Friday, 24 September 2021

Urban Decay FFAL Week 3 - Rustscapes

Rust is secretly magic - right? Take a metallic object, add some moisture and prolonged exposure to the elements and a fantastic metamorphosis takes place. Nicholas Forrest in writing The Aesthetics of Urban Decay - A Reaction to Rust for in 2012 reflects that "a rusty metal surface takes on the characteristics of a living organism which is constantly changing and reacting to its environment. When we see a rusty piece of metal it usually signifies abandonment and disuse but can also represent progress, change and development.  As a sort of “living surface” that is beautifully textural, there is more to rusty metal than its utilitarian function would suggest".

On today's inspirational stroll around our (k)nitty, gritty, grungy city, we're going to play close attention to the rustscapes - the places where rust has worked its transformational magic.

For a longer virtual stroll of rustscapes go visit my Pinterest board

Knitting Technique Suggestions

I've always found the random patterning rust forms intriguing to replicate as a fabric. The above rust 'berries' became the basis of a colourwork hat. I started by sketching the dots onto graph paper and then joined them up with curved lines. I made a second chart inspired by a cracked rust surface.

 See my charts below. For the background I used a shifting, stripey background of variegated blues, turquoise and aqua.

The next step is to add the thin curved lines using some embroidery (stem stitch, chain stitch or back stitch I think). 

My freeform piece taking shape

Rust has even made me want to dabble in some crochet - here's my current work in progress. I started with crocheting some tiny circles and then crocheted over the interconnecting yarn and joined up some loops. Then I back-filled sections with knitting or crochet. I'm using doubled lace-weight and sock-weight yarns here. The green is my first piece of handspun yarn - doesn't look too dreadful all knitted up.

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Urban Decay FFAL Week 2 - Flaking, peeling paint and wallpaper

Today we draw our freeform inspiration from the impact weathering, neglect and decay have on painted and wall-papered surfaces. Paint cracks, flakes, blisters and peels off surfaces in irregular strips with unexpected frilly edges, exposing unexpected layers of colour documenting eras of changing decorating tastes. Some colours remain as bright as the day they were applied and other mute and fade under the joint influences of sunlight and time.

My Pinterest board, Where Paint goes to Die, curates beauty in aging paint and wallpaper surfaces. 

Wallpaper is like a vertical archeological dig, uncovering eras of habitation and decorative influences. I'm always here for florid scroll work, exuberant florals and dubious colour palettes. Sometimes time peels it all back to the underlying structural framework of lathe, hessian, plaster, horsehair or stone.

Knitting technique suggestions


Marlisle is a method of creating decorative texture and colour shifts in hand-knitted fabric popularised by Anna Maltz (Sweaterspotter) and described in her book Marlisle - a new direction in knitting. By separately knitting the two yarns generally being held together to form a marl base, Marlisle allows patches of stranded colourwork to be scattered throughout a knitted piece without the use of intarsia and avoids long messy floats. Effectively two yarns are used to create three colour effects, the two yarns held together and each worked separately with the other carried behind. The first two swatches below knitted by Anna are what I'd consider to be freeform Marlisle. To me this fairly screams wallpaper.


Here's an example where I've used marlisle with a shifting background colour and self striping yarn. I also love how the motifs here pop up from the marled background.

Dimensional Tuck knitting 

Dimensional tuck knitting is a technique developed by Tracy Purtscher where a simple stockinette fabric is manipulated to fold and pucker to create a raised textured surface by knitting tuck stitches at strategic places on the back of the work. I'd highly recommend her book Dimensional Tuck Knitting: An Innovative Technique for Creating Surface Design  if you wan to do a deeper dive in the technique

Tracy has video explanations of how to work the tuck stitches she uses to make rippled and folded knitted fabric on her blog - Stringativity.

These experimental swatches, inspired by dimensional tuck knitting, and made on a knitting machine by Rachel Brooks, offer a glimpse into the possibilities of this as a freeform technique.

For me the wrong side of the swatch above is equally interesting, offering insights into its construction.

My freeform piece taking shape 

I began with an existing experimental swatch. I just can't resist an semi-impossible knitting challenge. When I was leafing through my new Japanese Stitch dictionary: 1000 Japanese Knitting & Crochet Stitches by Nihon Vogue, back in January this year, the description of one group of stitches immediately provoked my interest in weird techniques for creating knitted fabric. 'Patterns 650-653. The four stitch patterns in this section are unusual and challenging'. Of course this was effectively enticing me to try this (immediately). The patterns are a combination of overlaid lace and a pseudo marlisle with multiple layers being knitted in parts. It involves juggling four dpns with front and back stitches.But this swatch keeps whispering, 'Wallpaper?" at me.

My progress doesn't look at that freeformish at the moment. I've been making wallpaper like knitted swatches swatches and I'm nearly at the stage where I'm going to start joining and blurring the edges .

Excuse me while I go and play some more.

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Urban Decay FFAL - Week 1 - Urban Structure and Framework


Welcome to my (k)nitty, gritty, grungy city. 

For the next couple of months we are going to be wandering its streets and alley ways, and poking our noses into the abandoned and derelict places, finding freeform inspiration amongst the Urban Decay.

I'm dedicating this freefrom adventure to two of my best co-conspirators on past adventures in the IFFF (International Free Form Forum)  - the delightful roseknits24-7, who first pushed me down the freeform rabbit hole but was right there with me all the way and Ne11 (Artisan Loops / Uncommon Loops on Instagram), mentor, friend and amazing inspiration who makes me believe we make art, not craft. They've both moved on from Ravelry but I hope their spirit of whimsical delight and mad crochet freeform skills infuse our adventures this time too.

I'm going to suggest something slightly radical as our starting point for this freeform adventure. How about a little planning to start with? Just a little - not too much to inhibit the freeform chaos and creativity - but a little to think about what we could make from combining our eight inspiration prompts.

I have to admit, I have had the luxury of eight months or so to plan this adventure and I knew right from the start that it wanted to be a wearable piece and I eventually decided on a shawl / wrap. (You can see the evolution of my design sketches below).

So ask yourself a few questions before we dive in:

What does this want to be? Something wearable, an art piece, something useful - a cushion, a bag? Do I want to cover something with my freeform? Do I want to just make scrumbles or doodle with yarn?

Or you can just say stuff it and move right onto the freeform thing...

Our inspiration this week is urban structure and framework - thinks bridges, girders, ironwork, scaffolds... Think about both the structure and the spaces in-between.

I'm particularly fond of railway bridges - especially when they are rusty and disused.

So let me talk you through how I used these in my piece. I was looking at the spaces. Can you see all those triangles?

That's a fun shape to play with (especially as a knitter where more linear, angular geometry is a better fit to the fabric structure). What can I do with lots of triangles?

I started with thinking about a template for mittens, constructed from triangles. But that constrained me to smallish pieces and possibly finer yarns than I wanted to work with. And it was just a little too regular to please the freeform muse this time, even if I made them non-matching mittens.

But what can I do with lots of different sized and shaped irregular triangles? What if those spaces in the structure were filled in with freeform? That promising thought turned in the shawl sketch above - A structural spine girder with spokes between the freeform triangles.

Might I suggest the patterns of Ursa major KNITS (Link to her Ravelry Designer Store) or you can find her as ursamjorknits on Instagram, as a source of structure inspiration? Her shawls are often made up pieces enclosed in a framework and uses all sort of different shapes

My freeform piece taking shape

I began my structure with the long edge at the top of my shawl. I wanted regular big triangular holes, something I wasn't quite sure how to achieve in knitting, so I turned to a shawl pattern I already had in my extensive collection - #11 Openwork Shawl by Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton from Designer Knitting No.1 2020 which features her Drop-Stitch Openwork technique. My knitted girder is essentially a modified single pattern repeat with an added i-cord rolled edge.

I deliberately held two lace-weight yarns together to achieve the rusty girder effect - a black and grey alpaca and a rusty tonal wool. This will both even up and open up when I block it.

Suggestions for your play

So my challenge for this week is to create your own openwork piece. Embrace the holes and the structure surrounding them. 
You could work with mesh, for example. Here's a link to a Ravelry search of crochet mesh shopping and market bags for inspiration Pattern Search - Crochet mesh shopping bag (free)

Saturday, 28 August 2021

What is Freeform Fiberart?

Let's start with the dictionary definition of Freeform, shall we?

Freeform (adjective) - not conforming to a regular or formal structure or shape;

having or being an irregular or asymmetrical shape or design.

I'm not setting myself an easy task here either. There is a thread in the IFFF (International Free From Forum) on Ravelry which has been around for eight years and currently has 140 posts attempting to answer the question - What is your definition of Freeform?
Maybe it’s easier to say what Freeform isn’t? It's not following a pattern (though you may draw on aspects of patterns in producing a freeform piece). It's not repeating modular construction (freeform is often described as irregular and organic - it grows rather than is constructed to a predetermined fixed plan). Freeform is an art form that defies defining and there are no rules.
We see common themes in the ways people try to describe freeform though. 
An analogy to painting with needles and hooks and yarn where the stitches are the brushstrokes.
  • Abstract art with yarn and hook or knitting needles
  • Yarn painting
It is crochet and/or knitting worked in seemingly random shapes, colors, and techniques.
  • Controlled anarchy and chaos
  • Freeform is the demonstration of active choices and skillful creativity by which control has been taken to shape abstract order out of random chaos.
  • Knitting (and / or crocheting) in a totally unprogrammed, unconventional way.
But above all, freeform is a playground, an act of creativity, the ability to produce a piece of art that sings to your soul.
  • Freeform is the inside of my brain let loose
  • The freedom to create textiles/fabrics, using all possible techniques and fibres, that makes me feel FREE, hence the FREEform in the name
OK, Mathematician me here. To me freeform is about asymmetry. Even if you are creating to a symmetrical shape such as a garment, the elements are asymmetrical. It’s also probably why most free form incorporates curves and organic shapes. Freefrom is irregularity not regularity. That said, there are no rules…. 

We agree to disagree on an exact all encompassing definition, but we agree, we know it when we see it. So let me show you freeform.

Scrumble based freeform

A scrumble is a small piece of freeform crochet or knitting that can be joined to make a larger piece of freeform work. Traditionally scrumbles are densely worked but they can also be more open and lacy, drawing on empty space as part of their design.

In explaining the origin of the word scrumble, Jame's Walters who coined the word together with Sylvia Cosh says

‘Scrumble’ is a mixture of ‘scrumple’, ‘scrummage’ and ‘amble’ (to name but few), that is, for us it originally described a crochet fabric-making process involving frequent semi-deliberate, optional and speculative decisions with regard to yarn and stitch selection and resulting in more or less randomly shaped and textured pieces. The ‘umble/amble/ramble’ part has the feel of Paul Klee’s ‘taking a line for a walk’ and Jenny Dowde’s adaptation of that, ‘taking a yarn for a walk’, because it’s a process - sometimes you know where you’re going, but mostly you’re wandering and wondering and looking for inspiration, often directly from the piece itself as it appears in your fingers'.

Prudence Mapstone 


For a delicious collection of scrumbles look at her blog - A scrumble a week

Being an Australian, Prudence's work was the first freeform I saw in the wild and she was my first teacher. Prudence is a regular on the Australian craft show circuit and a generous, inspiring teacher. I still have my first incomplete scrumble I made in a class with her and while scrumble based freeform turned out not to be my freeform style, I'm in awe of her work. Her aesthetic is organic and resonates of the natural world.

There is a small group of freeformers who argue that scrumble based freeform is the only true freeform. I vehemently disagree.That's like saying only a particular style of painting is art - rather scrumbling is a 'school' of freeform.

Nell (Elyn) Bray (Artisan Loops)

Nell's true passion is needle lace but her freeform creations are also amazing art pieces. She is also the bullion stitch master.

Asimina Chremos 

Asimina is a dancer who creates freeform doilies in her downtime. Her work is a great example of more openwork scrumbling, featuring a colourful fusion of angular and circular geometry and use of large empty space.

You can read more about her work in this article. Asimina Chremos, freeform crocheted doilies

Mitsuko Tonouchi

Bonnie Prokopowicz

Bonnie's piece here illustrates a style where a relatively small and consistent vocabulary of stitches are used in a piece. This only uses one stitch - half double crochet (American crochet terminology) worked in the 'third loop' - sometimes called camel crochet. You don't need to be an accomplished crocheter to create amazing freeform - the basic stitches are more than enough.

Bonnie Prokopowicz Gathering Storm (2018)

Motif based freeform

In fibreart, a motif is a smaller element in a much larger work. Knit or crochet motifs are made individually and joined together to create larger works. Here we are heading into an area of freeform where patterns are often used to create sub-pieces (the motifs) of a larger work which are combined in an aesthetically pleasing but random or irregular pattern.

Modern Irish crochet

It's often been said that traditional Irish Crochet was the first freeform. Irish crochet is created from small individual motifs on a openwork mesh background. Modern Irish crochet uses a more colourful palette and often thicker yarn. The Russian language crochet magazines Zhurnal MOD and Duplet are great places to find pattern diagrams for motifs and examples of modern Irish crochet freeform.

Given that the Russian crochet community are amongst the best proponents of this style, I apologise that I can't always credit my examples here to a particular maker because of the language barrier and profuse sharing and resharing of images in this community. I've tried to use watermarked photos where possible for this reason.


 Here the motifs are joined with a denser background encasing each motif, rather than using an openwork mesh.

Freeform Knitting

The jury is much more divided on the subject of freeform knitting - some arguing that there are very few true examples of freeform knitting. Many scrumble freeformers incorporate both knitting and crochet, but freeform which is just composed of knitted fabris is rarer. The linear nature of the construction of knitted fabric with multiple stitches worked on needles at a time lends itself to regular geometry rather than organic curves. Freeform knitting is often perceived as  more of  a 'danger' - only to be attempted by the brave and adventurous knitter with all those loose stitches ready to escape and run away as you maneuver your work into unaccustomed shapes. It's true that freeform knitting needs more of technical base - a vocabulary of shaping skills such as increases and decreases and short rows and a willingness to work with circular needles or dpns and cast off and pick up stitches. But it definitely exists.

Free range knitting

Designer Jane Thornley describes her work as Free range knitting, rather than calling it freeform knitting. Undulating waves of fabric are created using short rows and there is an encouragement to 'paint' landscapes with yarn but this often still progresses in a fairly linear fashion. These full width linear pieces aren't always recognised as true freeform.

River run wrap by Christie Furber

Peacock Furls Wrap by Jane Thornley. This piece with its modular semicircular construction is much more recognisable as 'freeform'

Shorelines by Jayne Thornley


Shortrows are the tool that really opens up possibilities in freeform knitting.

Shell Canyon by Debbie New from Knitting Art by Karen Searle

Barbara Lawler (Newform) - Testing the Waters

Swing Knitting

Swing knitting is a unique technique of short row knitting using the rhythms of music to develop repeatable short row patterns which swing and dance through the piece. Ah, but it's repeatable you say, not strictly freeform as it's not irregular patterning. I'd argue that that this is an immensely useful techniques in a knit freeformer's arsenal and that the results can delightfully blend regular and irregular.  

Swing Knitting was has its roots in the work of Gabrielle Kluge  and was trademarked by Heidrun Liegmann-Halama

The main technique is doing a start short row with always the same amount of stitches (the melody width) and moving it, using a mathematical sequence of numbers (the knitting melody) for each short row field (stanza) of your work. This knitting melody can be 1,2,3,4,5 or any math sequence you invent, and you follow it throughout the whole work.

Gabriele Kluge


Crazy Quilt Knitting (Myra Wood) and Patchwork knitting (Horst Schultz)

Horst Schultz pioneered 'Patchwork Knitting' (see his book of the same name), connecting smaller knitted patches into larger pieces. Even though his work consists of repeated regular motifs and isn't strictly freeform, his work is unique in that he strayed beyond strictly right angle geometry to work with curved pieces. Myra Wood translates traditional crazy patchwork into knitwear.

Myra Wood

This is really just dipping a toe into the possibilities of freeform.

I've barely skimmed the surface and haven't even mentioned freeform lace knitting or Myra's Wood's crazy lace. I also haven't dived into pictorial crochet and knitting or knitted or crocheted portraiture (which may or may not be true freeform).

Suffice to say, taking your needles and hooks and yarn to play off the beaten track opens a world of possibilities.