Colour and feeling

An allover treat this morning, in a post from the brilliant Janine Bajus, whose Joy of Color is one of the most interesting books about stranded colourwork to have been published in recent years. If you’d really like to design your own allover sweater, but find the idea rather daunting, then this is certainly the book for you! Following a process Janine’s successfully developed through years of teaching, you’ll learn to trust your own creative instincts and sources of inspiration to develop a beautiful, colourful sweater from start to finish. Topics covered include motif balance and placement, steeks (of course) and a very nifty method of shaping short-row shoulders while knitting colourwork in the round, which is clearly and expertly described. I’m a huge admirer of Janine’s inspiring and enabling work, and for today’s post, I asked her if she would talk to us about her own development as a designer, her own creative process, and how colour makes her feel. . .

To create a world beyond fashion is to summon an emotion or a cherished memory.

Ralph Lauren

We get innumerable messages every day about what colors mean, what colors work together, what is appropriate to wear. Either a color is in fashion or passé. Red means “anger”. You shouldn’t wear bright colors if you aren’t young. Pink and orange don’t mix. The list goes on.

During a workshop on creative entrepreneurship I discovered myself pulling image after image of red sneakers. I have large feet for a woman and most of my life had settled for plain dark shoes, trying to hide what the world told me I should be ashamed of. But there was something irresistible in those images of red shoes! With some trepidation, I bought a pair—and I’ve been wearing them ever since, letting that carefree “look at me” color bring attention to my feet. I experienced the freedom of letting societal messages go and choosing the color that truly reflected how I felt inside. Red as an expression of joy, not anger. Twenty years later my friends associate these red shoes with me.

The messages we receive about color seem so absolute that it is difficult to see that they are actually flawed and cannot reliably reflect the complexity of individual responses to the world.

Designing Based on Feelings

It can be hard enough to buck conventional wisdom when exploring our emotional attachment to a color when it’s, say, a pair of shoes, but stranded knitting offers so many ways to explore color that it can be overwhelming! How can we bring that personal, immediate, intuitive feel for color into complex stranded knitting projects? Much less make the colors work together? Let me take you on a journey through my evolving process. 

Build Color Confidence: The Redbud Vest

Redbud Vest

Because I don’t have an art school background, I didn’t trust myself at first to develop my own Fair Isle colorways. I began my exploration of more complex color by finding photographs or paintings that I liked for their colors. The Redbud Vest is one of the first designs I made this way: I selected pinks, silvers, golden browns, and greens based on this magazine photo and combined in a set of traditional Fair Isle bands. 

Make It Personal: The October Storm Hat

October Storm Hat

My knitting designs became even more personal when I began to use my own photographs of places that I hold dear. The October Storm Hat captures the dramatic shades of a storm looming near Taos, New Mexico, USA, the purple mountains framing the highlighted chamisa and alder. Every time I pull this hat on I think of that autumn car trip.

Embrace Colors You “Can’t Wear”: The Yellow Island Jacket

Yellow Island jacket

The Yellow Island Jacket was inspired by the late afternoon sun raking across the dried grasses on Yellow Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington State, USA, a place dear to my heart. I created an undulating allover motif to allow the colors to flow together. Yellow, in any of its forms, is not a color that flatters me despite my love of it, so I added a wide collar in the blues of the surrounding Salish Sea.  

Finding What Works for You

Machines are now capable of knitting beautiful fabric perfectly. What can we do better than the machines? We can express our unique vision—choose the colors that have personal meaning to us. We can express our feelings through these colors. In our overly commodified world it is a triumph of the human spirit to determine what we truly love, independent of societal messaging, or advertising, or the pull of the marketplace.

What makes you feel alive? Fill notebooks with photos torn from magazines, postcards, quotations—anything that brings you deep satisfaction even if you can’t figure out why. Forget old paradigms of what a color MEANS. Toss out color theories about which colors go together.

Is this the shade of blue you love?

Learn the vocabulary of color—“blue” used imprecisely, for example, encompasses a very wide range of shades—so that you don’t have to settle for not-quite-right. 

And then, be patient! Don’t just go to the yarn store on a tear having to find the right yarn right this minute; rather, wait until you find the exact shade that brings you joy. Let that color be your signature in the world. As the poet Mary Oliver wrote: “You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves.” (from Wild Geese).

Designing from the Heart

Express What Moves You: The Night Sky Series

Sunset at Grant’s Pass, Oregon and the I’ve Loved the Stars Mitts, which read “I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”

These days I have begun working with visual inspirations coupled with words or snippets of poetry. The ever-shifting colors of the night sky—deep midnight, twilight, sunrise—touch me in ways I don’t understand and continue to inspire a series of designs. 

 The Luna Hat, inspired by a snippet of poetry: “Even in all its phases the moon is still whole.”

When I look through my inspiration scrapbooks I see that an obsession the moon began years ago, just waiting for the moment when the draw of the deep midnight blues and the moving words couldn’t be ignored any longer. 

The Bella Luna Sweater (in progress) uses poetry and an assortment of names given to the full moon

My challenge has been taking photographs of the sky at different times of day—I’ve had to settle for blurry pictures and rapid note taking while the memory of the colors remains clear. This obsession has rewarded me by making me pay closer attention to the shifts of the sky from day to day. The development of these astronomical garments remains an ongoing source of joy, at once very personal and yet universal. 

The Ten Moons Yoke Sweater (in progress)

Design from Your Heart: The Salmon Coming Home Vest & Hat

A week spent in Cordova, Alaska, USA surrounded by stories of lives built around salmon fishing inspired the Salmon Coming Home Vest and Cordova Cap patterns. It felt like coming home—I grew up in a watery landscape like this. I wanted to capture the image of salmon swimming in murky glacier-fed waters and the mountains at sunset reflected in Eyak Lake. Long summer twilights in the northern latitudes have a heartbreaking sweetness. I had photos of the lake and of the greenish-gray water, but I had to search the internet for photos of salmon so I could create a realistic motif. What began as a singular personal vision expanded as I developed the motifs and shared the swatches on Instagram: People began sharing their stories of fish—salmon, trout, bass—with me. The message was clear: When we design with our hearts our work will resonate with others. 

The Salmon Coming Home Vest

Janine, thank you so much for this open, generous, and encouraging post – a wonderful way to begin a colourful new year! Find out more about Janine and her work at her website, read an inspiring interview with her over on Felix’s blog, and, if you are in the UK, you might be interested to know that the Joy of Color is stocked in the Knitsonik shop.