Kate Gilbert is, of course, the designer of the Pearl Buck Swing Jacket, currently being fêted here in this knitalong. She recently took some time from her busy schedule -- motherhood, magazine deadlines, unpacking! -- to chat with us.
What was your first sweater design like?
My very first sweater design was a complete and utter failure. I never put it all together but I still have it. The body is basically a giant poncho and the sleeves are these stubby little things. You can see it here: http://www.kategilbert.com/blog/archives/2006/03/public_knitting.html I had no idea what I was doing and had only made a (very ugly) scarf before.
Are you a perfectionist?
Definitely. I have to learn to let go of a pattern at a certain point because there are deadlines and it’s just not realistic to do things a thousand times. I would get tired of them and never finish them. Thankfully I learn something with each pattern I write and hopefully each one is a slight improvement on the last. Also, I’ve had to learn to let go of my patterns after their published. I’m always happy to see what people do with them. I like when knitters run with them and make them better. Sometimes, they choose a yarn or color or button that I would never have chosen, but I hope that’s what will make it “perfect” for them.
What is most important to you as a designer -- fabric, shape, texture?
Is D) all of the above a possible answer? I think shape is really my main obsession. My first inspiration for a project usually comes from a certain silhouette that I’m trying to achieve. In the case of the Pearl Buck Jacket, the shape I was going for would have required a fabric that is probably nearly impossible to achieve with knitting but I decided to give it a shot anyway. Then, the yarn that was chosen for the project changed the shape, fabric and texture that was possible. It’s all a compromise.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Sometimes it’s a technique that I would like to try or use again. Sometimes when I see people from a distance, I think they are wearing something great and stalk them down to get a closer look. It usually turns out that they aren’t wearing at all what I thought they were so I try to create what I had imagined they were wearing. I guess I’m most inspired by a challenge though. I try to figure out if it’s possible to knit a certain shape, or rather, if I can figure out how to do it, since I imagine anything is possible and there are certainly people out there much cleverer than myself – those knitting mathematician people could probably knit anything.
What do you enjoy most about your work? least?
I love that feeling you get at the end of a project, you know, the one where you say, “I made that!” and you want to show it to everyone. Believe it or not, I also like the deadlines. I would probably never finish anything without them. I’m good at working under pressure and with restrictions. I practically never finish any of my non-work projects. If I can be honest, the thing I like the least is having to go back and reexamine a project when it’s done. By the time knitters are out there knitting up a pattern, usually at least 6 months have passed since I knit it and thought about it. I’ve usually finished a couple projects since then and am neck deep in something new. I find it really hard to go back and remember why and how I did something in order to answer questions that people email me. They often have a better idea of what’s going on in the pattern than I do.
Is there a usual starting point for your designs? Do you plant it all out first or improvise on the needles?
All of my projects start with a sketch or at least a vision of what I’d like to make. I’ve tried just sitting down and knitting something, but I’m not really that sort of person. I need to plan it down to the last stitch and then revise it on the needles. I’ve tried several times to make things that were randomly striped. I can’t do it. I always end up sitting in front of my computer planning my stripes so they appear random.
What knitters have influenced you?
Kaffe Fassett was my first big influence. I taught myself to knit when I was in high school using books that I had found in the library. Most were full of patterns that I wouldn’t have touched, especially as a 16 year old! It was only when my art teacher lent me his wife’s copy of “Family Album” that I realized there were all sorts of possibilities for using color and patterns in knitting and that yarn didn’t have to come from Walmart. More recently, Elizabeth Zimmermann never fails to inspire me.
If you were to have a motto in life, what would it be?
Try everything once – except organ meats.