Knitted Brush Strokes
The fall 2016 issue of knitscene is filled with gorgeous designs and ideas, but I think my favorite are the four patterns by Beatrice Perron Dahlen, the featured designer for this issue. Of course the beautiful and striking black, white, and gray color schemes speak to me, but I also LOVE the designs themselves—the easy fit of the sweaters and the unique aspects of the hat and wrap.
Designer Bristol Ivy wrote an article about Bea and her journey from art school to knitting designer. I find these “behind the designers” articles fascinating, so I thought I’d share this one with you.
Knitted Brush Strokes
There are certain designers in the knitting world whose work is immediately recognizable, not only by its aesthetic qualities, but also for its ability to get things just right. While the rest of us mortals struggle with getting yarn to conform to our stitch patterns or getting our stitch patterns to agree with our yarns, some designers seem to be able to intuit exactly what the material wants to be and bring it to us in new and unexpected ways. Beatrice Perron Dahlen, known under the business name Thread and Ladle, is one of these designers. Her work is a thoughtful combination of wearable, classic shapes and divergent inspiration that draws on all aspects of her life and creativity in its formation.
Bea’s history has been a heavy influence on her work. From a childhood as a self-described Navy brat, to learning to knit as a teenager from her high school sweetheart, Peter (the two are now married), to time as a sculpture major at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, to a life in Maine as an early childhood educator, nonprofit organizer, blogger, and mother, Bea’s experiences and influences have been myriad. But she has never been content to accept those experiences passively, instead choosing to push the boundaries to see where she could forge her own path or see things from a different angle.
Originally drawn to art college for photography and textiles, she instead brought her textile focus to the sculpture department. She says, “I changed to sculpture because getting reviewed and standing next to folks who were doing, say, large metal fabrication or wood structures was more challenging and enlightening than being reviewed by a group of other like-minded fiber folks. It pushed me more as an artist.” The same is true of her work within knitting; rather than following patterns closely, she often finds herself improvising and trying different techniques to create something with which she is truly happy. This continual search for growth and understanding of her craft was also the inspiration for her collection of pieces for knitscene.
For these pieces, Bea drew on a process that, in her freshman year at MassArt, helped transform her way of thinking about her own art and craft. This process was sumi, a Chinese and Japanese form of brush painting that relies on loose, fluid, and minimalist lines to evoke not just the shape of the object portrayed, but the ethos and the emotion within it as well. Bea recalls that the art form didn’t come naturally to her; within both her knitting and her artwork, she was quite tight and precise, not used to opening up to the gestural possibilities of the work. This changed when a professor asked the class members to tape their sumi brushes to the end of a six-foot pole and then attempt the technique. The resultant distance and loss of fine dexterity forced Bea to experiment with letting go and loosening up. This, in turn, gave her an understanding of how she could use the inherent qualities of the technique and materials to inform and mold the shape of the finished piece—an understanding that continues through her knitting design process today.
Bea’s patterns are always the perfect marriage of yarn and purpose, aesthetic, and intention, with a special focus on the intersection of inspiration, make-ability, and wearability. Her background and education have enabled her to draw on diverse influences to create thoughtful, wearable, and engaging knitting designs, each one inherently imbued with a sense of both who Bea is and how she understands yarn, stitch patterns, and the world around her.
In this collection, Bea combines this deep-rooted understanding of how inspiration and materials interact with that fateful experience of sumi painting in college. She has been inspired by how she might translate sumi into knitting, both in terms of the spare, simple aesthetic and the minimalist brushstrokes and movement used in the paintings themselves. By using one single knitting skill in each piece to isolate the interplay of color, she is able to pay homage to both the visual effect of the art form and the clarity of its technique.
Sumi, a pullover knitted top-down in Swans Island Natural Colors Merino Worsted, is named after the eponymous stick of pigment that is ground down and mixed with water to create the ink necessary for painting. It uses a vivid panel of contrast color along the shoulders and sleeves to create high visual impact—but within that panel are softly curving lines of cables that add unexpected delicacy and nuance. The Suzuri hat, named after the stone upon which the ink is ground, uses stranded colorwork in YOTH’s Little Brother to create a geometric echo of the splash of ink droplets on paper. Fude, a yoked pullover tunic worked in Manos del Uruguay’s Maxima, uses what we traditionally consider the wrong side of stranded colorwork to suggest the soft movement of the brush for which it was named. And Hanshi, a lengthwise wrap knitted in Shibui Staccato, is named after the final element of sumi painting: the paper itself. It uses sets of contrast-color short-rows to mold and shape striking, organic impressions in the garter-stitch fabric.
By isolating these individual knitting techniques to create the interplay of color within her four pieces, Bea has kept the designs intriguing and exciting to knit without being overwhelming or over-embellished, and has honored both the intent of the original art form and her own intent as a knitting designer. These pieces are clean, elegant, and timeless, with a little bit of a twist that makes them perfectly recognizable—and perfectly Bea.
—Bristol Ivy, from knitscene winter 2016
As Bristol said, these designs are perfectly Bea, but they’re also perfectly me! The black, the white, the gray, the styles—everything! I can see knitting all of these patterns, starting with the Suzuri hat. I’ve got lots of white and gray yarn, which I know is a shocker to you, friends!
Get your copy of knitscene winter 2016 today and cast on one of Bea’s gorgeous designs.
P.S. Which one of Bea’s designs is your favorite? Leave a comment below and let me know!