Friday, 24 February 2012

Sheep on the Catwalk

Sheep everywhere will be pleased:  knitwear is back – ‘bigtime’!  London Fashion Week has been awash with innovative, creative, and in some cases quite literally sparkling knitwear designs, some even dedicated to using home-grown British wool.  If I’m able to borrow some of the pictures I’ll put them up here in future weeks, though all the show galleries and ‘lookbooks’ on the London Fashion week website are definitely worth exploring.

Like art, knitwear design is subjective.  Whether you go for something understandable and useable or something totally off the wall is instinctive to your character, and there’s plenty of character knitwear out there to be found for autumn/winter 2012.  The students on the MA course in Fashion from Central St Martins, London, shared a lot of geometry in their approach to textiles, one designer in particular featuring smart, clean lines and hints of Kandinsky in a range of chunky-looking creamy-white-based knitwear.  The sculptural look in knitwear was also a feature of Lucas Nascimento’s AW2012 collection. 

Designer Craig Lawrence says his ‘design signature’ is: “Knitting with unconventional materials to create voluminous, fluffy and shiny knits.”  His garments have apparently graced the backs of many celebrities including Lady Gaga. His work looks to me like a fresh new take on some of the netty crochet designs of the late 60s and 70s in the last century (that sounds like a long time ago!!).  It’s little wonder he has an international following amongst the celebrity set.  Meanwhile designer Michael Van Der Ham, who’s apparently worked at Alexander McQueen, was busy combining knits with more floaty materials like chiffon to create highly feminine apparel-appeal.

Emerging brands like The North Circular want to put future emphasis on pet topics of mine, namely ensuring animal welfare, reducing ‘wool miles’ and using British wool wherever possible.  Design with a conscience – good for them!  But for good honest innovative and fun knitwear you can’t beat Sister at Sibling.  Remember the Knit Monster of theirs I featured some months ago?  Well, take that concept further, into African-inspired animal prints and earth-and-sun colourings, and you can see that sheep can indeed go a long way on the London Fashion Week catwalk!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Drenched in Texture - and Textiles

Excitement abounds!  Textiles in Focus starts tomorrow just outside Cambridge.  It’s a fabulous show, full of every kind of texture and textile you can imagine – the kind of place where my purse and I can easily start arguing!  It’s one of the places I go prospecting each year for energising effects to include in my yarns, and indeed to stock up my weaving stash.  It’s even more exciting this year since three friends are exhibiting, two of them having their first solo outing as yarn designers. 

The show is organised by immensely experienced and creative textile artist and teacher  Pauline Verrinder, who in her spare time generously dispenses knowledge, advice, kindness and support to many budding texture-holics.  Her own creative output is the stuff of textile legend.  Exhibiting at Textiles in Focus for the first time are friends Clare of Boo’s Attic, a painter of yarns whose colour sense rivals Van Gough’s, and Lesley at Fibre Tastic, who has put heart and soul into mastering techniques that create yarns more akin to jewellery than something to knit or stitch with. 

Also exhibiting is Alison of Yarnscape, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing for the most recent issue of Knit! magazine.  Alison’s yarns in subtle colours add a new dimension to my weaving, so a quick raid on the stalls of all three will no doubt be on the cards!  Alison and Clare are also launching out on their own at Fibre-East in July this year  - alongside yours truly.  Shows are such fun as you get to meet in person the folk you’ve met on Ravelry, and it re-kindles one's own fascination to talk spinning and weaving with interested members of the public.  The more people we get interested in making their own sustainable clothing with wool and natural fibres, the better it will be for the planet. 

At the other end of the textile spectrum, London Fashion Week also starts tomorrow, showcasing collections for autumn/winter 2012.  I’m not able to get there this weekend but you may want to join me watching online some of the live streaming of the catwalk shows and events.  Fashion Weeks are catching on all over the country it seems, especially here in the east of England.  Next up will be Norwich Fashion Week in March followed by Essex Fashion Week in April. 

All of these explosions of textile creativity are inspiration-food for those of us who start with just the basic fibres in our hands. Whether you’re creating fashion fusion or fibre fusion this weekend, may your imagination be infused with a goodly dose of life’s tangible, tactile textures.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Three Bags Full? Hopefully many more!

Baa-baa black sheep in the nursery rhyme would be pleased to know how much British wool is in demand these days.  Weavers like Ackroyd & Dawson are making a splendid job of bringing back 100% British cloth, woven from home-sourced materials, whilst Sue Blacker at The Natural Fibre Company  has gone a stage further and set up The Woolsack Project to provide athletes participating in the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games with cushions made from British wool. 

The only ‘Woolsack’ most of us have heard of is in the House of Lords in London, and I didn’t know until recently there’s more than one Woolsack in the chamber.  Sue Blacker’s Woolsack project is part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and is being actively supported by members of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  Volunteers are being asked to produce a cushion, which is then taken or sent to a ‘Stuffing Station’  such as the one at Fibre-East last July, for finishing. 

The Woolsack  campaign is now entering its final few months, with the first batch of cushions aiming to be finished around the end of March.  Woolsack has a page on Facebook and a Ravelry group so you can keep up with developments.  If you haven’t made a cushion yet and want to do so, the Woolsack website has plenty of ideas and information.  Rowan, as part of their promotion of British wool, have produced a number of different patterns from intricate swirls to a cushion that would double up for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.   

Sourcing British wool is easy if you like using fleece:  local farms and specialist sheep breeders have a good selection, even if some  are not necessarily native breeds.  Yet if you like spinning from tops (rovings), finding British Merino for example is rather more difficult.   Suppliers like World Of Wool show the British Wool label for to identify of their offering,  but maybe we as wool consumers should demand more than that. 

Other industries have responsible sourcing and purchasing schemes covering all aspects of their raw material.  British wool is great, but couldn’t we spinners and knitters campaign for some kind of label that would cover say animal welfare and carbon footprint from transport?  That would start separating out the good from the environmentally and ethically  irresponsible.  Having taken a class in yarn sourcing at Knit Nation a couple of years ago, I now realise what’s involved in producing ‘bamboo’ yarns, to break down and soften the fibre. Unless it’s organic I wouldn’t want to have that responsibility on my conscience any more. 

And then there’s the pollution from shipping – wool from Canada and Australia going to China for processing and coming back to the UK:  that’s a lot of ‘wool miles’.  I think I’d sleep easier at night if more people supported local farmers making a go of processing and selling their wool, or, like Shearer’s Girl Yarns, gathering in from very local sources, processing and dyeing materials naturally.  ‘Wool miles’ should matter to everyone.  But while that idea takes hold I want to wish good luck to The Woolsack knitters and stuffers in crafting 14,000 cushions from British Wool.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Snowdrops, Sheep and Shakespeare

Just in time for the plummeting temperatures and approaching snow, the small green and white heralds of February, the snowdrops, are making their presence felt  in dark corners of the garden.  I have to admit to an (as yet) unfulfilled snowdrop-lust.  So far I only have three varieties to enjoy, though I have my eye on many others in the Broadleigh Bulbs catalogue,  especially ‘Desdemona’.  I first discovered that particular frilly little gem at when studying at London’s Chelsea Physic Garden with the English Gardening School.  Gorgeous little number:  rampantly overflowing in its voluminous skirts, it puts the garden centres’ double Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’ to shame! 

With three February birthdays in the family I’ll be hunting the shelves for unusual plants as gifts this weekend, and will no doubt take a peek at the available snowdrops as well.   Where snowdrops are concerned, I should really felt my purse firmly into my handbag as I simply can’t be trusted!  But at least I’m not as bad as the real galanthophiles, whom the BBC reports as having spent up to £360 on one bulb recently.  Yet when you watch the BBC’s time lapse photography of snowdrops determinedly making their way through the soil into the light, you can sort of understand the fascination with these miniature marvels. 

I’ll content myself with some of the snowdrop walks, of which there are already quite a few coming up, due to the (until now) mild winter.  You can find National Collections of snowdrops on the Plant Heritage website, like those at Cambo in Fife, or Brandy Mount  House in Alresford, Hampshire, though for the latter 2012 will be their last year of opening their garden, after 25 years of helping to educate and enthuse the public. 

There’s one other Snowdrop that really makes me smile, and that’s Snowdrop the Sheep at The Farm Animal Sanctuary.  Her own determination to live, and that of Sanctuary owner Janet to keep her alive, has resulted in a special bond between them.  Janet is still valiantly fighting another battle - against eviction from the Sanctuary's current site, which would leave Snowdrop and over 450 of her woolly friends without a home, plus pigs, horses and other maltreated animals given back their dignity by the care they've received. 

I know I’ve appealed on the Sanctuary’s behalf before, but if any new readers of this blog feel they can help its fight for survival by Tweeting the Sanctuary’s website or Facebook page link to your networks, or by making a donation by post or anyhow direct to the Sanctuary, then your support would be most welcome. 

Sheep have now been found to be really quite intelligent, according to scientists at the University of Cambridge, so we should all take a lesson from Janet’s book in treating them with the respect and kindness they deserve.  They’re fellow creatures on the journey in this life, and shouldn’t be subject to “man’s ingratitude” as Shakespeare put it in his famous poem  Blow, blow, thou winter wind. May the approaching snows and freezing temperatures bring out the indomitable Snowdrop in all of us this coming week.  Keep warm!