Thursday, April 18, 2013

Design Process: Saturn Cardi

The Summer issue of Knitscene hit newsstands earlier this week and, as I previously mentioned, I was extremely delighted and honored to be the featured designer of the issue.  Part of being the featured designer means that I got to design a three-piece collection. And now that the issue is out there, I thought I'd spend a little time talking about my design process and inspiration for each piece.  All three were in some way influenced by astronomical phenomena (which I hear a lot about at my day job at NASA), but I wanted to talk a bit about how exactly the translation from cool astro image to knit garment occurred.

Let's start with the Saturn Cardigan, shall we?

Photo © Knitscene/Harper Point

In 2004, NASA launched the Cassini mission to study Saturn. Now, I've always thought Saturn was one of the coolest looking planets, what with the rings and all, but when I saw the following ultraviolet image on Astronomy Picture of the Day, I was blown away.

Credit:  UVIS, U. Colorado, ESA, NASA

One of the things this image shows us is the breakdown of what Saturn's rings are composed of. The bluer areas contain more water ice and the redder areas contain more dust. Very interesting scientifically, but it also makes for a really beautiful image. Even though this isn't actually what the rings look like in the visible light spectrum, I no longer saw Saturn as just a bright white object in the sky, but as something with much more life and color. 

Originally I wanted to translate the Cassini image more literally, with bright green or turquoise rings against a very dark background (though in the end, the grey just worked better).

To form the raised rings, I found a cool technique in one of my Barbara Walker treasuries in which a few rows are knit, then folded up and joined together on the next row to form a raised welt. And, to showcase the rings, I thought it best to show them against a canvas of a very simple and wearable cardigan.  Here's the original sketch -- you can see that I deviated very little from the original concept.


The sweater is simply constructed as well, knit from the top-down with a circular yoke.

Ok, this post is now going to go all over the place, but talking about the Saturn Cardi like this immediately takes me back to when I knit it.  Back in September, Neill and I took a trip to South Africa with his sister, and this cardigan just happened to be my travel knitting.  I managed to do the entire yoke on the way there, then the body and sleeves followed me around Cape Town, safari, and wine tasting.  

One of my favorite memories from the trip actually involved this sweater.  When a member of our party lost her passport (not me), we had to take a little detour and spend half of our second day at the US Embassy.  I elected to stay outside on a bench and knit.  Well, the outside of the embassy was heavily guarded by fit young men and women carrying around huge guns and speaking in a language I did not understand.  One of the young guys kept looking at me, then frowning, speaking to his colleagues, frowning again, and looking back at me.  I'm not gonna lie, the presence of the large firearms combined with the frowning made me a bit uneasy.  Suddenly, the guard was approaching me.  Ugh.  I just knew he was going to tell me that the embassy was one of those places where knitting needles were considered a weapon and I was going to have to put them away.  But when he was just a few feet away and we made eye contact, his face completely softened.  He smiled, started making knitting motions with his hands and pointed to mine. "What you're doing...this reminds me of my mother!  All day, every day, she was knitting, knitting, knitting!"  He went on to tell me about all of the amazing things she had made for him, hats and sweaters and the like, and how proud he was to wear them.  I told him that he was an amazing son, and that if my own son ever expressed half as much enthusiasm for my knitting, I would just about explode with happiness.  He then said that sometimes he would take over household chores when he was growing up so his mother could take a break and knit. (Right?!) He said, "We all have things we do to get through the day...for my mother, it was knitting."  And in that moment, that statement just seemed so wise, and I was so jet lagged, that I almost started crying.  Here were were, this young guy and I, from two places as far away as is earthly possible, brought together by knitting.

Anyway, for more information about the Saturn Cardigan, you can see its listing on Ravelry here and on the Knitscene website here.


Meredith said...

That story is so beautiful, and such a wonderful memory to have knitted into your sweater. Knitting is such a universal, eternal, human thing to do, and brings out the beauty in life in so many ways. Astronomy is also full of that mysterious beauty, so it's a very fitting source of inspiration.

Thank you for sharing the story!

Unknown said...

Agreed! All due respect to your design -- the story about the young man and his mother was wonderful. I have found that knitting brings out stories many times. Mostly about much loved and missed moms and grandmoms.

peaknits said...

What an amazing story, I could almost cry myself! And sweater is really cool! Thanks for sharing your process.

Shar said...

When I first saw pictures of the sweater I had my doubts about whether I wanted to knit it. Hearing your story about why you designed it and the memories you made while knitting it make me want to put this on the top of my queue! It's always wonderful to hear the story and inspiration behind a knit pattern.

Rea said...

Thank you for this post. It had so much in it that I've actually shared it with a couple of people! Saturn has always been my favorite planet and your design is a wonderful representation. Thanks also for sharing that picture of the rings...gorgeous! But mostly, thanks for sharing the story of the embassy guard and his love of his mother's knitting. That was beautiful. The whole piece made my day!

Anonymous said...

You had me at my mother...knitting.
(Sniff) There will probably never enough knitting anthologies out there in the world to include all the poignant or humorous stories that knitting and knitting in public evoke throughout this world of ours. Yours just became one of my favorites. Looks like your writing skills match your knitting talent, Hilary. Chloe

Unknown said...

Beautiful cardigan, beautiful inspiration image and what an amazing story! I love hearing things like that, knitting brings people together!

juicyknits said...

It's a wonderful story & great pictures. The cardigan goes into my queue!

Anonymous said...

I'm totally going to knit this cardigan. I have a serious fear of sweater commitment, but I just bought the magazine because I am so charmed by the adorableness. I need this, and so I will make it!!! (The battle cry of knitters everywhere :P)

Jane Richmond said...

What a lovely story, it was heart warming. Congratulations on the feature, you are so talented! I am SO excited for you!!!

Bridget said...

You've also convinced me that I need to give this one a try. Congratulations on such a pretty (and meaningful) design!

Teresa said...

What a wonderful story! I love the raised welt technique, what a great idea! I've never tried it before, but will be scanning my B. Walker Treasuries when I get home.