Aus oleks vist alustada kusagilt kaugemalt, aga kas see algus on kahe aasta taga, kui ma Felixiga Eestis kokku puutusin, kolme aasta taga, kui peeti esimene Villavember, või hoopis kusagil kaugemal, kui must sai Kate’i blogi lugeja tänu ökulite kampsunile (Kate veab koos Felixiga Villavembrit), on nüüd raske öelda.
Igatahes, Felixiga ma kohtusin ja meil oli päris mitu toredat seiklust siinmail, kuhu ta oli tulnud kunstiresidentuuri kuuks ajaks. Nimelt oli ta põhieesmärk lindistada eesti villavärgi helisid (näiteks kiperoosa värvimine sai lindile püütud, aga ka vokivurin, erinevad lambad jne), samuti vahetas ta inglise villasaadusi eesti omade vastu. Felix lahkus Eestist rahulolevana, mida võis aru saada ka sellest, et ta vähemalt korra igas lauses kasutas sõna AMAZING!. Täpselt sedasi, suurte tähtede ja hüüumärgiga ka kõnes.
Nüüd, kus ta on käinud ka Shetlandil samalaadse projektiga ning sealt ka kamaluga inspiratsiooni kaasa toonud, on tal plaan üllitada raamat. Raamat saab küll innustust nii Eesti kui Shetlandi kudumispärandist (kus leidub ohtralt kirjamist), kuid läheneb kirjatud kudumitele hoopis teise nurga alt – kuidas muuta mõni argipäevane ese, vorm või tekstuur kirjaks. Raamat antakse välja Kickstarteri annetuste toel. Siinne postitus on osa projektiga kaasnevast blogiringkäigust, kus Felix vastab erinevate inimeste erinevatele küsimustele. Minu küsimused ja Felixi vastused on allpool, seekord aga inglise keeles. Kes lugeda mõistab, võiks kohe tassi head piimaga inglise teed kõrvale võtta, sest vastused on omajagu pikad.
Without further ado, here is my Q&A with Felix for her Kickstarter campaign which runs for another seven days:
You have quite a soft spot for colourwork, as one can safely deduce from your intentions for The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. How did you discover your love for colourwork?
I have always loved colours, and when I started knitting, I was drawn to variegated yarns, because I loved the different shades in them. However I quickly learned that – while I loved the colours – I did not love having little control regarding where in my knitting they would show up! I realised that if I could muster up the skills to knit with two colours at once, I could mastermind where different colours would appear in my designs.
I first learnt how to do mosaic stitch. This was a suggestion from Katie, one of my knitting buddies in The Oxford Bluestockings knitting group, and I was really excited to discover this technique. Instead of stranding the yarn and holding two colours at once, in mosaic stitch, you just knit with one colour at a time, slipping the stitches you don’t want to knit in that colour. The technique teaches you a bit about stranding the yarn across the back of stitches you’re not knitting, so that you learn to produce an even fabric – which is important for colourwork! I did a few things using mosaic stitch, but then Ruth, a knitter in my Reading group – Sticks ‘n’ String – was making lots of the mitten patterns by Spilly Jane Knits. I was entranced, and begged her to show me how it was done.
She was superbly matter-of-fact and told me “it’s the easiest thing in the world, just pick up the stitches as though knitting Continental style with one hand, and throw the yarn round the needle in the English style with the other. Hold one colour per hand: it’s as simple as that”. I couldn’t believe it was so easy, and I went home to immediately try. I made the Selbu Modern hat by Kate Gagnon Osborn in 2 balls of New Lanark double knit. I got a beautiful fabric but alas the hat was enormous! I felted it to shrink it, and then it wasn’t a bad slouchy beret! But I was so excited to have discovered how to do stranded colourwork that I immediately cast on another hat in New Lanark yarn, this one of my own design. I called it “Blaeberet” a mixture of “blaeberries” and “beret”, because it is sort of beret-shaped and because I was very inspired by the beautiful blueberries (called blaeberries in Scotland) growing around the New Lanark mill, where the yarn is spun.
I revisited those charts to produce the sloes design for The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, and in the book I shall talk in general about soft fruits and how you can render them in knitted stitches.
How did your residency in Estonia and being a patron of the Shetland Wool Week influence this/your work?
I was influenced in both Estonia and Shetland by two things: firstly, the sheer joy of the colours. You cannot but gasp out loud when you start opening drawers in the Estonian National Museum, or when you see all of Külli Jacobson’s amazing mittens strung up all in a row! THE COLOURS! THE PATTERNS! THE GIDDY MAGIC OF IT ALL! Likewise, I challenge any knitter to remain unmoved by the extraordinary collections in the Shetland Textile Museum, or in the Shetland Museum & Archives. THE STITCHES! THE COMPLEXITY! THE MAVERICK WAY THAT COLOURS BEHAVE ALL KNITTED UP TOGETHER!
However as well as the sheer joy of colours, I love the great sense of place that can be found in historic textiles in both Estonia and Shetland.
A book I found in your district – Türi – opens directly onto a map of the county. For me this is illustrative of the central role that location plays in traditional Estonian textiles and clothing; it starts with place.
I loved meeting makers like Tuuli Tubin, who published a book about the mittens of her home county, Võromaa; and Olivia Till, who – along with other makers – produced a book also about the old textiles in her parish of Karula. Tuuli’s book intersperses details on historic mittens with photographs taken around Võromaa, connecting the physical landscape indivisibly with the mittens. Olivia – when she showed me her book about Karula – opened it straight to a page featuring her, two fellow shepherds, and their sheep. She explained that everyone in the photo is wearing woolly outfits created in the traditional patterns of their parish, and grown on their own sheep. I love that image so much. Both Tuuli and Olivia’s approaches say loads about how working with textiles can connect you with your land and your history.
I loved seeing your beautiful knitted swatches, featuring the stitch patterns associated with many different regions, and also seeing Liis’s skirt coming off the loom, woven in the colours of Paide, from yarns she had dyed herself. It seemed to me that you and the other makers I met in Estonia are embedding the rich textile history of your country into your contemporary making practices in totally inspiring ways.
In Shetland, I was similarly struck by the sense of history and heritage in the work of the extraordinarily talented women I met there. Hazel Tindall showed me her superb collection of hand-knitted yokes, and told me how – as a teenager – she’d hand-knitted yokes like these onto machine-knitted garments to earn extra income for the family. On her highly recommended website Hazel talks about the oil boom, the fashionability of yoked sweaters in the 1960s, her mother trading knitted goods in Lerwick before the first world war, and checking on her granny when she was small, to see that she was heading home, a peat kishie on her back, and her knitting in her hands. Hazel’s knitting is completely bound up with a personal history of growing up in Shetland, and her early experiences of colour were of experimenting with those yokes, and of getting the family’s wool back from the mill, in dyed, coloured skeins.
Elizabeth Johnston also works out of a long history of textile production in Shetland, spinning, dyeing and knitting with Shetland wool. She is extremely knowledgeable about the dye plants used to create the traditional Shetland colours used for Fair Isle knitting; madder red, indigo blue, onion gold and green, and the natural undyed colours found in the Shetland sheep. I have a sweater that was knitted by Alice Simpson of Whalsay in commercially dyed and spun yarns intended to resemble that traditional palette. The sweater is based on a photograph of a fisherman in a traditional Fair Isle sweater, and since the old photograph is black and white, nobody knows for certain whether the original was knit in the natural sheep shades of brown, fawn, white, cream and Shetland black, or whether some of these traditional dyed shades were used.
The sweater speaks both of the sea – which supplied the fish caught in sixareens to pay the rent – and of the land which yielded wool, crafted by the women of the isles into Shetland lace, and into distinctive and desirable Fair Isle and hosiery. It is a document of economics, politics, the divisions of labour, and the skill of Shetland knitters past and present. I love this sweater, because of all it references. Sarah Laurenson opens the fantastic book, “Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the present” with the lines, “The story of textiles in Shetland is bound with the people and the place. The landscape, which has been home to the sheep and inspired craftspeople for centuries, is as central to the making of the isles’ cloth and garments as the materials, techniques and tools themselves.”
In both Estonia and Shetland I have been moved by this entwining of people, landscape, place, and textile production, and my book is in part influenced by a desire to create deeper bonds with my immediate environment, here in Reading.
The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is in one sense about connecting with your locality through the practice of stranded colourwork knitting. I am not certain I would have wanted to make a book like this had I not been to Estonia and Shetland. What I loved most of all were how enriching in all cases the stories tying textiles to place and personal history were, for all the knitters I have met in my travels. I left thinking, “what will be my knitting story?”
Estonian knitting is known for its colourwork, whereas Shetland is known for Fair Isle knitting – this means that the inner logic of patterns is fundamentally different. Or is it?
In terms of the inner logic of patterns, the only certain technical difference in the structure of Fair Isle and stranded colourwork I’ve found is that in Fair Isle knitting, I’ve never seen more than 2 colours per round, whereas many Estonian stranded knits I’ve come across use 3 colours (or more) per round quite frequently.
What I have found especially interesting is comparing textiles from the period in time when the raw materials were more or less the same – when knitters in Estonia and Shetland had access to the same palette of sheepy colours + indigo, madder, and different yellows. The Estonian yellow tends to be more acidic, I think because it is often derived from the young leaves of the Birch tree which produce a fresh, bright yellow, whereas the onion skins used in Shetland have a slightly softer tone. But if you look at the Kihnu stocking from Estonia – which uses natural white, natural black, birch yellow and bedstraw-dyed red (very similar in shade to madder) – you can see the design has a sort of high contrast graphic quality to it, and a sense of diamonds and squares pushing outward. In contrast, the Fair Isle using a moorit brown, a natural white, madder red, and an onion skin gold is much softer in its shading, and already shows the subtle OXO formations and the mix of “peerie” and “border” patterns that underly the rhythms of much of what we now think of as traditional Fair Isle knitting… but really, I think when you look at Estonian and Shetland stranded knits, you can see a lot of similarities induced by the medium itself.
Starmore has written about how the constraints of the medium – a need for regular colour changes, diagonal lines in designs to help with maintaining an even tension, and the need to restrict colours somewhat in order not to create something too bulky – present a set of options for designs that are either X or O or lozenge shaped. In many ways I think that when you look at Estonian and Shetland colourwork, you see knitters from two different places exploring these ideas in different, but related ways.
You can see in a design from an old Russian book I have about traditional Estonian needlecraft that shading across a sort of X and O motif was an idea explored in Estonia as well as in Shetland, though the way this is presented in the Estonian knitting tradition is much more high-contrast than you would find in Fair Isle. Barbara Cheyne and Sue Allen from the Shetland Guild explained to me that in order to make beautiful Fair Isle, the relationships between my different shades should never involve too much contrast. In Estonian knitting it seems to my eye that contrast is encouraged! So the logic of the shapes is I think dictated by the medium of stranded colourwork, while the logic of the colours is determined by local tastes and trends.
Also, how would you describe the different soundscapes you found in Estonia and in Shetland?
In Shetland, you can always sense the presence of the sea. The sounds of Arctic Terns and Seagulls and the gentle shhhh of the surf are always near, somehow, and there is a lovely way that baas ring out against the stone of the cliffs and the hills when you are out walking in the landscape. The wind rips across the land in a wild way in Shetland, with no trees to halt its passage, and this is totally different from Estonia.
In Estonia, I felt like I could always hear mosquitoes and the air was much stiller in MoKS, Mooste, miles from the sea. You have Cranes and Storks and Nightingale thrushes all over the countryside, which are new to my ears, and also frogs which make the most beautiful songs in the boggy areas. Most of all, though, I recall the density of the Estonian forests and the deep quiet where the still air seems to hang in pockets between the tall pines. I love the sound of the Estonian forest; the density of the air, and the sense of insects and life busy inside.
Other differences that were interesting were the incredible racket of the huge Maremma dogs necessary to protect Estonian flocks from wolves! This is a much different sound from the friendly barks and yaps of the lovely sheep dogs I met on Mary and Tommy Isbister’s croft in Trondra in Shetland.
The homes are different, too, and the low ceiling of a Shetland croft with its thick walls, hunkered down against the elements, has a very specific resonance quite different from the square timber-framed buildings in Estonia, which to me sound woodier.
A thing that was lovely was the discovery that in both Estonia and Shetland there was a tradition of women gathering to card wool, and men turning up at such events to court the ladies and to dance. I would love to hear the music played at these events in both Estonia and Shetland and I’m sure there would be some crossovers and distinctions in the way the sounds weave together, just as there are in the knitting rhythms and patterns.
How do sounds tie up with this project?
I am producing The KNITSONIK Audible Textures Resource as an accompaniment to The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. This is going to be an audio release which celebrates – in sound – the same everyday contexts which have inspired the colourwork shown in the book.
For instance one of the chapters in the book will deal with the inspiration provided by everyday things, and one of my source inspirations here is an old pair of socks made with a variegated colourway I adore, called “Seashore”. The shades in that yarn have always reminded me of the isle of Portland, near to where my partner Mark grew up in Weymouth. For the album I want to record the wonderful textures of the seagulls and the specific sound of the sea down on Portland Bill to compliment the knitted design which has been inspired by the socks I made from my yarn and how they always remind me of that place.
Earlier in this blog tour, Mary Jane Mucklestone asked me the other day about my brick-spotting habits in Reading, since bricks also feature quite a lot in The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook; she actually asked me if there are any places where it sounds great and there are also amazing bricks. I was able to tell her about a few spots; they will be recorded for my album!
The main way that sound influences the project is that my work with sound has given me a greater appreciation for the specific textures of a place. Through listening in Reading I have kind of fallen in love with it, and now I have a desire to translate that idea to the careful attention that is needed for the production of beautiful stranded colourwork.