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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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.

Hand in Glove exhibition

Last Saturday, 12th November, the exhibition of my gloves opened at the Bankfield Museum, Halifax, West Yorkshire. It is on until Saturday 14th January 2017. The Bankfield is open 10am – 4pm Tuesday  – Saturday but it will be closed over Christmas and the New Year.

It was great fun setting up and preparing. The curator, Angela Clare provided me with large fabric panels for the gloves (pinned on) which went into frames and I had 5 glass cases to fill with contextual material. In these are items on loan from the Collection of the Knitting & Crochet Guild where I volunteer, sketchbooks and design work, and items that I’ve designed for magazines. There are five information panels and two frames of vintage glove patterns. There’s also a frame with ball bands from some of the yarns I’ve used over the years. Most of it was planned weeks before so that I could be sure that there was enough material for the space. I used A1 boards and laid out the gloves and items for the cases at home ages ago so I knew that there was sufficient material.

I gave a talk to open the exhibition, just so that people could find out more about why I have knitted all these gloves and some of the research work behind them. I had notified the Huddersfield Examiner   who ran a piece about the exhibition about 10 days ago, and I also had an interview on Radio Leeds. I had Tweeted a bit too, but on the day there were 30 chairs in the hall and about 80 people! Lots more chairs were found so only a few people had to stand. So thank you, print and broadcast media, and social media for getting so many people there. It was very exciting and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

Here are some pictures:

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The first case with a variety of Sanquhar gloves: 2 pairs from the KCG Collection and one from the Bankfield Collection

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The Yorkshire case: gloves from the KCG Collection, with a first edition of the Old Hand knitter of the Dales, and knitting sticks from the KCG Collection.

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  I’m the one at the front, wearing a white poppy for peace

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With Angela Clare, from the Bankfield. She’s really lots taller than me!

Barbara, my fellow volunteer at the KCG has blogged about the exhibition here: and her blogs are always worth a read.

Trying to catch up

As in life, so in the digital life ….

no time to blog and too much to do.

Since I blogged last, which was a month ago, I have spent three days in London grandson sitting (FYI the Globe Theatre, the National Portrait Gallery, the Olympic pool and the Barbara Hepworth exhibition at the Tate Britain, and a river boat trip), had 8 days in the French and Spanish Pyrenees, and a long weekend in Venice at the Biennale.So lots of fun in all of those, not least a 15 hour walk, more or less pathless over a high pass used by desperate refugees in both the Spanish Civil War and WW2.

Knitting and craft wise I have started a new set of three pairs of  gloves –  more on that later, given a glove workshop in Blackpool at the Westcliffe Hotel where Paula Chew runs fabulous knitting breaks and holidays, run an evening of casting on and off for the Huddersfield branch of the KCG, been at Lee Mills in the collection a day or so, had a day at Yarndale on the KCG stand, and started preparing for a day with the Northern Costume Society where we are presenting about the KCG collection and where I am giving a talk about the history of knitted gloves. And for times when I can’t knit – like on European flights where the security doesn’t let on knitting needles in my experience, I’ve got some crochet hexagons on the go.

So, the gloves. These three are for three more friends, a husband and wife and the sister of one of them. They have northern connections and have travelled and worked in the Faroes so those are the patterns I’m using for two of them. The colours chosen and blue and green for the first pair. After a lot of looking at Faroes patterns, including a jacket from the KCG Collection, and some photos of knitwear in Torshavn, the capital, that my daughter took ages ago, when she was there, I’ve come up with small diamonds with the initials and date in a larger diamond on the back of the hands. This is a page of images from my sketch book:

The Faroes page in my sketchbook

The Faroes page in my sketchbook

This is how they look so far. I need to start the initials and dates so it’ll be a line by line exercise.

The Faroes gloves with their charts

The Faroes gloves with their charts

 

So that’s it for now, although I would like to tell you a bit about Yarndale, gardening gloves from Estonia and a fabulous exhibition of glass in Venice. In the meantime I need to press on with the knitting.