A Playlist to Accompany 'Rhythms of Handwork' by Felicity (Felix) Ford

To accompany her article in Issue 39, 'Rhythms of Handwork: The Rhythms of our Making', Felicity (Felix) Ford created a playlist of songs meaningful to her about the cadence of crafting. Please find her Spotify playlist below, along with her explanation of each song. Enjoy! 


00:00 Counting Stitches
Rachel counting stitches (2011)
Recorded by Felicity (Felix) Ford

This recording was made during a KNITSONIK artist residency at Prick Your Finger in Bethnal Green after several folks interviewed about the sonic world of their knitting pointed to counting stitches as one of their most familiar sounds.

00:52 Old Molly Metcalfe
Bantam Cock (1972)
Jake Thackray  

Old Molly Metcalfe contextualises the Yan Tan Tethera counting system. The words are numbers from Brythonic Celtic languages and were widely used in the north of England for counting sheep and stitches in knitting up until the Industrial Revolution. 

04:31 Amy’s Rough Fell Sheep
Hûrd (2012)
Recorded by Felicity (Felix) Ford

These are the baas of Amy Black’s flock of Rough Fell sheep, who live in the hills in Cumbria. This recording was made for an installation (titled Hûrd) in which the sounds of the places, people and sheep of the Lake District were played through speakers covered in Cumbrian wool.

04:38 Latha Siubhal Beinne Dhomh (One Day as I Roamed the Hills) 
Waulking Songs from Barra (1965)
Mary Morrison, Calum Johnston, Kate Buchanan and Flora Boyd

A rare example of a waulking song which appears to have been composed by a man. Waulking songs covered many topics but, roughly translated, this one speaks to the theme of a pretty young girl wandering the moors and being approached by a man, who is swiftly and spiritedly rebuffed!

07:52 Dandling Songs, Spinning Song and Waulking Songs
Heather & Glen (1968)
Mrs Annie McNeill, Mrs Mary Johnston, Misses Rachel McCloud, Annie Johnston and Mary Gillis. Recorded by Alan Lomax, Calum McLean and Hamish Henderson

A field recording in which the Scottish women singing also tell stories about the songs and the contexts in which they would have been sung; you can also hear a spinning wheel. From the liner notes by Alan Lomax:

“…we were all carried back over the years to the golden period when these good ladies were young and when folksong was the center of life… This item puts several songs into a framework of unselfconscious chatter, which will convey to the listener, more than anything I can write, the charm of the people of Barra and the delight they take in their own music”.

14:48 Tikar Woman, Grinding Song
Africa and the Blues (Connections and Reconnections) (1964)
Recorded by Gerhard Kubik 

This sound was recorded in central Cameroon in 1964 and is a lament sung by a young Tikar woman to the rhythm produced by the action of grinding or pounding rice or millet. The lyrics describe the loss of the singer’s husband and contemplate the uncertain future for herself and her child. The singer’s expression of grief is arranged around a beat sourced in the sonic rhythms of an everyday task – a principle found throughout American Blues music.

16:38 Soundcheck
, and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Boykin, Alabama: Sacred Spirituals of Gee's Bend (2019)
Mary Ann Pettway, China Pettway, Larine Pettway and Nancy Pettway

Soundcheck conveys the convivial, community spirit in which Gee’s Bend Quilters gather for singing and is included to give context to the next song.

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is one of many songs which connect spirituals sung in African-American communities with their roots in music of the African continent. In the book Blues People, Amiri Baraka quotes a passage from an earlier book in which the author “…in Rhodesia… heard… a melody so closely resembling Swing Low, Sweet Chariot that he felt he had found it in its original form…”.

20:27 Give Your Hands To Struggle
Give Your Hands to Struggle (1997)
Bernice Johnson Reagon

Originally recorded in 1969, this song honours the achievements of civil rights activist Septima Poinsette Clark and how she worked in a state of struggle, always pushing for justice. The song joins the ideas of hands – which create textiles, sew, knit and make – together with ideas of shaping and creating social change.

24:25 Peep Squirrel
25:56 Nana, Thread Needle
29:27 Hambone
Step it Down: Games for Children by Bessie Jones (1987)
Bessie Jones

Three examples of the games, plays, songs and stories from the African-American heritage preserved, taught and performed by Bessie Jones. 

Peep Squirrel uses a phrase inspired by the rhythmical sound of a squirrel running through the leaves – ya di da di de de dum – and tells the story of a boy trying to catch the squirrel on a mule. Inspired by an everyday sound, the song also brings rhythm to many of the domestic contexts in which it was often sung. In Step it Down Bess Lomax writes:

You can sing “Peep, Squirrel” while the children dance, or while you’re bouncing a child on your knee; or, at a slower pace, it makes a fine song for a tired baby and a warm lap and a rocking chair. 

Nana, Thread Needle is a play – a series of stylised movements and words to be performed by a group – taught to Bessie Jones by her father. The movements are inspired by the action of threading a needle, and speak to the idea of “unwinding” a borrowing. In the book For the Ancestors, Bessie Jones explains the song like this:

In this game the teaching is, when people borrow and don’t pay back, don’t get angry. Wind it up with love… Pa used to say that rather than to fall out with a person about borrowing and lending you should wind it up with love, and separate with love. Patch it up. 

Hambone can be sung with many different words – the important thing is to clap or play the thigh bone when this song is sung. The practice of finding different pitches and sounds around the body has its roots in West African drumming, in which drumming is melodic and includes sophisticated pitch variation as well as producing rhythms.

31:04 Pounding Millet / Pilage du Mil
Niger / Northern Bénin: Music Of The Fulani / Musique Des Peuls (1972)
Three women, three pestles, a mortar

This recording documents another stylised, very rhythmical performance of an everyday task recorded with three women in Niger/ North Bénin in West Africa, in which the sounds of a daily task – pounding millet – are performed or displayed in a very stylised way. The percussion of the pestle and mortar also contains pitch variation, like the action of striking the thigh in the song Hambone

34:39 The Machinery (Clog Dance)
Crafting Sound 1, AlgoMech festival (2016)
Caroline Radcliffe and Sarah Angliss

This is the sound of The Machinery – a clog-dance originating in the cotton mills of Lancashire in which mill workers used their clogs and body movements to imitate the rhythms and motions of industrial cotton-spinning technology. In this performance, Caroline Radcliffe dances with clogs to a soundtrack of industrial cotton mill machinery recorded and mixed by Sarah Angliss. 

38:11 Factory Girl
Factory Girl EP (2015)
Rhiannon Giddens

This song speaks to industrial textile disasters. A traditional folk song – versions of which appear all over the British Isles – its themes are broadly about the Industrial Revolution and its effect on social fabric and gender roles. In 2015, following the Rana Plaza disaster, Rhiannon Giddens reworked the song to turn it into a social comment on the human cost of fast fashion, and to humanise and commemorate the people lost in that tragedy. 

44:54 Sheep on Sumburgh Head
Listening to Shetland Oo (2013)
Recorded by Felicity (Felix) Ford

These baas mixed with the sounds of seabirds were recorded on Sumburgh Head as part of the Listening to Shetland Oo project in which sounds relating to the Shetland wool industry were recorded and placed on a searchable map. The idea was to enable listening to Shetland wool while working with Shetland wool. 

45:24 Da Nortmaven Spinning Song/Roo the Bonny Oo
School of Scottish Studies Archives, University of Edinburgh (SA1960.219)(1960)
Rosabel Blance. Recorded by Tom Anderson 

This song was recorded in 1960 by Tom Anderson and was composed by Rosabel Blance. It is held in the collections of the School of Scottish Studies Archives and Library and used with kind permission. The song celebrates the rhythms, sounds and processes of hand-spinning wool (oo in Shetland dialect) in words but also with creative vocalisations which mimic the sound of the wheel in motion.

46:00 Elizabeth Johnston Spinning on an Old Shetland Wheel
Listening to Shetland Oo (2013)
Recorded by Felicity (Felix) Ford

In this recording, Elizabeth Johnston – the yarn producer behind the business Shetland Handspun – is spinning wool on an old Shetland wheel. The microphones are being moved around the wheel as it works, to capture the different tones and rhythms produced by this technology. 

48:39 Kro Kro Kro 
Children's Songs for Games from Africa (1979)
Kojo Fosu and Mrs Edwina Hunter 

The words of this song translate to mean: 

“The sound of weaving, Kro kro kro, Hee hee hee 
Is melodious to me
The weaving of Ghana's Kente cloth
Is melodious to me”

From the liner notes by Kojo Fosu: 

Africans like to sing while at work. The weavers of Ghana like to do the same. When these weavers, who make colorful Kente, are at work, they make [the] rhythmic sound – Kro kro kro – as they pass the shuttle from one hand to the other. As the shuttle passes through the weft, the sound changes to hee hee hee. 

By singing these two sounds... the weaver creates patterns in the Kente. Children like to imitate the weaver by throwing pencils through imaginary weft, and making [a] paddling motion with the feet, while singing this song.

57:42 Mwana Talitambula
Reverse Thread (2010)
Regina Carter

In the book and exhibition Textural Rhythms: Quilting the Jazz Tradition by Carolyn L. Mazloomi, several of the artists mention jazz violinist Regina Carter as their inspiration. This song comes from Regina’s 2010 album Reverse Thread, in which Regina explores new interpretations of African folk songs through contemporary jazz violin. This song is a contemporary interpretation of a traditional Abayudaya piece, from a community in eastern Uganda, near the town of Mbale, who practice Judaism. 

1:02:22 Counting Stitches
Rachel counting stitches (2011)
Recorded by Felicity (Felix) Ford

A continuation of the same recording from which an earlier section was featured at the start of the mix. The recording was made during a KNITSONIK artist residency at Prick Your Finger in Bethnal Green.

1:03:31 Old Croft House Mantel Clock Ticking
Listening to Shetland Oo (2013)
Recorded by Felicity (Felix) Ford

In the 1850s, a certain sort of American mantel clock was very popular in Shetland and most croft houses would have had one set up above the fireplace. Croft houses are the traditional agricultural dwellings in which Shetland’s crofters (tenant farmers) lived - some crofters today still live and work in this type of home, though many such dwellings have been modernised. If you listen to oral histories recorded in the 1960s in Shetland, you will hear the clocks ticking there still. This one stands in the Croft House Museum in Dunrossness, and – like many similar clocks – would have been the accompanying beat to which much lace, Fair Isle and ‘makkin’ was produced into the middle of the last century.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published