Kristin Drysdale is a brilliant knitwear designer who designs stunning patterns inspired by her Scandinavian heritage. The Marit cardigan, featured in Laine Issue 7, is another great example of her traditional yet inventive colourwork designs. Kristin told us about the inspiration behind Marit and also shared her best tips for steeking:
What inspired you to design Marit?
When I read the submission call for Issue 7 and learned that it would be inspired by Lapland, it really spoke to me. I began to hope that I could create a design that would be part of that beautiful publication. I looked at the mood board and it made me want to design something that I would wear in a cabin in Lapland in the winter. Scandinavian colourwork began in part because knitting with two strands makes a warmer garment. And using two (or more) colors makes design possibilities endless. I wanted to design a colourwork cardigan, following the Norwegian Kofte tradition.
You could call me a sentimental traditionalist. I love to weave symbols and stories into my knitting. I pictured a classic cardigan I could wear over a dress, on top of an apron, while I baked Julekake in my hypothetical Lapland cabin surrounded by the indoor coziness that comes with winter yet yearning for springtime and flowers. That was the vision. I also wanted to use XO patterns. XO patterns are like a secret love letter that reminds whoever is wearing the sweater that they are adored by the knitter. If you look closely at the XO pattern in Marit, the O is a flower made of hearts. Pattern one is a flurry of snowflakes, that is also a vertical variation of an XO pattern. All these motifs combined together remind me of the influence of love in all seasons, year in and year out.
I picked Tukuwool Fingering, because I love how Tukuwool drapes, and I loved the colour palette. I also feel it’s the perfect weight for a sweater to be worn inside and out. I picked the colours to match the Finnish landscape in winter. I added some extra finishing steps so Marit would be as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside.
How similar is your finished design to your original idea?
Sometime my designs morph and change as I knit them. But Marit turned out exactly how I had originally hoped and planned. My design process is fairly old school. I begin with sketches, then I pencil in the chart on graph paper, then I swatch. Finally, I go high tech and make a graph digitally and do all the math for the original size, knit a sample sweater, and then adapt the pattern for other sizes.
What was the most challenging part of the design process?
I wanted to design a flexible pattern that would allow knitters to make Marit their own in both colour and fit. Isn’t that the best part about knitting? I wanted knitters to be able to pick 2, 3, or 4 or more colours and still have the design work beautifully. Secondly, I really wanted Marit to work for all body shapes and sizes. I wanted to design a cropped sweater that would look great with a dress (on me and every other body type). I wanted Marit to be a flattering go-to sweater. A favourite. The tricky part is that body types vary greatly. A person who chooses to knit a small can be a short person or a tall person. Likewise, a person who knits a large may have a long torso or a short one. So, you can’t predict where a cropped sweater will hit on someone by generic sizing alone. For that reason, I always try to design sweaters that can be tailored to fit any body type by changing the length. But tailoring with so many possible variations is a bit of a puzzle. If all of that’s not tricky enough, add the randomness of row gauge from knitter to knitter.
So, I knew the length of Marit needed to be flexible (which would have been much easier to manage with a single-colour sweater). I know it’s all just math, but I was really excited that I was able to design Marit in a way that you can knit any size in any length you desire. As long as you complete one of the 3 motifs at the top, the shoulder seam will still match up perfectly. I know I’m kind of geeking out about this, but I am super excited that Marit works and is flattering for all body types and that it can be tailored for each individual wearer. As a fun anecdote, I had carefully managed my time while making the sample sweater (over about a six-week period). I had it ready for the deadline two weeks early, when I suddenly realized that Laine’s model for Issue 7, Lotta, was a few inches taller than I had thought. I wanted so badly for the crop to fit her perfectly, I special ordered yarn overnight, started over, and made the sample sweater you see in the magazine with an extra motif (and a few inches extra length) in about ten days. That panic knit, with a deadline looming, was actually the hardest part of the process. I am absolutely thrilled with all the unique color combinations, lengths, and sizes of Marit being knit around the world. It makes me so happy to see knitters make Marit their own.
How does Marit reflect your Scandinavian heritage?
My family has only been in America for a few generations. All of my ancestors immigrated from Scandinavia and the UK during later part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century. My parents and grandparents have always been proud of their heritage and helped me and my generation remember where we came from. My grandparents loved both the land where they were born and the land where they settled. When I was little, my favorite holiday was Memorial Day. That may sound odd, but my grandma had a huge flower garden, and we would cut fresh flowers and make up baskets for all my relatives in America. Every one of my deceased relatives in the United States is buried in Cache Valley, Utah, in two cemeteries that are so close, you can see one from the other. As we placed the baskets overflowing with lilacs, iris, peonies, bridal wreath and tulips, my grandma would tell me stories about my relatives and where they were from and why they came here. Some of these people I never knew and others I remember well. I learned what they loved about living in the mountain west and what they missed about their homeland. Their stories were all interwoven with tales of love and laughter, triumph and determination, courage and loss. I think when you leave your homeland and settle in another country, especially when traveling took months, not days, and letters home took just as long as the journey itself, there is a sense of homesickness and yearning that weaves its way into everyday life. You bake the things from home. You plant flowers to help you remember. You paint scenes from your past. And it all makes you feel at home in this strange new land.
When I was growing up, I was heavily influenced by my great-grandpa Olsen. He immigrated from Norway as a boy, went back to Norway as a young man, and then returned to settle in the Mountain West. He had a heavy Norwegian accent, loved Fiskeboller, fruit soup, and Julekake, he listened to Grieg and had a beautiful singing voice. My great grandparents made their world beautiful inside and out. They had the most beautiful flower garden. It was magical. Their home was completely surrounded by flowers. My grandpa was an artist and painted scenes from Norway. I am lucky enough to own a painting he created of the ship that carried him to his new home. My great-grandmother was a seamstress and had the tiniest stitches imaginable. Her needle created the most glorious embroidered flowers I have ever seen. I think their love for Norway and flowers spilled over into me and through me to all my designs, including Marit. Today I take my children to the same cemetery and tell them the same stories. I bake Julekake all year round, not just at Christmas, and I bake my Aunt Dag’s raisin cake as often as possible. I also plant flowers. I like to make things beautiful inside and out. I think my family heritage is reflected in everything I do. I even named Marit after my great-grandfather’s great grandmother. It’s a nod to my maternal great-grandfather and his family in Norway then and now.
Any words of advice for anyone who hasn’t tried steeking before? Is Marit a good place to start?
Marit makes an excellent first steeking project. Those new to steeking need to remember that steeking is your friend. It’s so much easier (and faster) to knit colourwork in the round where you can see the pattern emerge as you go. Steeking makes this possible. Whoever was the first brave soul to treat knitting as fabric that can be cut was absolutely brilliant! The chart for the steek is handy because it makes it easy to know where to sew and where to cut. Don’t be afraid of the armhole steek either. I love this traditional Norwegian method because it makes it so that you can tailor the armhole to fit your sleeve width exactly after it’s made. This also gives you flexibility on the length of the body of your Marit. So, don’t be afraid. But do be careful. When you are sewing the steek, make sure you don’t stretch the fabric. If you stretch it, it will be sewn with the stretch and the edge will be wavy. Just keep it flat and feed it into the sewing machine nice and steady. Also, and this might sound obvious, but if it’s your first steek, be careful not to sew the back of the sweater to the front. Then, when cutting the steek, make sure you’re only cutting the steek and nothing else. Use scissors that have a rounded or dull tip, so you don’t accidentally cut something on the sweater that you don’t mean to. Sew an extra seam after you cut the steek just to really secure those stitches for decades to come. Take courage! Don’t let a fear of steeking keep you from knitting Marit! It may be new to you. But it’s really not scary at all.
Find the pattern for Marit in Laine Magazine issue 7. For stockists please visit https://lainemagazine.com/stockists/.