Deborah Newton began her career as a knitwear designer in 1980. She has said that her book Designing Knitwear was the book she wished had existed when she was starting out. She wanted a book that presented an overview of design techniques and how they might be incorporated successfully into different kinds of garments.
Luckily for the rest of us, she wrote that book she wanted and it has helped untold numbers of designers see their way into the world of knitwear design since 1998 (including me!). The book is a detailed guide to design and will provide even designers with some experience inspiration and different ways of looking at and working with knit fabric.
About the Book
- Pages: 272
- Format: paperback
- Number of patterns: 16
- Skill level: intermediate to advanced
- Illustrations: full-color photographs, lots of black and white line drawings and charts
- Knitting lessons: none; this book is, however, full of design lessons
Learning to See
One thing I love about Designing Knitwear is that it begins with a chapter on inspiration and "learning to see," which is so important, not only to having ideas for knitwear designs, but for being able to approach those ideas in different ways that haven't been seen a million times before.
"Learning to see is about getting to the very basic nature of things and learning to identify their specific qualities," she writes. For anyone who wants to explore visual ideas and make connections among them, looking carefully and really seeing has to be an ongoing activity."
She goes on to explain a bit of how she does that and how a particular source of inspiration might lead to a variety of knit garment designs. This information is not only interesting it's very helpful to knitters who might want to design but aren't sure where to begin or those who are inspired by various images and objects but don't know how to translate that into knitting.
Once you have an inspiration in mind, it's time to think about yarn. Newton says a great way to learn about yarn is to swatch several different yarns in the same or similar color but different textures. This will show you have different kinds of yarn behave and help you understand the qualities of different categories of yarn more than just reading about them would.
Swatching is, of course, one of Newton's passions, and throughout the book she takes would-be designers back to the swatch to try out yarns, stitch patterns and other techniques. She's also a fan of big swatches and in this book attempts to incorporate swatches into projects so that time and work isn't "wasted."
The rest of the book covers many of the different options available to designers in terms of garment shape, fit and design techniques. Each chapter covers a major category of design such as knit and purl patterns and color and graphics. She looks at the "comfortable classics" -- things like the Chanel suit, Aran sweater and Chinese robe -- and explores how you might use each to develop an inspired design.
There's also a look at themes and samplers, where different stitch patterns and design techniques are combined in a single garment. Here knitters will learn about slip stitch colorwork, cables, lace and knit motifs and how they might be combined into a single garment.
Naturally there's also a chapter on finishing, in particular using dressmaking details in knitting. This is an interesting chapter because it covers issues you don't always see in knitting books such as using darts, pleats and ribbing to shape different parts of a garment, borrowing design motifs from the world of fabric and adding details like lapels and pockets to a knit garment.
Throughout the book there are sample patterns that illustrate the different techniques and design considerations presented in each chapter and a "what if?" section to get you thinking about how those details might be used in other ways.
To me, though, the patterns are not generally things I'd knit (they're pretty dated and just not really my style but include things like a knit women's suit, an Aran motorcycle jacket and a one-size-fits-all kimono, for example), but they do provide great visual representations of the ideas Newton explores in the text. And they're certainly inspirational as a reminder to go big with your designs!
Though the examples are somewhat dated, Designing Knitwear is a classic that should be on (and, more frequently, off) the shelf of anyone interested in knitwear design. The charts, sidebars and drawings will help you with things like choosing a neckline for a garment, plotting pattern repeats or centering a motif on a project, planning which decreases to use in a lace pattern and much more.
In addition the book offers plenty of ideas and inspiration that should get your designer mind working, help you learn how to train your mind to see things as a designer would and provide a framework for how you might make design decisions and test your ideas as you become more comfortable as a designer.
Newton is a generous teacher who wanted to make the designing life a little easier for the people who came after her, and Designing Knitwear certainly does that.