Knitting designer series: Minimalist aesthetic

by kath_red on 05/11/2012

in Guest series Knitting 2012, knitting+crochet+yarn

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.

Kirsten Johnstone is an Architect based in Melbourne, Australia. She uses yarn, fabric and photography to explore her modern Architectural aesthetic on a smaller scale. She has an eye for flattering forms that are deceptively simple yet frequently transformable; designs with a distinctive urban edge yet elegantly wearable. Website :: Ravelry

Thank you to Kathreen for inviting me to share a little of my creative process. It has been interesting to consider my design process and I’ve also enjoyed reading about other knitting designer’s approaches.

My creative process is not a prescribed process. One design does not necessarily replicate the same gestational path as another. On occasion, it can prove a quite linear progression from sketched design concept with clearly envisioned yarn, swatching, pattern writing and prototyping. However, more frequently, it is not so logical!

Principally, I use a black leather Moleskin to document sketches and doodles, inspirational images, swatch results, miscellaneous information.

  • All jammed in at random.
  • Dating the entry (if I remember).
  • Updating To Make Lists.
  • My Bi-Annual Craft Camp Wish Lists (always longer than I could possibly achieve in a weekend of mad sewing!)
  • With the List-maker’s delight in faithfully striking through the notation upon completion.
  • Sometimes the beginnings of patterns are written in.
  • Crossed out.
  • Updated.
  • Tweaked.

Like others, I keep all my old sketch books and love looking back at them occasionally, remembering the scribbles and jottings of another time.

Where do my design ideas stem from? They can be the obvious inspirational image from a magazine or online. But more likely I’ve seen someone wearing something that triggers a design thought – it is usually something obscure like the hem or neckband of a sewn garment. Or an applied detail that I ponder in yarn. Or a complete outfit that somehow resonates with me; the attitude or angle of elements of the ensemble.

From a sketch I swatch with yarn. Sometimes the reverse happens: a design idea forms as I work the needles of a new yarn I’m itching to use or experience. That tactility of the knitted yarn prompts ideas that are then worked into a sketch, then reworked as a more fully developed concept. For example, my first design for Brooklyn Tweed’s Wool People developed literally from the swatch. I made an elongated stocking stitch swatch using 3 different needle sizes. Upon washing and drying the swatch, I wrapped it around my arm, then reverse wrapped it around my arm and voila! The “striped” or “banded” reverse stocking stitch concept drove the garment design.

My more minimalist aesthetic means I tend towards knitted stitches that result in a continuous textile: stocking stitch, garter stitch, twisted stocking stitch, float stitch, rib. I like the yarn itself to take the leading role in the design (often the driving force in the formation of the design in the first place as mentioned). My designs feature the yarn rather than an intricate stitch detail. I tend to use yarns that have exquisite qualities in fibre, texture, stitch definition, tactility.

I then draw my schematic design in Autocad, the Architectural drafting package I use in my other life. On occasion, I print it out at full scale and cut a fabric prototype to test the proportion, size and fit of my design (I learnt to sew from a very young age and is my first craft love). My body is my model: this especially works as my designs are usually pieces I envision for myself and I have only very recently acquired a dressmaker’s form.

When I’m satisfied with the swatch and overall design, I simply cannot wait to cast on! I am attempting to improve my discipline and write the pattern BEFORE I start knitting but I can admit I sometimes measure up the printed paper design and get going! Once I have put the draft pattern into written format, I print that out to keep with me; stapled with the draft garment schematic and any other information, kept together with my knitting prototype: marking it up as I go, writing in extra information, editing.

During the final stages of the knitted prototype, I invariably lose confidence. Kick myself for starting this particular piece. Wonder what on earth I was thinking. All the self talk you can imagine! Occasionally, I seek feedback from a couple of close knitting friends. Invariably, I press on and am always pleased with the finished product. And always laugh at myself at the end thinking how yet again I didn’t trust my initial instincts.

Top photo credit: Tamara Erbacher, all other photos are by Kirsten Johnstone.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Suzanne November 5, 2012 at 9:35 am

How cool to use Autocad to draw up a knitting design!


2 sharon November 7, 2012 at 3:56 am

great article … thank you kirsten for a view into your creative process!


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