mary Sibande amongst others. The success or otherwise of this particular medium to invoke the intended response was also discussed and areas where the stereotypical view of knitting worked against the artist and not for them.

This was seen in the case of The Knitting Map Project directed by Jools Gilson where the allocation of public funding to create a knitted piece of art for public display was heavily criticised, as was the director personally. In an article in the Irish Examiner, 6 May 2015 Jools Gilson says of the project: “I think some of the controversy is good old-fashioned misogyny. The project is about women and the work they do and how it is not valued culturally. Knitting represents the domestic, the private and the female. This work tried to explore further meanings with women coming together and knitting collaboratively, making something that documented the life of a city in an important year.”

What is clear is that knitting is attractive. It draws people in and has the ability to shock and confuse with the subject matter and therefore can be used to great effect by artists. However Professor Hemmings warned us about the notion of Craftivism and romanticised powers of disruption. Is knitting a pink cosy for a lamp post or public sculpture during a spate of yarn bombing really bringing about change? Or is it just littering in a sweet, comforting, decorative and feminine way? We need to be careful of the language used around this ancient craft. Headlines and titles such as “Not your Grannies Knitting” are not helpful.

There is so much more I could discuss with you from these exciting two days of viewing knitting from many different angles. However, I fear this post is way too long already so thank you if you have made it this far. If you would like to find out a bit more about some of the items discussed in this post I have put a couple of links below. And if you don’t know what a Norwegian Kofte looks like there are many examples on Pinterest (sadly I didn’t have a licence free image to put in here).

Links and further reasearch

Handywoman: Making a Creative Life. TED talk by Kate Davies.

The Knitting Map Project, a video

General, Knitting Know How

Which cast on should I use? Three popular cast on methods to start most types of garment.

The many ways to cast on

I’ve been meaning to write a post about cast on methods for ages as it is something that comes up regularly at workshops. Many of us have a favourite cast on. If you are anything like me, it was the one your Mum taught you and you used it for everything until you did City and Guilds and discovered the reason why you could never get your hand knitted socks over your arch!

There is a book by Cap Sease called “Cast On, Bind off: 211 Ways to Begin and End your knitting. I shall leave you to investigate the many methods that I shan’t be discussing here. In this post I’ll talk about the three most commonly used cast ons and why it is a good idea to be proficient in all of them. Just like exercise and jeans, one size does not fit all.

Sincere apologies to left handers, the diagrams and explanations below are given for a right handed knitter i.e. me.

Thumb cast on (often called backward loop). As a teacher of knitting this is often the one that people find the easiest to grasp and therefore is often taught to children.

thumb cast on diagrams low resAfter tying a slip knot (counts as stitch one on the needle), a loop is made by twisting the working yarn around the thumb in a clockwise direction (diagram 1). The needle tip is placed in to the loop (diagram 2). The thumb is removed from the loop and the working yarn is tensioned to create an even stitch on the needle (diagram 3).

The advantages of the thumb cast on:

  1. It creates a stretchy cast on and therefore is suitable for garments that need give e.g. sock and mitt cuffs (a revelation for me as hinted at in the introduction above!)
  2. It is simple to do in the middle of your knitting as you continue to work in the same direction. This means that you can use the working yarn as it presents itself from the previous stitches. Hence it is often the cast on used for putting stitches back on to the needle mid row after they have been cast off on a previous row e.g. button holes and pocket holes.

The disadvantages are

  1. The first row can be a bit tricky in some yarns as there is little structure in the cast on stitches and they can overlap and get a bit tangled. However, it is worth taking it slowly and persevering (counting as you go!) as further rows are a doddle.
  2. As it is a stretchy cast on method it can distort and slacken with use e.g. baggy sweater bottoms.

Cable cast on

This is probably the other end of the firmness scale to the thumb method.

cable cast on photos low res

After tying your slip knot (counts as stitch one on the needle), place the right hand needle through the loop as if to knit (diagram 1.). Wrap the working yarn around the needle anti clockwise, again as if to knit (diagram 2.). Continue to create your knit stitch by pulling the yarn through the centre of the slip knot loop on the left hand needle (diagram 3.) and place the loop you have just created on the right hand needle over the top of the left hand needle. Two stitches now sit on the left hand needle. Here it changes:

cable cast on 2 low res

To create the third stitch on the needle (and all consequent stitches), place the right hand needle in between the two stitches already on the needle (diagram 4.). Continue as if to knit a stitch by wrapping the working yarn anti clockwise around the right hand needle and pulling it back through the gap between stitches 1 and 2 on the left hand needle. Place the loop from the right hand needle on to the left hand needle (diagram 5.) to create your third stitch. Continue in this way until all stitches have been cast on.

The advantages of the cable cast on:

  1. It creates an attractive, firm cast on line and as such is great for starting bottom up sweaters etc as it is less likely to go baggy with use and time.
  2. The second row is a doddle (unlike the thumb cast on method as mentioned above).

Consequently the disadvantages are:

  1. It isn’t very stretchy and therefore is not a great choice for cuffs e.g. socks and anything else where the cuff circumference is smaller than the circumference further down the garment.

As these two cast on methods are either end of the stretchy spectrum having both of them in your knitting tool kit will enable you to tackle most garments competently (we are talking function only here and not discussing the many ways of changing the appearance of your cast on edge). However, there is another commonly used cast on method which is a current fave with a lot of the American Knit Stars some of whom claim that they never use anything else. This is probably because it sits in between the two discussed above, being more stretchy than the cable cast on and firmer than the thumb cast on. It is called long tail cast on.

Long Tail Cast On

long tail cast on photos low res

Firstly you need to guesstimate the amount of yarn you need to cast on with. There are a number of ways suggested to do this, one being wrap the yarn around the needle the same number of times as the stitches you require (I would always add a few more on for luck!). This gives you the length of the tail that you will be working with.

Make a slip knot and place on your needle (there are ways of avoiding the slip knot which I shall leave you to investigate if you are interested). Hold your knitting needle in your right hand with both strands of yarn hanging down, tail in front. With your left hand pinch your thumb and forefinger together and place them between the two strands of yarn. When you open your thumb and forefinger the tail end now hangs over the thumb and the working end over your first finger (diagram 1.). Turn your hand to a sling shot position (diagram 2.).

Insert the right knitting needle tip over the top and hook back up and under the outside of the tail end loop. Keeping the strand of yarn from the thumb on top of the needle move your needle over the top of the far side of the yarn on the forefinger and catch it by bringing the right hand needle from right to left. Pull this strand through the loop made with the tail end (diagram 3.). Carefully remove the thumb and replace it behind the tail end to help tension the stitch on the needle. Continue (diagram 4.) until all stitches are on the needle.

A little chant that helps me to remember what I’m doing with this cast on is: over, under, over, under, through, and drop.

If the above sounds way too wordy and complicated for you, there are lots of videos available on line. Just search “long tail cast on” and find the one that works for you.

The advantages of this cast on are

  1. It forms a neat and relatively firm edge.
  2. It retains some elasticity.

The disadvantages are

  1. It is a compromise so before using it I would ask myself whether the function of the cast on would be better met with one of the other two versions discussed above.
  2. You have to guess how much yarn you are going to use before you start casting on. We’ve probably all run out of tail end before reaching our quota of stitches at some time in the past with this method and had to start again. Not such a problem for a small garment but you can imagine the distress this might cause when casting on hundreds of stitches.

I hope that you have found this article helpful. These are only three of the many methods of casting on that are available to you (but for me they are the ones that I use most often, along with the provisional cast on which I have covered in a previous post). The important thing to remember when choosing your method is what is the primary function of the cast on edge for this particular piece of knitting? e.g. decorative appearance, give, firmness etc. This will then inform which method you are going to plump for.

Happy knitting x

Which cast on should I use? Pinterest graphic

General, Stitched Art

5 of the Best Embroidery Stitches to draw with

Cultivating a drawing habit

Hand stitching is one of my favourite ways to relax and those of you who know my work will have seen my stitch drawing and doodle designs. However, all of my work (knitting and stitching) starts life in my sketchbook. Most days, the first thing I do on waking after making a coffee and sorting out the dogs is to grab any sketchbook I have to hand and whatever drawing materials are easy to find on my Desk of Doom (usually my super chunky variegated pencils). Like Picasso (see previous post) I have learnt not to worry about what subject matter goes into which sketchbook as that is the route to procrastination and, ultimately, inactivity for me. And sometimes those strange juxtapositions can lead to all kinds of interesting developments!

This hour to myself at the start of my day is about play and experimentation with no pressure on further development. However, often an idea that has been gestating in my subconscious will start to take form on the page and some of those ideas will start begging to be stitched.

sketchbook and coloured pencils
Sketchbook Playtime

Quality of Line

While knitting is perhaps more of a painting tool as it is all about shape (a single stitch being a rectangle), embroidery is so good for drawing lines. There are five basic embroidery stitches that I go to for drawing purposes that I am going to share with you here.

Running Stitch

Running Stitch example
Running stitch

Probably the first stitch you learnt as a child is running stitch. Like many of the things we are introduced to as beginners, the temptation is often to move on and not look back. However, this simple stitch is oh so versatile. We were probably taught to do it on an even weave fabric with our teacher placing emphasis on even length and straightness of stitch. Personally I am always striving to create interest in quality of line and I love a bit of inconsistency in all of these stitches. I particularly like the broken effect of running stitch and the space it creates between the stitches. Not only is there the potential to play with stitch length but also with gap length. And what about weaving another thread in and out of the stitches. So much potential from such a simple stitch.

Back Stitch

back stitch example
Back stitch

The next stitch you probably learnt (for hand seaming purposes if nothing else) was back stitch. It creates a closed line and therefore comes across as more pronounced than running stitch. It has its own charm but I often find the back of work done in backstitch more interesting as it is less precise and even.

Stem Stitch

stem stitch example
Stem stitch

I use stem stitch quite a lot for outlining my stitched doodle designs. It creates a lovely textural, twisted effect and provides a bit of three dimensional interest and encloses an area containing other stitches very well. It can be a bit tricky going around corners but that can add a bit of loopy charm to the design.

Split Stitch

Split Stitch example
Split Stitch

This is another great stitch for outlining and drawing purposes. It is credited as the stitch that set English embroidery apart from other countries during the Middle Ages and helped to make it one of the most desired and costly art forms in Europe at that time. It has a variety of appearances depending on how many threads are in the needle. On a single thread it looks like a bit like couching (see next section) whereas on an even number of threads it looks like a flatter version of chain stitch. Unlike stem stitch, corners are a doddle with split stitch.

Couching

Couching stitch example
Couching

The final basic linear embroidery stitch that I wanted to talk about is couching. This is such a versatile way of creating lines. Anything string like can be couched and some wonderful textures and colour combinations can be achieved. It is especially useful when the thread that you want to use is not suitable for pulling through fabric e.g. due to thickness, texture or fragility, as the stitching is done using a different thread. Lots of fun can be had with placement of the stitches too. Do you keep them even, group them or apply them randomly?

My Latest Stitched Drawing

Nicky Barfoot Self Portrait stitch and paint
Self Portrait

These five basic stitches (or just one of them!) can be put to great effect in creating quite sophisticated line drawings. The picture above is a Self Portrait inspired by one of my favourite artists, Egon Schiele. It uses back stitch as the main drawing tool, with a few straight stitches and bit of satin stitch, used sparingly, for colouring in purposes. Simple but effective?

5 basic embroidery stitches for drawing

Picasso Exhibition at Tate Modern, a Visitor's review
Exhibitions

Picasso at Tate Modern, a visitor’s review

 

Last weekend I snuck off on an early train to London to indulge in some quality art appreciation at Tate Modern. My destination was the much talked about Picasso exhibition.

The focus is 1932 a make-or-break year for the artist who had turned 50 the year before (mmm, ringing a few bells for me then). There was no doubt about his reputation and fame but critics were beginning to talk about him as an artist of the past rather than the future. This exhibition shows his reluctance to be sidelined in favour of the younger talent coming through and marked an energetic and creative period of his life and perhaps some of his most accomplished works.

Picasso exhibition shopping
Some of my souvenirs from the exhibition

“The work that one does is a way of keeping a diary”, Pablo Picasso.

I was fascinated and encouraged by his disdain for chronology. Apparently his self curated exhibitions comprised of work from all periods mixed together. His sketchbooks were renowned for having work from various years in them, almost like he picked up the nearest sketchbook to hand and used it (ha ha, just like me then. I love it when I can liken what I thought were my unorganised practices to those of the most celebrated artist of the past century!). He didn’t seem to discard early work as being less worthy than the latest projects and I’ve taken that on board (I’m guessing I’m not the only one who moves on and doesn’t look back? Previous work is still relevant and perhaps becomes more so in light of what follows).

So what to expect from this big exhibition (apart from marvelling at the productivity of this man)?

  • Wonderful curves and bright, contrasting colour defining planes.
  • Breasts in strange places.
  • Flip top heads.
  • Furniture (not usually abstracted and often referenced in the title e.g. Woman in a Red Armchair).
  • Fabulous bulbous head sculptures.

“You start a painting and it becomes something altogether different. It’s strange how little the artist’s will matters”. Pablo Picasso.

Sketch of a Boisgeloup sculpture
Sketch of one of the sculptures, front view

The most exciting part of this exhibition for me I think was seeing the Boisgeloup sculptures. I spent a bit of time sketching these wonderful, voluminous heads and marvelling at how the curves flowed in to one another (you only really get an appreciation for that sort of thing when you try and draw it).

 

Sketch of a Boisgeloup sculpture
A side view of one of the sculptures. I think some aliens in recent Sci Fi movies/programmes may have been inspired by these? 

Thoroughly excited by the work of this genius, of course I couldn’t wait to play when I got home. I am a huge fan of art books directed at children as I find them much more playful and imaginative than the drier adult versions. Quite a while back I remember an exercise from one of the books in my collection about recreating your own Picasso inspired drawing. Here is the recipe:

  1. Draw an eye anywhere on the page.
  2. Turn the page 90 degrees clockwise and draw another, much bigger eye, anywhere on the page.
  3. Turn by 90 degrees clockwise and draw a nose, anywhere.
  4. Turn by 90 degrees and draw a mouth.
  5. Turn by 90 degrees and draw a limb/hand/paw etc.

You get the idea? Once you have a few features on the page, you use a couple of lines to join them up. Do a bit of colouring in and decide which way up you fancy hanging your work of art.

Picasso dog
My Picasso inspired Dog 

This is so much fun I urge you to have a go. Animals, people anything really. Mix it up and enjoy.

I hope I’ve given you a taste of this wonderful exhibition and if you are able to get to London I strongly recommend a visit. I’ll leave you with another quote from this amazing artist:

“Essentially there is only love, whatever it may be”. Pablo Picasso.