Happy St David’s Day to you all

Sian O'Dohery Journal

We hope that you have enjoyed the sneak preview of spring (or summer!) weather over the past week – you really can’t beat a bit of sunshine for lifting the spirits and bringing out the new year’s growth! Our Pembrokeshire landscape is getting ready to put on her most colourful outfit of glorious spring flowers. We’re not there quite yet, but the promise has been whispered in our eager ears…

Following on from last month’s newsletter we are continuing our series on getting to know the crafters and makers who are collaborating with Sian to provide workshops and products that inspire creativity and delight.

Getting to know … Aleks Byrd

Nature and nurture clearly combine in Aleks Byrd, an enthusiastic traveller by inclination and “training”. Aleks is a knitwear designer and illustrator with a heritage that embraces American, Canadian and Estonian ancestry. She caught the travel bug from her parents early and continues to love exploring new places and enjoying the people who live there. Aleks follows the thread of her own ancestry and weaves it into the patterns of today, absorbing and processing influences to produce new and unique expressions of beauty and creativity in day-to-day wearable objects – as generations of artisans have done before her. Her recent designs bring something genuinely new and fresh to the knitwear community without surrendering beauty or wearability for the sake of innovation.

Aleks’ illustrations, too, are fresh and engaging. They simultaneously speak to the whole community while drawing on and celebrating the unique character and quirky charm of the individual knitter.

Aleks is now sharing her skills and unique approach to design and colourwork to enthusiastic classes and Sian is delighted to host her next series of workshops teaching continental knitting and colourwork design at Ash Farm in early March. Book now to avoid disappointment.

Find out more about Aleks and her work in this interview that she kindly gave us as she was on her recent travels in Estonia.

You have clearly inherited your love of travel from your family. Is there a creative streak in your family, too?
Yes. My mother’s side of the family is quite creative. My mother taught me to knit, sew (particularly quilts) and many other crafts. My grandmother on my mother’s side was also a very skilled knitter, particularly Estonian lace. Many of my cousins and other relatives work in interior design, jewellery, ceramics and photography.

Can you tell us about your earliest knitting memories?

My mom taught me to knit when I was in primary school. I chose some soft chenille yarn that a bit of shine to it. It was not the easiest yarn to knit with but I managed to make a simple scarf in Gryffindor colours as it was during the height of Harry Potter mania. I have always knitted continental as it is the way my mother and grandmother knit. I have learned how to knit English or throwing style in more recent years for teaching.

Estonia has a wonderful history of colourwork knitting. Can you tell us how that heritage has influenced your design journey so far?

I love the rich traditions and sheer volume of patterns and motifs in Estonian knitting.  Each town or region has its own colour palette and set of patterns.  It is a way of determining where someone is from and is very distinctive when looking at the national folk costumes. Being what is called a “foreign born Estonian” or “väliseestlane” in Estonian, I don’t have a precise pattern I can call my own. I tend to draw on aspects of different patterns to collage together or abstract to create new versions that are rooted in tradition and sense of place, yet modern. These new versions allow me to create my own set of patterns and something that introduces other knitters to Estonian knitting in a modern sense.

What drew you to a career in the knitting industry?

I fell into it quite unexpectedly. I was on a knitting retreat with my mom at a yarn dyer’s studio to do some dyeing and knitting. The project that everyone was meant to be knitting was a colourwork cowl pattern. I liked the idea but didn’t like the actual motifs in the pattern, so I decided to make my own, the Vaip cowl pattern. This was my first real foray into designing knitwear. I tend to be a bit stubborn and opinionated about design with constant ideas about how to make something better, so it was bound to infiltrate my knitting. Since then I have been slowly doing more designing and learning as I go.

What gave you the idea for your book, “Colour and Knit, Mittens”? Where can people find the book?
I’m a knitter who doesn’t like to stick to colours planned out in a given colour-work pattern. I think that might come out of being a being an illustrator & designer as well as having gone to art school! I like to modify my colours – particularly with stranded colourwork knitting – which can get confusing when reading a chart printed in colours that aren’t close to what I’m using. I thought it would be interesting to try to create a chart that was blank that could then be coloured in with the colours that I wanted to use and how I wanted to use them. I had designed and had published a colouring book already (a Christmas themed Estonian colouring book published in Estonia) and had seen the adult colouring book trend continue even amongst my friends and family. I thought it time to maybe try to combine the colouring book trend with colourwork knitting- it seemed to make sense to me, and it would continue to bridge my loves of knitting and illustration.  The book is sold by several yarn shops; one in the UK is A Yarn Story.

Your mitts in the recent edition of Laine Magazine have a beautiful textile design that seems to have moved in a slightly different direction for you. Can you tell us about the inspiration and development of that design?
The Davvi mitts are inspired by Lapland were the photos from that issue were photographed. I took inspiration for the colours and motifs from looking at photos of the landscape and woven belts of the Sami people who live in Lapland. The stitch pattern was something that I developed during my MA. It was a process of collaging and combining different knitting techniques together, in this case colourwork knitting and twisted stitches, to create something new and unique. This combination creates a lovely quilted effect in chevron shapes taken from the shape of mountains and geometric shapes in the woven belts.

What has led you into teaching workshops? What do you hope your students will take away from your time with you?
Teaching workshops came about from people asking me to share my knowledge to larger groups. I have always been keen to help friends and people I meet with any knitting query they have. I hope students come away feeling inspired, confident and invigorated to knit projects with their new skills.

How has your time in Bath in particular, and the UK more generally, influenced your creative journey?
I’ve become much more acquainted with wool, particularly the vast number of sheep breeds. It has been really interesting to see how provenance, knowing about where the wool comes from, as well as specific characteristics of sheep breeds is more prevalent and important in the UK.  Being in the UK has afforded me the opportunity to meet and collaborate with amazing and incredibly knowledgeable yarn producers.

You have just completed your MA at Bath Spa University – congratulations! Where will your travels take you next?

I plan to stay in the UK and continue to travel in search of inspiration as well as to teach.

Lovely for your Mum…

We may be enjoying some unseasonably glorious weather at the moment, but winter is not quite over yet. Make sure your Mum can enjoy the great outdoors even when the March lion roars! Why not treat her to a cosy Strata snood or toasty Seren poncho and go for a lovely walk to celebrate Mother’s Day with some special time together.

Or why not spend some time together learning a new skill? Celebrate early with Aleks Byrd on a knitting course or make a Moongazing Hare (“Mad March” or otherwise!”) with Gill Oakley.

Your Mum’s gift will be wrapped with a special card for you to write your own message.

© Sian O'Doherty, sianodoherty@hotmail.com 07983 453210 Ash Farm, Ivy Chimney Lane, Stepaside, Narberth SA67 8JU | Crafting Beautiful Website Design Hu Studio
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