Margene: Choosing the right hues for a colorwork pattern is often more intimidating than working with multiple strands. What is the most common mistake knitters make with their choices and do you have a suggestion to guide them?
Jean: The perception of colour is a very personal thing and I wouldn't wish to criticise anyone's choices unless they were unhappy with them. On the catwalks there are k some colourways that I perceive as hideous, but they're always widely copied and sell many pieces on the high street. I sometimes forget that many knitters fear and dread using colour, as I firmly believe that everyone has a unique sense of colour and it’s so important to be able to express this confidently.
A couple of years ago I discovered I'm a synesthete. Until then I'd never realised that everyone doesn't see letters, numbers and words in different colours. Synesthesia is a sort of cross-wiring of the senses, where one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as when the hearing of a sound produces the visualisation of a colour. The Yorkshire artist, David Hockney is a good example of this. While constructing stage sets for ballets and operas, he bases the background colours and lighting upon the colours he sees while listening to the music of the theatre piece. Norman Mailer described the condition beautifully in his biography of Marilyn Monroe – She has that displacement of the senses which others take drugs to find. So she is like a lover of rock who sees vibrations when (s)he hears sounds.
Knowing about this has helped me understand my own colour choices. For others, all I can say is to choose whatever colours work for you, but make sure there is a balance and a unity to the whole. This is often achieved by adding one rogue colour that you would never expect to fit in, which immediately makes the whole thing pop.
For knitters who are totally new to putting colours together, I would suggest either making or buying a colour wheel. To make one you need to take all the colours of the rainbow - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet - and join them end to end. To create a no-brainer colour way, you can't go far wrong if you take several colours that sit next to each other on the wheel and then throw in one from diametrically opposite to add zing. Test out your choices before you commit to knitting them by doing colour wraps on a piece of card 8in x 2in. Wrap small pieces of each colour around the card, trying out different orders until you have a combination you're happy with.
Margene: Some think a creative space needs to be organized to stimulate the creative process, yet others say it should be full of colors, pictures, yarns and anything else needed to stimulate the mind. Do you have a favorite creative space? Is it organized and clean or is it full of ideas, colors, yarn and other stimulations?
Jean: I do all my design work in my studio/office, which is at the top of the house where I can shut myself away and get on with things. It also has the advantage of having the wool room on the same floor, making it easy for me to select yarns for swatching. The two spaces are very different and reflect two different people. My partner, Philip, has been in charge of knit kits and sending out yarns to knitters, so he spends more time than I do in the wool room. He does a very good job of this, but his way of working is not mine. There is a system and he knows where everything is, but in fact for me the whole room is complete chaos! Philip is totally at home with this, whilst it's something that drives me crazy.
Before I can start work I have to have a clear desk. This makes me sound like a control freak and there may be some truth in that, but I just can't concentrate if I have too many distractions. That's not to say that I don't have a pinboard with ideas for new designs, swatches for inspiration, photographs, mannequins, music, a wall full of books as well as my archive of hundreds of patterns I've done over the past thirty years.
They're all there but before I start a new project I have to have them organised so that I can easily access the things I might need for reference. In the process of making a new book, the space becomes more and more cluttered, but the clutter is generated by what I'm working on and not the distracting debris from previous projects.
Margene: My husband and I started a garden a couple of years ago and I’ve found that knitting and gardening have much in common, as they both need to be nurtured to grow. Some projects work out better than others. Do you find this to be true with your knitting, and gardening and, as an avid gardener, what is your favorite vegetable to grow?
Jean: Yes I do find many similarities. Organic gardening is a longtime passion and I love it that for us gardeners the larder is just outside the back door. Unfortunately we have only a small garden in York, but that doesn't stop us from growing tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, onions, capers, herbs and others amongst the purely ornamental plants. We have a large garden in Wales - it's very rural and a great bolt hole from a hectic city life. If I'm bothered about a design, it's a perfect displacement activity, creating a calm space in my head so that the solution seems to fall into place.
At the start of each book I have to have a couple of weeks of cooking time, when I do nothing but displacement activities like gardening, cooking, playing guitar or going on long walks. This gives me a chance to mull over and crystallise design ideas and it's amazing how a blank sheet quickly gets filled. The seeds of designs are often planted years before and given the right conditions they spring forth – much like growing plants.
I love plants period. In fact both our gardens are stuffed with so many plants that I can lose track of some, then it's a lovely surprise when they suddenly take centre stage. I'm an avid collector but have learnt over the years that habitat and soil are everything and you can't put a square peg in a round hole. So I now limit my plant choices to ones which will be happy bunnies in our local conditions. To answer your question about a favourite vegetable to grow, oh this is SO difficult. The answer would be asparagus on sandy soil as although the season is short, there's nothing like having it straight from the garden. However, as we garden on clay soil I think I would choose sweet corn, which is just divine cooked within minutes of being picked.
Margene: Your designs have a very organic feel and often evoke a season, plus you have created projects a knitter can wear in every season. Did you strive to design a book for all seasons and how did each season speak to you during the design process?
Jean: It's funny you should ask this question, Margene, as I already have a book called Knits for all Seasons, published way back in 1993. I wasn't thinking specifically about this when I was designing for Sweet Shawlettes but I can now see that although unintentional, the book could fit into a seasonal sort of order:
Country is fresh and dewy, like the start of a new year, inspired by the rebirth of our garden in Wales every spring. Couture is sophisticated and overblown like a hot summer's day. Folk bears fruit in the seeds of techniques that can be developed in future larger projects. Vintage is informed by fashion from past eras, glamorous and glorious styles, reawakened to inspire contemporary pieces, starting the cycle again.
Thank you, Jean! I enjoyed reading your answers and hearing more about your design process, and your life.
Dear readers, if you would like a copy of Jean's Sweet Shawlettes, please leave a comment by Friday night, January 20th, and Saturday I'll randomly pick a winner. There are more places for you visit on this blog tour, both past and future, and I'm very honored to pass the wand to the incomperable, Anne Hansen of Knitspot, who will post her visit with Jean tomorrow.
The Blog Tour Itinarary:
Jan 2- More Yarn Will Do The Trick– Jean Moss
Jan 3- Wendy Knits - Wendy Johnson
Jan 4- Jan Knitgrrl - Shannon Okey
Jan 5- Yarnagogo – Rachael Herron
Jan 6- The Knitter – Rosee Woodland
Jan 7- Rhythm of the Needles – Joanne Conklin
Jan 8- Knit Purl Gurl – Karrie Steinmetz
Jan 9- CraftSanity – Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood
Jan 10- Planet Purl – Beth Moriarty
Jan 11- Sunset Cat – Stephannie Tallent
Jan 12- A Really Good Yarn – Julie Schilthuis
Jan 13- knit 1 chicago – Lynn Coe
Jan 14- Go Knit In Your Hat – Carol Sulcoski
Jan 15- Redshirt Knitting – Erika Barcott
Jan 16- In The Loop – Cheryl & Ellen
Jan 17- WEBS – Kathy Elkins
Jan 18- Zeneedle – Margene Smith (ME!)
Jan 19- Knitspot – Anne Hanson
Jan 20- Urban Yarns – Alexa Ludeman
Jan 21- A Friend to knit with – Leslie Friend
Jan 23- Tentenknits – Margaux Hufnagel
Jan 24- Fancy Tiger Crafts – Amber Corcoran
Jan 25- Chic Knits- Bonne Marie Burns
Jan 26- The Panopticon – Franklin Habit