Sunday, February 28, 2016

Inside the Design Process: How a Design Comes Together

Since I've got a new mitts design in progress, today I thought I'd write a little about how my designs come together. You might be surprised how unstraightforward the design process often is. The path is usually circuitous, with a lot of unexpected twists and turns.

Once in a great while, from the moment I get a new-to-me yarn, I see immediately how it can be used, and a design takes off almost as soon as I have the yarn in my hands. That sounds wonderfully romantic, I suppose, but it's not typical of how creativity works for me. Most of the time, I have to live with a yarn for a while, swatch with it, experiment with stitches and needle sizes. 

Swatches are where most of my designs arise from. I rarely sketch out an idea, then "plug in" stitch patterns and choose appropriate yarns. Instead, I makes swatches as much as time allows. And from the swatches and particular qualities of the yarn, garments or accessories come to mind. 

Stitch dictionaries are a starting point, but I often end up charting out a stitch pattern and playing with it a bit. How would it looked combined with this other stitch pattern? What happens if I make it wider and taller? Etc. I live with my swatches for a while, usually knitting them in different yarns, looking at them this way and that, letting them hang out in my home and my unconscious, where things percolate.

Mitt knit with walnut-dyed Chickadee Bar

Every design comes together in a different way. The new mitts design has been atypical for me, in that it came together in a flash. But did it?  First of all, I used a yarn I've knit with many times before, Quince and Co. Chickadee. From previous experiences, I know it is a smooth, plump sport weight yarn with really excellent stitch definition. Pomegranate, Briscoe, and Warble taught me how perfect Chickadee is for sculptural lace stitches. So—did my yarn choice happen "in a flash," or did it grow from all that my hands and mind have learned about Chickadee over the past few years?

Lace Swatch

And then there's the stitch pattern. I swatched it several years ago, in green Quince and Co. Tern, left over from my Leaves of Three mitts. I liked it—a lot! So much so that I've had it out and always in view, using it as a "doily" under a little crochet basket. I shake the dust off it every now and then, admiring the pretty lace, but no ideas have come to mind.

Until this week. This week, I dyed some white Chickadee Bare with walnuts that I picked up in my backyard last fall. I thought maybe I could get a nice oatmeal color if I pulled the yarn from the dye pot at the right moment. I wanted a color that in its delicacy and freshness said "spring."

I was really happy with how the color came out. It was while the yarn was drying that the "lightbulb" moment happened. I picked up the little green lace swatch, held it against my hand, recalled how well Chickadee works for lace, and thought, "spring mitts." 

Mitts and Swatch

So. they're happening, and going really well, with no major changes of mind or ripping back. The design process rarely goes this smoothly for me! I keep expecting something to go awry but so far nothing has.

But, even though it's coming together quickly, did this design really take shape in the cliched "a ha!" moment? I think not. I think it began four or five years ago, at least. And it's affirmed for me once again that every small choice matters—trying a new yarn, swatching stitch patterns for no purpose other than the joy of discovery, throwing a bunch of black walnuts into an old pot to see what happens. Once again, I am reminded of Emerson's wise advice: "Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience."

I plan to publish the pattern during the Mitts Madness KAL, which starts today. A few folks have already cast on, while others are pondering patterns and yarns. Of course, there will be some lovely prizes, too. The KAL ends March 31, so there's plenty of time to knit yourself or a friend a new pair of mitts for spring. Hope to see you!



1 comment:

pdxknitterati/MicheleLB said...

Those are sweet mitts! Just right for spring. Thanks for sharing your design process with us. Mine is pretty varied. Sometimes yarn tells me what it wants, but it can take months. Sometimes I'm so in love with a technique (entrelac) or a stitch pattern, it wants to be used on many different things. But there's always backstory.