Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Waste not, want not!


One of my favourite veg - and since I discovered solar dyeing, one of my favourite dyestuffs too.

Those who know me will already know my GOLDEN RULE OF DYEING which is:
............................but dye with all the bits you don't eat .....................................

So, I bought a couple of bunches of this lovely fresh beetroot, to make my favourite beetroot, rocket and blood orange salad.
I cut off the leaves and stems, putting the stems into one dyejar and the leaves (with some bits of stem) into another jar. Then I cooked the beetroot. Once they were cooked I peeled them and put the skins and the cooking water into a third dyejar. I put wool tops into the jars with the dyes.
left: cooked beetroot skins and cooking water, no mordant
middle: raw beetroot stems (some leaf), alum mordant
right: raw beetroot leaves (some stem), alum mordant

The dyejars will sit in a sunny place for at least three months, until I think they are ready. In the past I have been able to re-use the dye from the skins for further batches of fibre. I've never tried the stems or leaves before.
In the meantime here's a ball of yarn spun from wool I dyed with beetroot last year

Friday, 4 April 2014

The knitting book I’ve always wanted

Felicity Ford (AKA Felix) is the creative force behind KNITSONIK, a marvellous amalgam of knitting and sound, and she is dedicated to WOOL – she has captured the sounds of every stage of its production and use. With other collaborators she has run WOVEMBER, a month long blog-based campaign and celebration of real wool, each November in the past few years.

Last year during Shetland Wool Week I met the irrepressible Felicity, who was Wool Week Patron, and took part in two of her totally inspiring workshops – you can read my posts about them here. We’ve kept in touch ever since and will be meeting up at Shetland Wool Week again this October.

Now Felicity is putting her considerable energies into creating a sourcebook for stranded colourwork. It will set out her approach to interpreting ‘quotidian’ (every-day) inspiration in stranded colourwork knitting. This fantastic resource for knitters needs a little help to get from an inspired (and inspiring) idea to reality, so Felicity has started a Kickstarter campaign.

You can find out how to get involved here – in brief, for the book to be made, she needs people to pledge a sum of money (small or large, its up to you). Depending on the sum pledged, you will get a reward – all very enticing and many handmade by Felicity herself. Full details are on the Kickstarter page.

All support for the project should go through the Kickstarter website, as every pledge made through the campaign page goes towards the funding total. Every pledge that is made through the Kickstarter website gets put into a holding account until the campaign ends. Then - if the target is met or exceeded - that money will go to Felicity so that she can fulfil the project and MAKE THE BOOK! If the full target is not met, the money is returned immediately to anyone who made a pledge.

I’ve already made my pledge, and can’t wait to see the book when it is produced, so please have a look at the Kickstarter page and consider pledging something yourself.

In the meantime I wanted to find out a bit more from Felicity so I asked her some questions – here they are with her answers:

When did you first learn to knit? Who got you started?
I was about seven, and my Gran taught me! She made a sweater for my Mum in a dusky pink mohair. I thought this was the most beautiful thing ever and wished to make something similar! We only managed a few rows of garter stitch, however, and I was too scared to drop the stitch off the needle at the end of each row! So the first thing I ever knitted was a lumpy trapezoid with unintentional increases at each edge.

Was your first project something that really got you motivated, or was it the dreaded cotton dishcloth?(my first school project, age 7!!)
When I got back into knitting in 2004 or so, I knitted a few different things - mainly scarves on big needles - but when I joined the Oxford Bluestockings knitting group in Oxford and discovered knitty.com, I got really motivated! I wanted to make the brown lunch bag by Frances Swiecki; it's a hand-knitted, machine-felted bag resembling a brown paper bag, and it spoke straight to my desire to celebrate the everyday in yarn. Once I'd cast on, I could do nothing else until I'd finished! I remember a manic, sleepless weekend spent churning out brown woolly stocking stitch in the round followed by two exciting washing machine sessions. Huge excitement about knitting has stayed with me since.


I imagine you gather sources of inspiration on an almost daily basis - can you tell us a bit about how you select something to base a knitted design on, and how you manage the 'mental queue' of ideas?
Yes - EVERYTHING is inspiring, which can be difficult to manage, as I can't put EVERYTHING in the book! To manage content for The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, I have narrowed my ideas down to a special list of long-term obsessions.

The inspirations in the book are all things I've been exploring for a long time; my preoccupation with the Victorian brickwork of Reading has been a theme in my blogposts for a few years, and I remember going through a phase of trying to match up variegated yarns with specific things, places or plants. I was obsessed with a particular skein of Lorna's Laces, (I think the colourway is "Seaside") as to me it exactly resembles the shades and light in Weymouth, Dorset. For ages I admired the skein and agonised over what I should make from it. I finally burst out a pair of socks!
I adore them and the colours in them, and they still remind me of Portland. I could write a whole book about just the colours of that yarn because I've thought about them so much, which means that there is a lot to draw on for the relevant chapter in the book. Similarly, the A4074 road which I regularly take between Reading and Oxford was the subject of a radio show I made for BBC Oxford in 2010, and as long as I have been driving on that road, I've wanted to knit aspects of the view.

I feel I cannot be the only knitter who has kept a skein of variegated yarn simply to admire its shades, and that other knitters must daydream on their way to work about how they could convert the journey into stitches! I want my book to speak to that shared impulse, and to inspire knitters to celebrate their favourite skein of yarn; the view on their commute; the distinctive architecture of their neighbourhood... The only way I can write with enthusiasm is to be genuinely passionate and knowledgeable in the examples I give. If my Kickstarter campaign is successful, I can draw on years of thinking about the case studies presented in the book. So to manage the mental queue of ideas, it's a case of asking myself "am I really excited about knitting and writing about this" and "will the knitter reading this at the end get something rich and useful out of it"? If the answer to either of those questions is no, the concept goes in the bin! I figure that if I am still excited about something after 5 or 6 years (the bricks, the socks, the A4074...) there must be something juicy to work with.

Once you have swatched a particular colourwork design, where does it go next? Have you already planned the final project (garment or whatever) or does that follow the design of the colourwork?
Interesting question - I actually work both ways. Sometimes - as with my Blaeberet hat - I map out the maths of the garment first and then create my colourwork pattern to fit. However lately I've been doing things the other way around; starting with the colours, shades and patterns and then - once those are working - thinking about what garments might suit my motifs. A lot can be gained by not focusing too much on an end product; starting with colours and concepts allows you to grow ideas organically, and any subsequent garments have to fit in with what you want to knit rather than the other way around!


In The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, swatching is presented as a rich opportunity to explore. Making swatches is about investing in ideas that will have a longer life span than the length of time it takes to make a sweater or a hat; once you've made a swatch, it should be an enduring and rich resource for all future knitting projects! It's about building personal libraries of ideas, and the swatches can be finished off beautifully, like individual knitted works of art.

To be able to apply ideas from swatches to garments you want to knit afterwards, flexibility in numbers is key. If you use a broad enough range of stitch-widths and heights amongst your ideas, you can ensure that some aspect of your swatch may be applied to things you want to knit. I have had a lot of fun applying my signature play/pause/record buttons motif to legwarmers and my listening tunic using that logic, for example.

There is a world of difference between giving someone precise instructions to follow to produce a more-or-less identical product (for example, a knitting pattern which specifies yarn, needle size, number of stitches and charts etc), and encouraging people to follow their own inspiration to create something unique, while giving them enough guidance. Can you say something about the balance between directing and supporting creativity?
Yes, you are right! Directions are excellent if what you want to end up with at the end is a very exact thing, but - as you say - guiding people through a creative process of their own where the end product is slightly less well-defined is something else entirely.

I'm privileged to have been either working as an artist, teaching art or music, or undertaking arts research, for over 16 years. In that time I've learnt that creative projects require a good deal of structure. You need systems to manage expansive ideas, and to anchor you and provide confidence if things get wild! You also need to be able to solve problems calmly. With this particular project, I started out years ago wondering on my blog which skein of Wollmeise looked most like sloes growing on blackthorns, and this led me to knitting and charting many experimental things based on lichens on ash trees or bilberry bushes. Each time I tried connecting an everyday context with my knitting, I ran into problems and I solved them. The colours don't work together: why? That pattern is not working: why? Solving problems as I went means I have developed a useful system, and I run into far fewer problems when I try to translate the everyday world into stranded colourwork than I did when I started out.


With The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, I see it as my job to share this system with the knitter who wants to explore, but who - like me a few years ago - is not sure where to start. I want knitters to not have to think about things like "How many stitches should I cast on?" "How many colours should I use?" "Which shade should I begin with?" etc. Because I have thought about these things in some detail, the knitter who buys and uses the book does not have to! You can instead concentrate on the really exciting stuff, which is celebrating things you love in beautiful stranded colourwork.

In terms of offering support, I think a key message is that whatever you want to knit, there is a way of doing it, and it is worth pursuing. We are all far too quick to think our ideas are not good enough, and when something is tricksome and complex like stranded colourwork, one is easily defeated when trying things out. I hope the range of concepts presented in the book is broad enough to demonstrate that NOTHING is too silly to turn into stranded knitting! Just now I am working on a swatch based on a 1930s book about electricity; it's proving super difficult but I am thoroughly enjoying the challenge and getting a lot of material for the book out of it.

Once structure and support are in place, there is no need to direct creativity too much. Instead the focus can be on encouraging it and feeding the imagination. I hope that gives some sense of how I hope to guide and support knitters who want to use my book.

Is there something in there about learning that 'making mistakes' is part of the creative and learning process?

Absolutely! My many stranded colourwork faux pas have been hugely instructive! I intend to discuss these for the benefit of other knitters, and to show some of the clangers involved in developing swatches for this book. I think this is useful, because it inspires the idea that it's absolutely fine if everything doesn't turn out perfectly every time. I find it hugely comforting to know that I can recover and learn from Things Going Wrong, and the best thing I've gotten out of my long arts career is that I no longer fear it.

In knitting we fear mistakes because it is so time consuming to do, and lost time is heartbreaking. It's awful when a project you have spent months on goes wrong. So I want to make sure that things Go Right for knitters working out of my book as much as I possibly can, but also to show what riches can be found When Things Go Wrong!

I love our knitting, it is a beautiful practice and involves a great deal of skill and patience. I see investing the extra yarn and time involved in making personalised colourwork charts as a way of honouring the long work involved, and embedding a celebration of the world around us in the things we make. Mistakes are necessary to that process... as my wonderful Gran who taught me how to knit used to say - "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs", and so it is too with knitting and wool.   

Thank you Felix!!

I’m hugely flattered that one of the photos Felicity has selected is of my Willow Pattern Fragments – an idea which was sloshing around in my head for nearly two years before it finally got charted and on to the knitting needles during Felicity’s Quotidian Colourwork class (Shetland Wool Week 2013 – and planned for SWW this year too!). The inspirations people brought with them to that class were so varied – fruit and veg, views, fabric, stones and my Mum’s antique soup plate! Felicity will share many of her inspirations in the book, with some examples in the photos she has supplied for this post. What will your inspiration be?


If, like me you have a habit of noticing all sorts of things in your surroundings that might be a good starting point for a piece of knitting, but you need a system to help you get started, Felicity’s book is just what you have been waiting for! So don’t hesitate, the Kickstarter campaign deadline is not far away, so sign up today and pledge what you can, so that you can have the book in your hands as soon as possible.

Happy knitting!

(all photos in this post copyright Felicity Ford, used with kind permission)

This post is part of The KNITSONIK Blog Tour, which is going on throughout April and involves Q&As with folks from all over the wool industry with Felicity Ford about her current Kickstarter Campaign! The full list of destinations on the tour, with links, is below:


01/04/2014 – Jeni Hewlett

04/04/2014 – Deborah Gray
There is an interview with me in Brenda Dayne’s world famous 
Cast On podcast!

07/04/2014 – Jane Dupois

09/04/2014 – Hazel Tindall

11/04/2014 – 12/04/2014 – Tom van Deijnen

14/04/2014 – Deb Robson

15/04/2014 – The Shop at The Old Fire Station
This blog post will coincide with a workshop I am leading there on this date entitled “FINDING THE FABRIC OF THE CITY”

16/04/2013 – Mary Jane Mucklestone

18/04/2014 – Caroline Walshe

20/4/2014 – Fine Lightness & Kait Lubja

21/04/2014 – Donna Druchunas

25/04/2014 – Ella Gordon

26/04/14 – Lisa Busby

26/04/2014 – Ella Austin

27/04/2014 – Susan Crawford



Sunday, 30 March 2014

Art yarn for a touch of colour

I fancied spinning up a touch of colour and texture yesterday.
I've been spinning  and knitting lots of natural-coloured yarns lately, and much as I love them, I wanted to spin something different for a few hours.
I made batts on my drum carder, using white Blue-Faced Leicester wool and scrumptious recycled sari silk,
and another batt using dyed merino in the hottest pinks, plus some pink and purple Shetland, with the white BFL and sari silk

I spun the batts into slightly irregular, medium twist singles

Then I plied each of them with a finer, higher twist BFL singles, to create spiral yarns.

Pretty aren't they?

This is just one technique I teach in my Art Yarns workshop - this year's dates are:
13th April - Capoterra, Sardinia
18th July - Woolfeis, Benderloch, Argyll (to be confirmed)
17th August - Auchterarder, Perthshire
20th / 21st September The Wool Box, Miagliano (BI), Italy (to be confirmed)
8th October Islesburgh Centre, Lerwick, Shetland (during Shetland Wool Week)
email me at deborah.gray7@btinternet.com for workshop details

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

half a flock

I'm halfway through knitting the Fair Isle section of my Mixed Flock blanket
This picture, taken outside but in shade, shows the detail including some of the names of Shetland sheep colours, and the steek stitches up the right hand side, which will be cut to let the blanket lie flat

110 ewes and 33 rams so far in my modified and enlarged version of Kate Davies' Rams and Yowes design

This picture, taken in bright sunlight, shows the colours better.
I can see that my Yuglet (grey, actually its Blue Texel wool) isn't dark enough to contrast well with the background in the first row of rams. Shy rams?

I always love knitting with my own handspun yarn, but I'm getting a huge amount of pleasure from this project,  for which I spun undyed fleece from six different sheep, blending some to give me nine distinct colours in total.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Capturing sunshine

Using this year's sunshine to dye fibres in colours that were created in flowers by last year's sunshine

Layers of genista tinctoria and red geranium petals dyeing wool fleece

Or even the sunshine of many years stored up in the wood of trees
Wool tops solar-dyed with (left) Logwood and madder, and logwood in different concentrations. All soft colours as this was the third use of the dyestuffs,

Uneven takeup of dye during solar dyeing gives lovely heathered shades in the spun yarn

The spring sunshine has got me filling several new solar dye jars - fresh daffodils and forsythia flowers for yellows, which I plan to overdye with indigo for some lovely greens, and some dried geraniums and Genista which I have layered in a big jar - I have got some intriguing effects dyeing washed fleece with two different dyes in this way.
 To make space for the new jars on my windowsill I have opened some jars which had been there since last summer.  Four batches of tops in soft shades to add to the deeper colours from the first two uses of the same dyestuff. Three purples in my Scatness tunic came from  these earlier dyejars.

The logwood and logwood/madder mix in the jars still seems to have plenty of potential colour left even after being used for three batches of solar dyeing so  I transferred it all to my biggest dyepot and boiled it up. The resulting colour has lots of red in it, from the madder. So far I've dyed a batch of wool tops, then some kid mohair. Next I'm going to 'mop up' the last of the colour with some silk - once I have degummed it. I think a blend of all these fibres will create an exciting yarn - watch this space!

its amazing what a bit of sunshine can do!!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Un tocco di Shetland a Pavia - corso di filatura: A Touch of Shetland in Pavia- spinning workshops - marzo 2014

Era proprio una piacere tornare a Pavia, ospitata di Elisabetta Bernuzzi e sui genitori, per dare li un terzo corso di filatura.
it was a real pleasure to return to Pavia as the guest of Elisabetta Bernuzzi and her parents, to teach a third spinning course there.
Anche una piacere incontrare (per la prima volta in persone) Michela, Raffaella e Patrizia, e vedere il laboratorio nuovo 'Fattoria del Gelso' di Elisabetta.
Also a real pleasure to meet (for the first time face-to-face) Michela, Raffaella and Patrizia and to see Elisabetta's new workshop called 'Fattoria del Gelso'.
Tutte le corsiste erano principiante, quindi comminciando dal vello sucido, un vello grigio bellissimo spedito diretto delle isole Shetland, lo abbiamo diviso per qualita prima di comminciare a cardare.
All the learners were beginnners, so starting with a raw fleece - a beautiful grey Shetland fleece sent directly from my friends at Shetland Wool Brokers - we graded it into four different qualities before starting to card it.

Entrambe I giorni del corso erano cosi bello, abbiamo deciso lavorare fuori, nel sole. Both workshop days were so lovely we decided work outside in the sunshine.
Dopo pranzo, commincia la filature col fuso. After lunch we began spinning with drop-spindles.
Due gomitolini filati, e poi combinati per un filato a due capi - ecco le prime matasse!
Two small balls of singles spun and plyed together - the first skeins of yarn!
Domenica porta l'introduzione dei filatioi. Modello Ashford Kiwi 2, che preferisco per insegnare perche  e robusto, facile ad usare ma anche versatile per creare varie tipi di filati. Anche a un prezzo buono!
Sunday brought the introduction to the spinning wheels - we used Ashford Kiwi 2s, which I prefer for teaching because they are robust, easy to use but also very versatile for creating various types of yarns. And very good value for money!
La giornata e passata molto veloce, ma anche piacevole e rilassante, cardando e filando nel sole.
The day passed quickly, but also pleasantly and relaxed, carding and spinning in the sunshine.
Abbiamo provate miste diverse delle fibre, sempre con il nostro vello superbe di Shetland, mescolato con alpaca, mohair, seta sari, merinos colorato, e binato con seta pura, filata dei 'fasioletti'.
We tried spinning various mixtures of fibres, blending our superb Shetland fleece with alpaca, mohair, sari silk and dyed merino, and plying with pure silk spun from 'hankies'.

Questi sono  alcune delle prime matasse delle corsiste (ancora non lavata - vengono anche piu belle quando sono pulite!)
These are some of the learners' first skeins (still unwashed - they will be even more beautiful when they are clean!)

La mia visita a Pavia era troppo veloce, ma ho potuto camminare un po' nel centro storico - gelat in mano, naturalmente!
My visit to Pavia was too short, but I did have time to have a wander round the old town, ice cream in hand naturally!

Sculture nel universita'  - sculptures in the university
via Rocchetta - Bobbin Street

Mi piace vedere come i palazzi vecchi sono cambiate, ma le trace rimangono
I love to see how old buildings have been altered, but the traces of old doorways and windows remain

Pappagialli verdi e azzurri e colombe nelle mure del castello
Green and blue parakeets  and purple and grey pigeons nesting in the walls of the castle