One of the pleasures of going to TNNA this past summer was being able to meet Anna Dalvi, the amazing shawl designer, who's new book, Shaping Shawls, is available through Cooperative Press. When Anna asked me if I'd be willing to be part of her blog tour, I jumped at the chance.
Now, you may wonder why shawls, as really, they have little in common with Hats... but here's the thing: apart from the single skein project aspect, they actually have a great deal in common. Hats are not merely just Hats and shawls are not merely just shawls; they can be a playground for design and construction, directional knitting and not so common techniques, and that's why I felt this blog would be a perfect stop on her blog tour.
1) Shawls are your area of expertise - what is it about them that excites you? Are there particular properties that you prefer over others?
I have generally been drawn to knitting in which something "happens" all the time. Lace, cables and colourwork all fall into this category, and among my designs you can find all of those. With lace, there seems to be an infinite number of combinations of stitches that create new and exciting patterns and textures. Shawls are a wonderful way of showcasing the beauty of the designs, as they are often worn on top of our other clothing.
I also love how the weight and fibre content of the yarn used impacts the finished look of the lace shawls - some are delicate and wispy, light as clouds, and others are warm and comforting, almost like wrapping yourself in a big hug.
2) When you start a fresh shawl design, is there one part of the construction or a physical point on the shawl that you start with first? For instance, when I design a Hat I start with the crown, and provided the maths of that works out, I move downwards into the body and brim sections. It may not be knit in that direction, but that's where my thinking starts.
When I start a new design, aside from selecting the yarn and the colour, I usually start with determining the shaping of the shawl. This means figuring out what the edges are going to look like, and where the shaping increases/decreases need to happen. The shaping, in turn, determines the canvas space I have to play with for the design. So in some ways, I guess that means that the design happens from the edges in to the centre.
3) And leading on from how you start thinking about a new shawl design, do you have a preference for how the different aspects of the shawl relate to each other?
I tend to prefer knitting shawls that start by casting on a small number of stitches. While I have both designed and knit a number of shawls that start by casting on hundreds of stitches, I find that it makes me a little bit more apprehensive. I mean..... what if I miscount? What if I change my mind? This happens all the time during my design process. When I start with a small number of stitches, it's easy to just rip back and start over.
4) We've talked a little about how maths and designing can work together - could you expand a little on what that means to you?
For me, designing without math would be impossible, because in my mind, knitting is all math. We may not think of it explicitly as "math", but we all count and measure at some point during our knitting. When I design a new piece, the construction and shaping is all figured out using geometry, straight lines, angles, which then gets converted to actual knitting instructions using rates of increase and decrease.
That all sounds very technical, and I suppose that in some ways it is. At the same time, I allow myself to get lost in the colour and texture of the yarn, and usually the yarn tells me what it wants to be. I have often had a particular yarn in mind, in a particular colour, and have spent hours thinking about the yarn, making associations.
5) You deal with a number of different shawl shapes in great depth in the book - do you have a particular favourite, and why?
The book really focuses on angular shapes - straight lines and triangles. I think those are my favourite types of constructions, because I think of them as building blocks that can be combined into new shapes. In the book, I have tried to distill the shapes into their most basic forms, and then a couple of the chapters deal with modifying the basic shapes for visual interest. There is (almost) no limit to what you can do with these tools. Skuld, for example, is really a sideways triangle with built in edging that is shaped as part of the overall lace pattern. Designing that shawl involved lots of graph-paper, angles and lines.
6) Where do you see your next challenge?
At the moment, I've been rather focused on colour, and my next book project will be very colour-centric. I enjoy working with the wonderfully talented indie dyers, that have so generously supplied yarn for my designs, and I am working on a number of designs inspired by colour itself. But of course I'm going to keep playing with shapes and textures as long as I keep knitting. It's part of what makes me happy.
Thank you so much Anna for sharing you thoughts with me! Shaping Shawls really is a joy, and not only for shawl knitters - anyone who enjoys an unusual construction and interesting knitting process will appreciate Anna's design sense. The photography (and colours!) are vivid and appealing, the book's layout is modern and fresh and very readable, and I've no doubt it'll be a hit.
The next stop on the blog tour will be Anniken Allis, hope you'll follow along!