Aug 27, 2015 :: by Leila Raabe
Ashley Hurst returns today to chat some more about the Lost Coast collection! This time, we dive into her creative process, as well the whys and wherefores of designing for children.
Tell us more about your design process; from initial concept to finished pattern. Is there a particular method to bringing your ideas to fruition? Do you favor any particular styles of knitting?
If I am designing a stand alone piece, often the idea just pops into my head unexpectedly—this seems to happen to me frequently while on a run or in the shower, so my design notebook pages are all wrinkly with either water or perspiration. If the piece is a part of a collection and needs to fill a certain niche, I might have been imagining or even wrestling with an idea for some time—sketching and looking for inspiration, and then it just clicks. But if all options are open, ideas seem to come to me in floods. There will be nothing for a few days or even weeks, and then all of a sudden the muse appears and I will sketch several potential pieces with reasonable detail, color and fiber choices all in one frantic and exhilarating sitting. My hand can't draw fast enough and I'm terrified I'll forget something before it's on paper. I try to be as detailed as possible so I can return to those drafts weeks or months later and get into the same mindset so I can pick up more or less where I left off.
I do tend to favor top-down knitting—all the pieces in this collection are seamless top-down raglans. I find it is an approachable method with beautiful results and is well-loved by many knitters for the simplicity and lack of finishing. For children's apparel, designers (and knitters) don't need to be as concerned with seaming for structure, cuts, or silhouettes. The top down raglan works very well on children's figures.
Anyhow, after I feel content with sketches and palette, I will begin swatching. I am not a stasher; I tend to purchase only what I will need for a given project (I know I am in the minority of knitters in this regard!). So, next I will order some skeins of what I think I want, and I swatch like crazy. I fully embrace this as a critical and enjoyable part of the design process, so there is no rush. Sometimes a swatch is perfect on the first attempt, others, design flaws are obvious and a swatch may be knit and reknit numerous times. In designing an entire collection, I found that after working through an entire piece or two, I did come back to a few initial ideas and change them even months after I thought I was content. For example, the Trinidad cowl was practically an afterthought—I had swatched and knit an entire lacy cowl in Tern sea glass (totally different concept!), and when I finished every other sample, it just didn't fit with the collection, but an appropriate replacement was obvious.
Once I am confident about my swatches and have a good sneak preview of how the collection will meld together, I tackle one project at a time. I return to my initial sketching, and with my swatch I begin calculating sizing and writing a pattern, which is the fastest part of the process since the ideas are already established. Then the real knitting begins! I tend to start sample knitting with projects I feel totally confident in—in this collection, Agate and Moonstone had no changes from their original concepts at any point in their design, and those were knit first. Conversely, Humboldt was sketched and swatched several times, and even halfway knit before the idea was completely scrapped for what is now the final version. Shelter Cove was knit entirely in twisted stockinette, only to realize the fabric was completely biased. It too was completely re-imagined and knit. With the intention of publishing, I really held myself to the highest standard possible with these designs. I refused to settle for anything that was "good enough" as I would if knitting just for myself, which forced me to break through a lot of barriers—it was a great experience!
Lost Coast is the first proper, cohesive collection I designed, and it was the most amazing experience. It felt like a true culmination of all the creative work I have been doing for many years. While knitting was my first love, I had been doing a lot of designing and sewing of children's garments, for art fairs, Etsy, custom orders, etc. I was completely burned out and longing for the necessarily slowed pace and portability and flexibility of knitting. I attended Squam in the Spring of 2014 where Jared Flood was the keynote speaker. Hearing his story inspired me on many levels—witnessing the successful trajectory of someone transforming their passion into a legitimate creative career really left an impression. He shares characteristics with the Quince story also—that creative, entrepreneurial spirit speaks deeply to me, and I wanted to do something similar (on a much smaller scale, obviously). Sitting in the audience of his talk, the concept of Lost Coast was born—I wanted to design an entire comprehensive collection, write the patterns, knit the samples, sew the clothing, style the photo shoots, photograph everything, and put all these facets I love into one magnum opus. Just a few months after returning from Squam (and for various reasons aside from knitting dreams!), I left my job as a full time nurse and dove headfirst into Lost Coast. Bringing this collection to fruition, every step of the way, has provided me everything I love about the creative process and nothing I don't. I have honestly enjoyed every step (which I can say about no other job I've ever had!)—even the mistakes have been enlightening—it has been a true joy and I can't wait to do it again.
How did you decide to focus on a kid’s collection? Has having children changed your artistic focus? What are the differences in designing for children versus designing for yourself?
It would be inaccurate to say having children changed my artistic focus—it really defined my artistic focus. I was always a creative person and even learned to knit as a young child, but I didn't truly pick up the needles until after my first child was born, and it was with a vengeance. Once I had the basics down and had graduated from years of knitting rectangles and squares, I very quickly began tinkering with existing patterns to add my own design elements for an alternate aesthetic or increased functionality. Within the year, I was just making my own designs—necessity is the mother of invention, right?! I found that for my tastes and needs, in the places I was looking, I just wasn't finding the styles I desired for babies and toddlers: simple and practical, but also beautiful. Of course, having my own children and being at an age where everyone around me is having children, ample opportunity exists to try out new ideas and to know firsthand what design elements will be most desirable; much of the challenge and intrigue of designing for me comes from finding a balance between functionality and aesthetic.
Designing for children is also very practical—have you noticed I am very interested in practicality?! It requires far fewer resources (time, money, materials) to design on a smaller scale. Because I am still wearing most of the hats in this endeavor—pattern writing, sample knitting, photography, etc., much ease and appeal comes from designing for a demographic I understand and can refer to (wear testing, modeling, tastes and preferences) as needed! And ultimately, I find children to be absolutely delightful—they provide inspiration by the bucketful and I genuinely love the challenge of creating garments that can withstand the wear and tear and general tomfoolery of childhood, but look good doing it.
What’s next on the needles—any other designs in the works? Any plans for Lost Coast patterns in adult sizes?
No creative block here! I have a wrinkly, sweaty notebook full of ideas. I am currently in the midst of an artist residency at Have Company and am having a splendid time tinkering with some design ideas and collaborations since Marlee, the owner, is now a proud purveyor of Quince yarns. I have designs sketched for a small women's accessory collection to be worked in the linens for warmer months, with crossover into wool/alpaca for cooler months, so I need to get around to knitting the samples! My dear friend Ashley Yousling of Woolful and I seem to hatch a new collaboration every time we chat; we are both big idea people, so we shall see if we can nail something down. Quince has come out with two new fibers since I finished samples for Lost Coast…my fingers are itching to play with those!
Designing for little ones is my true love though—I have another collection similar in size and scope to Lost Coast about two thirds visualized and sketched that I would like to move along in the stages of development. I have also been flirting with the idea of a baby collection for a long time (because babies are adorable, of course) but that is still in the earliest stages, and designing for slightly older children is convenient for me personally because I have models readily available who will work for chocolate.
As for Lost Coast adult sizes, anything is possible! If the demand is there, I would welcome the opportunity. Thank you for letting me babble on and geek out about knitting! It's been a pleasure!
The pleasure is ours, Ashley!