One of my favourite things about teaching The KNITSONIK System is watching how differently people see the world and translate it into stranded colourwork. Everybody perceives the world from the unique vantage point of being them. If you show a room full of knitters a single inspiration source and then hand over some squared paper and pencils, nobody’s motifs will look the same, and nobody’s colour choices will be identical. I love the individual flair and personality possessed by different knitters and am constantly learning from folk who use my book and come to my classes.
Today I want to introduce you to my friend Yumi whose work you see above, and whom some of you may already know from her beauteous instagram feed – yumiket. I am always inspired by Yumi’s lovely photos; her instagram feed is a place of joy that reflects Yumi’s playfulness and curiosity, and over the past six months or so she has created a glorious series of swatches, each bearing her distinctive stamp. I asked Yumi if I would be allowed to share her work with you, and if we might have a conversation here about her approach to designing stranded colourwork. Happily she agreed! It has been an honour to get a tiny insight into Yumi’s creative world and I feel I have learnt a lot in the process… how thinking and seeing are connected, and how deeply inspiration sources can run. Throughout the post I’ve linked each swatch photo to its project page on Ravelry so that you can see and read more about each one there; I hope you enjoy meeting Yumi as much as I have, please fetch yourself a cuppa, pull up a chair, and join us for adventures in stranded colourwork!
Felix: The first swatch of yours I saw online was the Lotus swatch. I love the subtlety of the shading and the glowing contrast of pinks and purples against greens that you found in this inspiration source. The swatch begins with those gently shaded zig-zag lines – ‘the stems of the lotus reflected in the slightly rippled water’ – and I just love the subtlety of your interpretation, with those greys and greens and gently moving zigzag lines. Your descriptions of details are really wonderful; were you surprised to find how many design elements you could find just by looking at the Lotus flower?
Yumi: This swatch is the first project I knitted using KNITSONIK system and is also the first of my own design. Many knitters learn to knit from their mother, grandmother or someone near them in their childhood, but I’m a self-taught, inexperienced knitter with few skills and no traditional knitting background. For me knitting was only, so to speak, a passive act of following someone’s patterns – sometimes with modifications. And I was happy enough with that. I never imagined that I could design something original until I came across your book. Reading your book again and again made my knitting life a totally different one. It is now filled with the joy of creation!
Felix: Hurrah, that’s what I like to hear!
Yumi: In the book, you teach us not only how to design our own stranded colourwork but also how to find an inspiration source from everyday life and make a pattern from it. I was thrilled to discover many beautiful and interesting motifs from ordinary things. For example, the white dots seen under the lotus flower of this swatch represent transparent drops of water rolling on the leaves. It may sound strange but sometimes I pretended I was a flying bird to overlook the lotus from right above, or sometimes I was a fish observing the roots and stems from the water. In that way, I found many design elements by observing it from various angles.
Felix: Yes, I definitely find that sometimes it helps to turn something over or upside down when I am looking for patterns, but had never imagined being another creature. What a good idea to try and see like a bird or a fish or (maybe a future project for me…) a sheep! For me your Lotus Swatch really comes alive when you introduce the pinks in that beautiful bold motif almost in the middle of the swatch. That part is my favourite because the pinks are so beautifully shaded, and because I think it’s really skillful to find a way of representing something as delicate as a lotus flower in the medium of stranded colourwork! Do you have a favourite part of the swatch, and could you say why you like it best?
Yumi: Thank you! As you may know, Lotuses put their stems out of muddy water and stretch toward the sky to blossom. I love their nobleness, which is the reason why they are considered a symbol of beauty, purity and grace in many Asian countries. I wanted to represent the isolated beauty of lotus flowers, so I dared not use pinks and purples on other motifs least they detract from this effect, or tip the overall colour balance. I had a lot of difficulties making the flower pattern. I tried over and over again, repeated writing and swatching at least 10 times! But I am so pleased with how it turned out. As you point out, this motif takes the leading role in the swatch.
My favourite parts are the motifs based on the stem. The short diagonal lines seen on the top of the swatch represent REAL stems, whereas the gently moving zigzag lines at the bottom represent unreal ones reflected on the surface of the water. I like these contrasts.
Felix: I’m always surprised by how colours change when they are mixed with other colours; it’s one of the reasons why I think swatching is essential: yarn shades behave so differently depending on what surrounds them. I wonder if you had any surprises working on this swatch; colour relationships that were not as you expected, or yarn shades that worked as well – or better – than you expected?
Yumi: I feel just like you feel. I was highly attracted by the magic of colours. I love green. I love how Jamieson & Smith carry a splendid, rich variety of greens. While working on this swatch, I enjoyed exploring the wondrous changes of greens. When one green is accompanied by another green, it may look yellowish or bluish. On the other hand, even if it looks brown in the yarn ball, it can blend naturally and beautifully with surrounding green colours, depending on what surrounds it. For example, J&S FC62 is so modest on the shade card that I was not initially attracted to it but I soon found it to be a very important colour for making delicate gradations of green. I love how it shines on my swatch.
Felix: I love FC62 as well – it is surprisingly mercurial and though it seems a bit dull on first glance, it has a silverish quality and it really does play well with other greens! In your photos I see that you had one swatch that was far plainer – just yellow and purple – with no shading or changes in colour. Did you work this swatch before or after the lovely shaded swatch above? Was it an experiment in finding out how the patterns work just as shapes by themselves?
Yumi: It was before. The photo above is the very first step of this project. The lotus swatch was my first attempt to make my own design. I had no idea how the dots I drew on a squared notebook would look when knitted. So at first I worked a pre-swatch with two colours of waste sock yarn. It is a bit like a rough sketch. In the case of the lotus flowers, I was very disappointed with the initial 2-colours swatch because it looked like a pumpkin rather than a flower!
Felix: I think it looks brilliant – what a good idea for thriftily checking out the shapes of your designs before you get into the business of choosing the colours – I think that’s a really good tip for just exploring how patterns will look once they take on the shape of knitted stitches, rather than the tidy squares within a notebook…
…The next swatch of yours that I saw was your amazing Paris, Texas swatch. I love the idea of swatching from a movie so much! Could you tell us a little bit about this film, why you find it inspiring, and why you decided to make a swatch from it?
Yumi: I like watching movies. I am the kind of movie fan who watches a few favourite films over and over again rather than watching thousands of new titles. Paris, Texas…this beautiful Wim Wenders’s road movie released in 1984 has always been one of my favourites since I watched it at a small classic film theatre when I was a student. The story is simple but profound – sad but full of hope. It is about loss and redemption, destruction and reproduction, separation and reunion. I do not remember how many times I have watched it.
To me there has always been a certain image of a set of colours – “black and red” – existing within this film. After completing the lotus swatch, I wondered if I could represent this image of colours on a swatch or not. So this swatch started with colours, whereas the lotus swatch started from shapes.
Felix: A movie could be quite daunting as an inspiration source because there are so many potential compositions from which to work. I am really interested in creative strategies for editing giant inspirations into something manageable. How did you decide which bits of the film to work from; how did you edit it down into something that you could deal with in knitting?
Yumi: It was not as daunting or difficult as I expected. However, I had to watch the film over and over again taking screen captures of the scenes that I liked. It could be said that it was daunting in this sense… but it was a great joy for me because I enjoyed so many discoveries throughout the film. I realized how carefully Wenders designed and edited every single scene, delicately and skillfully planning each image right to the corners of the screen. In the end, I got approximately 100 screen captures.
In the next stage, I edited these images. It may sound dizzy feeling like I dived into the sea and picked up shells to place in a row with no strategy and no vision… but as I had the distinct image of the colours, all I had to do was select and arrange those which matched this image. It was like playing with pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The strong and intense colours of the film helped me do this.
Felix: That’s genius – letting the strongest colour themes of the film act as an editing criteria. And I love what you say about how looking closely at the film for your knitting helped you to more deeply appreciate the vision of Wim Wenders in the direction… I think that’s really important, that through processes of observation, we can learn so much not just for knitting but in general. You did an amazing series of photos on instagram where you showed frames from the film beside bits of knitting that you created in relation to each one. They are so great! What I find most inspiring about looking through them is seeing how you have adapted the complex, high resolution world of the film to the medium of stranded colourwork. For instance in the image above, you made the building shapes much simpler than it is in the film, and then organised the colours of the sunset behind it. And in the section below, you have found ways of translating the neon sign into your knitting. It’s brilliant! I wondered if you could talk about how you broke the building and the sign down into shapes for your knitting?
Yumi: Unlike painting, there are some limitations in stranded colourwork. For example;
1. Shades are limited.
2. Each row has only 2 colours.
3. Very long horizontal lines (strands) should be avoided.
With these limitations, I was trying to represent my impressions of the film with simplified patterns and colours, never attempting to sketch the scenes themselves for making patterns. Therefore, I dismantled existent images in my imaginary notepad and then extracted essential shapes and colours to rebuild them in my knitting. At the same time, I wanted these patterns to be easy to work, hopefully fun to knit!
The scene of the buildings in the setting sun is in the ending of the film. A separation and a reunion are condensed in this part. This is a short but impressive scene, symbolizing hope when the boy finally meets his mother and they start a new life together, an eternal parting of the man and the woman, and a loneliness of the man who sets off his journey again. I thought that Wenders represented them by the green light on the car park, the dark blue sky and the red sunset. These colours are more important to me than the shape of the building.
The scene of the neon sign is a sort of link inserted between scenes along the path of the characters’ journey, and is one of my favourite images. It shows not only the passage of time and distance but also the desolated feeling of the desert they are traveling through, and the impression that Wenders (who is German) received from the landscape and culture of a contemporary United States of America. I tried to make the glitter of the motel’s sign – which flashes on and off, sadly – into a realistic pattern. However, it didn’t work well. So I broke up and simplified its shape. I believe that this trial somehow succeeded in representing the glitter itself.
Felix: I love the section with the red light silhouetting the man. It feels to me like this is the sort of pattern that is particularly film-like. It’s all about the light and shadows… Mixing the dark charcoal shade with the reds is really effective; it darkens the reds and also enables you to create space around the figure to help it to stand out. Did you have to do a lot of drawing to work out what to do, and how did you figure out the shading sequence for the pinks and reds?
Yumi: This red light silhouetting the man, and the woman in a fuchsia mohair sweater, are the key motifs in this swatch. These motifs also are the core of the colour image, “black and red”. Making a pattern of this silhouette was just like a painting. It seems to have come spontaneously. I knitted the motif with six yarn balls of red and pink arranged on a table in order, to represent the red light coming down from the top of the stairs.
Felix: I do that too – arrange the balls for my shading sequence in order on the table and then progress through them while I knit!
I was also struck in your swatch by your fantastic ability to make do. What I mean is that you didn’t seem to get too stuck in thinking “I need every single colour to make this work”. Instead, it feels as though you have found ways of making a limited palette really work for you. For instance here you have used just a few of the shades that appear in that line of hanging lights and – because they are such a great match for some of the hanging lights and because of the shape of your pattern – they do a wonderful job of referencing this scene from the film.
Yumi: What you are saying about my usage of a limited palette is obviously true. I suppose I didn’t get too stuck in thinking that I needed every single colour. This is partly because I do not have all the shades of J&S, and partly because I did not choose colours blindly from a lot of shades to make a palette. By watching Paris, Texas so many times, I was able to pick out selected representative colours. In other words, these colours – constituting the knitting palette – already existed in my mind before I began swatching.
When I was a junior high school student, I was in the wind band. I used to play clarinet and I memorized musical scores by colours. It may sound weird, but for me every single note and melody had its own colour. When people are listening to music, someone might bring a breathtaking scene to mind and someone else might think of pleasing poetry. Maybe I am the type of person to receive impressions mainly through colour. This swatch is the final result of my journey to pursue the colours in me. Every colour in the hanging lights represents the essence of the swatch and my colour-focused impression of the film.
Felix: I have loved seeing two pairs of mitts that you recently posted on instagram, inspired by leaves and light in the trees, and by persimmons in a basket. These beautiful mitts strike me as a really subtle and restrained application of the KNITSONIK system – you have taken just a couple of colours and design elements from the basketwork and the leaves in the trees and then combined them to make subtle and distinctive designs. They are wonderful! Do you think that working intensely with the Lotus and Paris, Texas has given you confidence for finding colour inspiration and patterns? And were you surprised (as I was) to see how reversing the dark and light in each pair of mitts transformed the overall design?
Yumi: I designed using more than ten shades in each of the previous works. So I wanted to have another adventure in a totally opposite way this time. In other words, I became interested in what would happen if I knit mitts in a very simple pattern with minimal colours. And I decided to use a very Japanese inspiration source because these mitts were to be Christmas presents for my friends in the UK! It was a big surprise and a great joy to see this restrained, simple pattern come to life according to my choice of colours and the inversion of the light and dark in each pair of mitts.
Felix: How lovely that in Japan there is a specific word for ‘sunlight filtering through trees’, Komorebi, and how inspiring to see how minimal a stranded colourwork inspiration can be.
You have been joining in with the KNITSONIK Mittsalong (hurrah!) and I was blown away by a photo that you shared in the KNITSONIK Ravelry group, showing how you had found one of your motifs. Did you put the triangles over the image and then play with those shapes and the colours inside them in your knitting and have you used this technique before to find patterns in photos or images?
Yumi: Shortly after I started working on projects using the KNITSONIK system, my partner Tatsuya, who is a photographer, saw some photographs that I took on traveling and daily walking and told me “your photos are better than before. You’ve got a good eye.” These words made me happier than words like “the technique of your knitting has improved”. He has always taught me how to appreciate classic pictures by our favourite photographers. I have been widening my viewpoints for not only various inspiration sources for swatching, but also for viewing various things in everyday life.
I have never been to Silchester where the Roman Wall – the inspiration source for the mitts-a-long – stands. So I was trying to get the atmosphere and characteristics by examining the photographs closely. Then suddenly, two triangles facing each other appeared in front of me. I liked these triangles which could express the depth of space… considering this space also pays homage to the ancient Romans who once walked this path.
Felix: I invented the mitts-a-long because some comrades were really unhappy about the idea of working a swatch for its own sake and preferred the idea of using an actual garment as a swatch in itself. This was a challenge to me, as I prefer to make a massive swatch first, and then make garments with the patterns I like best! However I feel you found a happy medium because you made a micro swatch for your mitts before you made them. What did you change in the final mitts after making your swatch?
Yumi: I have the same feeling as you. I prefer to swatch first. I’m scared to make garments without swatches! I admit I was so timid that I decided to make a micro swatch (CO 30sts) at first to make sure the patterns and colours were good.
The difference between a swatch and garments is whether you wear it or not. In my opinion, the garments should look comfortable or sexy or inspiring. And of course, they must be beautiful. After having made the micro swatch, I adjusted the motif designs and overall colour-balance, trying to make these beautiful. What I found in this delightful mitts-a-long was that designing garments is absolutely fun!
Felix: I was really interested by what you said in your notes for the project about not being sure if you could knit from an inspiration source that you did not know in real life. Was it much harder to work from photographs and could you say a bit about how it was different?
Yumi: Oh, yes, it was much harder. Luckily or unluckily, there are no ancient Roman ruins in this country. I had no idea what exactly the stone wall at Silchester looked like. It was a challenge to make a pattern from a few photographs and I got some of my associations from a Japanese castle wall. I was pleased with how it turned out and thought that our imagination can also be an inspiration source for swatching. Maybe everything in this world, whether it is real or not, can be knitted in stranded colourwork!
Felix: I CERTAINLY THINK SO! Thank you so much for answering all my questions and for sharing your beautiful work on the KNITSONIK blog! Do you have any new swatches or colourwork projects on the go and where can people see more of your beautiful work?
Yumi: I’m currently working on the project of knitting mitts (again!). After that, I am hoping to start working on another swatching. You can find me on Instagram and Ravelry. Thank you!
Huge thanks to Yumi for patiently answering all my nerdy questions and for sharing your beautiful work, it has been a pleasure having you on the KNITSONIK blog today!