FN2N, part 3 | Design Process 1: Inspiration

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White floribunda roses from my garden.

The last couple of posts in the From Needle to Needle series have covered context: the key roles in the pattern production process and discussed something of the current challenges for handknitting designers.  This is a bit of a series within a series discussing the stages of design process, beginning with design inspiration. As this mini-series goes on, you’ll see why adequate industry support is so important.

Design is an interdisciplinary subject with care and communication at its heart.  The most powerful, well-loved and transformative designs connect humans together, but there are several starting points.  You don’t necessarily have to be good at painting or drawing, but you do have to be good at articulating your thoughts.  Don’t edit until further down the line; treat it more like a brain dump, let it all go.  When you’re in full flow, embrace it and don’t second-guess yourself.  The inspiration stage is when your brain is firing on all cylinders, so don’t short-circuit yourself.  Save refinement for when your brain is ‘cooler’, later on in the design process.

There are lots of approaches to design, or roots of ideas.  Inspiration can strike anywhere, but the key is to be honest about what interests you.  You will automatically have more to say when you are true to yourself.  If you don’t yet know what you like or are interested in, take your time finding out.  There’s no rush.  But if you’re really stuck, here are nine examples:

  • Aesthetic/visual: Seeing something beautiful or unusual
  • Conceptual/abstract: embodying symbolism or ideas
  • Curiosity: What might happen if I try X?
  • History/literature: People of the past, stories, costume, narratives
  • Lived experience: Maternity wear, life-changing events or illness
  • Memorable events: Something profoundly moving
  • Problem solving: How can I make X better?
  • Socio-political/cultural: commentaries, references to contemporary events.
  • Yarn: Sometimes the yarn is the germ and you just HAVE to create something to show it off!
Skeins of beautiful yarn: sometimes the qualities of the yarn itself can inform or inspire you. L-R: Rose gold merino worsted by The Periwinkle Sheep; Keswick Aran and Keswick DK by Eden Cottage Yarns

Sometimes it can be a combination of two or more of these; sometimes you might be inspired one way for one design, and another way for one design.  But no matter your starting point, know that your desire to create comes from a primitive impulse to share, communicate and nurture.  “I made this because I thought…”

…it would make you happy…

…I could improve or innovate something…

…something else was beautiful and I wanted to capture it somehow…

…_________________________ you fill in the blank. 

What do you want to say with your design?  How are you trying to connect with people?

The best designs are NOT egocentric; the best designs are empathetic.  Not necessarily altruistic, because altruism involves an element of self-sacrifice – and that’s not always the way to go.  Don’t work in a way that sacrifices too much time or energy.  Self-care is vital for creatives because the act of creating takes a lot of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy.  You cannot pour from an empty cup, so remember that when you’re in demand 😊

You can draw on your own background to tell more powerful stories, but be prepared for the feelings that may bubble up as you find ways to connect with people, or as you find or wait for the right expression.  For example, trauma has led to some powerful work: Sylvia Plath, Amy Winehouse, Donny Hathaway.  Make sure you have plenty of support: creating and designing is an emotional process, and the physicality of it – particularly with something crafty like knitting (also drawing, painting, playing a musical instrument) that relies on muscle memory – will stir things up as you feel your way through the project and articulate the message. Creative power doesn’t always feed on negative emotions; joy can be equally powerful.

My escallonia shrub. I love flowers, and the colours and shapes of flowers influence my design work. I take lots of photos of flowers in my garden every week to remind myself of their beauty.

Deep feelings may also bubble up if you were held back or discouraged about your abilities, frustrated by lack of support or knowledge; or that you are so excited about the prospect of getting to fulfil a dream, and you feel that now is your time to shine! Perhaps part of your motivation is creating and holding space for yourself and others; space that was denied for some reason. Everyone has their reasons for designing, so take the time to find yours: it will be unique. Never mind what other people appear to be doing. Your voice and its message must be undiluted.

However you approach design, and whatever you have to say for yourself, make sure you have a means of recording your ideas. Keep a journal, have someone to talk to, get some fresh air – find things to do that will allow you to discharge and metabolise energy blockages. Get it out of your system – express it, express yourself. By doing this you filter out the chaff, grit and sediment, keeping the golden grains and seeds of your ideas. Make sure you keep the seeds! You’ll need them later on. <3

FN2N, part 3 | Design Process 1: Inspiration

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Natalie in Stitches

I design size inclusive knitting patterns for clothes makers who want their garments to fit well. Clothes should serve you, not the other way around. You alter clothes to fit you, not alter yourself to fit the clothes. I also teach people how to sew, how to design knitwear, and am currently creating a comprehensive, year-long knitwear design course, covering everything from illustration to pattern grading. If you're enjoying my content, you can get more by following me on Instagram or Pinterest @natalieinstitches, or signing up to my newsletter. Thank you for reading!

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