Happy Wednesday, friends! In this January dedicated to knitting patterns by Kaffe Fassett, the man himself has been very much on my mind. I keep dipping into his 2012 autobiography, Dreaming in Color, which sends me off on reveries, imagining the wild seaside vistas of Kaffe’s boyhood in Big Sur, California, and the freedom of being a child there in the 1940s and ’50s. It’s a rousing read: there’s juicy name-dropping side by side with deep reflection on an artist’s drive to pursue the creative life, with all its uncertainties.
With thanks to our friends at Abrams, we share this excerpt, which recounts a moment that has passed into knitting legend.
Catching the Knitting Bug
Although I had continued my artwork after meeting Billy [Gibb], I got drawn into working with him on his collections as well. I had great interest in and admiration for his work, and the textiles he was working with intrigued and excited me—textile pattern and color was really starting to grab my attention more and more.
In the summer of 1968, Billy and I went to visit a mill he knew about in Inverness. They had a good collection of ancient tartan weaves that we thought would be perfect for his next collection. Our train to western Scotland took us through the most subtly colored landscape I had ever seen. Lichen-covered stones rested beside rushing streams of peat-stained amber water. Bracken in strawberry-blond tones, mixed with purple and lavender heather, covered the rolling hills. The air was so pure and clean that every detail could be read for miles.
When we got to the Holm Mills in Inverness, run by Bill Pringle, I was astonished to find all the colors from that breathtaking landscape on the shelves of the mill shop in their knitting yarns. I’d never seen such exquisite tones and quickly bought up twenty shades that went together gorgeously.
On the train on the way home, I began thinking about my newly acquired yarns. These subtle tones needed to be combined with great sensitivity. I couldn’t rely on anyone else to knit up my vision the right way, and it would take them far too long, driving me mad with anticipation. Alice Dunstan Russell, who ran Billy’s Alice Paul Shop, had accompanied us on the trip and was sitting opposite me on the train. I looked at her and asked, “Do you know how to knit? I need desperately to do something with these yarns I’ve just bought.” She did know, and because I had bought needles the right size for the yarn, I had my first lesson right there on the train. I practiced deep into the night as the train roared south to London.
Images 1, 3, 4, 7, 8: Some knitting patterns that resulted from months of experimenting with this newfound way of expressing color ideas. 2: The first design I ever knitted. The cardigan’s simple stripes feature the subtle landscape colors that caught my eye when visiting Scotland. 5: My friend Judy Brittain on a turkey farm. 6: The first piece of hand knitting that I designed for publication as a pattern, a Fair Isle vest with a striped back. It was commissioned by Judy for British Vogue Knitting Book magazine in 1969.
From KAFFE FASSETT DREAMING IN COLOR. Text copyright © 2012 Kaffe Fassett. All photographs and illustrations © Kaffe Fassett. Used by permission of Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York. All rights reserved.