Design Process, Life

My Story: Why I Design

Just over one year ago, I published my first paid pattern on Ravelry. It was the second version of the Rose of Tyrone Shawl, and I got my flat mate Sam to model it in our back garden on that beautiful spring day in Auckland, New Zealand. The pattern was $2 USD, and I made one sale that day.

 

Since then, I have grown a lot as a designer and as a person. I realized while living in New Zealand that I was on the wrong path. I was supposed to spend a year travelling and then go back to North America, get a PhD, and be a research scientist for the rest of my life. That was the plan. That was what I thought I wanted. Travelling in New Zealand helped me realize I was wrong. When I’m passionate about something, I do it. I often joke to my friends “I don’t do things I don’t want to”, but what that really means is that I struggle to find motivation to do things I don’t really care about. If you’re familiar with the works of Gretchen Rubin and her Four Tendencies framework, you could probably immediately peg me as a Questioner – I easily meet inner expectations (things I want to do), but I struggle to meet outer expectations (things I don’t think are important, things other people want me to do, things I thought I wanted to do but actually don’t). When attempting to write a statement of purpose for grad school applications, I instead downloaded the application form for a working holiday visa in Ireland. This may seem like run-of-the-mill procrastination, but the truth is I had been trying to write my statement of purpose for a while and I just wasn’t doing it, because I really didn’t want to. What I really wanted to do was to travel, experience more of the world, and share my story. I started a travel blog and while I do love writing, I found I wasn’t always very motivated to write my stories out in words. While living in Auckland, I started doing something I’d never really done before: I started sketching. Specifically, I sketched my ideas for knitting designs.

 

I am absolutely terrible at drawing. I could draw a stick figure and still manage to screw it up. But I found I could sketch just well enough to get my idea across so that I would be able to create the item I envisioned in my head. Every adventure I went on in my time in New Zealand inspired me to create designs for knitted garments and accessories. While many of these ideas didn’t come to fruition (I was still a beginner and have no background in design so I had no idea what I was doing) but the ideas are still in my notebook, and someday I hope to develop them into patterns.

 

What I learned from my travels is that I love to tell my stories in different ways. Sometimes I do want to write them out in words and share them with others that way, but sometimes the words don’t fit, or can’t capture my emotions or what I’m trying to convey. But I’ve found that I can tell those trickier stories through my designs. Each pattern I write has a story behind it, but they also tell stories themselves. But perhaps one of my favorite things about designing is that while my patterns tell my stories, when another knitter uses them they tell a completely different story, a story shaped by that knitter’s experiences. I think this is an extremely powerful way to experience the world. Creating new stories and experiences through a shared craft and a passion for making things.

 

I learned to knit when I was nine years old. My grandmother taught me in her home in Sherborn, Massachusetts. I had a ball of terribly scratchy blue acrylic, and I knit about ten rows of garter stitch before giving up. I picked it back up again when I was twelve, and that’s when the passion really took hold. I would bring my knitting to school, to family gatherings, and to hang out with my friends at the local Starbucks. I used cheap acrylic in the most ugly, garish colors, and I made useless little trinkets and accessories that I can’t imagine a young girl actually wanting to wear. But I loved it. I loved making things for myself, I loved making things for my friends and family, I loved making things to sell at my high school’s annual craft fair. And my friends and family loved it too, or at least they were kind enough to pretend to and encourage me in my craft. All through high school I grew as a knitter until I was making nice hats, scarves, and mittens with the slightly more expensive and much softer acrylic in colors that didn’t blind people. I knit all through college too, stuffing my growing yarn stash into various tote bags and boxes shoved under my bed in my tiny dorm room. I started using knitting as a kind of therapy; whenever I was overwhelmed by school or work, I would take out my knitting, put on some music, and knit until I felt better. But I didn’t really design much. I would occasionally modify a pattern to suit my needs, and I was capable of “designing” my own simple ribbed beanies and scarves where the only real pattern comes from knowing the number of stitches to cast on, but I wasn’t in the habit of using my knitting as a creative outlet to tell my story.

 

One day in the summer after my junior year, after a particularly rough day in the sediment lab I worked in, I came home, poured myself a scotch on the rocks, and put on a song by one of my favorite bands, “Rose of Tyrone”, by Enter the Haggis. As I sat there in the fading sunlight letting the scotch warm my insides and relax my muscles, the lyrics from the song created a very specific image in my head. If you haven’t heard the song, you should go listen to it, but the basic premise is a woman, Rose, waiting through the cold winter for her husband to return home from war. As I listened to the story, I could clearly see the woman in her small cottage, smoke curling out of the chimney, snow piling up on the windowsills, but the most striking thing in my mind was the soft pink shawl she had wrapped around her shoulders. I grabbed a pencil and piece of paper and immediately started writing down a description of this shawl. It was pale pink, knit in chunky, super soft wool, and triangular in shape. Because this woman was named Rose, I thought I’d add some rose motifs along the edge. Within a few months I had bought the yarn, written up a rough pattern, and cast on. I finished the shawl and stashed it and all my notes away and forgot about them. I had my senior year of college to worry about, as well as my visa application for my year abroad in New Zealand. It wasn’t until I arrived in Auckland and listened to that song again that I dreamed up another version, a lighter weight, warm-weather version. That’s when I decided I wanted to start publishing my patterns. I continue to find inspiration from the music I listen to. It might actually be my greatest source of ideas, more so even than my travels. I think the ability to take a story written in lyrics and music and turn it into a story written in stitches and yarn is an incredibly interesting way to communicate ideas. I don’t always know what the songwriters meant to convey in their music, but I know how the lyrics make me feel and I can take that and interpret it into a design.

 

Since I started designing, nothing quite compares to the rush of getting that spark of inspiration and immediately grabbing a notebook to sketch it out and get it on paper so I can recreate it in yarn. And the best feeling is when I actually knit up the design and it turns out even better than I initially imagined. This is rare, especially as I’m still very much a beginner, but even if I’m not happy with a design, I know I can unravel it and start over, until I’m satisfied with the story it tells. That’s the beauty of knitting: it allows you to retell and change stories over and over again. My designs are a reflection of who I am and how I’m feeling at a particular moment in time: they tell my story far better than I ever could in words. That is why I design, and why I share my designs with the world. So other knitters can share in my experience and add to it, creating their own unique pieces and stories.

 

Thank you for reading and for supporting my craft. I can’t wait to continue creating through both writing and knitting, and I hope you choose to accompany me on the journey.

 

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