Welcome to this week’s installment of the SGY Roundtable! In this bi-weekly column, we want to share with you the current discussions and thoughts of some of the fibre artists around the studio.
The last time we came together, we talked about what our favorite SweetGeorgia spinning fibres were. But just because we have our beloved crafting materials within easy reach (we do work at a dye studio after all!) doesn’t necessarily mean that motivation to get a new project started comes easy.
The topic we brought to the table was…
“Where do you find your inspiration? What gets you motivated to pick up a new project? How do you keep the fibre arts fresh?”
Some people are addicted to Pinterest. Some people are addicted to Instagram. Personally, I spend ridiculous amounts of time on the websites for the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art browsing through their amazing online galleries and archives. The knitting subject gateway at the V&A website is a glorious, glorious rabbit hole to lose oneself down. Blogs and tumblrs like OMG that dress! are fun jumping off points for particular pieces and eras, but I enjoy losing myself in whatever is keeping my brain zipping along at the moment. Last year I was all about the designs of Erté and Art Deco colour palettes. Many of his sketches for Harper’s Bazaar are black and white but their colour descriptions send me running to the SweetGeorgia Yarns colour page to think about yarn choices. Mauve and emerald, black and malachite green, blush and oyster grey! How pretty would the Alexandra shawl be in Lucky with matte black beads and more beads strung along the crochet cast-off to create the weight and swing of early 20th-century embellished clothing?
I cast on Romi Hill’s Carson shawl specifically in Tough Love Sock in Grape Jelly and Lawn to mimic the colour combinations suggested by Erté’s designs.
I perused vintage photographs and antique fashion plates long before I started working at SweetGeorgia but by far the customers I’ve interacted with in the last 18 months have been the primary inspiration to continue learning new techniques and arts using fibre. The monthly yarn/fibre/lace club thread and the finished objects/works in projects thread on the Sweet SweetGeorgia Ravelry group forums are astounding. The fibre to finished project posts are just the beginning for me. Our customers style and prep their photos so carefully, even accessorizing their dress forms!
Looking at stylized photographs or, in the case of the museum websites, the greatest examples of art and design from the last two centuries can be more intimidating than inspiring. I have to admit that my greatest inspiration in the last year has stemmed from my own mistakes.
The way knitting inspiration strikes me is like someone in my head with a very loud and obnoxious voice saying, dude let’s do this RIGHT NOW because it would be REALLY REALLY SWEET and you may DIE tomorrow or have your arms eaten by a BEAR or something — and me being all like, yeah, sure, okay.
A simple but surefire trigger for this behaviour is seeing yarn. Yarn that can’t wait. Yarn that must be fondled immediately and turned into something. Doesn’t matter what, as long as pointy sticks are involved. The majority of these are studio seconds — unique and irreproducible skeins that we can’t ship out to people because they’re not what they’re supposed to be, but gorgeous in their own right nonetheless.
I also have a very carefully curated list of knitwear designers and sources that assume a categorical priority over any other human need upon the release a new pattern. It’s very rare that I get inspired by seeing other people’s finished garments, or through direct recommendations, due to a particularly childish quirk of mine also known as the YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME axiom. It tends to make me reject things that are commonly popular or topical, since if everyone else is making them and I’m not, then it makes me cool and different by default. Terrific reasoning, and through some obscure childhood trauma, I’m sure.
Or, some days I just wake up with an inexplicable, burning desire to knit a sock, any kind of sock, or 20,000 stitches of garter, because that’s why.
Either way, when inspiration hits there’s no time to think, or plan, or swatch. I just grab a yarn and start knitting.
Then I knit like a rabid speed monkey on acid for a week straight, focusing on nothing but powering through this particular project in record time, until I realize that I did not, in fact, think, or plan, or swatch, which is why whatever I’m making doesn’t fit and looks all weird-like, or if I’m super lucky, only somewhat weird-like.
And so, as violently as the inspiration originally struck, it dissipates upon the presentation of the first obstacle. The item in question flies into the corner and a few days are spent in a gloomy disbelief (”I just knit 20,000 stitches of garter for nothing” or ”I can’t believe tube socks are not cool anymore”) – until something new and exciting comes along.
Which is roughly when the circle of life, and inspiration, and rabid speed monkey knitting, begins again.
This is a very big question indeed!
I have always had a strong passion for drawing and art, and I find my design inspiration in MANY different places. Sometimes I see a unique shape during my morning run, and it will start me daydreaming about a new silhouette for a shawl. The light display at a rock concert has sent me scrambling for coloured pencils so I can remember a crazy new palette. Photographing turkeys on my aunt’s farm prompted my “guest appearance” as the colourway designer for the SGY Sock and Fibre clubs in November 2013. Inspiration can hit me like a brick when I don’t expect it, and I try to jot notes and paint swatches as soon as I can so I don’t forget!
When it comes to which knitting project to I want to start, my inspiration happens a little differently. Instead of a momentary spark from something unrelated, I get motivated to cast on a new project by seeing other people’s finished work. I want to make that shawl. I want to make those socks. I run out and buy the pattern book and (hopefully) manage to find time to cast it on quickly. I get lots of exposure to other people’s knitted works… I get to see what customers are working on here at the studio, I lurk on our Ravelry forum for great new pattern ideas, and my friends share their latest finished objects during “show and tell” at our monthly Guild meetings. I read knitting blogs and listen to podcasts, and the list of projects I want to start grows longer every day!
When I am determining what I want to spin next, I usually make my decision based on colour and texture. I don’t normally spin for a certain project… I spin because I love to feel the fibre in my hands and to watch the beautiful colours go whizzing past my fingers. I usually have decided what fibre I am going to play with next before I have even finished plying my current project… my giant stash of fibre at home has never left me feeling bored. If I get tired of spinning worsted, I can pull out some short-stapled yak. If my attention span is feeling small, I can break up the process by spinning a couple hankies. I have sometime appealing stashed away for almost any situation!
I can get inspired to try something completely different by giving myself surprises. For years now, I have been a member of the SGY Fibre club. Every month, I get a unique, limited-edition colourway on a different fibre base. Sometimes I receive colours and textures I am not typically drawn towards… I take this as a challenge! It forces me to really consider the process and what steps I can take to control the colour and qualities of the yarn. I think that indulging in these experiments can greatly improve your spinning skills and can give you confidence to try out other unconventional fibres in the future.
In general, most of the time I don’t need to ‘get inspired’ to start a new fibre craft. The desire and drive is always bubbling away; I just have to decide what I want to do next, and find the time to begin! I want to try weaving. I want to start a new shawl design. I want to spin the Night Owl gradient yarn that seems to be so popular right now (thanks for that inspiration Ginny!).
Ok, with all this talk of inspiration, I feel like I need to cast on something. Right. Now.
I think there’s two kinds of inspiration for me.
One is inspiration disguised as covetousness, wherein I’ll see something on Ravelry, Instagram, or someone’s blog and will immediately feel the overwhelming need to have that item RIGHT NOW. I might go so far as to buy the pattern, hunt down the right sized needles (where are all my 4 mm circulars?!?) or even leave the house on a mission to get new needles (Hmm, Wool & Wicker is only 5 minutes away…), and wind the yarn. That initial flurry of excitement that sent my heart racing might even have me cast on and start working the first few inches… and then, since I do not possess the skills of a rabid speed knitting monkey (see above), I realize that I am better at starting projects than finishing them. My covetous eyes knit faster than my hands and so my house is littered with well-intentioned false starts.
And so, yes, I have both a Stripe Study shawl on the go, plus I’m spinning some BFL+Silk into ombré yarn on the wheel to knit another Stripe Study. There was also that gorgeous Rocky Coast Cardigan that Shannon knit a couple years back that I loved so much I had to knit my own. Shannon’s cardi inspired me to knit and entire sweater… that’s pretty potent.
And I have no less than seven quilts in my queue that I’d love to make… one of which is this one — the Peaks & Valleys quilt by Tula Pink. And unsurprisingly, I appear to have stashed enough fabric to make those seven quilts already.
The other is inspiration in the form of a muse. This is the slow-burning seduction of images and visions that have been stamped into my psyche. Unable to shake them loose, these images and ideas percolate in the back of my mind until they are ready to pop forward into a project.
My greatest muse is travel. Being in a fresh new environment, you become keenly aware of everything around you… from the texture of the cobblestone streets to the cacophony of sounds and languages. From the vivid makeup of a Harajuku cosplay teen to the rolling tumbleweed of Idaho, these fragments of my travels have always stumbled into my dyeing projects.
One of the things that keeps my crafting feeling fresh is that I tend to cycle between disciplines. Perhaps that’s just another way to say that I have trouble focusing on one craft alone… I have to have them all. So I go through cycles where all I want to do is spin… or knit… or sew… And that’s okay because I love how each craft informs the other. The knowledge I’ve gained from each craft has been essential to pushing me to try different things (how about a quilt made from hand-dyed, handwoven fabric?). I love knowing how to make yarn. And I love knowing how different yarns affect handwoven cloth or how different colours affect knitting projects. Because the motivation and push to start new projects needs more than covetousness or a muse for inspiration… it also needs knowledge, practice, and confidence. Kaizen (constant improvement, constant learning) keeps the inspiration flowing!
It’s fascinating finding out how my fibre friends keep inspired, whether it be with an arsenal of websites or from an place of internal pandemonium (easy Liisa, easy!). How do you get motivated to craft? Where does your inspiration come from?