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Today I thought we could talk about BRICKS!
As you know, I am madly in love with the distinctive brickwork of Reading and have written about it on several separate occasions… these bricks are close to my heart. A quick rifle through my writings shows they have been making me think about stranded knitting for quite a while now…
April 2011: The patterns in the brickwork of Reading remind me very much of Fair Isle in that they are both a localised tradition emerging out of materials to be found at hand, and in that strict design rules can hasten the development of distinctive, regional styles.
July 2011: I see a relationship between the craftsmanship of laying stones and the craftsmanship of placing stitches; of organising a house into a shape and of organising a garment into a shape.
…I am clearly not alone in making such observations, as several other knitting comrades have picked up specifically on the BRICKS aspect of The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, and have for some time been thinking about how they might knit their local brickwork in Oxford and other places. On Twitter, Emma Folds and White Hart both mentioned the brickwork of Keble College in Oxford as an ongoing inspiration for stranded colourwork, and I think this photo taken by Emma shows how well the Keble college brickwork would translate into stranded colourwork.
Liz Ashdowne also spotted some beautiful heart-themed brickwork, which would be beautiful rendered in two corresponding shades of yarn.
Because it seems to speak so directly to knitters as an environmental inspiration, I thought BRICKS might work well in images designed to clearly communicate the concept for The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. I wanted to show the steps of going from A THING IN THE WORLD to A KNITTED RENDITION OF THAT THING IN STRANDED YARN. And just I kept coming back to THE BRICKS. The grids. The graphic patterns. The delicious and varied and locally-defined shades.
This appropriate-ness of brickwork for stranded knitting made it the natural choice of subject for my screen-printed posters.
So how did I go about making these prints? I knew space on the page would be limited, and that I could only really manage 4 layers of ink per print. Each layer must be printed through the screen onto the layers beneath, and each new shade adds the risk that slightly off registration will spoil the layers you have already printed. Additionally, your design needs not to be too fiddly and detailed as having tiny holes in the screen for the ink to be squeegeed through increases the risk of having ink dry on the screen, which is a nightmare! My photos of the process are scant and poor quality phone photos, because you certainly do not have time to muck around with the camera while there is wet ink on your screen!
So I looked for a brickwork motif which I confidently felt could be rendered in four shades of Jamieson & Smith yarn, and which wouldn’t be too massive or complicated, and I found this.
You can see that the photo shows a huge multitude of shades and colours, so I had to up the contrast and reduce it to just four shades. You may recognise these shades if you are a fan of Jamieson & Smith!
I had such fun mixing the inks. It is pretty difficult to get the heathery shades right in solid colour ink, but I hope you can see the influence of lovely FC38, 125, 81 and 54 in there.
You can see that I stuck snippets of the appropriate shades of YARN onto each of the jars I made up! I referred to these whilst mixing the inks.
In terms of the overall aesthetic of the print, someday soon I hope to tell you about my rich forays into the amazing history of Soviet textiles (this began with my Estonian residency and explorations of Estonia’s Soviet past…)
Building Yard, manufactured in the 1930s in Moscow, designer anonymous.
Without going into any depth about it now, I shall simply say that I have become utterly fascinated with Soviet textiles, and particularly with the work of the incredibly talented and astute 20th Century Russian Designer, Nadezhda Lamanova. The amazing blend of utility and aesthetics in her patterns-as-posters series speaks directly to my own sensibilities. This pattern/poster for a very elegant shift dress was designed in 1925, and I think it is tremendous.
I learnt about Lamanova’s designs in a highly recommended tome by Djurdja Bartlett titled “Fashion East”. I wanted to evoke the same combination of practical instruction and aesthetic vision evinced by her bold graphic style in my own screen prints.
Vintage Soviet textile tomes also gave me ideas about how to approach the chart and knitted portions of my BRICKS poster; the printing techniques used are ingenious and I think the last image was achieved by applying a screen print process over a black and white photograph of knitting, but I could be wrong.
These images were taken respectively from my vintage Russian-language book about Estonian National Dresss; A 1950s Latvian book about knitting; and Silmus Kudumine – a vintage Estonian stitch dictionary. I think you can clearly see the influence.
What appeals to me specifically in the imagery of Soviet textiles is the valorisation of labour in the designs. I wish that the reality of the Socialist dream had ever translated into an actual transformation of ordinary, working people’s lives, and am very keen not to be too simplistic or romantic about the complexitities (and epic failures) of the Soviet Dream. But the images surviving from the early days of Socialism are nonetheless energised with a Utopian vision which continues to be potent, and which suggests a time when we might more greatly value the bricklayer, the seamstress, the knitter, and all the other makers with whose hands our world is built.
It is this aspect of these designs which I love and find inspiring, and which I wanted to somehow parse into my poster. I wanted to print something with my own hands that is both a picture for your wall, and an invitation to pick up your needles and knit the things around you.
Especially the bricks.