Woolly news

It is Wovember and the Wovember site is putting out some excellent stories, facts and photos about sheep and wool every day. I particularly loved this hilarious post about the antics of several tups. Perhaps it is only hilarious to other sheep owners but I think it really describes some of the ridiculousness that comes with owning any animals. And how can you not love an enormous ram called Bollocks? We should start a Bollocks fan club. Except that might go very wrong very fast with the internets being what it is. 

I will have an article in Wovember later in the month - the story of making our yarn and what's been behind that over the last few years.

In other very exciting news there is a new Irish online magazine coming out this month - Olann and. Olann is Irish for wool and it will promote Irish craft, in particular fibre crafts - knitting, spinning, crochet, weaving and dyeing. I will have a regular piece in the magazine - a diary about the trials and tribulations of keeping a small flock of sheep from a knitters perspective. I'm really looking forward to the magazine - it is the first of its kind and I would really love to see this project thrive! 

The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook

 My dear friend Felix has published her awesome book, the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, which was funded by a Kickstarter campaign she ran earlier this year. Felix has knitted a lot of incredible swatches inspired by the landscape and objects that surround her, and this is what the book will teach you how to do - to take inspiration from the things around you that mean something to you and to translate those things into a knitted format. 

 Some of the starting points for Felix's knitting include a walnut tree in her back garden, an old biscuit tin, brickwork in Reading where she lives and her sound recorder (my personal favourite).

 Felix's knitted swatches document her search for home, and this idea of rooting yourself in your home environment through knitting it is what I love about Felix's work. Her swatches are a record of places and things Felix loves that she has knitted into glorious colourwork patterns, some of which become sleeveless mittens and some legwarmers. They become garments full of history - representing the environment she lives in and travels through and the things that inhabit her life.

Felix has broken down her process into very easy to follow stages where she teaches the reader to really look at colour, to analyse what you are seeing and work out a way to translate it into knitting. It reminds me of learning to draw and paint in art college, and Felix's approach to knitting her world is very like that - learning to look at the things around you with fresh eyes, and creating beautiful patterns from those things. The swatches are like a sketchbook for knitters and Felix' book is all about the process of creating colourwork knitting and what you learn from that process rather than the finished result.

 It is a real workbook, a textbook for knitters, with so much practical information, so many tips and so much learning! (My favourite kind of book!) So if you are interested in knitting from the things that inspire you in your world, look no further and go and grab yourself a copy!

I talked to Felix about the process of making the book. Read on to hear all about it!

 First off Felix, congratulations on publishing the book! It’s an incredible achievement to write such a detailed tome in such a short period! How did you do it? Were there gallons of coffee and very little sleep involved?

Haha! Yes there was quite a lot of coffee and several late nights involved but on the whole working on the book was very pleasurable; I don’t like it when projects linger and grow stagnant, and the goodwill and positive energy of the Kickstarter backers really energised me to keep going with it and so that is what I did. I didn’t really want to work on anything else or think about anything else while the book was in progress. The only other thing I liked doing was gardening because being with my plants broke up long stretches of sitting at the computer and helped me to think about things in peace and quiet. I am really pleased that it worked out that way because I think the actual experiences of being in my garden helped me a lot with the Plants chapter of the book.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the structure before I began work on it and the blog tour that you were part of when the Kickstarter campaign was live helped me to understand what folks expected and wanted. The thing which seemed clearest was that breaking down the creative process into little chunks – inspiration, palettes, patterns and shading – would really help to make each step manageable. Once I had some idea how many pages each bit would take up, that gave me a word count. It was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle but once the whole shape of the book was in place, finishing the job was just a case of doing everything in bite-sized chunks rather than all at once. My wonderful partner Mark is a project manager and gave me some invaluable tips for handling the workload. His advice was to get one chapter made up right away so I could see how long it would take and to go from there. This turned out to be a super way of tackling things and once I had a chapter format to stick to, it was just a case of making the writing fit to the available page space.

The best thing about the book was the amazing team of comrades I had working on it with me; they really helped to turn my vision into an actual reality. The absolute high point was going to the printers with Nic and physically seeing the covers coming off the presses. There is something just wondrous about witnessing several months of work coming together into a final and beauteous object.

 What did you enjoy most about the process of writing the book? I wonder did the knitting become tedious or whether you managed to keep your knitting mojo throughout - and if so, how!?

I honestly did not lose mojo; in truth I became more and more engaged with the swatching process as I was working on the book, and the swatches got longer and longer and more involved as I got to know the process more. Writing about a process for others really clarifies it in your own mind, and what I love about the swatches is that – towards the end – I just felt so happy and confident with each new idea. To be honest I was a bit sad when I cast off the last swatch and have already cast on another one because I miss the process so much!
I did run out of time for knitting things, though, and was saved by my two amazing comrades Claire Weaver and Liz Ashdowne who knitted the sample pairs of fingerless mitts featured in the book. They each did an amazing job and we were able to feature the mitts in the photo shoot which would never have been possible had I not had help – there was just too much knitting to do to manage it all myself! 

The Hops Legwarmers were a big task and I did get mildly fed up when it came to weaving in all those ends, however I promised myself a tasty pint to celebrate their completion which proved a fitting and appropriate incentive! Also, who can really lose mojo when there is a pair of turbo insane beer themed legwarmers to be gained at the end of a knitting mission?

What is your favourite swatch in the book and why?

The EDDIE swatch based on my little handheld recorder is my favourite one!

In searching for patterns and colours in such an unlikely place, I ended up making something which really celebrates my personal relationship with this tool. The whole designing process somehow deepened my relationship with the recorder and made me see it in new ways. For example I like that the transport buttons worked in different greys and blacks are not entirely clear, as this reflects how the real buttons on the recorder have become worn away in time; that the glowing red RECORD button is so striking against the greys and blacks, and that this reflects the little frisson of excitement I feel when amazing sounds are being captured... 

I also like that there is a pattern in there which relates to the settings I use when I am out recording. All these details offer an expanded view of what a pattern can be and how it can relate to everyday life – patterns can be based on use and habit, for example; patterns can celebrate special moments or memories like recording a beautiful sound... working on the swatch made me crave a massive hoody with all of those ideas about sound and its capture emblazoned on it in fantastic stranded colourwork!
I also really wanted to show in the book that you don’t have to start with something typically beautiful like a sunset or a snowflake; that the most unassuming objects can contain hidden beauty and be used as an inspiration source. I feel the EDDIE swatch does that well, and I was very hopeful when writing the book that readers would possess similar objects – mass-produced consumer electronics – and that reading about my little recorder and how I used it as knitting inspiration might give them new ways of seeing those devices.

 Your brother Fergus Ford took all the incredible photos for the book - they are just beautiful. What was it like to work with a sibling?

Ferg’s real passion is Wedding Photography; he makes the most amazing films of people’s weddings and photos which really capture the feelings and atmosphere of the day.
Although that may seem a weird match for a knitting book, it’s actually perfect because Ferg’s experience with photographing weddings meant he really saw how to get emotions and textures into the photos. It was important to me that the knitting looked good and clear, but also the feeling of friendliness and invitation to knit had to be there and I think he has captured that really well. I especially like the photos of me holding up a finished swatch – I hope every knitter can relate to the feeling of pride and triumph in one’s work that we were trying to show there.

I think his photos of the Things are also really great; the tin looks so tinny, the book so papery, the socks so well worn and darned... knitters think with a sense of touch and Ferg’s photos speak to that. 

He is a really sensitive photographer and I also like his photo of my hands resting on my camera, because somehow that photo tells the story of the many hours I have spent wandering this town and taking pictures of its brickwork.

As siblings I think we are remarkably similar and we share a sentimental outlook on people and places. One thing that was really interesting about our collaboration was that when I started with a very fixed picture in my head things went less smoothly than when I started out with a feeling or an idea. We had so much fun working out the best way to try and set up the creative process – an afternoon of playing with pencils and paper and photos to try and create the right atmosphere of embarking on a creative knitting project. I love what we ended up with and I think it is because Ferg sees the feelings in photos as well as he sees the light and the colours.  

Thanks for talking to me Felix! It's great to hear about the whole process and to hear how much enthusiasm and joy you had throughout the entire making of the book. I love the book, it is both an amazing resource for a way of working with wool and a beautiful object in itself, and the sense of celebration, wonder and love for your surroundings really comes through in the gorgeous photos and your great text.

If you would like to buy yourself a copy of Felix's book you can pick one up from Felix here. 

All images copyright Felicity Ford.