Saturday 28 July 2018

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

It was my birthday earlier this month, and we went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park - one of my favourite places.  It was a hot, sunny day - as most days have been this summer.  (Though today it's raining - the first serious rain we have had in weeks.)

One of the current exhibitions (until April next year) is of work by Giuseppe Penone.  There are bronze trees around the park, some in the open, some in the wood, surrounded by other trees.

Giuseppe Penone - "Tree struck by lightning" 
Albero folgorato is a bronze cast of a tree trunk, split in two by a bolt of lightning.  The split in the tree is covered in gold leaf - a beautiful sight in the sun.

Idee di petra - olmo is in next to the path through the woods,  around the upper lake at the Sculpture Park. It is a bronze tree, with a water-worn boulder caught in its branches, positioned between two of the natural trees of the wood.

The bright sunshine showed off the sculptures in the open areas of the park very well .  Here's Nigel Hall's huge Crossing (Horizontal), one of the long-term exhibits.

Even without the sculptures, the park would be a good place to be.  In a clearing in the woods, the teasels were coming into flower. 

They flower very oddly, starting usually with a band of florets round the middle of the head.  Insects love them, evidently.

The upper lake
Landscape with sculpture

We ended our visit with James Turrell's Skyspace - a peaceful place to sit and watch the sky for a while.

Monday 23 July 2018

In the Loop

I got back on Saturday from the In the Loop at 10 conference at Winchester School of Art, home of the Knitting Reference Library.   "At 10", because the first In the Loop conference was held in 2008 (also in Winchester).

The 10th anniversary cake
The conference was on Thursday and Friday, and I gave a talk on the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection on Thursday morning.  Unfortunately, most of the conference (except for the keynote talks) was in two parallel sessions.  At the same time as my talk, there was a talk on the Knitting Reference Library from Catherine Polley, the School of Art Librarian.  So a lot of people missed my talk, and I (and a lot of other people) missed Catherine's.  But the talks were recorded, we were told, and so hopefully we will be able to catch up with the talks we missed later.  (If that doesn't happen, I may post some of the content of my talk here.)

Because of the parallel sessions, I missed a lot of talks that I would have liked to hear.  (Alex Franklin's talk, for one, on 'Unravelling Miss Marple', i.e. Miss Marple's knitting as a reflection of her problem-solving and detective abilities.)  So I hope that the recordings will allow me to catch up later.  For now, here are a very few selected highlights. 

Linda Newington, who has now retired to Shetland from the School of Art library, gave a keynote talk on the some of her favourite things from the Knitting Reference Library, and the history of the In the Loop conferences. 

The second keynote talk was from Ingun Grimstad Klepp - an entertaining talk on the history of knitting in Norway and her work on promoting the use of Norwegian wool, and the role of wool in sustainability.  The history part of the talk was fascinating, with lots of images of Norwegians wearing their traditional knitted jacket (kofte) - keeping them, and wearing them, for years. She showed a familiar image - the Marius sweater, designed in 1953 and still very popular.

She also talked about sustainability and the importance of taking lifetime use into account when considering the impact of garments made from different fibres - a recent paper of hers on this work is 'Does use matter?'  Ingun is also leading the KRUS project to promote Norwegian wool.  A lot of wool is produced in Norway, from a lot of different sheep breeds, but there is also a lot of imported wool. (She pointed out that if yarn has to advertise itself with a Norwegian flag, it's probably not Norwegian wool.)

The third keynote talk was from Jessica Hemmings, who presented the work of artists who are using knitting to make challenge conventional ideas.  But also, she made some uncomfortable points about unconsciously adopting conventional ideas ourselves - she referred here to the talk by Lorna Hamilton-Brown, challenging the idea that "Black People Don't Knit".   And she pointed out the temptation for academic researchers to claim too much for knitting and other crafts - because if you make smaller, but more realistic, claims, that won't impress the academic world. 

Below are mentions of a few of the other talks I heard, in random order.

Danielle Sprecher, curator of the University of Westminster Menswear Archive, presented some of the knitwear that has been collected.  Some designers have donated pieces from their own archive, such as Peter Jensen and his brontosaurus sweater, but Danielle said that a lot has been bought on eBay.

Freddie Robins talked about "Someone Else's Dream", a recent exhibition. She collected picture sweaters with designs of landscapes (on eBay), and Swiss darned onto them, to create a much more disturbing image.  One landscape featuring an isolated tree has the body of a man hanging from a branch.  Another sweater was knitted from a Woman's Weekly leaflet, before Freddie subverted it.

Image from
Here is the front of the very charming Woman's Weekly sweater:

From a free leaflet with Woman's Weekly magazine, 10th March 1984.
Freddie also mentioned an earlier exhibition, Knitted Homes of Crime. She made knitted versions of the homes of female killers or the houses where they committed their crimes.  They are creepily like the knitted 'country cottage' tea cosies.

Image from Knitted Homes of Crime

Wendywear 500 leaflet

Clare Sams talked about her career as a textile artist, beginning with knitted panels based on scenes and events in Hackney.  I had seen one of her pieces before, at the Harrogate Knitting & Stitching Show in 2014 - a pigeon with a crisp packet.  She said that the pigeon is part of a much larger installation based on a pond near her home which looks idyllic and picturesque, but on close inspection also has litter, supermarket trolleys, rats,....

Clare Sams' feral pigeon with crisp packet   

She described a recent piece she has done with her husband based on the enormous fatberg that was found in a London sewer - the piece was exhibited in Great Yarmouth at the end of last year, and reported in the local paper here.  A 9m. long tunnel represented the sewer, and strips of fabric the fatberg - no smell though. 

I caught just the tail-end of Adrienne Sloane's talk on knitting and craftivism.  When I got there, she was talking about her piece The Unravelling, a knitted American flag that she is gradually unravelling.  Here's a YouTube video of Adrienne doing some of the unravelling (with a lot of background noise, unfortunately).

There were several talks on knitting history.  Jane Malcolm Davies who talked about the Knitting in Early Modern Europe research project which has built up an online collection of what Jane called 'cowpat caps' (because that's what they look like if they come from an archaeological site, i.e. have been buried for several hundred years). Similar caps feature in portraits of men like Erasmus and Luther - they were 'the headgear of choice for big brains', as Jane put it.   Creating the database has shown the need for an agreed terminology to describe knitted fabric - and sometimes the fabric is just a fragment rather than a complete garment, so there may be little clue about how it was made.  Terms such as purl, stitch, row or round describe the process of knitting, not the resulting fabric, so the project is instead using terms like loop, wale, course, ...

Sandy Black gave a talk on British designer knitters of the 1970s and 80s - from personal experience, as she was one of them.  I was a fan of Patricia Roberts' designs at the time, and was aware of a few other designers, too, and I remember that knitting seemed much more exciting then than previously. Sandy's insider knowledge gave a broader view, from someone who was making a living by designing and so knew the publishers, the spinners, fellow designers, ... 

Frances Casey is researching knitting for the troops in the First World War, and disputes the view that the knitted comforts sent to troops at the Front were badly knitted and that too many were sent. She pointed out that this view is almost entirely based on Punch cartoons from the first few months of the war, and that by the end of 1915 the supply of knitted comforts was being organised to help to fill a huge demand. 

Susan Strawn talked about 'Finding Virginia Woods Bellamy' - a woman who invented a modular knitting system and wrote a book about it, which is now almost unobtainable.  (Though many of her designs are listed in Ravelry.)  Susan has a copy of the book and has knitted many of the designs. They are very light, stretchy and resilient, and she produced about a dozen of them, one by one, from a tiny bag - like Mary Poppins' portmanteau. 

It was a very full programme - there were a lot more talks that I could mention, and more that I hope to catch up on when the recordings become available.  I fitted in a visit to Winchester Cathedral, too, and paid my respects to Jane Austen, who is buried there,. And on the way home on Saturday, I spent a few hours in the British Library - but that's another story. 

Jane Austen's memorial stone in Winchester Cathedral

Sunday 15 July 2018

Knitted Lace at Parcevall Hall

My friends Ann Kingstone and her sister Marie ran a Yorkshire Knitting Tour last week (finishing today). It was based at Parcevall Hall in upper Wharfedale - a 17th century manor house, extended in the 1920s, when a terraced garden was made.  

Parcevall Hall

On Friday, I went there with a suitcase of 19th century knitted lace from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, to show to the knitters as an introduction to two days of lace knitting workshops that Ann was going to teach.

A couple of the things I took to show the knitters have already appeared on this blog, like a pin-cushion cover in print o' the wave stitch (or leaf and trellis, as Victorian knitters would have called it).   Here's a small selection of the other things I had in the case.

I showed another knitted lace pin-cushion cover, this one with its pad inside.  It's suffered some damage from the pins and has been mended, possibly in Victorian times.

Two Victorian knitted samplers had been specially requested, and caused a lot of interest. As did Captain Tweedie's splendid nightcap.

Knitted Victorian lace

Many of the Victorian pieces in the collection are mats, covers or doileys of various kinds, including this very finely knitted mat.

The basic design, with a sort of four-petalled flower in the centre, is very common, but there are many variations.  It is often used for bedspreads, made up of lots of squares knitted in thick cotton - it isn't usual to see it knitted in very fine cotton.

I had time for a walk around part of the garden, which is open to the public.  And it rained!  (Rain doesn't normally merit an exclamation mark in a British summer, but this year, it hasn't rained for weeks.)  The hillside across the valley was covered in cloud - though the fields were yellow-brown when they should have been green, because it has been so dry.

The garden is a series of terraces stepping down the slope, with wide views across the valley.  But looking along a terrace gives a much more enclosed feeling.

At the back, part of the building was built directly on top of a huge lump of exposed bedrock - which then had a rock garden planted in it.

An interesting house, and a beautiful garden - and evidently an ideal place for a week's knitting holiday. The knitters were very enthusiastic, and keen to examine the things I had brought.  It's great to be able to show pieces from the collection to an appreciative audience, and I really enjoyed joining the knitting tour for half a day.  Ann and Marie are planning to run it again next year, so hopefully I will be back.

Thursday 12 July 2018

At the Convention

Last weekend, I was at the Knitting & Crochet Guild's annual convention, this year at the University of Warwick.

2018 is the Guild's 40th anniversary, so of course we had a birthday cake.

Because of the anniversary it was a very special convention. Sasha Kagan, who is one of the Guild's patrons, gave the keynote speech.  Another speaker was Pauline Turner, a founder member of the Guild, a pioneer of crochet, and the 2018 inductee into the Crochet Guild of America Hall of Fame.

We had half-day workshops on Saturday and Sunday, led by Guild members.  Another of our patrons, Debbie Abrahams, taught a workshop on finishing techniques.  I didn't manage to get to that - there were a lot of enticing workshops on offer.  On Saturday, I did a workshop on making a tiny version of Elizabeth Zimmerman's baby surprise jacket, either crocheted or knitted.  The idea was that after trying it out on a small scale, we would be able to make a bigger one, maybe with some variations. Here are the ones we made in the workshop - mine is the one at the bottom.

The workshop I went to on Sunday was on Estonian colour work knitting, taught by Rachel Lemon. Here is the sample I knitted (finished off on the train home, so if I got anything wrong at that point, it's because Rachel wasn't on hand to consult).

It was fascinating - very unlike other stranded knitting I have tried, because it has a lot of texture from using purl stitches.  The bands of stranded knitting are separated by braids, too (narrow raised bands of knitting) - I was particularly intrigued by the vikkel braid, which is the band of navy and white arrowheads pointing to the right, towards the bottom.  Difficult to grasp at first, but OK with some help.  Impossible to imagine how anyone could invent it.

My  workshop knitting was sort of intended to be one of a pair of cuffs or wristlets, but it's not good enough for that - it's just a practice piece. (Also, it's very difficult to get my hand through, which is rather a disadvantage for a cuff.)  I do intend to explore Estonian knitting further though. 

Kaffe Fassett is also a patron of the Guild, and although he wasn't available, he did send a lovely stole knitted in Kid Silk Haze, to be raffled.  And on Friday, before the start of the convention proper, Brandon Mably taught a one day workshop on using colour.  I attended it and it was amazing - I've never been very adventurous about putting colours together, and the workshop led me to look at combining colours in a different way.  Brandon showed me that startling colour mixes can sometimes work very well, and may not appear at all startling from a short distance.  And sticking to 'tasteful' and safe colour combinations risks looking just dull.

Here's the swatch I knitted in the workshop:

The first poppy, at the bottom, seems a mix of soft yellows and greens, but in fact one of the yellows, picked by Brandon from my neighbour's collection of wools, is a really bright lime yellow. In the mix with the other colours, though, it perks them up without being overwhelming.  Further up, there's a bright blue among the dark shades that has a similar effect.

Here are the swatches that the workshop participants knitted during the day, still on the needles at the end of the workshop. (Mine is the one at the top left.) It was wonderful to see the beautiful results that everyone produced.

This is an approach to using colours that I really want to explore more - it feels so exciting. Unfortunately, as a side-effect, it did also make me feel like buying lots of different colours of wool, immediately.  So I'm not quite sure yet how to proceed.  Because I don't need more wool.

Monday 2 July 2018

Anna's Adventure

I found this nice rhyme, illustrated with cartoons, on the back of one of Patons & Baldwins monthly update lists.  It warns knitters of several mistakes to avoid in washing wool (using boiling water, using too strong a soap solution, not rinsing it properly, and then putting it through the wringer). 

Here's the text:
Three weaknesses of Anna Rees
Were knitting, sleep, and toasted cheese;
Quite harmless, singly, you will find,
But catastrophic when combined.
Let me relate the striking manner
In which this fact was proved by Anna.
This girl, who should have known much better,
Worked, once, till midnight on a sweater
Then, such was her pernicious habit,
Promptly devoured a large Welsh Rabbit,
Exclaimed, "My word! How late it's got!"
Undressed, and sought her little cot. 
The words, "The prisoner in the dock"
Aroused her with a nasty shock,
And, first of many such surprises,
She found herself in the Assizes,
Which were, though this sounds rather steep,
Completely organised by Sheep.
Trying to look her modest best,
Though quite inadequately dressed,
Like Botticelli's Aphrodite
(Except that Anna wore a nightie),
She turned to her escort—a Ram—
And said, "Please tell me where I am."
He answered roughly, "Stow yer jaw,
This 'ere's a Court of Knitting Law,
And you are charged, me pretty stranger,
With Washing to the Public Danger.
The sheepish Justice of the Fleece
Cried, "Let this idle chatter cease!
Please call Detective Sergeant Jupp."
Whereat a melancholy tup
Rose and intoned, "Me Lud, I caught 'er
Washing hand-knits in boiling water;
After this criminal ablution
In saturated soap solution,
Before I'd time to raise a finger,
She passed them through a wooden wringer,
With just a bare pretence at rinsing.
I think you'll find the facts convincing,
She'll have her work cut out in quashing
This gruesome case of Wanton Washing.
In expiation of her sins
She should be bound to knitting pins
And steeped in yellow soap—for ever."
Anna exclaimed, "Me Lud, I never . . ."
With such a penetrating scream
It roused her from the painful dream.
But all the same it made her think,
For now her woollies never shrink. 
The monthly updates were sent to yarn shops, I believe, to notify them of the latest P&B pattern leaflets.   We don't have many of them in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection - most yarn shop owners would not keep them for very long, I guess, and so they have probably only survived by chance.  They are not dated, but I think that this one was issued in November 1946. 

I don't know what yarn shop owners were supposed to do with the rhyme - I think that P&B also used it in magazine ads aimed directly at knitters, so I suspect that it was just a filler for the back page of the leaflet.  It's very entertaining, though I don't know how necessary it was - I would have thought that knitters would have known not to treat woollen garments so harshly.  But maybe one or two would not - and better to be told this way than to find out by ruining something that had taken hours of work. 
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