Bristol Ivy's design for The Book of Haps is revealed today: She is an extraordinarily-talented designer, whose approach to knitwear on occasion defies explanation (Astragal, Newsom and Wainwright are all good examples)! Born in Oklahoma, but a resident of Maine since early childhood, Bristol now can't imagine leaving the beautiful coastal state. Bristol learned to knit as a child, but took it up seriously as a teenager, and from the start wanted to make things her own way. She first experimented with creating her own designs in 2008, but we had to wait until 2010 for her to publish her first full knitting pattern.
In her own words:
I’ve been working in the yarn and fiber industry since 2007, in all sorts of capacities. I’ve worked as a production weaver, a dyer, a spinning and weaving store employee, a sample knitter, a tech editor, a photographer, and most recently behind the scenes for the yarn company Brooklyn Tweed. Before I went all yarny, I had planned to take my degree in anthropology and continue through to a PhD and then to non-profit work in the fiber arts. Deciding to skip graduate school and go directly to fiber arts was a really liberating move! Now I work as a designer and travel around the world to teach knitting. I couldn’t ask for a better life!
Without further ado, here's her Harewood Hap - an unexpected take on the chevron pattern.
Jen: I am a huge admirer of the way that you approach your designs. You clearly think about garment construction in a totally different way to most knitwear designers - taking things in unexpected directions and using clever techniques. But you manage to do so without losing sight of the knitting experience, or its finished look. How on earth do you do that? And what would constitute “going too far” (is going too far even possible)?
Bristol: I love coming at things from unexpected directions! One of my big things with knitting is that I want people to realize that their work is theirs to command and to manipulate. We come into knitting with all of these preconceived notions of what garment construction has to be, but when you really think about it, there are no rules. Just because sweaters have been knit for years from the top-down doesn’t mean they have to be. Just because intarsia has been worked in organic, pictorial shapes for years doesn’t mean it has to be. Everything is malleable, for the greater good of your own creativity and your own vision. Once you let those preconceived notions go, you get to construct things in whatever way gets you exactly what you want.
Within that, though, I try hard to make sure that it’s never at the cost of wearability or knittability. Stephen Sondheim has this set of rules that he uses for lyric writing, as follows:
“There are only three principles necessary for a lyric writer, all of them familiar truisms. . . . In no particular order, and to be inscribed in stone:
content dictates form
less is more
God is in the details
all in the service of clarity, without which nothing else matters.”
I think those rules are applicable to any art form, and especially knitting design for me. I am always super happy to go down the rabbithole of a “what if?” moment - what if I played with the increase rate? What if I messed with intarsia and chevrons at the same time? But I always try to make sure that at the end of the rabbithole is something that has purpose as a garment and stays simple enough to be both conceptually approachable as a knitting project and as a wardrobe item. I want my work to push boundaries of what people think is possible with knitting, but I also want it to be something they enjoy knitting and enjoy wearing!
Jen: Browsing through your designs on Ravelry, I noticed that Harewood isn’t the first of your patterns to use chevron or zigzag motifs - is it a shape that you’re particularly connected to? And if so, do you have plans to take it in even more unexpected directions?
Bristol: Oh goodness, I just love chevrons. I think we all have certain things as knitters that click with our brain pathways - some people have a deep affinity with short rows, some with cables, some with colorwork, stuff that they understand intuitively down to their bones. For me, chevrons just make sense. Knitting is so fundamentally fluid and organic, and I love that chevrons and diagonals bring a linear and architectural dimension to that. It’s such a good interplay of soft fabric and sharp line. I can’t get enough! There’s definitely a lot more in the pipeline!
Jen: That's great to hear!
Jen: Many people (myself included) feel daunted by intarsia, or have had bad experiences of picture projects with too many tangled ends. I am very keen to make Harewood - as I am sure many others will be too - so can you offer any advice on starting again with intarsia. I have a sneaking suspicion that with the right project, it doesn’t need to be the frustrating experience that many see it as.
Bristol: I think we all got intimidated by the idea of intarsia and the overwhelming bird’s nest of tangled ends that was the wrong side of our work! Then there’s the drama of gaps at the join, trying to make sure that the floats were long enough when we moved over a few stitches, attempting to weave in ends discreetly... it looks like a whole handful of trouble. But! The thing I love most about Harewood is that, while it looks complicated, the chevron increases and decreases are moving the intarsia rather than the intarsia shifting stitches on its own, so it’s a very clear-cut and simple execution. You get to concentrate on the increases and decreases doing the hard work! What I did to keep the colors straight was to lay each bobbin or butterfly in a row, and then just make sure to flip the work in the same direction every time. After a single right side row, it looks like you’ve made an unholy mess, but when you work back on the wrong side, it’ll untwist as it goes. I will also confess that detangling is a total guilty pleasure for me, so I never quite mind if I get a little bit of straightening-out time!
Jen: Many, many thanks Bristol for sharing your insight and the ideas behind your beautiful Harewood Hap.
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First image © Bristol Ivy, all other images © Kate Davies Designs.