Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

The Severn Collection from Smith & Jones Knits

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

Logo for Press and Trade Release

Over on my sister-blog at S&J Knits, a little look at the design inspiration behind two of the accessories I have designed for our next venture – a mini-collection of eight accessories.  Due out in the autumn.

You can read about it here.

Design Weekend – The First Design Is In!

Monday, March 31st, 2014

This is the shawl that Tilly knitted after attending the Design Weekend just over a week ago:

Tilly's shawl 1


This is a full circle shawl, knitted in a combination of Fine Lace and Kidsilk Haze, sometimes held together, sometimes fading the colours in and out, sometimes using the yarn single.  It is beaded until the lace border is reached.

Tilly's shawl 2


I provided each participant with a choice of two story-boards and design  briefs.  Tilly chose to design for the brief that asked the student to design a shawl, wrap or scarf, and I specified the yarns that they could use, the beads, and the ‘feel’ of the design.  For this board the ‘feel’ was clean, vintage-chic, under-stated glamour, wearable retro-art.

Tilly’s design is lovely.  It ticks all the boxes, but mainly, it pleased Tilly.  Because each student also had, within the brief I set, to draw upon her own inspirational themes.  Tilly chose to draw upon the sea-scapes of her native England, the east coast wideness of sky and sea and shore; her family sail, and so she also wanted to capture the move and dynamic of sails.

Now, ‘learning’ to design is not an easy thing to do, or to deliver.  This is NOT an intensive, technically driven, C&G style experience.  For one thing, it only lasts for two days.  But it does provide an aspiring knitting designer – be it for pattern adaption purposes, or to design your own, unique accessories, from ‘scratch’ – with a framework to start from.  It also, hopefully, provides a degree of space, time and crucially, I suspect, confidence to take these steps.

Is the way I design the ‘right’ way?  No, but there is no such thing.  I am not trained in banging out sweater after cardigan.  My approach is driven by organic, questing ideas.  The creativity comes first.  But, it is underpinned, as all successful designs are, by A Lot of techie swatching, pencil-sucking, testing and changing things.  That is what I aim to deliver, on my own Design events.

Perhaps, at its basic level, it could be called guided design.  But it does lead to independent, confident, bold designers, who have permission to think their own ideas are valuable and beautiful; and who will gift themselves the time and space and repetitive process of designing for themselves.

I am very proud of Tilly’s design, as I was of all the participants.  The ideas that people have, as I saw when I looked at the output from last week, when they are challenged and nurtured, astound me.  You all have that spark, you know.

Next year – this, of course, seems inconceivable, but it’s already BST, and soon it will be time to decide on all the courses for 2015 – I think I may offer different options.  I liked the fairly ‘open’ brief that gave my students some boundaries, but also a lot of space.  This worked well, especially if me saying:  ‘off you go, design whatever you like!’ just leads to white noise in your head.  So I think this idea will stay, but alongside that, (and maybe over a separate weekend), I will offer the option to design something very much more specific.


Mitts and socks: design process broken down

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

(all together now to the tune of heads, shoulders, knees and toes:  ‘hats, mufflers, socks and mitts – socks and mitts’… and so on.  With any luck you know that tune and it is now lodged in your brain for the rest of the day.  My work here is done).

As you know I am an accessories girl and recently I have been obsessed – even more than usual, yes – with socks and mitts.  The reasons are many but basically I love that they are quick, can be knitted in the round, they are instantly useful, make great gifts and they each represent a blank canvas on which you and I can create our own design features. Let’s take the toe-up sock for example:

I have been knitting toe-ups for a few days (weeks, maybe, on and off) and every time I have an idea, I swatch it.  Here is a group-hug of just some of the mini-sock swatches I did plus 1 and a bit of the actual sock pairs that emerged. I wanted a beaded lace heart motif but it wanted it to be slim and also not the same as the beaded heart I use on my Little Wooden Hill blanket. First stage is to plot it on knitting graph paper (assuming you know the number of stitches you have in which to place it, and approximate gauge, which I did). Second stage is to knit the motif on its own, flat, which I did. Third stage is to place the motif on an actual sock and see if you like it knitted in the round.  I did, but because I didn’t want my mini-socks to be huge, I left off the beads. It’s not a fab picture but you can see the un-beaded heart design clearly on the gold/brown mini-sock.

I then went on and knitted the socks for real, first, with the motif being more or less continually repeated and in a larger foot size, to estimate likely maximum yarn usage:

Here you see the motif runs all the way up the front, plus the heel turn technique I settled on, the twisted rib top and easy-tension lace and picot cast-off, to which I added eyelets and ribbon as these are bed socks.

Another major bonus is that you can try on as you go, thus making sure you knit to exactly fit your foot:

I had also been experimenting with different yarn combinations.  The cream socks are 1 strand of KSH and 1 strand of Fine Lace;  I also knitted mini-versions in Fine Lace only (2 ends), and KSH only (2 ends, but here there is also the excitement of colour combining of course). Each mini-sock was an opportunity to do this and at the same time, turn the heel in different ways – single wrap and turn, double wrap, and my personal preference, turn, no wrap. No holes though, take a look at the heel on the cream pair – perfect.  This took several goes as unless you pick up the stitches that replace the K/P2tog that goes with this move in exactly the right way, you can get a gap.  If I get a gap I want it to be on purpose, ie, a lace eyelet feature and not an accident. 

So, then I knitted a pair with the same motif but placed fewer times, and this time I went for dusty mauve plus copper beads and 2 ends of Fine Lace:

The toes also offer options. You can get a toe that has no seam whatsoever and if your tension is bang on, it just looks like continuous stocking stitch. If your tension isn’t bang on or you fancy a tailoring detail you can vary the way you knit the first 2 rows (rounds, really) and get a neat little arrow-head effect.  I did both, and then some.  These are arrow-head.

The beauty of these is that there is no seam anywhere, no heel flap – though you do get a full-fashioned turned heel – and no finishing.  I like the simplicity with which anyone can make design changes – wider, different shaped toes, wider/more narrow heel-backs and mainly, the front.  The front is where you can place your design. It is your palette.

I am now going through a similar process with mitts. For ages now, spiral images have interested me and because knitting in the round is knitting a spiral, this is where I am now. I designed a spiral lace shrug for my last book and have long used short-row shaping to knit this shape if I’m knitting ‘flat’.  Then I knitted a pair of sturdy mitts in Tapestry (RIP, I miss you), with a beaded spiral:

Close, but no cigar.  I mean, I like them, a lot, and I wear them but the placing isn’t right.  Here is a second effort but this time, a shorter cuff to allow more spiral space on the actual hand, and the spiral, which is moved round, also has an eyelet feature on both sides of it:

I am also working on slightly bigger needles (I’m on DPNs now but could easily be 2 circs) and have added a strand of KSH in Majestic to the Heather Tapestry. When I have this right, I will re-knit them in a current Rowan quality, probably Pure Wool DK with and without the KSH.  The pattern behind is one of my original toe-up sock patts, not mitts by the way.

So, spirals continue to interest me (if by interest, you mean obsess me as I run, work, garden etc). Here is a mini-mitt, and I know it looks vile and as if I have tortured it. I have:

That’s a normal sized safety pin by the way so you see how tiny this swatch is. The line that revolves round is my guide-line, just working a purl stitch and moving along one each round, to enable me to pick up and knit a spiral later:

I agree that this is not a thing of beauty. But, it works.  The frill here is the same size as it will be on a grown up mitt, thus again distorting how we view this. The point of all this is to establish principles of new design ideas, and avoid hours of pointless labour, by expending a bit of time now. These – or at least a version of this – will make an amazing template for other ideas that will drive this simple concept forward – long-arm opera fingerless gloves, full mittens, flippens, shrugs, leg-warmers (oh, OK then, go ahead and snigger but you’ll be sorry when you see me on SCD, warming up in the studio with Anton next season, both of us wearing our beaded, frilled, lace eye-let spiral leg-warmers).

These processes are the real reason I love to knit. If you are coming on the Design Day workshop in March this is the sort of process you will be going through.  That’s why the numbers for that event are limited to 5 and it is fully booked. It’s intense and it’s also free-style. I won’t be giving you a pattern and choice of colours. I’ll be helping you to sketch, ponder, swatch, gnash, chuck away, start again, and write a pattern, based on your ideas. My real hope is that you love this process as much as I do. If it goes as well as I hope I may repeat that day and even consider extending it to cover 2 days so you can actually knit the item or a good part of it, rather than just swatch and pattern write.

Story Boards – it’s almost over

Monday, April 4th, 2011

The fever is passing.  Two boards – two book projections – will be posted off today.  I have loved it.  Days of seclusion, me, the dogs, the fire, locked away in the dining room (AKA the workroom and workshop room).

To pass the time, I have been listening to audio books.  Currently I’m listening to An Equal Music by Vikram Seth.  I loved this book when I read it and I’m enjoying it just as much as an audio book.  Its mood matches the sense of time-suspended that being engaged in such an intensive process conjours up in me.

As a contrast, I also listened to On Royalty written and read by Jeremy Paxman.  I very much enjoyed his dry commentary and easy-access approach to what amounts to a fair bit of history. 

Finally, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winnifred Watson, a lovely, gentle fairy-story, re-published by Persephone Books, who have published many of my favourite books.  It’s my nomination for our Book Club read this week and since I have been knitting non-stop for days and will be doing so all this week too, I can’t read it again myself, so listening to it is a good option. 

The sharp black and cream sample for one of the boards, shown above, is a small homage to Miss Pettigrew…

Story Board Fever

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Story Board fever strikes again.  I’m story-boarding for a couple of new projects, and it’s a very interesting process.

The concept is, as you imagine, to present the premise of the project – in this case, new books – on one large canvass.  Since these are knitting books, they have to convey the way you think the items will look, what shades and yarns you might choose and equally importantly, what the overall ‘feel’ of the book will be. 

For me, it’s a fascinating process, that in itself, seems to have a life of its own.  I start with a list of project ideas that I think I’d like to design.  Then I move on to thinking in some detail about colour and form.  To help me with this, I literally cut up dozens of magazines, cards, wall papers, catalogues…and I start with a huge pile of images, plus my shade charts:

the first symptoms of story board fever - all the shade charts are out


Then I start to play with the images and also select things that I think convey my mood on the board:

And I knit tiny swatches, each a little bit of the DNA that will, I hope, later become the individual projects in the books:

What really interests me is the way that the ideas continue to evolve.  The very process of forcing all the concepts into the discipline of one board – not easy for 20 ideas – is constraining, because you have to be succinct;  and at the same time, very liberating, because you have a pure, clear, creative process ahead of you.

When I do a story board, I feel as if I am retreating into a very private world, in which time feels suspended.  I wish it was – the deadline is upon me!


Spring Cleaning

Friday, February 18th, 2011

I hate housework.  But, I like the house once its done, so I force myself.  However, a wise friend once told me:  if it’s nice weather, do the garden, because the housework will still be there tomorrow, when it’s raining.

With that in mind, I ditched the housework, office and knitting work I had to do yesterday and spent 4 or 5 happy hours outside.  Spring cleaning the garden!

Our garden is large, but not overwhelming;  it’s also on the wild side of manicured.  This may be because I like to be an eco-gardener and little creatures and birds need a bit of ‘mess’.  Or it might be because I am short of time.  Probably the truth lies part way between the two.

So I focus on sections of the garden, because it’s too big to do in 1 (or even 3 or 4) days.  Yesterday I did the long paths in the front garden.  First, I made a lot of mess:

piles of rubbish from the borders all over one of the long paths


And more mess:

And then I cleaned it all up:

Arthur patrols the property


I had two dachshunds with me, Rupert, who is poorly and cage-resting until he has surgery this coming week, and Arthur, who is lost without his half-brother.  Here is Rupert on a brief ‘comfort break’:

Rupert, so handsome


and then there is Arthur, pretty (but not quite as clever as his brother):

Arthur, so happy, so cute - so 'special'...


I’m hoping for a great outcome from Rupert’s surgery next week.  The garden is just alive with hopeful signs – spring really felt very close yesterday.

and finally (for now), this zingy Hellebore:

I think I’ll take all my inspiration for the new story board from the garden.

Snow Inspiration

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

a basket of snow-dusted allium heaads

Like most designers, I take my inspiration partly from nature – how I’d love to be able to knit something as beautiful, wintery and ethereal as this image of a basket of allium seed heads in my snowy garden, collected in the summer and now all frosted.  And what a great value plant it is:  first the slowly developing flower buds, then the frankly very show-off-ski flowers and finally the skeletal seed heads.