This time of year can seem crazy busy for many. Preparing for a family holiday, often involving entertaining significant numbers and/or travel, can become a blur of manic activity. Combine this with finishing up of work projects before the end of the year, and it isn’t surprising that so many folks hit the Christmas season frazzled and potentially full of cold.
To help you make a little time for yourself, or (if I really can’t persuade you to take a bit of time out) as an entertainment for young artists to keep them calm ahead of Santa’s visit, I’ve a little gift for you.
A Free Festive Outline for you
Print him out and use your coloured pencils, paints and/or collage scraps and glue stick to bring him to life.
Christmas Colour Scheme Ideas
If you struggle with colour schemes have a look at this blog post from Creative Market. It gives you 8 different combinations to try.
Consideration of tonal values can make a big difference to your colouring in (and other art work). A light tonal value next to a dark tonal value will create a striking visual contrast. Two similar tonal values together will be more subtle. If you are not sure, a black and white photo of the colours will turn them in to tonal values and you can then compare them.
The above said, I’m pretty sure that as children we didn’t sweat over these types of things (although we did learn pretty quickly what we liked and didn’t through trial and error). And let’s face it. Children are masters of colouring in so maybe throw design caution to the wind, embrace your hidden five year old and just do it!
Get your Stitch on
If textiles are more your thing, then the outline would work really well as a basis for some stitchery.
Again, print out the outline and then transfer it to a piece of fabric. I’ve done a blog post previously with methods to do this if you are unsure.
Once you’ve the main lines on, how about some embellishment? A bit of applique would work really well. Sequins, beads, ribbons…. lots of exciting things to try.
Coloured pencils and watercolour paints also work well on cotton fabrics and add another method of providing interest to a stitched piece.
Happy Christmas and New Year
I hope you have fun creating your own version of the kitty bauble. I’d love to see what you do with it (if you are on Instagram please post and tag me (@nickybarfoot)).
So for those of you who do celebrate at this time of year, I wish you a wonderful time. And for everyone, I look forward to connecting with you again in 2020.
I was recently interviewed for Hampshire Life magazine about the Hampshire Open Studios an event I have taken part in regularly in recent years. During the interview we talked about the visitor experience and how the artist can make this less intimidating for people who perhaps would not normally feel at home in an art gallery. I thought it might also be helpful to share some tips on how to get the most out of a visit based on my observations of stewarding over the years, and also my own experiences as a visitor to other people’s studios and galleries.
The Hampshire Open Studios
For those of you not in the know, over the 10 days leading up to and including the August bank holiday, artists and makers open up their studios, homes, or rent venues, to show and sell their work to the public. While this costs the artist a fee to be included, it is a free event for visitors and a wonderful opportunity to buy from the artist directly if they see something that they would like to have in their life more permanently.
Why visit an art exhibition?
From the artists point of view, sales put food in our mouths and keep a roof over our heads (or at least enable us to buy more paint, paper etc to keep our creative practice going). However, there are many reasons why visitors look forward to this event (gleaned from talking to, observing and listening to many over the years), aside from increasing their personal art collection. These are (among others):
being inspired by others to reignite their own artistic or craft practice.
learning about workshop opportunities, and art education.
supporting, meeting, and talking to other artists (networking).
a good day out with family and friends.
visiting interesting venues that are not always open to the public.
having a nose around other peoples houses (freely admitted to by many folks I’ve spoken to!)
Making the most out of every visit
With nearly 300 venues taking part over a wide area, and a limited amount of time, choosing who to visit can be difficult. While artists include a photo or two in their advert in the book/on the website, unless you know their work (follow them on social media or have seen them before), there is always a bit of a gamble turning up. What if you are the only person there, in an artist’s living room, in front of work that doesn’t immediately speak to you? How do you make a quick exit without appearing rude?
From the artist’s point of view we have all experienced the Twirl: that person who steps through the door, tries (with varying degrees of success) not to look disappointed, does a rapid spin around the room (sometimes on the spot) and leaves hastily with mumbled “thanks” or “nice” to cover their embarrassment.
While recognising that art is subjective and for every Twirl there is the person who spends a significant amount of time engaging with and enjoying the work, I always feel sad that the former has made the effort to come in and got nothing out of the experience. While some Art does jump off the wall/plinth at you (this is when you know you are in the right place) and creates a connection straight away, some art is much quieter and needs a little time to speak to you. If you don’t give it that time, you may miss out on a rewarding experience.
Hints and tips on slowing down the visit
Having seen the exhibition experience from both sides, I thought it might be helpful to give some hints and tips on how I’ve learn’t to slow down and make the most of visits, even when the art itself, on first glance, doesn’t appear to be my thing.
Be methodical (if space allows) and work around the room. Be aware that hanging an exhibition from the artist point of view takes much planning. The work is placed intentionally in relation to that around it. There may also be an obvious progression of a series i.e. what came first? You can liken this to how musicians create an album. Dipping in and out on random shuffle may give you an idea of each piece in isolation, but the album overall has an impact if listened to in the order that the artist intended.
Commit to standing in front of each piece for a number of seconds. Stand back (if space allows) and then look up close. For 3 d work, walk around it if possible and view from different angles. Often there is an interesting feature hidden around the back!
Consider the colours, the composition (what has been placed where) and how your eyes are drawn to certain elements of the work. Note the materials used (they are often surprising and only obvious on closer inspection). Remember that the artist is using these things to communicate with you. What is the piece saying to you? As a viewer these can be negative or positive reactions, both are interesting. Not least as our reaction to elements such as colour, can change over time e.g with seasons, and things going on in our lives. You may have gone in to the room thinking that you liked blue landscapes and finished realising that you are starting to enjoy charcoal figures.
Read the titles. Personally I spend a lot of time naming pieces. They add another clue and often can be quite enlightening if not laugh out loud entertaining as the penny drops.
If there are sketchbooks or information to leaf through about the artist and their work, have a look. These can help if you are struggling to “get it” and sketchbooks in particular can be a fascinating insight in to process and background (and occasionally shopping lists if mine are anything to go by).
Often at Open Studios artists will be creating work or demonstrating. Watch them for a bit and ask questions if appropriate.
If there are chairs available, sometimes sitting down in front of the work gives you more time to let the introvert pieces show their worth. It can give another view (particularly if you are considering buying something to put in a room where you will be sitting in front of it regularly). There may also be an opportunity to partake in refreshments offered by the artist/venue at this stage.
Talk to the artist if they are there, about their work. Ask them questions: what inspires them, how did they get in to art, what is their favourite piece, how long does a piece of work take them, where can you see more of their work, ask how something you are interested is made etc etc.
I hope that this has given you some ideas on how you might get more out of exhibition visits. It isn’t all about shopping and spending money, but if you have enjoyed yourself and got something rewarding from the experience, a small token of thanks to the artist is always appreciated to help cover their costs for being there. While you may not want a piece of their work hanging on your wall (and we do understand that, I assure you), buying a card (or something small and affordable) can help them keep doing what they are doing, providing entertainment, inspiration and pleasure to others through the creation of their work.
For the 3rd year in a row I have been taking part in #the100dayproject over on Instagram. For those of you who are unaware of this creative endurance test, it is a free, annual, worldwide, participative event where creative souls of all genres publicly commit to a project and post a daily update for 100 days on their Instagram accounts. This year we started on 2 April and at time of writing, we are on day 79.
The benefits of daily practice
I’ve talked before in a previous post about how this type of accountability helps my commitment to daily practice. Artistic procrastination can be a common occurrence. How many times have any of these thoughts prevented you from making?
I can’t think of anything to do,
I don’t have enough time,
I can’t find the right sketchbook,
what’s the point of it anyway,
by the time I’ve got my stuff out I won’t have time to do anything.
Much like learning to play a musical instrument, doing a little something everyday makes a difference. As pointed out by the multi talented Maya Angelou in a 1982 interview for Bell Telephone Magazine (and not Oscar Wilde as sometimes attributed): “You can’t use up creativity, the more you use, the more you have.” And this doesn’t even take in to consideration how using the materials regularly makes us more skilled in their handling and application.
I have found this in all of the previous 100 day projects I’ve participated in. I won’t deny that more than three quarters of the way through I’m flagging a little. And my house is even more of a mess than usual. Leaving my art supplies out means no wasted time setting up and taking down.
But just knowing that I have committed to a daily post makes it hard to stop prematurely. Waiting for something to be “good enough” isn’t possible and the 100 posts required means that experimentation and pushing outside of a comfort zone is the only way I’ll hit that volume. This opens up all sorts of new directions, experiences and practices to enrich and inform my ongoing work when the project is over.
This year I’ve chosen to work in collage as my project. This technique has been used by many well known artists such as Kurt Schwitters, Man Ray and Eileen Agar, as well as Matisse in later life with his famous paper cut outs. Dictionary.com gives the definition of collage (noun) as “a technique of composing a work of art by pasting on a single surface various materials not normally associated with one another”. This is why it was so popular with the surrealists having the effect of creating weirdness and humour by these strange and unusual juxtapositions.
As I do love a bit of weird, collage really tickles my creative fancy. Working in it also has another big benefit for a control freak like myself. It adds a bit of serendipity to the work, an unexpectedness and helps me to let go of the outcome (to some extent anyway!).
Working with collage
One of my favourite ways to use collage is to ask what the bits of cut paper want to be. It is the scraps on the desk that are the most exciting. They will tell me if they want to be a cat, a horse, a bird or a dog and I just need to find them the right background and one or two play mates.
Sometimes a piece of random hand painted paper (my acrylic paint brush cleaning papers are my favourites) makes an interesting way to “colour in” a drawing, or add a bit of textural interest to a painting.
Collaged papers make wonderful backgrounds. In the same way that many people paint their sketchbook pages before they work on them, I’ve started sticking bits of interesting paper on to my pages, often adding some acrylic paint and texture, and then drawing, painting, printing, collaging on top of them.
If you’d like to find out more
If you’d like to see more of my collages, my project on instagram is #100daysofnickyscollagepics and can be found here.
A great and inexpensive book if you fancy having a go yourself and would like a bit of inspiration is “The Collage Ideas Book” by Alannah Moore, available on Amazon here.
Carla Sonheim is running a year long, on line course called “Year of the Collage”. It features herself, Lynn Whipple and Anne Marie Grgich as tutors. More information can be found on Carla’s website here.
(The recommendations above are from my own paid up, personal experience and not part of a financial/partnership arrangement).
It’s amazing how a Pritt Stick and a pair of scissors can transport you back to childhood and the satisfaction of making things purely for the fun of it. Be warned though. You’ll never end up throwing any scraps of paper away again!
I thought it might be helpful to create a post to act as an aide-memoire to you lovely folks who have attended my introduction to fair isle workshops. So here it is.
No right or wrong with knitting, just what’s best for you
Of course there is no right or wrong with knitting. There are many ways of holding the needles and manipulating the yarns. Comfort and tension are always your main measures of success. However, learning to hold the yarns in both hands makes life a lot easier. Less tangle, less puckering and hopefully a smoother tension.
My apologies to left handers as what follows below is a right handed version (mine).
A right handed example
The first photo shows how to knit from the left hand in the contrast colour (pink). I hold the contrast over my forefinger and use this finger actively to create the desired tension on this yarn. I also use this finger to push down on the RH needle, if needed, to help the catch and pull through of the contrast yarn to complete the knit stitch.
The second picture shows how I have taken my right needle over the top of the contrast yarn, hooked under it and pulled it through the stitch on the row below.
The third picture shows a second stitch created in the contrast yarn in the same way.
This final picture shows how I have carried the background yarn across the two contrast stitches I have created, to knit the next stitch from the right hand needle.
It is wise to keep your background yarns consistently in one hand (e.g. right) and the contrast (motif) yarns in the other. This greatly assists with creating a smooth tension and does help stop the yarns tangling.
Practice makes perfect
If you are new to knitting with two hands I do advise you persevere with this technique. You may find it slow and cumbersome at first as your fingers get used to manipulating the needles and yarns in a different way. However, once you get a few hours of practice in to them you’ll find it becomes much smoother and does speed up.
Remember also if you are new to stranding and the results are not looking terribly even, a good blocking/washing helps the stitches and strands to settle. Also using a wool rich yarn such as a Shetland yarn will make your initial projects look much more pleasing (particularly after washing when they can bloom a little). Smooth, slippy and non stretchy yarns (some acrylics, cottons, merino) are unforgiving and are probably best avoided until you have practiced a bit first.
Some patterns to help you practice your technique
I have just published the pattern for this playful beanie in my Etsy shop. It is knitted using the stranding technique described above, in the round (no purl stitches to worry about!). More information on the pattern can be found by clicking here.
Hill Head Mitts
Inspired by my favourite coastal haunt, these practical mitts are also knitted in the round using stranded colour work. The pattern can be found by clicking here.
I love it when folks on my workshops show me their finished projects from a previous session. This happened to me recently and prompted some discussion about how the artist in question might present a fab piece of stitched art she’d worked on. As this is a topic that we rarely have time to cover in our half day sessions I thought it would make a good blog post.
So many ways to do it
There are many ways to present 2’d’ work and I am often inspired as much by presentation ideas as I am by the work itself when I visit exhibitions. There is even a 160 page book by Annabelle Ruston called Framing and Presenting Textile Art so as you can see it is quite an in depth topic.
However I’m going to keep it very simple for the purposes of this post and give you an idea of how I usually do it. The methods I use are, generally speaking, reversible. I like to keep my (and any buyer’s) options open on how they would like to present the work as I know from experience that framing fashions change and I have also been known to rework my work (or incorporate it into something else) at a later date.
Stretching the work for framing
I work with natural fabrics and threads so I usually give my work a blast with a steam iron both during stitching and afterwards. However, I want the fabric to look like fabric so my aim isn’t to flatten and smooth everything out completely, more to allow it all to “set” and “settle” before framing.
Using archival quality mount board, cut to the required frame dimensions and quilting cotton doubled, I place the picture over the board in the composition that I’m after (checking the front with any mounts I’m planning to use in the frame) and stitch across the long sides first. There is an optimum tension to be achieved during this, which takes a bit of practice and trial and error. Too much starts to curl the mount board, not enough leaves saggy bits in the picture.
Once the long ends are done I do the same with the short ends. In both instances I tend to start in the middle of the board and work out to the edges. The corners might need a little more stitched help as they can get a bit bulky. As mentioned before, I don’t tend to cut any fabric as I might want to undo my work at a later date. However, if this bulk is going to influence how the picture lies in the frame then you might need to get the scissors out and practice your wrapping skills.
Using a Hoop
Another way of framing stitched pieces is using an embroidery hoop. In some ways this is much easier (and cheaper) as the hoop creates the tension for you.
In the piece above I have chosen a suitable sized embroidery hoop to frame the work (not necessarily the one it was worked in) and have stretched the work and fastened the hoop. You could of course finish the hoop (paint, tape, fabric strips etc) beforehand if you want a more decorative effect.
I then use a running stitch in the quilting cotton, just in from the hoop’s edge to ease in the fullness of the fabric. Again, you can cut the surplus fabric if you want to reduce the bulk. If you are working with fine fabrics you might also want to place a circle of mount board or light coloured fabric between the back of the work and the gathered edges to prevent the gathered fabric influencing the front of the work.
There are a number of ways to finish and neaten the back after gathering. Many people stitch a circle of fabric/felt to the back over the top of the gathers. I tend to use a circle of mount board, gently pushed in (again, easy to dismantle at a later date) as I quite like how it slightly domes the front. I also saw at this year’s Knitting and Stitching show that a company was selling wooden circles to finish their hoop art kits.
I hope that this post has been helpful. As mentioned before, there are many ways to frame and display your work. I’ve just given you two.
Get it on the wall
However you choose to do it, the most important thing is to get it on the wall. It’s amazing how framing and presenting the work in a professional way adds status to it. So much better than leaving it screwed up in a project bag under the bed!
Please feel free to comment below if you have any other tips to share.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Stocking Stitch Poppy with leaf and stem
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).