Monday, 8 September 2014

Alison Ellen on Diagonal, Bias and 3D knitting

In this post Alison Ellen introduces some of the influences she draws on in her knitting design work, some of the influences and ideas behind her Summer School courses.

Diagonal/bias knitting workshop
Diagonal and bias knitting have always fascinated me, from an early memory of an ancient aunt in a hand knitted jumper which had a decrease line down the centre, so all stitches sloped on either side towards this centre line. It was black, fitted, and so smart and understated. Years later, when I began to think about knitting ‘seriously’, the wonderful Mary Thomas showed the same idea, in her 1930s ‘Book of knitting patterns’. Gradually I explored this theme into several designs over the years, often with the dipping hem that happens naturally if you increase and decrease within the knitting.

Lots of traditional stitches, especially Shetland Lace patterns, have zigzags and waves which also tip the stitches over, giving the whole fabric an intriguing ‘bias’ drape. I’ve been exploring stitches in detail for a new knitting book, and experimenting with how the fabric can be tilted in this way with increases and decreases, playing with irregular as well as symmetric patterns.
The direction of the knitting makes for wonderful design opportunities even using simple stripes. And as for modular knitting. . . there is so much to explore. Use it one way and the stitches are vertical and horizontal, but place the decrease line straight upwards and you have a bias fabric again.
The ultimate ‘bias’ stitch is Entrelac which does it naturally, as each block is constructed on the diagonal. A knitting workshop is ideal for trying this stitch for the first time, but once you get the hang of it, so much room to explore, experiment and take it further.

As I have usually sold my work direct to customers through fairs, the way shapes work on different people has become a very important element in designing, and the difference between the way ‘straight’ knitting hangs and the drape and fit of ‘bias’ knitting has been fascinating, and instructive!

3D knitting workshop

My approach to knitting has always been practical: find the simplest way to get the effect you want, and use what the materials and technique want to do naturally. If I want diagonal stripes, knit diagonally (see bias knitting workshop). 

I’ve always made practical pieces for wearing or using and always call myself a craftsman and designer, not an artist. However, this year new opportunities have opened up and there has been time to play and experiment. One driving force is working on a new book exploring how stitches can alter knitted fabric, and how 3D shapes can be constructed without seams, this needs many small pieces to be explored and knitted. The other is working towards a group exhibition of ‘Art inspired by gardens’. So while experimenting with short-row knitting (a great tool for those who don’t like knitting in the round), and picking up stitches to knit in different directions, I’ve also been looking at seed heads and pods. The flexible technique of hand knitting can grow in an organic way, with shaping emerging within the knitting (not just at the edges), making the fabric bulge and expand in a similar way to a plant developing. Pods are now emerging and growing in my studio, embellished with i-cords and whiskers, experimenting with linen, hemp and garden twine. 

I will be brought back to earth eventually by the need to make something practical, but think bags and hats, and these ideas can surely be combined. 

Other projects, sculptural and useful, can be created in one piece without seams, from cushions to clothing; all that’s needed is an open mind and confidence in picking up stitches and knitting in another direction, and learning new ways of joining pieces.