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.
Michele Wang is a New York City based knitwear designer. Her work has been featured in Vogue Knitting and on Quince & Co.’s site. She is currently a member of the Design Team at Brooklyn Tweed. You can find her designs on her Ravelry page and keep up with her on her blog.
People often ask me what my inspiration is when I design knitwear. I always know what I want to end up with, and that’s something wearable and flattering. I also know that I want the process to be interesting. As much as I love the way plain knitting looks, I’m not sure I could design a sweater or accessory with only one simple stitch. It would seem to me like I was setting it up for failure. One of my favorite designs is the Eternity Scarf. Knitters seemed to have really taken to it, and I think it’s because the stitches change throughout the rounds, but never is it complicated. I like the balance of simple and interest.
But, I do find it very difficult to put into words where I find inspiration. I’m very tactile, and I know I have to work with yarn before I can imagine what it could turn into. As part of the Brooklyn Tweed Design Team, I have the luxury of working with the same fiber, in two different yarns. Some would find that boring and mundane. But, I like knowing what I’m dealing with, and more often than not it still surprises me.
Often, I sit with a big bowl of water in front of me, and throw swatches in as I finish knitting them. I can do this for days. I pull out my stash of yarn with a pile of stitch dictionaries, turn on the TV and begin knitting. I try not to judge a swatch until it’s been blocked. It’s easy to stop a few rows in and decide a swatch isn’t working. But, you never know. Some swatches have turned into designs and they may have started out with my nose turned up at them.
Once I’m done swatching, and have blocked and dried them, I’ll flip through all my swatches like I’m going fabric shopping. I’ve created quite a library at this point, and much to my delight, I often find usable swatches in my old collection. I begin thinking about how a stitch pattern would lay on a garment, or if it would be better used on an accessory.
I suppose you could say my inspiration is the yarn itself. I love looking at the swatches, squishing them between my fingers, and holding them up to my dress form placing it over different areas. The swatch is usually the starting point for me. And the yarn determines whether or not a particular stitch pattern will work.
Yarn is an incredibly versatile and textural medium. It can never be flat, no matter the fiber or construction. And it usually wants to be full, especially wool. So I’m drawn to stitch patterns that really feed into this. You’ll see a lot of cabling in my designs, because I think it shows off wool the best. Once wool is wet-blocked, it really blooms and fills in any negative space you may have had while knitting. I love how it really fluffs up and makes cables pop. This inherent quality in yarn is why I’m more drawn to texture in knitting than I am to color. I love working with a blank slate, a neutral color, and working it up, with textures. While color can immediately attract someone visually, I like attracting the knitter with their sense of touch.