Interruption #4, by Linda

23 Feb
2101 close-up

Untitled 2101 close-up

 What question . . . ?

Oh no, not that question again. You can’t cover it with an elegant lie, as with, “Mummy, how did that baby get into your tummy?” or “How much have you bloody spent/drunk/shot your mouth off this time?”. This is because you’re a Nartist and they’ve asked you what is art, and of course there is no answer.

Oh, that question . . .

Unless of course you look it up in Wikipedia, hoping for some nice, comfy, sweeping statements, such as (I paraphrase:) art used to be merely skill and craftsmanship in the West until the 19th century, and now it’s supposed to make you think and feel. Oh, and there’s no mention of knitting and crochet on that page; is that because if you can’t get a baby or elephant or chimpanzee to do it so you can flog it as abstract art, then it’s a craft, therefore it’s not art by 21st century definition?

. . . so who gets to be the artist then?

Talking of craft, this question of “are we artists?” is often discussed by knitters. One of the suggested answers is that if you knit or crochet to a pattern, you’re doing craft; if you have designed the pattern then you get to be The Artist. And the problem with that is the naming game again, because names of trades carry implications of hierarchy: a company director is better than an executive because he earns more; an artist is nobler than his studio craftsmen because he or she is the one who puts the soul into the art – or so the Romantics might have you believe. So take a bow, then, Jeff Koons, Rolf Harris and that chimp who did the spatter paintings.

So why don’t we just say it’s all art, and that the epiphany – or the lucky break that makes you realise stuff – is the best bit. So if you’ve just bought some new blue yarn and you’re mucking about and experimenting with it, and your toddler grabs it and chucks it on the stash pile, right next to a green that should never match it, and the two colours make beautiful love, then that’s art – well it would be if you got off your backside and made a scarf with those two yarns together.

Opus 800

Mel's beautiful Opus 800

Happy crafting, my artist friend.

The honeymoon is over

20 Feb

All wound up

The borrowed ball winder and I fell in love over aran weight wool and had our first fight over 4 ply silk. Who knew the two experiences could be so different? 85g of Tall Yarns’ beautiful pure silk, one skein that wanted to be a ball when it grew up. It kept getting knotted, slipping off the winder and generally being a not-much-fun experience. I had to give myself a timeout and have a coffee. Then I came back and made it into two 40-something gram balls and peace was restored. We made up by going back to where we fell in love – 100% wool. This time kettle dyed Manos del Uruguay in lovely blues and greens. I returned the ball winder to its owner and we were both sad to part.

then . . .

Hours of happy yarn winding wasn’t the only thing I didn’t rate when I started knitting again. For those of you that don’t know, I knat as a teenager but gave it up in my early 20’s, coming back to it just as I turned 40. When I bought yarn before, I went into the ‘Wool Shop’ where my mum worked, chose a colour and she sent me home with a couple of balls, stashing the others in the back room for later. The pattern was usually bought at the same time, on glossy paper, produced by the yarn manufacturer so we bought the recommended yarn. My choice of patterns was limited to what the Wool Shop stocked and it never occured to me to look anywhere else.

Manos yarn before winding

Manos yarn before winding

. . . and now

So now, 20 years later, the process couldn’t be more different. For a start, I now live more than 200 miles from my mum, she doesn’t work in a wool shop, and my choice is huge. The result is that I spend lots of time that I would previously have spent knitting, looking for patterns, looking at what other people made with the patterns, looking at what yarns other people used with the patterns and what they thought of the patterns. I don’t buy the pattern and the yarn together now, in fact a lot of the patterns I use are free. I don’t have them printed on glossy paper – I sometimes print them at home or just work from the computer for simple patterns. Now I buy yarn with no idea of what I will do with it. So there’s hours of reading about yarn, looking at other people’s yarn, feeling other people’s yarn, hearing what other people think of their yarn, touching yarn in shops/exhibitions, thinking about it, looking what people have knat with it, looking at what they thought of what they knat with it. Then there’s swatching and changing needle size and washing the swatch.

Tall yarns silk

Tall yarns silk

At first all this ‘not knitting’ was very frustrating but now I realise that I enjoy that part as much as I do the knitting. If I had a shed, then this would be time spent out there, sharpening my tools, arranging my resources, and just being around my hobby.

To mis-quote a terrible song: “Are we human, or are we knitter?”

Tags: ball winder winding buying patterns

Interruption #3, by Linda

19 Feb
Rural Household Chores Germany 1900

"Rural Household Chores", German oil painting ca.1900. Artist unknown.

I just found another one of these old wool-craft paintings. This one appears to be an oil with an illegible signature; it is dated about 1900, and I think it’s German.

Just two women alone . . .

It’s piquant: sweet and sad at the same time, and with the usual symbolism that you find in these things. Mother and daughter sit at home and hatless in the usual bare room, working in the light of the closed and curtained window. Mother is elderly; she spins a fine thread, while her strapping daughter knits something shapeless and in the round – too big for socks, and it’s not a sleeve . . .

. . . not sadness . . .

. . . It could be a shroud for a baby. Daughter’s water jar sits upright and firmly stoppered by her feet; she wears no ring; she’s unmarried and has no baby. Her mother’s water jar is empty; finished and put away on the shelf – the sign of a widow, perhaps. Or was mother ever married? No ring is visible. Daughter depends on her mother’s spinning for her yarn, but her thread is running out: it perhaps references her genetic line running out? And her shoe buckle is undone – some linguistic German reference there, maybe.

. . .  but serenity . . .

It’s not sad, though, because they’re living in the moment. Mother is hunched over her spinning, taking great care in her fine work. Daughter wears a gorgeously-coloured shawl – woven and dyed by these two, maybe? Or an exotic and imported gift from a past admirer? She too is raptly concentrating on her work; it’s her pleasure and maybe even redemption.

The redemption of both is signified in their hands: beautiful, powerful yet elegant workwomen’s hands which create fine artefacts. A light shines on their peaceful faces, and it doesn’t come from the window. Even if they have no descendants, the world will have the results of their work. So can we appreciate that? Our respect is maybe all they have.

Interruption #2 by Linda

13 Feb

Sorry Mel, here I am taking up space again on your blog – but you talking about a swift put me in mind of this painting.

C19 Dutch interior with swift

19th century Dutch interior with swift

It’s one of those Dutch interiors which used to sell very well all over Europe and the UK, like the Delft crockery which has been judiciously included as one of the props.  At that time, people liked story-pictures, preferably with a moral implication, and today we are inclined to shrug our shoulders at the story and look for social history instead.  And therein lies a problem.

A story . . .

This kind of story is always going to be a bit of a giggle, isn’t it.  Father has answered the door.  He is head of the household, but he steps back when the urchin says he has been told to hand the letter to the youngest daughter instead.  The fun is in people’s reactions; everyone except the cat  looks at said daughter.  Our little heroine blushes as well she might, because the letter is a billet-doux from a sailor who has just left with the tide: the sea is visible through the door, and the lover is absent.  Her friend sniggers, her sister is jealous, and Father is indulgent and bemused. The girls drink tea; is the lover from a tea clipper?

 . . . and questions . . .

As with all of these things, the more you look at it, the more questions you find yourself asking. Two of the women are not working; is it a Sunday?  And if so, where is the Bible, why is one woman working, and why is Father wearing his working clothes?  So it’s not Sunday.  According to his costume, Father is perhaps an artisan, or maybe he works on the wharfe in the fishmarket or making blocks and spars.  No tools of his trade are visible in the house, so he works elsewhere.  If so, why has he been sitting in that now-empty chair and smoking, while it is daylight? Maybe Father is a prop, made to act like the rich buyers of paintings of Dutch interiors; men who could afford to spend time at home during daylight. Maybe Father has hastily accompanied the urchin to his own home, in the middle of the working day, because he thinks the letter is important? 

So in that case, what’s with the empty chair, half pulled out from the table?  The teacup is unused – although there was a tradition of telling fortunes by swirling remaining tealeaves in the bottom of the cup, inverting the cup on the saucer to remove the last drops of tea, then imagining you could see pictures in the tealeaves now stuck around the inside of the cup.  Perhaps the friend was sitting there and telling fortunes, and has now run round to the eldest sister to whisper what she knows about the lovers?  Mother is missing, presumed dead – more symbolism for the empty chair – but there are still three cups and four people in the room (urchins don’t count).

. . . and secrets

The room is almost unfurnished by modern standards – a style beloved of the Dutch interior painters, because no clutter means more perspective to show off, and more focus on the actors in the story.  In this picture it’s a simple and honest setting for simple and honest folk, but the result is frustratingly that we can’t work out what these girls do for a living.  Our heroine winds wool from a peg-swift (yes, we’ve got there at last), but what is she going to do with all that white yarn?  There is no sign of needles, hook or loom.  Her wool is white; is it symbolism of virginity, therefore purity?  White wool was inconvenient to knit with in those days, because steel needles stained it, so you had to use bone needles, if you could get them.  Everyone in the picture wears dark-coloured and woven outer garments, which leaves undergarments and baby clothes as targets for the white wool; this is yarn for intimacy and domesticity; private things.  

If we’re into symbolism, then, is there anything to tell us whether our heroine is as virginal as she is made out to be?  She’s cute and fluffy and looks down modestly.  Tick.  But the cat looks down too, not too cutely, and she has her tail up: a lively cat, maybe?  Big sister’s apron covers the whole front of her dress – you can just see that under the table.  But little sister’s apron is pulled halfway up; what is that supposed to mean? Is there going to be an embarrassment in her life?  The picture appears to show the briefest of moments, but the swift is turning, like time. It’s in the foreground at centre-stage, so take another look at it; what does it remind you of?

Close-up of 19th century Dutch swift, painted to look like a woman holding a baby

Close-up of Dutch swift

So there’s really so much scene-setting and story-telling and symbolism there, that there’s not much left for us social history hounds – except the swift.  They had jolly good swifts in the Netherlands in the old days, didn’t they, complete with stash boxes, and I wish that one was mine.

tags: swift holland netherlands 19th century winding ball skein

Ball winders and belts

10 Feb

I spent a puzzling afternoon with a new friend once when I had just started knitting again after a 20-year gap. She was using a ball winder and a swift to make lovely balls out of a skein/hank of yarn. What puzzled me was that she didn’t just wind a ball and leave it at that, she wound it into a ball, then wound it again into another ball and finally into a third ball which she kept. I couldn’t understand why she would spend good knitting time fiddling around with balls. Well, this week I found out why.

Wendy trad aran

I borrowed a ball winder from a lovely friend with the intention of making balls from some skeins I had recently bought and from a HUGE ball of wool she gave me herself. So, I wound a ball and enjoyed it. But it was a bit loose. So I wound it again from the first ball and it was better. But it still wasn’t right. So I held the yarn going in between my fingers to give it some tension and the ball was fantastic. I was hooked. From then on, I spent the rest of the evening playing with a 500g ball of wool, making perfect little 50g balls with it. The feeling of satisfaction was enormous. I particularly like the moment when you pull the ball off the winder and the yarn rushes in to fill the gap it left. Super!

Wendy trad aran

All wound up!

So I finished the belt pattern and it’s published. In case you weren’t reading my last entry, it’s a free pattern for a Tunisian crochet belt that you can do without buying any special equipment. All you need is a 6mm crochet hook that can hold 6 stitches at once, some aran yarn and something fancy to edge it with. Then you can go mad and decorate it as much as you like. So, Linda will add in the link here because I’m rubbish at that… She will probably put in a photo….  or 2…..  as well.

Opus 1901

Opus 1901

Linda has been very busy recently and has published lots of new stuff. I’ll tell you more about that next week, or Linda will herself. Or she might have another rant, which is all good.

Happy knitting/hooking 🙂

tags: ball winder swift wendy traditional aran yarn free tunisian crochet pattern belt winding cake

Interruption . . . by Linda

6 Feb
by Richard Dunkley at Schmidts, UK Vogue 15 Apr 73

"Mad English at Schmidts" by Richard Dunkley, UK Vogue 15 Apr 1973

Mel says I can interrupt her blog for one of my rants. This should be fun, then. It’s not about Mel; she’s a lovely lady, a good friend and a great designer. It’s not about you, our lovely knitters. It’s not about other designers. It’s about certain people who make designers look daft when they’re not.

The naming game . . .

A million years ago in the early 20th century, before even I was born, UK patterns came in leaflets, and each one tended to have exciting names, like Sirdar 8438 and Beehive 7811. The lucky patterns which made it to books and magazines got called Blue Cardigan, Baby Hat and the like. So now, today – what’s with all these girls’ names given to patterns? And what happens when you design a man’s sock? Call it Leaves? Lancaster?

Now designers are artists, and they can call their pattern whatever they like. If they want to name their jumper after a relative, friend, celeb, fictional heroine – that’s romantic and lovely, and good luck to them. If their stitch pattern and yarn colour remind them of banana leaves, then of course they can and should call their pattern Banana Leaves if they want.

But all that only counts if it’s their own idea, and where this is going wrong is in knit mags, where the editor first invents a story (what?) and then hastily cobbles together a list of names – any old girls’ names and place names; same number of names as pattern pages in their mag – and asks their designers to design on a theme. Well, the last bit is fine – and these mags all have great designers doing gorgeous designs. So then the editor slaps the names on the designs as they come in, and there you have it – pretentious pattern-naming that has nothing to do with the patterns.

So that is why Mel’s and my patterns have these more-pretentious-than-thou names. “Opus” just means a work, and tends to be used for classical musical compositions. “Untitled” tends to be a name given to fine art pieces along with catalogue numbers. (For our overseas audience, this is called British humour, and has to do with irony).

. . . and stories

Oh, and what about the design “story”? What’s that when it’s at home? As far as I can see it means getting together those designs made to the editor’s theme, and bunging the whole lot in front of the same photo location. That’s not a story; stories have plots.

Back in the 70s, Vogue UK (fashion mag, not knit mag) used to feature a wonderful photographer called Richard Dunkley, who would put all his very young fashion models in a public location and make them muck about and run riot. I remember one rather blurred photo in particular, where there’s a bunch of very brightly-dressed and over-made-up girls giggling and crashing through a quiet and grey restaurant. Now that’s a story. Wake up, knit mag editors!

Reduce, Reuse, Knit

30 Jan

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” …

I often wonder if we will ever get to a stage with our planet that we have to reuse everything rather than making new things. In the last few years, we have become so skilled at this that I think we would probably manage it OK. So, work on your reusing skills with Linda’s latest pattern.

She has dyed and cut up several old t-shirts and made them into something new – a beautiful and unique cushion cover. I think the best thing about this type of project is that no two covers will be the same – the raw materials will vary in fabric and colour, the edge bits will come at different places, and you put a bit of your own personality into each one. And then you choose to embellish your cover as much or as little as you like. And the best thing is – the pattern is free. You just need to download it, find some old t-shirts and get going.

Opus 2100 Cushion Cover

Recycled t-shirts

You can browse our free catalogue or just go straight to Opus 2100.

I promised you a pattern for Tunisian Crochet that didn’t need any extra equipment. Well, the pattern is written and we just need to get some outdoor photos taken and the pattern will be available to download. This one will be free as well. Here’s a sneak preview of a couple of samples:

Opus 1901

Opus 1901

Happy knitting all 🙂

Opus 1901

Opus 1901

Tags: belt cushion free opus knitting opusknitting pattern patterns tunisian crochet recycled teeshirt tee-shirt t-shirt yarn ribbon embroidery