Knitting designer series: I invited a few of my favourite knitwear designers to discuss their design process and inspiration and to share some tips and ideas too.
Amy Christoffers is a knitwear designer who lives with Mister Christoffers, Small Boy and a Merle The Cat in a tiny house in the mountains of Vermont. She sells knitting patterns on Ravelry and publishes with Interweave Knits, Knitscene, Twist Collective, O-Wool and Brooklyn Tweed. To see what she’s been up most recently please visit Savory Knitting.
A new project begins with a fully formed idea, swatches and sketches, notes and schematics. There is a lot of intention and sometimes it really was a good idea to start with. But the details are all wrong, or the yarn is really just too… too something. It doesn’t want to be that idea. When things go well I figure this out pretty quickly hopefully a few inches into it. When things go less well I am staring at a finished sweater on a dress form when it dawns on me: this didn’t work out, I have to unravel it and start over.
Making clothes started by the time I was 4. I began making ball gowns for Barbie dolls using scraps of old sheets from my Grandmother’s rag drawer and scotch tape. When I got frustrated because the tape didn’t hold, my Gram took pity on me and taught me to sew. A year later I was proudly parading around the house in dresses I made myself from altered pillowcases and by 8 I had (finally) succeeded in my lobby for a sewing machine. It took several more years for my skill level to catch up with my enthusiasm but I never stopped. In college I switched to knitting when the cramped circumstances of shared apartments made sewing nearly impossible. There was a skein of lavender mohair, it was love at first sight and I have never looked back.
Today we are lucky if we had grandmothers, or mothers able to teach us how to knit or sew. The tradition of making your own clothes has largely been lost in just the last generation with the influx of inexpensive off the rack clothing. There is an increasing awareness of the pitfalls of cheap t-shirts. Without even getting (too) political about the ‘fast fashion’ issues of employment practices, environmental pollution and economic parity there is something alarming about the garment industry when a factory minimum order can start anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000 identical t-shirts. Who really wants to be 1 of 50,000? Then there is the flip side, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States disposes of 12.7 tons of textiles (clothes) ever year. That is about 68 lbs per person, per year. For reference one adult women’s sweater typically weighs about a pound give or take.
The waste, the dissatisfaction of a closet full of mass-produced stuff that doesn’t quite fit, or isn’t quite right is bringing back the enthusiasm for making things ourselves. Since the Industrial Revolution, artists have turned to pre-industrial crafts like woodworking, pottery, weaving or needlework in resistance to mass production in day-to-day life. Arts and Crafts 1890’s architect, William Price, called this “The Art that is Life”, today, it is “Slow Design”. The message is the same — we need to create thoughtful, beautiful things that function and enrich our daily lives.
In the past making and using handmade things was a fact of life, today it’s a luxury. In an era where licensing deals have made reduced “luxury” to ubiquitous logos and “brand identities” making your own clothes is the ultimate: Taking the time to spend on the tactile act of making, paying attention to, and adding, all the details lost to mass production.
I am a product knitter. While I can admire the beauty of an elaborate lace shawl or the well-engineered wizardry of clever socks; novel construction and technical virtuosity do not particularly interest me. My goal is to make clothes. Real clothes: a sweater to wear to work, to dinner and to the grocery store. If it doesn’t work with nearly everything in my wardrobe then it didn’t work and I will usually unravel it and try again. What I love most about yarn is how forgiving it is. Make a mistake: fix it. Make an ugly project: unravel it. The ability to do-over is something else I learned from my Grandmother, if it isn’t right do it again (and again and again), until it is. Nothing is wasted if you learned from it.