Knitsonik – and friends

A while ago when I was putting together the new Conversation Pieces area of the blog – where you can read interviews with, and profiles of, more than fifty of our creative friends – I realised that I had never actually had a blog-chat with one of KDD’s closest creative pals, Felicity (AKA Felix) Ford, Over the years, I’ve personally collaborated with Felix on many different projects (from tea towels to blankets), and since the very early days of this blog (which is where Felix and I first “met”) she has been someone with whom I’ve discussed everything from our experiences of disability to the politics of design. We started our creative businesses around the same time, have always been there to support each other through the multiple tricky complexities of managing a small enterprise in this industry and, perhaps most importantly of all, we always have a massive laugh together. It was definitely time to organise Felix’s own conversation piece, and I’m delighted that its subject is her most recent project: a publication which really encapsulates what a brilliantly creative and enabling person Felix is – the KNITSONIK & friends Colour to Knit e-book.

KD First, I just want to say a huge congratulations on publishing this e-book! It’s such a great example of what can be achieved through creative collaboration and it’s also (if you don’t mind me saying so) a wonderful celebration of your own enabling, expansive, and joyous approach to colour.

Thank you for saying that and for hosting me on the amazing KDD blog! Enablement, joy and creative collaboration are exactly what I wanted this project to be about; I’m so happy if that translates in the final product.

The best thing about this project, it seems to me, is that it exemplifies the powerful creative impact of PLAY. So I want to start by asking you what I know is a big question: can you tell us about the role of play in your own creative practice?

It’s an interesting question – and a big one! My creative practice, whether working with knitting or with sound, is about taking everyday things and doing something that causes us to appreciate their inherent magic. I love the affirmative idea that we don’t have to look far, or hard, to be inspired.

Finding ways to apprehend the magical qualities of daily life requires making space for curiosity and wonder and being kind to ideas so that however small and silly they seem at first, they are allowed to grow. That is part of what playing means to me: attending to the world with joyous, uncynical interest. However, it is also about acting on what we discover when we let ourselves be led by wonder, which means making supportive spaces for experimenting.

In this e-book I’m joined by Beverley Dott (Fair City Knits), Patricia Kimmitt (JudithJayne Design) and Nolwenn Pensivy, who each reveal their own unique approaches to creative play in their respective chapters. One of the best parts of this project has been learning how my friends play in the medium of stranded colourwork and – of course – getting to play together.

Can you tell us a little more about the process of collaboration that eventually grew into Knitsonik & Friends: Colour to Knit. What’s the background of the project and how did it come about?

I carry several colouring books in my online shop and got curious about how/if knitters use them to support stranded colourwork design. I put out an open call in my Ravelry group inviting folks to colour-in any of the drawings from any of the colouring books stocked in my online shop, with a view to knitting or crocheting an accessory inspired by colouring-in. The prizes included yarn for realising designs; support for writing up the patterns; and inclusion in this e-book. The strongest ideas came from Bev, Patricia and Nolwenn. Through 2021 we met online each month to knit our samples; cheer each other on; and discuss the joys of playing with colour.

Brightlingsea swatches

I’d like to know more about the creative experience of using hand colouring—working with coloured pencils and paper to explore the palettes that you later knit up in your designs. Can you say something about how putting pencil to paper relates to (and enhances) the process of swatching and exploring colour on the needles?

I think sometimes knitters are stingy with ourselves and imagine that the only time we may play with colour is when we commit to knitting a specific design, pull out a shade-card, and ask ourselves what colours we’d like. This feels a bit like doing a long-distance walk with no training beforehand. Building muscles for walking starts with little, everyday walks; building muscles for working with colour starts with little, everyday experiments. Colouring-in, swatching, playing with balls of yarn and shade cards, and studying colour interactions in existing designs are all activities we can do regularly and mean that when it comes time to pick out yarns for a particular project, there’s a wealth of knowledge on which to draw.

When colouring-in – and especially with pencils – you’ll often find you need to go a bit darker or a bit warmer with your shades to make the colours really sing. Working out what you need to change to get colours where you want them to sit on the spectrum can deepen our understanding of colour theory in a very experiential way. I personally find colour relationships much easier to understand through doing rather than thinking and playing with pencils (and swatching) can really help with that. When you’re colouring-in a shape and you can see the colour is too cold, and you realise that you can lightly add a layer of hot yellow to warm it up a bit, you’re giving yourself the kind of experience that will later enable you to spot when a design needs a warmer shade, and so on.

There is also something about doing things with our hands that really helps ideas to become firmly established in our sensory memories. We had an interesting conversation in which everyone agreed it was more useful to refer to my KNITSONIK Knit Stitch Template as a video tutorial than to provide illustrations already created using this method. This is a method I use to trace charts into my journal for visualising the knitted fabric and exploring colouring ideas. Everyone involved in the e-book had used this technique in their own journals and felt there was intrinsic value in actually drawing out the motif: that this act in and of itself deepens our understanding of how a stranded colourwork motif works.

I love how each project in the e-book exemplifies a very different approach to playing with colour. Could you summarise these different approaches?

Yes! Each project definitely gives you creative ideas that can be adapted to any different context.

Patricia’s Brightlingsea Scarf chapter reveals her process of distilling memories of a trip to Brightlingsea into a striking palette of just five colours. There’s the main colour of the scarf; three perfect shades to describe the blues of the sea; and a vibrant shade of yellow that speaks to the brightly-coloured beach huts. Patricia explains the decisions she took and her swatching and colouring process so that you can recreate exactly what she’s made or recolour the design with an enhanced understanding of the colour relationships within the original sample. It’s a non-intimidating starting place for anyone who’s never recoloured a stranded colourwork design before: you only need five shades, and there are miles of plain stockinette to enjoy between the delicious detail of the colourwork at each end of the scarf. It’s also highly adaptable – you need only find an iconic building and some texture (foliage, water, rocks…) to adapt the design and make it speak to a specific place or memory.

Nolwenn’s Cheers! mitts offer a really fun way of exploring variegated yarns in your stash and using them as the basis for a stranded colourwork palette. I think many of us choose variegated yarns precisely because we love the colours. What’s so great about Cheers! is that Nolwenn provides a tutorial showing how to consult your variegated skein to select a palette of four solid shades with which to knit your mitts. Following the tutorial is really fun and builds appreciation for the skills of the dyer and the complexity of colour within a variegated skein of yarn. Nolwenn’s ideas could be adapted to any project in which you wished to combine solid and variegated shades.

My Flombre accessory set explores ombre shading sequences and different rates of colour-change between yarns used in background and pattern. It repurposes the motif from my Efflorescent Shawl: Cherry Blossom Edition from my Playbook, showing how previous projects can be reinterpreted for very different end results. Watching the subtle shifts between each shade in each colour is a bit addictive! Knitting Flombre reveals the key roles that contrast and temperature play in enabling pattern and background to stand out from one another – and sometimes melt together – in stranded colourwork design; you could apply the same changes I have made from the original Efflorescent charts to the new Flombre charts to turn any existing stranded colourwork design into a statement ombre piece.

Bev’s show-stopping Japonica wrap utilises all the colour skills developed through the previous projects and really demonstrates what you can do with a massive chart and many different yarn shades. The design speaks to a Japonica plant spotted on one of Bev’s walks, for which Bev picked out a complex representative palette that plays with colour and contrast to make everything melt and shimmer together. Bev describes the tools and process she uses so you have all the information you’d need to recolour it to speak to your favourite memories from places where you’ve walked.

Collectively, these projects provide a range of different insights into thinking about colours and how they interact in our knitting – from celebrating your favourite memories in a bold palette of five shades, to reappraising the glorious colours of a variegated skein in your stash; from reworking projects in ombre or gradient yarns, to going all out on a maximalist all-steeking, all-dancing wrap, there really is something in here for everyone, and if you don’t want to knit them all, the essays on process and pages to print and colour provide transferable colour skills that you can use in other projects.

I found it really refreshing to read Nolwenn Pensivy’s discussion of the effective use of hand-dyed and variegated yarns in stranded colourwork. The Cheers! mitts are just so brilliantly nifty! Have you made yourself a pair?  And what did you discover about mixing your own yarn cocktail in this way?

I have cast on a pair of Cheers! mitts but have picked out colours for two or three pairs, as the process is just so fun. What I discovered about mixing my own yarn cocktail is that, no matter how much you work with colour, there is always more to see. Right now I’m working on a pair that uses a skein of OOAK (One Of A Kind) yarn dyed by Rachel of FLYY DYED. At first glance my skein looks quite pink, but when you hold it up to other yarn shades, it definitely registers more closely to reds and oranges. For that pair I chose some of the mini-skeins of yarn from RiverKnits incredible wall of Nene 4 Ply Minis. This is a very carefully planned and dyed range of mini skeins, conceived by Becci to enable makers to create ombre, fade and gradient sets. There’s an interview between Becci and Nolwenn in the e-book, where they discuss this wall of colour and how Nolwenn approached it for designing the mulled wine version of the Cheers! mitts. It’s a fascinating conversation about colour that  highlights the role that yarn dyers play in our adventures with stranded colourwork design – learning about Becci’s process also helped me pick out yarn shades for my Cheers! mitts.

I was so happy to see you describe this project, in your introduction, as “proudly disabled led.” This e-book is something that’s so obviously been produced with accessibility and inclusion at its heart. Can you say something about how different experiences of disability have inspired and influenced Knitsonik & Friends: Colour to Knit

I’m glad you noticed that – it’s such an important part of the project. As you know and have so beautifully described in Handywoman, living in the world and managing any form of disability necessitates being both imaginative and resourceful. Disabled people often need to develop a kind of ingenious, practical creativity to navigate environments that often don’t prioritise our needs and experiences. Yet working toward accommodating disabilities often produces solutions that are more user-friendly for everyone. For example I have always included Closed Captions in my videos for my online school in order to make audio information accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, but I receive messages from lots of other user groups saying how helpful they are – parents watching the videos while trying to get children to sleep; folks with auditory processing issues who prefer silent content; people for whom English is not their first language…the list goes on.

The team of makers behind this book share a broad range of impairments and we had to work carefully together to accommodate one another’s access needs in our shared virtual workspace. We combined video meetings and text-based messaging for different communication and processing styles; talked through varied learning modes and ways of making ideas available in different formats; and worked to strike a balance between all the things we wanted the book to be and our own capacity to physically produce it.

I think the book is massively enriched for the ways in which disabled experiences have informed its production. The e-book includes charts for all the projects in three formats – full colour; black and white; and colour-your-own. The amazing Dyslexie font is used throughout to enhance its readability, and we have thoughtfully incorporated a walking stick into the styling of Bev’s Japonica wrap, drawing on our shared experiences of mobility aids as an extension of the body, and our wish to see them more often – and more positively – represented. Just like with the Closed Captions, I hope these elements of the book mean that everyone will find it friendly and easy to use.

I absolutely love the e-book’s colourful styling, photography and layout! Can you take us behind the scenes and tell us a little about how you went about planning and styling the photoshoots?

We had so much fun with the colours for the photoshoot and I must shout out my incredibly talented brother Fergus and his team of Heidi, James and Taia for undertaking the photoshoot with such joy and for being so supportive and helpful.

Creating a sense of visual continuity between four totally different designers each working with totally different yarn shades and colour ideas poses something of a challenge, but Ferg suggested that coloured paper backdrop rolls would give each design its own identity, but also create a kind of colour-block logic that would run throughout the book. He tasked me with identifying the perfect colours for these backdrops and we went with aqua for Patricia’s scarf, hot pink for my Flombre set, and sage green for Bev’s Japonica wrap. We wanted the background colour to make the knitted samples glow using either complementary or contrast colours. Because Nolwenn produced three totally different versions of Cheers! inspired by different drinks, it was hard to find just one colour! I puzzled over it for ages until I remembered Nolwenn’s clever workaround for representing variegated yarn in her charts using grey. Unless you want to spend many hours trying to represent variegated yarn in coloured pencils, it’s easiest – when plotting a pair of Cheers! mitts – to just represent it in grey and concentrate colouring efforts solely on deciding the sequence of solid shades that will make the purl-bump triangles. We decided to use the same principle in the shoot. Instead of having tons of different colours to try and bring out all the pairs of mitts, we used a soft, warm grey against which they could sing and party, just like the solid colours in the charts.

With backdrops decided, we put mood-boards together online and talked through styling ideas. I then went on Vinted and eBay to source second hand clothing that would match the different mood for each design. I tried to find things that are quite plain without surface prints, to give detailed stranded colourwork a simple ground against which to shine without too much distraction. I’m a big fan of picking out one or two bright shades within a design to add as lip, nail or eye colours. This is how I like to style my own stranded colourwork when I wear it, and I thought it would be nice to bring that little element to the shoot. At the shoot, I did everyone’s makeup, sorted out the props for each design and fussed with the knitwear to make sure it was lying right in all the pictures; I also had a list of desired shots from each of the designers, that we used to try and make sure everything looked just like everyone wanted.

You and I have often spoken about the challenges of wearing so many different hats: something which becomes inevitable when one is managing a small creative business. I’m so lucky in being able to share the multiple tasks that are involved in bringing a project to fruition with Tom and my other KDD colleagues, but in this project, it seems to me, you have done a huge amount of creative and administrative work yourself, wearing many hats with considerable aplomb. Can you tell us a bit about the different kinds of work (and hats) this project has involved for you?

This project has involved wearing more hats than usual! To fund the project – to pay the other designers, to pay for yarn, to pay for tech-editing (shout out to amazing Frauke Urban!), to pay for makeup and clothes (even second-hand ones), I have needed to keep my online shop and school ticking over while working on this project. So there’s been a business-as-usual hat to wear, with fulfilment, accounting and customer service all continuing alongside book-production. I’ve not managed a team of other designers before and a project like this needs leadership and someone to glue everything together, liaise with the tech-editor so everything is consistent, hold meetings, keep a handle on the to-do lists, and badger everyone for photos and text! So there’s been a sort of project-lead hat. Perhaps the biggest challenge for this book was deciding to do all the layout and illustrations myself – mostly for cost reasons. Laying out a book, from start to finish, is a huge amount of work and I’m still figuring out how InDesign and Illustrator work, so that was a big job and another hat to wear, and then somewhere in this I also needed to find my own creative artist hat and work on a design. Finally, I now have to get my marketing hat on and tell everyone about what we’ve made and all the love and work that went in!  

Whew! A huge amount of work has gone in to this project! What do you hope knitters will get out of Knitsonik & Friends: Colour to Knit?

I hope this book will entice knitters to play more easily and more confidently with colour, and to cherish the rich process more deeply from having an initial idea to making a finished project. I hope knitters will be as inspired as I’ve been by the creative visions of my collaborators, and that everyone will find something they can use for adventures in stranded colourwork design. I hope knitters will take all the ideas we’ve shared as opportunities to play, and to give time and space to colouring-in charts; consulting shade cards; and playing with pens and pencils. Perhaps, most of all, I hope knitters using this book will have happy realisations about colour and little a-ha moments that will fuel further creativity and confidence.

Finally, can you tell us what you’ve been up to since you finished the e-book? What’s next for KNITSONIK?

Since finishing work on this book I’ve mostly been knitting hats and resting! However, what’s next is rebooting The KNITSONIK System course in my online school as a standalone course. It’s a course that shows you how to translate an inspiration source into stranded colourwork that I originally produced and ran in 2020. I’m also planning to get back to Yarnadelic Remixes 0.1 – a collaboration in Knit and Sound with my amazing friend, Muriel Pensivy (Labistrake Makes). As with this project, these others foreground the value of play, the joy of process, and thoughtful making.

Play away, Felix! Thank you for this illuminating chat!

Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog and for asking such brilliant questions – it’s always such a pleasure to speak with you.