a good long think about it

Posted on Posted in designing, lace/shawls

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 thoughts on “a good long think about it

  1. Do you mind if I refer to you as a sooper evol genius?

    Hope not. *g*

    Your site is quickly becoming an absolute favorite of mine.

    Just WOW

  2. Ohhh, I get to be the first comment! Wonderful, interesting description of your creative process, Anne. And as I personally LOVE ravens and crows, (They stay together as a family unit, you know; siblings go out and hunt and help feed their younger brothers and sisters) I’m really excited to watch this project grow. And the idea of a faroese design for this is (really!) brilliant – perfect for the Raven feel, and I also like how the edging echoes the raven wings so nicely. There’s a great raven in the George MacDonald story Lilith, by the way…

  3. Beautiful Anne! Love the edging-it is perfect! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the design process…it is really fun and fascinating to me. I really enjoyed reading about the evolving of the bee shawl too…(just about finished knitting it too!). Thanks for the great designs!!

  4. ANNE – wow – each design you do out does the one before – love to watch your creative process, you are amazing – its great the idea of a new shape – I for one get bored and like change – that yarn colour inspires also – here I thought that I would have to wait a while for this design, but it looks to be happening real fast- your name is sure becoming the watch word for shawl design, !!!

    pat j

  5. Y’know, I looked at those raven photos yesterday and thought “Faroese”. The edging you’ve chosen is soooo perfect. I don’t usually get in line for these things, but I think I’d better jump on this one. I like watching the design process — thanks for sharing with us!

  6. Gorgeous, just gorgeous. I can’t wait until this is available. I know it will be awhile. I just got the One Planet kit today. I will eagerly watch this new design progress. Thanks for letting us in on the design process.

  7. Gah. I’m melting. Being a puddle at the end of the work day is not where I want to be right now.

    Especially when I want to be sitting in a pile of that yarn.

  8. OK (insert foot stamping), I can’t keep up!! I’m still not done with Moth and I would really like to do Bee and Trellis and now you have to taunt me with feathers. Hmph.

  9. Anne- The last 2 pictures show a deeper color- is that just the camera?
    I love the idea of the feathers and the deep edging-
    Is this a shawl or a stole? Will you be using the general Faoroese shape?

  10. OMG, omg……..this one truly takes my breath away and the yarn…..OMG again! I rarely buy yarn, but as soon as this comes out, I will be in the cyberline.

    Are you thinking Faaroese? If you did, that would be even better. That style sits on your shoulders so nicely.

  11. What a wonderful trek through the design of a lace shawl! I already want to knit it, even without seeing the finished project – just the feeling and the thoughts make it wonderful alone!

  12. oh gosh… wow.

    the concept of applied edging on shawls/lace scares me in the way lace does, but to the nth degree– but wow, it’s perfect for the raven colorway. can’t wait to see it completed!

  13. This is gonna be gorgeous. I agree that panic is always the best first step, and believe me, you are not the only person with a painting background whose designs are doodle-sketches!

  14. Ooooooo. My brain is still digesting and can’t form the thoughts yet. I enjoy reading about your design process and seeing the swatches. I like hearing why a particular pattern doesn’t work in the overall plan. I like deep rich color. oo.Ooooooo. I’d like to be a little gecko on the wall and soak it all in.

  15. OMG. You are my favorite designer by far, Anne. I already loved your stuff but, as I have a deep love for the corvidae, especially ravens, this is going straight to the top of the list. AND I’ve always wanted to try a Faroese shawl.

    Love, love, love it. Thank you so much for doing what you do!

  16. Oooo, that’s going to be gorgeous! You know, as I see your design process, your shawl reminds me quite strongly of the “Swan-maiden” tales from old Ireland. You know, a faerie-like creature that can remove it’s “cloak” of feathers, and transform into a beautiful woman at will. I know this is raven, not swan, but the feathery motifs are sooo cool! (Oh, and swans around that part of the country are black.)

  17. Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary. . .I nearly fainted from the beauty!!!!

    I just ordered my soldiers!!!! Good grief! This is the most mysterious, beautiful, exotic, sexy, Poe-ish of them all. I love it.

  18. All right, now you’ve properly gone and done it, Anne. This is one that Celtic Memory is going to GET. Up to now I’ve admired, praised, watched from a safe distance. But a Raven Shawl? You have struck to the innermost heart of my desire mechanism (normally only reached by exclusive cones of designer yarn on the top shelf of an Italian factory). The thought of flapping wildly around West Cork in one of those… Hurry up, willya? Some of us are WAITING…

  19. Oy, there ya go again! My next project order hasn’t even arrived from you yet and you’ve got me lusting after this one now! lol I feel like a crow – keep being distracted by the bright shiny objects you drop in my path! Your designs just keep getting better and better. I loved your blog entry today, too. I always wonder how designers come up with their designs! Just beautiful.

  20. Oh I’m SO EXCITED!! I think the faroese shape is perfect for those feathers! You’re such a tease – I can’t wait to start now – it’s going to be stunning.

  21. OMG. It’s gorgeous. And you’re absolutely right about going from the larger to the smaller motifs — it looks like it’s about to fly. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts as you go through the designing part — it’s so amazing to hear how you work your way through it. Seriously, should a test knitter fall through, I’m here (I am SO here). Drooling… How do you end up picking motifs that are all about my favorite plants and animals? (My classes all know that I’m magpie brained — I pick up shiny objects and carry them around with me in the form of random facts!)

  22. Thank you for the glimpse into your creative process.

    I LOVE those pin feather edgings. This is truly a magical creation, calling upon the power of Raven.

    Kathleen

  23. Totally gorgeous. I like the Faroese shaping too … very classic but ready for an update. I’m looking forward to seeing this one develop!

  24. Jaw dropping, as always.

    Saw you at NYSW, but suddenly got shy. I wish I said hello now.

    I did end up buying casino and moth, both from Briar Rose. Can’t wait to start them! You know that they sit there arguing over who gets to go first, right??

  25. Several months back I vowed to never knit with black yarn again… now I’m eating those words because I MUST buy black yarn and I MUST knit this pattern once it’s available. Do you realize that in order to finish making all of the patterns that you’ve created that I’d never be able to die? You’re fast, I’m slow. The feathers sold me on this particular shawl. Pure genius.

  26. It’s beautiful! Not for me, but I think it’s gorgeous, and I really, really love that edging.

    I love how you explain your design process too, thank you.

  27. As Jude would say, “Holy Moly Cow!!!” So–do I do Obstacles, Hypoteneuse, and then the Raven? Or Raven, Obstacles, and then Hypoteneuse? Such a wonderful dilemma to have. Incredible, Anne.

  28. You are so talented, I am in awe of you. Well done, this is a masterpiece. The edging is perfect. You are not allowed to have a stroke. I will email you, having major computer probs, trying to work and email at the same time, no computer at home at the moment. I am not ignoring you.

  29. Oh Lord Anne… you are just a genius. I follow your design-logic and i can just SEE it! This will be amazing… a Masterpiece (with a capital ‘m’). Can’t wait to see the whole thing!

    I do doodle-sketches on post-its too! The difference is I have NO idea how to make my doodles into something wearable 😉

    You rock!

  30. Ah, *this* is what you were going to use the faroese shape for! Interesting! It looks great so far. I’m once again looking forward to what’s coming next.

  31. You already know, I think, that I am willing to buy your designs for the edgings alone. The feather edging on your Raven shawl is no exception–it is simply amazing. I really enjoy your conception-to-finished-design posts, and in this one, I absolutely loved the Post-it with the doodle.

    I’m glad that you are going to do a rectangular version, because I loathe Faroese shawls. Not because of the way they look, but because I had to frog a finished one that turned out hugely wide in the shoulders. My gauge swatch was fine, so I’m not completely sure what went wrong. I can assure you, though, that a Faroese shawl hangs in an incredibly ugly fashion, if the shoulders are too wide. Because the shoulders are “built in”, so to speak, there is no way to make the shawl drape differently by repositioning it.

  32. A second comment: it sounds like the BMF “Raven” yarn resembles the iridescent colors of the feathers of an actual raven or crow.

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