Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Kristin's Suzani Mittens in Fall 2008 Vogue Knitting

Last winter I got a call from the editors at Vogue Knitting asking me if I would do a pair of "Over the Top" Kristin Mittens for the Fall 2008 issue. I agreed and then let my mind wander. The only requirement was for them to have a long cuff. I drew up about ten different mitten ideas and then Trisha picked which she like best.

Going from a sketch to a finished mitten takes a leap of faith. Sometimes when I am drawing, I'm not really thinking about how I will carry out a design. Turning the sketch into the finished object is different than making visual art with pen, paper and paint. It's actually a lot harder for me and way more time consuming than painting. I have to take in the constraints of the yarn, the gauge, the pattern stitches and repeats, and the fabric I create. It really makes me think hard and I often sit on the daybed in my kitchen wondering how I am going to turn the chosen sketch into a physical knitted object. I also have to keep in mind how normal knitters are going to like making a project and how I am going to write the instructions and size the project. It is a great big juggling act. Designing a pair of mittens takes almost as long as designing an entire sweater.

I gave my Vogue Knit mitts the codename "Suzani Mittens." I've had a thing for Suzani embroidery for a very long time. I discovered this type of embroidery shearly by accident 15 years ago when I purchased an embroidered cloth at a flea market. I fell in love with the colors of the cloth and the crazy embroidery stitches. The cloth was well worn - there were small patches done with handstitching all over it. I like to think I ended up with someone's discarded family heirloom. I know it is going to be one of our family heirlooms! Here's a close-up of the piece:

(It seems the the rest of the design world caught up with me a few years ago. You can find Suzani derived designs throughout the interior decorating world...... Look here for some suzani styled knock-offs.)

I wanted to make the actual knitting of the project rather easy - and that it is. The mittens have a pointed border and are mostly worked in stockinette stitch. At the wrist, I added a chartreuse garter and eyelet stripe for the pom poms to thread through. Here's a photo I took of them before I shipped them off to NYC.

I wanted to combine some colors that I usually don't work with together. I chose my beautiful Geranium Color from the Julia line of yarn as the base. I started playing around with ideas for the floral colors and actually decided on colors that aren't typical flower colors at all - Blue Thyme and Lady's Mantle. For my dark contrast, I chose Espresso.

After knitting the mittens is when the fun really begins. I decorated the mittens with three embroidery stitches - chain stitch, lazy daisy, and french knots. These are three stitches that I love to use on handknits and you can find many other ideas for embroidering on knits in my book Kristin Knits.

I stopped knitting at the top of the mitten before the top shaping, slipping the open stitches on a scrap of thread. This makes it easy to slip your hand into both the top and the bottom openings of the mittens, therefore making embroidering easier.

Here's a detail shot of the cuff swirl pattern. To stitch this, I used a double strand of yarn - one strand each of the Lady's Mantle and Espresso and worked the swirls in chain stitch.

Here's the detail of the flowers and vines. First I stitched the swirly vine up the center of the mitten using the Espresso color double stranded. Using a double strand of Blue Thyme, I worked the outer open circular shape of the flower in chain stitch. Using a double strand of Lady's Mantle, I filled the center of the flowers with french knots. To finish it all off, I stitched lazy daisy leaves up the vine using a double strand of Lady's Mantle/Espresso to match the cuff swirl pattern.

Working the embroidery is always a leap of faith, even for me. It's similar to drawing a picture -- starting with a blank canvas and then building the design with the yarn. I always doubt myself the beginning of each embroidery project. As I keep adding to it, the design starts to become something. An excitement builds and I can't wait to finish. Of course, it's always a struggle to finish the second in the pair but with a deadline looming, it happens!

I've had to hold back on talking about this knitting project until now. It was all I could do because I was very happy with the way the mittens came out. I knew the girls at VK loved them too. When they love them, it guarantees a good picture. I love the fun, fashion shot they took and the coat they found to accessorize the mittens with.

All in all, I couldn't be happier. I hope lots of you will knit them this coming Fall season. Don't be timid - the embroidery isn't that hard! The hardest part for you non-embroiderers may be just deciding to do it.


Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, those mittens are just so, so beautiful. I will point my knitting friends to this page--how fantastic!

Knitted mittens are actually one of my favorite things, and yours, yours are the prettiest I've ever seen.

ellen said...

So rich and so gorgeous! They are just beautiful.

Wendy said...

I just LOVE those mittens....what would stop me from doing them is not the embroidery, which I love to do, but the fact they are knitted and I am a newbie to knitting...

Kathy said...

They are a true work of art. I love when knits are embellished in just this way. Did you sew the chains you made on, or crochet them in at the time you made them?

Kate G. said...

Isn't that a stunning issue? The coat they styled with your mittens was the perfect foil. I couldn't stop looking at the page. Thank you for posting the design back story. Hard work pays off (and it's inspiring). Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

I was just going to write you today to say I'd loved your Suzani mitts in the new VK! Now I can thank you for the look behind the scenes as well. (And like Kate G, I found the coat a perfect choice to complement the mittens.)

Susan said...

Wow, what a stunning shot and beautiful mittens. Happy birthday to your 10 year old, it does go so fast.

I think the embroidery is the best part, too.

Sojourner Design said...

Very pretty.

mathea said...

That's a beautiful pair of mittens! Knowing me I'd never finish the second one, but maybe a deadline does the trick!
Congratulations on getting into the pages of Vogue - and a very nice shot it is too!

Lisa W said...

LOVE the mittens!

LaurieG said...

I pegged the mittens as a Kristin Nicholas design as soon as I saw them, reading the designer credit was just confirmation! Great work, and congratulations!

mascanlon said...

Wow, I am so new to knitting that these are beyond my skill but I am putting away the issue for my someday file!

bensedin art said...

Those mittens are fantastic. I like your design and colors. I've never knit mittens, but I have to try.

Kathie said...

The mittens are just beautiful. I would wear those proudly!
what a great design.
I have to tell you that cloth you took your inspiration from is just beautiful.
I could see a quilt inspired by that for sure
just love those colors.
can we see a picture of the whole cloth?
what a find!

Anonymous said...

These are *outstanding*! And I love hearing all about your design process. Fascinating. The colors are gorgeous and what you've done with three embroidery stitches is just ... fabulous! Speaking of VK, do you know Rosemary Drysdale? She was a good friend of my aunt, who was an accomplished embroideress from Nantucket.

caliconurse said...

Absolutely beautiful!

Knitlee said...

I knew these a KN knit as soon as I saw the photo. WOW! These are fantastic...I thought my favorite KN mittens were the flowering fingerless from Kristin Knits but after seeing these I am not so sure...thanks for sharing all the background story of the mittens-it's nice to see how they actually come to be on the pages of Vogue!

Jennifer said...

The mittens are great. Would love to see the sketch that you used as a starting point. It would be fun to see them go from concept to reality.

Your choice of colors and the background on your choice is fascinating. I think they're amazing together, yet never would have thought to pair up such a combo.

Keep up the great work - we'll be waiting with anticipation.

tina said...

I adore these mittens, they're my faves from the Vogue spread. I mean, they are RED, and they are EMBROIDERED, and they have that folksy chic feeling. Yummy, I know a pair is in my future!!!

ColorJoy LynnH said...

Love suzanis, love the mittens. Congrats, one more lovely design out there in the world.