Tag Archives: knitting

faces and places: melanie hodgson

Part of a series introducing some of the places and people we’ve come across since moving to Scotland. Some you may already know but, more often than not, they will be new to you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do…

Mel, Flamborough Head

Mel, Flamborough Head

Mel and I met through a few years ago through a lovely Melbourne friend who kept insisting that we’d get along beautifully because of our mutual appreciation for woolly wools. Turns out we have a lot of other things in common but fibre is definitely at the core of our friendship!

Mel is a Yorkshire lass who has recently moved back there after nine hot summers in Australia and she is as happy as can be to be back in her homeland! I think what I appreciate most about Mel is her commitment to integrity. She really gives herself 100% to whatever she is doing, whether that is baking sourdough, growing food plants, caring for her patients at work or working with fibre and yarn: it’s all or nothing and she gives her whole heart. I’ve been very fortunate to be on the receiving end of her care, both in helping me get my bearings and in finding wonderful, interesting people and movements happening here in the UK and I will be forever grateful for her care and support.

Not only does Mel knit very lovely things for herself, her loved ones and her home, she also prepares and spins her own fibre and yarn… Being a Yorkshire girl at heart, she has a strong affinity for local sheep breeds and has sourced fibre from all kinds of British and/ or rare and conservation breeds, like Masham, Swaledale and Whitefaced Woodland and, by blending fibres and colours to create tops, she spins the most lovely, heathered, tweedy yarns.

She combs or cards fibres….

Raw, combed fibre

Combed Jacob fibre

Whitefaced Woodland and coloured merino tops

Whitefaced Woodland and coloured merino

… and spins them into heavenly yarn…

Bluefaced Leicester

Bluefaced Leicester, with the most incredible lustre and definition

Yarn

Squishy Shetland

Pure angora yarn

Pure, spindle-spun angora yarn in all its fuzzy glory

Odds and ends, Navajo-plied

Odds and ends of singles plied into a beautiful, random yarn

… which she then knits into beautiful, sturdy, cosy knits that are all about enveloping and making one feel loved and held, the way Mel herself does.

Gradient-spun sock

Gradient-spun socks from Bluefaced Leicester fibre, dyed by the Thylacine, Tasmania

Mel's Follow Your Arrow in North Ronaldsay 4ply

Detail from Mel’s Follow Your Arrow in North Ronaldsay 4ply

Compared to Mel, I’m not much of a spinner, but I think that common grounding helps us really get each other and the way we see and feel fibre!  We certainly agree that fibre dyed in the fleece and then blended before spinning results in the most beautiful yarns and hope to one day collaborate in making yarn…

In the meantime, we’ve got Shetland Wool Week to look forward to, plus some dyeing with the avocado skins that Mel’s been stashing in her freezer for months (did I mention her dedication?!) and plenty of other adventure planned. I can’t wait!

(I wish I had more photos of her finished knits but my camera lens broke while I was visiting and photographing her work and so these are all I have for you- but do go and find Mel and her knits on Ravelry and at recipeforayarn)

woolful, edinyarnfest and the craft sessions

I’d like to send out a massive thank you to everyone who has left a comment here- and on Instagram, Twitter and, of course, in person!- in support and encouragement of our move overseas… It has meant a huge amount to me and I’ll be carrying you all with me when we head off at the end of January. Gee, the world certainly feels like a small place with the whole SM circus, doesn’t it?!

Just a few updates: if you haven’t already twigged to the joys of Ashley Yousling’s Woolful podcast, you need to check it out. This super smart and resourceful young woman is changing the way many of us see the yarn that we knit with and the fibre craft community that we are part of by opening up fascinating conversations with fibre people; from small scale to commercial, she’s talking to those involved in producing fibre (spinners, dyers, shearers, yarn companies…) and to those who use it (designers, craftspeople, artists…). I think these conversations will continue in yarn shops, at kitchen tables, in colleges and at fibre events around the world…  A new episode is released each Tuesday and I was thrilled and very honoured to talk to Ashley as part of this week’s episode, mostly about natural dyeing and dye plants but our conversation meandered through many areas of fibre love! You can find all the eps over at Wooful. Oh, and Ashley and her family is also building a fibre mill in Idaho- I can’t wait to see what comes out of that place!

I mentioned in my last post that I am building up a stock of colourwork cowls to take with me to Scotland-  well, I’ve signed up for a booth at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival in mid-March! It’ll be my first time selling my work in this kind of setting and I’m excited and a little anxious at the same time… But, at the very least, I’m looking at it as a great chance to meet and connect with the local knitting community. So, as well as packing up the house and catching up with loved ones, I’m going to have a busy 6 weeks of making!

And, lastly, it was bittersweet teaching my very last Melbourne class at Sunspun this week. It was great to finally run Fibre and Yarn 101, which was inspired by years of questions from customers about how to choose the best yarn for a project and why some yarn substitutions just don’t seem to work. I think my students left with a clearer picture of how different natural fibres behave and why different types of processing result in very different yarns and how to anticipate and work with that. But I’m really not sure whether there’ll be much opportunity for teaching in Scotland- perhaps natural dyeing will be the way to go, as teaching knitting there feels like teaching my grandmother to suck eggs! I’ll just have to wait and see and, in the meantime, will be so happy to take lots of classes to soak up as much of the local knowledge and tradition. But I wanted to let you know that I will be returning in September to teach at the Craft Sessions. It’s such a beautiful event that I don’t want to miss it and it also gives me a chance to bring back and share techniques and skills picked up over there. And, of course, to spend time with my family and friends. So it won’t be that long between cups of tea!

So that’s all my news for now. Have a lovely weekend!

more madder

Well, it’s been so long between posts that I’ll be thrilled if anyone at all is still reading this little blog of mine… It’s been a very busy few months- both at Sunspun and in my own work- but I’m finally getting my feet back on the ground and have emerged from winter thoroughly inspired and ready for spring!

There’s so much to share that it might require a few installments. But I’ll start with the glory that was and is the Craft Sessions

I have to admit that I was a little worried going into the second CS. It couldn’t possibly be as ace as last year. Could it? The answer to that was a deafening YES! I don’t know how Felicia did it, organizing such a amazingly successful event while traipsing around Europe in a campervan with her partner and three kids and very sporadic internet- what a champ!  As a teacher at least, it was such a happy event, with a lovely balance of challenge and enjoyment in the classes offered and, like last year, a group of people willing to be vulnerable enough to come away with a group of strangers and take on something completely new. That’s a rare thing.

My CS classes were in the same vein as last year- colourwork knitting and dyeing with plants- but with some twists. I love spreading the joys of stranded colourwork and this time, I had 12 newbies working on a 10ply hat (that will be available very soon on Ravelry) and learning to work with a yarn in each hand- fun!

New hat design coming

New hat design coming soon

I also ran a class on steeking, a technique that is so perfect for a class because it can be such a scary thing to try on your own. I think my students were blown away by how secure a steek actually is and also reassured by the fact that there is a steek for all yarns and circumstances! I’m running the very same class at Sunspun on October 8th and there is one place still available so get in quick if you’re keen to try this ace technique.

And then I spent the whole day on Sunday repeating an experiment that I’d tried a couple of years ago as the basis for a class to introduce new dyers to the processes involved in dyeing with plants and other natural materials. I really wanted participants to come away with a good understanding of the process from start to finish and how to achieve different colours using different mordants and modifiers. We used madder as the dyestuff and then alum, rhubarb leaf, copper and iron as mordants before dyeing and vinegar, washing soda, copper and iron as modifiers after dyeing. As always with dyeing, I learned a lot and found that, as opposed the last time I did this experiment where pre-treatments seemed to have more impact on colour, this time it was the post-treatments that affected the colour more. And that the pre-treatments weren’t as effective on silk fabric at the concentrations I normally use on wool yarns.

Here you can see the 5 groups of 5 pieces of silk, each piece having had a different combination of pre-and-post-treatments. Next time I’d increase the amount of mordants used when pre-mordanting the fabric to get a wider range of colours, especially copper. But the colours are lovely anyway!

Silk habutai samples

Silk habutai- from left to right: no modifer, acid modifier, alkaline modifer, copper modifier, iron modifier

No modifers

No modifers- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Acid-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Acid-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Alkaline-modified

Alkaline-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Copper-modified

Copper-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Iron-modified

Iron-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

After we’d dyed and then modified the skeins of yarn, we finished the day by making shade cards of both yarns- I was super excited to make my very first shade cards!

Wool and silk/ wool shade cards

Wool and silk/ wool shade cards

Silk habutai shade cards

Silk habutai shade cards

We didn’t have time to make cards of the silk fabric so I decided to take them home and cut them up for everyone. The fabric colours were just too lovely to miss out on. I mostly dye yarn for knitting with but I was super inspired to dye more fabrics from now on…

The whole weekend was such a joyous experience and the culmination of so much planning and prep (I’m a chronic over-preparer!) that I felt quite flat after it ended. So now I’m counting down until the next one! A huge, huge thanks to Felicia, her support crew, my co-teachers and the many participants for your incredible energy and joy xx

the craft sessions v2.0

If you’re at all into craft and interact with any social media out there, you’ve probably seen and heard the recent buzz surrounding this years Craft Sessions retreat– I’m so happy that it’s happening again (how could it not after such a wonderful response last year!) and am feeling incredibly lucky to be asked back to teach again, alongside so many talented, lovely craftspeople… In anticipation of tomorrow’s opening of registration, I just wanted to remind you that, if you are thinking of coming (and really, there are classes to accommodate pretty much any skill level in such diverse crafts that you’ll definitely find classes that will work for you!), you need to get in soon. There are limited places available and last years success means that this years event is guaranteed to fill quickly…

There are so many classes that I would love to participate in- in fact, I’d love to sit in on them all… but especially Georgie’s grading for knitwear design, Belinda’s weaving, Leslie’s tote bag and Melissa’s embroidery from the natural world. At the end of last year’s weekend (especially after arriving back from Iran a few days beforehand!), I promised myself that I’d allow myself time to do a workshop but, when it came time to put forward ideas for my classes, I had too many ideas to allow space for that ; )

This time around, I’m teaching two half-day sessions, one on stranded colourwork for beginners (based around a new hat that I’m designing especially for the class) and the other on steeking (cutting- yes, cutting!- your knitting to make knitting garments in colourwork and other complex stitch patterns easier), which will work really well together or as stand-alone classes.

Stranded colourwork

Stranded colourwork

Steeked colourwork cardigan

Steeked colourwork cardigan

And then I’ll be out with the dyepots, running a whole-day class on dyeing with natural materials… we’ll be working from a single dyepot (made from one of the exotic, ancient dyestuffs) and learning how to use the mordanting and modifiying processes to extract 25 shades of colour from that one dyeport. Exciting!

25 colours from one dyepot

25 colours from one dyepot

I’m super excited about everyone’s classes and also by the extra space that Felicia has created over the weekend to absorb what’s been shared or go for a walk or spend time with mates… and I hope that those who take part in the weekend will gain some really practical skills and feel invigorated by being surrounded by such a great, creative community…  I hope you’re inspired by what you see over at CS headquarters!

iran: textiles

One of a series of photo-based posts documenting a trip that my mum and I recently took to Iran. My excitement at being in that beautiful country meant that I sometimes missed the details in our guides talks, so apologies for any incorrect info or mislabeling of photos! Also, I took my old Pentax K100d with me but was unable to get more memory for it so had to use a low-quality format- I hope that doesn’t stop you from seeing the beauty that I saw everywhere…

While in Tehran, we visited the national carpet museum which houses the largest collection of Persian carpets found in Iran and possibly the world. The building was designed by the last queen of Iran, Farah Diba Pahlavi, and its flanked facade not only resembles a carpet loom but also creates shade in summer, helping to regulate the internal temperature to protect the carpets.

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Carpet museum, Tehran, designed to resemble a carpet loom

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Carpet loom

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Traditional dyestuffs

It was wonderful to see samples of the dyestuffs traditionally used to dye yarns used in Persian carpets. Some of them were familiar, such as indigo, madder and cochineal, although I would have given a lot to learn the secrets of the incredibly sophisticated Iranian dyers responsible for extracting such a wide range of colours and shades from them. There were others, such as black curd or mud and unripe grapes, that I’m keen to try when the opportunity presents itself…

I learned a little about the history and tradition of Persian carpets; there are two major types, the tribal carpet and the city carpet. Tribal carpets are those woven by nomads and inhabitants of small rural villages. They are made of medium-to-coarse wool on a cotton or wool base and some, such as kilims, have a flat surface, rather than a pile formed by knots. Tribal carpets are generally considered inferior in quality to the ones made in the cities, but the materials, such as the wool and dyes used, are often of excellent quality and can result in a beautiful carpet. Because they’re often made in fairly primitive conditions, tribal carpets are not always perfectly symmetrical and often display subtle colour variations that give them a wonderful depth. The dyes used in tribal rugs are still mainly natural vegetable dyes, which adds value for the producer.

City carpets are made in workshops in towns and cities across Iran and are made from fine wool and silk on a wool or cotton base. They may contain up to 160 knots per cm2, creating a super fine pile with incredible texture and luminosity. Even excellent-quality city carpets include intentional imperfections- the old Persian proverb that says “a Persian rug is perfectly imperfect, and precisely imprecise” stems from the religious belief that God is the only perfect being and that attempting absolute perfection would be claiming the position of the Almighty. These imperfections are what give these carpets their character and authenticity.

Tribal carpets tend to have geometric designs with little detail and a limited palette of a few bright colors, while city carpets usually have more detailed, curvilinear or pictorial designs and more variation and subtlety of color. Designs are very regional, so an expert can can usually determine the origin of a rug  by analyzing the design.

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Early Tree of Life silk carpet

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Wool floral silk city carpet from Kerman, 1792

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Detail, pictorial carpet

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Detail, pictorial carpet

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Stunning city rug

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Geometric patterning resembling the fruit from a maple

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Detail of wool carpet with beautiful naive animals and plants

Despite the finesse and sophistication of the city carpets, my very favourite carpet in the museum was this incredible tribal carpet… it depicts the Persian pairi-daeza or garden, built around the central water channels and acting as an oasis for plants and birds, life of all kinds. The shades from madder and indigo are beautiful and the delicacy of the patternwork is completely captivating…

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Stunning tribal rug reflecting the Persian garden or paradise

It is said that Iranians are born on carpets, live on carpets and die on carpets. I would have loved to be invited into some homes to see carpets in a domestic setting but we witnessed their central role in many other aspects of Iranian life during our travels…

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Carpet in the Shah’s summer palace, northern Tehran

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Tribal rugs airing, Golestan Palce, Tehran

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A good use for a carpet!

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Carpets left upside-down on garden seats, awaiting evening visitors

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Carpets in the Pink Mosque, Shiraz

As a knitter, I always hope to see some evidence of a local knitting culture wherever I go… on this trip, however, I wasn’t expecting to see much- and indeed I didn’t! This must have been partly to do with the time of year but really, knitting is not part of the Iranian textile culture. Communities that raise sheep and other fibre-producing animals tend to develop either weaving, knitting or felting as a way of using that fibre to keep warm, and Iran took the weaving path… However, on our last day in Iran, we visited Jolfa, the Armenian quarter of Esfahan and, there, my prayers were answered! Over 150,000 Armenians fleeing persecution from the Ottoman Empire were moved here by force by Shah Abbasi in 1606; they were famous for being skillful craftsmen and it was hoped that they would further add to the beauty of the Persian empire. In the Armenian Vank cathedral, I saw this beautiful crocheted alter cloth…

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Fine crocheted altar cloth

And then in the museum, very fine colourwork knitted socks! Just when I really needed another knitters’ arm to squeeze in excitement, I realized that Mum (who incidentally knits beautiful socks and, it turned out later, had missed these beauties!) had already left the building. So I soaked up the beauty on my own…

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Fine silk knitted socks, 19th century Armenia

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Very fine, knitted socks, Armenia

I found the museum a very moving place. It holds relics of a time past and a people hugely changed since this earlier group of Armenians fled their homelands. Amongst its treasures are a historic printing press and the first book printed in Iran, Christian vestments, prayer books, chalices and other sacramental artifacts, tapestries, embroidery and carpets and an extensive display of photographs, maps, and Turkish documents related to the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Turkey.

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Fine woven silk

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Armenian knotted wool carpet

I hoped that I’d find some fabric to bring home as a memento of our trip but it wasn’t until Esfahan, where our guide took us to a block-printing workshop, that I found my treasured piece. It is an old and very fine piece of cotton that has been block-printed and hand-painted in the kalamkari style that fused Indian and Persian techniques and design and used indigo, madder and other natural dyes.

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Block-printed cotton

I pored over many beautiful pieces but this one really spoke to me… it wasn’t as perfectly printed as some of the others and there’s quite a lot going on in it- almost too much… but I think that’s what I like about it. Perhaps the person who made it was still learning to balance design elements- or perhaps was just very enthusiastic! But I mostly chose it because it encompasses so many of the symbols and imagery that I saw in the Persian art that we saw (whether tilework, carpet-weaving, painting or other) and so acts as a lovely reminder of our trip.

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Pomegranate, representing fertility

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Peacock, symbolizing royalty

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Tiger and gazelle, perhaps symbolizing the victory of spring over winter- and look at the tigers lush eyelashes!

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Mountain, reminds me of our travels alongside the Zagros

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Twirling vines, representing nature and growth

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Cypress, representing immortality

It’s such a joy to look at it as I work in my room- so many happy memories!