Y: You’ve made a name for yourself as a lace designer, and even your more textured work has an intricate sensibility similar to lacework. I was excited to see your collection, Modern Colorwork, because it seems like such a departure from your other work. Don’t get me wrong, your lace is beautiful, but I’m impressed by this versatility. Does it feel like a new direction to you?
M: It does. I have been learning to love color for a few years and it felt really nice to let that aspect of my life show up in my knitting design. It also was a way to showcase the really fantastic color ranges of some of my favorite yarns.
I had been playing with color in my personal crafting (with knitting, sewing, drawing, etc..), and I was feeling kind of bored with my work knitting and wanted to make it fun for me again, so I joined the two up
Y: You describe the collection as inspired by both modern quilting and modern art. Do you quilt? How would you define modern quilting? I’ve heard of the modern quilt guild, but I’m really not a quilter!
M: I consider myself a sewist, who occasionally quilts, but I’ve been playing around with piecing techniques used in quilting to make fabrics that won’t eventually be quilted.
Traditional Quilting is generally very precise, with traditional motifs that are cut and pieced exactly, quite frequently using calico prints with repeating motifs across the whole quilt. Modern Quilting tends to be more improvisational, with bolder colors and graphic design, minimalist or asymmetrical, with more use of negative space and solid colors.
Y: Are there any specific quilt designers / designs that you were inspired by?
My creative process seems to go like this: I start digging through Wikipedia, pinterest, articles on comparative modern art, etc.., get completely overwhelmed and let everything stew in me for a while. Then something strikes and I sit down and knock a whole collection of ideas out in an hour.
Y: I like to call that ‘letting things percolate’ – it’s important!
M: Sometimes the stewing is a week, sometimes its years. Percolate is a good word for it! And I can’t really push it or the work feels contrived and I end up grumpy
Y: but you’re a tea drinker so we could call it steeping!
M: STEEPING! YES!
Y: I was excited to see Lisa Congdon’s name – her blog was one of the very first I ever read and I think a lot of us have been very inspired by how she’s made a success of following your creative dreams.
M: I found her work quite recently, actually. I was looking for some colorwork inspiration for the cardigan that would end up named for her (since my first idea didn’t work out) and my friend Mercedes () sent me a link to her work. I had seen a bit here and there before, but I hadn’t seen the whole body of her work in context before. It was really perfect. I’m totally smitten.
Y: It’s also a nice connection because she’s a quilter – I remember years ago she made and sold log cabin cushion covers and she wrote a tutorial for those for the book The Crafter’s Companion.
M: I think you can tell from the details of her work that she’s also into textiles.
Y: that pattern, the Congdon Cardigan, is a good example of another way in which this collection feels like a new direction for you. Although the colour choices are bold the design itself is very restrained and wearable. Did you find yourself doing a lot of editing? I know that’s an important part of my own process.
M: Not really. I tend to default toward restrained and wearable. I like to design things I would want to wear since I am very much a product knitter. The one that shifted the most was probably Willis Triangles. I had originally wanted a set-in sleeve, but decided that the raglan gave more structure to hold up the double-thick collar and also echoed the angled lines of the collar. The raglan sleeve shaping felt like a much better fit as I worked out the actual design for the sweater.
Y: What about the wide variety of techniques used – it’s a pretty broad interpretation of ‘colorwork’. Was that a deliberate choice?
M: Yes. With as much graphic quilt inspiration as I had, being restrained by what can logistically work in a stranded colorwork pattern seemed very limiting. For example, DeStijl would never have worked as a stranded pattern. It always had to be intarsia.
I let the focus of each piece be the play of color and shape together and then used whatever technique necessary to accomplish that, whether it was stranded knitting or intarsia or whatever.
Y: What about the non-colourwork techniques used in the designs – are there are any common threads between the patterns?
M: I am a sucker for a facing, so facings routinely appear in my work, especially contrast or colorwork facings. Both Chromaticity and Willis Triangles use facings for the hem treatment. I also like to use darted shaping on my sweaters, where the shaping is not in the side seam or right underneath the arm, but instead is moved toward the center-line of the sweater. I think it breaks up the broad expanse of stockinette to have the decrease and increase lines more visible on the body.
Y: It can also create a more flattering visual line, plus it puts the shaping where it’s actually needed.
M: Yup. I like darted shaping a lot. It also makes it feel more like tailoring than knitting to me.
Y: The hems and facings also seemed like a reference to quilting / sewing
M: I guess they kind of are. I love the way a fabric hem not only keeps ends from fraying, but it gives the fabric more weight so that it hangs properly. I think I subconsciously transferred that to the knitted equivalent, even though it doesn’t really affect drape in the same way.
Y: How about the colour choices – how did you go about putting together a palette and selecting yarns for this?
M: I had a gauge range I was looking for each design, and knew I wanted bold, saturated colors, so I brought my design notes to TNNA and walked until a color palette would catch my eye. Then I would check out the yarn line and see if the yarn’s weight and structure would work for any given piece. Then start playing around swapping out colors to pick a palette. It actually came together pretty quickly. There were a couple of companies I knew I wanted to work with, so I sought them out, but I found a whole new host of dyers and yarn manufacturers that I’ve enjoyed working with!
Y: Ooh – any favourite new yarns you found through this project?
M: Knitted Wit was new to me for this one, but I walked by her booth and the saturation and color range just smacked me right in the face! It was perfect for Chromaticity, so I started playing with colors until the selections felt right. Her superwash fingering is bouncy and luscious.
Y: Nice. Since I’m making you play favourites – what’s your favourite design from the collection?
M: Hmm… That’s hard. I think it’s a toss-up between Congdon and Chromaticity.
Y: I love that you showed Chromaticity in two different colour palettes – it’s amazing how much of a difference that makes.
M: I really wanted to show people some of the options that were banging around in my head and get them thinking about it on their own terms. The best way seemed to be to knit the second size in another color selection. In my brain I have gradient versions, muted versions, monochromatic versions, rainbow progression versions… I can’t wait to see all of the color combos people come up with! It’s a great pattern to use up leftovers too.
Y: I’m always wishing that I had time to make all of the variations I come up with for a design too!
M: I thought about making a bunch of example color charts, but in the end I decided to just suggest options and see what happened.
Y: Let’s talk a bit about your background. Did you have a crafty childhood?
M: My dad had a whole woodworking shop in the garage growing up and I made boxes and picture frames and doll beds. My dad made his bedroom set with inlaid wood designs and our octagonal expandable dining room table. He’s a very handy guy.
Y: Awesome! Did he teach you woodwork?
M: Yes, he did, and car repair, and a bit about how electronics work, and all about cameras.
Y: Some of the designs in this collection actually reminded of geometric patterns used in veneer work – not just quilting.
M: Truth! There’s a lot of overlap. As a kid I had books of geometric designs that you could color in, they were almost like quilt tops. I LOVED those things. I even used graph paper to make my own when the book ran out.
Y: Oh – I remember those!
M: My oldest sister also had cardboard shapes all die cut that you could build structures with. I made a million little boxes with the cardboard cutouts and tape.
Y: Fun. Recently on a late night whim I bought a box of vintage meccano (I think it was called an erector set in the US?) on eBay. I want to make a lamp base, but mostly I just like construction toys.
M: erector sets were awesome! I mostly had Legos though. I was always in charge of the costumes for the Lego people when I would play with my brothers.
Y: haha, I used to make my brother dress his action men in Barbie clothes. Anyway back to knitting! Can you tell me anything about what we can expect to see from you next?
M: I’m in a weird period right now. I’m dealing with some health issues that are causing a lot of fatigue, so I’m not really working much, and I’m trying to recharge my creative and physical batteries. But I’m working on a knit/crochet hybrid project and thinking about another book. It’s still in the planning stages though.
Y: I’m sorry about the health issues – take care of yourself, and you never know what ideas might be steeping in the background while you’re resting!
M: Yes, I’m trying to be positive about the rest period, but it’s hard when there are days I can’t even do the dishes. I am working on being kind to myself and not defining my worth by what I can get done.
Y: So tough! Sometimes I worry that that’s a downside to our attitude as crafters – ‘that we can make every moment productive’. There can be a lot of guilt involved, which is so silly; we clearly need non-productive time as people.
M: So true. The downtime is just as important as the active time!