by Felicity Ford
The term KNITSONIK describes my art practice in which I combine textiles (KNIT) with sounds (SONIK). The K at the end is deliberate because I was thinking about KODAK and XEROX when I chose the term; about technology and systems. It’s easy to connect those associations with the blocky plastic digital recorders I use in my sound recording work, but there is something wonderful about remembering that knitting is technology too; that knitting needles and yarn are hardware and that the fabric we form with them can constitute recordings of a different sort.
With my fibre tools and microphones I work in different ways to explore and celebrate the everyday, with an emphasis on investigating the significance of textiles. Some examples worked on with different commissioners include Hûrd – A KNITSONIK PRODUKTION (British Wool Marketing Board); SONIK WOVEMBER; KNITSONIK Wool Exchange (British Council, Estonia and MoKS Center for Art & Social Practice); Listening to Shetland Wool (Shetland Amenity Trust); the KNITSONIK podcast (Sonic Art Research Unit, Oxford Brookes University); Sonic Weave . Exploring Silk and Viscose Through Sound (TATE Modern) and – most recently – the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook (funded by 447 amazing backers through Kickstarter).
All these projects celebrate a strong sense of place through combining knitting with sound. For Hûrd – A KNITSONIK PRODUKTION I built a sound system made of miniature speakers covered in hand-knitted wool from the Lake District. I recorded and played a soundtrack through them which included interviews with shepherds and the sounds of Cumbrian sheep and weather. The sounds highlighted the provenance of the yarn covering the speakers and Bridgette Kelly from the British Wool Marketing Board said that experiencing Hûrd was “like listening to wool”. For SONIK WOVEMBER I shared recordings on the WOVEMBER website (both a campaign for better garment labelling and a seasonal celebration of WOOL) to emphasise the origins of wool in the landscape. I distributed a ringtone made from recordings of sheep in Cumbria and Estonia so that keen wool enthusiasts could spread baas throughout many lands as a reminder of wool’s origins on the backs of sheep. In KNITSONIK Wool Exchange I travelled to Estonia to trade sounds and artefacts from the UK wool industry for sounds and artefacts from the Estonian wool industry. I explored the differences in flora, fauna, atmosphere and textile equipment which sonically distinguish the production of Estonian textiles from the production of UK textiles. For Listening to Shetland Wool I travelled to Shetland to explore the sounds of the landscape and culture in which the world famous knitting traditions of the islands are steeped, producing a knitted speaker pattern and a lecture presentation for Shetland Wool Week 2013. In the KNITSONIK podcast, I incorporate stories about listening, sounds, knitting and land. In Sonic Weave . Exploring Silk and Viscose Through Sound I investigated the provenance of two materials used in Richard Tuttle’s textile installation, raising a colony of silkworms and meeting with scientists to listen to how silk is grown and how viscose is synthesised. The soundtrack I created for that work can be heard online and on players distributed at TATE Modern, enabling viewers of Tuttle’s work to hear its origins in silkworms and laboratories.
These projects are full of rich sonic textures that foreground the vibrancy of textiles used in daily life: the breath of the wind on the hills where sheep graze; twigs snapping in the fire as the accompaniment to knitting on a winter’s night; the low moan of traffic that gives the city its keynote and its bass tone; the creaking of spinning wheels or the drones of wool mills that sing of traditions and industry; even the rain-like sound of silkworms devouring Mulberry leaves in a box in my living room.
And these wondrous sounds of daily life are closely linked to the wondrous colours that seem also ever-present; the yellow blush of dry grass on a distant mountain; the licking blue and yellow in the fire grate; the surprisingly multi-hued tarmac on which we drive; the warm woody shades of a nice old wheel or the gritty dark tones of Victorian mill machinery; even the translucent, pearly bodies of silkworms… all these shades and colour combinations provide stimulus for the curious mind. The question of how form can be given to the everyday sounds that inspire has a related question for knitters: how can the colours that sing around us be translated into the very fabric of knitted textiles? How can colourwork be made to celebrate familiar things, places and plants?
The book shows you how to turn everyday inspirations into stranded colourwork and the key theme is that the world around us is full of hidden beauty and inspiration which deserves to be celebrated in our knitting. Another important theme is that anyone can learn the practical steps between becoming inspired and making something wonderful. Many of the ideas in the book have come out of my work as an artist; listening is just another way of being present and attentive, and the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook takes that idea – from my sound work – into the context of knitting. The book contains a how-to section called The KNITSONIK System and twelve case studies which explore how to derive personal and rich colourwork ideas from such sources as biscuit tins, bricks, an A-road in the countryside, a crumbling cosmetics factory, even a fruitcake.
Drawing on my creative experiences as an artist, The KNITSONIK System celebrates creative process, breaking down the stages of finding inspiration, creating a palette, discovering patterns and experimenting with shading. The case studies show how the system works in different contexts. Accessory patterns at the back contain blank chart templates so that keen knitters can design their own legwarmers or fingerless mitts right away. There is an idea throughout the book that clothes produced from patterns in our environment can then be worn back in it, creating lovely subtle affinities and links between our warm bodies and the places where they travel.
When I knit in Reading, my work takes on the urban song of roads; the soft, sweet echo beneath old bridges; and the ghosts of long-lost industries. Field recordings – which are my favourite kind– are sound recordings of specific environments, and the knitted swatches detailed in the book are in a sense a knitted equivalent. The twelve swatches in the book document specific places and memories, and result from a kind of listening: they are a knitted record of paying attention and being present to my immediate surroundings. The central premise of the book returns back to the heart of the KNITSONIK mission: knitting needles and yarn are hardware and that the fabric we form with them can constitute recordings of sorts; stories of presence, attention, celebration and process.
Felicity Ford, artist and academic. “I completed my PhD in 2011, and the title of my thesis was ‘The Domestic Soundscape and beyond… presenting everyday sounds to audiences’. Although I work with a variety of media including silk-screen printing and hand-knitting, I am best known for creative uses of recorded sound. My projects use field-recordings and interviews to explore the meaning of objects and social contexts.”
Photos © Felcity Ford, KNITSONIK.
Here’s a list of the links included in this article :