Feb 22, 2007

Why the #$%!@?! Yarn Restrictions?

I probably should have written about this in my initial CAL post, but the fact is that I am so annoyingly verbose when it comes to things like this that if I had, no one would have ever gotten around to reading the explanation. Instead, I'm giving the topic it's own post, so I can be as wordy as I please. Feel free to skip this if you are not creating-along!

The madness does have purpose, and it was a choice on my part, which I stand by even though I have about seven designs that I'm playing around with now and only one of them is in one of the create-along yarns.

Purpose the First:* One of my favorite recent knitting books is Norah Gaughan's Knitting Nature. Gaughan talks extensively in the book about how she is more creative when she has a limitation, and in each of the six parts she introduces the pieces, both individually and as a group, by writing about each limitation - a shape found commonly in nature. This device wasn't invented by Gaughan. If you ever took a high school art or writing class you were probably asked to do the same thing: "Here is a theme that everyone has to work with, see what you can do with it."

I think most of us creative types chafe at these restrictions initially, but it is absolutely fascinating to see what different people do with the same limitation. It really forces you to start to think outside of the box and it gives an insight as to the perspectives and visions of others. I actually find that the first time I work with a theme it is difficult, but that during the process I come up with all kinds of ideas for working with the theme in the future. Sometimes we have to create that first idea in order to be able to move past it. A yarn limitation gives everyone a starting point (and in this case a choice of five starting points), but it's much less restrictive than suggesting that we all attempt to design around the concept of phyllotaxis. Agreed?

Purpose the Second: Yarn is a big part of design, and the way that a particular yarn behaves can make or break a piece. One of the hardest things to figure out as a new knitter or a new designer is how a particular yarn is going to affect the final garment. The second scarf that I ever made was an eyelet pattern in thick, chunky wool. Now if you are intending to break the rules and use big needles to make an over-sized modern scarf that is one thing, but I was fully expecting a lacy, drapey piece that conveyed elegance. My tweedy wool scarf with occasional holes did not achieve that goal. With many people using the same yarn, there can be significant discussion about its characteristics, and we can all learn more about the limits of certain fabrics. The particular yarns we chose are all yarns that Marnie and I have worked with before and have on hand. I chose the Premiere and Cotton Classic, she picked the Calmer and Denim, and we threw in the Kidsilk Haze because it's something we both have that can work in spring weather. Although I know it's ass cold in most parts this time of year, most of us will finish our projects in spring or summer, so it made sense to work with a warm-weather array of fibers.

I feel that our knowledge of these fibers is important for several reasons. First, we have yarn available to design something in each of the yarn selections during the course of the create-along. This will keep us active in the blogging process and in the process of helping other -alongers. We're also sure to have an example of at least one project made in each yarn. As we design there will inevitably be tips we remember that are yarn-specific. Working with each one keeps us present in the process. Second, we already know what these yarns are capable of, and can help guide create-alongers in their process if they are struggling with the materials. Third, and this is important to me, we know these yarns will wear well over all and that the quality of the create-along projects will not be compromised if you use them. It would devastate me if someone designed something for the first time and it looked terrible after only a few wearings. Although some of these yarns are more resilient than others, they are all reliable and you should be able to get significant use out of them.

Purpose the Third: Whenever you design a piece, you will come up against some type of limitation, and usually you will have several. It may be what yarn you have in your stash, the amount of yarn in a certain dyelot, or a specific color or set of colors. If you go on to design for publication, or if you have already designed for publication, you will find/have found that even more limitations are placed on you. In fact, unless you design for a specific yarn company or yarn in particular it will be pretty common for the publishers to look at your design concept and pick yarn and colors for you. Boy, oh boy, is that fun! (I'm not a fan of this convention, as you can see.)

Given this nearly universal propensity for limitations on design, I thought we could use it as a unifying principle. I think knitalongs work best when there is a common theme. I didn't want to go with choosing a specific type of project to design, because I wanted to attract knitters from a variety of skill levels in both design and knitting. I'm hoping that through this process we can take some of the mystery out of design and make it more accessible to everyone. Not all knitters will be interested, but I'd love it if those who are interested would be less intimidated. I feel that if you can start out with more simplistic shaping more people will join. I also think that the common theme of a few yarns can be cohesively repeated. If this is a success, we can do it again with fall yarns, and attract a different set of knitters.

*I've been reading too much Thomas Hardy. This is how he labels the parts of Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Anyone remember that book from school?

Photos, from top to bottom: River in Kidsilk Haze; Citrus Moon in Pima Tencel (same fiber content as Premiere); Thelma in Rowan Denim; Birch in Kidsilk Haze; Tea Set in Cotton Classic; and Marnie's Deciduous in Calmer.


Emily said...

I love how "annoyingly verbose" you are, Julia, and I doubt I'm the only one.

I also love Knitting Nature, too - I actually think it's a really important book in the world of knitting.

Anyway, I asked myself this same question before deciding to participate in this blog. I think it was the biggest question I asked myself: "Do I want to deal with these restrictions as a designer?" And I came up with an agreement with you - and the recollection of one of my favorite things my knitter teaching always said: "Necessity is the mother of invention."

p.s. Too much Thomas Hardy?

Emily said...

oops, that should say "knitting teacher." But you get the idea.

Marnie said...

Thanks for the write up. I'm in total agreement that my most creative work often stems from some sort of limitation.

I'm pretty sure that there are few mainstream yarns that you don't already know as well as anyone, but I am definitely glad we are limiting the selection to a small number of familiar ones.

Oh and yes, I've read Tess!

Joanna said...

My favorite English assignment in high school came from my AP English Lit teacher. It was our only creative writing assignment of the year. On Valentine's Day, we each had to write a love poem.

But. We could not use the words "love" or "heart," and we had to use the words/phrases, "VCR," "snow leopard," "math book," and "swiss cheese." The poems that came out of that assignment were fabulous, and SO much better than if we hadn't been given any restrictions at all.

My point is, I completely understand why you are limiting the yarn choices. I'd be a little happier if I could use stash yarn, but buying more yarn never hurt anyone. :P

Fall Cruise to Alaska said...

well, I'd rather have fiber content and yarn grist as the starting point, I guess because I almost never buy yarn and I have almost no commercial yarn in my stash except the yarn I sell and I have a pretty tight budget. I have some yarns that are similar, but not the same brand. For example I have a Karabella silk & mohair that is similar to kidsilk haze but not nearly as pricey. But I could buy some yarn I guess. :-)

Fall Cruise to Alaska said...

Um, not sure exactly why my name is fall cruise to alaska, I guess that's my blogger account! Um in case anyone is wondering it's me Janel at http://beebonnet.typepad.com

Going shopping at the yarn store now...

Anonymous said...

Julia--I always wanted to knit that tea cup and sauser. I started it in Manos stri (orange-Fiesta wear color) and never finished it.

Julia (MindofWinter) said...

Edna - the tea cup is adorable. I gave it to Suzan (Knit Cafe) for Christmas because she liked it so much, but I will eventually make another for myself. I don't know that I'd ever be up to making the whole set, but one or two are very cute to have around.