In April 2013, Bristol Ivy wrote to us and asked us to be part of a very special project that she and five other designers were embarking on. The project sounded intriguing, and the designers -- Bristol, Mary-Heather Browne, Amy Christoffers, Michele Wang, Olga Buraya-Kefelian, and Leila Raabe -- are some of our very favorites, so of course we said yes!
Today Bristol and her five collaborators are releasing that project -- and we are proud to be a part of 54 Rue du Chateau! It's a collection of six shawls, each knit out of one of our naturally dyed yarns, each one truly beautiful. But the most remarkable thing about the collection is that every collaborator designed part of each shawl pattern!
If you've ever heard of the game Exquisite Corpse, this will sound familiar. Each designer chose her yarn and colorway, and created the first section of her shawl. Then each shawl was sent to another designer -- who then added the next section, working off the theme and stitch pattern that the original designer chose. Each of the six designers added a section to each shawl.
The result was six different shawls that are truly collaborative pieces. Because all the shawls follow the same general top-down construction, each corresponding section is interchangeable, meaning there are endless possibilities for combining patterns and designs!
I've been lucky enough to watch the project evolve, as the yarn and shawls made their way around the world, and to get a glimpse of the designing and organizational prowess that went into this project. As soon as I heard it was close to be launched, I jumped at the chance to talk to each of the designers, to hear their thoughts on the process, patterns, and -- of course -- the yarn and colors. I love seeing the similarities and difference between their answers -- just like in the patterns themselves!
Here are the answers from the designers, preceded by a photo of the design each one started (photos copyright Bristol Ivy & Lelia Raabe).
Favorite overall shawl? There is no way I could pick a very favorite, because I see everyone's touches throughout all of them which makes me love them all!
Favorite yarn or color used? Favorite yarn - Annapurna! We worked with it on several shawls; it's luxurious, squishy and drapey at the same time, and shows stitches well. Favorite color - gotta be the Indigo. Kristine's passion for indigo has taught me so much about the process and unique qualities of the dye; it's a beautiful blue with a story.
Briefly, from where did you draw inspiration? Motifs in nature and architecture, and the yarn itself.
What does this project inspire you do next? Play and swatch more, and loosen up a bit. Though working on a collaborative project like this was challenging, it was also very freeing to send off the sections to the next person and know it was in great hands!
Each shawl section - easier than designing a whole shawl at once, or harder? I thought it was harder! When my turns came around on the shawl, I really wanted to respect the design work that all the other women had done while at the same time making an interesting section within 20 rows. It required a bit of study each time.
Would you do a project like this again / why / why not? It was truly an honor to have been asked to participate in this project, and I learned so much from seeing the designs develop among my talented colleagues - I would absolutely do a project like this again!
Favorite overall shawl? Prevert or Reverdy.
Favorite yarn or color used? Too hard to choose, the Indigo is stunning, Hawks Feather is another favorite but I have to go with my Old Vine.
Briefly, from where did you draw inspiration? From the sections that arrived ready to be knit.
What does this project inspire you do next? I'd like to cast-on again the same first section that I began Reverdy with and take it off in my own direction.
Each shawl section - easier than designing a whole shawl at once, or harder? Easier and harder, sometimes the picking up where someone else left off felt daunting but once the stitches were on the needles it felt like the pattern evolved organically from what had happened before.
Would you do a project like this again / why / why not? Yes, but maybe with some slightly different parameters. I think it became a struggle to keep focused at times because it went on so long and there were so many variables. If there was a way to condense the schedule without sacrificing the project I would do it again tomorrow. At times it was a struggle to keep up and to give this right amount of attention to this project- especially as the sections got longer and bigger- but I'm so in love with how everything turned out I would love to do something similar again. There is something incredibly magical about this kind of collaboration. I feel so honored to have been a part of this project.
Favorite overall shawl? Tanguay & Duchamp - can't decide between the two.
Favorite yarn or color used? Floating in Topological
Briefly, from where did you draw inspiration? I'm not sure I used inspiration in the traditional sense for these shawls. I tried to work off of the row before my section and change it up a little without losing the already established essence. I guess you could say I used the previous rows as my inspiration!
What does this project inspire you do next? The lace shawl is not part of my regular repertoire so I'm definitely more inspired to do a lace shawl. They still surprise me after I see them blocked - you can never expect how beautiful they are.
Each shawl section - easier than designing a whole shawl at once, or harder? I think it was easier. I'm sometimes daunted by all of that flat empty space, and this allowed me to take little bites at a time.
Would you do a project like this again / why / why not? I would definitely do this again! It was so much fun to see what people decided to do, and I ended up learning so much about reading other people's lace knitting and figuring out what to do. There was a lot of "letting go" and I think that is very educational when you're creating something.
Favorite overall shawl? I am going to be completely biased and admit that I do love the way Peret, my shawl turned out. It's very graphic and geometric - things I am drawn to constantly in kniwear design. Between ancient runes and game of Tetris if you like by the means of eyelet and mesh. The shawls that I have personally designed previously were always driven by these aspects first. So it is extremely true to my aesthetic and I am happy to know that my collaborators recognized it and helped me in making it what it became!
Favorite yarn or color used? Annapurna in Supernova colorway that I used in my shawl was just the right amount of lavender and grey in it which appealed to me in the first place, but I really enjoyed working with yarn in the Old Vine colorway used in Amy's Reverdy shawl. And now I think the reason why is that a color very close to it was just announced as color of the year by Pantone. Maybe I was having a premonition!
Briefly, from where did you draw inspiration? From all the usual places for me. Graphics, print, typography, geometric things that catch my eye and what I personally love to wear.
What does this project inspire you do next? Use more AVFKW yarn in my future projects probably. It gave me a chance to spend some extra quality time discovering more of the bases and colors. And other aspect would be to design more lace stitch patterns, because it is very fun.
Each shawl section - easier than designing a whole shawl at once, or harder? It was harder for me. To me it was a representation of the designer who has started this shawl and who was going to finish it, so I wanted to give support to their original idea while contributing a small bit of my creativity. All while doing so not to over-design it but rather find a better balance for it before sending it off onto the next designer.
Would you do a project like this again / why / why not? If I have time and if it is not a tight deadline, definitely. It is a great way to learn how your fellow designers knit and think when it comes to knitting. And such improvisations certainly help my math practices to keep your mind fresh as if solving a puzzle, so when I got each shawl it felt like a math problem I needed to solve besides a creative one. Taking all of those into account to make something pretty. All of those certainly make you discover another facet to being a knitwear designer.
Favorite overall shawl? I personally love the way each designer's individual sections came together for Tanguy -- a nicely balanced example for the concept of multiple designers working on a single piece.
Favorite yarn or color used? Annapurna (used in Michele's Prevert and Olga's Peret) was my favorite -- so incredibly soft to work with. Though I have to admit I enjoyed all of the yarns we used. Favorite color has to be Supernova, with its tonal pink-grey.
Briefly, from where did you draw inspiration? Primarily from the designer(s) before my section of the shawls: in some cases a continuation of the previous motifs used, and others more of a basic starting point to go in a completely different (but hopefully still harmonious) direction. I also enjoyed browsing the works of the surrealists after whom these shawls are named.
What does this project inspire you do next? I'd love to someday design other projects in these yarns, particularly Annapurna. This was my first time knitting with it, and the drape and stitch definition combine to make beautiful knitted fabric that feels light as air, yet still shows off stitch patterns so clearly. Often there's a compromise of one for the other, but not with this yarn. I need more of it in my life.
Each shawl section - easier than designing a whole shawl at once, or harder? Harder. I guess that sense of ease depends on individual creative process -- usually I design as I go and work out details while knitting a project, keeping in mind the whole of the piece the entire time. Doing just a section of a mere 20 rows, mid-project, required me to think of designing a different way. For these shawls there was also a strong desire to do the other designers' work justice, wanting to get it "right", knowing that there was no possibility of ripping back to change what I did so it better supported the sections that came after mine! The number of shawl designs we had to do also proved to be surprisingly challenging -- the original concept of a single result, rather than five, would likely have been a different experience altogether.
Would you do a project like this again / why / why not? I think it would be neat to see how a similar project with different parameters would turn out. There is no limit to the possibilities and variations, which was one of the most compelling aspects of a collaborative project like this. Changing up things like type of project, number of finished pieces, and designer roster would be very interesting. Even if (or especially if?) the yarn remained the same. :-)
(As the head of the project, I asked Bristol a couple extra questions about planning and execution.)
How did you come up with the idea for the project? I tend to have ideas for small, fun, personal projects that snowball quickly into something much more epic. I played a lot of Exquisite Corpse in art classes as a teenager, and so a couple summers ago, Leila and I were talking about how it might be fun to trade a shawl back and forth all summer in that theme. Then it became logical to have two shawls so we could each have one at the end. And then the lightbulb went off and I about knocked her over when I figured out that we could bring in others and do it round robin style. I knew it was a crazy idea, but we put a list together of our dream team designers and dream yarn company to work with, and everyone said yes! I have been so thrilled and honored to work with such an amazing group and with such amazing yarn through this process.
How long did the whole process take? Did the shawls all travel around separately, then come back to you for photography? We started trading shawls in August 2013. Everyone got two skeins of yarn, some basic instructions, and a notebook to sketch and leave notes for the other designers. The initial idea was that the shawls would travel every month for seven months, going to each designer and then back to the originator, but when you’re working with six incredibly busy designers, that’s not easy! We ended up getting all the pieces back in early June, and shooting them in August 2014 in downtown Portland.
Favorite overall shawl? SO hard to pick! I love all of them—despite the original designer only having twenty little rows to work with, the rest of the shawl is so imbued with their aesthetic. I have to be selfish and say that I’m totally enamored of Tanguy—because I get to keep it! I love the Art Deco swoops and angles to it, and the unexpected and soft eyelets near the border. That was the best part about this whole process—you think you know how things will go, but the evolution is even more fascinating than you could ever imagine.
Each shawl section — Easier than designing a whole shawl at once, or harder? Hmmm. A bit of both. With a traditional shawl, I’d be worried more about pattern repeats for ease of charting in the bigger picture, but in this case since I knew I had a concrete and finite twenty rows to work with, I could be more creative and fluid. But that led to a lot more thinking on the needles than I’m used to!
Would you do a project like this again / why / why not? I’ll give it a couple years before I think about it again, but yes! One idea that I had about halfway through (again with the snowballing) was that the originating designer could start two shawls, each with the same chart. Then they’d send one away to travel to other designers and keep the other, continuing the evolution of the patterning as they had envisioned it. Then once both were complete, the two could be shown and offered in comparison, to see how much the traveling shawl had diverged from the designer’s original idea. But that’s an idea for much further down the road!
The shawls themselves will be on display at Verb starting January 31st -- so you can come take a look and decide which is your favorite. Personally, I'm torn: I love the geometric motifs in Breton and Peret, but I also love the traditional lace appeal of Duchamp, Prevert, and Tanguay, and I'm fascinated by the garter stitch lace of Reverdy. I guess I'll have to wait to see them in person as well!
Thanks so much to all the designers for sharing their thoughts about this great project! And a huge thanks to Bristol for planning and coordinating everything -- we can't wait to see other people knit these designs!