Designing a Lopi Sweater with Lars Rains: Inspiration

We’re back with our second blog from designer Lars Rains on his journey to design a sweater for his upcoming book, Modern Lopi: Two. If you’re new to this series, get to know a little bit about Lars in our first post, then keep on reading to see where Lars got his inspiration for this upcoming sweater pattern.

As a designer, I am constantly being inspired by my surroundings. I marvel at the gradient colors to be found in a spectacular sunset. I find myself trying to figure out how to recreate the spirals on a sunflower. I often wonder if it is possible to represent the movement of tall grasses in the wind. Inspiration is everywhere, if you can open your eyes to all the many possibilities that this world holds for us.

For my second book of Icelandic sweaters, I wanted to turn my attention to the awesome forces of nature that are all around us. I am especially drawn to the harsh climate of my ancestors. Growing up in the middle of Canada, where I had to learn how to survive the brutally cold winters, I feel a certain kinship to the natural colors and simple lines of Icelandic geography, especially the snow and ice.

When I begin to work on a new sweater design, color selection is always the most important consideration for me. I was particularly inspired by this photo of veins of volcanic ash found in an Icelandic cave. I immediately began to think about how I could play with the various shades of gray represented here. I also thought about how I could work these colors as stripes, either horizontally or vertically.

I began to explore another interest of mine, which is minimalist modern art. One of my favorite artists is Cy Twombly, who reduced his complicated ideas about what art should represent to naive scribbles and brief textual allusions. When I discovered that one of his blackboard drawings looked a little like an Icelandic yoke, I knew that I was on to something.

This drawing reminded me of the whiteout conditions that I often had to drive through on the main highway in my home province of Manitoba. When it is pitch black outside, snow isn’t white until it is picked up by the headlights of your car. I wondered whether I could use my gray color palette to show what a blizzard looks like when driving on an endless stretch of blacktop at night.

Once I know which colors I want to use, I always begin by working out a yoke chart by hand. I am aware that it would probably be easier to use a computer program to create and modify a chart as I go along, but I really do prefer taking the time to put pencil to paper to explore and think about the many possibilities available to me. Just as I am a process knitter at heart, I like to allow my design process to evolve organically.

I then set to work creating a swatch of my yoke design, adjusting my chart along the way to work the decreases in according to several of my personal conventions. One technique that I have been experimenting with is something that I have begun calling stranded textural colorwork, where knit and purl stitches are worked alongside color changes in order to blur the boundaries where one color starts and another color ends.

I am also very much an Olympics knitter, beginning with my striped Lillehammer blanket that I knit out of the 13 colors of Álafosslopi that were in stock at the yarn store in Toronto where I took my first knitting lessons. (I had to stretch it out over an art canvas and hang it over the bed before my dogs at the time decided to chew more than just the corners of it.) I cast on for this new sweater last Friday, after the flame had been lit during the Opening Ceremonies. It is my goal to have it finished by the time the Olympic fire is extinguished during the Closing Ceremonies. I am looking forward to sharing my progress pictures with you along the way, as well as sharing some additional sources of inspiration for future projects destined for my next book, Modern Lopi: Two.

4 thoughts on “Designing a Lopi Sweater with Lars Rains: Inspiration

  1. Fascinating thoughts that all make perfect sense. Wonderful color choice. Looking forward to following your creative talent…..keep working!

  2. Lars,
    I’m currently knitting asymptote. I’m wondering if you know how much I can stretch it when I block it ? I’m using let lopi and would steam blocking work?

    1. Hi Suzanne, I’m answering for Lars. I wouldn’t plan on stretching it too much—as a wool yarn, it’s going to spring back into it’s natural shape, though you can usually get it to relax maybe an inch in length or width. Steam blocking would work but soaking it in a bath will be a better choice.

  3. I usually only steam block if I want to reduce the amount of puckering that can occur if your floats are too tight during the stranded colorwork and the fit is already good. I like to wet block using a scented soak and just lay flat to dry without using any blocking pins.

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