The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is such a different way to approach stranded knitting - was there a specific event or experience that led to the system for converting everyday objects and sights into colourwork patterns?
I can't say it was one specific event or experience. I do remember staying with my friend Kate about five years ago and seeing her Alice Starmore book of Fair Isle Knitting. I recall being absolutely blown away by a section in that book showing an inspiration source with a knitted interpretation beside it; it's a very small section but it spoke to something in me.
During my stay we went to New Lanark mill and picked blueberries for a crumble from the bushes in the nearby valley. I also filled a bag with shades of New Lanark yarn in heathery purples and greens and plums and pinks and cast on a hat celebrating the inspiration of the blueberries and that wondrous afternoon. My patterns didn't show up very well and I was gutted to discover that translating the 3D world into stranded colourwork was much harder than I had assumed!
Another time I dyed some yarn with walnuts from outside St. Mary's Butts - a local landmark here in Reading. I knitted the yarn into socks celebrating the patterns of the brickwork and there was something delightful about walking around my town in socks inspired by - and physically dyed by - bits of my urban landscape. When I was invited to act as guest patron for Shetland Wool Week in 2013 I wanted to share how seeing the textiles from Fair Isle and Shetland had inspired me to start knitting stranded colourwork from my own environment.
I came up with the Quotidian Colourwork class idea, and then spent six or seven months working out how to show other knitters my creative process. It was in those quiet months before Shetland Wool Week that the system was born! This is the same system which I use in my Quotidian Colourwork classes, and which underpins the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook.
What do you hope people who read your book come away with?
I hope it will give people a fresh perspective on everyday and familiar objects. I hope it offers practical tools for translating the world into stranded colourwork. And I hope that people come away feeling encouraged to celebrate their favourite things and places in stranded colourwork! I also hope that people come away feeling braver about striking out on their own amazing knitting adventures.
What kind of inspirational objects do your students bring along to your workshops? Are there some that are easier to translate into colourwork then others?
People bring the most wonderful things! Photos of homegrown veg; old button boxes; tins; favourite books; patterned china... one very special thing about the class is hearing why people have chosen their objects... it makes you realise how much stuff we have around us which inspires us all the time.
I think that although anything can be celebrated in stranded colourwork there are definitely things which can make that translation more complex. For example I have noticed that students sometimes bring two or three things because they can't choose just one! I love this enthusiasm but it can be difficult to work from several things at once; you know, it can be a bit overwhelming.
I also think family photos can be hard as people are tempted to try and capture every detail of the people they love which is - as you can imagine - quite a tall order! I think choosing just one object and then really going into that one thing in some depth can be easier than bringing lots of things, and an actual object can be easier than a photo because you can turn it around in your hands, hold it up to the yarn to find colour matches and look at it from different angles. In my own work I have found that if I'm working from photos it helps to have lots of images of one inspiration source all taken from different angles; you can find a lot of shapes and patterns that way!
All that said, I really enjoy working with my students to get the best out of whatever they bring to Quotidian Colourwork classes and sometimes the best part of a Quotidian Colourwork workshop is seeing a huge stack of stuff that someone is really enjoying exploring; or working to find just the right shades to describe a wonderful family moment. Everyone has a slightly different creative approach and I love the challenge of finding new ways to support different learning styles.
What was the biggest challenge in putting the book together?
The biggest challenge was getting the system laid out just right. I wanted to offer a framework and guidance without being too proscriptive and to encourage knitters to take risks and to find pleasure in their own creative knitting process. I knew this might be a bit tricky because knitting books necessarily make clear distinctions between doing it RIGHT and doing it WRONG! This is essential when you are making a sweater that requires hours and hours of knitting! You want a good fit! It has to be RIGHT! But when it comes to designing your own stranded colourwork based on things you love, the error margins need to be much more generous and forgiving. That RIGHT/WRONG format will shut down little ideas before they get off the ground! For guiding swatching, process, mistakes and exploring, a different instructional style is needed. It took trial and error to find the right voice for explaining The KNITSONIK System. However I've had lots of positive feedback from people who have the book so I think it was worth the effort!
How does your work with sounds fit together with this book?
The impetus to celebrate the everyday world around me started with my work with sounds. In my work as a soundartist I share everyday sounds in ways that highlight their specialness. I like to think that my stranded colourwork swatches do the same thing; for example after looking at the swatch based on my battered little plastic digital recorder (EDDIE) many of its little details stand out more. It seems more special when it is photographed together with its matching swatch.
Amedee Ozenfant once said "Art is the Demonstration that the Ordinary is Extraordinary" and I love that quote and agree with it. I love highlighting the specialness in things that are sometimes overlooked, underloved, tender and ordinary whether I am working in knitting (KNIT) or in sound (SONIK)! Just as in knitting there is a craft to recording sounds and stitching them together. You have to have the right tools and you have to take your time and to think about textures and structure.
To give a specific example of how knitting and sound fit together in the book, one of the subjects I chose for my stranded colourwork adventures was also the focus for a documentary radio show I made for the BBC. I wanted to make a radio show celebrating the road on which I most often drive and I spent the summer of 2010 walking around that road, interviewing other people who use it, recording the bands who play at festivals around the road and so on. In the radio show I celebrate the sonic textures of the road and my relationships with the other drivers who use it. Although the swatch I created from the same road is a very different kind of record of place and texture, I am not sure that I would have ended up knitting that road if I hadn't already fallen in love with it through sound.
On one of your recent podcasts, you talked about how this project has opened up a new range of opportunities because you have some financial space to think about what to do next. Can you give us any hints about what lies around the corner for you?
I'm currently focusing on completing the album of sounds and songs that accompanies the book - the KNITSONIK Audible Textures Resource - it's taken longer than I'd hoped because managing book sales has been a bit more work than I anticipated (ahem)! I'm really enjoying getting back to more sound recording and editing for that.
I'm also doing quite a bit of teaching this year and expanding my class repetoire to include new concepts growing out of the original Quotidian Colourwork class. As well as our workshop on 26th March I'll be working with Brenda Dayne on our Gwlana retreat in May and teaching at Shetland Wool Week 2015 in October. I love teaching and am really enjoying opportunities to do more of it in coming months!
In terms of other long term plans I don't want to share too much but I'm thinking a lot about ways of applying stranded colourwork to garments because as every knitter knows, the ultimate fun in designing your own amazing patterns comes from wearing them.
Many thanks to Felix for taking the time to answer our questions, and share a bit more about the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork process. Tickets are still available for her Quotidian Colourwork Workshop, happening on Thursday, 26th March 2015 from 6:30-9:30 pm at Homemade London. We hope to see you there!