The Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook

BOOK_COVER

I suspect many of you will now know that my good friend Felicity Ford’s fabulous new tome, The Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook has just been published!

THE JOY OF SWATCHING

Felix is a close friend of mine, and, as I also played an editorial role in the production of her, ahem, masterwerk, I have, as you’d imagine, only positive things to say. But I have to briefly say them anyway, because I just know that you will love this book.

walnut

I have never met anyone quite so full of joy as Felix, anyone quite so enthusiastic and energetic, or anyone who, in quite the manner that she does, is able to appreciate and celebrate the sheer wonder of quotidian things: snacks, plants, spaces, socks, beer, bricks, wool. In this book she enables you to turn the last thing on that list – wool – into all of the items that precede it. Using the fabulous shades available in the Jamieson & Smith jumper weight palette, and some really innovative methods of sketching and swatching, Felix shows you how to develop the aesthetic skills to translate everday objects into glorious knitting.

With Felix you can learn how to knit a fruitcake . . .

knitted_fruitcake

. . . discover how to look anew at the ordinary spaces that surround you . . .

my_street

. . . develop a luminous palette with which to celebrate an extraordinary building . . .

sepctacular_deco

. . . or translate the vintage aesthetics of a favourite tome into a pair of fabulous fingerless gloves.

wonders_of_electricity-2

Felix is many things: talented artist, lyrical writer, innovative designer, and all-round good egg. You’ll find her with all of these hats on in this book, and one of the things I love so much about it is just how Felix it all is.

hops_legwarmers-2

This is certainly a personal book, then, but it is also a precise and professional tome too. The book is beautifully produced: the layout (by Nic Blackmore) has an elegant simplicity and the photographs (by Fergus Ford) not only clearly illustrate Felix’s work but enhance its rich context. The book has useful patterns too: after teaching you how to create beautiful colourwork swatches, Felix carefully shows you some simple methods of incorporating your original stitch patterns into wearable items, such as legwarmers and gauntlets.

AUTHOR_FELICITY_FORD-1-5

The Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is both enabling and inspiring. It will change the way you look at your knitting and the world. There’s not another book anywhere like it. It is truly original – just like its author.

AUTHOR_FELICITY_FORD-1-2

Felicitations, Felix!

The Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is now available!

a heads up

bags1
This is just to let you know that I shall shortly be (temporarily) closing my online shop.

Just a handful of kits remain, and the remaining stock of my totes and tea-towels are all on sale!

teatowelrange

The reason for the temporary closure is as follows: we need to plan ahead for the new book, and to make some space in the stock room for a gazillion copies. Once its time to start shipping, it is going to be much easier to focus on the book only, rather than the kits as well, so the latter won’t be available from me for a wee while (though you will still be able to buy several of my kits from my friends at Jamieson and Smith).

So, if you’d like a tote or tea towel, the last chance to buy one is this weekend.
I’ll be closing the shop on Monday, and when it reopens, it will be full of MY NEW BOOK!

knitwear and cultural relativism

toastsweater

One of the issues I’ve found myself thinking about an awful lot while writing my book is how knitwear “traditions” are never completely national or regional in origin, but are always interwoven and interconnected. Knitting is a fluid and mobile medium in so many senses, traveling around the ocean on the backs of seafaring men, copied and innovated upon by enterprising women. In 1953, a Norwegian designer working in London saw a photograph of the Danish Royal Family wearing Greenland national dress. Inspired by this photograph she went on to create the “Eskimo” sweater, now regarded as an icon of Norwegian knitwear design – but how ‘national’ a design could this sweater, in fact, be said to be? Equally, the large star motifs routinely described as “Shetland” or even “Fair Isle” are actually the legacy of Shetland’s important Norwegian connections during the second world war (when thousands of Norwegians escaped occupation on the Shetland Bus). As my research has progressed, I’ve come to realise that all of the national or regional knitting styles I’m interested in have a relatively short history, and all are connected, in one way or another, to each other. I have started to think it is more useful to speak of of a fluid set of Nordic regional textile practices rather than national “traditions” (many of which really are “invented traditions” in the sense that Hobsbawm and Ranger famously described).

And yet, something in me instinctively reacts when I see this sweater on Toast’s website, described as “Icelandic Fair Isle.” This sweater is knitted up in Irish yarn, produced in a non-specified EU location, and is marketed here in reference to two distinct regional textile “traditions,” associated with different kinds of wool, sheep breed, and terroir neither of which are those of Kilcarra (Donegal) tweed. To my eyes, this raglan garment with its large colourwork motifs is neither “Icelandic”, nor is it “Fair Isle”. I’m not even sure how “Irish” it could said to be either, and I feel in my gut that the fuzzy descriptors that are being used to sell it imply a certain amount of disrespect to the specificity of particular regional practices of textile production, knitting and design. But can I have it both ways? If I want to ditch narrow nationalist associations in favour of a more diverse and fluid and culturally relative idea of knitting and design, why does this sweater still inspire in me a sensation of mild offence?

I need to get to grips with this conundrum in order to write a conclusion for my book. Any of your thoughts will be much appreciated.

milestone

dumplingview

I am extremely happy to tell you that I have passed my driving test! The process has not been easy and has never felt straightforward, but at last I’ve got there! The main issue is that my spacial awareness is somewhat skewy, and this makes things like road positioning and reverse manoeuvres rather tricky. I’ve failed two tests already (and on both occasions reverse manoeuvres were the issue). But John, my driving instructor, a man of genuine calmness and good humour, has lent me the confidence to stick at it. Meanwhile Mairi, my next door neighbour, has been enormously kind and incredibly encouraging. With the patience of Job, Mairi (who is a completely natural driver) has determinedly sought ways to make reversing make some sort of sense to my messed up brain. Well, we finally cracked it and I managed to get through the test yesterday.

I don’t need to tell you what a massive difference this will make to me. Driving is a really important milestone in my post-stroke return to independence, and just being able to get about on my own means such a lot. After the test yesterday, I got in my wagon, drove a few miles to Gartochan, and took Bruce for a walk up Duncryne (a hill known in these parts as “The Dumpling”). It felt pretty good to see this view.

ONWARD!

Finishing touches

cb

So my final yoke is DONE! I couldn’t resist showing you a peek while it is blocking on the dress form. This one has been so interesting both to design and to produce and I am really very pleased with the end result.

Just the finishing touches to go now – some ribbon to cover the facings and some buttons that will pick up the orange in the yoke.

buttons

I know some folk hate finishing but it is honestly one of my favourite parts of making a garment – I feel that taking time over the details is a way of really relishing the completion of one’s work.

yoke collection

blueyoke

One of the many fun elements of researching my book has been seeking out yoked sweaters on eBay and in charity shops. I have learned a lot from these garments, which are often a hybrid of machine and hand-knitting, and thought I’d share a few of them with you today. I think I showed you the Shetland yoke jumper I’m wearing above on a previous occasion. It has a machine knitted body and a hand-knitted tree and star yoke with a characteristically back-buttoned placket; it fits me well, and I wear it frequently. I wanted to mention this jumper today because it is, in yoke terms, somewhat anomalous: the way the pattern repeats have been calculated means that the tree is centred both front and back. The back opening thus divides a tree in half:

blueyoke2

I imagine this will seem an insignificant matter to some of you – after all, the motifs are still balanced and centred – but when you’ve looked at many Shetland yokes, and many patterns for Shetland yokes, it immediately appears odd. My friend Ella* was quick to spot its curious tree placement, and in almost every other example I’ve seen over the past six months or so, the star is centred, not the tree. (If the garment is a jumper, the star is always at front centre, and if a cardigan, there’s an extra star to balance the pattern, so the front opening is always flanked by stars.) So this yoke is a curiosity of which I am particuarly fond – I think its anomalous nature only endears it more to me.

Here is a non-anomalous, fairly standard Shetland tree and star yoke, that I found on eBay:

shetcardi1

The body and sleeves have been machined, and the yoke, ribbing, and front bands have all been finished by hand. Its nicely finished – here you can see how, on the inside of the garment, the yoke has been steeked and cut; the yarn ends have been woven in; and have then felted down with wear.

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And here’s another Shetland tree and star – a jumper this time:

shetlandjumper1

Again, the star is centred, and the garment is a machine / hand-knitted hybrid. I am fond of this one, because it bears the lovely trademark of the Shetland Woollen Industries Association:

shetlandjumper2

Back in the 1920s, the SWIA was established to protect native Shetland wool, and to promote and protect the products that were made from it. The trade mark guaranteed that the goods were genuine Shetland wool products, grown and produced in the Shetland islands. Sadly, this trade mark is just one of a litany of many never-wholly successful attempts to protect the term “Shetland”, in reference to wool and textiles, from appropriation and misuse. (You can read more about this issue in this 1952 parliamentary motion and debate and in Sarah Dearlove’s chapter in Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present)

Here I am, spotting a couple of naughty rabbits about to chow down on what’s left of my leeks.

harleys

This jumper illustrates the evolution of the “Shetland” yoke (strictly speaking, its not made from “Shetland” wool, and neither is it made in Shetland) and despite the fact that its far too big for me I find it interesting because it demonstrates an important stage in yoke history as the garment became enabled for industrial mass production. These jumpers were – and are still – produced by Harley of Scotland, on, as I understand it, some pretty innovative knitting machinery that enables the speedy creation of completely seamless and circular yoked garments. The yoke design is pretty simple, and there’s certainly none of the wonderful individuality you find in so many hand-knit Shetland yokes, but I find the jumper intriguing precisely because the yoke is circular, fashioned in a Shetland style, and because hand-knitting has finally been taken out of the production equation.

harleys2

Harley still produce similar garments to order, as you can see here

Finally, here is a recent yoke find by which I was particularly excited:

norweiganyoke1

I purchased this beautiful Norweigan yoke on eBay, from an Edinburgh seller who remarkably turned out to be a reader of this blog (hello, Amy!). It is one of many iterations of Unn Søiland Dale’s “Eskimo” design (please note that my use of that word simply reproduces the given name of the sweater: I am in no way endorsing the term’s unpleasant and inaccurate ethnographic connotations). As the tree and star yoke is to Shetland, so Dale’s yoke is to Norway:

Skann+1

NF.2012-0790 detail

(Images of Unn Søiland Dale’s Eskimogenser from Digitalt.Museum)

In its many forms, but always with with similar motifs and this characteristic colourway, Dale’s yoked sweater seems to have been in constant production in Norway since 1952, when it was first designed. This yoke is a true Norweigan icon (and is referenced as such in a recent pattern collection by Sandnes Garn)

norweiganyoke3

And just like its Shetland counterparts, this commercially-produced Norweigan yoke is also a hybrid of machine and hand knitting, with careful finishing.

norweiganyoke2

. . . and beautiful hand-knitting on the yoke.

norweiganyoke4

Amy, your sweater has gone to a good home and I feel honoured to have it among my yoke collection!

All of these yokes involve some machine knitting, and all of them have been in some way instructive when thinking about the construction and creation of my own hybrid machine and hand-knit yoke, which is now nearing completion.

yoke

Ella machined the body, I blocked and seamed the body and sleeve pieces; picked up stitches for the yoke and, over the weekend, knitted my yoke on. It has been a really interesting process, and is the very last bit of knitting there is for my book. All of the patterns, including this one, are now complete – we are almost there!

So, I suppose I’d better get on and finish those front bands. . . .

*Ella has also been documenting her knitwear collection! Pop over here to see more yokes.

knitter-producers and knitter-consumers

body
(This is a body and sleeves, knitted up on her machine by Ella Gordon, onto which I’m about to hand-knit a colourwork yoke. Hundreds of thousands of such garments were – and indeed still are – made in like manner in Shetland and elsewhere.)

Thanks so much for your comments on the previous post. As so often, you have given me pause for thought. Some of you have written privately to me that you felt my post unfairly dismissed not just the Munrospun kits, but by implication, the women who made things from them. I can only apologise, and assure you that this was not my intention. These kits undoubtedly enabled many knitters – women with multiple demands on their time, who enjoyed straightforward knitting – to create and wear a lovely hand-made colourwork item. As I said in the previous post, acts of making are always to be applauded, and there are certainly many things to applaud about the way that these kits, so often bought as gifts, lent ordinary knitters all over the world access to Shetland and Scottish yarns and designs. I also have absolutely nothing against the pieced construction of the kit, against knitting back and forth, or against plain stockinette (which really is probably my favourite kind of evening knitting). However, I do readily concede that my first thoughts about the kit were with the knitter-producer behind it, rather than the knitter-consumer to whom it was addressed.

I’ve spent the past few weeks carefully trying to think about yokes from a Shetland perspective. I have examined lots of archive material, looked at knitting, photographs of knitting, personal pattern books and commercial, printed patterns. I’ve conversed with knitters who, over the past half century have differing personal experiences of producing hand-knitted yokes for market. I’ve spoken to Shetland friends about their memories of yoke-wearing and knitting, and I have seen contemporary Shetland women, young and old, of all shapes and sizes, who are wearing Fairisle yokes again. The familiar tree and star designs, hand-knitted onto machined bodies, first so popular in the 1960s are, once more, everywhere in Shetland, and, I think, are clearly gaining fashionable ground farther afield as well. (PLEASE BEAR IN MIND: if you ever find yourself in a shop on the street in Lerwick, looking at a lovely hand-knitted item, it is always worth asking how, and how much, the knitter has been paid for their work. If you don’t get a straight answer, please don’t buy the item). Anyway, I suppose my first thought, upon opening the Munrospun kit, was of the person who knitted that yoke, of how many similar yokes they would have knit, and of the colourwork yoke itself as, by this point in the 70s, a standardised item produced for a ready market – a market of makers, or those interested in making, but an emphatically commercial market nonetheless. Looking at the kit, I also felt that it seemed to mark a definitive moment in the story of the hand-knit yoke: the height of its popularity, but also the turning point of its decline. (It is certainly the case that by the late 70s, hand-knitted yokes were beginning to be seen as old-fashioned, negatively preppy, or just staid, and that hand-knitting itself went into severe decline over the course of the decade that followed). None of this is meant in any way to dismiss the women who made themselves lovely Munrospun cardigans and jumpers, and these kits were certainly enjoyed, both in the making and in the wearing, by many, many knitters. But I do feel the analogy that some of you drew with boxed cake mixes – products that similarly became popularly available in this era – is moot: such mixes certainly offered a speedy, accessible, and in some senses, empowering alternative to baking from scratch, but no one would argue the cakes tasted better.

So that’s how my thoughts have been unravelling this morning. I want to sincerely apologise to any of you who felt affronted by the previous post, and to thank all of you for your comments, whose lively debate and multiple perspectives really make this blog what it is, and always act as a prompt to me to try to see the bigger picture.

Thankyou

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