Landing

I arrived home from Estonia on Monday with Mark, who came to join me for the last weekend of the adventure. My head is still reeling slightly as I readjust to being home. It is very strange to look outside and see my quiet suburban street, rather than the views around the place I called home during May.

Old distillery near MoKS, Mooste

It’s also weird not being able to hear the Nightingale Thrush, the boomy acoustics of MoKS, or the sometimes insistent whine of a mosquito that has somehow made it into my personal space. I don’t miss the whine of the mosquitoes at all, but I do miss my buddies. Patrick, Tuuli, Kaisa, John, Kata, Siiri… Imbi, Liis, Julika… I met so many really welcoming, kind, beautiful people in Estonia that I know I will return.

SOME BUDDIES: Imbi and Taavi on left, Estonian Native Sheep in the middle, Kaisa on the right

I have almost finished unpacking; I have totalled all the receipts I kept and established some concrete numbers re: the full cost of the adventure; I have emailed everyone whom I work for here in the UK and started setting up the meetings and jobs that need to happen in the remainder of this month; and I’ve nearly finished washing my clothes; yet I still don’t feel like I have properly landed.

It feels appropriate to revisit my aims for the residency while I think about what it means to be home and while as I consider whether I found all I went in search of on my travels.

    Objectives for the residency period

    To treat the residency as a cultural exchange, bringing sonic and material artefacts from the UK wool industry to share with Estonian knitters
    To seek corresponding sonic and material artefacts in Estonia
    To create a collection of audio recordings telling the story of the project
    To explore the Estonian countryside
    To meet other knitters
    To organise interviews and meetings with knowledgeable wool folk
    To collect photos, wool, knitting and sounds
    To knit something
    To meet an Estonian sheep
    To explore new ways of combining my interests in wool, knitting, and sound

I did indeed endeavour to treat the residency as a cultural exchange, and I did bring sonic and material artefacts from the UK wool industry to share with Estonian knitters. I swapped bits of fleece from Rough Fell, Swaledale, Bluefaced Leicester and Exmoor Blueface sheep for bits of fleece from Åland, Estonian Native and Swedish Finewool sheep. I took yarns from some of my favourite UK suppliers with me to show to Estonian knitters, as well as some of the garments I am most proud to have made from British Wool. I organised a dyeing workshop which used both British and Estonian plants and yarns, and I told everyone I met about some of my favourite UK producers and designers. I gave away bits of yarn and woven British cloth from my own stash, and was proud to be able to present Estonian wool enthusiasts with some of the beautiful yarns produced by Blacker Designs in the dyeing workshop. Too, I learnt that many Estonian wool-producers get their own fleeces spun up at Süvahavva wool factory in Estonia, and cite one of its main advantages as being that you can get your own wool back from the factory. It seems a little bit like the set up with Diamond Fibres or The Natural Fibre Company here.

In Estonia, most wool producers know a few knitters who can turn their yarns into amazing creations, but I didn’t find any examples of a published knitwear designer collaborating specifically with a mill-spinner and a sheep farmer, so there was some interest in the whole story of Excelana yarn. Susan Crawford kindly sent me a skein of Excelana yarn and some of the fibres used to produce it, which meant I could show a whole sheep-to-shoulders UK process to Estonian knitters – including the sounds of the mill where Excelana yarn is spun! I also enjoyed being able to share the beautiful, local cloth which Laura is producing, as she sent me some offcuts just before my travels which I was able to turn into button badges. Throughout my stay in Estonia, I gave these badges to wool enthusiasts, on tags with Laura’s web address written on them as a small expression of WOOL in the UK. I have written before about Laura’s cloth, and it was especially good to be able to share this cloth with Estonian weavers. Locality and identity play a massive role in the traditionally hand-woven, striped skirts of Estonia, and it was interesting to compare this graphic representation of place with the different, more literal expression connecting textiles with place in The Howgill Range, for example.

Badges made from Laura’s Loom fabric

Olivia and I discussing yarn; the yarn in the basket comes from her sheep, and in her lap she is looking at my Layter cardigan, knit in different UK sheep yarns

In terms of presenting sounds, I played the sounds of Cumbrian sheep and shepherds in the Lake District to an assembled audience in Estonia at the late-night slumber party event at Ptarmigan; I also played sheep sounds from the UK at the Helikoosolek in Tartu. On both occasions there was a lot of appreciation for how richly a few moments of sound can describe a place or a memory, and I was so happy to be able to bring Julia’s sheep from Sussex, and Jane Knowles’ sheep from Cumbria to assembled folks in Estonia. In coming months, I fully intend to assail British wool fans with sounds from the Estonian wool trade, continuing the cycle of exchange and sonik storytelling…

…I definitely sought equivalent sounds and artefacts in Estonia to those I have found in the UK, and my findings are best experienced on the Sound Diaries reports I compiled throughout my stay in Estonia. In some cases these is no equivalence between two sounds (I have not recorded lambs in the UK, for instance, yet I have in Estonia). However in other cases such as this post which details both a loom in Cumbria and one in Estonia, it is possible to perceive both the similarities and the differences between the contexts in which people in Estonia and the UK weave today.

I have recorded an enormous amount of audio material and it does indeed tell the story of my stay, though you might have to wait a little while to hear a more complete/produced version of these recordings as they total over 14 hours in their unedited state. For now, much of the story of my travels is presented on the Sound Diaries site.

Exploring the Estonian countryside was not quite the rural idyll I had hoped for; I did not deal well with the mosquitoes, and I was paranoid about the ticks that hide in the long grass in forested areas. I had not realised before my travels that Estonia is one of the countries in which (in rare cases) ticks carry encephalitis. I am not immunised against this, and my immune-system is compromised by the drugs I take for my arthritis. Last time I had influenza, I was worryingly ill; I do not trust my immune system to cope well with tick-borne infections and so my forays into the wilds were less extensive than I had intended. However I still saw some amazing places, and avoided getting a tick-bite, for which I am profoundly glad.

Türi

Mooste

Ruhnu

Kihnu

I met many other knitters in my travels, and I learnt many things from them all. From Anu and Kata I learnt a little bit about the historic textiles of Estonia; Kihnu Project Bags (more of this later); and the importance of neat, fine handiwork. From Anna, I learnt about innovative, seamless, lace construction, and of how the old lace of Estonia might be reworked into a contemporary, personal style.

Kata’s tiny sock sampler

Contemporary Estonian garment design

I certainly met with knowledgeable wool folk, though I doubt I would have discovered Hea Villa Selts or made contact with folks like Liis, Julika and Imbi had it not been for the assistance of Ursula of the British Council and Kata. THANK YOU!

I loved learning from Liis and Julika how to turn the distinctive wool of Native Estonian sheep into yarn with my own hands.

Raw Estonian Native Sheep’s wool

The Native Estonian Sheep is a short-tailed North European primitive breed, with a double-coat. This means there is a downy layer of wool which grows close to the sheeps’ bodies, and a thicker sort of overcoat of longer, stronger guard hairs. You can separate these two coats or spin them together, depending on the character of the yarn you want to produce.

I didn’t have the right tools with me – carders and pet-brushes – to separate the fibres out as Julika demonstrated, but I spun quite a bit of mixed fleece on my drop spindle and I spent many happy evenings in MoKS learning about Estonian Native Sheep with my fingers and my tools.

Wool combs and combed fibres

I also loved learning about Kihnu project bags from Kata who made me one in a gesture of such loveliness that it deserves its own blog post…

Kihnu project bag in progress

…And I learnt a lot about the history of weaving in Estonia from Tuuli, who also gave me a bag, which also deserves a special mention outside of this general summary of my travels.

Handwoven flaxen goodness

I collected more wool, sounds, knitting, photos, etc. than I can inventory here, but I am thinking that perhaps I can offer my findings in a sort of tactile talk involving a slide-show and objects to touch. Any ideas where I might present such a talk? Does anyone want to know about Estonian wool in sounds, objects, photos and a talk?

I did knit a few things. A doomed 3rd version of Harefields; a sock with a displeasing gauge which must now be frogged; and a tiny little sampler showcasing the half-decent 2-ply that I learnt to create with my drop-spindle while in Estonia. Despite all the excess baggage fees I paid in order to haul it around, progress on the Listening Tunic didn’t actually hit full stride until I returned to my wonderful weekly knitting group in Reading last night!

The tiny sampler of Estonian handspun yarn is my favourite Estonian knitting project; I will show it to you in coming days. I love how it represents learning, and how close to the source of Estonian wool it is. I love that I washed Estonian sheep muck and Estonian sheep sweat off it, and that I hung out with the sheep who grew it, and listened to the birds they listen to in their pastures, before combing and spinning it.

I loved meeting sheep and shepherds in Estonia. In many ways it felt like it was the very heart of the project, just as the heart of my project at the start of the year in Cumbria lay with connecting woollen textiles with people, land and places.

Lamb on Julika and Joel’s farm, Jaani Talu

Native Estonian Ram, Sae Farm, Harjumaa, Estonia

Imbi and Taavi’s flock, Sae Farm, Harjumaa, Estonia

It is this last aspect of the project – the connecting of places and animals and people with wool – that has been most rich and instructive re: the final aim of my residency, which was “to explore new ways of combining my interests in wool, knitting, and sound”.

At the Helikoosolek I talked about how my interest in linking clothes with sounds has evolved over recent years; about how the starting point for my journey was my meeting with Julia Desch and her flock of Wensleydale Sheep; and about how that meeting led to so many of my projects developing in the ways that they have.

Somehow in the act of writing that presentation, I began to see a really clear line from the first radio show I made about sheep, through to Wovember through to Hûrd – A KNITSONIK™ PRODUKTION. My confidence in the value of exploring our everyday, domestic textiles – in my case, woollen textiles – through sound deepened considerably throughout my stay in Estonia, and I feel I laid the foundations for a rich body of work, mining the seam that runs through the KNITSONIKTM mission.

Standing in a room full of people at the Estonian National Museum, playing the sounds of Rough Fell Fibres being combed over the speakers while passing Rough Fell fleece around the room, I felt that I was finding ways to speak about wool in a language that is really mine. I believe in the power of sound to evidence place, texture and surface more than any other medium, and although I have been inspired about pairing this world of sound with knitted objects for a couple of years now, in Estonia I experienced a new level of encouragement from peers and buddies and shepherds which has left me hopeful and inspired about what I will create next.

I feel profoundly grateful to have had this experience; to have fulfilled the aims of my residency; to have accomplished everything I intended to when I set out at the end of April; and to have a joyous set of projects in mind for the next phase of the KNITSONIKTM mission and The Slow Wardrobe. But mostly, I feel grateful to have met so many amazing people, and to have found myself in such friendly, welcoming, supportive circumstances in Estonia. Huzzah, Estonian Comrades, I will be back soon and in the meantime, BIG LOVE TO EVERYONE I MET IN ESTONIA FROM THE UK!

Residency Outputs:

Ptarmigan edition of The Instant Clothes MuseumMay 3rd, Ptarmigan
Late night presentation of sheep sounds from the UK Wool Trade – May 4th, Ptarmigan
Self-organised Estonian Wool tour – May 9th – May 17th (made possible only through help of Siiri, Anu, Kata, Joel & Julika and Liis & Heikki)
Natural dyeing workshop, May 26th, MoKS
Helikoosolek edition of The Instant Clothes Museum – May 30th, ERM, Tartu
A month-long presentation of sounds relating to Estonian/UK Wool trade on the Sound Diaries website
Some knitting
Some kg of yarn dyed with Estonian and UK plants for use in future projects
14 hours + of field-recordings from Estonia
Many blog-posts!
12GB of photographs collected

This research was made possible with MoKS as co-organiser, and The British Council, Estonian Ministry of Culture and Cultural Endowment of Estonia as funders.

11 Responses to Landing

  1. Anna says:

    I am glad you liked it in Estonia! Please come back some day, we shall plan ahead our trip to Raasiku factory. And thank you for mentioning me and my knitting!

  2. Mark stanley says:

    A remarkably concise review young Felix, you have done well! Readers take note: felix has sent several packages of various sizes in the post from Estonia which will arrive in the next few days. She won’t tell me what’s in them but do not be surprised if in the very near future she is blogging about her own native Estonian sheep (Imbi I think you should count your flock!)

  3. Kate says:

    LAMB! LAMB! LAMB! I do hope LAMB is in one of the parcels Mark mentions!

    this is a tantalising and beautiful post with such wonderful pictures. I am already looking forward to hearing much more about your Estonian discoveries, the different textile traditions you encountered, and the marvelous hand-made objects you mention here.

  4. Jo Ford says:

    What an awesome account 🙂 — I feel as if I have been there. Thank you

  5. Kaisa says:

    Thank you Felix for introducing a world of wool and sheep to me. It feels like I traveled to a parallel universe with you. Although it might have seemed that I am totally ignorant about wool, I enjoyed every moment of the crazy talks about yarn and wool and sheep and knitting. Now I am waiting the time you’ll buy a farm to Estonia, so we can have more legendary nights together! Estonia misses you.
    Sincerely yours,
    Kaisanator

  6. joe says:

    Sounds like you had a magical time Felix. Just been reading Johns account of tallin in spring, which has made me add this place to my must visit places.

  7. patrick says:

    yes, come and see us, joe!

    felix, it was a great, great pleasure having you here. the sounds and smells and colors and textures you brought to us and to MoKS were great. looking forward to your return.

  8. Laura says:

    Great stuff Felix! Can I come next time?!!!

  9. susan says:

    OH, what excitement………what fun! Loved seeing the sheep and the countryside. Thank you.

  10. Pingback: Leidnikerdajate klubi: Felicity Fordi lõngavärvimise töötuba » kunst ja praktika

  11. Rachel says:

    I found this post while doing some research. What beautiful pictures and an account on your visit to Estonia. I felt like I was there with you reading your descriptions. I lived through your adventure for a moment. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing this.

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