Felicity Ford is and artist who works under the project name KNITSONIK. I was lucky to meet her last year at Shetland Wool Week along with her friend Tom of Holland. The two of them are great fun. I really really wanted to take her class “Quotidian Colourwork” in which participants take objects from their life and translate them into stranded knitting patterns. Right up my alley!
She not only knits, but records the sounds of knitting, and all kinds of other things! So impressive what she does, making a living making art!
I’m so happy to participate in The Knitsonik blog tour because there are a few questions I wanted to ask her myself:
Tell us about your favorite tins…and if the biscuits you like to eat are the ones that have the nicest boxes.
I could never poke fun at a fellow lover of biscuit tins! Did you know that the earliest decorative biscuit tins ever made were produced here in Reading where I live, by Huntley, Boorne & Stevens, for the Huntley & Palmers biscuit factory? I must admit that I did not know this until I moved here, but it might just be my favourite Reading factoid. For who does not love a jolly biscuit tin?
…In The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, I’ll mostly be talking about a miniature Huntley & Palmers tin. This tin most likely dates from the 1930s, and was probably a gift for a child.
I started collecting tins like this as I found out about the Huntley & Palmers biscuit factory, which thrived here during the 1800s and 1900s. It was vast. From terraced Victorian streets built to house workers, to grand estates, memorial plaques, and even a park gifted to the town, the hand of Huntley & Palmers is evident. But the factory is – alas – no more. I love to walk near the last remnants of the factory, down by the canal.
My vintage Huntley & Palmer tins are some of my favourite things, because they come from a point in history when Reading was physically producing biscuits in biscuit tins!
Huntley & Palmers produced all sorts of fancy biscuit tins – I have even seen one based on a kitchen range – but I am drawn back to the iconic design which established their brand at the start of things. It’s so simple and graphic and beautiful; a local design classic. I have tried to explore that restrained palette in my colourwork explorations of my tin.
Alas, I have not tasted an actual Huntley & Palmers biscuit baked in Reading, because the factory closed before I was born. But there several well preserved examples in different UK museums. To me, the grand sheen on the Milk Chocolate Medley spotted in Poole Museum indicates that when they were baked 100 years or more ago, they were probably very tasty. There are also some recipes here which I keep meaning to try, under “Bake a Biscuit”. [LINK: http://www.huntleyandpalmers.org.uk/]
The most successful tastiness/good-tin combination I ever came across was a massive Skyflakes tin which I purchased in SEAWOO Reading. [LINK:http://www.seewooreading.co.uk/] The biscuits were very creamy tasting, with a nice crackly glazing of salt, and I thoroughly enjoyed them all. However the tin has surpassed all my expectations; not only does it have fantastic GRAPHIX, but it also has the best sound when you crack it open. It did take a while to exorcise the buttery smell out of the tin, though…
…As a child, I always loved that my Gran kept her buttons and threads in a biscuit tin, and I remember tools and odd-sizes of screws and bolts being kept in a biscuit tin by my Dad. So I always associated biscuit tins with “treasure,” and with looking after The Special Things .
In terms of my favourites, I keep one biscuit tin for my ends of sock yarn (that one looks like a carousel)
and another for sewing stuff, which Mark got me one Christmas. (That one has a Robin on it.)
I keep receipts in a beautiful Huntley & Palmers biscuit barrel that was a gift from my friend Kate, and Mark got me a Herdy tin [LINK: http://www.herdy.co.uk/] which is obviously amazing because it has a sheep on it!
I’m forever taking pictures of bricks too! In Columbus Ohio I even found a small apartment house that said “Mary” at the top…I was so hoping that “Jane” would be next door. I grew up in Seattle and whenever I go back I marvel at all the decorative detail in the older buildings…I’m always stopping short, causing people to run into me because I’ve paused to sketch one more brick herringbone pattern…Tell us about your favorite spots for bricks, a particular neighborhood perhaps? Are they ever near great sound locations?
A lot of the architecture round here happened because of a need to house folk coming to work in the biscuit factory. In my opinion, some of the nicest brickwork in Reading is found in the Victorian terraces built for them. For amazing brick spotting in places which are also great sound locations, one must locate the river Kennet, and follow it on its way out of town in either direction.
Going East, it joins with the Thames. Past the old pub built for Huntley & Palmers biscuit factory workers – The Jolly Angler – you reach a lovely spot where there are always people bringing bread or rice for the assembled birdlife. Swans jostle, children delight, pigeons swoop en masse and coo, and moorhens peep and chirp across the water. There is a big red brick bridge here, too, with a marvellous acoustic. Trains pass over, and when they do, you get a huge deep roar. It’s very loud, but then the delicate sounds of the birds and the children and the young people on their bicycles rises up again in its wake. I love listening there.
There is also a gasworks just up further toward the Thames, and the pipes here make intriguing hissing sounds. There are several streets in this area with gorgeous Victorian terraces.
I like how these streets sound, too. This is a cosmopolitan part of the town, so you hear music from all over the world coming out of people’s car stereos, and the corner shops that nestle between the houses. These streets are full of different accents and languages, and I love the way that sounds. You don’t get masses of traffic, as it is narrow and already crowded with parked cars, and I do enjoy a can being kicked down concrete streets, or the sound of people making dinner with the window open, and you hear that around there, too.
Going West, the Kennet eventually joins the Kennet & Avon canal, but before you get that far out of town, there are some lovely places to brick-spot and listen. There is a point – maybe the highest point in Reading – where you can stand and see what feels like the whole city. I love being there and listening and watching, because you can hear the murmur of all the roads, and how busy it is, and how many people are living here. Because it is a few streets back from a main road, you have a sense of space, so that the sound is not crowding your mind. It’s called Hilltop Road, and since I took my photo there, the residents saved up and got it covered in tarmac, which was a good idea because I bet it was lethal in the ice.
A few streets to the left of Hilltop Road, many houses on Elgar road back directly onto the canal. If you walk along the path on the far side of the river, you can see the bricks, hear the murmurings of traffic taking the A33, and – if you’re really lucky – hear a thrush or a blackbird or a robin taking up its position in one of the trees and doing its finest trills. There’s a big bend in the river which opens out, and I have heard robin song there. It seemed to echo and bounce across the wide expanse of shiny water, and I loved leaning in and listening. If you take the road – Elgar Road – you don’t see the canal, but again you get a rich mix of accents, a lovely collection of dogs huffing and jangling their leads, and sometimes cool boys cruising by with their big bad BASS. (who doesn’t enjoy a bit of BASS every now and then?)
What I love about these places is the histories that you can read in their beautiful bricks. Reading bricks have three main shades, each of them pleasingly variegated. There are no flat colours; rather you get a gold-ish brick; some very earthy red bricks; and a sort of greyish purple which I believe was known as “silver facing”. As far as I know, these bricks utilised locals clays and minerals, and what I love is spotting all the ways that bricklayers in the past innovated with such a limited palette, endlessly inventing patterns and motifs, much as knitters do today with just a few colours. I feel an affinity with these bricklayers though I must confess, faced with so many colours in the Jamieson & Smith 2-ply range, I couldn’t limit myself to just the 3 shades in my swatch!