October newsletter (really what I did in September)

I’ve been travelling again during September and October and not getting half as much knitting done as I’d planned (that’s a surprise).

So the month, September, went like this:

The first week I spent in France and Spain, travelling by train from home, Eurostar to Paris and then daytime TGV to Toulouse. I was certain that this would allow hours of knitting time.

However, I was wrong.

We, that is me and partner, had to get up so early for the first Eurostar that once on it, I slept soundly most of the way, waking up just outside Paris thinking we were in Lille. So no knitting done between London and Paris.

Getting across Paris from the Gare du Nord to the Gare Montparnasse also proved to be hard work as was queuing for almost an hour on the train at the buffet. It made what we used to call British Rail look absolutely perfect! So not so many undivided hours left there either.

And then I always expect holidays to have endless hours for knitting, preferably sitting in the sun, but somehow, after walks and drinks and meals and talking there’s not that much time left over, especially for stuff that needs attention like two colour gloves. But at least they had their photos taken – here they are, in various stages of completion in the Spanish sun at Bordes de Graus:

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You can read more of what Meghann is doing here: https://meghannobrien.com/

I was fortunate to be timetabled to present my paper on the first day which is always a relief. Here I am waving a pair of Sanquhar gloves around.

 

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I had the chance to have a little look around Vancouver which I liked very much. Here’s a little taster: some interiors of a church and a fabulous Art Deco building, views of the harbour, and the hotel where the conference was held, the Sheraton (very posh!).

 

The final keynote speech was by Charlotte Kwon about her business importing crafts from India, Maiwa. It was absolutely fascinating to hear how she and her team have done this over the last 30 years. Have a look at the web site to see what they have produced in India and how they support the artisans they buy from. It’s inspirational.

The next part of the trip was to California for a family visit and this we (me and partner, Gordon) did this by bus and train. Bus from Vancouver to Seattle, and then sleeper train from Seattle to Oakland, California.

We had a sleeper roomette, as Gordon said, more ‘ette’ than ‘room’ and some great views during the 24 hours on the train. Here’s some of them, urban and rural starting at the very grand station in Seattle and ending with our arrival at Oakland:

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So that’s all for now. California happened in October mostly and includes a couple of great wool shops so look out for the next newsletter.

I hope you’ve read this far – if so, thank you!

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September newsletter

I think this is a case of better late than never – I nearly didn’t bother because it’s so late in the month.

However, I have been busy knitting, trying to complete the four pairs of gloves I’ve called the Nature Series.

During August I also walked the Yorkshire Three Peaks, visited Wales, went to London and got ready to go to the Pyrenees.

I’m now preparing to go to Vancouver, Canada for the Textile Society of America biannual symposium, for which I have had a paper accepted. It’s about knitted gloves, specifically those knitted in Sanquhar.

I’m going to put in some pictures of all these things and hope to write more for next month.

Here’s the seashore gloves for Rachel: one of them is now complete:

and here’s just a finger on John’s pair: I don’t have a name for this pair but I do like them.

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And here’s a thumb being knitted while on the TGV on the way back from the Pyrenees: all the fingers need to be altered as they’ve worked out too small for the would be owner 😦

And so that’s all for now. I do post occasionally on Facebook, more personal things, and on Instagram for knitting things.

August newletter

There’s two parts to this month’s post – a bit about Craft Camp in Estonia and some thoughts on my design processes for glove knitting.

So if you read last month’s missive you know that I have been to Estonian Craft Camp since I last wrote here. It was lovely as usual, and I went to two knitting workshops with Riina Tomberg and one workshop on Estonian natural dyes with Liis Luhamaa, who is probably the best natural dyer in Estonia.

Here’s a small slideshow from Craft Camp – it’s not just knitting, there’s images from a trip to a remote island and the glass blowing studio too.

 

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I really want to talk about designing in this blog as this is something that I give a lot of thought to because I feel it’s so important.

My design life has had several stages:

  • No design (making it up as you go along) when I made garments on the knitting machine, often bespoke, therefore following design ideas from the customer.
  • Design education (learning How To Do It) when I did my Masters in Knitwear and Knitted Fabric Design at Trent Polytechnic in the 1980s
  • Being a Designer while I worked for the British Wool Marketing Board – although I didn’t actually do most of the design work, that was done by the rest of my team.
  • Running Design Studies, a degree course at the University of Salford, where courses included Design Theory and Design Thinking, as well as quite a lot of design work.
  • And now, being a designer once again, this time fully armed and conscious of what to do and how to do it!

So the major feature of the glove knitting project for me, is the opportunity to design and then to execute that design, taking into account all the factors that have to be considered:

* Appearance – so choosing colours, designing patterns, selecting rib type and so on
* Construction – for me, usually a conventional glove, but it doesn’t have to be (could have been hats or socks or houses or whatever … but gloves fits the bill nicely)
* Existing traditions – referencing all the gloves knitted in the UK or wherever else chosen
* Message – what I want to say – about the world and my relationships with it, usually very buried.
* Materials – almost always vintage wools, again reflecting wanting to use the earth’s resources wisely. This also adds a constraint of colour choice, limiting it to what there is in my stash.
* Time available – so usually hand knitted, but occasionally machine knitted to explore ideas faster

Since April this year, I’ve been working on a series of four gloves, (might go up to seven pairs), at the moment with a nature theme. I frequently like to use the natural world as a starting point because it is a place where I like to spend time. Using images collected from the natural world acknowledges its importance to me. This is a highly edited story – backstory concern for the welfare of the planet, membership of environmental groups since the year dot, organic gardener ditto, lifelong mountain walker, blah blah!

The pair I’ve been working on – I’m knitting all four pairs simultaneously – uses a picture of pebbles on a storm beach as the starting point for the pattern on the back of the hand:

 

When I did my MA it was drilled into me that design had to come from visual sources and visual research. It had to reflect values that were found in this material so that still informs the way that I approach design. Drawing, whether from life, objects, photographs or whatever, had to be done. Only then could fabrics be made. I still follow this design process, even if in sketch form as I believe it gives the work depth and credibility. So following this I started playing with shapes in quite an obvious way.

(I used to be afraid of being too literal in my translation from visual research to fabric but I saw a terrific exhibition of pottery by Emmanuel Cooper at the Ruthin Craft Centre and he had made pots with bright colours as a response to the lights of the city at night and I realised that it was ok to do this!).

So here are some of my pebble related scribbles:

This is the tiny swatch that I knitted to check the pattern was coming out as I wanted. There was a lot more work than you might expect fitting the pattern into the stitches available, and the computer printouts seen above had several versions in total.

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This image is probably much larger than the knitting!

And here are the gloves so far:

 

I hope you have been interested in this short explanation of my design process and why I think it’s important. Do let me know!

July knitting in the cold and wet -where am I?

I’m posting from the capital town of Saaremaa island, part of Estonia. I’ve been at the Nordic Knitting Symposium and plan to go to Estonian Craft Camp on Sunday.

Links here:

https://sisu.ut.ee/knitting2018/avaleht

https://www.kultuur.ut.ee/en/craft-camp

The knitting symposium was intense with workshops all day and three lectures every evening about Estonian, Latvian and Russian knitting. There were workshops on knitting from all the Baltic countries And north west Russia, which  for me was one of the highlights. It was an opportunity to meet knitters from Russia, whose workshops I took.

The knitting they showed is larger gauge than that done in Estonia, using  on 2.5mm needles with a light double knitting type wool. The patterns are from an ethnic group called the Komi, which were new to me, but they have been documented in an English language book by Charlotte Schurch, Mostly Mittens: Ethnic Knitting Designs From Russia.

One of the teachers was Zlata Ushakova, here on the left. She hand and machine knits, selling her products by travelling to Moscow by ferry and overnight train from her home in Arkhangelsk.

This is what I made, which is described as a holder for small things; it’s actually a mitten without a thumb and a cord attached, but quite ingenious.

My final project was a small wristband using another Komi pattern; we had the choice of three, a fish, arunning dog or a seagull. Mine is the running dog, in case you can’t tell.

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I also went to the machine knitting workshop which was a challenge. (Hand knitters look away now). The teacher had designed a project for a single bed machine including many techniques – a picot hem, a complicated buttonhole, a pocket, some punch card patterning, increasing and decreasing, and finished off with short rows. It was fun following the instructions and as there were only 4 of us in the class, two beginners and two experienced machine knitters we were all able to get finished.

 

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I finished the pouch with buttons cut from a jacket found in a second hand shop in Viljandi bought for .25 euro. After taking off the buttons, the jacket stayed in the shop! The pouch was then washed and dried and pressed in my hotel room. I think it’s the first time I have asked for the iron and ironing board in a hotel.

At the end of the event we were all given a sheet of A3 paper on which to arrange our productions and the final show was an impressive display of hand work.

For me, the lectures were the most interesting and useful part of the symposium, and they added to my knitting knowledge, especially that of Russian knitting. Of course the chance to meet up with old knitting friends and make new ones was perhaps the greatest pleasure and benefit of attending.

It was also interesting to look around the Department of Native Crafts, located in a former bakery in Viljandi, with impressive workshop spaces for textiles and wood and metal work. It made me wonder if such a thing might ever be possible in a UK context.

So, onwards and upwards to Craft Camp. I’m being really brave about missing the heatwave in the UK.

June newsletter – moths and collecting

The big news is that I have found clothes moths in the house. The warm weather brought out a lot of moths of all sorts and so I renewed my sticky moth traps and found that I caught three small clothes moths almost immediately. Here they are:

So then I decided that I should turn out the places where I store wool and woolly things which turns out to be more than I’d bargained for. There are garments – current and old, yarn in stash, yarn in ongoing knitting, cashmere, alpaca and wool tops for spinning, and wool blankets – knitted, crocheted and woven, Not to mention a couple of suits and jackets.

First to get opened up was a trunk full of old garments that I keep, a personal archive. There’s a mixture from things I made years ago to things I bought and have never worn to outfits from Trent Polytechnic back in the 1980 s.

Here are some of them:

This is an Orenburg shawl, brought back for me from the USSR as it then was by a friend who’s a research physicist, so he know lots of Russians and used to go there quite a lot. It was bought in St Petersburg and is now at the dry cleaner’s.

A Shetland scarf, bought there on a visit in the 1992. Also at the dry cleaner’s right now.

A rather nice hat, hand knitted. The label inside says it’s from Lithuania but I’m not sure how I came by it … it has been hand washed.

A Shetland tam, bought there.

Hand spun and hand knitted by me, Jacob’s wool scarf, a long time ago

Ethnic socks, think they might have come from Nepal when I visited in 1995

A cotton bag to put handkerchiefs in, hand knitted in Zimbabwe and brought back by me in the 1990s.

The Urban Jumper. My design, machine knitted in glorious synthetics. Worn by my partner in the 1980s

My hand knitting, inspired by the Danish book, Everybody’s Knitting. 

It started out life as a dress, and ended up as a skirt and top for my daughter aged about 7 at the time. All wool was unravelled from other garments bought in charity shops.

A cardigan designed and knitted by a Japanese company from when I worked with Japanese knitwear producers.

My sweater drawer has been taken wholesale to the dry cleaner who are giving me a good discount on bulk, including lace items that I really don’t want to have to block and quite a lot of cashmere.

The yarn has gone into the freezer for a while. Information on the web varies on the length of time things should stay there, from 2 days (Vogue magazine UK) to a week. I have been told 3 weeks so who knows what the correct time is? (If you think you know, please tell me pronto!).

Other items have been handwashed and are now ready to go back in the trunk, all sprayed inside with moth killer spray and new newspaper.

And then of course, there’s the big question – why keep most of this stuff at all?

 

May newsletter (about designing)

DESIGNING – what I love doing most of all

I’m a bit of a design evangelist as for many years I ‘just made’ things, deciding on colours and so on as I went along. When I went to Trent Polytechnic (as was) I quickly learnt that some thought at the planning stage can save lot of time and effort on something that isn’t quite right once it’s finished. So for me, designing what I make, sampling, drawing, dare I way it, swatching ? is all crucial before the knitting starts. I come clean, I think there should be more of it done too!

As I wrote in my April newsletter, I’m planning a group of hand knitted gloves that are different from any I’ve done before. When I started ‘The Glove Project’ I knitted knitting existing patterns so that I could understand about construction and ‘traditional’ design, and from there I designed my own.

Now, there’s a limit to how many pairs of gloves someone can knit without wondering what’s going to become of them all and after about half a dozen pairs with my own initials on them, I decided I would knit gloves for other people although so far they haven’t been able to wear them …. but that’s another story.  After that the gloves became more bespoke with customised patterns, initials and dates.

Here’s an early group:

The red and beige ones in the April post were the last in that series I think, highly personalised with bespoke colours, full name and date.

Now, though, I want to use my own colours in response to design ideas but I don’t want to knit gloves that nobody wears. So this series is a fudge, a sort of quid pro quo between me knitting someone a pair of gloves, personalised with their initials and a date of their choice, but my design apart from that. So no treble clefs for the musicians this time round, sadly.

The focus of this group, which might be another half dozen pairs, is their design. I am obsessed with design – not just my own design but that of others and all the examples of good and bad design that we see around ourselves all day everyday. I love exploring design ideas through knitting gloves – they are ideal for what I want to do – use colour, explore proportion and communicate ideas through making textiles.

My starting point is the natural world, as it so often is, especially the sea and beach, a theme that I come back to again and again. There is some imagery from simple rural buildings and forests too. Most of the images I’ve taken are from places in California, but some are from Wales. I showed some of these last time too.

The colour palette is limited to neutrals with a very grey blue and I’ve chosen the yarns from the finest that I have in my stash, so they are all 3 ply, Marion Foale, Jaeger botany wool 3 ply or Regia 3 ply wool that has 25% polyamide in it.

Once the colours were more or less decided then I was able to start to design in more detail. The usual rules of UK style hand knit gloves apply:

only two colours per glove (really hard to stick to)

rib cuff

date and initals above that

small geometric patterns

These constraints actually make the designing easier and more of a challenge simultaneously. 

I’ve been working out colour combinations, patterns and so on in a couple of sketchbooks, totally absolutely vital to the making process. I’m also planning four pairs so that they all sit along side each other so that’s quite complicated. It’s a help to look at gloves I’ve made already to see what I like about my favourite ones. This is the pin board in my studio (spare bedroom) at the moment.

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Here I’m planning out each pair in more detail with little tiny samples knitted over 24 stitches to get a good idea of how the colours are working together. This has been going on a few weeks:

 

I started knitting the cuffs of all fours pairs, both cuffs, and this is the result so far: I promise you they do come apart!

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I’ll post more pictures as I carry on knitting but it will be one pair at a time after this.

April newsletter

April newsletter… or should it be March? But it’s not an April Fool anyway as it’s far too late.

Lots of exciting things happened during March.

I went to a fashion show at the V& A museum ….

I finished a pair of very intricate gloves …

I designed and planned a set of four new gloves to be hand knitted

I am knitting a baby jacket

So you can see that life for the glove knitter has been busy again this month.

The John Alexander Skelton show
This was in the Raphael Gallery in March. He was invited to take part in a series of fashion shows held at the V & A over the years called Fashion in Motion:
https://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/fashion-in-motion

This is the link about his show:
https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/fashion-in-motion-john-alexander-skelton

John found my hand knitted gloves on this blog, particularly the Yorkshire ones here:

https://knittinggloves.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=664&action=edit

I worked with him last year to design and knit 2 pairs of hand knitted gloves which were in his show.
This season I made 20 pairs of hand warmers on the knitting machine and these are the ones being worn in the show this March. I’ve also got some orders for making more!

The March show had the men wearing the clothes coming into the gallery space led by a singer, who was Vivien Ellis.

Here’s some pics of the show.

The gloves I finished

These are for my friend Jenny and they take their patterns from a vintage pair that I saw in a picture in Text magazine. I have taken almost a year knitting 2 pairs which is just TOO long. Without a firm deadline I tend to drag my feet on any project.

They have been washed but not pressed.

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The next set
I’m planning an designing a set of at least 4 gloves that will be made for friends as I have done in the past. But this time, instead of letting them choose colours I am specifying the colours and patterns and the person they are for will be able to add their initials and a date. I’ll also knit each pair to size for each person by drawing round each hand.

I’ve been wanting to design a set of gloves for a while and for this set I’ve returned to my favourite source of images from nature – I’m working from a set of pictures taken in Wales and California of the beach and trees so the underlying theme is nature.
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I decided I wanted to use the best quality wool I have in my stash as I need up having to use some rather stringy British wool 3 play to complete the last pair. I have been given some Jaeger 3ply Botany wool and some Marion Foale pure wool 3 plays along with Regia 3 ply in my stash. So I have a very lovely palette of wools to design with. I have been posting some of the images from my sketch book on Instagram and they are here.

So the plan is to aim to knit a pair each month to have these complete for the autumn.

The baby jacket – my first top down garment
A friend’s daughter is having a a baby in the summer and as I knitted an Elizabeth Zimmerman Baby Surprise Jacket for her sister, I thought I’d do one for her baby too. However, the baby is due in the summer so I wanted to make a second size, which I don’t have the instructions for in BSJ. So I found a very nice free pattern on Ravelry, via a Tweet actually from Louise Tillbrook who’s pattern it is – Fuss Free Baby Jacket. Yes I know I should be designing it myself but if that happened the baby would be at school before it had anything hand knitted