I was recently having a chat with an academic pal of mine, who is working on a project looking at changes in the hand-knitting industry over the past few decades. She asked me about how I thought the industry had changed, and what I felt the major differences might be in establishing and running a small business in that industry in the 1980s or early 90s compared to today. This is an interesting topic, which I’ve been thinking a lot about of late, as I look around me and feel inspired by all the energetic and creative people (mostly women) who in recent years have found a place in this industry to do their own thing really well. Rather than being a top-down affair, dominated by large yarn companies and their necessarily conservative business priorities, hand-knitting is now a joyously bottom-up enterprise, in which producers and creators are not just close to, but members of, a genuinely engaged collective. I find it interesting that the trends that take hold in hand-knitting are also much more about this collective than they are about, say, “mainstream” fashion – as we all find ourselves suddenly gripped by the aesthetic appeal of a certain kind of knitted fabric, an intriguing new technique, an interesting sweater construction, or the pleasures of working with a particular type of yarn.
(Lucy Hague’s extraordinarily beautiful Illuminated Knits)
Back then, the business of pattern design supported sales of yarn lines, and was communicated to hand knitters through the seasonal channels of commercial magazines and paper patterns. Now, a new generation of independent designers have loosened many restrictive ties between the production of yarn and patterns, using digital platforms to release what they want when they want to, producing innovative design products, and taking the business of publishing into their own hands.
(Anna Maltz’s Marlisle – thoughtful, original, and one of the most exciting books in any genre I’ve encountered in the past 12 months)
Bypassing traditional routes to manufacturing, and inspired by a very different set of individual priorities than those which dominated the industry thirty years ago, yarn production is now also becoming a happily eclectic, grass-roots, and knitter-led affair.
(Daughter of a Shepherd, Rachel Atkinson, championing small-scale production and lending the wool industry a fresh new creative direction)
In short, hand knitters are no longer a passive market: they are participants in – and producers of – an engaged and participatory creative community. In a broad (global) sense that I think would have been unimaginable in the 1980s, this industry is now most definitely about what hand knitters are making and doing, not just what they are consuming. And in a cultural-political landscape that is hostile, divisive and frequently despair-inducing, I turn to the spaces occupied by hand knitters and am buoyed up to see so much that is positive, inclusive, and genuinely enabling.
And if there is anything that sums up the enabling culture of contemporary hand-knitting in a (knitted) nutshell it is the recent work of my enormously talented friend Felicity (Felix) Ford.
I’m afraid it is hard for me not to gush about just how good this book is: how generous, how joyous, how expansive, just how bloody creative
You might never have considered knitting your friend a postcard . . .
You might never have decided to knit something beautiful to wear inspired by the ordinary colours and patterns of your local built environment . . .
You might never have thought about how to scale and adapt your favourite patterns and motifs into knitted fabric . . .
You might never have reflected on the fact that a humble dandelion is in fact a thing of wonder, and discovered that the most appropriate canvas to celebrate that wonder was a gloriously exuberant shawl. . .
. . . and unless you are one of the hundreds of knitters who have already joined Felix posting on Instagram under the lively #tarmactuesdays hashtag, you have probably never considered a road surface as an interesting source of inspiration.
But after spending an hour or two with this book you will be asking yourself WHY NOT?
Why not celebrate the thoroughfares you traverse morning and evening during your commute? Why not commemorate the simple view you see when you look out your kitchen window? Why not creatively translate the objects that bring you daily cheer ? Why not ply your needles to capture a fleeting mood or moment? Why not knit the sensation of putting on your new red boots and stepping outside? Why not allow knitting to communicate the singular pleasure of that feeling?
(Yumi Shimada’s joyous red Doc Marten boot swatch is in the centre of this image).
Together with her Knitsonik comrades, in this wonderful collaborative tome Felix shows us how stranded colourwork might afford a particular kind of an opportunity to reflect on the things we never notice. She shows us how we can work with pattern and colour to allow the overlooked to become the looked at . . .
. . . and reveals how cultivating an ordinary habit of thoughtful attention might bring extraordinary creative rewards.
This book is full of beautiful writing, as well as deeply inspiring projects.
“Anonymous intersections crammed with noise and traffic become the spot where we find pleasing combinations of white and blue, or the site where we notice that the grey ground is in fact speckled and filled with subtle hues.”
“an uncynical eye celebrates a patch of freshly laid tarmac as a visible mend in the urban landscape and shoes that match road paint commemorate our indivisible relationship with the built environments that most of us call home.”
There is so much to love about this book, and to be inspired by, but I am especially fond of the Tarmac Tuesdays bunting which Felix and Liz Ashdowne created together.
There’s just something about the way their knitted bunting flags transform and celebrate the ordinary spaces of streets and roads, motorways and underpasses, concrete and tarmac. These are environments filled with anonymous signs and injunctions; environments often designed more for cars than bodies; environments which sometimes explicitly exclude different kinds of pedestrian; environments which might frequently be read as unpleasant or even dehumanising.
But if you render the street’s disgruntled reminder to pick up and bin your dog poo in lovely yellow knitted stitches . . .
. . . if you transform urban paint and tarmac into a jolly flag to wave about the spaces you know, the spaces for which you feel affection . . .
then you have made something of your sense of place. You have made something truly joyous and affirmative.
And if you want to explore other ways of colourful mark-making alongside your knitting, then the Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Playbook has an associated publication . . .
Use Felix’s beautiful hand-drawn illustrations to explore your own colour preferences, your own gradients and shading!
“While working on this book” writes Felix “I had in mind a vision of a joyous toy box containing fun, colours and opportunities to play with friends.” Any knitter who engages with this book will surely come away with a renewed appreciation of the value and sheer pleasure of sharing creative play with yarn and needles. The Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Playbook is a, generous, positive, and enormously enabling tome that’s quite unlike any other. And that’s why you need it on your knitting bookshelf.