AFI progress report

A few weeks ago Tom wrote a great post about his experience of working on our shared project for Shetland Wool WeekAleatoric Fair Isle. I agree with what he has already said, and don’t want to repeat too much of what he’s written; instead, here are a few brief notes from me on the process so far.


Knitting Aleatoric Fair Isle swatches is satisfying.

Yesterday I trimmed and blocked my eleventh swatch, which means I am about halfway through the making associated with this project. It is satisfying that the little box I have set aside for the AFI swatches is getting a bit full, and a wonderful surprise to find that each swatch I do, defined by die rolls, teaches me new things about Fair Isle knitting, colour, pattern and the possibilities for creating with Jamieson & Smith yarn.

Aleatoric Fair Isle is fascinating.

When we set out on this adventure, we both had to accept the idea that what we knitted might not necessarily end up looking ‘pretty’, and that in leaving key elements of Fair Isle knitting to chance, we may end up knitting some things that were a bit minging if one were to be conservative about it. In practice I have definitely generated a couple of unusual swatches using our aleatoric processes, but the very act of knitting and blocking each chance-based swatch gives one time to really understand why it doesn’t look nice, or what it is specifically that doesn’t work about it. This for me is a wonderful, hands-on way to explore the different elements of Fair Isle knitting which I find so beguiling; the shading of the colours; the interplay of background and foreground; the intersecting maths of all the different peeries and borders; the almost modular construction of small patterns and large patterns; and the unpredictable* interactions between all of these different components.

I have always drawn and painted, and – with foolish hubris – had privately assumed that this artistic background would make stranded colourwork a synch. My wrongful assumption that being able to mix colours and paint stuff would make stranded colourwork easy has led to my knitting more than a few dog’s dinners in the past, and being a bit lost on what went wrong each time. In truth, stranded knitting is a completely different context for working with colour and pattern from oil paintings and sketches… In a drawing, one composes within the dimensions of a page, with just a few focal points to draw the eye to. In Fair Isle knitting, one has to think in terms of repetition; of building a continuous and complex fabric which leads the eye upwards, across, down, from side to side, through repeated patterns and colour shifts. The shapes are not – as in a drawing – discrete and relative, but continuous and repeated elements, confined by the physical limitations of the medium of knitting. The aleatoric knitting process has made me aware of these distinctions, as the processes Tom and I have designed have forced us to explore all these different aspects of Fair Isle knitting in new ways.

Jamieson & Smith yarn is beautiful.

I am so enjoying the hand of the Jamieson & Smith yarn; I love the way it is springy in my hands, and stretchy and forgiving while I knit with it. After this, it blocks down into something neat and matt, with a gorgeous springy bloom on its surface. I can really understand why it is Kate’s very favourite yarn for colourwork.


Colours are unpredictable!

Perhaps one of the main things I am discovering through the Aleatoric Process is just how much our perception of colours is influenced by what is next to them. There is just no telling when everything is in balls of yarn how those shades will behave as individual knitted stitches sat beside one another. For an example, check out the different way that Shade no. 49 (which has turned up in a surprising no. of my AFI swatches) behaves, depending on what is beside it:


Bordered by rich brick reds and bottle greens, it seems positively festive…


…Where to my eyes here it seems cooler and paler oweing to its proximity to that bright turquoise and those mellow greys…


…Here, nestled amidst fresh, springtime greens and yellows, it takes on an ethereal sort of glow, akin to the foam of scabious flowers bobbing on top of thick, tall grasses…


…and here, shade 49 seems a bit minty, influenced in some way by its proximity to blue/green shades, which have similar values, and exert their pastel power over the lilac somehow.

I am finding it so instructive to play with patterns/colours/values through the AFI process, that I have staved off commencing the Quotidian Colourwork swatching (save for one brick-themed effort) until now! Armed with new ideas about how to combine shades from the J&S palette into pleasing arrangements, I have one design which I intend to bring with me later this week, as I travel to Shetland in person to make field recordings for, and meet some of the people involved in, Shetland Wool Week.

This week’s epic train journey will see me swatching yet more swatches, but this time the knitting focus will be on generating quotidian colourwork, for a design which takes inspiration from these sources:





The last thing I wanted to say about the AFI process so far is about time; however since I have run out of that for now, (apposite, really) that and other thoughts will have to wait… until then, since Tom shared a whole swatch on his blog post about Aleatoric Fair Isle and up until now I have just teased you with glimpses, here is a shot of my very favourite AFI swatch so far. I hope you like it! I love the warm, folksy palette, and the beautiful borders and peeries that the die found for me on this occasion.


More soon,

*I am sure there are Fair Isle knitters in Shetland who can predict the way different colours and patterns will work together, but as Tom said, neither of us have grown up in this knitting tradition, so for us the different elements require a lot of thinking!

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