I started this blog in 2010 to have fun and laughter around the topics of sewing and knitting. I firmly believe that creativity is contagious and I want to help you catch the bug. My blog is about all things knitting, spinning, dyeing, and weaving.
It’s been getting warmer and sunnier here in Vancouver… and that just means one thing… that it’s going to be unbearably hot in the attic very, very soon. Each year around mid-May, I’m reminded about how the change in seasons suggests a change in the crafts that we pursue. In the summer months, the very last thing I want to be doing is to be sitting in a sweltering attic at the floor looms, trying to weave a wool and mohair blanket. No, instead, my preference is to be outside in the backyard, watching the kids play in the sandbox while I work away at something… maybe that will be dyeing in the backyard, or sitting with my spinning wheel or rigid heddle loom on a stand. When the seasons change, do you feel the itch to switch gears and shift to another craft?
Also, I may have mentioned that I’m putting together some ideas around how to resolve our challenges around not having enough time, money, or knowledge to do all the crafts we want to do. You can find my “Multicraftual Mindset” survey here, if you’d like to help me out with some of your thoughts »
We recently published a new “tiny tutorial” on the School of SweetGeorgia. I wanted to expand upon the skills that we learned in the Frame Loom Weaving Basics workshop to show you how you can warp a circular frame (in this case, a simple embroidery hoop) and create a handwoven piece. It’s super fun and very easy. Over a day or so (on a road trip to Sun Peaks), I managed to warp and weave FIVE of these little hoops. They are addictive to weave!
In this video, Felicia demonstrates using a yarn swift and ball winder to convert a skein of yarn into a ball (cake) of yarn. This tutorial was recorded back in 2015 together with Wakefield Productions and was never published, but luckily yarn management skills never go out of date.
Join us at the School of SweetGeorgia to see what we’ve built over the past two years, and get yourself $10 off the first month. This offer is good for all of May, so we hope to see you in the School soon! http://bit.ly/TBF066
It’s that time of year when I get a little bit nostalgic… who am I kidding, I’m always in a nostalgic haze. But seriously, the month of May has become a special time for me because it’s the month when I finally announced that I was going to take the plunge into building the School of SweetGeorgia project. It was only two years ago when I set my mind to this, but it was not an easy time. As you can see from the snapshot above (taken six days before the School announcement), I was in a mental and physical state where I was literally juggling a 14-month old baby with trying to take photographs of knitted colourway swatches. It wasn’t an easy time, but I was compelled to do it, regardless. It was time.
This vlog topic came up for me recently because lately I’ve been hearing from other creatives who have been feeling stuck and frustrated… feeling like they aren’t gaining traction or getting anywhere with their creative work. It can be intensely disheartening to work so hard at the thing you love so much and feel like you are being blocked by obstacles every step of the way. I absolutely empathize.
In this week’s episode of Taking Back Friday, I wanted to share a bit of encouragement (or is it more like tough love?) that some things just take a long time. Nothing happens overnight. Stay the course, be persistent, be consistent, and just keep hitting publish.
In this video, I show you my blemishes, my mistakes, and my long trawl towards trying to build the School that I envisioned. It’s a celebration of endurance. I hope you’ll join me.
If you don’t make mistakes, then you don’t get the opportunity to learn. This past week, I learned a few weaving lessons the hard way… through an ugly failure. Despite getting some glorious on-loom photographs of this blanket, you’ll have to watch the episode to see how it turns out.
Photography by Josh Young, Felicia Lo, & Tabetha Hedrick
For a long, fulfilling life of fibre-crafts, it is important to regularly challenge ourselves, try new things, and build our skillsets. These ten gorgeous patterns will help you do just that, promising a beautiful portfolio to be proud of.
See feature photo – Dip your toe into lace-weight and buttonhole with Holli Yeoh’s Third Beach cowl (from her Tempest collection). Lacy, sock, and utterly lush, it’s a project you’ll want to make more than once!
Mary Beth Temple introduces the crocheter to elegant lace in Gala Confetti. With staggered double crochet diamonds containing a quatrefoil pattern of tall cluster stitches, the results are decadent.
This simple design highlights the beauty of the yarn, with wheat motifs circling the hat in relief against an unfettered background. Gilded Wheat by Helen Gipson is the perfect introduction to twisted stitches.
Mosaic style colourwork can almost feel like cheating, working stripes and slipped stitches with only one colour at a time. Ailey by Barbara Benson is a stunning way to play and grow confident in colour.
First forays into lace-weight yarn can be intimidating, but Francoise Danoy’s Angi shawl makes it effortless. Light as a feather, every knitter will delight in this elegant, yet playful accessory.
Rich cables are a must for the growing knitter! Talitha Kuomi’s Insi is exciting, resulting in a luxurious fabric that delights from start to finish.
For your first cardigan, look no further than Triona Murphy’s Glenwood. Long, cozy, and loads of texture make this a must for year-round wear.
Simple socks and simple slipped stitches are definitely a next step after hats! Kelias promises the perfect blend of texture and comfort for new sock knitters.
Newcomers to the double-knitting technique and advanced knitters alike will love the simple motif of delicate leaves and hints of embroidery in Amanda Bells’ Winterberry.
Bibelot, a crochet cowl by Sandi Rosner, adds a touch of romance to your winter wardrobe, with fun-to-make bobbles and shells. It’s a fantastic project to up those stitch pattern skills.
Of the many things I’ve learned about knitting, there are almost as many kinds of knitters as there are techniques to learn about the craft. Many new knitters seem to focus only on the knitting, concentration fierce as they struggle with awkward grips on needles and how to tension yarn, throw or pick, and so on. Other knitters embrace knitting like a warm hug, finding the tradition as something comforting, secure in the knowledge that they are following in the footsteps of those who came before
As we evolve as knitters, so too does our awareness of and appreciation for the craft deepen. Our own methodical evolution as knitters is not unlike that of a traditional knitting technique – growing and changing as new hands and cultures pick up sticks and string and make them their own. For some knitters, that evolution includes learning as much as one can about a technique, adapting it to suit their own purposes, or even making it more modern through the use of new materials or tools.
Many of us come to knitting with the techniques passed down through families and within our culture, but what about the families we make for ourselves in our friendships and knitting groups? While my Lithuanian grandmother taught me how to knit, her teachings weren’t centred on any cultural or traditional specificities. Coming back to knitting later in life, much of what I’ve learned is through friends and fellow knitters. Often I’ve learned new stitches or techniques only as they were necessary for a particular project, and in my evolution as a knitter, I’ve learned there are so many styles and stitches that I’ve yet to stop discovering any new ones.
There’s a pride we knitters take in slow fashion, but what if you’re a really, really slow knitter? Do you find ways to knit faster? (I’m looking at you, continental knitting, of which I’ve not quite been able to master). Or work projects that make it seem like they’re moving more quickly? (Maybe stripes or stranded colourwork). Or do you find a different way?
It feels like my evolution has slowed as I take the time to dive deeper and learn more about each new skill – lingering on those that have more of an emotional pull than the others. Is there a cultural connection that calls to me, or is it merely the aesthetics that resonate? It feels like I bump up against some variation of these questions time and again, especially when run up against attitudes of surprise or amusement at the idea of anyone still knitting anything by hand.
And what about knitters for whom knitting is their business, their livelihood? These questions started to crossover with me on a visit to Shetland in 2017. While stranded colourwork is a tradition found in many knitting cultures, it is perhaps nowhere more prevalent or has greater awareness than in Fair Isle Knitting. Considerable credit is given to HRH Edward, the Prince of Wales (and later future King) who wore a Fair Isle jumper golfing and even had his portrait painted while wearing one. Just as the royals and celebrities inspire
trends in fashion now, so, too, did the prince’s painting in 1921 and Fair Isle jumpers became incredibly popular around the world
Machine knitting helped speed up the process for the Shetlanders, who traditionally knit the garments by hand. Machines helped them churn out garments more efficiently, while still hand-finishing and assembling pieces, to keep up with demand. On that visit to Shetland, I saw knitting machines still being used to create the traditional sweaters and something clicked within me. How did the innovation and use of the knitting machine influence the work of these traditional Shetland knitters? And could a knitting machine be the way to help this pokey knitter make things a little faster?
Joanna Hunter-Coe is the owner of Ninian, a Shetland knitwear company that sells stranded colourwork garments and accessories around the world. While Joanna considers her work Fair Isle in the traditional sense, she prefers not to put her designs in a box. Many of her designs are inspired by vintage garments and patterns passed down through the generations of her family, as well as interesting pieces found in the Shetland Museum and Archives.
Shetland Knitwear by Ninian
Shetland Knitwear by Ninian
Shetland Knitwear by Ninian
I asked Joanna how tradition and innovation worked together in her collections. She told me that her business had always concentrated on machine knitting as she finds hand knitting too slow and doesn’t have the patience for it. She first knitted on her grandmother’s machine at the age of 7 and was shown both hand knitting and machine knitting processes by her grandmother. Says Joanna, “I like to look at my grandmother’s hand knitting and see how I can develop it on the machine. It can be an exciting process. She was an amazing teacher and a great inspiration. I’m sure I wouldn’t have chosen this career path if it hadn’t been for her.”
Machine knitting has also been an influence and integral part of the work of Sarah Clarkson of Woolly Originals. Born in Yorkshire, Sarah lives in Edinburgh and works on a knitting machine to create fabric for her custom made bags. Sarah also tends to think of her work as Fair Isle because she uses mainly Shetland wool from Jamieson’s of Shetland in her creations.>
“I chose to use Jamieson’s of Shetland wool as I wanted to use a yarn produced in Scotland. Originally, colours were more muted as plant dyes were used. But now there is a great range of colours. Jamieson’s use a heather dyeing technique so there may be up to 25 colours in one yarn! My Woolly fabric uses a full range of colours, some more natural and some bright depending on the design.” she explains.
Joanna, while inspired by some of the beautiful gradings in patterns and designs from vintage patterns, chooses not to stick with traditional colours in her garments and accessories, instead often clashing colours together. She also likes to work with solid colours, focusing on the texture of a piece.
“I’m not sure where I fit. I guess I don’t fit and I quite like that,” Joanna added when explaining how her projects have evolved from more traditional Fair Isle.
Talking about the intersection between tradition and innovation and whether it makes knitting modern, Joanna is practical in her outlook, “Tradition, for me, inspires everything and makes new, modern, and exciting ideas come to life. We’re always creating new traditions, they most definitely evolve over time.
Joanna’s designs at Ninian are contemporary, but inspired by tradition, using timeless shapes and working with colours in different and unusual ways. Joanna also prides herself on the quality of her garments, which are all made in Shetland and hand-finished – just as they’ve always been in the Fair Isle tradition.
Sarah, too, has brought innovation to her work by designing custom colourwork patterns for her bags. “All of my designs are my own. Each has a story behind it. Each has to be punched out on a punchcard that’s 24 stitches wide and 60 rows in length. Whilst some of my designs are quite traditional, such as my Saltire Star, which is based on the traditional Scandinavian Star motif, and the Scottish Saltire, others are more modern such as the Scott Monument which I designed from scratch.” A tradition that Sarah clings to is designing all of her patterns first with pencil and knitters graph paper.
Having begun my own tentative steps into exploring machine knitting (perhaps unconsciously influenced by that visit to Ninian in Lerwick), I was surprised to encounter the occasional comment from hand knitters who viewed machine knitting as “cheating”. I asked both Sarah and Joanna how they felt about the idea and whether or not it had changed their work in ways they didn’t expect. “It’s not as easy as it looks,” said Sarah. “And it is quite hard work.”
Joanna’s outlook circled back to her grandmother, “I was brought up with everyone around me knitting to help pay the bills. Many a house had a knitting machine, and they were a major source of income. The houses that didn’t have machines, hand knitted in yokes and finished – one couldn’t exist without the other. When my grandmother managed to buy a knitting machine, she could produce a huge amount of garments compared to by hand. In many respects, this was the difference of either having or going without, so I don’t see how that can be classed as cheating. I have also entered into this line of work as a career and I couldn’t produce garments in a price bracket which would sell and provide me with a living if I sold items knitted by hand; they would cost a fortune.”
As my exploration of tradition and innovation evolves, I can‘t help but wonder if I’ll ever have the skill to merge my own love of stranded colourwork with my increasing confidence on the knitting machine. Perhaps, with a little digging into my Lithuanian ancestry, I can innovate my own way forward. &
With thanks to Joanna Hunter-Coe of Ninian in Lerwick, Shetland, and Sarah Clarkson of Woolly Originals in Edinburgh.
Although Kate Atherley is a prolific designer and teacher in the knitting world, my first introduction to her was when I purchased her book, Knit Mitts: Your Hand-y Guide to Knitting Mittens & Gloves last year as a treat to myself. It sat, unread, on my bookshelf for a number of months until I was inspired last fall to knit my father some thrummed mittens for a Christmas gift.
I was so impressed at the incredible charts and clear detail with which Kate had written this book that when I saw she was releasing a knitting dictionary in October of 2018, I went to the bookstore the day it launched to snatch it up.
The Knitter’s Dictionary: Knitting Know-How from A to Z is exactly as advertised: a dictionary/encyclopedia of knitting terms that makers can use to decode the confusing world of knitting pattern jargon. Within this book is not only definitions of common knitting techniques, but also clear diagrams and charts of different kinds of colourwork, yarn attributes, and yarn weights.
As I thumbed through the pages, I had a twinge of jealousy every now and then: I wish this book had been around when I was first learning to knit! After overcoming the challenge of the cast on and knit stitch, new learners are faced with the task of deciphering the jumble of seemingly meaningless symbols that make up any standard knitting pattern. The knitting world has a language all its own; just ask any non-knitter what “tinking” is and I’m sure you’ll be met with a confused head-tilt and a “Huh?” Understanding this language can be a daunting task for the best of us. I kept with extremely simple knitting patterns for a long time because I was intimidated by how complex most patterns looked. I think if I had had this guide when I was first learning, I would have dived into more complicated patterns sooner than I did. Although it’s strictly a dictionary and doesn’t contain too many directions on how to knit, I find that it’s helpful to have the correct terms to plug into Google when you are looking for tutorials on a specific stitch or technique.
This dictionary is not only for beginners, though. I found myself learning a lot from this book and I’ve been a dedicated knitter for years. The knitting world is an extremely vast and diverse one, and I think one could spend an entire lifetime dedicated to it and still find more to learn, whether in just technique or in tradition. For example, I had no idea what a chullo hat was (a Peruvian hat style with earflaps, made from wool)!
Something else that struck me while going through this dictionary was the weight of it. Not literal weight (the book is actually quite small and can easily fit into any knitting bag), but the immense amount of knowledge that this book contains. The wisdom of thousands of knitters gathered from hundreds of years of experience from every corner of the world all in one place. It’s an anthology of traditions: what a powerful, inspiring tool to have. I would encourage knitter to gift this dictionary to anyone who is new to this craft and pass the creativity, comfort, and joy that knitting brings onto the next generation of innovative makers. &
This statement is one I make often when someone asks why I started knitting, or how long have I been knitting for. It’s a statement which I’m sure so many other knitters also make – that the reason they knit (or crochet, or weave, or [insert ANYTHING here]) was because it was taught to them, passed down by a parent, grandparent, or loved one. This here is the story of how, without me even realizing it, knitting has been passed on to me and the importance it holds with me today.
In truth, I was only taught how to crochet by my Grandmother. When I was young, she had been injured in an accident and my cousins and I went to help her during the summer (I’m sure we were more work than help). We would watch Sound of Music almost daily, eat coffee candies, and crochet as our Grandmother had taught us. It was my Mom who had started my sisters and I knitting. She never continued on with it herself but wanted to make sure we learned, so printed how-to instructions, gave us each a skein and needles, and away we went.
The main reason I continue to knit, and have a strong appreciation for all textile and fibre arts, is because of my Grandmother and the culture she carried with her from her homeland. My Grandmother, my “Vanaema”, was born on an island in Estonia called Kihnu. For an island only 7km long by up to 3.3km wide and with an approximate population of 690 residents, I’m always amazed at how many people know about this small place. Yet, at the same time, I can understand why. The lifestyle of language, music, dance, and handicrafts make this island unique, and it impresses me how they have maintained their cultural traditions over the years. The people still wear bright, red woven wool skirts and folk costumes on a daily basis, whereas in many other areas across Estonia, they are more commonly worn only on festive occasions – such as song or dance festivals, or national events.
My vanaema was taught how to knit by her aunt when she was young. She grew up learning the folk culture of Kihnu, and when she fled in 1944 due to the threat of deportation to Siberia, she carried this knowledge with her. In the dark of the night, she left by boat to Sweden, and years later moved to Canada, eventually ending up on the West Coast in Vancouver.
Throughout these years and travels, my vanaema would speak Estonian in the home to ensure the language would continue on with her children and continued to make the handicrafts she had learned when young. She had taken a tailoring class to make her own suits, and used patterns from a popular Canadian-Estonian women’s magazine, Triinu, to make her own folk costume clothing, accompanied with items kindly gifted from family and friends in Kihnu. She knit many Kihnu “troi” – stranded colourwork sweaters – as well as “sukad” knee-high socks, mittens, gloves, hats and more, all based on patterns from her home island.
When I wear these Kihnu costume pieces, I wear them with absolute pride. My entire family treasures all of her handicrafts she has gifted to us. I feel a strong connection to these pieces and patterns, and appreciate the beauty, life, and tradition which lives on in them.
I’m thankful to have a further connection to her home island today, as my youngest sister has also lived there for the past 11 years with her partner. My family and I travel there as often as we can. During these visits, we learn even more stories about the Kihnu costume and why something may be “just so”. I’m also thankful to hear stories from members in the local Estonian community who have carried on traditions from their own home villages and kept them living on over the years despite being far away from their homeland.
Strangely enough though, despite having books and pages of patterns sitting on the shelf, I still have yet to knit any of these Estonian patterns myself. I’m not sure why something I hold so fondly can’t translate down to my needles. These woven twist and turns; the many stories which have continued on over generations. It could likely be intimidation of vanaema’s talented hands – of wanting to get it right the first time (that is so just like me). Or it could be the sadness of coming to terms with the fact she can no longer knit herself. But I know when the time is right, I will knit these patterns and find comfort in the line continuing on. I will think of her and feel at home. &
Photography by Joanne Seiff, Annie Spratt, & Brigida Lourenco
Sitting by my sewing machine, there’s a white and green thick cotton ticking. That absorbent fabric is waiting to become napkins. My knitting bag always includes somebody’s mittens, waiting to be knit or mended. In my sewing basket, there are a lot of labels reading “Handmade by Joanne” or “Handmade by Mommy,” but they go mostly unused. When we make things today, many of us want to label everything. But, what does the label stand for? How does it contrast with the choice to label nothing at all?
Historically, if you wanted new clothing, you had to make it yourself. Our (mostly female) ancestors created millions of handmade garments and items for their households but rarely signed their work. Many of them couldn’t sign their work as they weren’t able to read or write. This didn’t mean our foremothers weren’t creative, intelligent individuals. They could knit sweaters, smock dresses, mend their linens, grow and cook thousands of meals, but they likely didn’t have a formal education. This wasn’t rare. Although one of my maternal great-grandmothers ran a chicken farm, grew a big garden, spoke several languages, and fed a dozen people during the Depression in the US, my mom told me once she suspected that while my great grandmother knew business and her arithmetic, she might not have been literate… in any language.
As women from more wealthy families gained access to education and higher status, they continued to do needlework. Embroidered samplers and outfitted wedding dowries were often labelled with initials, full names, and more. We can date these pieces if we have a knowledge of textile cultural trends and genealogical records… for instance, a bright colour might show the use of a chemical dye process as compared to a natural dye. We can place those family initials as belonging to the late 19th century or later, depending upon when the industrial age arrived in their region.
What distinguishes these kinds of labelled traditional handwork from the “anonymous” variety? There’s no one answer about why and how we label our work. It’s a complicated brew: culture, wealth, class, education, and even the development of our individualistic society all come into play.
For instance, some religious or cultural traditions encourage submission or humility. In those cases, it might be considered prideful to boast by putting your name on fine handwork.
Time matters, too. If you were financially well off, you had moments to embroider a fancy signature on your crewelwork… but if your family’s working class livelihood depends on knitting and selling stockings every week, as it did for many, there was no time to add identifiers.
Some young women were taught fine needlework skills as part of an upper-class education, and they signed their work to demonstrate their skills. Others’ fine skills were part of religious educational training, such as the nuns who created painstaking and time-consuming lacework. While a convent’s lace patterns became well-known, the individual nuns’ work usually didn’t.
Today, most of us don’t rely exclusively on handmade garments to get dressed every morning. We’re unlikely to spend a fortune on handmade lace embellishments. For those of us who define ourselves as makers, we also choose our own “traditions” in labelling. There are pros and cons to each position.
Some feel that each 21st-century creation should be clearly labelled. This way, our handmade signature can identify us – as one with a perfectly tailored project or one with mistakes on the wrong side. It’s a stamp of couture effort that shows it is “as good as store bought” instead of homemade. It‘s a sign of who you are and where you come from. Many of our parents and grandparents were proud to be part of a society where they were educated and middle class enough to make beautiful things because they wanted to, not because it was necessary.
In contrast, “made by anonymous” also has many positive attributes. Hearkening back to a time when everything was handmade, it might mean we can live with mistakes in our creations while submitting them to hard use. Also, skipping the label shows it didn’t come from a factory.
As a maker, I mostly abide by the unsigned tradition. Creating my work anonymously connects me to that long tradition of the mothers who have come before me.
I hear my grandmother’s voice in my head, “the wrong side of textile work should look as tidy as the side presented to the world.”
Yet, I try not to make my hand knit or hand-sewn pieces become overly precious. Instead, my family wears and uses them until they wear out and end up in the mending pile for re-use!
However, it’s fair to say I straddle the fence on this. Even if I don’t put my name on everything, I’m also a knitwear designer. I cherish the value of my creations as intellectual property. My kids are probably the only ones out there sporting sweaters with two sizes of infinity signs or white sheep with black horns on an orange background. Like the old village tradition, if heaven forbid, I had to identify a family member who drowned while fishing, it would be easy to do it with my sweater knitting. Everything I make has the stamps of my quirky style even if it seems anonymous to the uninitiated without a label.
Knitting reflects our personality, style, traditions, and skills far beyond the label or signature. It’s our chance both to connect with the handmade past and to embrace a 21st-century maker-ist future. &