Stonecutter: A Conversation with Designer Michele Wang
Posted by Jonathan on
This week I'll be conducting a few short Q&A sessions with our design team to allow them to talk candidly about some of their new pieces from the Fall collection. Today we start with Michele Wang who has been a member of our in-house design team since Fall 2011. ... JF: Hi, Michele! Thanks for hopping on the blog today to share a bit about your work with us! MW: Hello there! I love this opportunity to be able to talk about the work I'm able to contribute to our team. Very exciting! JF: To me your knits are always recognizable. You definitely have a "signature" quality in your sweater designs, particularly in your use of texture and ornamentation. Can you talk a little bit about that? MW: Texture is something I've always tried to work into my art. When I painted, I love to incorporate huge dollops of paint to add more life to the surface. When I would sketch on newsprint, I loved to crumple up the paper first, then draw on it using the hills, valleys and bends in the paper to lend some direction. For me, texture not only adds interest visually, but also tactilely. So when it comes to hand knitwear, I think building texture into a piece is especially exciting. Not only do you get to appreciate it when it's worn, but as the knitter, you can experience it as you're creating, too. I often find myself running my fingers over my fabric as it comes off of the needles every inch or so. JF: We've been calling your Stonecutter pullover a "Symphony of Cables" around the studio. Can you share a bit about your inspiration for this piece and the process you underwent to execute the design? MW: I had started noticing elements of biasing in knitwear design. I don't know if this is something new, or just something I have been tuned into lately. But, what was catching my eye was the creative use of biasing on one portion of a garment to exaggerate shaping, or to give a contrasting drape to a particular section of a design. With cabling in mind, I wanted to use biased cables to change the shape of the pullover's silhouette, instead of traditional increasing, decreasing or short rows. I had a lot of false starts with Stonecutter. The angle of the cable was either too steep or too flat, or the cable wasn't beefy enough, or it was too thick and unflattering. The biggest challenge was finding the right fabric for the areas below and above the biasing. I knew I didn't want anything overly flared at the sides like a traditional peplum silhouette, and my first attempts were just that. So when I thought about which stitch patterns bring in and control fabric, I decided to simply carry up the 2x2 ribbing. A classic example of overthinking a problem, only to arrive at the simplest solution. As for the center panel, I initially wanted a cable motif that would fit between the start of the biased cables. My main concern was the pattern writing. After working out the angles and the sloping, however, I knew the center motif would have to grow out of the biasing in the same way the the side cables did. This added a layer of complexity to the pattern writing, and how we were going to best express that. In the end, I'm so happy that I didn't let the challenge of the writing get in the way of the design. Overall, what I really wanted was a symphony of cables. A pullover that was completely adorned with twists and turns, keeping your eyes and hands busy while knitting, viewing or wearing. (Charting the design was obviously a huge help!) JF: And at the risk of sounding like a complete nerd, the charts within the pattern are completely beautiful in and of themselves! MW: OK, let's nerd out. I love love love that chart. I love it almost as much as the sweater itself. Usually, I do a lot of swatching, then I hit Illustrator and build out the charted fabric, and finally knit it up. This sweater, however, required me to go back and forth quite a few times. When working on a chart, I (and I suspect most designers) am so focused on each stitch and row. Once I was able to sit back and look at the chart in its entirety, though, I honestly did a little jiggle in my chair out of sheer excitement. There is something so satisfying in seeing a technical rendition of the stitches in black and white. It's second only to seeing the stitches come alive while you're knitting. ... ... JF: Stonecutter has already been a big hit with knitters on Ravelry. What design details do you think make this sweater special? MW: I do love the biased cable detail. It gives just a touch of flair and waist shaping that I find so flattering. I also love the rollneck. It's not very unique or different, but I had originally planned to do a simple 2x2 ribbed neckline. Once I got to the top, though, I realized the simple tubular shape of the rollneck itself would mimic a cable and that was really the only way to go. It's also no secret that I like faux cables. With increases and decreases you can easily imitate the shifting of stitches as if you were performing traveling cables. But, how does one imitate a twist? By using a smocking detail when two traveling cables meet, the illusion of a twist appears by wrapping the yarn around those stitches. It's only used once in the center panel, and I love it because it's a little hidden gem the knitter will come across when they get to that row. JF: Any tips to share with knitters who would like to undertake this project? MW: One tip, which would go for any project, is to read over the entire pattern and take a look at the charts. The main chart is very large and can seem intimidating, but it's really straightforward, and the knitting is quite easy. The two sides of the chart are mirrored, which makes memorizing the chart much easier than you might think. If you've cabled before, you won't have any problems. (And if you've never cabled without a cable needle, this would be a good project to start!) My other tip, which is also universal, is to swatch – and make a big swatch. When fabricating a garment, there is nothing more important than making a swatch and accurately measuring gauge. It would break my heart hear that someone had to frog this sweater because it came out too big or too small. Along those same lines, when determining which size to make, always err on the side of more positive ease, rather than less. Cabling makes for a very thick and bulky fabric and you'll also probably be wearing a layer underneath.
JF: Great advice, for everyone really. Thanks again Michele for joining me today! MW: Thank you for having me! We should definitely do this more often. – – – Stay tuned this week on the blog for more conversations with our in-house design team!