A note from Kathleen: Lisa Shroyer is here today to talk about her journeys in knitting and knitting on her journeys. She’ll also share some of the great stuff in the new issue of knit.purl. (Check out the preview here!)
Sanctuary Knitting on the Road
I was on a plane to Phoenix, Arizona for the winter trade show of The National NeedleArts Association (TNNA) and I had foolishly packed a whole sweater as my travel knitting project. It barely fit in my carry-on satchel and it took up my whole lap. But I wanted to work on this project, and travel and trade shows provide so much knitting time. At these TNNA shows, designers, editors, and yarn company owners gather in the evenings, filling up hotel lobbies, communing over their WIPs, chatting about new trends, yarns, and life. So I packed the sweater.
On the six-hour flight, I attempted to work a three-needle bind-off over the shoulder stitches. The work was turned partially inside-out and the body fabric was flopping this way and that, and I dropped a couple stitches, and a very large man was sitting to my left, his arm over the armrest, my knitting over his arm. He was annoyed (I assume) and I was also annoyed. This was not a good idea. But the flight was SIX HOURS LONG. I had to knit.
I have a history of being impractical with my travel knitting. In 2013, I took a ten-day trip to India and packed a sweater to work on, this one a raglan worked in one piece, sleeves and all. Domestic security within India is very tight, and at the smaller local airports, I almost lost my metal circulars to unsympathetic guards a few times. Pulled right out of the knitting, hundreds of little yoke stitches free! free! free! I worked on that sweater throughout the trip, including a lengthy train ride in very cramped quarters through northern India. When I got home, I decided the fit was all wrong and threw the thing in a closet. It’s been there for almost two years now.
The thing is, on that trip to India, I didn’t have the time or capacity to think about the sweater, to do the proper math, to revisit the measurements and rework things. And I hadn’t done thorough planning for the design initially. That trip was so full of people and fast-moving, highly stimulating experience that I just needed something for my hands to do, mindlessly, during the down moments and the long, squishy transit times. Those long rows were my safe space in a place and experience that I didn’t have much control over and that felt very new and very raw to me. It was more than process knitting—it was sanctuary knitting. It was home in a foreign land.
On the plane to Phoenix, as I grumbled over the dropped stitch I couldn’t see from the wrong side and that was creeping downward in the work as I moved the fabric, trying to find it, it dawned on me that it was weird to be working on a large-scale, detailed handmade item on a cramped airplane, trying to execute fairly complex construction steps. People don’t bring their woodwork or glass-blowing projects on planes. Couturiers don’t bead bridal gowns on buses. (Not that I’ve seen, anyway)
Working with designers like Catherine Lowe and Lily Chin on the brand-new spring issue of knit.purl this year firmly put knitting back in that light for me—they remind me that this craft is a complex one, an artform, and the craftsmanship and decisions that go into a garment are highly specialized, technical . . . and important. There is sanctuary knitting—something therapeutic for the mind and hands—and there is couture knitting: creating custom, exquisite handmade items of clothing. I think good design offers us both aspects. With proper planning ahead of time, my India sweater could have offered me both.
Catherine Lowe mentors us on sound design principles and the importance of details in handwork—in this issue we hear about her unique selvedge construction methods, and she also uses those methods in an exclusive design for the magazine, the subdued but gorgeous San Lorenzo Wrap. Lily Chin lays out the concepts for planning and working custom short-row bust darts in sweaters; the visuals in this tutorial really cemented the process for me. I look forward to getting a more couture fit in my future projects.
In this issue, we also take a look at the exquisite designs of Anna Cohen for Imperial Stock Ranch. This collection of ready-to-wear clothing comes from the same place our yarn does—the sheep, the land, the hard work of growers and keepers and makers. Good materials make all the difference when a designer’s vision is produced in the real world.
And there are twenty-two one-of-a-kind projects here for you to dream over, swatch over, and cast on—projects that allow for customization and fine finishing.
I encourage you to think about your knitting in this way: even the simplest project is couture in that it is one of a kind; it is handmade. Fine craftsmanship and materials combine for incomparable quality and beauty. With knowledge—learn from the masters!—and careful forethought, you can enjoy the process and fashion a genius piece of functional art.
And you can do it on a plane.