The Design Diaries: Inspiration Strikes!

Knitters have access to a wide range of patterns, of all ranges of complexities and beauty. But how do such things come to be? How do designers come up with their ideas? What is the process like? How do they get from idea to final piece? I was recently struck very forcefully by a flash of knit-design inspiration, and thought that it might be interesting and/or entertaining to share some of my design process with you. Keep in mind, this is only my way of working through the design process, and it is going be different for everyone. 

Part 1: The Inspiration

I usually have a pretty good idea in mind of what I am designing before I start. Sometimes the inspiration is a building, sometimes a place, sometimes the pattern of leaves or branches or the outlines of mountains against the horizon. But this particular design was inspired by a van parked alongside the Thames with the following logo on the side: 

I live in Putney, which is the starting point for the annual Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race. For those of you unfamiliar with the event, this event ha been running for almost 200 years, and pits the top crews from Oxford and Cambridge against each other in a head-to-head battle over a 4+ mile course running from Putney Bridge to Mortlake. As with any event with such a long trajectory, there is much history, many controversies and a pile of breathtaking moments.

The reason I look forward to the race is a pretty complicated one. When I was 8 years old, I started taking ballet lessons after school. I started off with one lesson a week, then moved up to two, then three. By the time I started high school (Year 9 for those not familiar with the US educational system), I was dancing for a couple of hours a day, five days a week, and most of the day on Saturdays. I was also 5'8", and not exactly built like a ballerina (to put it mildly). It became abundantly clear soon thereafter that I was not destined to be the next prima ballerina of the Boston Ballet, and I ended up stopping cold turkey.

So there I was, used to partaking in strenuous physical activity more or less constantly, but with no activity any more. Enter my newly-formed high school rowing team, which saved me. In so many ways, crew was the perfect sport for me: I was tall, strong, heavy and had pretty good kinesthetic awareness from many years of ballet. And for the first time since hitting puberty, I didn't feel like a bull in a china shop. Instead of feeling like I need to minimise myself to fit in with the smaller, skinnier dancers around me, I could suddenly be proud of my size and strength, instead of feeling like I needed to apologise to everyone. In my novice year, I was the stroke of my boat, and had one of the fastest erg times on the team. That was the start of fifteen years as a rower, ranging from that high school crew team to Junior National Camps in the summer, to winning the Club Four event at the Head of the Charles and the collegiate league championships in my last year of college, to rowing at the club level at Potomac Boat Club during graduate school. After grad school, I moved to Arizona, where crew teams were non-existent, and took up cycling and triathlon. When we moved to London, I found rowing again, and while I haven't started up back in the boat myself, I can see the shells out on the water on a daily basis.

All this is a very long way of saying that rowing has a special place in my heart, and the Boat Race van kindled my design inspiration in a major way. So what is it I'm going to design?

A hat. A rowing hat, to be precise. Actually two hats: a rower's hat and a spectator's hat, sharing a boat-inspired stitch pattern, but in two different shapes. A slouchy version with only a few motifs for those of us shore-side, and a beanie with an all-over pattern for keeping a rower's ears warm. Because even in April, it can be cold and raw out there on the water. In the next installment of the Design Diaries, I'll talk about swatching for needle size, stitch pattern and the yarn. Oh the yarn...