KNITSONIK: Knitting, sound, inspiration, books, and more!

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Every once in a while, you are introduced to someone whose ideas are so fascinating you just can’t ignore them. When this happens to me, I want to help that person bring their ideas into the world.

Recently, I met Felicity Ford, aka KNITSONIK. We were introduced online by Deb Robson in a conversation about “what is allowed to be in a knitting book,” where we were discussing the future of our genre and envisioning a time when books about knitting aren’t seen as something grannies use for making afghans, sweaters, or baby booties, but rather an important part of literature. We talked about how food books have jumped the chasm from cook books for home-makers to in-depth, well-written, fascinating stories that everyone is reading, whether or not they cook.

Felicity, sometimes aka Felix, is interested in exploring the world through sound. As visual creature, we humans often neglect our other senses. This is something I’ve recently been exploring in my own writing, as I take notice of how much I focus on visual descriptions and how much I leave out about the sounds, smells, tastes, and textures that are bombarding me every moment of my life.

When I found out that Felicity was working on a book, I knew I wanted to help her. So, as part of that, I’d like to introduce you to her through an interview (below), and point you to her Kickstarter so you can fall in love with her project and ideas and help her too!

But first, about the book (stolen from Felicity’s website):

The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Book: A knitting book which shows you how to turn everyday inspirations into gorgeous stranded colourwork. 

The book shows you how to celebrate your world in stranded colourwork. Taking an enthusiastic approach to shading, colours, and Shetland Wool, it celebrates making deeper connections with everyday life through knitting.

It contains my system for starting with things found in daily life, and finishing with stranded colourwork and charts. Twelve case studies demonstrate the concept, and full colour charts for all examples are provided. There will also be a couple of accessory patterns to plug the designs into, so that you can get started right away on some fingerless mitts or legwarmers that celebrate your favourite things!

The writing explores my favourite places and treasured things, and shows how I’ve turned these inspirations into stranded colourwork.

The book shows you my process so that you can do this, too.

And now, for the interview:

DD: How did you get started thinking about sound in relation to knitting?

FF: That’s a great question! I’ve always been interested in everyday sounds, and especially with sounds from the home. I find the domestic soundscape very compelling: political, intimate, and indivisible from the history of women’s lives and labour. I love the sonic textures of domestic space, and am continually searching for appropriate frameworks for sharing these textures with listeners.  My search keeps coming back to hand-knitting!

My first knitting + sounds installation was an elaborate web of knitted speakers.  These were soldered together by me and covered in colourful hand-knitting. I played sounds of cooking and making jam through them; rain on my car roof; rice boiling; making tea; the sound of the boiler in my partner’s house. I set the level low, so people had to pick up the speakers and hold them close to their ears in order to hear the sounds. The combination was soft and tactile and textural… it was a transmission in both knitting and sound.

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Knitted Speakers – Click To Enlarge

I love the word “transmission”, and it applies equally to making a radio broadcast or knitting socks for someone you care about; it’s about communicating a message. That’s what KNITSONIK has become now: transmissions in knitting + sounds.

DD: How does sound play into the philosophy and design process you talk about in the book?

FF: I’ll try and answer this slightly differently from how I have in other parts of the KNITSONIK blog tour, so as not to be too repetitive. My work with sound is broadly about appreciating the everyday and celebrating it in some way; about learning to listen to your life both literally and figuratively. I’ve made radio about everyday things -from washing up to the daily commute – and this desire to attend to ordinary life in sound has inevitably spilled over into my knitting. I’m really the most impatient person in the world, yet I can sink into an incredible stillness and quiet if I hear a sound which I really want to record. The swatching process I’m advocating in my book require a similar kind of patience; the desire to examine what is present, and to record an impression of it.

When I first thought about this concept, I took my squared notepaper pad and my EDIROL R-09 digital recorder to the patch of weeds at the end of my road, and sat there sketching, listening, and recording. The attention of that experience – the macro sounds of the traffic and the micro sounds of the bees, the riot of illicit, unplanned colour against the brick buildings and the flat grey asphalt – consolidated into a rich multisensory impression. This gives me ideas for sounds and for knitting. How can you show the brightness of a dandelion right next to a pavement? How can you amplify the optimism of bees making honey by the side of a main road? These ideas shape the philosophy I advocate in the book, which is that you can really celebrate anything of note via the medium of stranded colourwork.

Weeds – Click To Enlarge
Weeds Charts
Weeds Charts – Click To Enlarge

In terms of the design process I talk about in the book, my focus is totally on providing structure and support around the creative process. How many times have you read “let your imagination run wild!” in a knitting book? I might be wrong, but I feel like this is often the last sentence in a chapter, when it could be the first. It’s brilliant to set your mind free, but you rarely get anywhere with that unless you can find a clear way to take your inspirations forward in a practical sense.

Last term when I was teaching Music Theatre Practice students how to develop their ideas, I showed them my notepads. These are mostly filled with to-do lists. Lists; reminders; notes on recordings; bits of knitting patterns; web addresses I must look up; calls I must make; supplies I must buy… there is no time to make pretty drawings!!! My notebooks are probably both indecipherable and disappointingly mundane to others. But to me they are full of energy, and they keep me grounded. Without this bedrock of practicality, none of my ideas would ever materialise in the real world. There is therefore a very strong focus in my book on taking practical steps onward from your first initial inspiration. That comes from years of working as an artist, mostly with sound, and my dawning realisation that no ideas are too stupid or little or silly to develop, once you have a good creative process in place to support them.

DD: What’s your favorite color?

FF: Ha! That’s impossible. I never really have a single favourite colour, but I do really go through phases of being totally fascinated by particular pairs of colours. I once totally shocked a landlady of mine by dyeing all of my underwear pink and brown. I was on this massive pink-and-chocolate-brown roll, and decided that although I had no money for new bras and knickers, I could afford a few sachets of dye and some ribbon. Everything got ribbons on it. Everything was brown and pink. Then it was all about chocolate-brown-and-turquoise and I went around all the department stores collecting fabric samples in this combination with vague plans to redecorate my bedroom. Green, all greens, for a long time. Especially a dark green with a good underpinning of yellow; a really, lush-in-early-spring-green-grass-green. That will never get old. And this year so far, it’s been all about a sort of citron yellow paired with a very warm shade of grey. The grellow has finally come for me.

I love colours.

Grellow – Click To Enlarge
Everyday Inspiration – Click To Enlarge

DD: What’s your favorite sound?

FF: Again – impossible! We had a lecture once where our tutor asked us all to remember the first sound we had heard that day. I had never sat down and tried to recall a sound into my head before, and was amazed to sit in quiet with others, perfectly recalling the sound of pouring rice crispies into my bowl that morning, and the tiny sizzling sound they had made when the milk went in. Every detail of the sound was there, and I will always think of that now as a magical sound, because I associate it with realising I had the ability to remember little sounds in great detail. The blackbird’s song, because it was the first song I was able to identify, because it’s beautiful, and because the streets round here ring with it late at night right through the spring. Mark’s voice, because it is the voice of the person I love most of all in all the world, and because you can hear how much he smiles when he speaks. The sound of the wind outside when I am warm inside is always comforting; I am always grateful for my home when I hear that sound. And the sound of peeling away the outer layers of an onion, as this is nearly always the first sound of cooking, which I love. I also love all the sounds of sheep that I have discovered as I have started using sound to document the origins of particular yarns in the landscape. I love the little nickering sounds a ewe makes to her lamb; the assertive baas of show sheep when you approach them with food; the amicably quiet pottering and munching noises of a flock in summer. And the very rambunctious noise that sturdy little Shetland rams make when they butt their horned heads together. It’s a loud thud that tells you a lot about the machismo of rams.

KNITSONIK: Knitting, sound, inspiration, books, and more! 1
Shetland Ram – Click To Enlarge

DD: What will be unique about your book?

FF: I think my book will be unique because of its practical emphasis on creative process, and because I got the idea from looking at a swatch and saying “that is waaaaay too pretty to be useful”.

When I was thinking about my “Quotidian Colourwork” class last year for Shetland Wool Week, I made this beautiful swatch based on brickwork. I did an uncharacteristically neat chart for it, meticulously colouring in all the squares. Then I took one look at this swatch and chart and thought to myself “there is no useful information in this swatch. This is a pretty swatch. It says I am a knitter who can make a pretty swatch. How will this help the knitter who cannot make a pretty swatch? What I need is AN IDEAS SWATCH. That would be useful to look at, no?” That was when I started with the really big swatches, that show whole progressions of ideas; a knitterly thought process. I realised that the exciting thing when I knitted this swatch was not the swatch itself – at all – but the learning that had got me there. I wanted to make a knitting book which would show that learning, developed through several years of working on this concept. (And I’m still learning.)

Biscuit Tin – Click To Enlarge

The big swatches show lots of ideas, and how each of my ideas is sourced in an original inspiration. My commentary deals with the many technical problems of taking the huge, messy, complicated world and parsing it into the somewhat restrictive medium of stranded knitting. I think there might be more open discussion of failure and its usefulness in my knitting book than in other knitting books, because you can’t write about creativity without showing your mistakes, and how useful they have been in your process.

Big Swatch Ideas – Click To Enlarge

DD: We’ve talked a lot online about what a knitting book can be, or what the knitting genre can become. What would you like to do in your book that has never been done before in a knitting book?

FF: Ooh – great question! Well – it’s a little bit mischievous and I hope not too big-headed – but I am hoping that the book’s focus on celebrating traditionally un-picturesque objects and contexts will seed a wild spree of people knitting gorgeous colourwork based on completely non-traditional subject matter. When I thought of this book, I was hoping that one effect of the book would be more conversations about the things that surround us in daily life and how we might love them more. If knitters come up to me in 3 years time to tell me they have made a sweater based on their street, or their cat, or their spice-rack, I shall feel my knitterly mission for this book has been completed. I want to spread more love for daily life through the practice of knitting stranded colourwork; I’m not sure that specifically has been done before?

I also hope that in releasing The KNITSONIK Audible Textures Resource on iTunes at the same time as The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, I might help spread the idea that everyday sounds can be an inspirational source for knitting, and that in textures and rhythms there is a lot of richness for the knitter!

DD: Where would you like to see the knitting book genre be next year? in 5 years?

FF: If I may be frank for a moment, I feel that knitting has historically suffered a sort of terrible low regard. It has been underpaid (always) and – as many things which are important to women are – derided as a triviality. A hobby. Yet for all the knitters I know, the word “hobby” is an insufficient description. People are knitting for many reasons. Because they are technical people and love maths; because they want a designer garment without a designer price-tag; because it can be more ethically sound to make your own clothes than to buy them from the High Street; because you love yarn and yarn shops; because your friends knit; because you find the whole process enriching, creative and expressive… The reasons we knit are complex and deep, and – praise be for self-publishing – this is starting to be reflected in the types of books that people are making.

I’m so inspired by what other people are publishing, and The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook has many precedents amongst some of the best and brightest self-published volumes to be found in knitwerld.

Without the prejudices of conservative publishers, and with the open support of the comrades who WANT books which reflect the depth of their craft, people like Kate Davies, Ann Kingstone and Hunter Hammersen are making amazing stuff.

Kate Davies’s “Colours of Shetland” is quite simply my favourite knitting book. I love how the garment designs are each carefully put into context with writing that is informative about Shetland, but which also gives insights into Kate’s sensitive and creative engagement with the Shetland landscape. It is a beautiful book, and conveys a life-enriching approach to knitting, tying self to place through designs which are infinitely wearable but also conceptual and imaginative. I love it. Ann Kingstone’s “Born & Bred” is also brilliant; the designs connect knitting with everyday experiences in ways both practical and poetic. The felted clogs, woolly welly toppers and sturdy tea cosy are my favourite designs, utilising the strength and character of Yorkshire wool, but also speaking to a desire to walk on the moors and warm up afterwards with tea. When I first saw Hunter Hammersen’s “Silk Road Socks” I was blown away. I’m not really into Oriental rugs or fancy socks, but this was such a precise translation of the one into the other that I had to keep looking at the book. Such careful yarn choices. Such an unusual central theme. Such an original and intriguing collection of ideas. Oriental rugs will never look the same to me after seeing that book, and I have a new appreciation for the specific tones of different semi-solid indigo and madder type sock yarn shades. It really was a very pure idea, somehow. And I am really excited by what you yourself are doing with “Stories in Stitches”. I love that you are digging for a deeper engagement – or perhaps pointing at the depth we already have in our knitting – in this forthcoming book; I cannot wait to read it.

In 5 years time, I want more of this; the original visions of knitters, committed to print and paper in ways that help to show how amazing knitting is, and what it can mean within our lives.

DD: Why knitting? What do you think makes knitting special among textile production techniques?

FF: I think knitting is special to me because it’s portable, historically undervalued, often done at home (although I welcome the whole knit-in-public thing of recent years), and indivisible from the social and economic histories of women.  Knitting is expressive, tactile and technical, but it’s also practical. I love that you can have something like one of the amazing patterns of the Tsarina of Tsocks and that this will be incredibly artistic, loaded with content, but also, erm, a sock. (Well, technically a Tsock, but you can still wear it.)

With its portable, inexpensive equipment, knitting is also one of the few crafts you can practice in your daily routine situations, and then wear back in them. You could knit a sweater on your commute; how would doing that change your whole imaginative concept of that journey? Especially when you wore it back there?  When I moved to Oxford aged 25, I had no idea where I would find girlfriends, and it turned out that the local knitting circle was the answer. When I turned up, I loved how competitive and technical and brilliant those women were. And though I now live in Reading, they are still amongst my closest friends. So knitting for me has a special association with female brilliance. I also enjoy that my knitting interrupts the austere black and chrome speaker aesthetic of the soundart world, and that being a knitter can be deliberately subversive; a shorthand for rampant female creativity or – as Hunter Hammersen puts it – being “violently domestic”.

DD: Will you knit me something with the blueberry motif?

FF: Oh yes! The funny thing about the “blueberries” is that they were originally just that; blueberries from the landscape around New Lanark, knit in New Lanark yarn, for a tam I was inspired to make. I was very critical of that first hat, and it went into the pile of hand-knitting marked #turbofail until last year. I decided I wanted to work into the old charts I’d made to produce a new design based on blackthorn fruits – sloes – which we grow in our garden and use to make amazing gin. So the new design is, urm, “SLOES!” but many people think it’s blueberries, which shows me the original design perhaps wasn’t as much of a blooper as I thought at the time. I’d love to do you something with blueberries/sloes and – if you can hang on until the winter – I can also include a small bottle of the sloe gin? I think you’ll find it worth the wait!

Sloes – Click to Enlarge

DD: Thank you! 

Finally, don’t forget her Kickstarter!


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