FN2N, part 6 | Design Process 4: Curation

Two strawberries from my garden last year, just ripe for picking.

The action or process of selecting, organising, and looking after the items in a collection or exhibition;
The selection of performers or performances that will feature in an arts event or programme;
The selection, organisation and presentation of online content, merchandise, information, etc., typically using expert knowledge.

The online OED definition of curation, accessed 1st March 2021.

I took a bit of time thinking about the title of the final design process post, partly because the word I wanted to use – and ended up using – has a certain whiff about it.  Yet, it is exactly right, and it is what designers do when they begin to make their final decisions about what will and won’t be seen by the world.  Curation.

The quote above is the online OED’s definition of curation; just look at the number of times the word ‘selection’ is repeated.  Based on that, you wouldn’t guess that ‘curation’ and ‘cure’ had exactly the same root, would you?  But they do.

A lone red strawberry, freshly watered. Several smaller unripe green strawberries are unfocused in the background.

Curation is derived from the Latin noun cura, which means ‘care’.  Curare is the Latin verb meaning ‘take care of’, ‘concern’, ‘responsibility’, ‘cover’, ‘cleanse’.  In addition to cure, curfew is another related word, meaning ‘cover fire’; a medieval regulation that required fires to be extinguished at a fixed hour in the evening – “lights out!” – when most townspeople would be asleep in their wooden homes.

The curfew facilitated rest as well as fire safety, which makes it even sadder to think that its word sibling is often an active gatekeeping role that has been very good at igniting people’s tempers and excluding communities.  Curation does not mean acting as a custodian, putting things and people in boxes.  There is an element of selection and editing, because you choose what you think is your best work, and you also organise and look after it by presenting it in its best light.  In short, you treat your designs with care.

As we discussed in the last post, directors pull the strings.  You are your own creative director, so you get to decide what fits your vision or narrative.  It doesn’t mean that whatever you choose to omit is flawed; sometimes it just means that it’s not what’s needed right now, and you’ll talk about it at another time of your choosing.  There are no right or wrong answers because there are no binaries.  If you have created a beautiful colour scheme or complex fairisle repeat, the silhouette of your garment might be very simple so that the stitches can really shine and there are no shaping details to distract the eye.  If you have interesting style lines or shaping details, you could make them a main feature or choose a stitch texture that highlights them beautifully.

[Image credits: top centre left, centre right and right, Jesse Wild; bottom left and middle right, A.G. Collymore]

In the top left of this tiled gallery you can see six of the swatches I developed whilst working on the Something to Knit Together Winter Edition, published by Arnall-Culliford Knitwear. I knitted many more swatches than this, but for this project the final decision was all mine; I took the time to look at all the swatches and consider what best captured my intentions. Note that each swatch has had only one or two details changed, showing how much difference small details make. They also relate to the squared paper I shared last week, which is in the bottom right corner.

I ended up choosing the swatches with cables because, although interesting, the non-cabled swatches would be less effective when worked up as garments or knitted on a larger scale. Scale is an important consideration for design development because it is easy to get tunnel vision when making swatches or sewing half-scale toiles. I always knit large swatches so that I can get a sense of the fabric, the handle, the pattern – all the factors that make a big difference to the finished design.

Amongst other things, this allowed me to see that the ribbed texture would be more effective on the Fond mittens and Huddle hat rather than the Unite sweater and Reunite cardigan; on a larger scale, the ribbing might be too ‘busy’ and the eye would need a rest from the cables and garter stitch. When doing any kind of visual design, space is a value too, just as silence or rests have meaning for composers of music. It could be just my brain, but I don’t distinguish between writing music and designing knitwear; I tend to think of visual design as music for the eyes. Although a different sense is engaged, the brain processes the art in much the same way. It’s all composition.

A semi-ripe strawberry, glistening with water droplets.

How do designers come to such conclusions about their work?  If you have been steadfast about the design process as a whole and held onto the integrity of your vision, at this point you look over your inspiration, innovation, and development work and make executive decisions about what is or what is not right for your design or collection.  Curation is not a selection or editorial process; it is a means of opening a dialogue so that you can evaluate intentions and progress, or – to put it another way – be sure that you’re singing from the same hymn sheet.  Have your thoughts and feelings changed since you began this project?  This is a time to reflect.

Beware of sweeping statements about what you should or should not have or should or should not do: they are just boxes, and we don’t like those around here.  At best, blanket statements are vaguely acceptable when you’ve settled into your design self and developed cursive writing, or those running threads that make your work cohesive and identifiable.  No two fingerprints are the same, and no two designers are the same.  You are as unique as your point of view.  Don’t forget that the architects of blanket statements won’t necessarily have a representative view; at best, they will have an informed opinion, but by what has that opinion been (in)formed?  Is it just pre-emptive feedback?  Have they seen and experienced the same things you have?  And even if there are commonalities, will you have seen and processed these experiences in the same way?  It’s doubtful.  Choose colours, lines and themes that work for you.

At the heart of this is unity.  I am talking about wheels within wheels; how the songs on an album are articles in their own right and capable of standing alone, yet connected as part of a larger entity.  Part of the care or curation process is getting your designs ready for the world, and apart from your creative intentions, this means making sure the pattern is accessible.  Is it well written and laid out?  (Kate Atherley has a book for that; see photo above, and confer with your technical editor.)  Does it have an acceptable size range?  (Have another look at the size charts I mentioned a few weeks ago, and confer with your pattern grader.)  Do you need to find a group of test knitters?  The list goes on.  If these sentiments sound vaguely familiar, it’s because I wrote the following in post 3, Inspiration:

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

From Needle to Needle part 3, Design Process 1: Inspiration

By then it may be a question of building a box for yourself instead of seeing whether or not you fit into a prefabricated one.  If it doesn’t fit, don’t sit.  Plus, other people might like your box and find it very comfortable, or they might be inspired to build their own after seeing what’s possible.  By curating – caring and creating space for your own work – you give others permission to do the same, and to treat you with the care that you’ve extended to them.

Freshly harvested strawberries in the palm of my hand, dotted with tiny clumps of wet soil.

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