In the Mood

Over at the [Knitting Daily->] blog, they’ve been discussing the design process used by Michelle Rose Orne in her book, Inspired to Knit.  I haven’t gotten the book yet, but Michelle’s description of her design process intrigues me:

As a designer for the garment industry for many years, I used … mood or “story boards” when I would “pitch” ideas for a “line” of sweaters to retail buyers.  Though common in the garment industry, this type of presentation was apparently an anomaly in the world of handknitting!

Well.  This reminds me a LOT of the mind-blowing collage I made last year, when I was doing a major closet clean-out for the first time in several years.  (Well, it blew my tiny little mind, anyway.)  I ran across the collage idea in a book — unfortunately, I’m not sure which one, because I own a lot of books on style, wardrobe, and dressing well — and decided to try it, with some pretty amazing results — one of which was an entirely new direction in my knitting, and my beloved "Sassy" sweater.

Maybe I’m just shallow, but the subject of clothing has always fascinated me.  I can clearly remember how excited I was when Color Me Beautiful by Carole Jackson came out in… oh, dear.  This is going to be one of those I-can’t-believe-it-was-that-long-ago things, isn’t it?  I’m going to guess it was maybe 1983 or so.  Just a second, I’ll be right back…

…OK, it was 1980.  (I wasn’t that far off, but it was still a freaky long time ago.)  I was only 11, but that book made such an impression on me, because it confirmed something I’d been suspecting:  due to my redhead’s coloring, clothes in colors that looked good on most other people didn’t always look too hot on me.

Light grey, for instance, or light blue or even bright red.  I’ll bet both most of you have several items of those colors in your closet.  Not me.  Those are all colors I have eliminated from my wardrobe.  Instead, in my closet — another revelation from that major clean-out session — here’s what you’ll find:

  • black,
  • brown,
  • beige,
  • every shade of green imaginable (except for minty green),
  • and orange.
  • (and yes, some pink.  But not enough, really.)

And actually, I need to restate that earlier sentence — I should say, "clothes in colors that made other people look good didn’t always make me look good."  Because another important concept I learned, back at that tender age, was the idea that it’s the job of the clothes to make the person look good — not the other way around.  (Unless you’re a model or a designer, I suppose.)

In fact, this Color-Me-Beautiful revelation is in part directly responsible for the fact that I knit — because at some point I looked around at what was in the Iowa malls, and I figured out that I was going to spend about as long shopping for an olive-green sweater as it would take to knit one.  It was a matter of learn to knit, or settle for navy blue.

But anyway, back to the point.  What was it?  Oh, yes, story boards and knitting.  So, I’m thinking about my closet collage, and what a success that was in slapping some sense into me changing the way I dress (and shop) much for the better.  I’m thinking about the fact that I’m slowly but surely whittling away at the pile of knitting UFO’s, and that means I’ll need some new projects soon…

Oh, hey, guess what?  I already do this "story board" thing, in a manner of speaking.  I have…  THE HOTLIST (or HL for short).

The "hotlist" is my name for the pile of printouts and copies (copies made from my own books & publications, mind you) of knitting patterns that have caught my eye.  If I see something online that I like, I’ll download it and print out a copy and put it in the HL pile.  If I find something in a book or magazine that’s worth serious consideration, I scan myself a copy and put it in the HL.

You may think, "That’s way too much trouble," but my feeling is, if I don’t want to bother with physically putting it in the hotlist, then I probably don’t really need to spend weeks or months knitting it.  After all, let’s be realistic here — I am speaking as a confirmed  "product" knitter, as opposed to "process" — and my projects tend to be sweaters, not socks or hats that are of short duration and easily gifted.  (Now, if you’re into "process", or yours tend to be different types of projects, then fire away!!  By all means, cast on impetuously, passionately, even heedlessly, Sheryl sister!!)

I’ve been doing the hotlist thing for years, way before [Ravelry->] got started, but I think the Ravelry "favorite" and "queue" functions probably work about the same way for a lot of knitters.  Trouble is — for me at least — that it would be way too easy for me to click-click-click and then I’d have hundreds of things on my lists.  Not the easiest way for me to figure out what to knit next.

I know, I know — the concepts of limiting oneself and exercising restraint are not popular these days.  Planning ahead and making sober, considered choices is not encouraged, especially by Madison Avenue.

But until I figure out how to knit several things at once, I’m sticking to my guns.  The hotlist keeps me from making too many "start-itis" fueled mistakes.  I don’t make good decisions in the throes of fiber-related passion, nor in the throes of a knitting funk.  I’ve spent plenty of money and time on impulse clothing purchases that didn’t work out so well.  Why on earth should I use the same philosophy to choose my knitting projects?  Those generally cost more, in materials and sweat equity and personal investment — a lot more.  Even with the hotlist as a filter, sometimes I’ll look at an HL pattern and go, "What was I thinking?"  OK, that right there is dodging a big ol’ bullet, as far as I’m concerned.

So when I’m in that cast-on-for-a-new-project mood, the hotlist comes in very handy.  I’ll go looking through the HL pile, and often I’ll find I have cherry-picked a half-dozen different patterns that are basically the same silhouette:  cropped vests, maybe, or tie-front cardigans.  Then I have two big ol’ advantages over the impulse method:  one is, I have a pretty good guarantee that the idea of knitting a tie-front cardigan is not just a passing fancy — and two is, I have several versions to look at and compare side-by-side, to see what I like best about each one.

Of course, the next thing that happens is, I like the sleeves on this one, and the neckline on that one, so I have to do some math and swatching to combine the two ideas, and then I’ll get a wild hair and just decide to design my own from scratch.  Well, no system is perfect.  (On the other hand, not every commercial pattern turns out to be just what it’s cracked up to be — remember the Nutcracker? — so designing one’s own is not always such a bad idea, either.)

And here’s a good place to admit that I don’t always rigidly follow my own rules, because the Nutcracker was a pretty impulsive project — saw it, loved it, had to have it, knitted it (a couple of times) — and it turned out to be a success in the end, when I had managed to knit the sweater that I fell in love with in the picture.

At any rate, once my stack of UFO’s are completed, or at least down to a manageable level — I’m really looking forward to going through the ol’ hotlist again in the near future.  I may even try one of those story board collage thingys, and see what happens…

  • And as a reward for making it all the way to the end of this post, here’s a tip that works to keep you from falling for the wrong thing in a knitting pattern.  And it seems to kind of fit in here, what with all this about color and choices and copies.
  • One of the first things we "see" when we look at a knitting pattern is the color of the item.  If you pay attention to this tendency in yourself, you may find, as I do, that you flip through a knitting magazine thinking, "ick, no, awful" and then suddenly there’s a green one and you go, "hey!"
  • The way to eliminate this color bias is to make a black-and-white copy of the picture, and see if you still like it.  Clever, no?

Happy Knitting!

  2 comments for “In the Mood

  1. Sheryl
    08/21/2008 at 8:05 AM

    I like your story board idea and would love to see one you make up. I, on the other hand, cast on indiscriminently (as you well know) and consider my wips as there own kind of story board!

  2. 08/21/2008 at 9:30 AM

    You know I was thinking of you! 🙂

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