SPECIAL Deborah Newton episode is the way we choose to close out the 2015 year of the Yarn Thing podcast with Marly Bird.
Deborah called us from Providence, Rhode Island, to make our Wednesday episode special. This is the first time she’s been our guest. She said she knitted garter-stitch potholders for the first ten years of her knitting experience, having learned from her mother as a child. ‘Purling seemed superfluous’ she says. Even when she discovered Elizabeth Zimmerman books on the shelves in college, knitting in the round meant that she could still put it off mostly, then Barbara G Walker’s books, and discovering a love of swatching changed everything.
Her first sweater was a drop-shoulder Lopi pullover. At the time, working in theater, not really following a pattern, seeing designs in magazines, she thought she would give it a try. She submitted her first design to McCalls and saw her design photographed backwards! Her husband was trying to pursue a writing career, and she wanted to be a freelance designer, so, she continued on. Her mother-in-law had purchased for her some of her favorite yarn, so she created her first design with it to submit that first time, she describes it as a sampler of stitches. She has designed fabrics for Seventh Avenue, designed for many companies and become an author. Her love of fabrics, watching the trends and garment shapes, she sees herself as a garment maker.
In her new book, Good Measure: Knit a Perfect Fit Every Time, she thinks the working for the measurement of a body is more important than the body’s shape is a priority. We learned more about that as she continued to chat with us.
Deborah says when she designs she creates the body before the edges. Marly referenced her earlier book ‘Designing Knitwear‘, Deborah says there is no right way, she was self-taught, basically sitting down and figuring it out for yourself. It came about that Deborah went to visit Trisha Malcolm at Sixth & Spring with a book proposal. Trisha said we’re really not interested in her idea but rather a book about fit. This challenged Deborah to present it in a way that others would understand. Deborah actually countered with a book about finishing, an idea which everyone in the back liked. She also says sometimes it’s as simple as looking at what’s in your own closet.
‘Nothing works unless you test it first’ must be the reason Deborah swatches with fondness. Taking the pattern stitches she wants to work with, finding how the stitch patterns work together, starting with smaller swatches, working with larger swatches to combine the things found with the smaller swatches. ‘Swatching is totally my success story’, she says, ‘You can’t guess how something is going to work out.’ Working out how design elements work out, looking for beautiful, declining what’s not exciting enough. She says the swatch never lies, that sometimes we let our brain misinterpret what the swatch tells us. It’s about being inspired, not necessarily about gauge, and it’s a safety net.
Some design elements, like a drawstring or a pleat. She knows what her gauge is, she will work up a schematic drawing, to help visualize how deep the detail should be. Swatching still helps to work out the details. And still, after years of designing, she experiences designer troubles. Always looking to make things complicated for herself, she thought up a long cardigan, with a fine gauge yarn, the over 300 stitches and it was wrong… due yesterday. ‘I could do this ahead of time and I wouldn’t want to kill myself.’ Do we learn from her example? Must Swatch!
Deborah does mention something unusual, in that she doesn’t block unless it’s a lace shawl that needs stretched. She says that not blocking helps the fabric keep it’s bounce, that the seams and edges set the shape, sometimes a yarn may need a little steam to fluff it up (check the ball band from the skein) but the finishing is really what sets the garment. She advises, ‘Life’s to short to block’.
She people-watches for new ideas, or will see something in a movie or on tv that inspires her. Every season she says there’s a new raglan, she likes to see what new thing has been done with it. She says she doesn’t crochet, but like a lot of us, would like to combine knitting and crochet in a single design.
The new book, Good Measure, she says is her gift to the knitting community. Encouraging the use of schematics and their simple and necessary, knowing how to measure correctly and learning how they work with the design. Understanding ease, silhouette and fabric and how it affects the garment. Alterations in the pattern within the stitch, like cables and lace, can help to fit. Really, she is telling us we can be designers.
You can follow Deborah Newton in Ravelry at her designer page. I don’t find a website or Ravelry Group, which probably leaves her free to design more interesting garments for us!
If you missed hearing this LIVE it is still available as an archived episode: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/yarnthing/2015/12/16/special-deborah-newton or in iTunes.