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!

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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.

March newsletter

Hello again!

I could say this newsletter is late because of the snow … which actually wouldn’t be true at all as the snow has not held me up! It has stopped me making a trip to the very west of Wales where I have a caravan overlooking St David’s Head but that’s all now put back a week so I’ve had more time at home not less.

So what’s being going on knitting wise?

I’m machine knitting at the moment. This is a fine 3ply wool sweater for my partner, Gordon, to wear under his McNair walking shirt, a Christmas present from me.

The McNair shirt is made in Slaithwaite, a village near Huddersfield where we live, and is a great example of local small scale production. You can read all about it here, on their rather slick web site.   The shirts are not cheap and raise all the questions about how much we are prepared to pay for our clothes, showing it is that global capitalism has made mass production of so many goods so cheap that we can treat them as disposable blah blah … I’m sure most of you are familiar with the arguments on this. Anyway, it was a lot of money, like anything made in the UK that pays the maker anything more than living wage.

Gordon had been wearing an old cashmere jumper of my father’s under it. This goes back to when I worked in the knitwear industry and sometimes visited factories that would have garments on offer, so this is a beautiful garment, classic bottle green etc but with a moth hole right in the middle of the front, probably where some food or drink’s been spilled down it. No amount of mending, visible or invisible, is going to restore it to its former glory, but as an underlayer it’s perfect. However, a change is needed from time to time even if all these wool garments do hardly ever need to be washed, hence the call to action.

I suggested buying a merino base layer but when I admitted that I have some 3 ply pure machine washable wool on cone, a rare beast indeed, an order was placed. So it’s almost there, not quite enough for a photo though. I love machine knitting but as a process it’s not very photogenic, (unlike say hand spinning) which is a shame so here’s some not very attractive pics: (I don’t think machine knitting is meant for blogs or Instagram).

This is the start – the tension swatch, the working out and notes including the special green ruler for reading off stitch and row gauge. And while I was working out the shape of the garment, I had to search for a sleeve top shape and sound everything I needed on the Knitting & Crochet Guild web site here under the heading ‘Finding out more about designing’. It’s a mine of information and highly recommended although it’s not what I’d term designing, more pattern drafting.

Here’s some pics of the work in progress:

The blue is the garment and the yellow and green are waste yarn, used a lot on the machine.

Machine knitting is a great way of producing good quality garments quickly, or it can be combined with hand knitting or crochet to make items like blankets such as this one, featured some while ago. The central panels are machine knitted on my chunky machine and the deep border is double crochet. The yarn is all my own indigo dyeing, some over natural greys and dark greys. Design inspiration Amish and Welsh quilts by the way.

I’m also carrying on with hand knitting gloves for my friend Jenny a process not without upset as I had to undo about 3 hours of work when I realised that the yarn I was using was just not the right thickness. I do my utmost to use only stash yarn for these gloves and I’d run out of the perfect vintage pure wool 3 ply in the exact right shade of red, so I put in a heavier red which didn’t work. It’s on the white background, 2 pics, below. I then found a very thin pure wool on cone, and have continued with that. All is ok and progress is again being made.

And I’m also thinking about exhibitions, workshops and a lot of travel …. and hosting Beth Brown-Reinsel at the end of the month – thanks for the heads up Beth in her recent newsletter.

and wondering what I can do with this gorgeous yarn, a present from someone who knows I like to knit with 3 ply pure wool, (and there’s none better than Marion Foale’s) here:

 

I almost forgot to say that I have finished one or two of my many half finished projects …  a couple of Estonian wristwarmers.

January 2018 newsletter

This comes with best greetings for the New Year. I’m planning to do lots of great projects and go to lots of great places this year in my knitting life. Let’s see how many actually happen. In the meantime what have I been doing?

Gloves for Jenny

A pair of gloves for my friend Jenny. I showed the cuff for one of these gloves in the November newsletter, but they have progressed since then. The name and dates are knitted in and I am progressing up the thumbs here:

These are really complicated and inspired by a historic pair that are in a collection in London. There are so few pairs of these two colour knitted gloves still in existence that it’s really exciting to find some that I haven’t seen before. These were pictured in Text, the magazine of the Textile Society a few years ago and I think they have the same sort of charm as nineteenth century cross stitch samplers.

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Marianne Clarke’s gloves from 1835 in the Hopkins Collection, School of Historical Dress, London

Socks on circular needles

This is the first time that I’ve knitted socks for a long while so I decided to do them on circulars in the same way as I knit gloves. I used to be a dab hand on a set of four double pointed needles by the way. They are for my partner who suddenly announced that he would like a pair of socks. He makes specific requests very rarely so I thought I should take notice. I dug out some red four ply yarn from a charity shop that contains wool and some silk and should therefore be fine for socks. As usual when I knit anything like this – socks, mittens and so on, I went for a copy of Woolcraft. If you don’t know this publication which ran for years published by Patons then I can’t recommend that you find one as soon as possible. I’m well down the feet at the moment and aiming to keep going.

Copies of Woolcraft from the collection of the Knitting & Crochet Guild

I have plans for a glove exhibition perhaps later in the year or in 2019 and will keep you all in the loop as these develop … and plans to knit more gloves …

 

In case you don’t get these, here are links to the web sites for some of the newsletters that I’ve had in the last few days and are well worth a look depending on your exact interests.

Schoolhouse Press, includes a re-released pattern for EZs sideways mitts in garter stitch featured in this blog here.

Knitter’s Review  Clara Parke’s excellent account of yarns

Hand/Eye magazine (not knitting but some very inspirational work, mostly textiles)

Textile Art  Lots of practical and free advice on your career as a textile artist

Beth Brown-Reinsel With lots of information about her classes and travels

December newsletter

 

Only a bit late this month!
I’ve been far too busy this month machine knitting. I’ve been knitting a batch of hand warmers for John Alexander Skelton ready for his next show early in the New Year. Keen readers of this blog (!) will remember that a couple of pairs of gloves knitted by me and my daughter were part of his last collection. I blogged about these earlier this year: https://wp.me/p2ctxi-Og

There are images of the show here – do go and look – you won’t see anything like it.

https://www.wallpaper.com/fashion/john-alexander-skelton-shelley-inspired-collection-is-poetry-in-motion

This time though, we agreed that I would machine knit which then meant that I could produce more, so I have done. Suddenly batch knitting felt like being back in the 1980s when I had a small business producing garments on the machine. When you have to do the same thing repeatedly – 40 thumbs and 64 fingers – for example, you find ways to refine and speed up the process along the way. Anyway, these samples were hand related so not big pieces and very enjoyable to do, although it has to be said that yoga was essential  last night to straighten out my poor old back and neck. The big plus of all this activity was that I have caught up on my Radio 4 listening.

I have been supporting Knit for Peace in the UK for a while now but I subscribe to Beth Brown-Reinsel’s newsletter here: and this post caught my eye. 

The Project Peace is an initiative that Beth mentions, organised by Christina Campbell, who has Knit Along with a pattern available on Ravelry

https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/project-peace-2017

and a blog at TheHealthyKnitter where she shares ideas for doing peaceful things

So I will leave you with this inspirational project. We have to do what we can in these troubled times. I joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament yesterday as a non knitting way of peace promotion, although I’m more than slightly embarrassed to admit that I haven’t been a member for years.

Seasons greetings and have fun over the festive season, and a peaceful and enjoyable New Year.