Thursday, October 23, 2014

Coming Full Circle - Part One - The Backstory

The first needlecraft I was taught as a kid was sewing and embroidery. I started with a needle and thread and some odds and ends of fabric. Both my Mom and Gram taught my sisters and I to hand sew. We learned the basic stitches - running, stem, backstitch, chain, lazy daisies, satin stitch. All the stitches that form the basics of embroidery which I still use today.

Soon I discovered the sewing machine and our neighbor Robin Cashen taught me the ins and outs of using a machine, cutting out fabric using a sewing pattern, sewing in a zipper and more. I was off - sewing clothes for my Barbies, making my own clothes, sewing beanbag frogs to sell to make money. I spent my teenage years sewing at the long table in our family room watching the NY Mets play on the old black and white t.v. In the midst of it all, I hand embroidered many a crewel embroidery project. Crewel was very popular at the time and I was in love - with the decorative stitches, the colors, the wool thread, the linen fabrics. Crewel embroidery and sewing got me through those awkward teenage years - they gave me focus. I learned about passion, challenges, textiles, fabrics, art and so much more from that humble start. This is a photo of a piece of Crewel Embroidery I did (aged 16). It was from a kit and came with printed linen fabric. It is not in the best of shape because it wasn't protected with glass and has been my Mom's attic for years. But it is a memory. 

I went to University for Clothing and Textiles and while there stumbled into the world of handknitting. My Mom had taught me the basics when I was young. During college I taught myself more through books so that I would have something to do with my hands while traveling back and forth to college. After my first job in NYC after Grad School, I somehow landed myself a job at a yarn company. It was 1984 and handknitting was experiencing a boom. The company was called Elite Specialty Yarns and it was based in Lowell, MA. While there for 16 years, I built a career in the knitting world. I imagine most of you reading this blog are here because of our mutual interest in knitting. I had a good long career at Classic Elite Yarns (the name changed in the late 1980's) and then a couple years after Julia was born, I decided to leave my full-time gig. All the travel wasn't fun with a little one with challenges. 

Since then, I have been writing books, designing knitting patterns, writing this blog, learning to take better photos, being a Mom, and helping The Farmer out with our sheep farm. And now I have come full circle as they say..... I'm back to the embroidery that I began with all those years ago. 

As I began this post I planned to introduce you to my latest embroidery design but I have been rambling and thinking back and so this post will be come Part One of Two. I started thinking about circles and the symbolism of them. When I write, I often look up the word in the dictionary to give me a germ of an idea - Julia calls it a "prompt". Here is how Merriam Webster defines a circle :
cir·cle - noun, often attributive \ˈsər-kəl\

: a perfectly round shape : a line that is curved so that its ends meet and every point on the line is the same distance from the center
: a path that goes around a central point
: an arrangement of people or things that forms a circle

When I think of a circle, I think of the center of a sunflower, the bottom of a glass or jar, the head of a nail, a doorknob, the lid to a jar, a clay cylinder, a color wheel, a bulls-eye, a dartboard, a steering wheel or the hubcap fallen off a car rolling gently down a street.  And I think of a beautiful round shape that can be stitched or knit into the decoration for a piece of fabric. 

When I was doing a lot of knitwear design, it was only natural for me to incorporate the organic shape of a circle into the colorful knitwear I made. Making a perfect organic round and voluptuous circle into a chart for knitwear isn't easy. Knitting charts are made from grids of stitches. Circles always come out a bit jiggy-jaggy - don't they? Let me show you some circles in my knitwear.

Here is a sweater I designed called Little Majolica which was published in an old issue of Interweave Knits. (You can buy the pattern from Interweave here.) If you look closely at the motif, you can see the the little shifts of the stitches at the bottom and top of the circle. There isn't a way around this - you just have to live with it or knit with an extremely small gauge yarn which will make the jiggy jags less noticeable. But I don't have the patience for those fine gauges and so I make do. 

Here is a knitted ottoman from my book Color By Kristin (published by Sixth and Spring 2009). This design features circles inside circles and squares inside squares. Once again - there are jiggy jags at the bottom and sides of the circle.

Somewhere along in my knitwear designing life, I started adding my old favorite needlework craft embroidery to my knitwear. I remember traveling to the Pitti Filati Yarn Show in Italy with Pat Chew (former owner of Classic Elite) and looking at all the displays - trying to soak up the designs, the colors, and generally getting charged up for another round of designing knitwear. I saw a machine knit cabled sweater and in the recesses of the cable, there was a bit of embroidery added. I put that image into the back of my mind and thought I would try it someday. Needless to say, that was the start of something. Over the years, I have added embroidery to so many of my knitwear designs. Sometimes just a touch of duplicate stitch, sometimes some full blown flowers and vines, sometimes polka dots, and more. 

Here is a little sweater shown on Julia from an early Interweave Knits Magazine. Here I added spider web embroidery circles to the simple zippered cardigan. You can order the Seeing Dots Cardigan here. To learn how to stitch an embroidered spiderweb on knits, see one of my early YouTube videos here. (This was obviously before I knew much about lighting, doing videos, etc but you get the idea!)

When Julia was much smaller, I made her a Fair Isle Zippered cardigan full of diamonds and circles and color. This was before my two colorful knitting books Kristin Knits and Color By Kristin. Here she is with two of her kittens Ginger and Cookie. If you look closely at the top of the sweater, I edged the inside and outside of the open circle with contrasting shades of chain stitch embroidery. (No - there was never a pattern for this sweater. It was before the days of self-publishing and Ravelry.) 

That little sweater morphed into the design below that was also in Interweave Knits and was called Stop Traffic. As you can see, the knit-in Fair Isle Circle design is embellished with chain stitch like on Julia's sweater above - making the jiggy jags disappear under the chain stitch. You can see a video of doing Chain Stitch on Knits here. The pattern is available here.

So as you can see, circles are a fabulous design element to add to your knitwear. They might need a little help from some embroidery now and then but now you now how to do it! Tomorrow, I'll let you in on Part Two of the CIRCLE story!

Lastly - exciting news - mostly for me and Roost - the new publisher of Colorful Stitchery. Colorful Stitchery was reviewed by the Chicago Tribune! Wow. Here is the link.  Thanks to Tecknikat for the heads-up. Since we are talking circles, here is one of the embroidery projects from Colorful Stitchery which features circles as the design feature. Overlapping circles in chain stitch, polka dots in satin stitch, and little dots. All hand embroidered on linen fabric.You can purchase a signed copy of Colorful Stitchery on my website here or from Amazon here. As always, I thank you for your support.

Photo by Kevin Kennifick from Colorful Stitchery, Roost Books 2014


susan said...

My first visit to your blog - everything is just lovely I enjoyed your post and admire all the beautiful things you make. Thanks for sharing.

Kristin Nicholas said...

Welcome Susan - I hope you come back often. You can sign up for an email alert on the upper left side of the toolbar so you don't miss a post.

Thanks for the complement. Have a nice weekend.

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