Last year I went to Estonia, my first visit. I attended the second Estonian Craft Camp in the beautiful campus of the Olustvere School and Manor. Estonia take ‘traditional’ crafts very seriously and have used them as part of nation building in a similar way to other countries such as Finland and Norway.
So this year I’m spreading the word about it, as it was one of the best weeks I’ve had for a long time. The crafts were fascinating, the surroundings were interesting, historic and beautiful and the people were wonderful. So I’m recommending it most wholeheartedly. Have a look at the official information here:
I’ve been working on this crochet blanket for, probably, 10 years, perhaps more. It was supposed to be my ‘easy’ project, that I could do when talking to friends or in front of the tele. It was also started with the intention of using a large bag of wool, mostly left over from my Masters course in the mid 80s, and a batch of indigo dyed wool. This wool was in hanks, very overspun, grey, originally from Craftsman’s Mark, a yarn firm that some of you may remember, which was owned and run by Morfudd Roberts. This I indigo dyed to various shades of dark blue.
The idea behind this blanket was to be quite improvised looking. I was freed from being too neat with crochet by the book, Louisa Calder’s Creative Crochet in which she shows visible joins in colours and other irregularities. Some of the reviews on the Amazon page are interesting – some people ‘get it’ and some don’t.
Anyway, the whole project has been a design challenge as the quantities of yarn seem to have altered – more indigo dyed wool to use, then less, then more on one side than the other, then the whole thing getting far too big and so on. It started as a series of pieces and then got added to with strips being crocheted for the sides, and so on.
I am pleased with it though, although I think the wools used for the final edgings are too new and bright, but I’m hoping that I’ll stop noticing this in time.
The final round was going to be done in crab stitch, which I like to use as a finished edge, but I had a brain wave and decided to use a purple wool boucle for the last round. I think I must have dyed this too, as there’s quite a lot of it and it’s pure wool, not easily obtained now. It completes the piece. Here it is:
I’m pleased with this – it looks like I intended it to look, by and large.
I now have a large bag of hand spun yarns left from my mother -what am I going to make with them?
I’ve had a page of prompts, one for every day of the year to ensure that I blog more frequently, if not every day. The prompt for today is this:
Ready, set, go
Set a timer for ten minutes. Open a new post. Start the timer, and start writing. When the timer goes off, publish.
So this is it:
The exhibition that I’ve been working on for nearly a year went live last week and was launched at Vogue Knitting Live in New York last weekend. The exhibition is about Sanquhar gloves and brings together a lot of information about them in one place. The link is here:
A great textile-y start to 2016. Last weekend, 9 – 10th January 2016, I caught a couple of textile exhibitions in London just before they ended. In fact, I went down specially for them, as one in particular had work that I’d only seen in books.
The first one I went to was the Fabric of India at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
This was a huge show, taking up all of the galleries that the V & A use for their temporary shows. It was pretty comprehensive too, covering work from thousands of years ago to that produced by contemporary fashion designers. I watched a video about Ghandi and Khadi cloth which was interesting and I enjoyed the contemporary work too.
Then it was a 2 mile walk to St James’s to the White Cube Gallery in Mason’s Yard, itself worthy of a special trip, to see both the yard, which appears little changed since the time of Dickens, and the large modernist building that houses the White Cube in the middle of it. (You can Google images of it, but I wasn’t able to download an image to put here, sorry).
The exhibition, entitled ‘Losing the Compass’ featured textile work by a range of artists and included selection of quilts which were labelled as Amish and Gee’s Bend. As I have only seen Gee’s Bend quilts in the book of the same name, I wanted to see some of these in the flesh as it were. They were displayed in a very odd way, I thought and you can see it here.
Most of the quilts laid out on large steps overlapping with each other, which didn’t allow the viewer to see the whole quilt.
On the opposite side of the gallery three were hung from a single point on the gallery wall. I was reminded of the dormitory of one of my favourite French refuges, the Marialles, where I saw the same thing done with the blanket for each mattress in the communal dormitory. I think this is quite stylish for a fleece blanket, as each one has a large eyelet so it can go on a nail above each bed, but as a way of displaying a pieced quilt I think it is deeply flawed. Firstly the quilt can’t be seen in its entirety, because of the deep folds that are created, and secondly, and possibly more importantly, the quilt is put under a huge strain as its weight is being supported by one point.
So although it was wonderful to have the chance to see these textiles overall it was a rather frustrating experience. There was no context or provenance given for the quilts and I couldn’t help contrasting both the way in which they were displayed and the lack of information with what might have been had they been shown in the gallery of the Quilters’ Guild in York. This ironically closed at the end of October last year due to low visitor numbers but was the site of some excellent displays of historic and contemporary quilts. You can see images of it here.
The third exhibition I visited is on for a while longer and that was at the Whitechapel Gallery about a movement called the Kibbo Kift. This was a display of memorabilia which included banners and costume as well as papers, photos and letters. You can see some of it here:
I’m at my daughter’s house and this smallish blanket is on the sofa. I made it perhaps 10 years ago and it’s rather interesting. The design references old pieced quilts such as those made by the Amish and the Welsh, with the five panel centre. Colour is limited and the fibres are natural all hallmarks of these textiles. It’s all wool, mostly aran weight with a variety of hand spun and commercial spun used in the borders. The yarns are indigo dyed, by me and include some greys and dark grey natural wools. These take indigo or other colours beautifully.
The central panels are machine knitted on my chunky machine and were then joined, a further section knitted and then the crochet border worked round. The corners are mitred and the edge finished with a line of crab stitch, one of my favourite ways of ending crochet.
Here are some images, one of which is duplicated and won’t go away!
I’ve picked up on a document put out by WordPress which suggests a prompt for every day of the year for a blog post. Don’t worry, there’s no way I’m going to start posting every day, but perhaps a little more often than I have in the past.
The suggested theme for today is ‘teacher’s pet’ which I’m taking as a start for generally thinking about teaching and learning. I, like so many of my generation, learnt to knit from my mother. She tried and tried to teach me, over two or three years when I was 5 or so. I am left handed , but it didn’t really occur to anyone that you should or could knit anything other than right handed, so that’s what I did, eventually. I also can have very sweaty hands, and the resulting damp or wet, tight mass of yarn and needles was not good. Once I had got the knack, or the penny had dropped, I was away, knitting doll’s clothes, mittens (at school) and a jumper for myself before I was 11. Crochet was acquired as a skill in my teens but in between times I did plenty of French knitting (i-cord on a cotton reel), lots of embroidery, which I loved to work and small amounts of tapestry, the needle worked sort. I learnt to machine knit when I bought a machine in the late 1970s, and that was a battle too, the instruction books being in poorly translated Japanese and YouTube not having been invented at the time.
In the context of knitting and other textiles, I had no formal teaching at all until I was in my 30s when I went on the Knitwear and Knitted Fabric Design MA at Trent Polytechnic, now Nottingham Trent University. I was a proficient machine and hand knitter but had no idea about design or designing. That is what I learnt at Trent although the balance between learning for myself and being taught was a fine one. There I learnt about using design concepts, colour, garment shape and construction, markets, fashion forecasting, promotion and a ton of other stuff. It was a massive sacrifice at the time, involving a weekly commute away from my school age family, and taking a large financial risk. However, it was probably one of the best things I have done, over the years.
Fast forward 30 years or so, and teaching and learning has changed a lot. Now we are all experts. Oddly enough I wrote about this some weeks ago, and then didn’t post it, but now it seems to be a natural follow on from this piece. It will be the next post.
I have many resolutions for 2016, one of them being to extol the virtues of machine knitting wherever possible. Over the New Year an old friend of mine appeared wearing a very lovely dark navy blue sweater with a roll neck. It was beautifully made and proportioned, and machine knitted in fine dense pure wool. It was perfect for the occasion where we were part of a group of friends staying high in the Lake District at Honister Hause Youth Hostel. We were at 1100 feet and not that far below the snow line so good functional warm clothes were essential even inside, especially when we first arrived.
Earlier today I had the chance to look at this garment in detail and find out where it had come from. In the past, I have knitted garments for him and also given him small knitted gifts like the small throw that I blogged about some while ago (I had trouble finding it, might reorganise in the next few days) and he is also the recipient of a pair of my hand knitted gloves. In short, I am confident that he has good taste in knitwear. I was curious about this latest model but he does sail and so I knew that he would know places to buy proper gear. It turned out that he just did a ‘heavy duty google’ for fisherman’s jumpers and this was what appeared.
I had a good look at it this morning and took some pictures of the fabric and the structure and also the label. It is made by a Danish firm that I have not come across before called SNS Herning. The web site shows their range of garments which is extensive for men, but rather limited for women. It is obvious from the site that they are pitching at a fashion market as well as to those who want functional clothing and the stockists in London are in key locations such as Redchurch Street, home to Labour and Wait, one of my favourite shops and Lambs Conduit Street, another place for great small shops.
The web site tells of the machines on which the garments are knitted and also a bit about the people who knit them and in many ways the set up is similar to that of small scale weavers such as Melin Tregwynt and Solva Woollen Mill, both in West Wales, who batch produce high quality goods using mechanised looms but hand finishing processes. Interestingly, the SNS Herning sweater label said that it was knitted in Denmark and made up in Latvia, presumably to keep costs down but it could also be to do with access to machinery or people with particuar skills.
So here’s the pictures I took:
The rather wonderful retro back neck label
The sleeve and shoulder
A rather dark shot of the hem
The fabric is constructed from a dense double jersey (the plain sections) interspersed with bands of a textured stitch, for you machine knitters a tuck stitch, which adds both elasticity and a textural interest. The garment is put together with a heavy overlock, often associated with cheaper quality knitwear but I was impressed by the superb quality of this manufacture which is really solid and immaculately done.
And check the label! The whole thing a great advert for machine produced knitwear.
A while ago I bought two crochet blankets from a vintage shop in Huddersfield. They are both large, generous double bed size and nicely made. They were a lot of work for someone and are in a variety of mainly synthetic yarns, which does mean that they can go in the washing machine easily. One is mainly red and the other mainly purple. I have had them in the house on the wall, the red one at the top of the stairs and the purple one on the landing where they looked pretty striking. They hang well on metal picture hooks one in every square onto the picture rail. However, they’ve made the journey to our caravan in the far west of Wales where they are now brightening up the rather beige sofas. Here they each are with a closer shot of the square too.
Vintage crochet blankets
Interestingly, the red one has the squares set parallel with the sides but the purple one has the squares set on the diagonal so that the edges are serrated.
I’ve made several granny square blankets but over the last 10 years or so I’ve had a crochet blanket on the go in rows of double crochet (single in the States I think?). The idea was to use up a large bag of wool yarns, mostly left over from my Knitwear Design Master’s course, which I completed in 1986. So the continued existence of this yarn was and is a testament to whatever mothproofing it has had, and to the fact that I rarely throw anything away (especially yarn).
This blanket was supposed to be my ‘easy’ making – that I could do when chatting to friends or perhaps in the car and so on. It started life in small sections, some of which were plain, and some striped and then got added to in a purposely random fashion with a strip down either side of plain blue indigo and so on.
My work in (very long) progress
The design inspiration came from several sources, including a piece o West African Kente cloth that was brought back for me and a crochet blanket seen on the bed at a friend’s house when staying overnight. I really wanted the overall look to be lively with not too much neatness and order and I think that I have achieved that, although the individual stitches are properly formed. I took the time to sew the side strips onto the main central block while I was in West Wales last week, where the days seem longer, and now I’m ready to finish it off with an edging down the sides and then one last stripe of bright red all round.
If you’ve read this far, thank you and best wishes for a lovely festive season.
In September the plan was to knit three pairs in three months – one in September, October and November, leaving December free to do more Xmas-y things … well the road to hell is paved with good intentions so here I am at the end of November with two pairs complete and one still to knit in December. Artificial deadlines are just not the same as proper external ones.
Still, the pair I’ve just finished have turned out rather nicely, I’m hoping that they fit well too. I’m showing some pictures of them with one or two ends waiting to be darned in – that can be done at any time though without daylight or any superhuman effort.
(Brief aside). Mentioning daylight, I have just bought a Luxo work lamp. As my eyes get worse and the days get darker, I need more and more light to see what I’m doing – that’s true for hand and machine knitting and any sewing – in fact more or less everything apart from gardening and doing yoga. Some while ago, I was given a Luxo light from an architect’s office that no longer needed them – it’s all on screen now. I have since bought another two Luxos – in addition to the rather ancient Habitat one (red) and an IKEA one (purple) attached to various tables. So wherever I am in the house, I’ve got a well lit spot. Luxo is the light that is dancing in the famous animation at the start of Pixar films, in case you didn’t know (I didn’t either) but they are lovely lights, very stable and not too industrial looking. I prefer them to the Anglepoise which I checked out while in London a week or so ago.
So with my knitting deadline a month late, on Monday 30th November I tried to get them finished. The first picture shows them in the morning and the second one at the end of the day – actually early Tuesday morning. So in the day I knitted three fingers and started the first thumb. That wasn’t non stop by any means – I did other things as well and while I was knitting I listened to the Zola adaptation on Radio 4 (harder than you might think while knitting gloves).
Missing three fingers and both thumbs early Monday morning
Late evening Monday, all fingers present and correct and the start of a thumb
The completed gloves, in need of ends darning in and a press
(The colour differences due to using daylight or flash on my phone’s camera I think)
A note about the patterns – they are all Faroese taken from an actual Faroe jacket in the KCG Collection or a book of Faroes patterns in the KCG library. Most of them have a float of 5 stitches, one more than ‘allowed’ by Elizabeth Zimmerman, but meaning that the patterns often use multiples of 3s and 5s and are therefore really easy to work.