Baker Lang: a glorious knitted ode to a well-loved cat

The full Baker Lang swatch in all her 53" glory! the swatch is photographed against a white wall, with the shadows of some railings casting shadows on the gorgeous shapes and patterns Lauren Leigh found through looking at her cat

Yesterday I shared some of the ways in which online teaching opens up possibilities for lovely long learning experiences. Realising the enormous advantages of teaching online has informed my decision to only teach The KNITSONIK System in this format, from now on.

Today I thought you might appreciate hearing what this can look like from the point of view of being a course participant. I’m so thrilled that one of the folks who attended The KNITSONIK System in 2020 – Lauren Leigh – has kindly allowed me to interview her about her experience of doing my course. Lauren Leigh used The KNITSONIK System to help her focus on translating her beautiful, characterful and much-loved tortoiseshell cat, Baker Lang, into glorious motifs and colourways for handknitting.

Lots of people understandably want to celebrate pets in swatches, but over the years of teaching my workshops, I’ve observed that it can be tricky to break up our views of them into the kinds of shapes and patterns that work well with the stranded colourwork medium. I really loved hearing more about how Lauren Leigh rose to this challenge and created new ways to represent and celebrate her lovely cat within her knitting. I hope you enjoy our Q&A and that, if you have a cat or a dog that you love, this post will give you new ways of appreciating their nuances of shape, pattern and colour.

Felix: Hi Lauren Leigh, thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me today. I’m always fascinated by the things folks choose as an inspiration source for knitting, and the reasons for these choices. I wondered if you might say a bit about why you chose your cat, Baker Lang, to be your inspiration source while exploring The KNITSONIK System?

Lauren Leigh: I quickly narrowed my choices for inspiration down to either Baker Lang or a stonecut print by Inuit artist Pitaloosie Saila. I interact with both my cat and the print – which hangs in my bedroom – every day, and both share a limited colour palette. I worried, though, that I might try to copy particular details from the print in a way that would leave me frustrated or dissatisfied. Translating a multi-dimensional, living thing into stranded knitting, on the other hand, would necessarily result in an abstraction. In the end, I decided on Baker Lang because it seemed easier.

Felix: I love that practical approach: what do you see every day, how do you see it. And your descriptions of the print and the cat as both being things with which you interacted every day, and how you thought about that when thinking about what to pick. Could you say a little bit about how the course fit into your everyday life – when did you work on it, how did you pace knitting sessions and time spent watching the videos/charting new ideas? I’m really interested in how online learning intersects with our real lives – with the spaces we share with our special things, our pets, our families.

Lauren Leigh: I was working full time when I took this course, and my husband was also working long, sometimes odd hours (as an essential employee during the pandemic). So I tended to watch the videos on weekends, or on evenings when my husband didn’t get home until quite late. I tried to chart/knit most evenings. Having Baker Lang as my inspiration kept the course top of mind even when I was doing other things. She’s an indoor cat and we were living in a studio apartment, so I could always see her out of the corner of my eye even when I was focused on something else. While the online learning aspects of the course were essential, on balance I experienced the course primarily in my “real” life insofar as observing Baker Lang, charting, and swatching became integrated into my daily routine.

The bottom of Lauren Leigh's swatch, featuring a palette and motifs derived from looking closely at her lovely tortoiseshell cat, Baker Lang

Felix: your swatch grew and grew! At 53″ at the end, I think it might be the biggest KNITSONIK Swatch ever created, using the methods from my Sourcebook and my class! Was it a slow and steady pace from start to finish, or did you find the knitting ebbed and flowed somewhat; could you talk about how each bit of knitting inspired the next one?

The full Baker Lang swatch in all her 53" glory! the swatch is photographed against a white wall, with the shadows of some railings casting shadows on the gorgeous shapes and patterns Lauren Leigh found through looking at her cat

Lauren Leigh: Somewhat to my surprise, I equally enjoyed planning my patterns on graph paper and knitting them up. The process of charting and knitting quickly became a virtuous circle: I’d plot out an idea, then eagerly knit it up. Looking at the knitted band, I’d notice things that definitely didn’t work at all as well as details that prompted new curiosity and directed me back to my graph paper. I also remember one time in particular when Baker Lang was stretched out in the sun, and I saw her tortie fur pattern in a new way. I quickly snapped a photo, but it didn’t quite capture what I was seeing. So I tried to get it on graph paper before the light changed. Looking back at the swatch now, I can see the evolution of ideas, particularly in the “paw print” and “sleeping cat” motifs, as well as some early ideas that I quickly abandoned (e.g. trying to capture the curve of her little pink tongue.)

more details from Lauren Leigh's beautiful cat-inspired swatch

Felix: I’m so happy to hear about how your swatching took on an energy and momentum of its own – that process you describe – of trying out one idea, knitting it up, reviewing it and then using what you’ve created to help you develop things further – is so much fun, isn’t it? And I think our confidence in what we’re trying to do, and how to get it to work really grows when we’re in that kind of generative state – where we’re so excited and curious that we stop worrying and let ourselves just try stuff out. The story of your spontaneous on-the-fly charting of Baker Lang in the sun is wonderful – a little moment captured in a knitting chart. Was this how you hoped the course would be/what you thought it would be like? When you signed up, what did you think it would be like/what were you hoping to learn? and did those expectations match up with your actual experience of diving into swatching?

Lauren Leigh: I didn’t have any particular expectations about what the course would be like or what I would learn when I signed up. It was during the pandemic, and at the time I was living away from home in a community where I felt very much like an outsider. I hoped that the course would provide a temporary escape and help to constructively channel my nervous energy. Reflecting on it now, maybe that partially explains why my swatch became what it did. It is also worth noting that I am typically a reluctant swatcher. Enrolling in a course focused on swatching was quite a gamble, but one that really paid off. I approach swatching for projects with a more appreciative attitude now. I also have a newfound confidence in playing with colour that has not only improved my knitting, but has also led me to experiment in other contexts (e.g. choosing paint for my skirting boards and walls).

The top of Lauren Leigh's enormous joyful swatch with further patterns and shapes found by looking at her cat, Baker Lang

Felix: That’s so great! Hurrah for transferable skills and confidence around choosing colours for skirting boards, as well as for stranded colourwork. You came up with some truly beautiful colourwork based on Baker Lang – did you ever realise your idea to make a celebratory pair of mitts using the motifs and shading sequences you designed?

Lauren Leigh: I did make a pair of Baker Lang mitts and am quite pleased with how they turned out. While knitting the swatch, I allowed myself to try anything – any pattern, odd colour combinations – without worrying about what it would look like. Making the mitts gave me the chance to be more intentional. I was able to curate the motifs and colour combinations from my wild swatch into a knitted item that references my little, tortie cat pretty successfully.

the finished mitts, featuring the most successful ideas from Lauren Leigh's beautiful swatching process

Felix: Those are so wonderful to see – what a lovely resolution of your ideas. I really like separating swatching from designing for just those reasons – you can give yourself more room, try stuff out, make a mess and play in the swatch, knowing that future-you will sort it out when it comes to plugging your ideas into something you can wear. Has this whole creative process changed anything in how you see people, places, animals, things… to spend time so intensively admiring and appreciating the colours, textures and personality of your beautiful cat?

Lauren Leigh: Yes, absolutely! My husband and I are currently renovating our house, and the other day I caught myself thinking that the jigsaw would make an interesting study in stranded knitting. I also asked my mom to take pictures of my grandma’s kitchen before selling the house that my grandma had lived in for 60+ years. I haven’t tried interpreting her kitchen in stranded knitting yet, but I do think that knitting would capture the feeling and memory of grandma’s house better than the photographs can.

Felix: I’m so excited to hear about your house renovation project. How super to learn that you are spotting new opportunities for creative, colourful play in everything from skirting boards to jigsaws… and how meaningful it will be to one day translate the soulful textures and feelings of your grandma’s house into stranded colourwork. Thank you so much for the imagination, curiosity, openness and joy you brought to your adventures with The KNITSONIK System and for sharing a little bit of your experience with us today. Please give Baker Lang a little rub from me x


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