Paint & Purls: Laura Bryant's World of Color

Foxy Cowl by Laura Bryant.
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One of my friends knits the most beautiful sweaters, and most times when I ask her what the pattern or yarn is, it's from Prism Yarns by Laura Bryant. Laura is the designer and creative force behind Prism Yarns, a company that produces exquisite hand-dyed yarns created with an artist's eye.

I knit a cowl out of Prism yarn, and it was so wonderful to knit with. The design was a smaller version of Laura's Foxy Cowl, (shown at right). The picture doesn't do this piece justice; that fur is not your run-of-the-mill faux fur. It's truly luxurious. The colors are deep and sumptuous and the fur is so soft you can barely feel it. I want to make a pillow out of that stuff!

A small part of the full spectrum of Prism's Layers palette.

Laura's story is an interesting one, and she told it in the summer 2012 issue of Interweave Knits. Eunny Jang sat down to chat about Laura's background, her ideas, and her unique thirty-year perspective on the handknitting industry. Here's a bit of that profile for you.

My Colorful World

I returned to knitting seriously as a hobby after graduating from art school and moving to Buffalo, New York, where I began working part-time at a yarn store as I continued to work in studio on my artwork. By the early eighties, my art was selling fairly well to the corporate market, but then a recession hit, and people stopped buying as much art.

I talked my way into a job as an area representative for what was then Tahki Yarns (now Tahki-Stacy Charles Inc.) and Berroco, covering upstate New York and visiting yarn stores to show product. It was a lean territory, but the job got me into the national yarn trade shows, where I realized there was a market for hand-dyed yarns. There were very few artisan dyers at that time, but seeing their yarns gave me a real ‘aha!' moment—I knew I could do that! I talked to Diane Friedman at Tahki and suggested a line of hand-dyed yarns using Tahki stock; she agreed, and Prism was born. I went solo in 1986, continuing to make artwork as I was building Prism slowly into the company it is today.

Prism really blossomed after my husband and business partner, Matt, and I moved to Florida in 1992, where we bought a 3,200-square-foot building that gave us room to grow. Our signature yarn, Wild Stuff (a yarn made of dozens of individually hand-dyed, gauge- and color-coordinated yarns hand-tied end to end), was born the same year we moved. I became very involved with The National Needlearts Association (TNNA), serving as a board member and then as president from 2000 through 2001. Prism was bursting at the seams by then. Although we, like many companies, saw a recent downturn with the overall economy, we're now happily at home in an even larger building and doing steady, healthy business. I haven't had much time for artwork since my last show in 2008. But making art and making yarn tend to feed one another, giving my mind visual puzzles to solve that eventually result in new directions for both.

The Artist: Inspiration from the Universe

I am forever grateful for the education I received as an artist at the University of Michigan. The rigorous program taught problem-solving as much as art-specific skills. A color course late in my schooling changed my life and has been the basis for all the color exploration I've done for the last thirty-five years.

I think about color all the time, keeping a clip file of combinations I see in magazines and taking lots of my own photos. I look at a stack of fashion magazines and catalogs monthly to develop a context for Prism's color, silhouette, and detail directions for upcoming seasons. My inspirations tend to come from the universe rather than from specific knitting sources.

Technicolor Jacket by Laura Bryant.
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Designing, like making art, is an organically serial process for me. A shape in ready-to-wear may catch my eye, or I'll notice an interesting behavior in a knitted garment, or I'll see a compelling color combination. Each piece is a result of everything that came before it, one building on another until I've followed a specific theme through to its end. I think that being a good designer has a lot to do with being a good self-editor, which I learned through the critique process in art school. Just because you made something doesn't make it automatically good; a design can always be improved upon.

Given the wildness of some of my yarns, I take a surprisingly austere approach to designing. I try to avoid the "everything and the kitchen sink, too" trap. I want my designs to tell a strong, focused story, whether it's about shape, color, stitch, or texture. Color is obviously a huge part of designing for me, but I'm also very particular about fit. I used to sew a lot of garments, including making our wedding clothes, and I've found those dressmaking skills invaluable when I design knitwear. Fit, hand, structure, silhouette, and color—they all need to work together.

Seaglass Shell by Daniella Nii, from Interweave Knits
Summer 2012

My favorite designs tend to be those where all those aspects interact in a compelling way. I tend to use pattern stitches to enhance color rather than as standalone elements, since my hand-dyed yarns have complex colors that already make a strong statement. I also enjoy frivolous, over-the-top ideas such as our Foxy Cowl, a simple tapered tube worked in exuberantly textured Wild Stuff and trimmed with Plume, an outrageous faux-fur yarn.

—As told to Eunny Jang, Interweave Knits, Summer 2012

Laura's designs and yarns are incredible. I hope you get a chance to try them sometime!

Get the summer 2012 issue of Interweave Knits today—it's on sale for just $1.75! There are so many beautiful patterns in this issue. One of them is the Seaglass Shell by Daniella Nii, shown at right. Check out the rest of the designs in this issue! You'll love them.


P.S. What colorful knitting project do you have one your needles? Leave a comment and share it with us!

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