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Tag Archives: Psychogeography

All the Things; All the Feels

Today I’m really tired. I spent the weekend in London for the lovely, lovely Yarnporium and while I took yesterday off, I am feeling a bit rough around the edges today.

I spent Friday at the Victoria & Albert museum in London which is dedicated to arts & crafts and design. I took in the Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery with a friend and also lingered with the sections on medieval European art. Saturday I taught two classes at Yarnporium (and managed to get lost on my way to teaching the Knitting the Landscape class which I thought was very on-message and method of me). I caught up with vendors and friends before heading to an evening do thrown by LoveCrafts in Bloomsbury. Sunday I spent the morning at Yarnporium again meeting awesome folks before spending my last hours in London at the near-by National Gallery.

I had been quite nervous about teaching Knitting the Landscape as the class had been commissioned by Yarnporium and thus was brand-new. The class went really well, actually, and I was blown away by people’s willingness to reassess their approach to knitting. I found it so inspirational to hear people’s stories and I loved how individual all the finished pieces looked. Though there are some limitations to the workshop (such as it can only really work with a large number of participants), I will be adding it to my repertoire going forward and I cannot wait to see how people interpret their world through knitting.

I have only just unpacked my bags from Yarnporium and now I’m off to Northern Ireland. I’m teaching Shetland Lace at Glen Gallery – this will be my third year of teaching their November workshops and I always look forward to my visit. So, laundry to do, samples to air and then it is off again..

.. but before that happens, I just want to tell you something that happened yesterday. I learned that I have been nominated as Designer of the Year in the British Craft Awards. This nomination really floored me – particularly because I am nominated along some serious heavyweights like Martin Storey and Marie Wallin. Having begun designing on a whim whilst working for a yarn company to making designing my full-time career just two years ago and now being mentioned alongside people I really admire .. well,  I cannot begin to tell you how much this means to me. I am not quite sure what to make of it all, but I am so pleased to see woolly chums like Tom of Holland, Knit British, and BritYarn nominated in various categories. It feels like we are slowly changing the conversations we are having about knitting. Hooray.

I’m off to continue work on the book and answer questions from my inbox. Please be patient: I won’t have access to internet or mobile data whilst in Northern Ireland!

Trekking Through A Landscape, Gathering Sunlight: An Interview with Sarah

The other day I wrote about the dark side of the internet. Today I’m showcasing just how the internet enables us to connect with like-minded people in far-flung places.

Meet Sarah. Sarah  is one of the brains behind the podcast Fiber Trek. We share similar preoccupations with knitting, landscape and history. I’ve been preoccupied by those themes for a long time and it is exciting to see someone on the other side of the world exploring the same thoughts.


How did you get the idea for Fiber Trek? It is not your standard postcast, is it?

It’s not really a personal account of my life & knitting  –  more a chance to chat about what people, landscapes & animals are doing in the textiles realm. The podcast includes my friend Morgan who does a segment where we talk about ecology & natural history in a way it relates to textiles.  On alternate weeks I offer up a Textiles in Time segment which looks at topics in history.

You think a lot about fibre arts, landscapes and history. How do those interest influence how you engage with your crafts? Do you see your crafting as a continuation of a tradition?
Landscape, history and tradition all have a strong influence on me.  My initial introduction was on a sheep farm in Orkney where I shepherded. I wanted to “feel” that space everyday and fiber arts enabled me to do that.  Wool encompasses the heart of the craft, the soul of the medium. When we select the yarn we touch the essence of hard work, death, birth .. the cycle.  I have become quite particular over the past year as to what yarn I purchase, not for any other reason than I want to connect with the heart and soul of my craft. I want to pick up my project and feel the farm; every stitch I take I want to have soul.The concept of time and place is so poignant. One of the best examples is Imperial Yarn and an interview I heard with Jeanne Carver on the Yarniacs Podcast.  She draws beautiful connections between the fiber and the land – and describes the sheep as a conduit through which we can harvest sunlight. I was inspired by Jeanne’s commitment to landscape, her knowledge of place, and her allegiance to something greater. I love the idea of harvesting sunlight. I like it so much that from now on instead of stashing yarn & fiber, I will be gathering sunlight.

Jack and Sheep

Yes, I love that idea of gathering sunlight too. It’s such a powerful image. But a big part of being a 21st century knitter seems all about coveting yarns from far-flung corners of the world. I cannot see you doing that. If you were to talk to me about local-to-you yarns, what would those be?

I love sourcing the product, squirrelling out the small farm and carrying something home that grounds me in the landscape; that allows me to tell a story every time I see it, wear it or use it. But local-to-me yarns is a difficult concept.  I have been involved in the local food movement for a long time but yarn seems to push boundaries. Yarn’s not necessarily about a specific proximity to myself but it is about people and landscape – and what they are doing in that landscape. I seek out yarns in my state but I also use fiber & yarn to “travel” and support producers across the globe.  I like to research  farm-specific & artisan yarns.  I love yarns that have a story, it makes them feel “local” to me and creates a greater connection.

I am drawn to natural colors and  I like rugged yarns & fibers with toothy structure and resilience. I often look for breed-specific yarns as well as interesting local crosses.  I enjoy finding & meeting local dyers – especially those who raise or source their fleeces themselves.

Big Thumbs Up for yarns with resilience and structure. I call them rustic (which has its own landscape connotations) but I like resilience better. Speaking of place, where can people find you? 

Right now you can find me on Ravelry as Swenstea, on Instagram as fibertrektv, on Twitter as fibertrek and we have a group on Ravelry, Fiber Trek. Our blog site is http://fibertrek.wordpress.com & our website is http://fibertrektv.com

Thank you Sarah!

Fiber Trek is currently hosting a KAL for my Vedbaek shawl which I find so apt – the shawl pattern is a response to a particular landscape and a particular time whilst still being about rooting you in your time and place. I do not normally discount the Doggerland patterns, but I have given Sarah a discount code to use during the KAL. You get 20% off the pattern if you buy via the Fiber Trek KAL (check out the podcast for more details). I’m getting ready for the last Doggerland release and finding Fibre Trek is such a timely reminder of all the things I love about fibre arts.
All photos in this post thanks to Fiber Trek

How the Land Lies: The Gillean Hat

Gillean HatHow do we understand a landscape?

From satnavs and street lights to bus routes and border controls, our twenty-first century landscape is controlled and marked in a myriad of ways. We are told how best to reach our destination (the destination being more important than the journey!), not to trespass, and to have our passport ready for inspection. Not only does Google Earth enables us to walk the streets of cities we will never visit from the comfort of our own homes, but computer-generated landscapes can end up feel more real than the landscape outside our windows.

(I still remember the shock coursing through my body when I first played Diablo II and discovered the village in Diablo had been burned down. It was a real, physical reaction to a simulated environment.)

Thankfully human beings still want to feel we are part of our actual, real surroundings.

We want to inhabit our landscape emotionally as well as physically. We take shortcuts (‘desire lines‘) when the official path seems too circuitous; we respond to stark urban environments by planting trees and flowers; and we turn spaces into places by telling tales about them: “This is where I played as a child” and “Turn left at the tree that was hit by lightning.”

And the Gillean Hat is partly a response to this story-telling impulse, this desire to belong.

The Gillean hat is named after Caisteal nan Gillean – a Mesolithic archaeology site on the Scottish island of Oronsay. I am fascinated by how we choose to name sites and how many layers of stories we can find in place names. Caisteal nan Gillean literally means ‘the fort of the boys’ and since we will never know the actual Mesolithic name of the site, the boys will linger.Gillean Hat

But there are other ways of marking your place in the world when words are no longer remembered and myths about a place have ceased to be told. Caisteal nan Gillean has plenty of evidence that it was a place tied to memories, stories, experiences and meaning. People inhabited the island on many occasions and left behind traces of their lives.

I am using a stylised shell/limpet motif in this hat. Oronsay is famous for its shell middens – solid evidence of human activity in a landscape – and I wanted to throw a handful of these shells across a hat. The hat uses beautiful organic Faroese yarns that reflect an isolated island environment: a grassy green flickers at the edge whilst the two greys capture the idea of shells strewn across weathered stones. A link to a past landscape in a own present-day world.

If you want to read more about how we relate to landscapes – both internal and external ones – I recommend Robert Macfarlane’s beautiful The Old Ways: a Journey on Foot.

Pre-order Doggerland – Join the Journey.

Ronaes ShawlAfter so many months of hard work, Doggerland: Knits from a Lost Landscape is finally available to pre-order through Ravelry. The first pattern will be the Ronaes Shawl (as seen in the photos) but I will write more about the shawl when I release it on June 10.

The idea for the Doggerland collection first came to me when I was looking at artefacts in the National Museum of Denmark’s Prehistory section.

I was looking at a bone antler fragment carved with beautiful, simple designs when my partner started reading aloud a piece about the lost region of Doggerland – a Mesolithic landscape now lost to the North Sea between the UK and Scandinavia (Mesolithic means “Middle Stone Age”). I loved the simplicity of the carved antler and I loved the story of a lost landscape that once formed a land bridge between Denmark (where I grew up) and Britain (where I now live).

The prehistory sections of The National Museum of Scotland and the National Museum of Denmark yielded much inspiration: worked flintstones, carved antler bones, well-preserved fykes, and excavated shell middens. Motifs and textures are either directly taken from Mesolithic artefacts found in the Doggerland region (or surrounding areas) or use them as visual cues. The Mesolithic period was characterised by very geometric designs: lines, dots, circles and simple shapes. Shapes and motifs you will find throughout the collection, both in the knitting patterns and the illustrations.

Ronaes ShawlIt is difficult to determine what types of textiles Mesolithic people made, what materials they used and how they wore their clothes. Textiles are made from organic materials and therefore they decay over the thousands of years between the Mesolithic Era and today. Occasionally archaeologists unearth tiny treasures: a maritime excavation off the coast of Denmark discovered one single thread of spun plant material, for instance.

The Doggerland collection does not seek to recreate Mesolithic textiles – but it wishes to prompt the imagination. Choose your materials with care – and think about the landscape and environment to which they belong.

Designing this collection was an exercise in psycho-geography for me and I would like to think that knitting these designs will become a journey through your personal landscapes too. I wanted to tell the story of a lost landscape but also remind you that we all walk in landscapes like Doggerland. Where we live was once covered by sea and in time will once again be covered.

The Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who lived 10,000 years ago were not all that different from you and me.

Doggerland: Knits from a Lost Landscape is available to pre-order until June 10. It costs £12 which is a special pre-order price (on June 10 going forward it will cost £15). The patterns will be released every few weeks and will be available as single downloads at £3 each.

Phew. I feel emotionally drained now!