Last week, I was lucky enough to catch up with Felicity (Felix) Ford ahead of the release of the Skystone Armwarmers, this month’s Boost Your Knitting pattern! Felix is a knitter and sound artist who translates the joy and beauty of the everyday into amazing stranded colourwork knitting. Her books, the Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook and the Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Playbook, empower knitters to unlock their own creativity by observing the world around them. We’re so lucky to have her beautiful design and expertise for this month’s knitalong — and I think you’ll agree Felix’s enthusiasm for colourwork really come through in our chat! I hope you enjoy it!
KR: Thanks for chatting with us today, Felix! I have been so excited about this month’s pattern – your Skystone Armwarmers! In some ways, this month’s technique is a little different than the ones we’ve had so far since it’s about growing our creative confidence – but there’s still a series of clear steps to follow to get started. For readers who aren’t familiar with your Knitsonik system, can you explain a little about the genesis of your method?
FF: Of course! I’m excited to be here too, and to be joining you for the Skystone Armwarmers knit-a-long. I love your AC Knitwear approach to teaching techniques through projects – it’s so enabling. By following the patterns and reading the tutorials, knitters learn new ways to do things, but we also end up with wearable evidence of newly-acquired skills. The knitting itself is warm and cosy, but also serves as a heartening reminder of learning and process. That’s my favourite sort of knitting to wear.
In different ways the Knitsonik system is also about embedding creative process in our work. I’ve produced two books (three if you count my colouring book) about translating everyday life into stranded colourwork, and it’s my favourite subject to teach. My starting point was realising how often I’d find myself contemplating something and thinking “wouldn’t it be lovely to knit this?” I wanted to know the next step; to be able to say “yes! And I know how to start!”
Alice Starmore, in her book of Fair Isle Knitting, has a section of pages with photos of beautiful stranded colourwork beside photos of inspiration sources. I saw that, many years ago, and cast on at once. I soon learnt there are quite a few messy steps between the original inspiration source and the perfected stranded colourwork motif based upon it. Mistakes, trial and error, playing, discovery, wonder, horrible colour combinations and joyous ones as well, are all necessary stages to the adventure. The Knitsonik system is really a route map through that; a method for breaking down and demystifying the steps between being inspired by something and knitting something based upon it.
KR: I’ve been lucky enough to take one of your colourwork classes, and one of the things I really loved about it and this month’s tutorial is they both create space for people who might not normally think of themselves as particularly creative (like myself!) to play and discover something. What advice do you have for anyone feeling a bit shy about getting started or who isn’t sure where to find inspiration?
FF: I’m so happy to hear that you found space for your own creativity in my workshop – it’s really important to me to create an enabling atmosphere and to set up the conditions for play and discovery. “Creativity” can be a very loaded word. Bad art teachers, the reification of creativity as something special and rare, and the idea that any sort of artistic activity is somehow extraordinary have a lot to answer for! Creativity can be nurtured and practiced by anyone, and my advice to anyone who is feeling shy is to start where you are, and not to put it off, put it on a pedestal, or wait for conditions to be perfect. What’s on the floor, what’s beside you, what can you see right now? What’s it made of? What colours does it contain? Think of a corner in your home that you’ve organised in some way – a bookshelf or a cutlery drawer. Take a photo of the corner – the bookshelf with its stripy book spines; the cutlery drawer with the lines and curves of its forks and spoons – and start there. At its most basic and immediate level, creativity is representing the world around us. To do that, we need to see it – really see it – and record our way of looking. What’s magic is that even things which feel boring and mundane (like bookshelves and cutlery drawers) turn out to be amazing and unique when you really study them.
KR: You’re so well known for your enthusiasm for stranded colourwork. Do you have any other favourite techniques? Or any on your list to learn this year?
FF: I love grafting and use it all the time for different things. However, I tried earlier this year to maintain a stranded colourwork pattern when grafting the beginning and end of a project together, and I got very muddled up. I had begun the project with a few rounds of plain stockinette in waste yarn, and the first round of the actual knitting was stranded colourwork – as was the last. I unzipped the waste yarn and found it really hard to understand what was going on between the loops forming the bottom of the stitches and the strands. I abandoned the mission and worked the graft in the background shade, adding in the pattern using duplicate stitch afterwards. However, it is annoying to me that I could not master this technique, and that’s definitely something I’d like to get a solid handle on!
The other technique I’m keen to learn is double-knitting. Whenever I am knitting stranded colourwork, I can’t help wondering “what would this colour scheme look like in reverse?” if I could learn how to do double-knitting, I could answer that question and also make fully reversible stranded colourwork.
My friend and fellow comrade-in-colourwork, Janine Bajus, has documented an intriguing method for short-row shoulder shaping in Fair Isle garments in her wonderful book The Joy of Color. I’ve read her section on this several times, but don’t think I’ll fully understand it until I put it into practise…
…The short answer is that all the new techniques I want to learn are about improving the range of what I can do with my stranded colourwork!
KR: Any favourite tips for knitters newer to stranded colourwork knitting?
FF: Yes – I’ll share the story of how I learnt. I had a friend who was making Spilly Jane’s Gnomes mittens and I thought this was one of the most beautiful yet unattainable knitting projects I’d ever seen. “I wish I could do that!” I said, to which my friend replied “You totally can. It’s the easiest thing in the world. Just knit the pattern colour Continental-style, scooping from your left hand, and the background colour English-style, throwing from your right hand.” I was aghast – surely it couldn’t be so simple! “What about the yarn tangling on the back?” I asked, to which my friend replied “it all sorts itself out – honestly, just try it.” I went home that evening, pulled out two contrasting balls of yarn from my stash, and cast on a hat. Her complete dismissal of my fears really helped; that she said it was easy; that she explained the method simply; that she had 100% confidence in my ability to knit with two colours at once – all those things helped me so much. So I’m paying it forward! I knit the Selbu Modern hat by Kate Gagnon Osborn as my first stranded colourwork project. It uses just two shades from start to finish and I found working on that hat was the exact size of project – and amount of time – to get the hang of working with two yarn shades at once. My favourite tips include learning to fan the stitches out as you go so you don’t end up with very tight floats, and just getting used to the way it feels to have yarn in both hands as you go.
KR: Earlier this year, inspired by Desert Island Discs, we started chatting in the Ravelry group about our sleeve island knitting pics – one yarn, one knitting book, and one piece of music we’d take with us if we were stranded on a desert island. Care to share what you'd take?
FF: One yarn? That’s easy – J&S 2ply Jumper Weight. Is it cheating to say “in all the colours, please?”
One knitting book? I’d take Colours of Shetland by Kate Davies, because that book and the patterns in it reflect such a rich and respectful dialogue between place, imagination, colour, thought and knitting. It’s the template on which KDD & Co. have continued to build subsequent publications but I love it because it’s the first one. If I was stuck on sleeve island, I would be inspired by that book – maybe more than by any other – to delve into the world around me with a view to turning it into lovely things to wear.
One piece of music? I’m going to massively cheat here and say I’d take the aporee sound maps with me. The sound maps are co-created by around 1,000 sound-recordists all over the world, documenting and sharing the daily sonic textures of their lives. You can log in anytime for free and hear (and download) sounds from all over the world. As well as introducing me to the glorious textures of places I may never get to visit in person, it is a constant reminder of how rich, interesting, and beautiful our world is when we listen to it. https://aporee.org/maps/
If I was only allowed to take a single recording from that website to sleeve island, I might take the recording I uploaded there recently of the bluetits in our apple tree along with our chickens, as all these birds are gorgeous and I would miss their sounds if I was away and couldn’t hear them. https://archive.org/details/aporee_32483_50873
KR: Finally, what’s on your needles at the moment?
FF: I’m re-knitting the wild mountain time mitts I designed for Old Maiden Aunt’s book – Coming Home – in an alternative colourway to the sample. The colours for the original pattern were based on wild mountain thyme and other plants spotted during a journey I took along The West Highland Way ten years ago with my husband, Mark. They are vivid and bright, reflecting the lurid complexion of heathlands and moors in bright sunshine after rain.
I wanted to see what happened if I used a much more subtle – and local-to-me – palette for reworking the design, so I’m making a pair based on the wildflowers in our garden. I’ve noticed the leaves of Herb Robert are a sort of dingy red/green combination, which resembles Lilith’s Hebridean and Strange Rock n' Rollers colourways. The Herb Rrobert grows in with Forget-me-Nots by our compost bin, and I liked the combination of these two plants together and am doing the background in the pale blues of Shoormal and Dreich. I love Lilith’s semi-solid yarns and the creative possibilities they offer. I’m enjoying the very subtle differences between these two sets of colours, which are much closer to one another than the four shades I used for the sample.
Later this week – of course! – I plan to cast on for a pair of Skystone Armwarmers, adapted to reflect the colours of a lovely pine cone I found here in the University of Reading Botanic Gardens.
Thank you so much Felix for this joyful chat! You can find out more about Felix’s work on her website, see her designs on Ravelry , and find her on Instagram as knitsonik! We also have both of her fabulous books, the Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook and Playbook, as well as the Playbook Colouring Companion, in the online shop! And if you’d like to make your own Skystone Armwarers, you can purchase the Boost Your Knitting programme in the online shop — or come have a peak at what’s going on in our Ravelry group!