Debbie's move from sculpture to hand-knitted garments began with magazine commissions for unstructured sweaters. Strongly influenced by artist Sonia Delauney, her first was a stunning knit for Woman magazine worked in Sirdar yarn with blocks of color on the sleeves. Supported by her mothers encouragement (and numerous cups of coffee) she mastered the intricacies of garment patternmaking. In 1978 she became press officer for Hayfield Yarns—a position she held for fifteen years. Working with other designers, she interpreted current fashion into editorial knits. The job involved close contact with fashion editors, which led to several book commissions.
Debbie met her filmmaker husband, Barry, when she was 17. Friends for many years, they finally married in 1982. Three years later, the birth of son Billy had a defining effect on Debbie's career. Inspired by the joys (and challenges) of motherhood, she decided to turn her attention to kids' knits. The birth of daughter Eleanor five years later further bolstered her interest.
Initially, Ebury, Debbie's publisher, did not share her enthusiasm for kid's knits, believing people "weren't interested in knitting for children." Fortunately, an editor's faith in Debbie convinced Ebury otherwise, and her first hook, Baby Knits, hit the bookshelves in 1988. It was a rousing success and was soon picked up for distribution in the U.S. Debbie began work on a string of bestselling titles, releasing two books a year.
The late 1990s saw the U.K. launch of How to Knit. Following the ethos "If I can do it, anyone can," Debbie demystifies knitting in a series of workshops, taking the complete beginner through the early stages and building confidence in more experienced knitters worried about color and texture. Other subjects include lace, entrelac, how to design a basic sweater and decorative details.
f . zing ahead
Like many women, Debbie juggles family and home with a busy workload. Since 1993 she has been the commissioning editor for knitting designs at Woman's Weekly, and
Autumn '99 will see the launch of her ready-to-wear collection of newborn knits for Raby Gap. As if all this weren't enough, she found time to open her own shop, in London.
Debbie holds knitting and design classes at the shop, around the U.K. and abroad. Her aim is to rekindle enthusiasm in young knitters. In no way dogmatic, she happily admits there may be more than one way to achieve a technique, but passes on her advice and expertise as to the method she has found the best. She believes it is both exciting and important to experiment rather than just stick to conventional patterns. While currently inspired by American folk art and patchwork, Debbie also loves the U.K.'s traditional Aran and fisherman patterns, finding more fulfillment in the development of Aran stitches than colorwork. When we met she had just returned from book signing and lecturing at the Creative Sewing & Needlecraft Festival in Toronto and had been asked to return by the Royal Ontario Museum. With all that's, going on in her busy lite, she managed to squeeze in time to design two adorable kids' knits exclusively for VK. —
Since this profile was first published, Bliss has closed her London store and successfully launched her own brand of classic hand-knitting yarns. She continues to design prolifically, contributing to various magazines and pattern booklets and authoring numerous books, most recently Simply Baby (2006); her next book, Special Family Knits, is scheduled to hit stores in Spring 2007.
by John Birmingham
"I was always an angry, rebellious youth, and that affects my philosophy of design, which is to reinvent things "
t4I can't stand that granny image of knitting," says Lily Chin, a confirmed New Yorker in her late twenties who has been designing for more than a decade. "And I'm doing my best to change ir. That's why I like to dress outrageously and to take my knitting with me."
A self-appointed agent provocateur of the knitting world, Chin clearly strives to shock. But she also aims to educate. She conducts workshops around the country, writes a regular column on design techniques tor Knitters magazine, and favors a controlled, analytical approach to knitting. Even her designs are didactic in that they prod knitters to rethink their craft. Take, for example, her innovative draped designs. As Chin points out, they show how a knitted fabric can be made to drape gracefully, "at a diagonal instead of on the vertical."
At the same time, her draped sweaters—inspired by a look she first noticed in the collections of Romeo Gigli—reveal Chin's attitude toward fashion. "I'm very fashion-oriented," she says. "Some people discount it, because the trends change so quickly. But fashion is a cultural indicator. It says something about us, and that's why it keeps changing."
Chin's fashion bent dates back to childhood. "I grew up in the New York schmatta business," she explains. Her mother, a Chinese immigrant, worked as a sample maker on Seventh Avenue, and from the age of 13, Lily spent summers as an "assistant bookkeeper and general gofer" at her mother's firm, where she learned how garments were pieced together. She later attended the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Along the way, she crocheted much of her own wardrobe.
"I loved looking at clothes in magazines, but couldn't afford the prices," she says. "So to me, handcrafts were an economic necessity. Plus, they gave me a chance to make micro-miniskirts, and my mom couldn't complain, because I'd say, 4But mom, 1 made it myself!' "
Today Chin designs knitwear for magazines at her Greenwich Village apartment, which she shares with her fiancé Clifford Pearson, an editor and architecture critic. The apartment reflects diverse interests—a Picasso print hangs next to the B-movic poster; in various corners are three knitting machines; names on the bookshelves range from Margaret Atwood to Marguerite Duras. It s late afternoon as this interview begins. Chin, chicly subdued in black tights and tunic, is just starting her day.
JB: How does living in New York affect your designs?
LC: It keeps me in touch with fashion—not the fashion industry, but what people are wearing on the street. I like to get a feeling for the Zeitgeist around me. In fact, most of my fashion ideas come from being out there and seeing what people are up to. And so many trends begin on the streets of New York. Right now, for instance, the '60s look is big among fashion designers. Well, I was wearing white go-go boots and miniskirts back in 1984.
Which other ideas came up from the streets?
When I was a dancer, we would go out wearing our tights from class, along with an oversized sweater. That was as early as '82. Eventually designers picked up on it, and now that silhouette—a big sweater with little, spindly legs—is part of the mainstream lexicon. As a matter of fact, I designed some knitted leggings in the early '80s, but they were never published. They may have been too outré for the time.
What's you most unusual source of inspiration?
Architecture. Do you know the Bayard Building on Bleecker Street? It's the only Louis Sullivan building in New York. I took one look at it and said, Woah! Sullivan is the father of modernism, really. Rather than adding ornaments to hide things, he brought the structure out into the open, enabling you to see the beams that hold up the building. And I've done the same thing with some of my designs. [Chin points to her version of an Aran fisherman's sweater.] Here, for instance, I use color to bring out the structure, so you can see exactly what's happening.
Is there a usual starting point for your designs? What I call "creative problem solving." Thats when you want to do something, hut you have a certain set of givens to overcome. If I were using a thin yarn and wanted to make a jacket, I might use cahle stitches, which condense the fabric and thicken it. Or if I were using cable stitches and wanted to make a standard-fitting sweater with drape, 1 might loosen up the gauge by using larger needles. Its a matter ol looking for ways to compensate for those givens. One thing leads logically to another.
When have you used "creative problem solving"?
One time I wanted to make a scarf in cables. Usually the back of a cable is the "wrong" side, and it looks like a mangled mess. But I wanted that side to be presentable, because both would be exposed. So I found a way to compensate. I probably wasn't the first to come up with this concept, but I think 1 was the first to analyze it and get it published. The idea is, if you rib everything, the back is the same as the front. So if you cable rib stitches—knit, purl; knit, purl—both sides will look alike. It's a very simple concept. Even beginners can use it.
What else does your design process entail?
My work follows a series of developmental stages. I usually experiment by making swatches; that can save as much as a week of work. I'll do several variations on a theme, trying different stitches, perhaps knitting something in a thick yarn and then again in a thinner yarn. I spend almost as much time planning a design as I do knitting it up.
Is there a preconception about knitting that you'd like to see abolished?
The idea that sweaters all have to be constructed one way— in pieces, from the bottom up. There are advantages to that method. But if you don't think of each project as a jigsaw-puzzle, things can really take off in different directions.
Do you see any limits to what can be done with knitting?
Obviously there are certain things you can't do. Even with a fine-gauge machine, you can't achieve the crispness of a starched white blouse. But I do think that knitting is extremely versatile. As a matter of fact, I'm thinking of knitting a man's suit. I plan to do it on the machine, using a weaving thread to keep the fabric from stretching. Sure, knitting has its limitations. But not too many. ^
Since this article was published, Lily has created runway samples for designers such as Isaac Mizrahi, Vera Wang, Diane von Furstenburg and Ralph Lauren. Her handiwork has graced celebrities and supermodels from Raquel Welch to Cindy Crawford.
She has written four books on knitting and crochet and has won two international contests (2002 and 2004). Dubbed the world's fastest crocheter, she has made numerous TV appearances and is a regular on the DIY Network's Knitty Gritty. Most recently, Lily has started her own line of yarn and patterns, the Lily Chin Signature Collection.
by Polly Roberts
Mari Lynns ability to produce original samples, as well as precise written instructions, keeps her in great demand.
She sees knitting not just as a way to make a sweater, hut as an opportunity to create the fabric, style and fit of a garment all at once. In fact, the prospect of complete creative control led Mari Lynn Patrick to choose knitting as a career—when she was only 12. Now in her mid-thirties, Mari Lynn already boasts 17 years of experience as a prolific designer, technical writer and frequent contributor to yarn companies and knitting magazines.
Adept at both knitting and crochet, she admits knitting is her first love. She first learned to knit and crochet at the age of 7 from her Prussian grandmother. "People from her background did a lot of'white work' or crochet, cutwork, embroidery and lace," Mari Lynn explains. "She would visit us in the summers and be doing a crocheted lace edge on a handkerchief or making a bedspread, and I'd ask her to show me how. I was thoroughly interested."
Stacks of Vogue Knitting magazines at a friend's house provided another early influence. "I thought, gee, I'd like to design clothing. But I wasn't even thinking of sweaters—I wanted to approximate what you could buy in ready-to-wear, like a dress or a coat or an ensemble. This was in the '60s, so the shapes were simpler, but they were all lined and had zippers and darts."
Soon the budding designer immersed herself in sketching and designing. Her first couture customers were her sisters Barbie dolls. From the outset, Mari Lynn had a keen interest in head-to-
toe design. "1 also designed shoes, but didn't feel any control over that because I didn't know how to make them. But since I could knit, I thought I could be a knitting designer. I loved making something from scratch that I could control. To create the fabric as well as the design and shape and size—that was very exciting to me.
This Mari Lynn Patrick design first appeared in the Holiday 2006 issue.
Finding higher education in knitting proved difficult. Not content to study the craft as a mere adjunct to a fashion design curriculum, Mari Lynn finally turned up a few schools in Great Britain that offered programs devoted entirely to knitting.
In the meantime, she attended the University of Massachusetts, studying art, literature and languages. "But 1 couldn't imagine doing anything in those areas," she says. "So when I was a sophomore, I applied to Leicester Polytechnic in the midlands of England. It was nine-to-five knitting—not hand-knitting, but machine-knitting and textile technology. I learned about textile and fiber testing for knitting, making knitted fabrics, cutting and sewing knitted fabrics, dyeing knitting yarns, mathematical and scientific tests on knitting yarns...it was total immersion."
A year later, she came home to finish college. The University of Massachusetts gave her credit for the year abroad, with an independent degree in textiles. So in her senior year she returned to studying languages, which led to the sideline as pattern translator.
"Translating has been very helpful to me, because there's a bigger variety of stitches, techniques and finishes in France and Italy," says Mari Lynn. "I've gotten a fuller understanding of different approaches.
This Mari Lynn Patrick design first appeared in the Holiday 2006 issue.
Her career started with jobs at American Thread and, later, Columbia Minerva. There she learned the value of measuring, charting, testing, proofreading, checking and checking again. "It was a good way to learn to write instructions. I don't think the yarn companies today are doing that kind of intensive in-house training, and young people just aren't learning pattern writing."
Mari Lynn's ability to produce original designs and beautiful samples, as well as precise written instructions, keeps her in great demand. Over the years she has worked for almost every major yarn company and craft magazine, including designing and writing articles for Vogue Knitting beginning with the 1982 Fall/Winter issue. Now, because her pattern-writing skills are becoming so rare, she finds herself writing more than knitting.
UI like to write probably as much as I like to knit, and the more challenging, the better," she says. "It's very important to me that a design be makable and that someone else can understand and digest it. And for my own satisfaction, it's fun to find the answers—it's like working out a puzzle—and then write it in a clear and concise way."
As Mari Lynn sees it, knitting is alive and well, with lots of young talent coming along. uIt may not attract a huge following, but the people who are involved are totally involved and think about knitting day and night." Still, she worries that the scarcity of good technical writers will lead to patterns that are confusing and frustrating—possibly discouraging new converts. "There are very few people who can really do it well. You have to orchestrate a lot of elements at once while concentrating on individual things; and it requires concise writing skills, as well as a certain mathematical ability."
She favors a classic approach to design, shying away from exaggerations of style and Ht. "I avoid highly slanted or curved fit. 1 don't feel it's appropriate to knitting. The knit stitch has a life, stretch and contour all its own. So the shaping I do is a bit more graceful; it lets the knitting itself take over.
"But I probably do more shaping than anyone else, and there are ways to shape and improve fit: interior curved bust shaping, back darts, front darts Then there
are extended sloped front shoulders that fir onto a shallow hack shoulder. That makes the shoulder portion of a jacket fit better and keeps the neck in place, too. It's the same way ready-to-wear is cut...and the armhole is cut deeper in front than in back; that way the sleeves are shaped differently."
Because fit and shape can't really be evaluated until a garment is finished, Mari Lynn is highly disciplined about charting her designs. "I work from a schematic diagram—1 adjust all the lines on graph paper until I feel it's exactly what I've sketched. Then I just count the squares, follow the curves, and measure and plot the increases and decreases, It's a precise, simplistic approach, and everyone can do it."
To save time, Mari Lynn plots and writes out the pattern before starting to knit. "It's very useful—because then as you're going along, if you make changes or there's a better way, you can note it on the spot. And when it's finished, you have a thorough pattern guide and there's no confusion."
Mari Lynn pays special attention to finishing. "You're spending so much time to make something, I feel finishing is very important. I join from the right side, matching stitch to stitch, and tend to use a selvage stitch that will disappear to the inside. I often weight or thickly finish edges with interior hand-knit facings so that the edges fit and lie flat. And I always innovate edges and try something I haven't done before."
Since she enjoys using a wide variety of techniques, Mari Lynn encourages fellow knitters to explore new ones as well. "I would like to see people get into more sophisticated patterns and approaches to knitting clothing," she says.
And what is there left for such a dedicated knitting pro to explore? "Someday 1 want to make filet crochet curtains and beautiful bedspreads," says Mari Lynn, "like my grandmother did."
Mari Lynn continues to design prolifically, and her designs and patterns appear regularly in all major hand-knitting publications.
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