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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
After 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:
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!)
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
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
The second row is a doddle (unlike the thumb cast on method as mentioned above).
Consequently the disadvantages are:
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
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
It forms a neat and relatively firm edge.
It retains some elasticity.
The disadvantages are
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
As Spring has now sprung on UK shores (and we do have a royal wedding coming up) I thought it was about time I had my own flower crown. So I spent May Day embracing my inner May Queen by knitting an appropriate head piece. My idea was to adorn it with some wild flowers (weeds to some) not realising that most people were spending their bank holiday manicuring their lawns and verges. Thankfully I was able to find a few unkempt patches to gather a few daisies and buttercups which had managed to avoid the Big Mow only to end up in my fairy photoshoot!
This crown is easy to make and involves a small amount of a double knit yarn (mine is shown in Sirdar cotton DK). You will also need a 3.25mm circular needle (or alternative to achieve the required tension) and a couple of stitch markers. I decorated the tips of my crown spikes, of which there are seven, with a metal bead. With a tension of 22sts to 10cm, the crown has a 48cm circumference and is shown on an average sized adult female head of 55.5cm/22in.
Working the rim
Cast on 105sts on to a 3.25mm circular needle and join to work in the round, placing marker to indicate the start of the round.
Work 20 rounds of garter stitch (alternating a knit round with a purl round).
Working the spikes
Now change from working in the round to working back and forth on each spike in turn while leaving the remaining stitches on the circular needle until needed. The spikes require a double centred decrease, an s2kp, which is worked as follows: slip nxt 2 sts together knitwise, k1, pass slipped sts over. 2 sts decreased. Please note that you will need to develop a suitable marker replacement tactic as the central stitch gets absorbed into the stitch in front and the stitch behind with this decrease.
Spike 1 is worked over the next 15sts:
Row 21 (RS): K7, place marker to mark the next stitch as the centre stitch, k8. 15sts. Turn work.
Nxt row (WS): Knit to marker, slip marker, knit to end.
Nxt row (RS): Knit to one stitch before marker, s2kp (rearranging marker to indicate the new centre stitch), knit to end of spike. 13sts.
Nxt row: As previous WS row.
Repeat the last two rows, decreasing two sts centrally on each RS row until 3 sts remain.
Nxt row (WS): Sl1, k2tog, psso. 1 st.
Cut yarn and pull through to fasten.
With RS facing, rejoin yarn to rim and knit next 15 sts repeating the instructions for Spike 1 to create the next and subsequent spikes.
When all seven spikes are complete, sew in ends and decorate as desired.
I threaded through some daisies and buttercups but the crown would look equally fabulous adorned with beads, buttons or embroidery. And for those of you who make your own Christmas crackers……..
I’d love to see what you come up with. Please feel free to tag me @nickybarfoot on instagram or post to my facebook page.
Knitting charts are a diagrammatic representation of a stitch pattern. They are presented on a square grid where each square represents a stitch. The chart below shows a 24 stitch motif worked over 32 rows.
How to read a knitting chart for colour work (intarsia, fair isle and double knitting)
If you are working on two needles, using stocking stitch, and starting with right side facing, the first stitch to work is the bottom right hand corner. Right side (knit) rows are worked from right to left. Wrong side (purl) rows are worked from left to right.
If you are working in the round on a circular needle for fair isle, then every round is a right side (knit) and is worked from right to left. You might have discovered for yourself that knitting in the round doesn’t work for intarsia as you end up with the yarn at the wrong side of the motif each round!
Keeping your place on the chart
One of the great things about using charts for your colour work adventures is that it becomes relatively easy to see where you are with the work. What you are creating in front of you in the knitting should match what is in front of you on the chart (obviously some motifs are harder than others to keep track of). Additionally, you can immediately see how the row you are working on now should match up with the stitches you have just worked.
However, it is easy to go a little cross eyed at times and end up merging rows together. There are a couple of ways to keep track of where you are if you are using a printed version of the pattern:
You could put a line through each row as you do it.
You could balance a ruler across the row you are about to start working (this is OK if you don’t jog it).
Personally I am a big fan of using a magnetic board.
The board shown in the image above is created for cross stitch but has become my must have for working with knitting charts. The best thing about it is that you can even pick it up and move it without worrying about losing your place as the magnetic ruler is strong enough to stay put.
An example row
Using the diagram above, the ruler shows me that I am about to start row 21. As a right side row I will be working in knit and reading from right to left. I would knit 4 stitches in white, 16 stitches in grey, 4 stitches in white.
A note about the double knitting technique
Some charts used for the double knitting technique show a square for every stitch you are working, one for the stitch from the right side fabric, and one from the wrong side fabric. This is necessary if you are creating a different fabric on each side.
For my patterns where the motif is in two colours and the back fabric shows the inverse of the front, I keep my charts simple so it is easier to read the motif, and they can be used for intarsia as well. The charts show the front facing fabric with each square representing a pair of stitches. So for the example on row 21 above: each of the four stitches in white represents a knit in white for the front fabric, and a purl in grey for the back fabric. For the fifth pair of stitches to the 20th pair of stitches, each square represents a knit in grey for the front fabric and a purl in white for the back fabric. For the 21st to the 24th pairs of stitches, each square once again is worked as a knit in white for the front fabric and a purl in grey for the back fabric. When working back on the wrong side fabric, the inverse of the colours is worked.
It sounds complicated written down but once you get the hang of seeing each square as a pair of stitches you can use any two colour intarsia chart for the double knitting technique without having to rewrite it.
I hope that you have found this tutorial on reading knitting charts helpful. I have talked about colour work knitting but of course charts can be used for any stitch pattern as the principle of each square representing a stitch applies whether it is indicating a colour or a stitch type e.g. knit tbl, yo, etc. If you are not used to working from charts I do suggest that you persevere with them. If you get the hang of using them you might find that you get a better idea of how you are creating the effect (rather than just following the instructions). This is especially useful when you need to put right a mistake or if you want to modify stitch patterns. It also gives you access to patterns that aren’t written in your own language.
In Hampshire (UK) we have been gifted yet again by the Winchester Discovery Centre with another fabulous textile exhibition. This time it is a group show by soft engineers: Alison Ellen (hand knitting), Ann Richards (weaver) and Deirdre Wood (weaver). Together they are demonstrating the common threads between knitting and weaving and show how the materials they use in their methods, particularly when working with materials of very different qualities side by side, spontaneously shape the constructed fabric.
Deidre Wood weaves with materials of contrasting physical property. The work is straight during the weaving process but when cut from the loom and soaked in water it reshapes itself.
In contrast Ann Richards work exploits the different spin directions of high twist yarns to create her sculptural effects. Again the work is woven straight and the properties of the yarns are allowed to exert their influence once it is cut out and wetted.
I was fascinated by the work of these sculptural weavers, having not been exposed to it before. I was, however, more familiar with the work of hand knitter Alison Ellen who introduced me to the joys of modular knitting a number of years back when I attended a couple of her workshops at West Dean College.
At the time I was working through my City and Guilds Hand Knit Design course and was struggling a little with the process of translating seemingly unrelated visual inspiration into knitted fabric. As a life long knitter with no previous design training, I had always worked from the other way around. That is using an ongoing inquiring experimental process with yarns and stitches (a “I wonder what would happen if I did/used this to……”), creating samples, and the properties and appearance of those samples then suggesting to me what garment they would lend themselves to.
It was a relief when I met Alison as she also appeared to be working (successfully) in this direction too and while it wouldn’t have helped me to pass my City and Guilds, I have continued to use this process, particularly in my knitted art practice, alongside the more conventional design process which I am pleased to say with practice has now become second nature.
Alison’s garments allow the stitches to shape the fabric. She is well known for using a modular approach, allowing herself to effect the drape of the constructed fabric by changing the bias. I have had the pleasure of trying on some of her cardigans and sweaters at a previous workshop and have seen others in them too. They transform once a body is put inside them, and create the most flattering garments due to this bias and drape effect. She has a number of wonderful design books too so if this type of knitting excites you I highly recommend them.
So my love affair with modular knitting is probably all Alison’s fault (thank you lovely lady!). Some of you will already be familiar with my Weimwood Shawl design (pattern available from Etsy here and if you would like to learn more about this type of knitting, I have two workshops coming up devoted to modules. The first is on Saturday 10 February at Wyvern College in Eastleigh. More details and booking is via the Ashcroft Centre here. The second is a slightly shorter session on Saturday 17 February 2018 at the fabulous Unravel Festival of Knitting in Farnham. More details can be found here.
I highly recommend you visit this exhibition at the Winchester Discovery Centre if you can. It is free entry and I’m sure those of you interested in textile art and engineering will find it very interesting. If I have whetted your appetite for modular knitting it would also be lovely to see you on one of my workshops.
As my inbox is currently full of e mails offering me lots of yummy yarn at discounted prices I thought it would be helpful if my first post of the year shared my previous mistakes and gave you some guidance on how to avoid a costly seasonal yarn binge. I’m not saying don’t buy as that would be hypocritical of me. But do go into it with a plan as the kiddy in a sweet shop approach, in my experience, doesn’t usually go well.
My first spot of advice would be, know what you want to knit first and find the appropriate yarn to make it with. Try not to be tempted by the bargain pack of 12 balls thinking you will be able to find something to make from it later. If you are anything like me, that pack will go into the stash cupboard and probably never see the light of day as other designs catch your attention before you get around to it. In a short space of time that yarn starts to look dated, or worse still becomes moth food.
Even if you are working pattern before yarn as I suggest above, there are still pitfalls to avoid with the sales, the biggest one being colour. We all have a favourite colour palette and if you have ever had your colours analysed on a style and colour day (great fun and highly recommended, particularly if you go along with another person who knows you well) you will be aware that some colours just don’t suit you. Isn’t it tempting when you look up the yarn you want and see that some of the colours are half price? The temptation to “save a fortune” can often override the knowledge that you never e.g. wear hot pink, and on that basis you don’t have anything else in your wardrobe that would go with it either! So that 100 hours of work on that beautiful sweater is all wasted.
Also, remember that the fashion industry works on annual colour palettes. You might have noticed that there tends to be a predominance of a certain colour or colours in all the high street windows at once. How did they all choose the same one? The answer is that Pantone release an annual colour palette and the fashion industry embrace it. Once the new season is upon us, the on trend colours of the previous year and/or season are often discounted to make way for the new ones. So even if you did bring yourself to wear your hot pink sweater, that colour could be sooo last year! And just for your information, Pantone’s colour of 2018 is Ultra Violet. Think Prince and his Purple Rain album cover. I can guarantee you’ll start to see it everywhere pretty soon.
Of course if your favourite colour is actually hot pink and you know you look great in it, fill your boots!
The last temptation to be aware of is trying to use a discounted yarn in place of the recommended yarn when actually the yarn type just isn’t suited to the pattern. By this I mean, if the sweater you are making is stranded colour work in Shetland wool, beware buying e.g. a cotton 4ply instead, on the basis that the ball band states the same tension ranges as your pattern, and it is in the sale. Now the finished item might actually look amazing, but the properties of the two yarn materials is so different that it won’t look anything like the picture on the pattern instructions. Be prepared for a surprise and also be aware that regardless of ball band information, it probably won’t work to the same tension either so if you do want to embark on this knitting adventure, swatch, swatch, swatch…..
I hope I haven’t been too much of a party pooper with this post? My aim was not to curtail your sales fun but rather suggest a planned approach to your sales yarn purchasing. Have fun buying, and most of all knitting, with your yummy yarn.
Knitting and stitching are wonderful meditative practices and sometimes peace and quiet (or a gently snoring dog) is the most soothing accompaniment. However, for me, having my hands busing working on something repetitive actually improves my listening skills.
I am one of those doodlers in a meeting who, far from being bored and distracted, is concentrating harder on what is being said through the use of a physical focus. I would have taken knitting to meetings when I worked in an office but I think that would have been tolerated less and misinterpreted even more than drawing on my hand outs. I’m sure there is an explanation for this phenomenon involving different parts of the brain, which I have yet to look into. In the meantime I thought I would share with you my current top five things to listen to while knitting.
I am a massive fan of these and have a 24 book (which only lasts me about 9 months!) annual subscription with audible.co.uk. Many people view listening to audiobooks as something less productive than reading. However, I have found that some stories really come to life with the right narrator. Some of my regular readers will know already what a massive fan of Terry Pratchett I am and his books definitely fall into this category.
At this time of the year I usually indulge in a Charles Dickens novel as nothing quite beats his witty observations of Victorian England to put me in the festive mood. Last Christmas I enjoyed Great Expectations one of my favourite novels from childhood. This December I am listening to Hard Times. Both of these novels are expertly narrated by Martin Jarvis and if you haven’t read a Dickens novel for a while I throughly recommend you listen to one of these.
Being more of an enjoyer of fiction than chat, I came quite late to the podcast genre but am now finding myself listening to more and more of these interview and magazine style programmes. The first I’d like to recommend to you is “Tea and Tattle” a marvellously feminine lifestyle podcast (I was put off to start with, expecting make up and fashion tips but was pleasantly surprised after listening to it). It is presented by best friends Miranda Mills and Sophie Butler and really does feel like you are having a chat over a cup of tea in a cosy kitchen about things ranging from literature to business to hygge.
At the other end of the spectrum I love listening to “Under the Skin” a sometimes risky and occasionally controversial podcast hosted by Russell Brand. I know he is a bit Marmite but I find him honest and entertaining and the subjects he discusses are current and thought provoking.
Radio Six Music.
For times when I am likely to be moving around a bit more and can’t concentrate quite so hard on the spoken word I choose the radio as my background. For many years my choice of station has been the fabulous Six Music. This is a digital only station where the DJs are all passionate about music either having been in, or currently still in, bands themselves (Cerys Matthews, Jarvis Cocker, Huey Morgan etc) or music journalists e.g. Steve Lamacq, Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe. The result is a station which looks at music as a whole, not restricting itself to one or two genres, and where current releases are played alongside great and inspiring music from previous decades. I have been introduced to so many new bands through this station as well as authors, comedians and actors who have either been interviewed or have guest hosted their own show.
I was brought up in a household where music was the constant background courtesy of my father and his extremely wide taste in music. This is a man who went halves with me when I bought Prince’s Purple Rain album as a teenager, was extremely fond of Pink Floyd (I can’t hear Shine on you Crazy Diamond without remembering Dad and my childhood), was just as likely to have a classical album on as a rock/pop one, and who initiated my love of Jazz, a musical taste that I share with Mr B and indulge in regularly through visits to local live music venues in our locality. The most recent of these was a trip to the wonderful Turner Sims music venue at Southampton University to see the extremely talented jazz pianist Aaron Diehl, and his trio. I have since been playing rather a lot of his 2015 album, Space, Time, Continuum. Dad would have loved it.
Midsomer Murdersre runs.
And finally, here comes the guilty pleasure. If the TV remote is the only form of entertainment at your fingertips, you can’t beat a bit of Midsomer Murders to stitch to. Its wonderfully formulaic structure, the 95% likelihood of Wogan’s Law coming true (i.e. the most famous actor did it) and the chance that you have seen the episode a number of times before, makes it the perfect programme to have on in the background. If you get stuck on a tricky bit of stitching and have to focus concentration away from the screen, it is unlikely that you won’t catch right back up when your attention can return to it.
What do you like to listen to while you are creating? Do share in the comments. I’d love to hear.
I’ve been a busy bee over the past month making Weim and kitty inspired artwork to share with you wonderful folks at the Winchester Discovery Centre Christmas Craft Fair next Saturday 9 December. I love the build up to Christmas and while Mr B is secretly watching the Christmas 24 channel all the way through November, I hold back until 1 December and then let loose with gusto on fairy lights, snuggly knitwear and photos of Weimadogs in antlers. I can not lie, I get a little excited.
The only in person sales event (my Etsy shop is open as usual) I am doing this Christmas is an art and craft fair at the Winchester Discovery Centre on Saturday 9 December. It’s free entry so I hope that lots of you can pop in and say hi while you combine it with a visit to the Alice Kettle exhibition (see previous post) which is in the same building, and of course a wander around the Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market.
I’ll be there with my textile sculptures, brooches (new!) and cards, all perfect for one of a kind, hand made, Christmas gifting purposes. Of course there will be lots of other talented makers there too. I hope some of you local lovelies can make it.