Saturday, September 3, 2011

Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear but forgetting where you heard it.

-Laurence J. Peter

As a tech editor for magazines, yarn companies and independent designers, I’ve worked on over 200 knitting patterns in the past year. These patterns were for all sorts of projects, from many different designers. No two patterns are the same.

As a designer, I’ve created about 2 dozen knitting patterns for magazines and yarn companies so far in 2011. With any luck, I’ll deliver 8-10 more projects before the year is done. These range from sweaters to socks, lampshades to shawls.

How is it possible to make each project new? How can each design be special and unique? How do I make sure my own designs are not simply a regurgitation of someone else’s idea?

It’s an on going dilemma. I believe we are influenced by everything that surrounds us. Each image and experience becomes fodder for the creative machine. Every time I look through a magazine, browse in a shop, look at people on the street, watch a movie or read a blog post, I’m absorbing information about style, trends, color, pattern, silhouette and construction.

I’ve talked to designers who actively avoid looking at other people’s work. They don’t look at knitting magazines or books because they don’t want to have to wonder if a new idea is really their own.

Since tech editing is how I pay my bills, this really isn’t an option for me. I look at other designers’ work every day. I notice interesting stitch patterns and cool techniques, and I appreciate the way they are used. Not only do I look at pictures and instructions, I often have the actual sample at hand, so I can examine the details up close. There is no avoiding the influence of other people’s work for me.

Knitting is essentially a simple process. Most designs are combinations of old, familiar stitch patterns in classic garment shapes. With a few notable exceptions, there is little in knitting that is truly innovative or original. We all stand on the shoulders of the writers and designers who have come before, adapting and tweaking and modifying their work until it becomes something new and different.

I’m grateful that the work I do allows me to see and to celebrate the work of other designers. Editing allows me to crawl inside their heads for a while, and see how they did what they did. It informs my own design work, broadening the range of techniques and methods I use.

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

- C. S. Lewis

On the knitting front, I did give in and begin a sweater using my handspun, though this was hardly a smooth process. I started and ripped out 3 times before finding the combination of yarn and stitch pattern that felt right.

The silk and merino I originally planned to use with the Cormo just didn’t work. The Cormo is happy on a size 7 needle, which made the silk/merino feel cramped and stiff. I dug around and found some nearly black Romney-cross 2-ply that I spun last year. This yarn was a good gauge match for the Cormo and I knit happily away until I could no longer deny the fact that the stark color contrast wasn’t making me happy. Back to the stash. I came up with some BFL 2-ply in a blend of natural brown and white called “humbug”. It is the perfect intermediary between the creamy white Cormo and the almost black Romney.

See the special Cooperative Press Sock Summit bag peeking out from behind?

After all that experimentation, I’ve not made much progress on the actual sweater, but the lower border is done. Isn’t it pretty? The lack of progress doesn’t bother me a bit. I’ve had the pleasure of knitting with my handspun, and I’ve learned that the 3-ply Cormo can take a lot of ripping out without any ill effects.

The handspun sweater is now living in a bag while I work with the yarn that, as expected, arrived this week. A couple of spring tops and an afghan, all due by October 1, are underway.

Currently on my spinning wheel, the lovely BFL from Miss Babs at the top of this post. After the white Cormo, I’m taking great pleasure in the deep rich color of this fiber.

Kollage Yarns Luscious, Milky Whey, and Riveting Worsted. How lucky am I? Pretty darn lucky.

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