Of Polka Dots & Dolls

When I was planning the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook, I knew I wanted to include a project that would enable me to talk about translating printed fabric into stranded colourwork. This type of inspiration source has appeared in nearly all the classes I’ve ever taught…

…and I’ve always thought it was a wonderfully practical ideaa. Why not create wondrous stranded colourwork conceived to match things we own or have sewn that are made from woven fabric? However, printed fabric comes with its own design conundrums when we try to transpose it into stranded colourwork, and I really wanted to work on something that would let me speak to this. I knew exactly which printed fabric I’d like to use for such a project in the Playbook; a much-loved and sadly now retired-from-service coin purse, bought from a local Etsy seller (no longer trading) when I first moved to this town. I’d wanted to swatch from this for a long time… its use in daily life had given me many opportunities to admire its beauty.

I think it’s Japanese printed cotton. The little Matryoshka dolls are just so sweet, and the warm palette is so appealing. Also, look: it has DOTS! And APPLES!

…And the lining is a perfect match for J&S shade 1403.

I began swatching from the purse. I started with lots and lots of colours as per the fabric and eventually deciding to limit this in order to focus on just a few ideas from the printed fabric. There were some things to resolve on the way (as is always the case when swatching)… My doll motif looked a bit grumpy to begin with, and giving her a yellow base in my knitting meant she didn’t stand out as nicely in my fuzzy stitches as in the original, crisply-printed medium.

You can see my swatching process here… at some point with the first swatch, I realised it was going to get horribly long and be unwieldy to continue, so I started a second.

I was especially interested in two dolls from the printed fabric; one created with a series of lovely soft grey blues, yellows and greys, and the other featuring rich warm red and browns. I liked the idea of taking the dotty kerchief motif and using it as a band to separate the differently coloured dolls, and also varying the background to resemble the murky and somewhat stained patina of use on my beloved old purse. The dotty motif was something I had used in a much earlier project – in 2007, I covered my walking stick with a red and white dotted hand-knitted cosy to make it better fit my personal style! I love me some red and white polka dots and maybe the reason I like the dolls on my purse so much is that they are wearing them. I remembered the motif I’d made from this time and dug it out for the dotty element of the design…

…Anyway, as I knit on my swatches, I kept thinking about the prospect of Matryoshka dolls themselves; the idea of a large doll containing ever smaller versions of itself. And I kept thinking about the question of proportion and scale in motifs when we knit. It’s amazing to find that we have made the most beautiful design of all time… but annoying to later discover that it won’t fit into the required size of the garment or accessory we intend to make. I looked at my dolls and wondered: could this Polka Dots & Dolls project address this in some way, and explore the idea of knitted motifs retaining their style and essence across multiple sizes, just like the features painted onto wooden matryoshka dolls?

I had loved the purse as an object used in daily life; how could I recall the function of this inspiration source in knitting? Swatching is wonderful for pondering such things and, as I worked on my motifs and shading schemes, it struck me that I could design a laptop cosy; a mini-tablet cosy; and a smartphone cosy. I use these objects all the time in operating KNITSONIK LTD. and their comparative sizes would enable me to explore concepts of scale and proportion in design. I started to scale my motifs down…

…and to write the instructions for three sizes of lined, protective cosies.

Each of the cosies is closed with i-cord buttonholes and toggles and keen-eyed spotters will notice that I used small, medium and large sized toggles to match the sizing of the cosies.

Once I was into this idea of Matryoshka dolls, I really wanted to make a wooden set to match my knitted versions. You can buy wooden blanks online and I did this and painted them to match my knitted motifs. When Ferg came to do the photoshoot for the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook, we had an awful lot of fun playing with the knitted cosies and their matching dolls!

Eventually we brought things back full circle, and put my wooden dolls together with the original inspiration source; my loved and worn old printed fabric purse.

The resulting pattern in the Playbook details more closely the process of translating printed fabric into stranded colourwork, and re-sizing motifs to fit the stitch counts of your project, and there are illustrations in the Playbook Colouring Companion to enable you to experiment with different colour schemes. I think it would be amazing to do a set based on an actual set of Russian Matryoshka dolls but maybe that’s a project for another post! I was hugely helped by Melanie Patton and Judith Daykin who knitted the samples for this project; big thanks to you for bringing Polka Dots & Dolls to life. I hope you’ve enjoyed this process story; I’ll be back before too long to tell you about the last chapter in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook – Efflorescent, concluding our leisurely tour of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook and the KNITSONIK Playbook Colouring Companion.


4 thoughts on “Of Polka Dots & Dolls

  1. These are beautiful, Felix! You are brilliant. I love the Playbook, haven’t had time to delve into it yet (it’s Yard Work season here) but it is a treat for my old eyeballs. Thanks for this delightful journey!

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