Lorna Hamilton Brown knits the blues

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Very seldom have I met someone with as much energy as Lorna Hamilton Brown.

We were put in touch by the lovely Freddie Robins (who I used to work with back in my technician days) when Lorna was researching for her Royal College of Art MA dissertation ‘Myth: Black People Don’t Knit’. I was very happy to play just a tiny part in this brilliant piece of writing since me, Lorna, Gaye Glasspie, Natalie Warner, poorpockets (on Ravelry), Dana (@callmedwj on Instagram) and countless other black crafters not only knit but also crochet with both skill and style. (Honestly, don’t get me started). Anyway since meeting up and finding that we get on like a house on fire Lorna and I have stayed in touch and I’m really proud and privileged to call her one of my friends.

She is a rare soul who puts so much passion and energy into her work and shows that through knitting, teaching and performing her work can touch and improve the lives of  others, be they victims of domestic abuse or sufferers of mental illness. In fact I’d go so far as to describe her as a Design Hero #designheroes.

As her final MA project her film ‘Knitting The Blues’ is a fun, funny music video behind which there is a serious, pertinent message. Knitting offers a huge therapeutic benefit to mental wellbeing and as someone who has had to cope with a lot of physical illness over the years I can definitely say that it has helped me to both relax and recover.

You’ll find the video over on Lorna’s website here on follow this YouTube link. There are a number of cameo appearances in the video including Kaffe Fassett and Brandon Mably, oh yes and you may just spot someone else you recognise. (Coughs)

Congratulations Lorna on being awarded a ‘Highly Commended’ for your dissertation!  I really hope you enjoy your graduation today. You’ve worked hard and deserve it.

Sending much love to you.

J x

 

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Riley Stripe Wrap, The Knitter issue 122

IMG_4271There’s been a significant lack of knitting & designing going on in my life recently and rather than bang on about the reasons why I thought instead that I’d focus on something more positive. My latest design for issue 122 of The Knitter magazine which has just hit the shops.

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‘Riley Stripe’ is a design that’s partly inspired by the work of British painter Brigit Riley. Her signature Op Art paintings play with simple geometric shapes like squares, circles and rectangles to stunning optical effect. She began her first Op Art paintings in 1960 whilst on a part time teaching post at Hornsey College of Art initially choosing to work just in black and white and only cautiously introducing colour from around 1967. At this stage she began to explore the precise placement of colour, line and shape in addition to the grouping of colour in order to convey a feeling of movement in the paintings which led onto works like Cataract 3 below.

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Cataract 3 Bridget Riley

Anyway back to this design….

More generously proportioned than a simple scarf I’d call this more of a wrap as the size makes it perfect for draping around the shoulders to keep out the slightest chill and it’s lightweight enough for wearing whatever the season. Riley Stripe features two different stitch patterns, each made up of a combination of slip stitch blocks, single columns and garter stitch stripes. RileyStripe5JSloan

The first section of the wrap begins with a two colour cast on and a textured pattern with large blocks of slip stitch alternated with garter stitch stripes.  These square blocks create a series of attractive curves up the side edge of the piece that eventually become the bottom edge of the wrap once you’ve picked up from the other side edge to knit the longer section in the smaller scale pattern.

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This is really a design that explores contrasts; there’s both large and small scale pattern plus the ‘pick up and knit’ off the side edge of section one which places them at 90 degrees to each other. Then there’s the contrasting yarns which both come from the Isager yarn range. It might seem slightly odd to bring together Highland Wool (a 100% wool light fingering weight) with Viscolin (a 50% viscose 50% linen 4ply weight) but I really love the mix and actually it was playing with yarn combinations that inspired this particular match. As well as being beautifully lightweight the finished knitted fabric has a softness and warmth but there’s also a lovely bouncy quality due to the garter stitch. Once the finished wrap has been cast off (a two colour cast off to match the cast on of course) and given a gentle block and steam it also drapes like a dream.

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If you haven’t tried a two colour cast on before I’m planning to do a couple of video tutorials to demonstrate this and the two colour cast off so keep an eye out for a blog post when they’re done. There really aren’t any other tricky techniques to master other than that and once you’re set for alternating the yarns it’s a really enjoyable knit, especially if you’ve had enough of heavy winter projects.

Brigit Riley may well have used black & white to knit her version of Riley Stripe but as you know I’m very much from ‘the brighter the better’ school of thought so I chose to use Highland Wool in Rhubarb (shade 3) and Viscolin in shade 40. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating and knitting this design and really hope you like it too.

Happy knitting

J x

 

 

 

 

 

Changing times & tools

I’m loving my knitting at the moment. Now that may sound a little odd but when knitting is your day job  the joy of it can seem to go out the window when a deadline looms large and a million other things get in the way of what you actually should be doing. Happily though that’s not the case for me at the moment although I do have my hands full looking after Ma & Pa Trot. I’m currently working on a scarf design for The Knitter which is due for publication in the February issue and that’s why I’m keeping it under wraps rather than posting any pics of my progress online. Well, that would  spoil the surprise wouldn’t it?

I’ve chosen an unusual combination of yarns from the Isager range for the scarf and, mixed with garter stitch, the results are much nicer than I could have hoped in terms of colour, texture and drape. So I’m knitting away happily with that little excited knot in my stomach hoping that others will like this design as much as I do when it’s finally published. What has also occurred to me is that it’s been absolutely years since I worked on straight needles. Years ago, probably around 15 years when I ran a yarn shop in Edinburgh I fell in love with the feel and colour of Boye needles. So much so that, a bit like Victor Kiam who famously liked a razor so much he bought the company, I liked them so much I started stocking the range. Straights, circulars, crochet hooks and dpns I pretty much bought in the lot and worked on nothing else because they were light to handle, smooth to knit and oh so very purdy to look at.

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Fast forward to today and my tools of the trade have changed. Nowadays my ‘go to’ needles for knitting are Knit Pro Interchageables because whether I’m working in rows or rounds they’re light in the hands, will accommodate almost any size of project and wherever you are there’s no chance of jabbing innocent bystanders in the eye with the end of the needle whilst you work. So why am I back to the Boye’s for this project? It just felt like the right thing to do to be honest. Horses for courses as they say. The yarns I’ve chosen are quite fine and I’m finding the knitting is much quicker on straights especially as I can revert to shoving the left needle under my arm for stability… plus of course although the deadline isn’t exactly looming it’s for work so I need to get on. I wonder if any of you find your tools of the trade have changed over time? Do you look for the latest trend in needles/hooks and buy those or do you prefer to stick with your favourites? Or perhaps like me it depends or what you’re knitting?

I’m sure I’ll be back to my Knit Pros when this is finished but in the meantime what I can show you is how pretty my Boyes look with what I’m knitting today

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Oh yes and for those of you wondering who the hell Victor Kiam is click here 

J x

Constance cowl for Erika Knight

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Even as recently as 10 years ago I was never really one for wearing neck accessories – you know, scarves, cowls, shawls and the like. That was of course until I cut all my hair off (if you know my medical history I won’t need to go into why) and it’s not until you have no hair at all that you appreciate having something warm and snuggly around your neck to keep you warm. Yes, whilst a hat may be the obvious option for some reason hats just aren’t my ‘go to’ accessory.

So as a proud wearer of neckwear I’m really pleased to present the Constance cowl, my second design produced for  the Erika Knight yarn range.

Now as I mentioned in the previous post on the Camellia sweater these designs were commissioned/knitted around the time of my ‘brain squatters’ so even now some of the details are a bit hazy. I remember (I think) knitting it before my op then sewing it up and despite my best efforts to write notes for everything when I came to write up the pattern I couldn’t remember or see if it was knitted flat or in the round – so I had to search for and eventually undo the seam to confirm how it was made. Annoying at the time but it does say something for my expert mattress stitch technique.

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Browsing through the many books in my library of stitch patterns always sparks off lots of ideas and in this case the stitch came before the project itself. I wanted to create a rib based stitch that had a touch of lace but with the advantage of being reversible. A couple of hours, a bit of graph tinkering and a few swatches later I was happy with the results.  The 30 row repeat stitch pattern combines simple knit & purl with double yarn overs and slip stitches to create an unusual slanted rib structure that creates a lovely zig zag side edge that disappears when the project is sewn up after knitting.

The design is knitted in Erika’s British Blue 100 which is a beautifully soft DK weight yarn spun from 100% Bluefaced Leicester wool. It’s available in a choice of 10 shades and the cowl shown on the front of the pattern is knitted in Regent’s Park.

It’s generously sized so that it can be looped twice around the neck and of course you could always add a few extra repeats to the length if you wanted to make it deeper. 

I hope you like the pattern and would love to see what colours you choose for your version #Constancecowl

Have a great weekend

J x 

 

On meeting your heroes

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I’m not sure who it was that one said you should never meet your heroes. No doubt it’s because they often don’t live up to our far-too-high expectations and are therefore not worthy of the pedestal on which we’ve placed them. Or they’re just bloody rude. This is a case however where any expectations I had were far, far exceeded.

I first met Erika Knight in 2014 (I think) at the Unwind yarn festival here in Brighton and have to admit to being a little star struck. At the time I’d been trying in vain to get the Jeanette Sloan yarn range off the ground and was feeling more than a little jaded about my work and my place in the ‘knitting community’. So meeting someone whose work I’ve admired since being a design student was no small deal but I couldn’t have imagined where it would lead just a few years later. We chatted over the course of the show and did that ‘oh we should meet for coffee’ kind of thing, you know the one that normally never transpires. Thankfully though it did and we’ve met up on more than one occasion over coffee, gin and cake (not at the same time mind).

As someone who is incredibly modest she won’t thank me for talking about her in great detail so I won’t embarrass her by doing so. Instead I’ll simply say that she is a genuinely warm, funny, beautiful  and classy lady whose personality is reflected in her designs which are timeless whilst at the same time feeling current. (Right Erika, no more gushing I promise).

When I was asked by Erika to do a couple of designs using yarns from her own range you literally could have picked me up off the floor. In fact I was still pinching myself when I rushed home – again starry eyed – to tell Sam. Life however got in the way of our best laid plans and last year when I was diagnosed with the ‘brain squatters’ it meant that I couldn’t meet the original deadline set for the designs.

Fast forward around 14 months and thanks to a bit of re-jigging and a lot of patience from this incredible lady and her fantastic daughter Bella – her right hand woman – the designs have finally been published. (I’m planning to write a longer post to talk about the designs in more detail).

Erika you are definitely a design hero to me. I hadn’t really thought of exploring my yarn / design heroes before but I think it would make for some interesting blog posts as creatively we take influences and inspiration  from countless diverse sources.

Ms Knight, I owe you so much. Thank you…xxx

 

 

Garden sheds and curious finds

As you may know we’ve been undergoing some pretty major renovations in an effort to turn the kitchen-from-hell, inherited when we bought the house, into my kitchen-from-heaven. Now back in the early days of my recovery I swore last year that I was going to have a much less stressful life and take things at a more leisurely pace. Well that’s what I told myself (and my mother who’s turned worrying about me into a career). We’ve barely owned this house for a year and the kitchen-from-heaven is now a reality although there are still things like flooring to be laid and doors to be hung which is why there are no pictures yet. Well as one major upheaval comes to a close another is about to dawn on us with the moving of my elderly parents down from Essex to a new home in East Sussex. It’s a hell of a move for anyone who’s lived in and around London for over 50 years but at 87 and 93 realistically it’s the last move either Mum & Dad will make but it’s worth it to have them live just around the corner where we can keep and eye and look after them.

What this move also means of course that Sam and I are spending many hours at my parents’ bungalow rooting through long forgotten boxes trying to de-clutter prior to packing everything into boxes. Going through the garden shed we came across what you’d expect; 3 sets of secateurs, 3 forks, 2 hoes, enough lawn care products to see the Lawn Tennis Association through the Wimbledon fortnight and countless tins of paint. ‘It’s good paint’ my Dad protested when I told him we’d have to dump the lot. ‘Yes it is good paint Dad, but only if it’s the right colour’.

Digging towards the dusty, spider ridden corners of the shed what I didn’t expect to come across was a folder containing photos recording some of the first pieces of design work I produced as a freelance knitwear designer.

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Now back in the golden days of swatching I used to sell both machine & hand knitted, crochet and embroidery designs through a couple of agents that sold internationally to fashion companies like Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan & Etro. In those days the samples produced were really source pieces from which the companies could take a number of ideas that could then be put into production and this meant that sometimes the swatches were a bit over the top in terms of colour, texture and embellishment. I didn’t always find out where each swatch eventually ended up  and I wasn’t the most prolific designer (my friend Wendy H’s swatch count literally ran into the hundreds) but I’d like to think that even now someone, somewhere is wearing a beautiful piece of 90’s knitwear, crochet or embroidery that was at least inspired by one of my designs.

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Now before you go judging me on my colour and stitch choices every collection was based on a storyboard provided by the agent and this meant that I didn’t always love the colours I was working with. That’s just the job of a designer, to work to the brief you’re given.

As you can see, even back then I loved knitting intarsia…and vivid colour…oh and a bit of embellishment. In fact some of the designs didn’t sell because there was so much going on they were too expensive to manufacture. Ah, the mistakes of youth.

Thankfully my design ethos is much less ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ nowadays but these were a real blast from the past, in some cases I can remember every yarn used and where I bought it.

How have your creative tastes changed over the years, would you be embarrassed now by what you were knitting 30 years ago? Hopefully not!

J x

 

Black people DO knit

I can’t be the only one who finds themselves scanning social media when they really should be doing something else….and it’s usually something that has a deadline attached to it.

Despite having a  very VERY heavy head on Friday I’ve actually been surprisingly organised and productive over the last week having delivered 2 magazine submissions (keeping my fingers crossed for them) and 2 more designs for a lovely project that’s a bit hush-hush at the mo.  I’ll let you know more when I can.

During one of my many Instagram visits last week I noticed that I’d been tagged in a post by Lorna Hamilton Brown (@lhamiltonbrown). She’s a black artist based just down the road from me in St Leonards on Sea and she’s currently studying for an MA in Textiles specialising in Knit at the Royal College of Art. Lorna’s knitting and illustrative work is diverse to say the least; from protesting Helen Titchener’s innocence when on trial for attempted murder in Radio 4’s The Archers to knitting life-size artworks that encourage us to reflect on the way that our youth  are portrayed in the light of the 2011 London Riots.  She’s produced a film called  ‘Knitting ain’t Wack’ that’s a rap video based on a traditional knitting rhyme that was recently selected for The Craft Council’s ‘Real to Reel Film Festival, has been referred to by  Deadly Knitshade  as the ‘Banksy of knitting’ and on top of that was awarded an MBE for services to her local community.

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Lorna with the knitting legends Kaffe Fassett & Brandon Mably

Now I don’t normally refer to people in terms of their skin colour but the fact that both Lorna and I are black is key to how we came to be in touch. For her MA dissertation Lorna is examining the myth that ‘black people don’t knit’ and one of her RCA tutors, the lovely Freddie Robins with whom I used to work suggested she get in touch with me.

I have to admit that when I ran a yarn shop in Edinburgh I’d hear ‘no one knits now’ daily (which was infuriating given that I was running a business based on that fact that people did and do knit) much more often than ‘black people don’t knit’. It’s one of those sweeping generalisations – a bit like ‘men don’t knit’ –  that’s worth examining in much more detail. Thankfully Lorna’s dissertation has set out to do just that and I was really pleased to be able to answer a few questions for her and hopefully have contributed in some small way to her thesis. It was submitted last week which must be a huge relief and I look forward to reading it when it’s made public. I haven’t met Lorna in person but given that she’s just up the road I’m hoping that we’ll meet up this Summer. In the meantime – again by the magic of social media – I’ve found Gaye Glasspie (what a great name) also known as GG whose blog Confession of a Yarn Ho can be found here. Well what do you know? One minute ‘black people don’t knit’ and the next thing you know there’s me, Lorna, GG, the great Shirley Paden…….ok you know where I’m going with this.

GG came to knitting later in life but this hasn’t diminished her infectious enthusiasm for creative knitting and all things yarnie. She’s extremely active on Facebook, in fact she puts me to shame, and has been generous enough to be promoting my work to the followers of her Facebook page here. You’ll find her knitting patterns, ready made accessories and her wide range of witty Yarnho products over on the blog which also gets a heads up in the latest issue of Knitscene magazine. I particularly like her ‘we knit too’ and ‘natural knitter’ mugs

 

Now just in case you read this and are thinking that this is a ‘race thing’ it really, truly isn’t.  I genuinely don’t judge anyone or their crafting habits on the basis of skin colour, race, religion or sexuality. I don’t care if you prefer knit over crochet, hand knit over machine knitting or whether you hold the yarn the Scottish way or Continental style. But ask me to knit something in high bulk acrylic and we may have a problem.
Have  lovely day and as the great Jerry Springer used to say. Please take care of yourselves… and each other.
J x