From Inspiration to Knitting: The Design Process

I am often inspired by something that makes me think of a knitted garment. I see an animal and see a sweater with an element that reflects the line of part of it’s body, or a colorway, or a texture. These are all abstract interpretations and are examples of how a fairly classic type of garment can also be abstract art. This is a little more concrete than what I am going to talk about today.

In the articles that I wrote for the UK mag, Knitting, I talked about color. One article in particular talked about the evocative qualities of color. Color can establish mood, can give a sense of place, and can even key in a time of day. Color is but one tool (an element of design) that we use.

Another tool is line. In knitting, our lines are established by two things. The lines of the garment, and the stitch patterns that we use. I have talked about line before. How diagonal lines create feelings of movement, how very strong vertical lines give feelings of stability, grandeur, and so on (think of the big old cathedrals with their long vertical lines). There is a lot of information out there regarding line alone in art books (books that are instructional).

We have also talked about texture, which is another element of design that we use as knitters. The texture of the yarn we use in turn creates the texture of the fabric we are making, and also lends part of the story to the viewer.

When I say we, I am not referring to a group of designers but rather the individual knitter. I have talked before about making knitting your own. Some knitters have trouble with changing the color of an item that they see in a pattern, others are more brave or just like to give it their own stamp.

There will be things that inspire you. When inspiration strikes for me I am at my happiest. My mind and body feel alive and in tune with the universe, and it can be a very spiritual experience for me. I am not saying you have to go through this yourself to be creative, as everyone is different. What I am saying is pay attention to what makes you feel good.

Where do you like to go on vacation? What is it about your favorite restaurant that you love? What do you like to do to relax? What is exciting to you? All these things will have certain things in common. There is a certain mood that these places and things have that appeal to you. They define who you are in your mind. It will be a combination of color, lighting, texture, and decorative elements that help establish mood. With food, only a part of it involves taste. Much of a good meal also involves presentation, and it is that presentation that is concerned with color, texture, and the visual appeal that establish mood.

These are things that are present in our knitting, too, but just is not discussed much. At least not on a level of awareness. We do it all the time, we just don’t think about it. You might say things like black is depressing, blue feels cold, things that are Victorian are too stuffy, things that are modern are too stark, and so on.

When I am working on a design,I am thinking about the elements I have available to me (yarn, color, line). I think about what feeling or mood I want to establish with what I am creating. This often involves asking myself questions like where will this be worn, what type of garment should it be to be comfortable, what do I need to do for edge treatments so it feels like I want it to feel?

Memories and imagination are powerful creative elements. When I think of my family (parents, sister, and extended with cousins and grandparents), I think of two types of places: lakes and farmland. My Mother’s parents had a log cabin on Palestine Lake in Indiana, and my Father’s parents had a farm in Etna Green in Indiana. My parents live near Lake Wawasee in Indiana.

These are fairly simple types of areas, with the exception of Lake Wawasee which can have some very expensive homes. The feeling or mood is simple. The memories are of love, comfort, warmth, acceptance. Garments I design when inspired by memories of these places tend to be ones that are comfortable, that can be everyday favorites. Simple, yes, but with their own casual elegance. Simple does not mean lacking in detail. And for me, it does not mean I can knit it in one day or one weekend.

When bringing things like memories, feelings, or imagination into what you knit, think about what you would wear to these places. Think about what color makes it feel like it belongs there. Think about what types of garments give you the same feeling or mood. For me, a little black dress and diamonds would be an obvious example of things that don’t go with an old and simple log cabin with a dirt road and an old row boat. A cardigan or pullover, yes. A simple lace shawl, yes. See? It really is not that hard, it just needs to be put into perspective. Into terms we are used to dealing with. 

Say you want to do something for a special occasion. What defines that special occasion for you? What do you have to create the feel of that in your knitted project? You have color, yarn, and line again.

Colors that are sophisticated tend to be more complex in nature rather than your primary colors. You will also see colors that are subdued in intensity and are more grayed. The palette of Rowan is a good example of what I am talking about, but again what is important is what feels  right for the garment you are doing.

Peace and Knitting, JoLene


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