Modular Knitting (or working in bite size chunks and creating a fabric one square at a time)

I have recently reignited my love of modular knitting (also known as domino or mitred knitting), and have quickly remembered how satisfying it is to work in bite size pieces while creating knitted items with wonderful drape courtesy of the resulting bias in the fabric. This post is an accompaniment to a modular scarf workshop that I had the pleasure of teaching last month at the Ashcroft Arts Centre in Fareham and is intended as an aide memoir to those lovely ladies who attended and also as a beginners guide for those who would like to experiment with a different method of knitted garment construction.

The term “modular” refers to any type of knitting where modules are made individually and the next module is created from the previous one by picking up and knitting stitches from it. However, it is most often used to describe the specific method of creating a module by decreasing a cast on number of stitches until only one remains. Various shapes can be created by the placement and number of the decreases, the simplest being the mitred square module in garter stitch.

Garter square module

To create this simple square, an odd number of stitches are cast on. This cast on edge will create two of the edges of the resulting square, with the centre stitch the corner. A stitch marker comes in very handy when working the modules as it can be used to mark the centre stitch. For each right side row, two stitches are decreased either side of and absorbed into this centre stitch using an appropriate decrease. One that I particularly like for this as it has a non directional appearance and an aesthetically pleasing little bump in the centre (hence easy to spot if it accidentally begins to wander off), is the centred double decrease or s2kp.  This is worked by slipping two stitches together knitwise, knitting the next stitch, and then passing the two slipped stitches over. The result is two stitches decreased.  This is continued until only one stitch, the centre stitch, remains and the result is that the initial cast on edge is gradually brought in towards that stitch, thereby creating a square.

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The creation of a mitred square, showing the fabric bending around the centre stitch

Once the square has been completed the next one can be joined to it by picking up and knitting the stitches along the top of the finished square for one side of the new module, and then casting on the remaining stitches to form the second side of the new module. The process is then repeated.

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A diagram showing an example pick up from the top of a square module

The diagram above shows how a second square module with the same bias direction can be created from the top of the first.

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Picking up modules from squares placed as diamonds 

Of course, squares can also be turned on their sides to form diamonds and in this case the centred decrease is now a vertical element. When a module is created in between the two below, the pick up occurs down one side of the first module and up the side of the next, with the centre stitch in the corner where those two modules touch, as shown in the photo above.

While mitred modules in garter stitch create squares, other stitches such as stocking stitch, create a more elongated diamond shape. It is great fun experimenting with these to see what happens and what design possibilities these shapes present.

Scallops

If three or four decreases are placed along the cast on edge, the module begins to curve. This is the modular construction technique I used to create my Sparkle design which was awarded second place in the Rowan international design competition a few years back.

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A scalloped shape modular design

So, as you can see, modular knitting is a versatile method of knitted fabric construction which, due to its bias, can create very flattering garments.

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“Did you tell them why it’s called Weimwood, Mommy?”

For those of you who wish to take your mitred squares to the next level, I have just published a modular shawl pattern called “Weimwood” (so named as it was inspired by and conceived during my daily runs with the Velcro dog around the local woods) which uses mitred squares and triangles in three different 4ply yarns (sock yarn is fabulous for this design) and in different sizes to create an eye catching asymmetrical pattern.  The modules are worked in garter stitch with a simple eyelet pattern along the bottom of each and the shawl is finished off with a classic picot cast off edging.

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Weimwood shawl pattern

The pattern is available in my Etsy shop as a digital download and can be purchased here.

I hope this post has inspired you to have a go at modular knitting. As you might have gathered, I’m a huge fan so I would love to have passed on a little bit of my modular addiction to you.

Until next time, happy knitting.

Farewell 2016 (or the shite year that woz, leaving a legacy and street/river art arrives in Bishop’s Stortford)

Hello Blogland. Over the next week or so I’m sure you will be inundated with annual roundups and messages of new year resolutions so I thought I’d get in there early in order to draw a line well and truly through this frightful year and focus fully on the new challenges that 2017 will present. Despite the title (and of course you will already be fully aware of my leanings in this matter) I am leaving politics out of this post so please do read on.

This morning’s dog jog gave me some quiet time to muse over the latest sadness to hit our social media streams today, that of the death of yet another of the performers who, along with Prince and David Bowie, formed the musical backdrop to my teenage years. RIP George Michael.  Personally I don’t remember a year of celebrity loss that has been so affecting and I am wondering whether it is because of my age (i.e. I am older therefore statistically those entertainers and musicians who were significant to me whilst I was growing up are also older and therefore more at risk), or whether the rise of Celebrity and social media have made us feel both like we know these people personally because they live their lives under a spot light, and links us to others who are mourning their passing thereby generating almost a sense of self promoting “hysteria” when faced with news of the death of someone most of us have never met (apologies to any actual psychologists out there, these ramblings are purely personal musings and not an attempt to explain anything scientifically). Of course it could also be that 2016 was the year of unprecedented loss that we actually think it was.

Of course, regular readers of my blog will also be aware that I said goodbye to two very important men from my personal life this year and those of you in similar situations will sympathise with how family and friend centred celebrations such as Christmas can highlight these bereavements. So where am I going with this post I hear you ask. There is a link between loss from this year and planning for next. As you may have gathered from previous posts, I don’t do New Year resolutions as these tend to be statements of intent with no real planning and are therefore often doomed to failure. However, I do find the end of a year a great time to focus on what went well/didn’t go so well in the year I am about to leave and let these feed the goals for the one ahead. A planning technique that has been brought to my attention recently is the use of a word to guide, inspire and motivate. I have been struggling to come up with a single word for my business planning but have come up with a word to guide my life generally inspired by a letter that I read from an old work colleague of my Dad’s in response to the news of his passing. The first word that this man, like so many other people who interacted with Dad used to describe him, was “kind” (“I remember him as such a kind man”). While he may not have had a wide circle of social interaction, particularly after his retirement, I find it so moving that those people who did share him with us did not refer to his achievements, material possessions, hobbies etc but instead used this somewhat mild and greatly undervalued adjective to sum him up. While those celebrities we have lost this year leave behind them memories of their respective talents through their fame, music, writing and entertainment, for me, to leave “kind” as a legacy is such a noble and worthwhile thing to aspire to so for 2017 and beyond, my motivation shall be the word “kind”.

Right, bitter sweet indulgences over, here are some pictures to brighten up this post. While pulling into Bishop’s Stortford station last week I noticed some rather colourful and attractive graffiti so armed with Mum and her crazy Labradoodlepoodle, we went on a photography treasure hunt along the River Stort to find out more. And here they are.

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Ella and Mum duck watching

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Bright and colourful wall decoration 

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Still wondering how they did this, from a boat perhaps (no path on that side of the river)

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Decoration on a warehouse wall

I have so much wonderful visual inspiration from my treasure hunt I can’t wait to get started on some work. In the meantime, goodbye 2016. I (and many others) will remember you but not so fondly.

Wishing you all a healthy, happy, peaceful 2017. I’ll see you on the other side……….

Keeping the glass half full (or survival tactics in a Trumped up world)

So, folks, it happened. That which many of us had been fearing came to pass this week and Donald Trump was elected as President of the United States. Initially social media streams were flooded with statements of incredulity and blame, and then progressed to reminders of historical events, leaving many people in a state of unease (and reading some posts, severe distress) about the future. Teenage children of friends and clients have been quick to point out the potentially worst case scenarios of a post Brexit, Trumped up world, probably because they have been studying 20th century history and are closer to the concept of political alliances and their consequences than some of the voters involved in these recent democratic decision making processes. I remember when I was a child growing up in the cold war era how I would be fearful on a near daily basis of a nuclear attack and that was a time when the only news I was subjected to came from the constant drone of radio 4 which my parents left on in the kitchen all day. The young people of today (along with the rest of us) are now constantly bombarded with news and uncensored opinion via social media, countless TV channels and general access to the internet. How on earth do we stay positive during these unsettling times?

I was pondering this question when I was out running this morning. Today, in the South of England we experienced my favourite type of weather. I don’t mind the Summer months but for me a frosty start to a blue sky morning, immersed in the oranges, reds, browns and greens of an Autumn wood bathed in low golden light streaming through the trees is pretty much my idea of heaven. It reminded me of how fortunate I am and this combined with recent events and interactions, prompted me to come up with a personal plan of action to focus on the things that I can control in order to spend less time worrying about that which is out of my hands.

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Yesterday I saw Professor Brian Cox speaking passionately and eloquently about the wonders of the universe at the Southampton Guildhall. He used the word “beautiful” many times during the evening, both to describe a photographic experience but also an equation or theory perhaps something that the non scientists amongst us would find surprising. It is very easy in these overly busy times to concentrate our experiences on areas where we already have an accepted sphere of interest and knowledge, either professionally or recreationally and maybe a science lecture might not be an obvious choice of entertainment. However, at the end of a fascinating and uplifting evening (despite and possibly even helped by the opening remarks about how insignificant we are both as a planet and hence individuals in the context of cosmology, and how fragile), I vowed to myself that I would allocate the time to explore these subjects further, read more widely and change my radio station from time to time. There is so much passion and knowledge out there and it is constantly evolving. We need people like Professor Cox to share this stuff with us, particularly in the light of recent political persuasion and public opinion that “experts” (and by that I read people who have dedicated their career to a field of study) and science are of questionable value. (I was appalled to read some of the abuse that Professor Cox received on his social media streams after the Brexit vote when trying to explain the value of the scientific method to people who refused to accept its worth).

So what? I hear you asking. How will exploring more help me to stay positive in the times ahead? I think there are a couple of ways this could help. There is the obvious distraction element that if I am busy concentrating on something new (to me) and exciting then I have less time to dwell on situations outside of my control. It also helps to remind me of how brilliant, creative and tenacious humans can be.  While we may be a race intent on self destruction, we are also capable of incredible things. So, I shall continue to be grateful for, encourage by my interest in, and wonder at, the creativity of others by reading, listening to music, attending lectures, going to gigs and wandering around art galleries. This stuff is all great food for the soul and along with the wondrous spectacle of the natural world, makes me glad to be alive.

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And while we are talking about exploring, the other coping mechanism that I shall be endeavouring to implement more of was also prompted by an evening out, this time with a couple of friends in a restaurant. When I began to recount a recent positive experience to them involving something that I am quite passionate about, I was met with blank looks, a perceived lack of interest and no interaction. I can’t say that the conversation floundered as I don’t think it even got off the ground. Are we gradually losing the art of conversation (one only had to glance around the theatre at the Brian Cox event during the interval last night to see everyone getting out their mobile phones to check their life rather than turning to the person next to them to ask what they thought of the gig so far)? You may feel having got this far down my rather wordy and self indulgent post that you can’t really blame them, but I fear that social media may be contributing to this sad state of affairs by creating a forum where we shout our opinion at our “friends” (and the world in general) but don’t really engage in discussion. It is evident from recent political events that on both sides of the Atlantic we have some serious social and political divisions to heal, and listening to alternative view points must be the first step to understanding how to move forward. I can’t heal these large scale divisions but I can make more of an effort to engage with and listen to the people I personally interact with, particularly those with alternative points of view to my own.“Sometimes all a person wants is an empathetic ear; all he or she needs is to talk it out. Just offering a listening ear and an understanding heart for his or her suffering can be a big comfort.” ― Roy T. Bennett. If people feel that their views are being valued, listened to and openly discussed would there still be the perceived need for the “protest vote”?

So friends, family, clients and acquaintances beware as I shall be making sure that you feel valued. If you write a blog I shall endeavour to read it, if you have art in an exhibition I shall try my hardest to visit it, if you write a book I shall read it, if you play in a band (or on your own) I will be grinning at you from the front row of your next gig. I can’t change the world folks, but I hope that I can contribute to someone else’s sense of well being by listening to them and appreciating the hard work and passion that they put into their careers, families, hobbies and sports. When I do take the time to try to understand what excites the people I interact with I am always amazed at how interesting people are (even if their passion is Saints Football Club!). People are never boring, some are just a little more challenging to get to know and it is almost always worth the effort trying.

“Nothing ever lasts forever” as pointed out by the fabulous Echo and the Bunnymen (another expedition I had this week and I’ve gotta say Mac still has an amazing set of lungs on him, 20 years down the line) and change can be scary and disorientating as we venture into the unknown. I choose to take the view that for every cloud there must be a silver lining (although sometimes it needs a little polishing) and while 2016 will be remembered by many of us as a year of huge loss both in terms of national identity, and by the death of so many talented and iconic entertainers, musicians and presenters (RIP Leonard Cohen, the latest sad loss to the cultural world) we can strive to make things better. I shall begin by improving my listening skills. I’m all ears…….

 

Ally Pally 2016 roundup (or the stuff I liked this year, shop ’til you drop, and why do Mum’s carry mobile phones?)

I took a cheeky day off on Wednesday of last week to spend some quality time with Mum at the first day of this year’s London Knit and Stitch show, and what a blinder it was.  I may be considerably poorer (totes ran out of dosh by lunchtime) but I came away wishing that I had another day to go back and visit all over again.  So, as is my usual practice, here are a few highlights for me this year.

First highlight was actually achieving a meet up with Mum despite her habit of leaving her mobile in the bottom of her handbag, usually switched off to save the battery life (“I turn it on if I want to make a call”).  We used the old fashioned method of arranging a meeting place and time in advance and sticking to it and amazingly it all worked to plan.  So, partner in crime at my side, we began our shopping spree.  In my defence, Mum is a bad influence, tending to make a bee line for the back hall and the goodies on sale whereas if I visit on my own I start with the galleries in the front hall and run out of time before I get to do any shopping.  Two hours in with empty purse and rucksack full of yarn, needles, buttons and a book, we made it back into the relative calm of the gallery space and began a tour of the wonderful work on display.

First stop was the Embroiderer’s Guild graduate showcase which was full of  young, talented and enthusiastic artists exhibiting a diverse range of work in textile and stitch.  I was particularly taken with the vibrant work of Sam Hussain Designs.

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Sam Hussain Designs hand painted and hand embroidered cotton jersey vest

Next on the agenda was the more calming art of Debbie Lyddon in her Moments of Being gallery.

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Debbie Lyddon, Sluice Creek Cloth: Marsh Shadows (linen and wire)

For any Game of Thrones fans amongst you, the Embroiderer’s Guild had this chap striking a pose in the entrance hall. More info on the Guild’s involvement (and better photos although I do think he looks good against the Ally Pally brickwork!) with this popular dramatisation of George R R Martin’s epic fantasy adventure can be found here.

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White Walker from Game of Thrones

At this stage I saw Mum off the premises to catch her train (and get home before her highly energetic Poodledoodle started climbing the walls and destroying the house) and I reentered the show to enjoy Dionne Swift’s landscapes.  Unfortunately this photo just doesn’t do her work justice so I recommend a visit to her website to enjoy a better look.

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Dionne Swift

I loved the weirdness of Cos Ahmet’s “Thread is a Thought” exhibition comprising sculptures made with woven tapestry and other materials representing his idea of the body as a container.  After all it makes some kind of sense to me to depict the various fibres that make up the human body with the more commonly seen and experienced fibres of woven textiles.

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Cos Ahmet

And the Manchester School of Art’s “Significance” exhibition inspired by the historic collections of the Gawthorpe Textile Collection (over 30,o00 artefacts related to stitch production) was a diverse and inspiring display from both tutors and students.  I particularly liked the vibrancy of Jane McKeating’s work, the simplicity of Lisa Baraona’s fabric stitched line drawings, and in direct contrast, Alice Kettle’s complex and heavily stitched contribution to the exhibition.

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Jane McKeating, print and stitch on cotton.

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Lisa Baraona “Race to Progress” 

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Alice Kettle

And last, but definitely not least, a word of congratulations to Marks and Stitch for their impressive “Impressions” exhibition. A big fan of Alison Hulme’s hand printed pinnies (I own a couple) I was drooling over her latest work featuring prints inspired by graffiti. I was also enamoured by the effective simplicity of Janet Steer’s woven silhouettes, and entertained by the intriguingly composed and colourful free machining of Catherine Fox.

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Janet Steer’s woven tapestries and Alison Hulme’s hand printed pinnies

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Catherine Fox’s free machining: “Pyramus and Thisbe”

There was just so much to see in the four hours I had to play with that I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed out a few gems. However, I came away thoroughly inspired from this year’s show so if you get a chance to visit Dublin or Harrogate I can highly recommend it.

Until next time…….

 

 

Turn up the Volume!

Apologies for being a bit remiss on the posting front recently.  This isn’t a reflection of a lack of productivity, in fact, quite the opposite.  I have been extremely busy making over the past month driven by commissions, a number of internal and external factors, and inspired by everything from the weather, exhibition visits, recent workshops, my usual doggy muses and exhibition deadlines.

“Jess the Doodle” recent commissioned knitted doggy head

Perhaps it is the volume that has created the problem in searching for an interesting sharing experience with you. A bit like driving into a supermarket car park and finding too many spaces to choose from? Anyway, rather than just post pictures of “stuff what I have done” which probably only interests my Mum (sorry Mum, I’ll post one of those soon too!) I thought I’d share two inspirational experiences that have really added to my productive drive.

The first was a video from Ira Glass, the host of “This American Life” radio show which a friend had posted on her facebook feed. In the clip Ira talks about how creative people are trying to be good at what they do but due to their inherent sense of good taste (as per their creative nature) they are continually being disappointed by their output.  At this point it could be easy to quit as one invests so much time and energy knowing that the work being produced just isn’t up to one’s own high standards.  He urges us instead to keep going and in fact create a huge volume of work with the aim of closing the gap between our ambitions and our output.  Thanks Ira, that was just the excuse I needed to drive on!

The other source of huge inspiration I wanted to share with you today is this book.  I picked it up at the Tate book shop a little while back and nearly missed my train stop on the way home as I just couldn’t put it down.

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In it the author asks 50 successful artists in various media a number of questions regarding why they do what they do, where they get their inspiration from and particularly how they deal with creative blocks.  This is, of course, accompanied by mouth watering pictures of their work.  At the end of each interview the artist is asked to set a task for the reader to help boost creativity and work through a creative block.  One of the really interesting things for me was to see how even these successful creatives have huge amounts of self doubt (I thought it was just us aspiring types!) so I guess this links in with the taste thing that Ira was talking about.  In particular, US illustrator Sidney Pink came out with a fabulous quote which has burrowed into my subconscious and I’m sure will keep surfacing in times of need: “Any thing of value comes from hard work and unwavering dedication.  If you want to be a good artist you need to look at other artists, make a lot of crappy art, and just keep working” (ref page 88 of Creative Block by Danielle Krysa).

So readers, yet again we are faced with the dilemma of not enough hours in the day (and storage space!) and I am feeling the need to get the inks out and create an illustration triggered by my Jack Russell’s antics this morning. I also recognise that there are not enough pictures in this post and far too many words so I shall leave you with an image of an illustration I finished a couple of days ago inspired by Sas and Alfie on a recent Sunday dog jog.  Get creating!

“The Hunters” ink on watercolour paper by Nicky Barfoot