Today I am so excited to be taking part in the KNITSONIK kickstarter blog tour. The creative force behind this project is my good friend, Felicity Ford, AKA, Felix. Felix is an artist whose works with sound and wool and celebrates the everyday. She regularly makes a podcast which can be heard at KNITSONIK.COM. For past few years, Felix has run WOVEMBER with Kate Davies and Tom Of Holland, a month-long campaign to celebrate wool in November and was the Patron of Shetland Wool Week last year. She even made an amazing Shetland Wool song which you must hear on YouTube.

I first met Felix about 9 years ago at a knitting group, Oxford Bluestockings and have been firm friends ever since.  Felix and I have had many adventures over the years often involving large amounts of coffee, little sleep, talking at 100 miles per hour,  lots of discussion about sheep/woolly things, writing about Messy Tuesdays and plenty of raucous laughter. Through my friendship with Felix I have a much greater appreciation of everyday objects and sounds. I notice domestic sounds around me much more and I hear the world around me slightly differently these days.

2009: At an art show of Felix’s listening to sounds through handmade knitted headphones.

When I first met Felix she was making fantastic felt pictures and knitted vegetables and I was immediate struck by how differently she thought about knitting. Knitting for Felix isn’t about making functional objects but exploring ideas, textures and colours.  It  has been such a great pleasure to watch Felix’s work develop and change over time and  I particularly love how her current project, The KNITSONIK Colourwork Sourcebook,  feels like a natural evolution of her work – fusing her love of the everyday with the joy of knitting.

So this is Felix talking about the story behind her project. True to our friendship, we had a LOT to talk about in this interview and you might want to grab a hot beverage before reading this. There are sounds, pictures and a sheep of course! These are the edited highlights…

Lara: Hello lovely Felix, my knitting comrade and coffee drinking friend…

Felix: Hello lovely Lara! It’s great to be on your blog in this context, since we met through knitting! You were in the original Oxford Bluestockings knitting group gang who rekindled my interest in knitting in 2005 in the Jericho cafe. If you hadn’t stuck up a post online to announce the existence of the Bluestockings, I might never have picked up a set of DPNs or started combining my Knitting with my Sounds! So it feels super, super great to be here on the great Lara blog, almost a decade later. Hurrah!

Lara: Your knitting book looks very exciting and gorgeous. Why have you decided to make it?

Felix: Thank you, I am really glad you are excited by The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook! Ever since I discovered stranded colourwork, I wanted to be able to turn the world around me into gorgeous stranded knitting, and sometimes when you really want to be able to do something, you just have to figure out how to do it!

I read on Ravelry the other day that someone had watched the Kickstarter video and immediately started thinking differently about the brickwork where they live, and that’s what this book is all about – seeing the world with fresh eyes, celebrating the everyday in knitting, and sharing strategies for discovering magic and wonder in daily life.

Lara: What do you hope people will get from the book?

Felix: What I really hope is that it will remove some of the mystery and fear around COLOUR, and that it will inspire people to look on the their daily surroundings and personal treasures with new curiosity and affection. I also really hope that people will be encouraged to try using very non-obvious sources as inspirations for knitting. The things and places that are important to us are not necessarily picturesque, but that does not mean we can’t find ways of celebrating them in our knitting! I want my book to show that you really can base stranded colourwork on ANYTHING, and ESPECIALLY on the things that are important to you.

Lara: I always describe your work as weaving together knitting, sounds and stories in everyday life. Why do you choose to celebrate the ordinary and everyday in your work?

Felix: I want to make life better; kinder; less lonely; more playful and wonderful and mischievous. My work celebrates the ordinary and the everyday because that is where we live. The majority of our time on this earth will be spent in very mundane circumstances: buying milk; wiping the kitchen counter; driving to work… I draw attention to these intimate, daily gestures which we have in common because I think they are important. I also love what happens when you highlight everyday things; the way that stuff which seems totally boring and mundane becomes special and extraordinary when you put a frame around it. Once you have made a radio show about washing up, you can’t help but think about it whenever you do the dishes.

Once you’ve knitted the bricks from your street, you’ll always have a special, richer, deeper appreciation for them, because of the attention and imagination you’ve invested in looking at them. It’s about building moments of appreciation and reflection into daily life, and drawing attention to the everyday stuff that we share, and it’s about creating opportunities to play, every day.

Lara: What is your personal favourite piece of stranded colourwork that you have made?

Felix: Just now I am knitting the biggest swatch so far for the book. It is in a totally new-to-me palette of yellows, blacks, greys, creams and a lovely tawny reddish shade (125 if you are a Jamieson & Smith colour nerd). It is my favourite swatch so far as I have learnt so much through knitting it, and because it is based on a book from the 1930s about electricity.

That book contains experiments involving knitting needles, an anecdote about a shepherd, and drawings of early electronic circuits. Reading and knitting from it is giving me a fresh appreciation for my laptop and all the other complex, circuited devices which I use in daily life, and a new love for yellow and grey together. So this is probably my favourite colourwork so far… it may not surprise you to hear I have been doing some of the experiments in the book simply to hear how they sound, and I’m sure some of that will make it into a future episode of the KNITSONIK podcast!

Lara: You have called the book The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook – can you tell us more about KNITSONIK?

Felix: KNITSONIK began when I was doing my MA in Sonic Art & Composition and joined the Bluestockings. Discovering KNITTING with you and our fellow Oxfordian comrades gave me a lot of ideas… I amplified the sounds of knitting with giant knitting needles, and soldered 32 miniature speakers together, hand-knitted covers for all of them, and played sounds from my home through them… since those early experiments, things have grown and matured, but I remain fascinated by the relationships between knitting + everyday sounds!

Recent KNITSONIK projects have explored the sounds relating to wool production, and celebrating connections between different sheep breeds and their origins in specific landscapes.

For instance for Shetland Wool Week I made an online sound map showing sounds I recorded in Shetland, relating to the production and history of Shetland Wool. To go with this map, I produced a pattern to enable knitters to make a Shetland Wool speaker pillow so that you can literally listen to Shetland wool through Shetland wool. My pattern includes an essay about the sounds and a list of what I recorded in Shetland, including:

  • Wool bales being loaded onto the lorry at Jamieson & Smith ready for scouring and spinning
  • Sheep on Sumburgh head
  • Laurie telling me a guddick (riddle) about wool carders at the Croft House Museum
  • Sheep at the Voe District & Agricultural Show
  • Brian Smith, archivist at Shetland Museum and Archives, describing the Truck system that operated in Shetland between the 1840s and mid 1900s
  • Shima Machines at Shetland college, churning out knitwear at great speeds
  • Oliver Henry talking about the history of Shetland wool
  • Hazel Tindall knitting with a knitting belt
  • Elizabeth Johnston spinning on an old Shetland wheel

I love how these recordings foreground and celebrate the central role of wool in Shetland life, and what could be nicer than resting your head against some soft Shetland wool and listening to voices and sounds from the places where it grows as you drift off to sleep?

Lara: Are there other aspects to KNITSONIK?

Felix: As well as celebrating connections between wool and the places where wool grows, KNITSONIK challenges how knitting is represented, as reflected in the deliberately TEKNIKAL KNITSONIK project logo!

Almost universally, the mere mention of microphones and mixing desks conjures images of male, technical virtuosity. Yet outside of Ravelry and other knitterly circles, mentioning knitting tools mostly fails to illicit a similarly impressed reaction. Why is this? As someone who uses microphones, mixing desks + knitting needles, I would say that both sets of tools are complex and technical to master. It matters to me how these different skills are valued. You can expect to gain some prestige and have vast cultural influence as a record producer, but we do not imagine that these possibilities are open to the virtuoso knitter. I think that needs to change!

Image & copy; Pier Corona and used with kind permission

Lara: How do you go about changing how knitting is perceived?

Felix: One way is that I have been making garments designed specifically for my sound work. The Listening Tunik has holes for microphone wires, deep pockets for recorders, a motif featuring record/play/pause buttons, and – being made of beautiful thick Corriedale 4-ply – is utterly silent in my recordings when I wear it.

The thick stranded colourwork around the bottom of the tunik keeps my bum warm when I am standing somewhere in the freezing cold, trying to keep still, perhaps recording a bird: it’s perfect!

This is knitting as technology and I always explain that just because it isn’t shiny and black with lots of buttons that it is still a completely specialist piece of kit.

I also deliberately think of podcasting and radio show production as craft processes, and this gives my work a feminist underpinning which is extremely important to me. I take my knitting to soundart events and present it at conferences, and I bring my microphones to WOOLFEST.

The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook brings many strands of my practice together… it celebrates the specific textures of the place where I live, and Shetland wool, with its traceable origins in the distinctive landscape of Shetland. The book is also a technical manual for producing personalised stranded knitwear, and a celebration of the everyday.

My perceptive sonik comrade – Patrick McGinley – pointed out that the stranded knitwear swatches are like visual field recordings, and there’s something in that idea; you have to stand still for a long time, listening, to make a nice field recording.  It’s not a fast process, and involves being really present, wherever you are… it’s the same with knitting, you can’t do it fast, and you have to pay attention. When you’ve spent that kind of time paying attention to something, it somehow becomes more valuable to you; you perceive it differently. Maybe that’s a key way in which the KNIT and the SONIK interact in this new project.

Lara: Who inspires you?

Felix: My biggest inspiration comes from talking with my friends and seeing how all the amazing people I know work through their own problems, create amazing solutions, and grow in their families and in their work. I love my people! I also draw huge inspiration from walking with Mark, my wonderful partner.

We have shared many walks in many places, and I deeply appreciate that he is always game at these times to engage in long discussions of “imagine if I could knit those branches/that beach/the skyline over there”. He is my number one comrade.

Other influences include Daphne Oram, Bobby Baker and Alice Starmore.

Daphne Oram was a pioneer of electronic music who founded the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, then left to set up her own independent music studio in Kent. Tower Folly Studio was the first independent electronic music studio created and run by a woman in the UK if not the world, and it was here that Oram composed music, founded her theory of Oramics, and built The Oramics Machine – an amazing electronic instrument of her own design. She also made her own clothes, and cheese from the goats which she kept. Her book – An individual note – reveals a very interconnected way of thinking about electronic sound in relation to all areas of life, and I  loved exploring her work as part of a commission I worked on last year:

Bobby Baker is a British artist who celebrates daily life mostly through incredibly moving and powerful live performances. Baker incorporates all sorts of domestic materials into her work, and proposed in the 1970s – quite brilliantly – that cake would be her preferred sculptural medium. Baker is funny, an inventor of concepts, a champion of women’s lives and experiences, and a creator of an extraordinary and celebratory body of work. I love her.

Alice Starmore for me represents a kind of gold standard both for writing about knitting, and for designing stranded colourwork. I love how completely Starmore connects knitting with a sense of place, and a sense of history. Her Hebridean 2-ply is very precisely and beautifully celebrate the landscape where she lives, and I find there is a crisp precision and authority in her words which is utterly thrilling. Her essays on Fair Isle knitting and Aran sweaters are brilliant and I love how confidently she presents her ideas, and the magical rich and shimmery depth of everything she designs.

Lara: Using Kickstarter is a really interesting approach – was it hard decision to fund the book in this way?

Felix: The biggest difficulty was getting used to the idea that there would be this video out there in the world with my gurning face on it, asking people to fund my idea. That’s a pretty scary idea! What makes it possible to live with this prospect is believing that the book is a good idea. Using Kickstarter also allows me to answer two fundamental questions at once;

  • Does anyone else want this book?
  • If people do want it, how on earth can I afford to get it designed and printed?

Running a Kickstarter campaign involves being incredibly public about what you are up to, and raises awareness about your dreams as well as (hopefully) the dollars that you need to materialise them. If the campaign is successful, I think in some ways the book will be better for being funded through Kickstarter. Although it feels vulnerable to share ideas-in-progress, the collective energy and inspiration communicated through all those pledges, tweets etc. is really energising, and strengthens my determination to make The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook a truly amazing resource.

I also love that I am not alone now in wishing to make this book happen; all the funding backers who have pledged towards making it a reality are joining me in the wish to see it created! If the funding goal is met, and the book gets made, everyone who has helped it to happen can share in the sense of achievement and the production milestones like seeing the drive to the printers, or hearing (of course) the sounds of the book physically being made!

Lara: What response have you got from it so far?

Felix: The response to the campaign so far has blown my mind! I wasn’t even a week into the campaign when I hit the 50% funded target! When I’ve done more formal funding application, I’ve never heard or seen the responses of any funders or funding committee. With Kickstarter, the opposite is true. Twitter and Facebook and Ravelry are full of chatter about the project; you can see what people are saying, and feedback is instant. What is encouraging to me at this stage is that people seem to be backing my Kickstarter campaign because they want the book.

Lara: What is your current favourite sound/object?

Felix: Haha! Actually I am currently happy about some woodpeckers on the campus around Oxford Brookes University at the moment; on a quiet, still day the sound really travels, and it is beautiful. I was late to an event at work the other day and had to truthfully explain that I had been listening to the woodpeckers, which had delayed me. I also love our kettle’s whistle; I got a stove top kettle specifically because I like its jolly whistle. Mark is very talented and meticulous and is able to get the water/heat ratios just right so that when he makes coffee, our stove-top coffee maker and the kettle bubble up together at the exact same time, which is a wonderful sound in our house.

I never tire of the sound of frying an egg, either, or the way that Red Kites’ calls seem to arc over the chimney tops in our street. I do always love the sound of putting my keys into my door, turning them, and entering the house; it’s a sound sequence that says I’m home now and I love all the associations of that.

Lara: Finally and most importantly, what is your favourite type of sheep?

Felix: I love all sheep breeds very much indeed, so it’s impossible to pick just one. However since this post is part of the blog tour for The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, perhaps I’ll take the opportunity to talk about the Shetland sheep whose lovely wool forms the basis for all my stranded knitting. Oliver Henry explains the history of the breed beautifully on my Listening to Shetland Wool sound map; he describes there once being two distinct breeds on the islands who ran together and created a hybrid sheep featuring qualities from both.

As a knitter who loves to knit with Shetland wool hand sorted by Oliver and his comrades in the wool room at Jamieson & Smith, this theory of two breeds into one makes some sense to me.  Shetland wool has to my hands both a bouncy softness and just enough grip to give it some character. I love how Shetland wool blooms and stretches when you block it, and the natural variations of colour to be found in the breed represent some of the loveliest colours you’ll find anywhere to knit with.

To find out more or to back Felix’s amazing book, please visit her Kickstarter page. For people backing the campaign, Felix has put together amazing and exciting handmade rewards. Let’s help Felix make this extraordinary book! 

All pictures are here with kind permission from Felicity Ford. 

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