What inspires a design?
When Fiona and Daniel first invited me to contribute a piece on what inspires my knitting, I was at a loss – my first answer was an impossible “everything”. I was tempted to say “everything I see”, but it’s much more than just the visual.
Going for a walk provides the space and time for ideas to come, and lots of things tend to happen at once, involving all the senses. The impressions get stored away for later use, sketches and jottings kept in a notebook.
I have some favourite techniques (steeks), and there are some things I’ll go to almost any length to avoid (colour-work knitted back and forth).
The real starting point is very often the yarn. When I handle skeins of yarn, they seem full of possibilities – they don’t want to stay as skeins, they want to join with other friendly yarns and be worked into something lovely. And when the finished garment is finally washed, the yarn “relaxes” into position, “getting comfortable”.
Yarn texture points in the general direction. Hands create a garment to be worn, so the feel and drape of the fabric, both finished and unfinished, are part of it. Colour is of course very important, evoking memory of location and time, sometimes far apart from the here and now. Sometimes a new technique needs to be tried out or combined with an old favourite. Sometimes a location or place name suggests a particular shape. And I always have in my mind a person who would like to wear the finished piece.
The process is often frustratingly slow. Lots of ideas bubble away, and imaginary test knits using different techniques end up in technical dead ends; even before the knitting starts, there is a lot of unravelling. But, oh, the satisfaction when suddenly the solution is there, the mathematics works out, and the knitting has been done – when the yarn finally sighs, “now I’m comfortable”.
Designing the Haytor cardigan: conker trees, yellow leaves – and steeks
There is something quite wonderful about conkers – their shiny newness is irresistible and they invite touch. At the end of a walk, I have conkers for both hands. Some of the leaves are on the ground, some are still clinging to the tree. The colours around me are brown, earthy and strong, with the occasional zing of bright yellow.
Autumn is the time for warm knitted jumpers – for knitting warm jumpers – and the design for the Haytor cardigan grew from the colours of conker trees and a fascination with the myriad variations that can be created using simple, small colour-work patterns. Knitted in Sirri yarn, the small pattern has a big impact, and big needles mean that the cardigan is soon done.
But the steek is the best thing. I love steeking. (If you haven’t tried it, I would encourage you to have a go!) No variable tension issues. No more slow purl rows of colour-work, reading the chart backwards, with working yarns in all the wrong places. Just knit. And finally, it’s two lines of crochet, then snip-snip-snip, and, magically – with the right yarn – everything tucks itself into place ready for finishing. And Sirri is the right yarn: it’s pure wool, with all those wonderful grippy bits; it’s light; and it’s amazingly warm.
I’m ready for autumn!