October 18, 2019
We love the new nightshades pattern collection that Harrisville Designs launched last week, so we asked Whitney Hayward from Harrisville to tell us about the collection and how she approached designing with Nightshades
When the mill first told me about the Nightshades yarn concept last year, I immediately thought it would be an interesting design puzzle. Although an all-black primary palette may seem like a bit of a design challenge, with possible concerns about design elements maintaining visibility, the yarn concept completely coalesces with my workflow when I'm kicking around a new collection idea.
It might sound strange, but part of my usual design process is to limit my options-whether that's shaving down the colorways available to me, sticking only to two or three different fabric characteristics, there's something about limitation, to me, that gets my brain going. The core Harrisville lines come in 64 colorways, and the infinite possibility of combination can feel a little like I'm drowning in options. Infinity can feel paralyzing, and breaking each design into manageable chunks-say, okay, for this design I can only use blue hues, and I'm looking to come up with a cable sweater, feels much more manageable, and in that focus my brain seems to be a little quicker. I suppose there's something about getting tunnel vision that feels natural to me, and Nightshades gives me the option to lean into that tunnel vision. That, and I'll admit, as a recovering (okay, maybe not totally recovered...) midwestern goth, I find the all-black colorways pretty irresistible.
The first Nightshades collection last year was a bit different approach to this year, in that it was the first time anyone was seeing the yarn in finished designs. We hoped knitters and crocheters wouldn't be flummoxed by a yarn line like this, and in the photography especially, we wanted to drive home that these weren't just flat black colors, they have a heathered luminescence, flecked with vibrant, subtle undertones. I didn't want my designs to get in the way of how fantastic the yarn is, and so I stuck with simple stitch patterns. The designs were almost more about the fabric, than they were about my ideas. I think that was definitely the right tack to take in the beginning. Something about having basic fabrics be the focal point in the last collection made me realize it'd be a total waste to not highlight stitch definition this go around.
This year's collection seemed a slightly easier puzzle, in that we're not starting from scratch. I also had a year of working with the yarn, seeing how it behaves in various stitch patterns, so I had a bit better idea about what I could expect, and how far I could push it. Working with woolen-spun yarns is a total trip, because they can hold up at a pretty wide range of needle sizes. This collection calls for needle sizes from a US 4 (3.5 mm) through a US 8 (5.0 mm), and I probably could've gotten away with another size larger in that range.
Nightshades is spun with US domestic Cormo, and it's a super springy fiber type, with a fine z crimp that traps air and memory into the twist. If you take a strand of the yarn between your fingers, you can feel it bounce. Cables and texture practically rise out of the fabric, and I wanted to make sure the designs we put into this collection would do that characteristic justice.
Designer Maiko Hikosaka worked with Nightshades previously, and she must've teleported into my mind without me realizing, improving upon the ideas I was kicking around better than I could have. She came up with a perfect cabled hat, utilizing subtle bends and stitch manipulation to create an overall complex, yet unfussy classic beanie. I really feel like it's the thesis of the collection in a way, and the design is a great entry point to working with the yarn without committing to a sweater's quantity.
More than the stitch pattern focus this go around, I've been shifting into a new-for-me interest area over the last year. I've had health issues which cause hand cramping and pain, and during the worst of it, I picked my crochet hooks back up, to see how my hands reacted to the different movement. Something about the repetitive motion of crochet didn't bother my hands as much, and in that ease, my mind started jumping around with crochet ideas. Although I knew how to crochet for much longer than I learned to knit, designing is a whole other rodeo, and it was absolutely a learning curve to translate what I was mentally picturing, to reality, with a legible, functioning pattern and sample.
Drape functions much differently in crochet, and I can honestly say that I crocheted the Elara sample about three and a half times before I nailed what I was going for. Easier time-wise than the insanity that would be in knitting, since crochet whips up fairly quickly comparatively! I'm grateful to crochet for giving my hands a break, and I'd love to expand the accessibility of crochet at Harrisville. I'm working on a set of tutorials for a makealong we're doing for Elara soon, so anyone, whether you've been crocheting for decades, or haven't ever picked up a hook, can join in if they like.
We're excited to expand these yarn projects like Nightshades at Harrisville, and we hope to do more unique yarn concepts in the future. I feel grateful to be entrusted with a yarn like this, and am looking forward to what these collections will look like in the future.
Inspired by Whitney's discussion of her designs? Browse all the shades on ysolda.com
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