Cumbrian Wool, Ruhnu Wool

Jim, Richard and David discuss Cumbrian wool – its uses in the past, and the way that it was historically valued in the UK.

Selma and Riina discuss Ruhnu wool – its uses in the past, and the way that Selma uses wool from her flock on the island of Ruhnu in Estonia to make socks, hats and vests for her family.

Heimtali Craft Fair

Music from the Heimtali Handicraft Fair, which included 7% beer from Saaremaa; many craft demonstration; a 100m walk and knit race with points awarded for graceful falling in the event of not-looking-where-one-was-going, fine handiwork, and speed; and this wonderful accordion music, accompanied by some form of tool-making and general Estonian chit-chat.

For a little comparison to links between British handicrafts and UK folk music, you might enjoy listening to the Mayday Knit Weekly Feature which Felicity Ford put together for BBC Oxford in 2010.

It is here.

Muhu Pink (Kiperoosa) and Berkshire Blue (Woad)

Muhu is an island off the Western coast of Estonia. The women who inhabit this region are renowned for their production of accomplished, elaborate, multi-coloured textiles. A vibrant shade of pink is prevalent in many examples of handiwork from Muhu, as can be seen in these socks, which are held in the collection of the Estonian National Museum.

Designs and Patterns from Muhu Island details the distinctive textiles of Muhu Island and was written by Anu Kabur, Anu Pink and Mai Meriste, and published by Saara Publishers Ltd.

Kata is an Estonian knitter with very quick fingers and a talent for colour. She has created a recipe for Muhu Pink, and kindly allowed Felicity Ford to record the sounds of colouring yarn in this distinctive shade. Kata’s family live in the same district as Saara Publishing Ltd., so after dyeing the yarn, Kata took Felicity to meet Anu Pink. At Saara, the intricacies of the Muhu Island book were discussed, as was the accuracy of Kata’s version of Muhu Pink, which is known in Estonian as Kiperoosa.

You can hear below the sounds of Kiperoosa yarns being dyed, and you can see Anu Pink comparing a photograph on her computer with Kata’s colour. The recording details Kata’s thoughts on Muhu Pink; the rinsing and washing out of the dyepot in Kata’s shower-room; the weighing out of the dye chemicals; the addition of yarn to the dyebath; and the addition of vinegar to the dye-bath to fix the acid dyes.

Finally, here is a close-up of some gloves which – in a style characteristic of Muhu’s talented needlewomen – combine cross-stitch, crochet, embroidery and coloured knitting in a single garment. They belong in Anu Pink’s collection of Muhu textiles and were in all likelihood made to demonstrate the skills of the maker (and her suitability for marriage) than to be comfortable or practical garments!

In exchange for this Estonian textile sound, some sounds from the UK of yarn being dyed with Woad are additionally presented below. To create this recording, Woad was grown in Felicity Ford’s garden in Reading, Berkshire, and was used to dye some plain white yarn a range of different blue shades. The resulting blue yarns were knitted up with other yarns dyed with plants from Felicity’s garden, in order to create a kind of knitted representation of the plants (both wild and cultivated) growing in her particular region of the world.

The recording details the picking and washing of Woad leaves; the squeezing out and rinsing of those leaves into a dye bath; the addition of bicarbonate of soda to the dyebath (for alkalinity); the aeration of the dye-bath in order to introduce oxygen; and the gentle simmering of yarns in the dye-bath. Above the sound-recording you can see the yarn dyed in the Woad bath and the scarf that was knitted with it.

The scarf was designed to be both serviceable and useful, acting as a reference for future plant-dyeing projects, and as a warm scarf. There is no distinctive tradition of knitting lace scarves in Berkshire, but the plants used to make the colours in the scarf relate to the landscape in a very literal manner, being directly of and from it.

Listening to Wool – HÛRD – A May Sound Diaries project

At the start of 2012, Felicity Ford produced a work entitled Hûrd – A KNITSONIK™ PRODUKTION. The title comes from the pronunciation spelling for both “herd” as in a herd of sheep and “heard” as in “I heard a sound”. The piece was commissioned by the British Wool Marketing Board and Rheged for the Wonder of Wool exhibition, and was described by Bridget Kelly from the Wool Marketing Board as being “like listening to wool”.

In HÛRD, the voices of the producers of wool, the atmospheres and weather of the places where wool is grown, and the specific sonic texture of British sheep, are physically embedded within woollen, knitted fabric. This is achieved by covering 32 miniature speakers with 100% wool, British, hand-knitted yarn, and then playing field-recordings related to that wool through those speakers. Through sounds and materials, the work unites sheep farms and shepherds with a finished woollen product. Listeners are invited to touch the wool-clad speakers and to experience its materiality, while listening to sound recordings created at the source.

Hand-knitted speaker, including wool from Swaledale sheep and the Hebridean sheep which can be seen and heard below.

In order to produce the work, Felicity travelled around Cumbria in her KNITSONIK mobile, armed with suitable outdoor clothing and recording equipment. She visited many farms and shepherds and collected sounds and wool – some of which she handspun and knitted up into speaker cosies. The rest of the wool used to produce the speakers came from traceable sources, such as spinning mills in the UK where Felicity has previously created recordings.

Wherever possible, the wool from an individual farm was used to cover some speakers, with interviews from that same farm being included in the montage of recordings comprising the sonic component of the work.

Felicity is in Estonia for the month of May, extending her interest in the connections between knitting wool and its origins in specific landscapes to the context of the Estonian Wool Trade. She will be presenting her field-recordings from Cumbria in an informal presentation called Counting Sheep at Ptarmigan during an all-night event, and documenting aspects of the Estonian Wool Trade during her time in the rural parish of Mooste, at MoKS.

Her trip is supported by MoKS and the British Council, Estonia, and throughout the month she will present small snippets of this sonic exploration into the world of wool here. In keeping with the wool-exchange theme of her residency, some of the sounds will originate in the British Wool Trade, while others will be collected from the Estonian Wool Trade.

Today’s recording is of the small black Hebridean sheep that graze beside lake Windermere at Rayrigg. The Hebridean sheep are a primitive breed, which means that they have had less intentional breeding and human contact than other breeds which are more intensively farmed and therefore more used to people. Consequently, they are very shy and suspicious of human beings. The black sheep of Windermere originate from the Island of St Kilda, where they were kept for meat and wool by the islanders while it was still inhabited. Coming from such a place, they are adept at navigating windswept, rocky landscapes and fending for themselves on poor soil and in terrible weather. This sheep breed was first imported from St Kilda to The Lake District so that people with exquisitely landscaped gardens would have something exotic to look at.

Hebridean sheep are rough, hardy creatures, difficult to tame or enclose, swift of foot, and stubbornly independent (according to their shepherds). The best way to record them was to simply leave a small recording device in their feeding trough, and then leave well alone.

This recording features a small band of tups – better known as rams – and the clanging sound you can hear in this recording was produced by their ornate horns banging against the metal sides of the trough as they ate their hay. You can hear the road nearby, and something of the quality of the animals’ physicality, both in the timbre of their horns, and in the texture of their munching.