Personally, I have to do a lot of warming up before I can sit down and think about a design. I really don’t know how other designers approach their collections or individual pieces. I know some start with the actual garment in their head and fill in the pieces from there. But I’m realizing I like to start small and work out.
Usually, I start with the yarn. Fortunately I work with the same yarn most of the time. But when I don’t and have to familiarize myself with the fiber, I start simply with a lot of touching and tugging. I really like to figure out whether or not the fiber has any elasticity and if so, how much. Since my preferred fiber is 100% wool, I always compare it to that. I don’t think there’s any other natural fiber as elastic as wool. I don’t know if elastic is the right word, but natural wool has that natural “give” that lends enough flexibility to each stitch as you work it, and the right amount of body to a knit garment.
It’s easy to love Shelter and Loft. To me, it’s the perfect starting point. And they invite me to use them and work with them. Of course not every single stitch pattern is going to work with these yarns. Because of their gentle ply, the wool naturally blooms as you work with it and even more once it’s blocked. It makes for the most heavenly fabric, but sometimes stitch patterns aren’t defined enough. Knowing this, swatching is the next most essential step for me in the design process.
I’ll start by flipping through my many many stitch dictionaries and see what catches my eye. I’ve noticed that what catches my eye on one day, isn’t necessarily what attracts me the next. I wind up some yarn, pull out my books, plop in front of the TV and start swatching. I can sometimes go through two skeins of yarn, just swatching away getting to know the yarn better and better with each stitch, and with each swatch.
I try not to decide whether or not I like a swatch until it’s been wet-blocked and completely dry. Untreated, natural fibers tend to transform once they’ve been wet-blocked, so I like to hold off on any opinion until then. They haven’t shown me their true colors yet. So what I like to do is fill up a big bowl of water, pour some Soak wool wash in, and put it on my coffee table as I swatch. Once I bind off, I throw the swatch in. I’ll do this all day, sometimes two… sometimes three.
Once I’m through swatching, I let the swatches sit even longer and eventually drain the water and roll them all up in one huge swatch burrito to squeeze out the excess water. I lay out all my blocking mats, pin them all down, totally hog up the entire dining table for the next two days and let them dry out.
When I know they’re dry I try to approach them with a fresh eye. Sometimes I don’t even remember what I’ve swatched. I unpin them, and pile them up and start flipping through them like I’m shopping for fabric. This is my favorite part of the entire process. It’s really like I’m seeing them for the first time. There are always the clear winners. And with the stitch pattern I used for Wellwood, it was a definite clear winner.
Once I lay out the swatches that I like, I try to imagine where they would work best. The pattern used for Wellwood played many different parts. A trim? A striped band? Just the sleeves? Top half? Bottom half?
But, eventually a few ideas start to really stick. When I look at a swatch, so many ideas start to swirl, but only a few really stand out. And to really determine what I’m going to try, I sketch out some of the ideas. It starts to become more real that way. The idea becomes a vision becomes reality, and you can get a better sense of how it will work. But, more on sketching in another post.
I knew this stitch pattern wouldn’t work as an all over, at least not for me. I thought it would end up looking too busy or too scale-y. So I tried to refine it to an area of a garment. And finally, the bib area of a henley was what won out. The henley silhouette can be very sporty, even a little masculine. It reminds me of a baseball shirt. Anyway, I thought the patterning coupled with a deeper opening would be a nice feminine touch.
I plan to write more about how I approach design focusing on other designs in the latest BT Fall 12 collection. If there are any would-be designers out there, I hope to demystify the process for you by sharing my experiences and hopefully inspire you to start designing some of your own knitwear.