Creativity and Constraint

Is knitting a creative activity? It is certainly a productive one – there is an output from the process. The outputs may vary in quality, for sure (well, mine do anyway) but is there a scale for creativity as well as for quality?

When we select a pattern for a new project, we go through the process of selecting a yarn. Even if we nervously take the way of least potential difficulty and thereby settle for the designated yarn, there is still the matter of colour choice. That colour choosing is a creative process. Departing from the design notes and choosing a different yarn, for a desired effect or outcome – that is a creative act too.

We might knit a project exactly as defined in the pattern – correcting any errors, measuring repeatedly – but we (most of us) do not set out to clone a project. What we end up with is most definitely our own, whether or not we choose to make changes to the pattern on the fly (or work in a little happy mistake or two.) Every piece of knitting has a piece of our creative self in it, or so I believe.

What I do not believe is that those of us who choose to purchase a pattern and use it for guidance are any less worthy, creatively speaking, than the designer who produced it. It is my opinion that patterns are “for guidance only” in the same way that recipe books are. When cooking, or knitting, some of us lean more heavily on that guidance than others might – but who on earth feels less creative than Delia or Gary or Jamie when they cook a meal for friends, whether or not we leave out a pinch of this or dollop in a little more milk or an extra egg? Perhaps we consider ourselves a little less talented in the cookery field – but we still feel the creativity in producing a meal, and any Chef worth her salt will applaud the effort that the home cook makes to add their own twist to a dish.

Yet it seems to be a little different in the knitting world.

I heard recently of a contact who is attending a knitting class at her local yarn store. The class is to be given by a designer. It sounds like one of those affairs when everyone turns up and knits the same pattern in that sheep-like way that knitters appear to behave these days (perhaps we catch it from the wool itself, this need to go “Baa!”) This lady went to purchase her yarn in readiness for the class, from the store where the class is to be held. The project requires several different named yarns – the lady is an artist and was uncomfortable with the colours available in the named ranges; she selected a couple of yarns from other ranges that had colours more to her liking. At the counter, she offered up her yarn selection and was told that approval would have to be sought from the designer/teacher if these yarns were to be used in class. This is akin to the Domestic Goddess swooping in to one’s kitchen and demanding to assess the brand of butter that one intends to use in order to bake those muffins…

I wonder if this is a common affliction among knitting designers. We know all about the very revered designer who will not have her pattern books republished – if you want to knit her designs then you must buy a kit of the pattern and the “proper” yarn direct from the designer (at very great expense!) Perhaps these are two exceptions exhibiting some simple cases of control-freak-ism and nothing to do with knitting or designing per se.

There is a question to be asked, if only I could think how to express it correctly, about the need/value of controlling the outcome of one’s vision – about the knitwear designer as artist. Even if valid in part, it must surely be limited in scope. Try the analogy of the painter: while she owns the painting, she may very well be highly particular about the way that it is framed and the way in which it is hung and lit in an exhibition – but she is not going to come to the home of the purchaser and quibble about the wall that it is hung upon. If the householder wishes to hang their modern art purchase on red flock wallpaper, that is their interior design choice – and they may make it freely.

Well, I wish to be entirely free in my design choices also. I may be creative in only a very small way but I do relish that piece of creativity. I get a real buzz from seeing the realisation of my personal vision and knowing that I was absolutely correct in my choices. When I see something like my finished Rivolo and feel completely vindicated in the match that I made between the yarn and the pattern – that is a real high. Of course, that talented lady, Anne Hanson, does make yarn recommendations – but she not only suggests alternatives, but also gives guidelines for making one’s own substitutions. That is one of the several very good reasons why I buy her designs. I can think of some very good reasons for not buying patterns from more controlling designers…

…which is not to say that I will ever entirely give up my dream of knitting that particularly spectacular Aran sweater that is in my Ravelry queue – though if  ever I do knit it, I have some modifications in mind.

One Comment

  1. January 12, 2009

    So with you. I can’t stand the patterns I find and love and then discover I can only get the pattern if I buy a kit. seems very common with fair isle patterns…

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