The development phase is usually the longest stage of the design process because it’s when you start transmuting ideas from imagination into reality. The frustration never gets old! That said, you owe it to yourself to not turn away; testing and swatching is yet another opportunity for innovation. Don’t shrink by playing safe or worrying about what people will think about your honesty and authenticity. Sometimes people judge themselves too harshly or lose heart, but don’t let lack of confidence sway you, and don’t second guess yourself. Take all the time you need.
At this point it’s helpful to go back to your notes, doodles, sketches, or whatever you used to document the inspiration stage and remind yourself of your design intentions. What do you want to say, express or articulate with your work? With knitting (and crochet too), you’re aiming to speak with colour, pattern and texture; know that if you can find the words, you can find the stitches. Only the medium of communication has changed: you are learning and using a different language, that’s all.
This is especially important if you are focusing on representation or telling the (his)stories of people silenced by mainstream (read: oppressive) historical narratives. Take excellent care not to perpetuate the pattern of oppression; don’t be afraid to dig deep, and mind that your treatment of yourself isn’t harmful. It can be difficult to recognise abusive or damaging treatment when you have been born into it and spent a lifetime adapting to it. If a people or culture have had their power and agency impounded – cumulatively – it will take a long-term, concerted effort to recover their use. Your work is directly connected to that collective effort, so don’t stop now.
As a side note, this is another reason for not relying on stitch libraries for copy and paste jobs. Instead, use them as a starting point for further development in conjunction with other, directly relevant, sources of inspiration or primary research. In formal terms, stitch libraries are secondary research, or the product of research and development that has been conducted by someone else – in this case, another knitter – but secondary research also applies to information such as sizing charts and other designers’ work that you might bear in mind whilst developing your own.
On the other hand, primary research is the product of investigation and development you do yourself, which is more important for anyone producing original work. I would recommend that you get things set in your own head insofar as inspiration and innovation before looking at other designers’ work to see what’s already out there. That way, you are less likely to be distracted or influenced by something that has gone before, and more likely to respond to and engage with it critically and objectively.
You might gather that this is really a statement about authenticity and power dynamics. Are you the kind of person who always adapts themselves to their present company, waiting to see what everyone else has to say for themselves before crafting a response that you think will be acceptable to the group? Or are you the kind of person who is happy for others to take you or leave you, and patient enough to wait for kindred spirits to manifest in your life? John Berger had this to say about the language of images via sexual politics, but it can apply to any power dynamic:
A man’s presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you. His presence may be fabricated…. But the pretence is always towards a power which he exercises on others.John Berger, Ways of Seeing, pp.45-47
To be born a woman has to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men…. But this has been at the cost of a woman’s self being split in two. A woman must continually watch herself.
She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others…is of crucial importance…. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another.
One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.
You may not see people you identify with portrayed in mainstream media, but that lack of representation does not invalidate your sense of self. What you see in the media is not a reflection of who you or the people you represent are; it is how you are seen through the eyes of the people behind the cameras: the photographers, casting directors, writers – people who control the narrative. Design, or any compositional art such as music, cooking writing, and film, allows you to control the narrative. You are producing original work. You call the shots and give an account of yourself. That’s why it’s so important to speak your truth. You never know how many people you will help and liberate by doing so.
That’s why the development stage is often one of the longest, and why designing takes time. There can be a lot of chopping and changing, going back and forth, testing, retesting – you name it, it’ll be there. You’ll be trying out different yarns, needle or hook sizes, placements and positions, methods of shaping, increasing and decreasing, scales and rhythms of repeats – all in pursuit of that “Eureka!” moment that tells you when you’ve done enough, you’ve found the right words, of that this design or theme has said all it’s going to say (for now?). Yes: sometimes the design itself leads the way, and you are the conduit or vessel for its realisation. Either way, don’t be afraid of the new.
Imagination is not to be feared; it is part of what makes us human. It is the key to freedom, so bring it to life. Think of the development phase as your time to find the right words, to say things as you want them to be said, to show things as they really are. And if the vocabulary doesn’t exist, invent it! That’s how languages work, and that’s how we know they’re alive. Any lexicographer or etymologist will tell you what it means to have a living language. Design is a language of the senses. Words come into use and fall into disuse as proof of (r)evolution – and curation. More about curation next week.
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