Introducing ReKnit, featuring Alicia Plummer
Posted on November 27 2020
ReKnit asks designers to revisit a beloved pattern and reimagine it in one of our heirloom yarns, while asking, as a creator always must, which paths to take, and thus, which to turn away from. In this turning back, designers can explore the path not taken and forge ahead, making something new from something familiar. We hope this helps makers to break from the cycle and pressures of production, and focus, with the designer, on the process, just as we do when developing and choosing our small batch, breed specific yarns.
Our first Reknit designer is Alicia Plummer. Read about the inspiration behind this collection, Alicia's design process, and the yarn she chose.
What inspired you to create the first collection?
The first collection wasn’t so much a collection as me returning back again and again to the same stitch pattern. It’s a little like re-wearing the same jeans every day because they’re just right. Design is very emotional, very personal to me--and the process has moments almost akin to synesthesia. I don’t personally have the phenomenon but when I touch yarns, experience the colors, and sample the different stitches they speak to me. Put all together, a piece I design tells of a moment, gives me a feeling. That’s one of the reasons I write the little snippets as an introduction to my patterns. It provides knitters with a more tangible connection to the inspiration.
The Swiss Dot stitch is one of my all time favorites. It feels like a clean kitchen with coffee brewing first thing in the morning, like negative space and freedom in a wide open clearing, like the fresh ocean waves cascading over rocks, like that renewing moment that the first brief snowshower drifts fat flakes over a faded landscape.
When approaching ReKnit how did your process change or stay the same? What details did you want to make sure to keep, and how did you decide what to change?
The process was really fun because the brunt of the work was already completed before- like skipping the brainstorming, outlining, rough drafting and editing steps of writing and just going straight to the revision and publishing! Swatching was unnecessary also. I swatch (really, everyone needs to swatch), but I don’t enjoy doing it. I like diving in.
I definitely wanted to maintain the overall integrity of the designs. Structurally, they were sound-but dimensions were altered, color placement was shifted, proportions were balanced. I added a few new pieces in, too, that I felt rounded everything out: the cozy golden-tipped socks that I imagine sweeping over a polished wood floor while a woodstove flickers silently in the background, a plush white mock turtleneck made of the same yarn as coastal fishermen’s sweaters, but updated to a modern drop sleeve with clean, straight lines.
With the actual process itself it’s so nice to reknit something because it’s more fluid. Muscle memory is a thing, and it affects our knitting more than we realize. Because of this, the workflow is definitely smoother. Having a solid starting point also means you’re not experimentally working something and potentially ripping it out. You’re tweaking something that has already been brought into the world- like smoothing and refinishing an aged wooden trunk, or visibly mending a well loved flannel shirt.
What changes did you want to make the second time around?
The shawl definitely needed to be a lot larger! That is such a great shawl-- and it’s so incredibly soothing to knit. As the fabric grows across your lap it feels like a blanket and keeps you warm while you’re working it. I love that feeling- almost like an old quilt. Shawls with huge dimensions are so versatile because you can get a world of options out of them: worn like a hap, wrapped around the body and pinned to the back, wrapped around the shoulders cozily as is tradition, and modernized and pinned around the neck like a bold statement piece.
The hat and mitts I loved from the beginning, but I wanted to dip the thumbs in color instead of the tip, and I wanted the brim to be a definitive line and not the crown of the hat.
How do you balance the pressure to produce new patterns with a commitment to slow, intentional making?
I am challenged with balance. Sometimes I have to avoid looking at other social media accounts because I am a perfectionist and also very hard on myself. I will compare and scrutinize myself very harshly and end up feeling stressed. As children, we wandered and played in the woods, took in the night sky above us with awe, scrutinized tree bark and leaf patterns. Slow making is connected to this- are we rushing through things to churn them out and have more, or are we intentionally making choices to experience the very act of creating? Are we stopping to take in the very core of what we do? Stress slips quietly away when we really focus our energy in a way that stands in contrast to the bustle of the world.
When I design, I write while I am knitting. This slows the process down a lot-I’m constantly engaging with my work, interacting with it and imagining possibilities, knitting while typing. I don’t knit first, write later, or write first, knit later. As a very visual person, I need those steps to be tied together. I will set up an entire mood around a piece- a candle that I think smells like what I’m inspired by, I’ll read books that plunge me into similar settings, I’ll listen to music that mirrors the emotions too so that it’s an entire experience, immersive and enveloping.
Balance challenges me. I think that’s truly one of the things life is about- improving, learning, becoming better. Sometimes change is easy and intuitive, sometimes it’s difficult and challenging, keep-you-up-at-night gut wrenching. I’m sure every reader here has moments they can pinpoint where life was almost unbearable, but has led to immense growth. Growth is the opposite of stagnancy and if we are to move forward as a society it’s so essential. Balance is rooted in growth and wisdom, and it’s not always intuitive but intentional.
How does the yarn, from the fiber to the spin change the way you approach a design?
Oh, the yarn absolutely dictates what the finished project is going to be! I think the two biggest attributes I look at when approaching a yarn are the twist of it and the crimp (or lack thereof) of the fiber. Bouncier yarns almost always end up being high-relief textural pieces, like this collection, or cabled pieces that pop, whereas more drapey yarns become lacework or more open gauge relaxed designs.
I’m currently experimenting with designing pieces that are fiber-fluid: they can be worked in more than one type of fiber and still be successful, for a variety of climates. Small tweaks on a wide open canvas can have the final say on whether or not a piece works well.
Did you use any special techniques in your projects that you recommend?
One of the big focuses I had for this collection was an emphasis on accessibility- so you don’t need to have a huge array of elite knitting skills to complete it: this is for everyone. I think one special technique isn’t a technique at all, it’s blocking. When I was new to knitting, I didn’t know about blocking until Jan from Naturally Fuzzy Yarns (unfortunately, closed now) educated me, and it opened up a whole new world (as well as bloomed my stitches!)
What inspires you about a yarn? Why do you feel heirloom breeds and the yarns made from their wool are important?
The stories!!! I just think stories are so fascinating, they are the threads of interconnectedness and they weave us together. I want to know the story behind my wool, my breed. I want to know every step of its origins. As new technology makes life easier, faster, more instant, and more convenient, a trade off is dealt- self sufficiency for ease of living. I’m certainly not saying all technology is bad by any means but I do believe that we need to cultivate a counter culture that emphasizes and honors the methods of production we once used. It’s easy to forget things that we don’t find necessary.
Genetic selection is great in theory for producing a certain type of fiber that’s oh so soft, or a drought-resistant wheat...but in the process, we do lose genetic diversity. These heirloom breeds are absolutely essential for the preservation of genetic diversity alone! Think of how fun it is to go to apple orchards that have multiple types of apples- some people like the sharp crunch of a Honeycrisp (a natural hybrid) and others prefer the sour tang of the Granny Smith...wool is much the same, no two wools are exactly alike. We must conserve and protect the vast heterogeneity that we have now, so we don’t lose it.
Any ideas for another re-working?
So, so many! I just love reworking, too, because it reignites the passion for design. Knit and design are much like a relationship between the maker and the yarn. In the beginning, everything is exciting and wonderful. Over time, pressures seep into the cracks- especially in an industry as saturated as ours! We have such incredible talent everywhere you look. One of the best solutions that I’ve found when I’m feeling that pressure is going back to those beautiful moments earlier on in my career. Memories are locked into the stitches, and the newness floods back and provides fresh inspiration as I’m working...so look for plenty of reworkings in the future...I have some coming this winter as well!