Originally published on 24th October 2016
Please welcome my latest design for Knitting magazine: the Westcott shawl!
This reminder of early summer crept up on me nicely. I worked on this back in June-July, which is a normal lead time for commissions like this. However, it also means that you have ample time to move on with life and get stuck into a myriad of other things; so much so that you forget the publication date of something that almost consumed your life a few months earlier! Nonetheless, Westcott has perked up my cold October days, ideal for a teacher in the throes of a brand new academic year.
When I got the Softest Knits brief from Christine I immediately thought of designing a shawl: something that would suit most folk and wrap them up warmly against the cold, but the yarn specifications called for glamour. I then thought about combining comfort with glamour, and quickly found my way to Barbara Walker’s Treasury series for vintage leafy or floral patterns. My idea was to create something beautiful and cosy; lacy, but not meshlike; and to have clean, simple lines. Detail would be added on the border rather than all over the main body of the shawl.
With that, initial swatching kicked off. Most knitters save their yarn scraps for blankets and toys; I save mine for design swatches! The test yarn is a DK wool and silk blend, chosen for ease. It also has the advantage of letting one know whether the design in mind is really going to take off in the chosen yarn. I knew I wanted a fine, lacy yarn for the final design, but at times beautiful yarns have a way of doing all the hard work. Handled well, they will make any project look good! So I reasoned that if the test swatches looked halfway decent in a smooth, evenly twisted, well-behaved DK yarn, they should look pretty damn good in a lofty laceweight. In the image on the left, the first idea for the side panel is in the foreground; on the needles in the background is an idea one step from the arrangement I ultimately chose.
Next step: raid the stash again and get some yarn that’s the real deal. Here’s how that went, and you can also see here the first iteration of the crochet border:
So far, so happy. The sinuous lines were synthesising beautifully: curves in the dayflower pattern, curves in the mock cable, curves in the scalloped border. Their softness mirrors the gentle drape of the yarn and the soft comfort only a shawl can bring as it moves with you, but without clinging or fitting closely. Equally, I wanted the shaping to be well integrated, innocuous if not hidden: the column of eyelet increases in the side panel echo the lines of the flower panel, whilst the stocking stitch gives the eye a breather and allows the pattern all around it the space to shine. I do think it’s possible to overdo it where texture and pattern are concerned; any kind of composition needs moments of quiet, if not pause. Otherwise, it’s all just noise and no rhythm.
Content with that arrangement, I moved on to sketching. I’ve always felt nervous about sketching, largely because I trained as a writer and not an artist. I am constantly nagged by the question of whether I can communicate equally well with images and words. It used to be a real thorn in my side. The issue isn’t resolved by any means, but I keep repeating to myself, “Draw what you see.” The pencil is my first port of call, my comfort blanket, and I feel I have more freedom when mark-making this way, but I don’t mind trying ink if I get a hunch to do so. One day, I will take some proper classes. For now, I’ll be happy with the notion that people seem to understand what I’m getting at when I present them with a sketch!
Below are a couple of videos I made whilst I was working. The first film of the eyelets is me trying to replicate (and to an extent simplify) the detail of the swatch photographed on the left. Often, with knit, there is an element of selectivity when translating your ideas across paper, swatch and CAD if that gets involved. It is impossible to get quite all the detail in without the artwork looking messy or cluttered, so I usually end up placing the knitting in front of me, closing my eyes for a few seconds, then opening them again. I then make a mental note of the details that first caught my eye, and those tend to be the focus of the sketch. In the case of the side panel, the column of eyelets and the bias line of the stocking stitch did it for me.
The sketch is the last task on the to-do list when tendering a submission. After a final look at the finished drawing and how well it relates to the swatches – the swatches are also photographed and sent along with the sketch – it was time for a break. The conceptual part of the design process was done; after waiting for feedback, it would be time to make the idea a reality. But so far, I was happy with how the idea was coming together and I felt that I had made a decent stab at presenting it.
Next week, I’ll be back with part two and sharing the making or realisation process. Getting ideas down on paper and formed into squares of yarn is one thing – but creating them into something tangible and wearable is something else altogether! Until next time… 🙂
A versatile shawl with striking back panel detail