Greetings from Tallinn

I am having a ball.

I have been recording podcasts, hanging out at Ptarmigan, delivering workshops, drinking beers, and editing sounds from my Lakeland trip at the start of 2012 (which can be heard here).

It is awesome to see Patrick and John again; I met John W. Fail at the Tuned City festival last year, while Patrick and I have known each other since the early 2000s when I contacted him through the framework radio show which he ran then and still runs, and to which I contribute shows.

Tuned City was an incredible festival, and the artistic intentions underlying its programming are very close to my own creative/imaginative priorities. Place, sound, socially-engaged practice, non-gallery spaces, presentations outside of concerts and galleries and a sense of combining anthropology with sound were all seemingly important themes running through Tuned City, mirroring my own ideas about how sonic art practice should be practiced. This means that I feel like I am amongst my art family when I hang out with the people who set up Tuned City.

I have a great many deeply valued knitting buddies, and one of the things I absolutely love about the knitting communities to which I feel I belong, are the generous ways that we take an interest in each others’ projects, inspire each others’ work, and fall into becoming firm friends through the shared experiences offered by our craft. I do not always experience the same sense of generosity and community at Soundart events in the UK, and it is nourishing to feel a sense of shared creativity and mutual interest hanging out with artists here in Tallinn. It’s like a knitting circle of sound artists, and I am totally into that. I love the focus on just doing and trying things together; on informal discussions of ideas; on art as play and art as practice. And I love that at Ptarmigan there is a kitchen, a blackboard, a PA and many tables! What more do you need to make art?

Last night I cooked dahl and rice for a symposium on alternative currencies held at Ptarmigan, and this evening I am readying myself to play many sheepy field-recordings late tonight, during this. I am so happy to have a place where I can just turn up and play sheep field-recordings at midnight, and to know that people will turn up and that there will be so much other amazing stuff to listen to… it’s awesome.

I have also been loving my 100% Wool uniform and have worn it on most days. Luckily it is cold enough in Tallinn to get away with such a garment, even with Merino base-layers underneath, and additional wool accessories. In spite of this, it’s sunshiney and bright and spring-y here in Estonia, and I am loving all the light and the flowers and the birds in all the parks around the city walls.

The skirt is Vogue V8424 and the tunic/top is the one I always make – Butterick B5217. They are both made from a 100% wool fabric which I purchased from Filkin’s Mill in the Cotswolds. I know they are somewhat unflattering and baggy, but I feel an immense sense of joy striding around the cobble-stone streets of Tallinn swathed in an A-line silhouette of British Wool, questing for Estonian Wool.

Estonian Wool is seemingly everywhere… one literally cannot move for käsitöö, which is Estonian for handicrafts. I was lucky to have a wonderful tour of Tallinn with Ursula Roomsmaa of the British Council, who explained much of the history of Tallinn to me and pointed to some of the important vendors, businesses and knitters whom I should visit during my research trip. Ursula wore an amazing handknitted cardigan in honour of our tour, which I regret to admit I failed to photograph for you. (Bad Felix). It was knit in purples and greens and pinks and whites, and featured many beautiful floral motifs. It was knit in yarns that Ursula had saved from various bits of stash, and looked rather softer than these gloves which I saw in the Estonian Handicrafts Centre this morning.

So far I have learnt that there are several woollen mills – notably Rassikuu – which produce distinctively spun and dyed yarns known as “Estonian Wool”. However it appears that the source of this wool is not the Estonian sheep, (of which there are two distinct breeds as far as I can ascertain; the black faced sheep and the white faced sheep) but rather wool imported (mostly) from Latvia. The spinning and the dyeing and the way that the yarns are eventually knit up, however, are very deeply linked to identity and place, so that even non-knitting Estonians will point to a glove or a mitten and explain that it features a pattern from Kihnu, or Muhu, or Saaremaa. Estonia is defined by distinct regions or parishes, and some of these are more strongly linked to distinctive knitting patterns than others.

There is so much to learn; my first task once at MoKS will be to get a map, and to start investigating ways of travelling to the Islands off the West Coast of the country in the time that I am here.

The Instant Wardrobe Museum Workshop went well; it would have been richer for having more attendees, but the participants who made it along gave positive feedback, and said that most of all they had enjoyed discussing the politics of how clothes are produced, and making some time and space to contemplate and play with the meanings of their own outfits. I really enjoyed making the tags, going through the process of describing each of our items of clothing, and goofing around in the streets of Tallinn, recording the sounds we associated with our outfits;

the distinctive clatter of bicycle wheels on cobblestones;
rummaging in the pockets of a leather coat for change;
and the different sounds of our respective footwear.

Kadrianna wore a red, woollen hoodie which reminded her of her little red bicycle, and Siret wore a leather jacket which she purchased right before signing up to the MBA programme which she is about to complete. We said many more things about our clothes during the Instant Clothes Museum, but you’ll have to wait for the podcast to hear them!

There were further opportunities to reflect on the relationships between clothes, places, sounds, knitting etc. today, when I was interviewed by SIRP for a forthcoming edition of their cultural newspaper, and when I met with the astoundingly talented knitwear designer and professor of linguistics at Tallinn University, Anna Verschik.

Gorgeous gradiating colours!

I think it’s magnificent, and pleasingly reminiscent of the Revontuli shawl, which was originally designed with Kauni effekt yarn (I think) by a Finnish designer.

If I have understood correctly, then this beautiful seamless lace garment is knit in what we in the UK would call Kauni. This yarn is not branded in the same way here in Estonia, but it is I think exactly the same yarn. It is spun at Raasiku, and Anna described the weights on the labels like this:

8/1 = 100g, 800m
8/2 = 100g, 400m
8/3 = 100g, 260m

She recommended 3.5mm needles for the 8/2 yarn, but I am a very loose knitter, and I only have 2.5mm needles on me, so I’ll have a try with those needles and this fine haul of yarn, which was spun at another mill in Estonia, the name of which I have forgotten.

I really don’t have much capacity for carrying extra things to Mooste, but Anna was so obviously proud and appreciative of Estonian yarn with its distinctive texture, colours and twist that I decided I must immediately knit with some. In fact I decided that this yarn would be the choice material for making the Muhu-inspired tights that I am intending to make to get me through the dim grey bleughness of Winter next year. Anna showed me all of her favourite colours (charcoals; purples; greys) expressing sentiments that lie close to my own heart in respect of wool. I felt deeply happy to be in the company of a fellow appreciator of strong, non-pilling, long-lasting, VILLE, though you’ll note that my own palette selection was rather less restrained than Anna’s. There was much talk of “stitch definition” and “fabric structure” and “years and years and years of wear”, and I felt thoroughly won-over to this yarn.

These happy tights are to be the third item in my Slow Wardrobe. The first is my woollen uniform. I found some inspiration in the form of these legwarmers, which are to be the second.

How could I not need to own these the very second I saw them? They were hand-knitted on Saaremaa, by a knitter who works in the workshop of Estonian knitwear designer, Riina Tomberg. Riina was knitting herself when I visited her shop in Tallinn, and it was she who explained to me about the black and white faced Estonian sheep.

Anna is also a knitwear designer; as well as the lace top presented above, she has many free patterns on Ravelry, and three designs in the current edition of Käsitöö magazine.

As well as specialising in seamless construction methods, Anna has an amazing instinct for what a knitter in a foreign country needs. Not only did she direct me to the best Estonian wool shop and provide useful information about all the yarns it contained, but she also seemed to intuitively know that I would need to find a second hand bookshop. It was in this way that I discovered something I barely dared to hope I could discover during my stay here: A vintage, Estonian knitting stitch-dictionary.

I had such a lovely, lovely time hanging out with Anna. It made me feel the very soul of the idea of what it means to have a Wool Exchange, sitting in the cafe with each others’ knitting in our respective laps, discussing construction-choices, individual styles, and yarns we know and love. Anna described a way of seamlessly making this wonderful top, which I think is particularly expressive of her love for a minimalist aesthetic, and seamless construction. We had a lovely conversation about the Alice Starmore yarns that I am currently knitting with, and Kate’s amazing Caller Herrin’ design (which I was wearing today, and which I raved about with much joy).

Unsurprisingly, all the knitterly inspiration has resulted in a spree of progress on everything I’m currently making. On the needles is the latest development in the Harefields design, knit in Alice Starmore yarns. It is so interesting to me to contrast the palette developed by Alice Starmore out of traditional Shetland knitting and the Hebridean landscape, with the palette and shapes featured in Estonian stranded knitting.

I feel a very deep gratitude for the friendliness of everyone I’m meeting, and for the richness of this experience. I hope I can turn everything inspiring which I am finding here into something which can translate – in sounds and textiles – a KNITSONIK outcome worthy of this beautiful country and all its wondrous Käsitöö.

Best of all, towards the end of my stay, a certain gorgeous Englishman will be travelling my way, to physically share in the wonders of this journey.

Huzzah! Mark, I can’t wait for you to be here so I can show you all the fings.

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