Julia Farwell-Clay


The Weight of an Idea


I’ve become the kind of person who answers a question more than once, especially when it comes to design. Back in my mid-twenties when I tried for 18 months to become an advertising copy writer (the job market was sparse and honestly I wasn’t very good at waiting for other people to make decisions) one of the lessons I took with me was the observation of one Creative Director who said that even if the first answer is the best one, you won’t know until you’ve figured out all the other answers.

So when I try to answer one of my “What if?” design questions, I often come up with a lot of candidates. Seldom do I actually work them through time and space being limited as they are by pragmatics of family and how much sleep I genuinely need. But sometimes I can’t let that question go until I have worked them out.

Case in point: Here’s the doodle swatch I made while sitting in my Western Avenue Studio a few years ago while I was supposed to be dedicating 100% of my time to the Folly Cove Collection for Classic Elite.


What are you looking at? This is a way to create stripes without leaving ends to weave it. By leaving a margin, and as you can see any margin at all, you occupy two yarns in every row, but you can change where that color exchange is without cutting yarns as you would for traditional intarsia. Neat, huh? But what to do with it? Into the swatch box it went for year.


When Berroco invited me to contribute to their Portfolio series, they said it could be anything I like as long as my design was a shawl. As an aside here, it should be noted that to this point I had designed exactly one shawl. Read between the lines here – aspiring designers – and learn that the vast majority of design folks send in sweaters. You can beat the odds by offering accessories to submission calls!

I offered it to the design director who had an unreasonable amount of faith in my ability to make this happen. I gave it a go, but I had quickly decided to switch to a more conventional intarsia method once I realized a multi color version would be too much to ask of just about any knitter but me. Out of that particular crucible came the Teeter Totter Shawl for Portfolio 2.

On the heels of that experiment, I simplified the idea in a few waves of knitting and re-knitting until I came up with the perfect knit-friendly answer to that “slip and flip” intarsia question. In the process I learned a lot about shawls and the limitations of the received wisdom around “crescent” increases. The result is a shawl that overcame the bell-shaped failures of the published version of Teeter Totter and is a design that I continue to wear, Metronome.


It was Kay who believed there was more to find out about this, mostly because she is a knitter who thinks in terms of afghans. Some knitters think “Can this be a shawl? or “can this be a sweater?” That’s Kay, only afghans. So among the several ideas I submitted in the Field Guide folder was this:


A Metronome afghan square. Of course! I had a lot of fun paper piecing different auditions for the design, changing up the background for islands of color. I imagined many versions, rotating the squares into quilt-like arrangements. The squares were everywhere like confetti; I still find stragglers tucked into the crevices of my desk drawers. I wrote up the recipe, and a lot of the MDK crew knit a few of the blanket squares, pitching in to hit our 10 day deadline (this was quite a story, worthy of a blog post all by itself). Then Kay gamely joined them together to make the thing she knew it would be.


A few people have knit it up already, and I adore these two versions in particular (click through to see): Stacy first for her enthusiastic embrace of all the colors, and Joy’s for the admirable fact that she dyed all her gorgeous colors herself.

As an owner of a number of blankets – hand knit and otherwise – I really wanted a copy of the PicketFence Afghan to keep (the original lives at MDK World Headquarters in Nashville), but I didn’t want one folded at the foot of a bed. I wanted to WEAR the thing. So I decided to knit it in fingering weight yarn so I could carry it around with me. A wraphgan, if you will, or a halfghan, whatever. So in the heat of July, I cast on and started to knit. You can read a little bit more about it in my previous post, if you like. But yesterday, I completed the two runs of three-needle bind off, and phew, I finished in time to wear it this weekend around the Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival!


I’m super pleased. The finished piece is of considerable size (24 by 68”) but so am I, so this isn’t overwhelming in terms of proportion. Nevertheless, there’s a taste for big BIG shawls these days. I will fit right in.

Am I done with this idea yet? Are there more answers yet to uncover? Hm. Maybe there’s still this: What kind of a sweater do you think this might be? ::wink wink::

Julia Farwell-Clay