Felicity Ford Collects Craft Sounds
August Craft Month is alive with the sounds of KNITSONIK
What is KNITSONIK?
KNITSONIK has several different aspects. In one sense it is about exploring the world of sounds around knitting, but it is also about creating custom-designed garments for field-recordists, like myself. It's about presenting knitting as a technical endeavour, alongside the technologies, and the craft, of producing audio.
In terms of the custom-made silent field-recordist outfit, that is a very longterm project for me. It is a practical endeavour. I need very quiet clothes to wear when I am recording very quiet sounds. Woollen fabric doesn't rustle at all, unlike jeans.
Finally, the part about presenting knitting in a technical light is really to do with gender. The tools and technologies of sound-recording are still somehow seen as being very male, while knitting is often shown as being a woman's past-time. I really wanted to confuse those distinctions.
When did you first become interested in the idea of craft sounds?
I first got interested in recording the sounds of craft when I was producing a feature for The Hub – a radio show on BBC Oxford – called Knit Weekly. Through that, I got interested in how rich the sounds could be, used with a little imagination. I realised I could do a whole project about craft and its sounds.
I made a radio feature about a sock based on the brickwork design of a church tower. Then I mixed an explanation of the idea with the sound of the church bells ringing. So there are many creative ways of expanding on the idea of 'craft sounds'.
Sound is very important to various craft processes, because it tells you so much about the materials you are working with. In my own craft activities, principally knitting and sewing, the sounds are very close to how the materials feel in my hands. I really don't like to knit with acrylic because it squeaks and I find it a bit unyielding. I prefer the scratchiness of wool, its pliant feeling in my hands, and its total lack of squeak.
What are some of the sounds you have collected?
The sounds of spinning mills, water-mills, wheels, harvesting woad (for dyeing), dyeing wool in a barn, knitting by the fire, knitting in the car, knitting with metal needles, knitting with bamboo needles, sewing with linen thread, carding wool, drafting fibres, using a steam-iron, wet-blocking a sock, rifling through a tin of buttons, weaving on a loom, using my sewing machine... those are some of the sounds I can remember, but I have recorded many sounds for KNITSONIK.
What was you favourite sound?
I love the sound of many buttons in a tin. Or perhaps the sounds of a good fire in a stove. It is a lovely thing to listen to while you are knitting.
What is the sound that you find most annoying?
I find the specific sound qualities of TV adverts very annoying. The sounds are arranged very densely, and very loudly. They include a lot of frequencies that are difficult to ignore. I hate them invading on my life when I am trying to think about something.
What sounds do you hope to collect as part of August Craft Month?
I am really looking forward to the challenge and the surprise of hearing what people bring. It isn't limited to knitting, so there will be a lot of new sounds for me, I expect. I am hoping that people will talk to me about the role that sound play in their own crafts, and that I will learn something.
What can people expect to see, or hear, if they come to your event?
I will have a mic-stand, two different kinds of microphones, a couple of recorders and some cue-cards. People can look through those for ideas of what to say. The space will be set up for recording, and I will be there in my handknitted finery, ready to talk to anyone who wants to tell me about the sounds of their craft.
The microphones I use are quite powerful and I find that listening through them often reveals details in sounds that are hard to hear naturally. So participants will be able to hear the sounds of their crafts in a lot of detail. After the workshop, I will edit what we recorded and put it up on the KNITSONIK website. Participants will be able to download it from there and have a memento of their day.
Do you prefer radio or TV? And what is your favourite programme and why?
I tend to download a lot of podcasts rather than listen to a lot of radio or watch a lot of TV. Favourites include Cast On, which is all about knitting and which I love because it's so well-produced and the ideas in it can be very rich. I also love the Hackney Podcast because it explores Hackney using snippets of speech, sounds, and music. And there are some episodes of the Coast and Country Podcast that I love because of the atmosphere that is given in the sounds, and also because the information is so well-researched.
If you could go back, or forward, in time, what sound would you like to collect?
I would love to record the sounds of town squares when there were no cars, only horses: the sounds of the blacksmith and the wheelwright at work, and I would love to record the sounds of harvesting the corn without machinery.
I am obsessed with the history of Huntley and Palmer's biscuit factory, which used to be in Reading where I now live. I would love to go back in time and record all the sounds of making the biscuit tins. The steam trains taking biscuits directly into London and the sounds of the biscuits being produced.
What sound does collecting sounds make?
The sounds of the buttons clicking; the very tiny sound of the windshield going on over the top of the microphone; the sounds of cables gently bashing against the recorder and the sounds of me talking, explaining what I'm doing. There are also the sounds of wind on the microphones, and of me standing very, very still, holding my breath so as not to spoil the recording.