April 2010 Archives

Influence: Part 2

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Wow, thanks for all the thought-provoking comments on my introductory post to the influence series! Glad to know this is an interesting topic for people. Before I go on, a couple of housekeeping items:

  • David is working on a blog update to make everything around here smoother and prettier, allow diacritical marks and non-English commenting, take the RSS feed out of hiding, and generally make the world a better place. So, sometime in the next week or so, the blog will go off-line for a day or so while he gets that up and running. Believe me, it'll be so worth it when it's done! I'm psyched.
  • I've decided to comment back on the blog, rather than emailing people. I know that's kind of unusual in the knit-blogging world, but it's what all the book-bloggers do, and it's always felt more natural to me. So, unless you leave me a comment requiring a very personal response, expect a comment back on the blog rather than an email.

And now, where were we? Oh, yes.

breezefront.jpg

Obviously, since I'm looking to replace my existing sweater in a number of my work ensembles, COLOR is part of the whole influence/inspiration matrix here, even though (if I recall correctly) I didn't make my cardigan in the same yarn or color as the original Kim Hargreaves model. Luckily, most of my outfits involve more color-coordination than color-matching, so I don't have to duplicate the exact shade. After looking around for a good long time, I decided on this gorgeous yarn, ordered from the always-delightful Erin at Eat.Sleep.Knit:

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It's Madelinetosh DK, in the "Golden Hickory" colorway, and I'm so excited to finally work with this yarn. My choice here was itself an example of influence: so many of my knitting peers, notably Kate at Hello Knitty, were extremely enthusiastic, that I knew I had to give it a shot. A couple of things to note: my original sweater was knitted in Karabella Aurora 8, which is both a less variegated and a thicker yarn (worsted versus DK), although similarly smooth and round, making both great for cables. The DK weight means I have some room to play with some more complex pattern details, but the variegation means I'll need to keep those patterns bold in order for them to show up well. Luckily, "bold" is exactly what I had in mind.

Now, you probably noticed that Breeze involves lovely twisted-stitch patterning.

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In fact, this is the design that introduced me to the idea of knitting through the back loop! THANK YOU, KIM HARGREAVES. I totally fell in love with the crisp, squared-off look I could achieve by twisting my stitches; I started doing it, and I never looked back. Lots of my own designs, including Julia, Wednesday, Caulfield, and Anney, involve twisted-stitch cables. Which is all well and good, but I might be getting just a TAD bit tired of twisted stitches. For a while now I've been wanting to explore the cushier, bulkier side of cabling, poring over stitch dictionaries and drooling over the big, bold, rope-style fisherman cables I found there. In particular, I was really digging this gorgeous thing, collected for posterity by the ubiquitous Barbara Walker:

breezeswatch.jpg

(To quote you chapter and verse, this is the "Nautical Twisted-Rope Cable" featured on page 181 of Walker's Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns, colloquially referred to as "the red one.")

At this point, I was pretty pleased with how things were coming. The bold, bulky qualities of the cable were holding their own against the variegation in the yarn, the stitch definition at my chosen gauge was excellent, and the fabric I was getting was deliciously cozy. And at this relatively light weight, even such a bulky cable is capable of co-existing with a fitted garment. I especially like that this cable, although it has a completely different feel from the Breeze cable, preserves a nautical aura from the original. Whereas Breeze feels to me like something that would be worn by a young girl being taken out on a sail boat in the early summer, this cable seems more likely to be worn by the person actually sailing the thing. They are thematically linked, but each have their different flavors.

However, one of the things I really like about the Breeze pattern is the way the cables present a curved, almost scalloped edge against a textured, yet flatter, background. I decided to take out the 4X4 cables to the left and right of the center panel, and experimented with different possible "background" fabrics. Reverse stockinette, as featured in the original Breeze, does complement variegation well, but stockinette fabric was feeling anemic next to my multi-layered cable. Seed and moss stitch were other possibilities, but in the end I decided in favor of simplicity: some good old-fashioned garter stitch.

breezeswatch2.jpg

For some reason I've always shied away from garter stitch, but in this context I'm absolutely loving it! It provides my fabric with just the right amount of "cush" to complement the squishy cable, and it looks beautiful in this semi-sold/variegated yarn. I also like the way in which the horizontal lines it produces contrast with the vertical cable and help the cable pop out of the background. This cable/fabric combo is definitely something I would love to wear.

Up next: moving from micro to macro, and the finished sweater back!

Previous posts in the series:

Influence: Part 1

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A few days ago a fellow Portlander and acquaintance of mine, Diane Gilleland, wrote a thought-provoking post about originality and creative cross-pollination. I'd encourage you all to go read her thoughts; I agree wholeheartedly with her championing of creative openness paired with credit freely given.

It's true that sometimes people out-and-out copy another's ideas, and that's worthy of condemnation. I'm not saying it's okay to redistribute someone's pattern without their consent, or make a few token changes and pass something off as one's own. But I think, in our eagerness to honor the originality of the artists and designers in our midst, we sometimes go too far in the other direction, minimizing the validity and importance of creative influences.

In the knitting world, I've noticed that sometimes, when a design is influenced by another knitted garment, people can be a bit dismissive of it—it's pretty, it's okay, but not as impressive as a design might be whose inspiration arrived in the designer's head from a mysterious and unrecognizable source. But why should this be? Why should a sweater inspired by, say, ironwork scrolls, or the veins of a trillium leaf, or pure geometry, be any more valid or impressive than one inspired by another sweater? It seems to me that we have become so afraid of copying that we are ending up with an unrealistic idea of how the creative process works. Knitwear inspired by other knitwear needn't look derivative, after all, or even that similar. And knitwear that DOES look similar to another piece wasn't necessarily inspired by it in any direct way: as Diane points out, artists are often developing similar ideas simultaneously, without consulting or discussing them at all.

As an exploration of these ideas, I'd like to do a little experiment in making my influences explicit.

breezefront.jpg

Meet my Autumn Sweater. The pattern is Kim Hargreaves's "Breeze," from Rowan's A Yorkshire Fable (both of those are Ravelry links). While not the first sweater I ever made, Breeze happened early in my knitting career—I completed it about four years ago. Since then, it's become THE go-to sweater in my wardrobe: the one I pull unthinkingly from the closet whenever I need a quick cover-up to take the dog for a walk or head out the door for dinner with friends. It's also an integral part of a number of my favorite work outfits. I just love the way it fits: it's so versatile, yet flattering, and the color goes with almost everything I own. Needless to say, after four years of heavy (read: almost daily) wear, it's starting to show its age.

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The snags are getting too numerous to be constantly pulling to the other side with a crochet hook. A few spots are getting fuzzy from the place my bag rubs when I walk to work. It's still perfectly serviceable for wearing around the house or out for a potluck at a friend's house, but I'm starting to feel odd about wearing it to work, even to my casual office. The time has come to replace this sweater with another that can take its place in those work outfits that usually involve this one.

breezefuzz.jpg

Of course, I could just make the same pattern again. I do own A Yorkshire Fable, after all. But instead, I'm going to try something a little more interesting: I'm going to design a sweater overtly inspired by this current favorite.

Now let's be clear: I am not going to use Ms. Hargreaves's numbers, nor her cable motif. My sweater will not be a "copy" of the Breeze pattern in any sense. In fact, just to make clear the divide between "influence" and "rip-off," I pledge not even to open A Yorkshire Fable at any point during this project (nor have I looked at the book, except for a couple casual glances through it, for the past three years). I will be taking the measurements of my sweater in its current form, which means it will have stretched significantly away from Hargreaves's original schematic measurements, if indeed it ever matched those. I'm just going to use my current, beloved sweater as a jumping-off point, a baseline that will include some of the things I adore about this garment. The finished product may look completely different, but hopefully it will share the basic shape, certain construction details, and a general retro maritime feel with the original.

Ready? I have a good start on this project already, so I'll be updating again soon.

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Introducing Anney!

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The lovely Spring/Summer edition of Twist Collective just went up, and surprise! It features a design by yours truly.

AnneyA.jpg

Anney is a cute little raglan tee, perfect for summertime parties. It's knit from the bottom up, with quick cap sleeves knit separately and attached when you cast on for the yoke. It looks pretty and garden-party-ish in the lavender I used for the Twist model, or you could make it in cherry red for a more rockabilly look. My original inspirations were early rock & roll peasant tops—something a young lady might wear with high-waisted capris, a wide belt, and a swoon. Like this, maybe, only slightly less ridiculous. Unless you wanna be that ridiculous. In which case, far be if from me to stand in your way.

There are a few details about Anney I'm particularly pleased with. I love the way the double line of twisted knit stitches in the yoke forms the guideline for the raglan decreases. Unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to make this happen in all sizes, but there is at least a single column of twisted-knits in every size. I like the organic transition from ribbing to cables. My favorite thing, though, is the way the twisty cables give way to vertical stripes in the yoke, and how the (optional, but very cute) ribbon passes under each of those "stripes."

AnneyB.jpg

One note about the sizing: it's true that the sample, when not being worn, turned out teensy-tiny. However, the Northfield yarn at that gauge is very stretchy. I tried on the sample continuously as I was working on it, and it looked great on me, with my 34-inch bust and standard petite-girl waist and hip shaping. A little more "va-va-voom" than it looks on the model, but great nonetheless. So, if you're going for daring (like the women in that video), I might suggest trying even a bit more negative ease than is recommended in the pattern— up to 5-6 inches or so. Of course, you should only try this if you're using a similarly elastic yarn; doing it with cotton will probably make you cry, much like Johnny Depp's character in the video. If you're going for a sweeter, more modest look, two-ish inches of negative ease will be more your speed. And if you decide to go with a smaller size for the va-va-voom factor, do make sure to cast on sufficient stitches for the cap sleeves so that they're not cutting off your circulation. :-)

Enjoy! It's available for download as I type: seven dollars right here.

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