I do. In fact, that's how I came up with the idea for knitted frogs. I was frantic to finish a piece that was due the next day, and the editors wanted frog closures. I didn't have the time to shop for them, so 1 stitched up some I-cord and just started coiling and playing with it until I got something I liked. So necessity truly is the mother of invention.
Right. And figuring out a new way to do something is a kind of artistic expression. It upsets me when people say that everything has heen done before. This would be a very boring world if that were true. Creativity is simply a matter of viewing something familiar from a new angle.
Is that how the embellishments and edgings that define your design style come about?
I ve always been fascinated by edgings—they're like frames around a painting. And I enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to create them. I lay a piece of edging down °n the floor, twist it a certain way, and suddenly it's a flower. I don't like to give up °n an idea. If 1 don't like the way it's going, I don't ditch the project and start over. Instead, I see if 1 can turn it into something else. Some of my best hats started as sweaters. The average head measures 20 inches, and so does the average sweater back. Knit it up about 7 inches, seam it together and you've got a hat.
Now I know what do with all those half-finished sweaters I have lying around.
You're obviously not the kind of designer who's afraid to share techniques and ideas.
I don't see the point in trade secrets. I get a big kick out of seeing my designs, or elements of them, on the street, and 1 love sharing what 1 know. I teach a class on attaching bobbles, and its like magic when everyone gets it. Your books fill a similar need.
Well, it I'm going to write a book, I want it to be one that I would use myself— something that I can reach for time and again for inspiration as well as technical instruction.
Knitting On the Edge includes how many different trims?
Three hundred fifty—all the ruffles, laces, fringes and picots I've used over the years and then some. There's nothing like it out there. Some of the designs are my own; others are classics I've updated and given a new twist. I wanted to give knitters a one-stop-shopping resource tor fabulous finishes. Anything else in the works.7
I'm finishing up a book called Barbie & Me, which includes doll-, child- and adult-size patterns. After that, I'll be pulling together Knitting Over the Edge, which will cover all the fabulous things I couldn't fir in Knitting On the Edge. Any parting advice for budding designers?
Always go for the extra touch that makes your project a showstopper. Most of all, believe in your work and enjoy it!
Of course, I can't let you go without asking the question that every interview has to include.
What inspires me! Chocolate. And knitting in the nude. ^
Nicky has followed up on the phenomenal success of Knitting On the Edge with two bestselling sequels, Knitting Over the Edge (2005) and Knitting Beyond the Edge (2006), and with Nicky Epstein's Knitted Flowers (2006). Her Knitting Never Felt Better: The Definitive Guide to Fabulous Felting, will appear in June 2007 (all published by Sixth&Spring Books). Nicky continues to teach and give workshops across the U.S. and around the world.
by DaryI Brower
You won't find too many knitting books with a foreword written by a physicist, but then again, there aren't too many knitting designers like Norah Gaughan. With an art-filled childhood (both of her parents were illustrators) and a lifelong love of math and science (she earned a biology degree from Brown) behind her, Gaughan puts hard science on equal footing with creative expression in her first book, Knitting Nature.
Daryl Brower: You are so well known and so well received in the knitting industry that it's hard to believe Knitting Nature is your first book. Did you find the experience of designing for yourself different from that of designing for someone else? Norah Gaughan: I've had designs featured in different knitting books, but this is the first book that's all mine. Doing it was a liberating experience. Most of my career has been spent working for yarn companies or for magazines, and while there's certainly some artistic freedom in that, you are designing within a set of specifications: Use this yarn, appeal to this customer, interpret this theme. With this book I could focus on what I wanted to do. And what was that?
Experiment. The publishers really gave me free rein to come up with an idea for the book, which was exciting. I was browsing in a store and came across a copy of The Self-Made Tapestry, a book about pattern formations in nature written by the physicist Philip Ball. It demonstrates how patterns like spirals appear again and again in seemingly unrelated situations—hurricanes and sunflowers, for instance. That got me thinking about how these forms could be knitted.
In the introduction to Knitting Nature you talk jokingly about leading a double life, one divided between equal interests in art and science. Can you explain that a little more;
Art was the big focus in my family. My parents were both artists [her mother, Phoebe, is well known in art and needlework circles], and there was always paint and paper and fabric around the house. We were all encouraged to use it any way we liked. Sounds fun.
It was. I loved making things. But I was also very interested in math and science. I liked studying these subjects, and they came easily to me. I loved art too, but I thought it was hard. I had to work at it.
Your mother does a lot of illustrations for needlework books and magazines. Was knitting something you grew up with?
Needlework, yes; knitting, no. My mom and grandmother taught me to crochet when I was very young, and 1 loved to embroider and sew, but I didn't learn to knit until I was 14. I spent a summer with a friend in Princeton and she introduced me to it. Were you instantly hooked?
Yes, but I was also incredibly frustrated. I was, and still am, a perfectionist, so I cried whenever 1 couldn't understand a pattern. And since no one in my house knew how to knit, I really didn't have anyone to help me. You've obviously managed to work past that. How? My mother bought me a copy of Knitting Without Tears. And?
And 1 stopped crying. Elizabeth Zimmermann made it all make sense to me, and 1 found that 1 enjoyed knitting very much. So I started working out my own designs. When I was in high school my mother helped me get one of those designs published in a needlework magazine she worked for.
Did you decide then that you wanted to be a designer.7
No, not really. I'd always been interested in math and science, so I decided to study biology at Brown, not because I planned on doing anything with it, but because I liked to study and the topic interested me. So you became a bio major for fun?
I suppose so. You know, I grew up in a household where working freelance was the norm. Neither of my parents ever had a "regular" job, but they always had plenty of work and they liked what they were doing. So I never had this feeling that you were supposed to worry about what you were going to do with whatever degree you earned. You were supposed to study because it interested you and you were furthering your knowledge of something you enjoyed.
The world might be a happier place if more people thought like that. What about the art, though? Did you miss that?
I did, so I started taking art classes too. And 1 ended up with an undergraduate degree in biology with a concentration in studio art. I was still knitting, so after 1 graduated 1 answered an ad for a sample knitter and began working with Margery Winter and Deborah Newton. Deborah started recommending me to editors tor design assignments, and Margery taught me much more about designing. And the work just snowballed from there. I swatched ready-to-wear for a few companies, designed for Adrienne Vittadini and eventually became the design director at JCA. Now I'm the de sign director at Berroco and am working with Margery again. Do you have any regrets about not pursuing a career in science? In the beginning I was very conflicted about it. I went to college at a time when the whole idea that women could and should be pursuing fields that were male-dominated was being pushed hard, and underlying that was the sense that nothing that might be construed as woman's work had value. So when I found myself knitting for a living, I sometimes had to fight this inner voice that said, "You should be doing something more serious." But you ignored that voice.
I absolutely loved knitting, and my parents encouraged my creativity and were very supportive. They never gave me the sense that I'd wasted their money by going to
Brown "only" to end up designing sweaters. Their feeling was that I'd accomplish something with what I'd learned, whether I used it directly or not. And with my hook, I feel like I've really brought my math and science side and my artistic side together.
Is science where you find your design inspiration?
In a sense. What I like is a challenge. I started by making up new twisted stitches and cables—I like the logic of them. Then I went on to experiment with construction, trying to find different ways to piece a sweater together. And to these I added everyday observation. The spirals in the book, for instance, came from a river that I pass on my way to work every morning. I'd see these swirls of foam and the vortices they made, and I began to think about how those swirl patterns repeat and grow and how they could be re-created in yarn. You like the complexity?
My designs look complex, but they're actually not. The underlying structure is basically one motif that repeats over and over. I like to keep things logical so you can remember where you are and what you're doing as you go along. So anyone can knit these designs?
It may take some technical expertise to master one of these motifs, but once you have it down, you can just go with it. It's one idea that gets repeated and expanded upon until it becomes something else entirely. And that's an exciting thing to experiment with. You never know where it will take you. ^
YARN: My interest is primarily in textures you can create with different stitches, not in the yarn itself. So I tend to prefer the more classic styles of yarn. I also like the springiness that natural fibers such as wool provide. I think using a fiber like this does make a difference in the stitch quality you get.
PLACE TO KNIT: In the winter I knit in my sunroom—in front of the TV. In summer it's in the Adirondack chair in my backyard, listening to podcasts on my iPod.
by Gail Goldie
Born in Cambridgeshire, England, in 1945, Sasha Kagan is the proud daughter of a talented English seamstress and a Russian engineering translator. A childhood spent knitting and sewing at her mother's side instilled a passion for pattern and an inherent understanding of the textiles that would inspire her for years to come.
Sasha's parents encouraged her to put her artistic skills to work on a professional path. In 1965, Sasha entered the Exeter College of Art to train as a painter, emerging three years later with a diploma in arr and design. Her paintings of this period are an early indication of the passion for the pattern repeats and layering of colors that would later emerge in her knitwear designs. Continuing her academic career, Sasha moved on to the Royal College of Art in London, where she studied printmaking. Courses in etching, lithography and silkscreening further fueled what she terms an "obsession" witl repeats. "They're therapeutic and calming," Sasha explains. "Finding the repeat in a pattern and recreating it over and over is very soothing." Sasha found herself discovering beauty in the simplest of objects and began using them in her work. One amazing silkscreen print from this period features and enlarged stockinette-stitch
This Sasha Kagan design first appeared in the Fall 2006 issue.
With a knack for color artistry, an acute sense of the world J around her and a keen business acumen, British designer Sasha Kagan has turned her creative desires into a smashing success.
pattern worked in varying colors; another, a 25'763cm-square lithograph, is a fantastic study of blades of grass. Fascinated by flowers, leaves, repeating organic forms and layering of images, Sasha began combining colors and shapes and playing with textures—an exploration that continues in her current knitwear design.
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