I'm going to tell you a secret to my design work. It's probably the most important part of my process, and yet, it may seem insignificant. An essential part of my designing is not designing; it's doing nothing. I very easily become obsessed with doing the next project, finding the right stitch pattern & yarn, then getting the pattern worked out. I feel a constant pressure, because for every project I start to work on, I have the inspiration for 10 more. I work at another job as well as doing the online store, and teaching classes, so the time I have for knitting up my designs & writing patterns is very limited. It's really hard for me to take what precious design time I have, and choose to do nothing with it, but if I don't my work suffers. There is a magic to the creativity & inspiration that help me imagine what yarn could become as it travels through my hands and needles. Putting down my needles, packing up my yarn, and resting my mind & spirit gives breath to that ineffable world from which these designs evolve. In the letting go of self inflicted deadlines, and rigid ideas of how projects should work out; I find a softness and playfulness and joy again. This delightfulness can then be infused into my creations bringing them, and myself, more life. The work I do after doing "nothing" is easier, and truer to my vision. Solutions to problems come faster, so finishing patterns happens quicker with fewer mistakes.
It seems totally counter-intuitive, but experience has taught me that doing nothing actually allows me to accomplish more, better work than spending every available moment struggling through my designs. Try it for yourself. The next time a project is frustrating or exhausting you, put it away and rest, even if it is the only knitting time you have for the day. Refresh, then notice the increased quality of your work, and the renewed ability you have to problem solve as you knit your way through a pattern. "Knitting" or "Designing" time can mean putting your needles down, putting your feet up, and staring into the fire as you sip tea & daydream.
OK, ok I've avoided brioche for as long as I can. I don't know if it's the complexity of the stitching, or the fact that it is extremely popular right now, and I've always avoided things that are trendy. Whatever the reason I have spent a lot of my time running away from any project that involves brioche. Recently, I've had reason to revisit brioche knitting, and I have to say the results have been delightful! I'm still frustrated by the extra time and yarn involved to make anything with this technique, but I'm very pleased to have it in my repertoire. I have developed an appreciation and affection for this handsome stitch work, and I'm certain it will continue to find a place in my designs.
My knitting friends will tell you I have a huge problem with Startitis. I design and cast on projects at a furious pace. Problem is I'm forever dropping one project in favour of another shiny new one. This means for every finished project, I have 3 more cast on. Sometimes I have reevaluate the situation, and curb my cravings for new projects.
I saw the hashtag #100daysoffinishingwips last week, and I decided to jump on board. So far I finished a sweater that needed the ends sewn in and buttons, and I got a hat knit for my nephew. Then, although I did cast the next project on, this second cowl was a correction of a design that was in progress, so it wasn't really starting a new project...right?
Then the yarn arrived for a blanket I'm designing for a contest. Suddenly, I'm facing a dilemma. The blanket needs to be finished by mid May, so I needed to cast on immediately. Yesterday that is exactly what I did.
And thus 100 days of finishing WIPs was quickly cut to 5 days.
Now I'm wondering why I felt the need to put myself in that straight jacket. I often feel guilty about my non-linear progression towards my projects' completions, but life is not linear, logical, and controlled. Priorities shift as circumstances evolve. I choose ride the shifting winds of creativity, and change directions as I fly.
So as of today, to hell with rigid adherence to a hashtag overlord! I through off the shackles of linear tyranny, and dance gleefully through the blossoming fields of WIPs. FREEDOM!
Susan Stephens of Sydney Australia recently posted a photo of herself wearing a sweater she had knit as an homage to a very special family heirloom. In the photo she is holding up her Grandfather's jumper (sweater) that inspired the design. Here is the extraordinary story of her Grandfather's WWI jumper written by Susan.
A jumper with a proud history
One hundred years ago my grandfather Hedley Stephens sailed to Europe to defend his country. He had never left his homeland before, and would have had absolutely no idea of what he would be facing in what we now know as The Great War. After a training exercise in Egypt, he was moved to France. During a battle in late May 1916, he was caught in No Mans Land. He was horribly injured and disorientated and crawled to what he thought was the Australian trenches, when he realised the men were speaking German.
So he was captured and spent the next two and a half years as a Prisoner of War. While he was in a camp in Dulmen, Germany, a fellow Australian Prisoner of War knitted him a jumper. It was knitted from scraps of wool from worn out clothing using wires as needles. The jumper was knitted from the top down in a circular method, with cables front and back - the cables are different in the front to the back. As a knitter of many years I admire the quality and skills of the work.
The jumper was one of grandfathers most prized possessions. It is still in relatively good condition, it has suffered from a few moth holes and has shrunk from washing over the years, but still gives me much joy to look at and hold. One can only imagine the life and environment of the maker of the jumper - and how it would have given much needed warmth to my grandfather.
I know of another jumper in the War Memorial in Canberra that bears an uncanny resemblance to my Grandfathers, and I think it is likely to have been knitted by the same person. I don't know whether there are any others in existence, or how common it would have been for men to knit in those days.
Some years ago, I laid grandfathers jumper on the lounge next to me and I picked up my knitting needles and I knitted a jumper with a very similar cable design but in a size that fits a 21st century woman rather than a WWI Prisoner of War. It is one of my proudest knitting achievements and one I would like to have shown my grandfather.
Grandfather did come home from the war, and always praised the care that he was given by the German medical team. He married and had 8 children, but through his life he suffered from the injuries he sustained from that day in No Mans Land. He brought home a few items from war - his medals, a camera, a cigarette lighter, a pair of binoculars - but I think that his favourite item was his beloved jumper. I feel proud that I can continue on with this tradition.
I fell in love with Fleece Artist's National Parks yarn the first time I saw it, and so I got the go-ahead to start a design for each colourway. I'm chomping at the bit to get them done, as ideas spring wildly up inspired by the extraordinary colour designs of Jana Dempsey at Fleece Artist, and by the beauty and grandeur of the parks they represent. I only hope I can do both justice with my designs.
Design number two, using the Riding Mountain Park colourway, is underway. After a little hiccup in the design, I think I'm now on the right track. The pattern is called the Audy Tuque, and was inspired by the powerful bison that roam within the Manitoba park.
The first design from Fleece Artist's National Park Merino Slim Collection is off the needles, and heading to testing. Inspired by the rocky walls, and the many waterfalls in the Fjords; this cowl was the first pattern that popped into my imagination. It's called the Western Brook Pond Cowl, and you can see in the photo below, cliff walls reflected in the cables with the flowing glacier waters appearing as a simple lace. I've been to Gros Morne, and I will return very soon. And when I do, they may never get me to leave again.