Earlier I had the chance to throw a few questions in Felix's direction about her VERY EXCITING colourwork sourcebook. This is what we said.
I know that you do a lot of work with sounds – especially everyday sounds. How does this influence your work / HOW (or) WILL you incorporate this into the book?
Listening gives you a new way of seeing things. Working with sounds deepens my appreciation for the distinctive character and texture of places. This is a general influence on the themes for The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook: if I had not spent hours of my life leaning against walls and trees, listening, I doubt I'd have noticed the things I decided to knit in this book.
My good comrade in sound - Patrick McGinley - said the stranded knitting swatches are like "visual field recordings" and that is a pretty astute observation. To make a field recording you have to stand still, pay attention, be present, and open to noticing details in your environment. The woodpecker you hear on the way to work; snow melting in a drain and dripping in a beautiful way. Making field recordings of these moments turns them into something - a RECORD - that can be shared with the world! Knitted swatches can also document things and textures noticed in daily life, and - like working with audio - our knitting can be rooted in a slow, mindful process of noticing.
The book also contains some swatches rooted specifically in my soundwork. I'm making a swatch based on my EDIROL R-09 - my little digital recorder, for instance. This wonderful device has survived a fall into a pond, and is held together with duct tape; it's my favourite tool and poses particular challenges for colourwork because it is black, shiny, plasticky and not exactly picturesque! But I love this device and reckon most knitters own a tool which they treasure and would love to celebrate in the medium of stranded knitting, so I think it's a useful case study to include in the book. I'm also making a swatch based on my commute along the A4074 road which was the subject of a documentary radio show I made some years ago for the BBC. Many things I noticed in the process of recording traffic, wind in cropfields, night-birds and weather need to now be celebrated in colourwork!
Whilst working on this book, I am simultaneously producing an album - The KNITSONIK Audible Textures Resource - which knitters will be able to buy through iTunes when the book comes out, if they choose. This album will convey sounds from the places in Reading which have inspired the book, and also sounds from the specific landscape of Shetland, where the Jamieson & Smith 2 ply I'm using was grown. So you can listen to the source of the wool, and my sources of inspiration while you knit, if you like! Or you can just get the book. My 2-part KNITSONIK podcast - "Finding The Fabric of The Place" give a good sense of how these ideas fit together in sound!
This book is rather concept-y, but I think it’s an easy concept for most knitters to “get.” How will you make this book accessible to the knitter who is new to this concept?
The book is concept-y, but the general idea of finding inspiration in our lives is already present in the knitting world, so I'm hoping it's not such a radical jump to imagine a sourcebook which really unpacks that idea - and specifically which does that in relation to stranded knitting.
In terms of communicating concepts, it's an old cliche, but a picture really does paint a thousand words. I knew from the start of this adventure that getting the images and design exactly right are key to the success of this book. My system for developing colourwork based on everyday life is largely based on seeing things in a certain way, and reams of words will not communicate this as clearly as meaningful images. For this reason, I have found the best designer in knit-publishing and the best photographer I know of to work with me on the book: Nic Blackmore and Fergus Ford.
I'm encouraged that even in the short time that the Kickstarter campaign has been live, the beautiful video that Fergus shot and editing and the promotional images I've made seem to be really speaking to people. Knitters are talking about their bricks, the new way they are looking at the world after watching the Kickstarter video, etc. This is all really encouraging and confirms my instinct that amazing production values and a precise focus for the pictures will make this book make sense!
In your podcasts and descriptions of this project you really deliver a strong sense of place regarding Oxford and Reading. I think it’s important to show knitters who aren’t used to thinking that way that their own cities and towns, and the weird little things that they love, are ready to be celebrated in their own right. Do you think that this is an idea whose time has come?
Thanks so much for your kind words on my descriptions and podcast, I really do try to get a strong sense of place into my work. I am passionate about celebrating my everyday reality, and I love to transmit that enthusiasm wherever I can, because I think we need it!
I definitely do think that the time has come to celebrate - as you so nicely put it - "the weird little things" people love. That's one reason why the EDIROL R-09 is in the book! I wanted to show that whatever is personal and precious and special TO YOU can be embedded in your knitting, and deserves to be celebrated.
Giving my "Quotidian Colourwork" class at Shetland Wool Week last year consolidated my instinct that this idea really should become a book. What I loved about that class was how people held and spoke about the things they had bought in as inspirations - their photos, their pictures, their treasure. We had great conversations in the course of figuring out how to knit them. I am grateful for the energy and enthusiasm that knitters brought to that class, and want to infuse the book with the same sense of mutual respect, playing with colours, and valuing daily life that we enjoyed there!
Are you familiar with the term “psychogeography?” I’ve heard you as much define it in your podcasts with your sticks-on-railings and field recordings in and around Oxford. Psycho-geography – the added layers of personal experience and memory laid out upon the geographical plan of a place. How much do you think that this has influenced your work and this book?
I've come across that term and am definitely inspired by the idea that we map concepts and memories over our environments, and that where we live is both a layer of physical geography, and mental geography. Recording sounds creates a special relationship with memory - you remember where you stood with the recorder, where exactly you were in relation to the sounds you were documenting, whether it was cold or there was a wind - and the recording can bring the whole sensation of being somewhere immediately into my mind. In the same way, knitting is a record of time. I can always remember where I was when I was knitting a sweater or a hat, and what was going on then... so I think there is a sort of KNITSONIK psychogeography that I am practicing; a mixing-up of places with sounds, knitting and memories.
For instance when I walk past St. Mary's Butts Church in Reading, I always remember harvesting black walnuts from the tree in the grounds, dyeing yarn with them in my kitchen, photographing the brickwork on the church, and then knitting that brickwork. Sounds, stitches, surfaces, places... they are all combined and after working on this book I am sure all of Reading will seem to me like a giant collection of KNIT and SONIK impressions, overlaid on the actual physicality of the streets. And I will feel closer to this place I think for creating those associations.
I think it’s important to celebrate and appreciate the things we are surrounded by each day – especially the little things that we are around so often we hardly notice them anymore. To me it’s a natural urge to want to turn them into knitwear because that’s my medium of choice. We are material beings in a physical space. What do you make of our need to MAKE THINGS?
I love your celebrations of the everyday in knitting! ALL your designs are amazing, but my particular favourites include the Guardian Building Mittens, Circuit, and Polska; I gasped out loud when I saw Polska on Ravelry and it made me run to the cupboard to see if we still had a bit of crockery I remembered which had been painted in that style.
That's the thing: the effort and imagination invested in MAKING THINGS from the real world makes you look with fresh eyes back at that same world. I was re-enchanted with that style of pottery after seeing your fabulous knitted rendition of it, and - likewise - if I ever am lucky enough to see the Guardian Building I should like very much to visit with my mittens on, creating an imaginative and celebratory connection with the building which would massively enhance my experience of being there.
For me the need to MAKE THINGS based on daily life has a dual function. Firstly, the process of observing THE THING - whether it is the tilework of the Guardian building in your case or the crumbling old deco factory in mine - sort of impresses it into your mind. I've gone back and forth on the exact shades of pink for that swatch many times, and love to notice how the light changes the way that pink stucco glows whenever I pass it... so there is that thing where you just gain this lovely, complex appreciation for the world and its charms through the process of very closely observing it. Then if you KNIT those observations, you kind of embed them back into daily life? I love to paint and draw, but as soon as you frame a piece of paper and stick it on the wall it loses some of its connections to the mundane and to the everyday. But if it becomes socks or mittens, it continues to circulate there! The inspiration starts sneaking into your laundry basket, onto your radiator, into your sock drawer, and it's right there on your hands or your feet when you look down. I love that. For me, wanting to keep that rich cycle going of inspiration, daily life, inspiration, daily life, is at the very heart of my urge to MAKE THINGS.
I think it makes life better.
What would you say to someone who thinks that knitting buildings is silly?
I would probably give them my copy of "Knitting Architecture" by Tanis Gray and something super, super precious from my personal stash to make a project from it. Seriously, I would be very keen to win that person over, because I think they would be missing out on a lot of fun!
Translating a big, public thing, like a building, into a small, personal item like a pair of woolly mittens, is something very close to my heart. Moreover, it’s something that I simply CAN’T NOT do (if that makes sense.) What has drawn you towards this (some might say odd) way of seeing things?
I think it comes back to what I was saying before, which is that the whole process of observing something closely enough to turn it into a coherent, knit-able chart really causes you to appreciate its details. I am drawn to the process of deepening my connection with my environment, falling in love with the little things in life, and then putting my celebrations back into the everyday places which inspired them by making them wearable.
I could achieve the same sense of deep observation through drawing, but drawing and painting do not have the same provocative and exciting connections with clothing, social history and land-use that the medium of hand-knitting possesses. Knitting has associations with economies of dress; the history of labour (usually women's labour); and the politics of land use. Hand-knits are a site of meaning, and I am incredibly drawn to the richness of that site as a place to play and explore as a maker.
I also love that knitting is useful.
You incorporate a rather diverse collection of things into a colourwork patterning style that is clearly not Fair Isle but somehow evokes a sense of Fair Isle. It’s like a modern take on traditional patterns. How do you see your work fitting into the Grand Tradition of knitwear/knitting?
That is a super question. In simple terms, I love that Fair Isle knitting and the stranded colourwork of Estonia underline connections between knitters and where they are from. Looking at those Grand Traditions of knitwear - and listening to knitters from Shetland and Estonia speaking about their knitting - has made me long to create connections in my own knitting between where I live and where I come from in culture.
Growing up in Croydon on the outskirts of London, with non-knitting parents, in the suburbs, and living now in Reading, 40 miles west of London, I can't really lay claim to any great textile traditions! But my little Felix-shaped place in the world is nevertheless full of references. I love the things that have shaped the texture of my life like A-roads and dandelions and crumbly old buildings at the edges of Britain's industrial estates. Since I do not have a specific textile tradition to draw on, why not draw on these sources and share what I discover through that process? And perhaps other knitters - similarly not born into specific, Grand Traditions - might enjoy an adventure with me, exploring what happens when we make up our own? That's a big theme for the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook.
All photographs kindly supplied by Felicity Ford. Don't forget to check out her blog, The Domestic Soundscape. You can support the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook via Kickstarter here. Get more info on the KNITSONIK Blog Tour and a list of all the previous and future stops here.