a good long think about it

some things just don’t come easy. and then . . . some do.
when tina approached me about doing a design for her new series of raven colorways, i could see it was a little of both.

on the one hand, here was an opportunity that came knocking, yarn in hand, with the basic concept already narrowed down a bit. on the other hand, to have this (big) design idea inserted into my brain half-formed was new for me, along with the feeling that, for myself, i just couldn’t say no (who would say no??).

how then, to embrace the idea of this raven shawl, filter it through my own creative process, and come up with something wonderful on a fairly short (for me) timeline?

well, panic is always a good first step.

until you realize you might give yourself a stroke and never knit again. or worse, that you’ll die of anxiety and your stash will be donated to the girl scouts (i will haunt david if this happens and he knows it).

i kinda didn’t do anything but think about it for a week or so. it was still summer, and i spent a lot of time sitting out in the dark, in the yard, waiting for a visualization of what the shawl would look like. honestly, all i kept seeing was a big bird shaped thing that more resembled a kite than a shawl.

i wanted to see something weightless, pretty, something with movement, and mystery—but i didn’t want to see a big fat bird. i can’t help it . . i’ve always had an aversion to knits that are about themselves more than the body that gives them shape. i like a nice marriage there.

for someone who has a painting background, and tons of arty sketchbooks laying around, i am no good at using sketches for my design work . . the best i can do is the doodle-sketch

. . . on a genuine sticky note to boot. pretty pathetic, right? but it works for what i need—i do a lot of the work through charting on the computer, and sticky notes are always so handily nearby. somehow working with the symbols makes it easier for me to see the overall layout of patterns and stitches.
and as for a shape, i decided this was the project for which i would go faroese.
BUT
i know how you all feel about rectangles so i am seriously considering doing both. in fact, i have pretty much decided i will.

in october, i received my yarn, so i decided i should start swatching . . .

maybe that would help pull things together. so i left the concept part simmering while i looked at stitch books.
BTW, this yarn is impossible for me to photograph, so you will see lots of variation in the photos over the next few weeks. the best photo i have of the color is that first one. it’s very dark, richly-colored yarn with greens and purples and blues that reveal themselves. it’s so dark that the camera constantly lightens and fades it (and i am so utterly NOT in command of my camera when it comes to this . . maybe david can teach me something).

i thought that choosing stitches would be the easy part—there are tons of feather-like patterns out there right?
HAHAHAHA!

actually there are.
but they all run in the wrong direction; i needed to work top-down on this piece rather than hem-up, and i needed patterns that run in the opposite direction so that the feathers point to the hem. there are virtually none of those.
i am not exaggerating when i say that i looked at hundreds of possibilities, tried out about 25 of them, then discarded all but three. plus two edgings.

that’s a lotta swatching. these are the keeper swatches, i.e., the ones that did not go to the frog pond (there were many).

now i know that you know that i love swatching. can i tell you a secret?
swatching for a new design is frustrating and worrisome and it keeps me up at night—and i love it.
how sick is that??

most of the time, it takes days or even weeks of swatching to come up with all the right parts, fitted together in all the right ways before i feel i’m working with a “plan” (and i have learned that working with a plan is good for me, for the most part).

there are bad swatches that have good parts, and good swatches that have bad parts.
this is my final swatch that has all the components but one part is a little bad.

i just couldn’t swatch any more though . . . and i had all i needed.

i know. you can’t really tell anything from this swatch right? don’t worry, i’m going to explain.

first of all let’s talk about the bad swatch. why don’t i like that one?
well, first of all i DO like part of it. i like the top half—this bit here

this is the combination of stitches that will make up the largest areas of the shawl. i love the scale—in the good swatch i used the same stitches but i tried to enlarge them by adding a couple of rows and i didn’t like the result. here the pattern has more stitch definition and that diagonal line that cuts across the edges of overlapping feathers is much stronger when the pattern is smaller.
since that line provides the overall movement component that i am looking for, it’s important that it be somewhat crisp, though not overpowering.

the bad part of this swatch is that the progression of patterns is all wrong.

at first i thought that of course i would want the smaller motifs at the top edge and the larger motifs at the bottom, but that was SO wrong. heavy, heavy, heavy, and no flow.

could i actually flip that around and have it succeed?

i switched the largest motif to the top shoulder area, and used it also for the back panel which will run straight from neck to hem. mu-u-uch better. then i ruined that swatch by enlarging the field patterns.
trust me, it will look TONS better with smaller field motifs—a series of smaller overlapping “feathers” cascading from underneath the shoulder ruff of large “feathers” (but i swear it’s not a bird, it’s a shawl).

i was getting excited . . the feeling was pulling together totally for me now. it is lace AND it’s bird-ish.

let’s look at the edgings. along the front and top neck edge i used—just guess—bird‘s eye edging. it’s crisp, simple-to-do, and works well with lots of body patterns because of its four-row repeat. then for the hem, i chose to work with an applied edge.

this one is SO worth the work. it looks JUST like flight feathers (check out this photo here and tell me this is the wrong edging).

so that settled everything . . . i started knitting and am partway through it already. so far so good. i haven’t run into any big roadblocks yet. i have working charts that i’m knitting from and correcting as i go; hopefully i’ll have a working pattern soon for the test knitters. and a rectangle pattern to follow.
next time i talk about it i’ll flesh out some of the structural details for you. it is good to be working with a new shape. and on a whole new venture.

let’s have a little peek at what the end might bring . . .

85 Responses to “a good long think about it”

  1. Kim says:

    Anne, you know what I love about you??? You are so out in the open with your designing procedure. I love that you share that with us!!! it is really cool to sit on your shoulder (well, I mean, like a mini-me, not my fullsize self…..) and watch you design via the blog. Thanks for that! I love those middle feathers. They remind me of peacock feathers. Now I have to deside if I should save my Briar Rose stuff for this, or for the Moth!!!! Nah….think I better get started on that moth since the incredibly beautiful Briar Rose stuff is all wound up and ready for action!!

  2. Teyani says:

    whoa.
    ravens wings and pinfeathers. too cool

  3. Tan says:

    I want one. I want one. I want one. I want . . . . OK, when and where can we order it???

  4. Angeluna says:

    This is beauty! I’m on board.

  5. Maijamirjami says:

    I love reading the story of your design process. Thank you so much for sharing all that work that comes between an idea and a finished piece.

  6. Liz says:

    Did you ever listen to the Talking Heads? I know, what a segway, but seriously, there was this one song, don’t know this moment what it was called, it will come to me later, in the middle of the night, where David Byrne et al are singing “She Don’t Stop, She Don’t Stop”…

    okay so now onto adulation and you know I realised I hadn’t left any stalkerish comments in a wee while… so onward to those… The feathers on the bottom of the shawl, are fabulous (I know an overused and seemingly meaningless word) but really could one get much more fabulous than the feather ends of that shawl, I don’t think so. And the story of your design process (I read it thru 3X) is almost as good as those feathers, I didn’t think I could beee more excited since the whole Bee thing, and then comes thistles and now some raven feathers… so now I’m back to the Talking Heads line… she don’t stop…

  7. Marianne says:

    I’ll be waiting for the Raven………….

  8. yvette says:

    I loved reading your design story, fascinating and so gorgeous, pattern and yarn too. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Theresa in Italy says:

    Thank you for sharing the evolvement of the design process—it is truly fascinating. The colors in the photos of that yarn are gorgeous, they must be even more amazing in real life.

    Oh, and don’t leave your stash to the Girl Scouts—I can give it a good home…!

  10. Anne C says:

    Brilliant! Bring to class, please.

  11. Judy says:

    I love ravens and I love the combination of stitches you have put together for this shawl. Period. I think you have captured the essence, well… except for their noises, the language, the way they talk to one another and how it is unfair that they can mimic us so well and the we can’t reciprocate.

  12. Anne says:

    As per usual, I am eternally glad that you LIKE to do all that futzing with patterns and swatches. I would have no hair left at all.

  13. Pat S. says:

    Spectacular!!! I can’t wait for the faroese version. My fingers are already twitching in anticipation of knitting it.

  14. marjorie says:

    I just love reading about your design process. I’ve never designed anything as complicated as the shawl you’re planning (or those you’ve completed), but I somehow feel that when I continually swatch different patterns for something I’m planning (usually a sweater) I must be doing something wrong. I’m guessing there is really no way around this, and I also feel it is part of the fun. I just wish it didn’t take so long!

  15. Carla says:

    First bees and now, ravens. How lovely they are, Anne! You are astonishing!

  16. knitnana says:

    With the Stahman influence? YES, please! OMG – the yarn is gorgeous (knew it was going to be…) and…
    the wing motif!?! True genius, my dear…
    Had no idea you were going to do this, but I’m going to truly save pennies for this one – my favorite colors, Blue Moon’s yarn, AND my favorite designers – You, influenced by Stahman?!

    The nurturance of the Faroese-style? Warming, enveloping…more than any other shawl.
    OH MY….

    I’m off to figure out the budget for this one, AND your last, as well!
    ((((hugs))))

  17. Linda D, says:

    My “bees” are still buzzing on the shelf, worried that they will be swept away by feathers.

    I love that you share your design process with us, so articulately to boot. Your prose always draws me in.

    I am impatiently awaiting the day orders can be placed for “The Raven”; you can bet it will go directly on my needles the day it arrives.

  18. Meredith says:

    Anne, I ADORE Faroese shawls, and I love the Stahman of top-down Faroese. I am looking forward to this completed version more than I can say…and I much prefer this to a stole, myself.

    Beautiful, beautiful yarn, stitches, swatches, work so far!

    Best,

    Meredith

  19. Meredith says:

    Gee, my syntax got squishy. Read that as “the Stahman version of top-down Faroese shawls.”

  20. Em says:

    Excellent, Anne! The yarn is just stunning, and your pattern will do it great justice, I’m sure. I can’t wait to see more!

  21. Ruby says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to ‘show’ us your design process. Seeing how someone so talented does it gives courage to those of us attempting our first efforts creating our own patterns. Seeing that you try and try for the effect that you want has allowed me to try and believe that this is what the creative process is, rather than thinking (as I once did) that surely I didn’t know how to do it, because I was ripping – yet again! Again, thank you.

  22. Manise says:

    Absolutely stunning! You’ve got those feathers down pat.

  23. susan says:

    omg, that is SO cool. I’m really looking forward to this one. I LURV the feathers at the end.

  24. Laura says:

    Fabulous, Anne. Stunning. That edging so looks like a bird’s spread wing tips. Love it.

  25. Debbie says:

    Well done as always!

  26. Terry says:

    I always enjoy – alot!, your thought processes, how you describe how you get your designs started, etc. But this one esp., I really get – the yarn seems so perfect, the feeling one gets from the stitch pattern. Glas you are sharing this one with us – this is one I’ll definitely get. (Let us know about that part, getting the shawl pattern, yarn, etc)

  27. Hattie says:

    Wow it’s looking amazing .. especially that edging. I can’t wait until the pattern becomes available. Thanks for sharing the design process with us.

  28. Danielle says:

    I know you have 77 comments on this shawl already (btw, I didn’t read any of them either lol ;) ) , but I need to put my 2 cents in of course! I must say that I’m just bowled over by your design abilities*!*!* Your instincts just keep getting better and better, as do your techniques. Wow, does this give that “Raven” effect that you would want to achieve. The edging is what really just blows my mind, that just is the finishing touch on a perfect design. I’m sincerely impressed.

  29. JudyMac says:

    I see I will be watching this one very closely…Raven is one of the family protectors.
    Please do a large Faroese, please, please.
    I still don’t know what my presents are yet…I’ve got to wait until midnight :)
    Happy Samhain!

  30. Elizabeth Am says:

    I. WANT. THAT. YARN.
    The pattern, too, of course. But I really want that yarn.

  31. Ronni says:

    I love reading your explanations of the design process. This one is definitely one I *have* to have. I love the look of the stitch patterns you chose and how fantastically they fit the theme. And I love that yarn too. I think I’m going to fall down badly at the Blue Moon site when the Ravens series goes live. I will attempt to be patient. But man I want that yarn and pattern combination very very very much. I know, as soon as I can get the pattern for my kit, I’ll start Cluaranach which will take the edge off the whole *need* for another shawl a bit. You are bloody brilliant, you know.

  32. That applied edge is absolutely the right thing for a raven shawl. I knew you had that right just looking through the photos (which I often do before reading your posts – is that cheating?).

  33. Emma says:

    Anne, you have totally outdone yourself! The edging is just gorgeous! And the whole Raven symbology is beautiful. Such inspiring creatures! Now if I ever get the beefields done, then Raven is the next. Must say lace is still a bit scary…
    But GO ANNE!!! you are a genius!

  34. Tonia says:

    OK so it is the wrong edging. Well you said to tell you that, right?. LOL

    It is so beautiful.

  35. stacey says:

    you truly captured the Raven spirit in this one!