Posted on July 6, 2014 at 8:46 pm
You’ve heard of people who “hear” color or think in computer code? Knitwear designers think in sweaters. I for one see them everywhere. You see those erosion fences at the beach? I see sweaters. You see barn swallows feasting on mosquitoes overhead in the twilight? Or a Suzani for sale at the flea market? Those are all sweaters in my head. When I have my designer hat on (which is often), I walk through a foreign land listening the language, translating every word and sentence in my head into my native tongue: sweaters. I make design elements out of flight paths and wood slats, place them on sleeves or fold them into collars. Not all of it works, necessarily. Because for all of that, ultimately a knitted thing has to work as something I’d want to wear. That’s the simple fact of the design process: make a fantasy into something that works with the boots in my closet. Usually there’s a compromise, and some sweaters come close to what I want for them (perfect fit, amazingly flattering, great color, super fun to knit, in that order), but even those ones have traveled some distance from their original inspiration.
In the case of the Clocktower Kimono, the original idea came from afternoon shadows made by a stack of lumber stored on the back porch.
That’s a sweater, I thought in my usual way.
When I sent the stack of sketches for the fall collection to Amy Palmer, this was among them, but not yet a finished idea. I didn’t know how a knitted kimono was constructed, or if the block and stripes I had drawn were even realistic for knitting. All I knew was that the proportions of a kimono was the right medium for the shadow idea, that it would be beautiful, and happily Amy not only agreed, she also trusted me to make it happen.
I had to play around with scale a bit, not in terms of yarn size since I had jumped at the chance to work with Sweet Georgia’s Superwash DK, but it was more a question of even rows or odd? stripes that were a factor of 2 rows wide, or four? How would different scales of the pattern work in the garment? And I also had to work out less lofty problems like how do I keep the selvedge hem from rolling? And most importantly, where would the yarn end up in an intarsia application?
So much of design work boils down to problem solving, and this is certainly the case in knitting. Here, for example, is the yarn management strategy I used for knitting the sample. I used two different strands for each of the two colors. The green and yellow represent the lighter yarn, and the brown and the black represent the darker yarn. I carried the yarn behind the work or up the sides between rows, and in this way I kept the number of ends down.
It leaves only two dangle-y ends per block section, which I did myself a favor by weaving in as I went. Finishing was a breeze since there’s only straight lines to match in the underarm and side seams, and the front band is almost entirely worked from live stitches. All the other “issues” in the sweater disappeared into the pattern, which was streamlined even further by my talented tech editor at Knitscene.
I did much of the design work on the needles, deciding – for example – when I got to the back that it had to have a kind of pay-off element, that somehow the sleeves had “set it up”, and the “it” in this case was a full length stripe. That’s a bunch of words for what just made sense to my eye, but this picture makes it every bit as clear as all that.
I could be more disciplined with myself about offering up half-formed ideas. The sketch didn’t predict the questions I would have to answer in the design work for this sweater. But I feel in this case sending off a half-formed plan more than paid off.
I’m especially looking forward to when it comes home to me next spring. I’ve got the perfect boots waiting for it.