I'm not really a traveller. I have only ever flown once (to Shetland) and it's many years since I even went to France. I've never travelled outside Europe. I know the United Kingdom well, partly because of my old job at English Heritage (my geographical knowledge of Scotland and Wales is not good, but it was English Heritage after all) and partly because we holiday here exclusively. I'm not drawn to the exotic. My satisfaction comes from knowing a place deeply, the way that only living somewhere allows you to do.
I've lived in Wiltshire for the last 21 years, and have spent many of those years on a farm situated in the fertile, clay lowlands in the north of the county; but within sight of the chalk uplands, the downs which have been so important to humans for millennia. I have allowed this wonderful place to inspire me for the Alfie Purl 2016 colour collection. From rare butterflies (Chalk Hill Blue) and water meadows (North Meadow) to prehistoric monuments (Avebury and Bluestone), the diverse creatures, flowers landscapes of the county have fed into my work.
I start by thinking around my theme. Then, I hit Google image search, looking for pictures. I allow my search to wander, going from one idea to another, always looking for colour and texture. I park the pictures in my Pinterest account, which becomes a record of the journey I've made. I think about them for a while, allowing my favourites to sink into my memory. I then use watercolours to play with some of the combinations; the paint behaves rather like the dye will eventually behave, mixing and blending. Eventually, I move over to fibre and start to dye.
The dyes I use are called acid dyes. They're closely related to food colouring, and the acid in the title is actually white vinegar, used at a rate of about 1ml of vinegar to 1g of fibre. I use them in a very intuitive fashion; friends and family have noticed that I can't really talk whilst I am dyeing. I do take notes, but they are often incomprehensible to other people. Photographing the dye bath whilst I'm working can be very useful, because the yarn colours need to be broadly repeatable. However, due to the technique, each skein is unique.
I love a good story (or a good yarn, I suppose!) and I really enjoy keeping to the theme and yet finding variations within it. The hand painted skeins of yarn create a knitted, crocheted or woven fabric which has painterly flecks and small patches of colour, merging one into another. If you are wanting to knit or crochet something big, you'll need to be using two skeins at a time - knit one row with one skein, the next with the other skein - in order to mix the colours evenly and prevent the work looking patchy. Using two colourways which are quite closely related - Chalk Hill Blue and Bluestone, for example - could give you even more variation.
I expect to enjoy exploring not far from home for the whole of 2016. I'll keep you posted.