A Pattern of Creativity: An Interview with Knitter and Musician Lucy Hague

When it comes to creativity, Lucy Hague applies it to everything. Not only does she knit her own intricate designs, she plays in several bands. We had to learn more about this prolific artist’s motivation and approach to her work.

Knitting and music! How do these creative pursuits inform one another?

I moved to Edinburgh to complete a degree in music technology — this involved studies in acoustics, mathematics, web design, and coding. I fell into knitwear design by accident! I’d always been interested in sewing and knitting, but just as something to play around with. Just after graduating from university, knitting had a rebirth with sites like Knitty and Ravelry gaining in popularity, changing the way knitters accessed (and created) patterns.

The work I’m doing now could not exist without Ravelry — they provide an excellent platform for selling PDF patterns, and they’ve created a vast community where people can share projects, ideas, and get inspiration. Other knitters encouraged me to start writing and publishing my patterns through Ravelry and it all took off from there. The thing I love most about design and pattern writing is that it brings together two sides of my brain that otherwise don’t have a chance to interact very much: the creative side that can visualize lots of different ideas, and the technical side that enjoys translating it all logically into a written format.

Writing a pattern has a lot in common with coding. Different pattern writers approach and translate problems in different ways. Often there isn’t even really one right way to express something; the main challenge is taking a complex idea and trying to distill it into concise and elegant instructions. When I started writing knitting patterns, I started playing with a few different folk bands, including Jacob’s Pillow and Pictism; we often go on short tours, usually around Scotland and I’m usually knitting on the road!

The thing I love most about design and pattern writing is that it brings together two sides of my brain: the creative side that can visualize lots of different ideas, and the technical side that enjoys translating it all logically into a written format.

Your knitted designs are incredibly intricate — can you share your process from inspiration, to pattern design, to completed project?

My design process is always changing. When I started out I would design “on the needles,” and try to reverse engineer the written pattern from the finished object. Now I’m more methodical about how I approach a design. I usually have a very clear idea of what I want the finished object to look like, and I will sketch it several times before beginning. For my complex cable patterns — which are all unique stitch patterns I design from scratch — I have a very long and laborious process that involves sketching and swatching (knitting up test versions of the pattern to see how it looks).

Durrow shawl sketches.

It’s something I’ve become quicker at with more experience designing cables, but it still takes time — my Durrow shawl design took several months from initial conception to the finished pattern! I’m ruthless about unravelling a project and starting over again if I’m unhappy with anything. Once the initial swatches look how I want them to, I write a draft of the pattern and work off that to produce the final sample. This gives me a chance to check out how the pattern flows and change anything that doesn’t make sense. After that, I have a team of test knitters and a technical editor who go over the pattern to check for errors and inconsistencies, and then the pattern is ready to launch.

The Durrow shawl.

Your Illuminated Knits series — the Durrow shawl, the Lindisfarne shawl, and the Iona throw — are all inspired by an illuminated Celtic manuscript. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

My first book, Celtic Cable Shawls, used similar pieces of Insular Celtic art for inspiration. I had the idea for “Illuminated Knits” based on a slip-stitch technique that I wanted to explore further (a technique that allows you to achieve contrasting color results quite easily, without having to use more complex colorwork techniques like intarsia or stranded knitting). I became fascinated by this technique despite (or perhaps because of!) its constraints — the way it pulls the fabric in, the way the cables pull in — it really works best when the knitting is worked in the round, rather than flat.

This meant I had to create interesting ways to make pieces that could be worked in the round that would normally be worked flat. Durrow is an example of this. It looks like a regular triangular shawl (a very familiar shape to knitters, normally worked flat), however the border is made of modular squares worked individually in the round, then joined together. It was really fun to play around with colors and try to find hues that evoked illuminated manuscripts. The slipped-stitch technique I used is based on stripes, so you end up with two contrasting colors on a background that is a mix of those two colors — like mixing inks! My main source of inspiration is the enigmatic Pictish symbol stones (there are many surviving across Scotland). No Pictish illuminated manuscripts survive today, although there’s evidence to suggest that some must have existed. It’s interesting (if a little melancholy) to think about all the examples of Pictish art that may have been lost and the way they might have approached using color in their beautiful designs.

The Iona throw.

Of all your pieces and patterns, which was the most satisfying to put make?

All the pieces in Illuminated Knits have been uniquely challenging to me as a designer. The collection has taken a long time to put together but I’m proud of how they turned out, and glad that I put the effort in to make these designs extra special. I also really enjoyed working on a design for fellow designer Kate DaviesThe Book of Haps. Several designers responded in different ways to the initial brief. My design “Uncia” was inspired by cathedral architecture, and I had a lot of fun working different motifs into the cables and lace of the shawl.

If someone has an interest in knitting, which resources can you recommend?

Ravelry.com is a great resource — it’s a huge website with forums, a massive pattern database, project pages, information about yarn — absolutely everything you need as a beginning knitter or crocheter (you need an account to access all the features, which is free).

There’s also a lot of info on spinning and weaving — all sorts of fibre arts. Probably the best thing you can do as a beginner is find something you really love and want to make and then just jump in! If you have a local yarn shop, ask about classes or knitting groups — people are often more than happy to help out beginners, and whilst YouTube tutorials are great, sometimes you can’t beat a bit of in-person help.

To learn more about Lucy and her work, visit Designs by Lucy Hague, check out her page at Ravelry.com, and listen to her music.

July 6, 2017Crafts, Design, Interviews, Longreads, ,