Archive | September, 2010
Jamiesons and Smith wool shop Lerwick

Wool Week – 11th to 17th October 2010

11th – 17th October is ‘Wool Week’. Wool week is a campaign backed by HRH Prince of Wales to promote the benefits of woolen products – especially products made from British wool. Events supported by wool organisations, industry associations and the textile industry across the world will be taking place all week in different locations around the country to communicate the importance of wool. The Sheep Parade in Covent Garden Piazza hosted by Lyle and Scott on the 12th October is a must see.

I was saddened to learn that it costs the British farmer more to shear his sheep than he would get for the fleece. A fleece is worth as little as £1 to a UK farmer so many fleeces are burnt. It can be disputed that these fleeces are too rough and scratchy for the fashion market so for what else could the fibre be used? The aim of this campaign is to educate retailers and the public about the properties and benefits of British wool and promote products such as carpets and rugs and insulation within building construction which would ideal for the coarser sheep breeds. The Prince’s Campaign argues that the eco and environmental benefits of British wool outweigh those of synthetic and man-made fibres. Buy British wool and you cut the carbon footprint of wool imported into the country. Wool used in interiors is more fire resistant and more resilient to wear and tear than man made fibres and will repell dust mites.

On the high street there is an increasing trend for ‘fast fashion’ where synthetic fabric is choosen as a cheaper alternative to keep up to date with the latest fashion fads. A study from Defra shows nearly 2 million tonnes of textiles go into UK landfill every year. Wool will bio degrade unlike oil based synthetics. The Campaign for wool is getting brands such as M&S and John Lewis involved in Wool week who have promised to endorse products made from wool. It is hoped that other high street brands will follow suit to help British farmers boost the demand for British wool.

I am passionate about hand knitting and celebrating traditional crafts. You have probably guessed that I am a bit of a British wool fan so I am very excited about wool week. As a knitter, fibre and texture is essential in the design process and I always favour wool and natural fibres. I enjoy knitting with Bluefaced Leicester. It is one of my favourite yarns. Rowan’s DK Bluefaced Leicester yarn is a wonderfully soft and bouncy yarn which is ideal for cable and aran patterns. The natural creamy ecru colour is fantasic but it also takes up dyes beautifully. Another favourite is Black Welsh (again available from Rowan). It is an amazing rich brown/black. Other yarns are also available such as the new Bluefaced Leceister boucle. I’m not normally a boucle fan but this yarn is special and I may just keep this on display in my house to have a quick squeeze and a sniff when passing as it is very sheepy indeed! Rowan is celebrating wool week by launching a range of knitting patterns using their Pure Life British Sheep Breeds yarns. They are available to download on the 1st October. Click HERE for more info. Rowan are also hosting a range of other events to mark wool week. See their news and events page for more info.

I am also a fan of Shetland yarns for their colours – natural colours and dyed. On a visit to Shetland (see HalfandHalf’s post below) we popped into yarn brookers Jamieson and Smith and Jamiesons of Shetland. If you are in the area I highly reccommend a visit. Both shops have yarns available to order online. Another favourite of mine is the Wendsleydale Longwool Sheep Shop whose stall I like to visit and stock up from at iKnit and the knitting and stitching show. Other sheep breeds to keep an eye out for are the North Ronaldsay seaweed eating sheep from Orkney, Jacobs and Suffolks. Rachael Matthews and Louise Harries haberdashery shop in Bethnal Green, London ‘Prick Your Finger’ is a great place to source rare British breed yarns and yarns spun by small farmer producers.

I know that I am preaching to the converted to the Outcast knitters but for those who still need convincing that wool is wonderful, I would like to echo the words of John Thorley, Chairman of the Prince of Wales Wool project and say ‘Give fleece a chance!’

British Wool Week

Follow The Campaign for wool on twitter:
Observer: It’s Not Easy Being Green
British Marketing Board

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In the loop 2

… a conference, held at the new Shetland Museum on the waterfront in Lerwick in September. It was billed as a ‘second interdisciplinary conference, proposing an exploration of knitting from a broad range of practical and theoretical perspectives within the theme of tradition and renewal.’

But what was it like?

Well – stimulating … funny … friendly … intense … divided into themed sessions over the four days. And some of the ones that seemed as if they’d be dull turned out to be interesting because the speaker was enthusiastic and clear and engaging. And sometimes the reverse happened. It was jointly curated by Linda Newington from Winchester and Carol Christiansen from Shetland, and they’d pulled together a range of speakers who looked at the subject from different angles.

Susan Crawford was the keynote speaker for the first session – Tradition and Renewal – and she talked about whether nostalgia is really such a bad thing. This whole session was to do with looking to the past for precedents and inspiration. Nostalgia was seen as a disease in the 1600s, and an indication of suicidal tendencies in the 1800s, but Susan has worked out her own manifesto which says that Tradition + Reinterpretation + Progression = Renewal. And that nostalgia’s not negative but a positive force in the design process, linking to the past while moving ideas forward.

The other speakers in this session talked about

:: anonymous and invisible Shetland knitters, and an attempt to trace their histories

:: fisherman’s dags (fingerless gloves to you and me) but made baggy and symmetrical so they can be shaken off easily and can be put on any way round so they don’t wear out so quickly

:: the Queen Susan shawl – one of the talks that didn’t appeal but was really interesting because of how good the speaker was. A single photo of a hugely complex shawl was posted on Ravelry last year with a request for help to work out the pattern. And within ten weeks, a group of knitters who never met, managed to reverse engineer the shawl and publish the 73 page pattern online.

:: plans to fuse Shetland lace knitting with light. About a community-based project to fuse traditional craft with new technology to create public art for the arts centre currently being built in Lerwick.

The next session was introduced by Deirdre Nelson and was the most interesting of all for me. The talks were grouped together as Artists Crossing Boundaries. Deirdre talked about ‘a quiet activism’ and her work in various residencies around the country. She’s interested in small acts of kindness – knitting for charities or fund raising – rather than big showy projects. She showed some work from her Dangers of Sewing and Knitting project – about bartering knitted socks for gin, and about needlewomen batheing their eyes in whisky to perk up their vision. She also spoke about a residency in Uist which led to a ‘fish exchange’. Local people knitted fish which were auctioned to raise money to train crew for work on the Lfeboats. Then Trevor Pitt talked about his Soft Bench project. He’d wanted to respond in some way to the troubled estate in Birmingham where his family lives, and had invited knitters (“ladies”) to cover a bench using their knitting skills – so it was both an opportunity to work together, and a chance to make an improbable piece of public art. Rachael Matthews then talked about her UFO project – UnFinished Objects doomed to be hidden away – but now distributed to other knitters to finish off in whatever way they liked. Some were restorative, some abstract, and some continued whatever train of thought was sparked off by the story. Lots were very funny.

Annemor Sundbo came over from Norway to be the third keynote speaker. This session was about knitting cultures across the world. She had taken on an old shoddy factory – a bit like a clothes bank where old garments are taken for recycling. She acquired bins full of stuff, and rather than erasing all the work that had gone onto making clothes, she’d tried to unravel the history of traditional knitting by studying the rags. Lots of her research was done by looking at old paintings and photographs, to date the patterns and to find links in the patterns. And she’s now created updated designs based on traditional garments.

Next, some talks about wartime handknitters in America; about Shetland lace knitters who had emigrated to New Zealand in search of work and husbands, and taken their skills with them; and a very in-depth academic paper about research methods. Then one about how a small and isolated island like Fair Isle has influenced knitting in Scandinavia, the Low Countries and Eastern Europe  – linking their landscapes, economics, yarns, traditions, etc.

There was also a talk about knit animations. These are the titles if you can find them on Youtube:

:: Les Peaux de Lievres by Tricot Machine (700 real wool knits, animating facial features as people sing)

:: The Last Knit by Laura Neuvonen (think I’ve seen this referred to on Ravelry recently; very funny but I haven’t seen the ending)

:: Learning to Knit by Max Alexander (short and again very funny).

Frankie Owen talked about studying different knitting methods in Peru and demonstrated a strange technique of using five fine, hooked bicycle spokes, and working in the round but from the reverse side and with balls of yarn hooked behind the neck for tensioning, and working mainly with thumbs. I tried to take photos but her hands moved very fast.

And then Emma’s talk about her trip to the Himalayas last summer. The images are so clear and colourful that it’s a pleasure to watch them over and over. And she described the knitted toys that the knitters made up in the mountains which they’re going to sell along the trekking routes to raise money.

On Saturday morning, it was Sandy Black from London College of Fashion, talking about knitting in advertising and popular culture and the image that knitting has now and in the past. Then a rather dull talk about ‘the role of design innovation in relation to the challenges facing today’s Scottish knitwear industry’. Maybe I’d had enough by then. But the morning was revived by a talk about the archive collection of Sarah Dallas’s knitwear from the last 20 years, now at the Fashion Museum in Bath. And then lastly, ending on a very up-beat note, Amy Twigger Holroyd’s manifesto about stitch-hacking and pattern-blogging. She sees that a huge quantity of mass-produced, identikit knitwear is bought and consumed every year. And also that we are often passive makers, following a pattern slavishly. Her manifesto encouraged knitters to make an emotional connection to their work by making their mark on their knitwear, either by stitch-hacking (reconfiguring stitches in an existing knitted garment) or pattern-blagging (modifying an existing pattern to create a personalised item). She encouraged adding names, dates, places to your work, to record the time and effort you’ve invested.

And that was it. Apart from an optional Sunday trip to Unst, the most northerly place in the UK – very open and windswept and wonderful, with a view of the Muckle Flugga lighthouse. And a conference dinner on the Friday night which I didn’t go to but which sounded like a very boozy affair. The conference itself was very intense, with 20-minute talks in groups of three, before a tea break. There was a knitting lounge and a learning room, where there was a chance to try out those padded knitting belts that support one of your needles. But not really time to hang around in those without missing the talks.

And we were lucky to have sunshine almost the whole time so you could dangle your feet over the harbour walls at lunchtimes and watch the boats and seals and birds. Good wool shops in Lerwick too – I can explain to anyone who wants to know that there are, confusingly, two Jamiesons wool shops in Lerwick which are completely unconnected, but both brilliant, and I have the shade charts from both if anyone wants to refer to them.

Glad to have a few days in Shetland afterwards to give my over-stimulated head a rest. And plans for the next conference in two years are already underway.

[photos are either my own, from Shetland Museum and Archives Collection, or from Annemor Sundbo’s website]

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alabama cupcakes


Today I made some chocolate fridge cakes, which Ive made since I was little.

One summer like most, we went to Gwithian  in North Cornwall and we went to the beach cafe and they served the nicest chocolate fridge cakes ever !!  Of course I had more than one and loved them so much I asked my mum if we could make them at home – but without the raisins – so once we were home mum found the recipe and we made them together for years to come . And one Wednesday a few years back knitwit came to knit night bringing the fridge cakes ! I was so happy that I spent the whole night talking to her about Cornwall and that very cafe where I first had them ! Soon after that one of the knit girls was having her birthday, so we all got together and made a cook book, now as I always wanted to join in I said I’d do a recipe too but knitwit beat me to it and typed out the fridgecakes recipe , so I now very confused as to what I was going to do but unwilling to give up called my grandma and got one of my favorite recipes from her.   Anyway soon everyone had typed out at least one recipe for the book, and mum who put the book together  copied some recipes for me and now I am finding myself searching for more  !!!!!!  And wishing I had a book like that .

This made me realise how great, creative and  lovely my extended family are !!!! It’s not my turn for a post but as my crazy aunt wunderbaum  is leaving I am going to help out and do hers for her – I didn’t just decide to she asked me !!!! I am going to miss her loads but will enjoy all  the extra typing !


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Wrapped in kindness

The journey to see Sue Clarke’s universe takes you to a junction and beyond, to a house of pebbles and wooden boxes where wrapped up creatures await to tell their stories. Sue is a Reading-based graphic designer and textile artist – one of the regulars at the Outcasts’ Wednesday knit nights.  She exhibited her knitting and stitch work at the local Whiteknights Studio Trail event in June 2010, where her most private creations were on show for the first time. These comprise stones that are wrapped in hand-knitted and hand-stitched bands which coexist alongside wooden boxes with neverwhere creatures, both universes linked by Sue’s need to enfold her creations in cloth and knits to ensure they are ‘looked after’. The pebbles project emerged after Sue took a trip to Japan in 2008, where she came across statues of Jizo Bosatsu (Bodhisattva), a Buddhist divinity, which is considered a guardian of children, particularly those who were never born (fig.1).

These statues are sometimes clad with knitted garments, while toys, flowers and other gifts are deposited near them in homage to the unborn children. Sue’s initial batch of wrapped up pebbles (fig.2) is visually more reminiscent of the Jizo statues than the most recent series (fig.3), where the suggestion of the human form provided by the knitted bonnets and the aprons has been replaced by more stylised bands that wrap around the pebbles. In the last series, the stones are wrapped with bands that are either knitted with various yarns and in different stitches or in cloth that has been embroidered in running stitch. In both cases, the pebbles are thought of as human-like creatures, but are devoid of facial traits. Sue has chosen the red and white colours for the garments as these can be spotted by people more easily; she is also interested in red as the pigment which alters the most in natural light. The stones are collected randomly and once adorned with garments, they are left in open spaces for people to find. Some have been deposited in London, Wales and Japan while others were left in the grounds of the graveyard at Reading’s Cemetery Junction, where Sue hopes that they will be respected. With the pebbles Sue seeks to create a sense of wonder; she likes to leave things for people to find which cannot, however, be traced back to their maker. Ultimately, the pebbles will never make their way back home and Sue has no control over their destiny.

Sue’s other creations on display were the boxes series, that started off as a cropping mechanism to direct the viewer towards a focus. Reminiscent of dolls houses, the boxes begin as a single scene, which becomes a story as more boxes are added and rearranged. Sue’s diaries show how possible scenarios are researched (fig.6). With these, the textile element translates Sue’s skills as a maker of visual adventures and infinite possibilities, charged with a narrative that can be dark and menacing, where creatures are in control of their stories, while their maker provides them with a wardrobe to protect them in their adventures.  The Rabbit Box (fig.4) was the first to develop into a larger narrative. It retains the red and white palette of the stones. This piece draws its inspiration from the Mary Toft affair, which was etched in William Hogarth’s satirical print of 1726, Cunicularii, or The Wise Men of Godliman in Consultation (fig.5).

Toft, an English woman from Godalming in Surrey, sparked public controversy when she tricked doctors into believing that she had given birth to rabbits. Sue’s story starts in the room at the bottom left, which shows Toft in bed surrounded by the rabbits that she cut out of a copy of Hogarth’s print. The boxes are arranged together not as a sequential narrative but as various scenarios that develop from the original source.

Thus, Toft appears again in another room, the rabbits grow bigger or become smaller, and shed their ears. (Incidentally, these ears are made of magnolia husks, shed at springtime, that Sue found in her front garden whilst assembling her piece.) 

 The Toft figurines are wrapped in hand-sewn and stitched cloth that has been reclaimed. One gown was once an old handkerchief that was gifted to Sue by a friend, while the beds are made of bits of old linen, decorated with a digital charcoal print, pencil, stitching, darning and silver leaf rubbed into the fabric (fig.7). A white Jizo figurine, wrapped in red knits, overlooks the scene from a box at the top right as a talisman, while more rabbits are placed inside three boats, ready to sail away. 

As the boxes now lie dismantled in Sue’s study (figs.8-9), the maker asserts her ultimate control over her creatures and their stories, which wait patiently to be reassembled into new mysterious threads.


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