Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Spotlight on Felicity Ford

Yesterday on the blog we told you about Felicity's Kickstarter campaign to fund her KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. This 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's a project that just captured everyone's attention and it's so exciting to see so many backers already who wish to see the finished product as much as we do. Felicity very kindly answered some questions for Jeni to get a further glimpse into the creative world in which she lives. 


Jeni: What was your first ever Fair Isle project and how did it turn out?

The first stranded colourwork project I knitted was Selbu Modern by Kate Gagnon Osborn. I had a friend in Reading who was doing some colourwork, and it looked impossible to me! But my friend said - with huge confidence - "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 your other; hold one colour per hand: it's as simple as that". I went home inspired and immediately cast on my Selbu Modern. I made it in two shades of New Lanark - a lovely warm blue and blossomy pink - and it turned out to be beautiful in its construction and tension, but unwearably enormous! I felted it in the washing machine twice to try and make it a sensible size, but it remained ever massive. Sizing issues aside, I was very pleased with how the fabric turned out, I loved the tension I achieved, and - as my friend suggested - I found it surprisingly easy. Selbu Modern is a great starter project because it uses only two colours, and it's really easy to see where you are in the pattern.   


Jeni: What would you say to people perhaps who are completely terrified about having a go at Fair Isle because they might mess it up?

Ooh, great question! I saw a slogan once - "if you're not making a mess, you're not making" - which I think is a very good thing to remember! I have loads of practical tips for avoiding practical problems which I'll get to in a moment, but I think that overcoming The Fear of Messing Things Up is also important. With my book I want to to ensure - as much as possible - that creative experiments in stranded colourwork go right for knitters, but I think it's also important to share how useful it can be when things go wrong as they sometimes do!

For instance the massive Selbu Modern taught me some really important things about the changes in my tension when knitting with two colours. I also made a truly hideous hat once out of Alice Starmore's Hebridean 2-ply; the colours I picked out clashed horribly when knitted up together, and I realised then that looking at colours as an artist thinking about making a painting is totally different from looking at colours as a knitter thinking about making a garment. It was an important realisation for me and I learnt loads.


...All that said, we all know how long it takes to knit things, and how disheartening it can be when something which has taken hours to make goes wrong. Therefore I would always start with a small project when approaching a new knitting technique, because you will learn lots, but won't have lost as much precious time if everything ends in disaster... a hat is a good starting point as it's a relatively small canvas and you only have to make one!

Also, after my own conversion to The Ways of Stranded Knitting, I always tell people who want to have a go to try knitting Continental style (or English style if they already knit Continental) as I find the two handed method especially easy to follow and understand. If you can knit both ways, it's really easy to get started with a two-handed approach to stranded colourwork. I'd also say to try and be as relaxed and loose with the knitting as possible, as too loose is definitely better than too tight. It also helps a lot to knit with something forgiving with a bit of a fuzzy halo like Shetland wool or New Lanark, as these yarns are more forgiving of tension issues than something really smooth and defined like a superwash merino or mercerised cotton which will really emphasise any flaws in your knitting!

Overall, there are many practical tips on how to avoid messing everything up, but in my knitting I love to match these up with a healthy respect and appreciation for all the wonderful things that can be learned When You Make a Mess!


Jeni: Personally I think taking everyday objects and things and being able to turn it into something I can knit into a sweater/accessory sounds quite honestly a blimin' brilliant idea.  It would mean  I could create something unique and special, not only for me, but also I think very meaningful personal gifts for loved ones.. by translating things we share into Fair Isle. Have you ever created something using Fair Isle like this? If not already done, can you tell me about a project you would love to create, what things you would translate and why for someone special?

I'm really glad you like the core concept! You've got it - it's about making special things which are also beautiful and wearable, and which contain our own stories. The idea has come about because of my big need to celebrate the ordinary stuff I find around me. I love the everyday... before I got these ideas about stranded colourwork, I was knitting things like tea bags and potatoes. But knitted teabags and potatoes are not as useful as mittens and sweaters! Being able to inscribe everyday things into my clothes celebrates the shape and texture of my life, and I really like that the end results can then return to daily life, and be worn in all those places and situations which inspired their making.


One of my favourite ideas - which I explore in the book - concerns turning the brickwork of Reading into stranded colourwork, and copying the patterns in the brickwork into knitting charts. The more I do this, the more I appreciate the artistry of the bricklayers who built this town, and the little details they added in here and there; it makes me love the terraced streets more and more to examine them in this way. How fun will it be to walk down roads full of gorgeous Victorian brickwork wearing a hat which celebrates those precise places?! Figuring out ways to make clothes based on these things struck me as being a really rich area to explore, and as you say, gives great scope for gift-giving, too... because I am sure everyone has things like this which they notice in daily life and would love to celebrate in some small way.



In recent years at Christmas, I have created special hats for Mark which refer to aspects of our life together; one year I put bears and weasels on it because we always joke that I am a weasel and he is a bear, and on another year, I commemorated our walks together around Oxfordshire in a design featuring the barley crop growing in our favourite fields and the hares that played there. I also made some socks based on the distinctive flint and stone used in Reading's oldest church - St Mary's Butts - and I think of it every time I go into town. 

My Listening Tunic celebrates all the sound recording work that I do and is embellished with the play/pause/record buttons which I use on my digital recorders, and I love that correlation between form and function. I would like very much to knit something for Mark which is about our wonderful cat in a way which would be a nice secret between us and an elegant thing for him to wear. Mark wouldn't be seen dead in a clownish sweater with comedy felines on it, but if I could find an abstract way to show the soft shapes of Joey's paws and how the light glints red and burgundy on his black fur I think I could make something sophisticated and referential, which he would like to wear and which I would like to design.  


Jeni: Personally, knowing me and knowing my customers, I suspect having basic patterns/formats to create small objects/accessories will be the most likely way I would  be tempted into having a go… please, please can you include a basic mitten pattern I can start with, and maybe something else smallish we can get started on to start with?

I agree that having something small and basic to get started with is a really good idea for the book, and there will indeed be one or two patterns which you can plug your own custom colourwork into! My core concept is that making amazing swatches gives you ideas which can be applied to many, many subsequent garments... but I agree that having something right there in the book to get started with is a brilliant way to begin, and how pleasing to be able to swatch, cast on, and then knit something truly unique.  


Jeni: You have chosen to use Jamieson & Smith yarn, I do have a lovely selection of colours languishing in my stash ready for your book to come out.. but I wonder if you can tell me why this yarn is so good for Fair Isle.. just incase peeps have never tried it?

I find it a very forgiving yarn for stranded colourwork. As the name suggests, there are strands involved in colourwork - you are always carrying one colour along the back of the knitting - and if you hold this too tight or too loose, you can end up with a puckered fabric which is very displeasing! You need to work out your own tension issues, but the J & S yarn goes a long way to helping you create a smooth fabric! It relaxes in a lovely way when you block it, settling down into an even surface which is surprisingly light and lofty. I also love the palette of the J & S yarns; there is a fantastic range of different shades, and I find it has just the right balance of grip and softness in my hands when I knit with it. 

I also enjoy the lovely halo which the Shetland wool produces; the fuzzy edges of this woolen-spun yarn do a great job of softening the edges of a graphic pattern, and makes it possible to achieve very subtle and delicate shading through a range of colours. 

Also, the traceable nature of J & S yarn makes it very inspiring to work with. Meeting Oliver Henry and hearing about how the wool is gathered from all over Shetland, then spun at Curtis Wool in Yorkshire, I feel I understand transparently how this yarn is produced, and where it's from. I've visited some farms where it grows and met some of the people involved in its journey from sheep to shop, which makes me feel I can really trust it. 

Finally, Ella and Sandra are both amazing knitters with an incredible knowledge of their product, and they know the shades inside and out. I get a lot of confidence from knowing that I can call them up, and that they are totally experienced with the palette. I also feel good knowing that any knitters who want to work with this yarn after reading my book will also benefit from the amazing skill and knowledge at J & S. I think that in making a knitting book, it's important to feel that knitters will get a good experience of working with the yarn you recommend, and I really feel brilliant about recommending J & S on all fronts.


Jeni: Finally… do you ever get the urge to knit Raj’s tank tops???

Raj and 'those' sweater vests....

YES! I love Raj's tank tops! He has some great Fair Isle designs in his wardrobe! I must confess though that I often find myself goofing off and wondering if there isn't a way to embed more science theory into those intricate designs? For instance, have you seen the amazing periodic table sweater? 


or this?



I love these examples, because it's exactly what I want to do with the book; embedding something personal and unique in your clothes for fun, for the creative challenge, and as a celebration of what you do and what you are about! So Raj's tank tops always make me think about how awesome if would be if some more of the theory in Big Bang could be inspiring the knitted motifs... but perhaps keeping the same awesome colours that he seems to like to wear! 


Thanks so much for the lovely questions and for helping spread the word on my Kickstarter Campaign! 


Don't forget to check in and see how Felicity's Kickstarter is going and perhaps even bid to part of the project!

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