I was recently having a chat with an academic pal of mine, who is working on a project looking at changes in the hand-knitting industry over the past few decades. She asked me about how I thought the industry had changed, and what I felt the major differences might be in establishing and running a small business in that industry in the 1980s or early 90s compared to today. This is an interesting topic, which I’ve been thinking a lot about of late, as I look around me and feel inspired by all the energetic and creative people (mostly women) who in recent years have found a place in this industry to do their own thing really well. Rather than being a top-down affair, dominated by large yarn companies and their necessarily conservative business priorities, hand-knitting is now a joyously bottom-up enterprise, in which producers and creators are not just close to, but members of, a genuinely engaged collective. I find it interesting that the trends that take hold in hand-knitting are also much more about this collective than they are about, say, “mainstream” fashion – as we all find ourselves suddenly gripped by the aesthetic appeal of a certain kind of knitted fabric, an intriguing new technique, an interesting sweater construction, or the pleasures of working with a particular type of yarn.
(Lucy Hague’s extraordinarily beautiful Illuminated Knits)
Back then, the business of pattern design supported sales of yarn lines, and was communicated to hand knitters through the seasonal channels of commercial magazines and paper patterns. Now, a new generation of independent designers have loosened many restrictive ties between the production of yarn and patterns, using digital platforms to release what they want when they want to, producing innovative design products, and taking the business of publishing into their own hands.
(Anna Maltz’s Marlisle – thoughtful, original, and one of the most exciting books in any genre I’ve encountered in the past 12 months)
Bypassing traditional routes to manufacturing, and inspired by a very different set of individual priorities than those which dominated the industry thirty years ago, yarn production is now also becoming a happily eclectic, grass-roots, and knitter-led affair.
(Daughter of a Shepherd, Rachel Atkinson, championing small-scale production and lending the wool industry a fresh new creative direction)
In short, hand knitters are no longer a passive market: they are participants in – and producers of – an engaged and participatory creative community. In a broad (global) sense that I think would have been unimaginable in the 1980s, this industry is now most definitely about what hand knitters are making and doing, not just what they are consuming. And in a cultural-political landscape that is hostile, divisive and frequently despair-inducing, I turn to the spaces occupied by hand knitters and am buoyed up to see so much that is positive, inclusive, and genuinely enabling.
And if there is anything that sums up the enabling culture of contemporary hand-knitting in a (knitted) nutshell it is the recent work of my enormously talented friend Felicity (Felix) Ford.
Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Playbook.
I’m afraid it is hard for me not to gush about just how good this book is: how generous, how joyous, how expansive, just how bloody creative
You might never have considered knitting your friend a postcard . . .
You might never have decided to knit something beautiful to wear inspired by the ordinary colours and patterns of your local built environment . . .
You might never have thought about how to scale and adapt your favourite patterns and motifs into knitted fabric . . .
You might never have reflected on the fact that a humble dandelion is in fact a thing of wonder, and discovered that the most appropriate canvas to celebrate that wonder was a gloriously exuberant shawl. . .
. . . and unless you are one of the hundreds of knitters who have already joined Felix posting on Instagram under the lively #tarmactuesdays hashtag, you have probably never considered a road surface as an interesting source of inspiration.
But after spending an hour or two with this book you will be asking yourself WHY NOT?
Why not celebrate the thoroughfares you traverse morning and evening during your commute? Why not commemorate the simple view you see when you look out your kitchen window? Why not creatively translate the objects that bring you daily cheer ? Why not ply your needles to capture a fleeting mood or moment? Why not knit the sensation of putting on your new red boots and stepping outside? Why not allow knitting to communicate the singular pleasure of that feeling?
(Yumi Shimada’s joyous red Doc Marten boot swatch is in the centre of this image).
Together with her Knitsonik comrades, in this wonderful collaborative tome Felix shows us how stranded colourwork might afford a particular kind of an opportunity to reflect on the things we never notice. She shows us how we can work with pattern and colour to allow the overlooked to become the looked at . . .
. . . and reveals how cultivating an ordinary habit of thoughtful attention might bring extraordinary creative rewards.
This book is full of beautiful writing, as well as deeply inspiring projects.
“Anonymous intersections crammed with noise and traffic become the spot where we find pleasing combinations of white and blue, or the site where we notice that the grey ground is in fact speckled and filled with subtle hues.”
“an uncynical eye celebrates a patch of freshly laid tarmac as a visible mend in the urban landscape and shoes that match road paint commemorate our indivisible relationship with the built environments that most of us call home.”
There is so much to love about this book, and to be inspired by, but I am especially fond of the Tarmac Tuesdays bunting which Felix and Liz Ashdowne created together.
There’s just something about the way their knitted bunting flags transform and celebrate the ordinary spaces of streets and roads, motorways and underpasses, concrete and tarmac. These are environments filled with anonymous signs and injunctions; environments often designed more for cars than bodies; environments which sometimes explicitly exclude different kinds of pedestrian; environments which might frequently be read as unpleasant or even dehumanising.
But if you render the street’s disgruntled reminder to pick up and bin your dog poo in lovely yellow knitted stitches . . .
. . . if you transform urban paint and tarmac into a jolly flag to wave about the spaces you know, the spaces for which you feel affection . . .
then you have made something of your sense of place. You have made something truly joyous and affirmative.
And if you want to explore other ways of colourful mark-making alongside your knitting, then the Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Playbook has an associated publication . . .
The Playbook Colouring Companion!
Use Felix’s beautiful hand-drawn illustrations to explore your own colour preferences, your own gradients and shading!
“While working on this book” writes Felix “I had in mind a vision of a joyous toy box containing fun, colours and opportunities to play with friends.” Any knitter who engages with this book will surely come away with a renewed appreciation of the value and sheer pleasure of sharing creative play with yarn and needles. The Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Playbook is a, generous, positive, and enormously enabling tome that’s quite unlike any other. And that’s why you need it on your knitting bookshelf.
I love this idea. I often join my kids when they’re colouring to work out my own design ideas in crayon. Now I wish every colourwork pattern came with a colouring page!
Oh Kate – this is such a gorgeous post, it has brought tears to my eyes. Couldn’t agree more about the explosion of joyful, positive, life-affirming community of knitters. Hurrah for the amazing knitters who help us appreciate life around us in different ways.
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I remember very well that it was through your blog post that I knew about Felix’s first book. Thank you Kate and Felix, you two have completely changed my knitting life in joyful and creative way!
Wow, I love the idea behind Felicity’s book! I may have to purchase… plus, it makes me feel less silly for getting pattern inspiration from drain covers!
Knit sonic – WOW!
Done a bit of colour work, but knitting a postcard? Worra brill idea!
The Marlisle is a clever way to simplify colour work too.
May just have to invest . . . Thanks for sharing
I love the colour play and charm of Felix’s designs, and I really appreciate your thoughtful analysis of the way the knitting world has changed. It’s heartening to see so many independent designers/spinners/makers/etc. find a way to thrive.
Love your musings on industry changes and the specificity and thoughtfulness behind your love of Felicity Ford’s book. Kate, you are a fine writer along with being a fine designer. Thank you for your posts, which are often food for thought and always a treat for the eye.
Another stellar blog! I just love Felix’s new book and her first book is amazing too. I am so lucky to have one of my photos in the book (dog with steaming pile of poo!) and also lucky to have met you at SWW2015 at your talk. I still have the photos to prove it. I was parked up next to you outside the Shetland Museum while Felix serenaded you in the car…I couldn’t move…just sat smiling and listening!
Highlight of my life meeting you both and being part of this amazing knit community if only for one photo!
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And so I remember why yours is the only blog I read. Thanks gal, if I ever meet you in gonna hug the life outta you. Come to Leeds someday.
An office bearer in our local knitting guild told me “Nobody knits Fair Isle anymore.” My response was “Yes, they do! You don’t know Felicity Ford’s work!” (For my sin of disagreeing I will soon have to run a short workshop on corrugated ribbing – am hoping my print copy of Felicity’s second book will be here before that.
Oh Kate and Felix…..what a treat and an inspiration! Thank you, thank you.
KNITSONIK = fantabulousness. I am a huge fan thank you so much for helping us all find her! And all the wonderful artists you support! This is so beautiful.
Thank you for the great post! My memory for names is crap and this will serve as a reference for when I once again forget Felicity’s name! Anna Maltz is a fine independent mind and it’s so fun to see what she is up to. And the rest of the post . . . Thanks again.
That shawl is INCREDIBLE!! And the book.
I have to read the post again because I forgot what happened at the start. Bit overwhelming. How fabulous.
Now THAT was a poem to knitting!
As I was reading, I thought back to how it was, decades upon decades ago, when my Momma, a talented knitter, was alive. Yarns were only available from a few, big manufacturers. Wool yarns were (at least in the southern US) almost overwhelmed by acrylic and their blends. Needles? As long as all you wanted were straight, metal, and with fairly dull points, you were ok. Patterns were written and didn’t provide schematics. Charts weren’t dreamed of.
I remember the first time I showed my Momma a chart. She thought it was brilliant. How I wish (oh, God, how I wish!) she was alive today, to see Ravelry, interchangeable needles, mosaic knitting, splendid charts, explanations for the how and why different yarns with different wools and spun characteristics worked better *here* or *there*. I think she would have stayed with knitting top-down, yoked (what we called) “ski” sweaters and “aran” cabled jumpers, but she might have snuck in a bit of bohus or some twisted stitches here and there, and she would have been happy to know from a schematic how much shorter to knit a sweater for each of us, all below average height.
Kate, you’ve done it again–got me thinking creatively and energetically, even despite the lethargy of a sleetstorm today, April 15th (ugh!). Thinking about colors and natural inspiration for patterns is the perfect antidote!
I, too, would love to get a copy of Felicity’s colorwork playbook (and maybe the coloring book companion, too). Any suggestions? Her website doesn’t work (I’m in the U.S.), and Amazon has a title, but no image and no purchasing options. Such a tease!
Thanks for all you do. . .
The only way to buy the book at the moment is directly through my knitsonik.bigcartel.com website. I ship all over the world and am not aware of any problems specific to orders placed from the USA. Having gone through the order process just now, I noticed you do need to select USA as the shipping country before entering a US zip code; if the country code selected is UK then it won’t accept a US zip code. Otherwise I am not sure what the problem could be.
I ordered mine directly from Felix with no issues. try again…it’s worth it!!!!
I hate to tell you this but … The Anna Malk website is not there. Not just your link but also when trying to access it through a Google search link.
Also, I tried to purchase the Knitsonic book but it refuses to accept a US postcode in the ordering address. I think I have contacted the sales site to advise them of this but the robo check is almost unreadable. I made my best guess and submitted the contact form but got no indication that the message had been accepted.
Thought I’d pop in to say that I had no trouble accessing the link to Anna Maltz’s (not Malk…) website https://www.annamaltz.com/
This is very odd, I have processed plenty of orders from the USA with US postcodes and am not aware of any particular issue; are you using knitsonik.bigcartel.com? Sorry it has proved tricky for you.
I live in Illinois and just completed a purchase of the Knitsonik book to be sent to my home. No problem at all entering my address. I had to repeat my zip code in the payment line, which was unusual, but no barriers whatsoever. Maybe try it again? I used the link in Kate’s blog post.
What a great post, Kate. As always, you are the most systemic-thinking-knitter out there! And the links took me down several fascinating paths. The obstacle that confronts me is technique – I have very little idea how to translate a design concept into a real-world knitted object. I’ve often wished I had a tutor for this. I know there are many sources to consult – and I own quite a few of them – but the prospect of digging in for what I’m looking for is daunting. (I have managed to grasp that ssk goes left vs. k2tog! it’s a start.)
I love Felix’ books and I think I now have enough yarn stash to get started on something!! Those buntings arw great!!
Great post, and so true. Coming back to knitting last year, after a gap since the 1980s, I’m amazed and inspired by the “bottom-up” creativity, the interplay between designers and knitters, and the global cross-fertilisation made possible by the internet.
It’s been a source of joy following ill health and premature retirement (and your own story a source of further inspiration).
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This is absolutely magnificent. Thank you.
Kate, you manage to put my thoughts into words. I love Felicity’s new books for their writing, inspiration and imagination. And colour! WOW!
Hah, I’ve been trying to resist Felix’s books! I have so little time for hobbies and every day there’s more inspiration arriving in my brain through social media. How I envy those who carve out time for this kind of artistic play!
But I do think there’s a big divide between the knitters that connect online and those that don’t. When I think of my nearest purveyors of yarn, there’s little sign of this vibrant, innovative community. The nearest yarn shop hasn’t changed much in 20 or 30 years, I reckon! It’s proper old-school, full of Wendy patterns and jumbo balls of DK acrylic in pink and baby blue. I doubt they’ve heard of Ravelry. Then there’s Hobbycraft and John Lewis, bastions of Rowan and Sirdar. Even the new John Lewis in Birmingham, despite its hip good looks and apparently some good intentions towards independent brands, only has a little space to squeeze them in. I do wish there were more opportunities to get exposed to this “bottom-up enterprise” that you experience, because for me it’s really just pixels.
Gosh, that really sounds more whingey than I meant! I definitely didn’t mean to be all Debbie Downer on such a celebratory post.
I do agree. That’s why yarn festivals are so exciting – you can meet small designers, spinners, etc. And you see such amazing knits being worn! Just more inspiration.
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hmm – what’s probably most interesting to me about the present moment is that it most emphatically is NOT “just pixels” – it is about people like Felix making beautiful physical books; about small producers manufacturing yarn from their own animals, in their own landscapes and locales; about knitters from all over the world being able to connect with one another in person at festivals and events like Shetland wool week or to take the time to take a few classes to learn new creative skills together (again from people like Felix). This community / culture has so much more to it than the internet – but it is certainly true that digital environments enable certain forms of connection – such as the one which allows us to have this conversation.
I too find John Lewis & Hobbycraft deeply uninspiring – perhaps if these shops stuck out their necks a little, took the time to actually look at what was happening in the market, and had T&Cs that better favoured small producers they’d find a host of interesting businesses who were really happy to supply them.
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I also suspect that those stores (which are similar, probably, to Michaels or JoAnne Fabrics here in the States) will find that if they DON’T keep up with this latest trend, it will be they that are tossed upon the trash heap of history, and not the independent dyers, designers, and publishers. Even Interweave Knits is having a hard go of it, simply because they do still cater to the larger yarn companies and boring designs.
I feel very inspired by most of your posts, Kate, but this one seems extremely energized and engaged and meaningful, almost a manifesto! Bravo. I’m definitely sharing this with my LYS and my knitting group. Thanks again for all you do.
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The physical connection is vital, but I think there are huge swathes of the country that don’t have access to that. And even if there is something local, how do you find out about it? How has Yarningham happened TWICE 30 minutes drive from me, without me noticing? This is a personal perspective, and very different to yours. For me, inspiration and momentary connections float by on the digital stream.
I mean, I’ve loved taking classes on brioche, Finnish stranded knitting, and wool types amongst other things – but the opportunities changed, and my world contracted a bit (thanks, motherhood!) and I haven’t been able to do any lately. I’ve gone out of my way to go to independent yarn shops, because I think you need to get your hands on wool and books to see if they’re right for you, but those opportunities come up once or twice a year for me. I have plenty of books and wool that I’ve bought because I’ve seen something online and thought, “Yes! That’s lovely! I must have it!” (For me, it’s easier too to justify an impulse purchase when it’s an independent you’re supporting.) Then it arrives in the post, and I feel a bit like I’m participating along with all the other knitters I see online. But somehow it’s not quite right for me, and off it goes to the shelf of shame.
Hi, So agree with you about Birmingham, as a fellow Brummie, the city is a craft wasteland…………….until I discovered Yarningham. This will be the festivals third year, and is going to be held at the Uffculme Centre in Moseley. It’s a growing festival of small companies, local indie dyers etc., and I would really recommend it.
Like you I find Hobbycraft and John Lewis lacking in inspiration, it’s all very old school. I rely on Ravelry for patterns, and have joined lots of groups which are full of inspiring, interesting women who recommend all sorts of patterns, I shop on-line (a bit hit and miss sometimes) but I have found some really excellent small companies. It saddens me that our city, once so proud of it’s industrial heritage which had a base in small workshops, family businesses etc., has not become a home to craft industries in the way for example Manchester has.
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Aha! Thank you for that recommendation – I have put Yarningham in my calendar. (I went to Knit Nation in London each time it was on, and I thought it was fantastic.) Most of the other yarn festivals are just a bit too far away to justify the travelling, so it’s lovely to hear of something so close to home.
I think Coventry is actually pretty typical of the way Britain treats its heritage at the moment. It’s a city founded on wool and textiles, but there’s no sign of that except a ribbon loom in the Herbert gallery. If you can travel and have a bit of money, though, you can visit beautiful-but-expensive Toft Alpaca just outside the city to buy luxury yarn. Craft and making is pretty gentrified. I expect if you took any of the grannies from Busy Fingers out there they’d have a heart attack at the cost of the yarn to knit a jumper!
Thank you for this “Ode” to knitting ❤❤❤ yarn, colo
Oh I LOVE the idea of the colouring-in book alongside!! It would be amazing if it was possible to buy individual colouring pages of the patterns so you could experiment with different combinations of colour!
Felicity’s bunting has quickly become my guilty pleasure.
Oh what a wonderful colourful post on this absolutely dreadful morning here in Ontario Canada. Thank you Kate the colour and vibrancy of it all is so needed today.
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