Posted by Jared Flood on
Today’s Notebook is devoted to Agnes, my second design from our Met Museum collection from Winter '15. One part of the Met that I really love is the modernist wing. The early 20th-century was such a rich and interesting time of change in art history, so it was a treat to go trawling for inspiration there. The simplicity of much of the abstract work in this portion of the museum makes it a common occurrence to hear visitors saying things like, “That painting is famous? But I could do that!”, though that reductive, spare quality is actually imbued with a huge amount of struggle and meaning for the artist, and I find that a subtle interplay of color and form can actually be powerful despite its often "simple" appearance. One of my favorite minimalist artists is the painter Agnes Martin (she's also the namesake for this design). Her approach to art was probing, individualistic, and even spiritual. The particular painting of hers that really resonated with me—an Untitled work from 1984 (shown above left)—is all about composition with barely any color whatsoever. Though it might seem like an odd place to find inspiration to some, the piece got me thinking about boxy silhouettes and bands of subtle color, ultimately serving as the baseline for the final concept. Just a few steps away is Jasper Johns’s White Flag from 1955 (shown at right)—a perfect example of tone and texture adding beauty to a monochromatic surface. These two works got me thinking about the subtle use of warm and cool tones, and I wanted to capture something of that subtle richness with my own interpretation. I love a temperature-based approach to color and honed in our three palest neutral shades for the first variation of the pullover. Notice how the Snowbound (grey) band at the bust appears cool (almost blue) due to its proximity to the warmer tones of Fossil and milky brown Woodsmoke. Any time I design with stripes or colorblocking, I begin by illustrating countless variations of the garment digitally to assess proportion, balance, hue and value. Here are a few variations of this design that I was playing with during the initial phase (Version C being the final version). Before too long, I realized that it might be fun to work up an additional variation with bolder colors and a different layout sequence (it also meant I could pull from a few more works of art at the Met!). The second version of the sweater also allowed for some variation to the fit of the garment. I really like the combination of a skinny sleeve with a boxy silhouette but know that a lot of people prefer a more relaxed fitting sleeve, so I wrote the pattern with two sleeve options: slim and classic. In our photographed samples, the bolder version (colors Cast Iron, Long Johns & Fossil) is the slim sleeve and the tonal "Jasper Johns" version is the classic (a wider upper arm and slightly deeper armhole). The higher-contrast palette of the second sample was inspired by two other paintings in the modernist wing, each Untitled works from painters Al Held (1959, left) and Clyfford Still (1960, center). I also stumbled upon the Young Woman Peeling Apples painting (1655, right) by Nicolaes Maes (over in Dutch Masters...) which fit perfectly into the theme, too. I loved that this one was from a completely different era but related so perfectly to the concept.
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Tips for Your Own VersionI also wanted to talk about a few tips that might be helpful for any of you knitting this design but wanting to experiment with your own colorblocking palette/layout. When working with fields of color, a key thing to keep in mind is that darker values will visually recede while lighter values "come forward". This rule is obviously more relevant for a high-contrast palette; you’ll notice that if you squint at my pale version it reads more or less as a single hue, and this will be true of any combination of colors that are close in value (read more about color and value from my earlier posts here and here). I did choose to arrange the pale colors from darkest to lightest moving up from the hem, which gives the garment more visual weight at the bottom and fools the eye into thinking the shape is longer than it really is. This is generally flattering on the figure. With pullovers, you typically want to downplay the appearance of width in the waist area (particularly true of boxy oversized garments), so in the higher-contrast version I chose to place a wide block of Cast Iron covering the mid-section, covering the bust with the darkest shade to create a more androgynous form by de-emphasizing the curves there. By contrast, the pale version has a narrower stripe at the bust with the skirt worked in a single color, which has more of an empire waist feel to it. Knowing that the less graphic nature of the pale palette side-stepped the "widening" issue, I thought it would be more fun to play with some subtle front-back changes too, so I flipped the placement of Fossil and Snowbound from front to back, which makes for an interesting detail when viewing the garment in profile (the left photo above gives a nice visual of the difference between front and back). The yoke color block is the most fun to play with in terms of how tall it is, since it interacts with the neckline as well as highlighting the angled shaping of the shoulder and the intersection with the armhole. I like the idea of a shallow block there to look more like epaulets or shoulder patches, but in the end, I wanted it to be deep enough so as not to bisect the neckline. And that's probably about all the nerdy design talk you might be able to handle for one day! The bottom line is that Agnes is a modern, comfortable sweater that's easy to wear and a fun canvas for your own original creation. For those of you who choose to knit this, I hope you'll share your own take on the design!