illustrating knitting

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While I am ironing and packing up Tea Towels this morning, I thought you might be interested to read more about how they were created. I interviewed the amazing Felicity Ford about the process she goes through when producing illustrations of my designs.

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1. I know you have many artistic skillz in all kinds of fields, but had you ever drawn knitting before?

I often make rough sketches in my notebooks for potential garment ideas, but the first time I properly “drew” knitting was when working on the schematics for my own pattern, Layter. I drew a line drawing, scanned it, then started messing about with it on the computer. It wasn’t long before I realised the effect I was after would be much better achieved with an old fashioned set of pencils and paper. So Layter was the first proper drawing I did of knitting… though I can show you some earlier drawings if you’d like to see!

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blayter
(Above: sketching garment construction; below: pleasing hand-drawn diagrams illustrate the construction of Felicity Ford’s Layter and Blayter designs)


2. Does drawing knitted fabric present particular challenges for the artist?

Knitted fabric is 3D and highly structured; it’s not really flat at all when you start to examine it… there is what you see at the front, but also the whole architecture of that fabric, and the way it is comprised of different combinations of loops. Montse Stanley’s classic knitting book has some of the most beautiful drawings of knitted fabric that I can think of, but these are mostly very specific close-ups of different techniques. The challenge when drawing a knitted garment rather than a specific set of stitches, is knowing how much detail to go into. Representing every individual stitch is impractical and unnecessary, but I think specifics like the overall impression of a sleeve cuff or the way a cable travels should really be clear. A schematic has to be instructive, and so I am always thinking about the knitter who will refer to the drawing, and trying to make sure that everything I would want to see in that is there for them. Another challenge is to convey something of the presence and materiality of the end garment. In your designs, the materials are so important – you always explain the yarn you have used and the way it behaves when you release a new Kate Davies Design – and I think that this aspect is as essential to show as the shaping and patterning. I try to convey a little bit of that texture when I make the drawings, too, and this is achieved through varying degrees of pencil shading, which stands in for the halo that a nice woollen spun yarn produces, or the shadows created by a nice big chunky cable…

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(sketching a cable)


3. Can you describe your process when producing these illustrations?

I start by studying the set of photos you send across, and working out which parts of the garment I do not understand. How exactly is the neck shaped? What precisely is the slant in to the waist, how short or tall is the garment, how are the cables working? I usually make a big stack of sketches to work out these details before I am happy that I understand the shape properly, and that I have a strategy for dealing with all the details. I practice the difficult parts – colourwork; lace patterning; cables; – to make sure I have a way of representing them which I, as a knitter, would find useful to see. Then I confidently draw the schematic, trying as much as possible to only use a single, assertive line of black ink, with pencil to emphasise details.

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Progress on Firth o’ Forth illustration


4. Did the process of producing the illustration teach you anything about the design and construction of the garments? Did you look at my designs with fresh eyes?

YES! For me the most exciting thing is that any decent drawing should contain a good search… a search gives a drawing its energy, and there is always a lot of discovery in the process. Where exactly is the edge of the thing? What exactly is happening with that lace texture? What I most enjoyed about drawing your designs was uncovering the level of precision and care which you take with the details of each one. I loved uncovering the care and precision with which you attached the hood to the body in “Get off my cloud”, for instance, and the mischievous pixie-esque hood with its naughty little peak. I also enjoyed the signature i-cord which you use in so many designs, and whenever I was carefully trying to render this, I remembered reading that you liked to make very solid outlines in your drawings when you were a child, and – indeed – some of my drawings return to that idea because the best way to show off the bold, tidy edges is with thick outlines… I’m thinking of “Blaithin” in particular with its tidy, precise i-cord outlines.

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Get off my Cloud

I had noticed your attention to detail before, but it became particularly apparent when I lined up all the designs together and started really examining each one. I love your photos very much – you often present your designs in a very rich context with links to landscape and place and materiality – but isolating the garments away from this rich context, stripping them back to construction, shape and texture, and rendering them in a reduced, monochrome palette definitely made me look at them all with fresh eyes. I was especially struck by the range of different neck shapings you have used throughout your oeuvre, and the different approaches to doing the ribbing at the edges of garments. It really became apparent that the shape of a neck or the way the edges are done can change the whole feeling of a garment.

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Deco

5. The primary purpose of schematic illustrations is to be . . . illustrative! That is, their function is to help knitters gain an accurate sense of a garment’s sizing, dimensions and construction.

Yes – it’s essential that the illustrations are functional and serve a useful purpose! I am fascinated by instruction diagrams and actually collect the wiring diagrams that come on the back of plugs, because I am so fascinated to see how different illustrators convey the same instructive information! Plug wiring diagrams assure you that you’re not going to blow up the fuse box as well as showing which wires should go where… With knitting I think there is a similar need to reassure the knitter that things are going right, or what to look out for in case things are going wrong!

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6. Are certain kinds of garments trickier to reproduce in this regard?

I think about what might confuse me in making a garment and try to reassure the knitter about the facts of that garment. My common errors in reading a pattern are that I don’t do enough rows of this or that; or that I accidentally skip a bit; or that I start decreasing too early or too late. I therefore try to show clearly in the schematic the proportions of each stage, and also things like whether you do the neck band or the button band first on a cardigan, so that the knitter has a kind of compass to help them navigate potential pitfalls. I also want my drawings to look like the knitting the knitter will be knitting, so they are a little bit more organic and softer in line than plug diagrams! The hardest things by far to deal with when working on these schematics are the cables. The easiest mistake I think to make when knitting cables is to end up with the stitches travelling over when they should be travelling under or vice versa, and I spend a long time studying the photos and making diagrams for myself to refer to so that the cables are nicely mapped for the knitter. I find this tricky and time-consuming, as it is very detailed and finicky and involves staring at photos of your sweaters for long periods of time! That said, it is always very pleasing to finally understand how the cable works and when I was working on “Port O’ Leith”, I found that thinking about the winding, sculptural cables there really made me want to knit them!

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Port o’ Leith cables


7. Which was your favourite garment to illustrate and why?

I can’t just say one! Manu and Deco were really pleasurable to draw. I have knitted Deco and love the rhythm of the slip-stitched ziggurat that defines that design. It was a pure pleasure to think about how to reproduce that in the drawing, and I loved the challenge of getting those horizontal lines properly proportioned, and revisiting the clever, neat shape of it with my pencils and pens. Manu I have not yet knitted, but the soft yarn it is made from, the lovely puffy quality of the pleated neckline, and the rounded pockets were all details which I really enjoyed studying and emphasising in my drawing. I had always appreciated the simple elegance and wearability of Manu, but drawing it made me really appreciate the sophisticated choices you made with the yarn, the shape of the pockets, the perfectly proportioned and flattering puffy neckline, and the length (which took me a while to properly understand!)
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8. And which proved the most vexing or tricky?

Firth o’ Forth with that lovely all-over lace texture was quite tricksome, as I really couldn’t work out how the sleeves worked, and was uncertain about how much detail to go into with the oyster pattern in my schematic. I made a lot of drawings for that one, to try and exactly show the construction, and to figure out how best to render the texture, but in the end it was also one of my mot favourite schematics, because it had been difficult to do, and because I enjoyed discovering the nature of the lace and the drape and handle of that lovely yarn you used. I felt triumphant when it was finished!

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Firth o’Forth illustration.

After Felix has completed an illustration, I often find myself seeing my designs totally anew, or thinking about them differently. I love her drawings, and am so happy to have been able to join with her the collaborative enterprise of our jolly tea towel! Felix currently finds herself at something of a crossroads, as her job at Reading University is coming to an end. Happily, she has a number of new exciting woolly, artistic, and sonic projects in the pipeline, and you can read / hear more about these here.


Kate Davies Designs Tea Towels are now available!

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Layter – a celebration of sheep and wool

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In case you haden’t noticed, today is the first of WOVEMBER! I thought I’d begin the month by showing you a garment that, like no other I can think of, truly celebrates the glorious variety of British sheep and wool. It was designed by my good friend and fellow WOVEMBERIST, Felicity Ford, AKA, Felix. This year, Felix was the patron of Shetland Wool Week, (and if you’ve not yet heard / seen her singing the “Shetland Wool Song” I suggest you pop over to YouTube right now!) Back in June 2009, Felix and I and several other woolly friends met up at Woolfest. It was a wonderful weekend for all of us, and I well recall how Felix, over a jolly pint or two at the Bitter End in Cockermouth, toasted the glory of British wool, and explained to us how she was going to create a garment celebrating the diversity of sheep, inspired by what she’d seen at the show. Layter was the result, and, over the past few years, this marvelous original garment has evolved several times. Its now available as two fabulously sheepy designs, for both adults and babies. I asked Felix to tell us more about the story of Layter.

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1. What does “Layter” mean?

“Layter” is a word from an old Cumbrian counting rhyme which shepherds used in the past for counting their sheep and it’s the number “seven”. The prototype of the design used wool from seven different breeds and since I found this wool in Cumbria at WOOLFEST, a title from that part of the world made sense. I love that when people ask me about “Layter” we end up talking about old shepherding traditions!

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2. I have a very clear recollection of your infectious excitement at Woolfest in June 2009, upon perusing the marvelous breed-specific yarns that were available at the Blacker Yarns stand. Am I right in thinking that this was the moment the design was born? Can you tell us about this moment and the garment’s inspiration?

The Blacker Yarns stand blew my mind! There were two deep containers full of balls of yarn from different sheep breeds. As I read the names on the ball bands and squished the yarns, I felt there was loads to discover about each one. I pulled out ball after ball and kept finding more names… Jacob, Border-Leicester, Manx Loaghtan, North Ronaldsay, Shetland, Teeswater… it was like a poem! Additionally, I watched a shearing demonstration and was really impressed by how the shearer got the fleece off the sheep all in one piece. I realised I really wanted to knit something which looked like that, so yes – the design was born in the wonderful sheepy celebration that is WOOLFEST!

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(shearing at Woolfest)


3. You then began knitting, and I remember first seeing (and admiring) the first incarnation of Layter just a few weeks after Woolfest. I know how you loved this garment and wore it loads. In many ways this design seems to epitomise your concept of ‘the slow wardrobe’! Can you tell us about how the original Layter has stood up to wearing since you made it?

The first incarnation of Layter was knit at quite a loose gauge, which makes it drapey, and quite long and robe like! The fabric has relaxed with time, and the whole garment feels very feminine to me. I love wearing it with a dress, and that I can really hug it around myself in the cold! I am genuinely impressed with how well the yarn has worn; it hasn’t pilled or shed, and the stitches remain well-defined. The fibres have softened after four years of wear, and the whole garment has developed a very slight and pleasing bloom. The sideways construction means it can stretch a little bit if I wear it every day for a couple of weeks, producing a mildly limp appearance, but when this happens, I simply bung it in my washing machine on a Wool cycle and give it a good block! Layter does indeed epitomise my concept of ‘The Slow Wardrobe'; it is a 100% WOOL garment that I cherish and will wear for years to come; the yarn it is made of is durable and well spun; and the whole process of making it has made me more aware of different breeds of sheep and the unique properties of their wool! However perhaps most importantly, it sparks conversations about wool and sheep everywhere it goes. Because it is quite big and has those crazy sleeves, it does attract attention, and every time I wear it, people ask questions, and seem enchanted by the notion that the stripes are all from different sheep breeds. Folk immediately connect it with what they have seen on Countryfile, or start telling me about their own connections with sheep, and men always seem to ask me if there is any Herdwick in it! The Slow Wardrobe is about making my own clothes, but it’s also about how we talk and think about fashion, and I love the conversations I get to have with strangers when I wear original Layter.

old_Layter


4 After many of us badgering you for a pattern, you later (heh) re-designed and re-developed Layter for publication. How did the second incarnation of the design differ from the first? And what did you learn from the process of redesigning and re-knitting?

I was thinking about a garment that other people might really like to wear which could be paired with tailored trousers or a fitted shirt. To achieve a more flattering, figure-hugging garment, I re-knit Layter using exactly the same maths as in the original version, but at a much tighter gauge. The waist and hips are defined more dramatically and the rows of tight-knit garter stitch are very neat. The effect of this tidier, firmer fabric is a more formal garment, and something which is more like a jacket. In redesigning Layter I also abandoned the big puffy sleeves because I always felt they gave original Layter a slightly religious appearance which I find amusing, but which I wasn’t sure other knitters would enjoy!

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(Layters together)


5 How many British sheep breeds and fleece shades are represented in the new Layter? What was your process of selection? And did you have thoughts of including more?

The new Layter contains wool from several different sheep breeds – some of which are represented in multiple shades! The full list contains Southdown, Corriedale, Ryeland, Shetland, Jacob, Manx Loaghtan, North Ronaldsay, Hebridean and Pure Black Welsh Mountain DK knitting yarn… nine discrete breeds in total. Carrying on the theme of the old Cumbrian counting words, I called that version “Covera” which means nine. I would like to do a further version which incorporates Herdwick, Rough Fell, Swaledale, Romney, Wensleydale and Cotswold, because this would create more textural contrast and if I made a version with fifteen sheep breeds in it, the corresponding word from the counting rhyme is “Bumfit” which I think is brilliant. Who doesn’t want a garment that fits nicely around the bum? !

My process of selection involved lining up a lot of balls of Blacker Yarn, arranging them from dark through to light, and swatching to see which textures would work best together. The yarns used in the latest version are all fairly matt and hardwearing, and I got mildly obsessed with different shades of white while knitting it. The Corriedale almost looks bleached, while the Southdown is more ivory, and the Bluefaced Leicester is the softest of the bunch, and somehow mildly translucent! I played a bit with how to use these different whites through the sleeves and at the sides of the body.

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6. Tell us about how the garment is constructed. Was it fun to design?

Layter is knit vertically in 2 pieces from front to back over the shoulders. To finish, it is grafted together at the sides and centre back. Finally, a neckband is added, providing some shaping. I felt that constructing a garment sideways would allow me to make a vertically-striped garment for showing off my sheepy rainbow of Blacker Yarns, and decided on an open garment rather than a sweater because this would most closely resemble a fleece just taken off a sheep. I knit it in two halves so that I could maximise the yardage from all of my balls of Blacker Yarns by simply dividing them all in half and knitting one half of the garmemt at a time. Working this out was all fun, but the best part was actually getting on with making it. Those stripes go fast, and there is a feeling of being involved the knitterly equivalent of cheese tasting as you register the qualities of one sort of wool and anticipate the next! I fell in love with Manx ; it is matt, gingery, warm and soft, and reminds me of biscuits. I also love the feathery texture of Black Welsh Mountain and the sturdy, dense hand of Southdown…

LAYTER-COLOURS-INFOGRAPHIC copy
7. Layter has been an evolving project for four years now, and the latest stage in its evolution is Blayter (Baby-Layter) – an incredibly cute scaled-down version for infants and toddlers. Can you tell us about how this design developed out of your previous work on Layter?

I am conscious that there are more modifications that could be made – more short rows; a side to side approach, eliminating the back seam – all modifications best understood through knitting practice rather than in the abstract! I felt a smaller version of the pattern would make it easier to test out these different ideas for this garment…a baby version was an obvious idea once I realised I wanted to continue tinkering with the construction, and playing around with colours organised into vertical stripes!

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8 Does Blayter use the same construction method as the adult garment?

The basic method of construction is exactly the same as for the adult Layter, but there are proportionately far fewer short rows because I didn’t want to create a lot of extra fabric to swathe a baby in. The neckband is also more gently shaped, and the sleeves are long enough to either come right down over the hands or to be rolled up out of the way. The gauge is quite tight, and again it is conceived of as a little jacket rather than a next-to-skin garment. The name – as you have probably gathered – is a conflation of “Baby” and “Blayter”, although I did think about calling it Yann, because I only used the wool of one sheep while designing it!

J&S_supreme

9. What wool did you choose and why?

I chose to work with Shetland Supreme Jumper Weight from Jamieson & Smith because I enjoyed the soft hand of wool from the Shetland sheep breed when I was knitting Layter, and thought it would be gentle enough for a baby to wear. I also love the range of colours represented within the Shetland breed, and the Shetland Supreme palette offers the possibility to be quite subtle moving between greys, fawns, whites, creams… I started a high contrast version of Blayter which looked a bit like a mint humbug, but in the end was seduced by the subtle transitions possible between Shaela, Katmollet, Mooskit and Gaulmogot! Shetland Supreme has a lovely light hand, and even knit at quite a tight gauge, retains a soft halo and bounciness… it’s lovely for a baby jacket. I also wanted to find a way of fitting the sheepy ethos behind the original Layter to the aims of Shetland Wool Week, which – like WOOLFEST – is such a fantastic celebration of sheep and wool! What better way than by designing Blayter in a way that celebrates some of the lovely shades of wool found amongst Shetland sheep?

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10. What challenges did you find adapting the pattern for differently proportioned bodies?

There’s lots of conflicting information about sizing from different sources, and this made certain aspects of the design process a bit tricksome. To assist with these challenges, I enlisted the help of our amazing friend Liz, who as well as being a brilliant tech-knitter, is an experienced knitter of baby things, and has produced many tiny and gorgeous items for her two lucky nieces. Liz was a total star and test-knitted a beautiful version of the pattern in berry shades of Jamieson & Smith 2 ply. She also discussed baby sizes and proportions with me, and made great suggestions for the details we included on the sizing chart, because in her experience, babies range wildly in terms of size/age. I learnt loads from her during the process of adapting Layter to fit a baby.


11. Finally, what is your favourite sheep breed and why?

Ooh it’s a tricky one, that! Hard to pick just one as they are all so amazing, and all for such different reasons, but I have an enduring fondness for small, wild sheep like Shetlands, Manx Loaghtans, North Ronaldsays, Borerays… I am afraid I am terribly romantic about all these breeds. When I was in Shetland, Ollie showed everyone a hairy grey fleece which he described as “scadder” meaning that it’s very rough. I love that fleece, though, because it is what the Shetland sheep would grow if left to its own devices in order to survive in the wild. It has a thick mane down the middle which I imagine would give a ram a very proud aspect out on the hills! To me, scadder looks like land… like rocks, stones, earth, peat… On the other hand, who can argue with the lovely ginger-biscuit fleece of the Manx Loaghtan which is wild too, but surprisingly soft? Perhaps in the end though I have to say the Boreray is my favourite sheep, purely because it’s the most endangered breed, and the one we all need to love the most if we want to keep it going!

Thanks so much, Felix!

If you’d like to celebrate WOVEMBER by knitting your own Layter, you’ll find the adult pattern here and the baby pattern here.

And be sure to follow the WOVEMBER blog this month, for sheepy stories, inspiring interviews, woolly giveaways and more!

Layter-sideways

experiments

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#1. Jam. I blame Sarah. She brought a jar of her homemade jam round for lunch, and it was so damn fine I had to try my hand. These jars combine the last of our allotment raspberries with some extra from the farmer’s market. Jamtastic! It set, and everything. We have already guzzled our way through one of the six jars.

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#2. Baking. I blame Felix. She turned up here a few weeks ago with a jar full of sourdough starter, and her characteristic culinary enthusiasm. Since, then, I’ve not been able to stop baking. I’ve made several loaves, flatbread, a victoria sandwich, scones, a marmalade cake, and, um, buns . . . with varying degrees of success. The less said about these buns, the better.

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#3. Technique. I am researching knitting accessories, and since acquiring one of these am keen to discover exactly what using it involves. As my own experiments have been rather clumsy, I defer to someone with superlative expertise, who is here pictured mastering the makkin, and knitting with two strands in the right hand, Shetland style.

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#4. Colour. I am completely obsessed with colourwork, and blame the current depth of my obsession on Alice Starmore’s Hebridean 2ply, with which I knit this experimental hat a few weeks ago. My experiment was not entirely successful, but it has certainly whet my appetite for further experimental forays with this yarn. To make the hat, I simply selected four colours that I liked, measured my head and my gauge swatch, picked out a few 10 stitch peerie patterns, and cast on. (I didn’t cast on in icord — but found that I had to add some later — I just couldn’t stop myself . . .). Now, while the palette I chose is perhaps too muted to be successful, and while the crown shaping is certainly not quite right, I really learnt a lot when knitting this hat: about colour behaviour and placement, and about the relationship between colour and pattern. I also finished knitting it with a confirmed sense of Starmore’s genius. Her colourways really are amazing. For example, ‘pebble beach’ – the pale colour that I tried to make pop out of the centre of the first few sets of peeries — is a truly gorgeous mercurial shade. It looks greenish here, but its colour dominance shifts dramatically depending on its placement. I’ve tried it in other combinations since, and against different colours it can look fawn or mauve, gold or pink (much like the pebble beach behind me, in fact). These shifting tones are apparently produced by a blend of more than thirty shades. The funny thing about this hat is that, despite the fact that it is a sort of large swatch with several design deficiencies, I have developed a deep fondness for it. I brought it to Islay, and I barely took it off my head. I think the precise and thoughtful relationship of Starmore’s palete to the Hebridean landscape has a lot to do with my affection. Anyway, my peerie-sampler-hat-experiment is ravelled here, and the colours I used were capercaillie, fulmar, pebble beach, and driftwood.

I am now knitting experimentally with an allotment-inspired colour pallette. I also find Felix’s wise words about knitted vegetables very inspiring. More soon!

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