Mixing Old and New: Tradition at Work in Modern Knitting

Bailiwick Pullover by Courtney Spainhower takes traditional British
gansey texture patterns and arranges them on a drapey, feminine shape in
an alpaca blend that a Guernsey fisherman would never recognize! Interweave Knits Spring 2014.

We invited Lisa Shroyer, editor of Interweave Knits, to tell us about the newest Spring issue.

I originally went to school to study historic preservation. I’ve always been fascinated by old buildings and how they continue to evolve, to reflect the uses and lives of the people who touch them. On one trip to Charleston, South Carolina, I visited several of the homes on the historic register. One home was being lived in by a family and had been renovated to fit their needs—a beautiful modern kitchen, contemporary furnishings, even their portraits painted into the ornate wooden panels of the ceiling in one room. The original slave passage and staircase at the back of the house served as a quick in-and-out path for the kids; their toys and shoes were tucked into the narrow turning stairwell.

Another home had been abandoned many decades earlier and the organization responsible for its care was deliberately allowing time to dismantle the property. They chose not to do any restoration work on it—the walls were peeling, plants had overgrown the courtyard, old and discolored furniture languished in solitary corners. The contrast of these two homes was so stark and moving—one property was evolving, surviving through continued adaptation, while one was a time capsule, not changing from its original genesis, and therefore dying. But it taught so many people about the past in so doing.

Galina Khmeleva has been collecting lace charts and patterns for Russian lace for decades. Photo by Leslie Petrovski.

Knitting is like architecture in so many ways. The traditions of our craft can be adapted and interpreted anew, or held to literally, maintaining a respect for the specific moments and cultures of their development. As editor of Interweave Knits, I am conscious of these tensions constantly. I like to mix old and new—in knit.wear magazine I get to look forward, working with designers who use the sticks and string to create new stitches, silhouettes, and styles.

In Interweave Knits, I get to profile people and ethnic traditions that remind us where we come from, like the profile of lace-master and frequent PieceWork contributor Galina Khmeleva in the Winter 2014 issue. Galina has made a career and life pursuit of researching and promoting the traditional Orenburg shawls of her native Russia. And I get to work with designers who refer to the past while creating designs that fit in contemporary life—like Kate Gagnon Osborn’s interpretation of the Icelandic lopapeysa sweater in the Spring 2014 issue.

The spring issue offers 5 designs that fit in the theme “New School”—projects that refer to some traditional type while being relevant, stylistically, to our present moment. Ganseys, Arans, heirloom shawls, Fair Isle sweaters, Nordic mittens, Andean chullos, Cowichan cardigans . . . we have so many fascinating traditions to pull from in this craft.

The Meltwater Pullover by Kate Gagnon Osborn uses traditional Icelandic shaping and colorwork. Interweave Knits Spring 2014.

And like old buildings, we can add new paint colors, new wiring, throw down a new rug, and find comfort in the character of the past and the convenience of the future. Magazines like PieceWork and Interweave Knits offer us a chance to see where we come from, where we are, and where we want to go—a path to what is possible with our rich and varied creativity. It is all valuable, and if I might say so, fascinating.