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!

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!

new beginnings in work

As many of you know, for a bunch of reasons, I’ve needed to focus a lot of energy on things happening around me and to people close to me for a good year or more. It’s left me deeply exhausted with no energy to undertake anything really new or challenging, especially anything that relies on my own impetus and momentum… I just haven’t had any! I’ve struggled with that and found it really hard to find the balance between surrendering to the process (which is essential and absolutely what I have wanted and needed to do) and maintaining a sense of myself and my own purpose. I’ve also found that, when something terrible happens to someone you love, it can be hard to feel ok about putting energy into good things, about making new beginnings when they may have only endings. This is only my experience up to this point… I hope that others experience and see it differently and I am sure many of those terminally ill would tell me I am wrong in feeling the way I have. When Michelle wrote beautifully about this recently, she reminded me of the need for hope and beauty in the face of darkness. I think I still have a lot to learn about life.

And so I am making some new beginnings. Today I start at Sunspun, the best little yarn shop in town! My friend Amy recently took over this lovely old girl and, while the the best and most beautiful aspects of the shop will endure, she’s gradually making some great changes. I get to work with very beautiful yarn and great friends and to meet a whole new group of knitters- I couldn’t be more thrilled… Come and say hello to us sometime soon! This new position means that I’ll no longer be on the floor at Morris and Sons (though I’ll still be teaching there most Saturday afternoons) and I’m really quite sad to say goodbye to my community there- it’s been 4 1/2 years and everyone is like family!! However, this knit community of ours is a small one and I think we’ll be seeing each other for sure… and the change will ultimately be a good thing for me.

I’m also working towards putting out there the colourwork cowls (non-knitters: read neckwarmers!) that I’ve been making recently. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while and I finally have the space and energy to set up and run a little online shop. See the shop tab on my header?! It isn’t connected to my bigcartel shop yet, but it will be very soon!

This cowl design is a simple, double-layer tube made on my hand-operated vintage knitting machine. The rectangle works really well as a canvas for colourwork patterns,  all inspired by botanical shapes, naturally! The shape and size mean that it sits comfortably around the neck and the double layer keeps the warmth in and the wind out.

Red on blue

Deco Fern in jasper: marlin colourway

Jasper on Marlin

Deco Fern in jasper: marlin colourway

Several commissions for a good friend Amanda has given me the kickstart I needed to get moving on these. Anyone who knows Amanda will immediately recognize her colour palette- grey on grey on grey! I’ll be working with a much wider range of colours in lambswool for mine but I really loved working with Amanda’s colours and luxury fibres- cashmere and mink!

Snow cowl

Snow cowl

Snow cowl: detail

Snow cowl: detail

Honeycomb cowl

Deco Fern cowl

Honeycomb cowl

Banksia cowl

Honeycomb cowl: detail

Banksia cowl: detail

So, as well as working on some new classes for the Craft Sessions, that’s a fair bit of new! Wish me luck with it all… I’m feeling super excited but a bit overwhelmed too.

finished ursula, willamette and celes

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this little place has swapped from knitting blog to dye blog… not that I mean to limit it to just one topic, but it has been pretty dye-heavy recently. That’s mostly because, along with my dye sample book, it works well as a log for dyeing experiments, rather than because of a lack of knitting.

This is my version of the Ursula Cardigan from Kate Davies’ Colours of Shetland

Ursula

Ursula

Ursula

Ursula

Ursula

Ursula

I chose muted colours very different to Kate’s fresh, clear palette; it makes sense for hers to be worked in spring colours because it would be a spring cardigan in Scotland, whereas it’s definitely more suited to winter for me here in Melbourne. The colours make it something I can wear every day with dark jeans… but also make me want to break out of my regular uniform and make myself a grey tweed skirt to wear with it!

I can’t say enough good things about this pattern! Kate has combined traditional knitting techniques with beautiful and thoughtful details and great pattern-writing to create a beautiful and well-fitting garment. I changed mine to a v-neck and I’m really happy with the outcome- it looks nice done up and open on me. The only thing I’d  do differently next time would be to go down a needle size or two, just for the mid-torso, to add a bit of waist definition. It’s a bit blocky as is and I need all the definition I can get as any extra weight goes straight to my belly ; )

Ravelled here.

Next up is Willamette from Amy Christoffers

Willamette

Willamette

Willamette

Willamette

Amy is super cool and has a background in fine art; I think you can really see that in her designs, which merge super-wearable shapes with beautiful details and textures. This jacket is so snug and warm but also feels kinda smart in a very organic, “Japanese” way ; )  It’s getting quite a bit of wear and will definitely be keeping me warm at Bendigo this Sunday. I love that tweed stitch pattern…

Ravelled here.

And lastly, Celes from Jared Flood

Celes

Celes

Celes

Celes

Amy and I started knitting this scarf/ shawl together this time last year, just after she had her little boy Finn… needless to say, she had more important things to do and never got around to finishing it! I got all the way through the body and 3/4 of the way around the knitted-on edging and then ran out of yarn… yes, like many others commented on ravelry, the metrage listed for this pattern is short. It was the first time I’ve run out of a discontinued colourway and really not known how to proceed- distressing ; ) And so it sat unfinished until recently, when I decided to just go ahead with the closest colour I could find to this unusual, yellow-based grey. I’d much rather embrace imperfection than never finish it. You can see the different colour on the edging in the first photo… I can live with that. The pattern is inspired by traditional Shetland lace patterns and definitely lacier than what I’d normally wear but I think the grey tones that down and makes it wearable for me…

Ravelled here.

So that’s my knitting of late. Soon to come off the needles will be Scatness Tunic, another colourwork pattern from Colours of Shetland and again in very different colours to the original.

What are you knitting at the moment?