|Photo by Rikki Snyder from Crafting a Colorful Home, Roost Books 2015
When I worked for Classic Elite, one of the big parts of my job was to develop and test new yarns. That always began with a swatch. After we decided to purchase the yarn and put it into the line, I would have to design sweaters for each yarn (along with my co-workers Cathy Payson, Linda Pratt, Lori Gayle, Pauline St. Germain, and Susan Mills). Mostly I would swatch at night while watching t.v.
For me, the challenge of designing a piece of knitwear is in getting the swatch right - matching up a particular stitch pattern with a yarn. The swatch is what speaks to me and determines the type of garment to be made. After that, it is all a bunch of math. The designs would be sent to our fantastic team of test knitters.
Because for me, a design is always about the swatch, I held onto my swatches for years and years and years. I moved them to this house 16 years ago, stuck them in a closet in a plastic bag and forgot about them. When the Crafting a Colorful Home book came about, I knew that I had now found a purpose for all those saved swatches. I would make a giant blanket out of them and I would call it my "lifetime" blanket or something along those lines.
First off, I separated the swatches by color. For the past 20 years or so, I have been designing with saturated, bright colors and darker earthy tones. I had a bunch of off white, tan, brown, and other colored swatches that just would not fit the scheme of my decor or fit in with the other swatches. I called my friend Gail Callahan (aka The Kangaroo Dyer and designer and producer of the Color Grid) and asked her if I might be able to use her awesome dye studio to dye some swatches. Gail said "come on down" (she lives only 10 minutes from our farm) and one afternoon, Gail spent a couple hours with me dyeing swatches. Thank you Gail! (Note that I only used animal fibers - wool, mohair blends, no synthetics so I knew that the swatches would take the acid dyes nicely). Here is Gail with the finished newly colored swatches.
Here are the swatches drying outside my studio.
I started piecing the Crazy Quilt Swatch Blanket together on July 18, 2013. I know this because Kevin Ford was shearing our sheep in a field behind someone else's house. I was helping. Between picking up fleeces, there is a lag time of about 5 minutes or so. I get bored very easily and so I decided to bring some swatches with me to start the blanket while I waited for the fleeces to be sheared. Here's Kevin shearing the sheep......
Here is the first section of the blanket on the grass outside the shearing enclosure.....
Once I started, it was hard to stop. I had two very large bags of swatches to work with. I kept sewing sections together, piecing the swatches in random fashion. Sometimes row to row, sometimes stitch to selvedge edge.
I started with small sections, piecing them together not really knowing how it all would shake out.
Oh, and I forgot to say - before piecing, I washed all the swatches so they were nice and clean. And because we have cats.
Once in a while I wanted to use a swatch but it didn't fit. I got out my sewing machine and in steeking fashion, zig zagged a straight line and chopped off the piece I didn't need. I showed you that on August 2, 2013 here.
Once in a while, there was a bit of moth damage to a swatch. I either embroidered over it or crocheted a small circle.......
or odd shape to sew on top of the hole.
or just whipstitched it - which I really want to fix.
On some of the swatches I added a bit more embroidery to make them more fun.
Many of the swatches were made during the design time for my books Kristin Knits and Color by Kristin. You may recognize some of the patterns. Maybe you have knit some of them? Some of the swatches go back to the pages of Vogue Knitting. (BTW, Thank you TRISHA for that write-up about Crafting a Colorful Home on the VK FB page!)
Some of the swatches are over 20 years old and the yarns have been long discontinued. Sadly, I know that many of the mills that made the yarns have also now gone out of business.
I've got a lot of memories in this blanket - of a career I loved working for a small business, learning the ropes of business.
Of learning to chart and draw patterns using Adobe Illustrator.
Of typing patterns to be typeset by a typesetter in his basement before the days of desktop publishing.....
Of trips abroad to mills to procure yarn...
Of trade shows, awful airline flights - 2 things I really do not miss.
But one of the nice memories that I have from working on this blanket is the memory of the friends I have made through the yarn business. My co-workers and colleagues (you know who you are), our old boss Pat Chew who passed away a few years ago, of the fire that devastated our business in the late 1980's and all we learned to be able to keep the business afloat because of the kindness of vendors, customers, and a big old SBA disaster loan.
When I am working on a book, I get rather frazzled (okay, not rather, extremely). I do this all alone and sometimes I just wish I had help. Luckily, my great friend Cathy Payson (who also used to work at CEY) asked if she could help with anything and I said YES. Cathy took the train from Boston where she lives and we spent a weekend sewing swatches together.
We had the absolute best time, reliving crazy stories, sharing new ones, talking about people we knew through CEY and wondering how they were. It was a great couple days.
Here is the progress we made. As the pieces grew we used the large table in my studio as a base to sew against. The blanket started getting heavier. To manage it all, we made 3 separate sections. Where there were gaps, we sorted through the stacks of swatches and picked ones that fit in the holes.
It was really quite a puzzle - but a good one.
Cathy left and I kept sewing until the blanket was big enough for a double bed. I loved what I had made and envisioned how it would look in the future book. Here it is outside on the fence - before the blanket's big moment.
You can purchase my book on my website here. I'm offering FREE Shipping, a Kristin Illustrated Bookplate, and some free Kristin photographed postcards. My family and I really appreciate the support by direct sales of books to you. You can read a little more about that here.