WP7: A conversation with Ann McCauley
Posted by Jonathan on
.JF: Welcome, Ann! Thanks for joining me today. AM: Happy to do so! Thanks for having me, Jared. JF: You came to knitwear design from the world of dance and performing arts - can you talk a bit about that transition? AM: I very much needed knitting in order to be a better dancer! I re-discovered knitting (from childhood) on my first European tour. The plane landed in Denmark and there was public knitting everywhere. I started buying yarn and needles immediately. There’s a lot of waiting in the performing arts – while traveling, during technical rehearsals, working with live musicians, etc. Knitting eliminates waiting. The small, subtle, intrinsic movement of knitting balanced the large, exaggerated, extrinsic movement of dance. When I was performing, I knit other people’s designs, but I wasn’t always pleased with the final results. As I shifted out of performing into teaching dance and other movement forms, space and time opened and I began to see that knitting was becoming the current creative outlet in which I could create my own designs for the results that I preferred. JF: Do you feel like your experience as a dancer informs decisions you make when designing for women? AM: Elements that overlap between knitwear designs and dance are abundant for me. The list includes shape, line, proportion, balance, form, theme and variations, composition, repetition, alignment, order, rhythm, spatial relationships and more. JF: Sounds like no shortage of crossover there! I think musicians, too, could understand this type of intersection. AM: Yes! The significance of the arts and the art experience cannot be overstated. The ancient Greeks even recognized the arts as a cure for depression.
.JF: One of the reasons I love working with you is your superior attention to detail and your beautiful execution of your garments. Are you self-taught as a designer or did you have formal training? AM: Thank you, Jared, that’s quite a compliment coming from you! I discovered in the dance world that attention to detail made a huge difference. It’s really where nuance and style come from. I think execution is best served by being as meticulous as possible. I’m fond of saying lots of small details add up to make a big cumulative difference. Detail and execution are honed the more we look at our knitting. The more we look at our knitting the more we ‘see’ and are better able to ‘read’ our knitting. I am primarily self-taught. If I didn’t know how to do something, I would reference a knitting book or a knitting friend who did production knitting. JF: Did you learn from knitting patterns designed by others as well? AM: I always viewed knitting someone else’s design as taking a class. JF: I know from working with you on several collections (this is your 5th design for Wool People) that you love swatching, and that you spend a lot of time really developing your hand knitted fabrics. How would you describe your design process when you are composing a new idea? AM: For me, when we talk about the design process, we are talking about the creative process. My experience is that the creative process can be a highly variable experience each time it occurs. The one constant is that to initiate that process I have to allow myself the time to be in a very still and quiet space, and allow myself to observe what ideas are floating around in my thoughts.
.JF: That resonates a lot with my process as well – the need for a quiet, peaceful space to allow your mind to wander and pursue ideas that, when in a rush, you might not give yourself time for. AM: Best case scenario is I visualize an entire sweater design in a flash. Some designs start with a very clear visual image resulting in a smaller swatch. Some take much longer to develop and on a few occasions, I have ended up with a swatch long enough to be a scarf, only it’s not a very pretty swatch. It’s a jumble of different stitch patterns combined in different ways until I really start to like what I see. It comes back to the visual, but I’m also not beyond asking my knitting what it wants to be. JF: It’s a very fluid process at that point – adding things, taking them away, letting previously disparate ideas come together to create new solutions – and I think working in this way puts someone in the right “receiving” place for revelation. AM: Exactly, I think to design one has to love the process and maintain an openness within that process. It’s always exciting to ‘stumble’ into a design direction that is unexpected. JF: Arabella is a fun and unexpected shape. How and when was the seed for this design planted in your mind? AM: Well, you know that the weight and drape of your Loft is irresistible. It is such a lovely weight to wear year round. It’s significant to match what a yarn will do with a design. I had other ideas going for Wool People 7 until I happened to go shopping. I was actually trying on clothes in a shop and the idea for Arabella spun off of combining elements from a few different garments coupled with some of my own preferences.
.JF: It’s a very flattering piece – with a fitted upper yoke/sleeve and a flowing A-line lower body. AM: I like that it is a design that works well for different body types. I always wear a garment at least for a day before I send it off, sort of like test driving it to see how it’s working. When I test drove Arabella, it very much felt like a garment that is fun to wear. It made me want to move and watch the way the fabric could swing and swirl. We could have spelled it Air-abella! JF: I had to laugh at our shoot – both of our models independently did twirls when they put it on – I told them both that the designer was a dancer! AM: I’m delighted that it makes the wearer want to move which is even more than I had set out to accomplish! JF: Ann - this has been a pleasure! I’ve loved hearing about your thoughtful and detailed process. Take care and best of luck with your upcoming endeavors! AM: Always a pleasure to interact with you, Jared! Your inspiration spills over all of us in the knitting world.