Portrait: Lavanya Patricella
This is a re-edited version of the interview initially published in issue 9. This re-edited version will be published in every reprint of issue 9.
Text Kate O'Sullivan
Photo Lavanya Patricella
Lavanya Patricella is a knitwear designer and teacher living in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. She is well known for her passion for the yarn community. In this interview Lavanya talks about her creative joy and determination – truthfully, from the heart.
Lavanya Patricella is probably best known for her portfolio of brioche knitwear designs. Her style is easy to wear, relaxed and a pleasure to knit. These are designs for colour lovers and minimalists to explore alike. Talking to Lavanya, it becomes clear why she has always presented her work to such a high standard: her previous creative work was photography. She has an eye for detail that communicates her intense love of the yarn she is working with, the fibre and the fabric created in her stitches.
Like many of us, Lavanya learned to knit during a low point in her life and found herself enchanted and soothed by the act of knitting. Learning from her grandmother meant that Lavanya spent a lot of time with her, socialising and creating together.
Forming relationships through knitting remains crucial to Lavanya even today and perhaps explains why she became a teacher before a designer. Lavanya was not much of a pattern follower: she preferred to draw inspiration from the yarn itself and see what happened. Even now, years after her first project, she prefers to take her time and follow the inspiration. When a local yarn store opened nearby, it seemed like a natural step to start working and teaching there.
Lavanya has been a knitwear designer for close to a decade but only formally started releasing patterns 6 years ago. When she met Stephen West a short time after, she was introduced to the brioche stitch which went on to become her primary passion in both knitting and teaching – She has always preferred to self-publish as it feels more natural than submitting sketch work: as said, she prefers to design on the needles.
Creating with truth
Lavanya was homeschooled and is now homeschooling her own children. It has a huge influence on her as a designer because the principle of homeschooling is fostering a love of self-directed learning. This self-discipline and trust in her ability to pace herself as a student has now led to her career as both a designer and a teacher.
“If you make something that is a true reflection of yourself, it might not always speak to others. I’ve never really focused on following trends. That can be challenging at times as a business, but not as an artist. I always try to stay true to what I believe in. Trusting the process of just being inspired and sharing what I’ve created.”
Lavanya identifies strongly as an artist. She lists her sources of inspiration as she works, beginning with a skein of yarn. “For me it all starts with the textures and colors, the yarn generally speaks the designs into existence. I just cast on and take notes along the way.”
This is where Lavanya is able to take chances as a designer as well as tapping into that self-belief.
“I try to represent myself for who I am and what I believe in and in many ways my work, be it teaching or design, is an extension of this.”
Water and climate are big concerns for Lavanya. She regularly shares updates from her organic garden, where abundant produce is celebrated. This is a huge part of who Lavanya is: she blends awareness raising for both environmental and civil rights issues with her knitting business.
“You can have half”
Over the past 6 years through much dedication and hard work, Lavanya has been able to support her family and homeschool. Lavanya has been hands on in every step of pattern production, scheduling and teaching. While daunting for many, Lavanya explains that she is looking forward to nurturing someone else’s creative talent and their ability to earn from it in the future.
“Even if I don’t have anything, you can have half,” this is how she describes her attitude for building a community in the knitting industry. You can see this reflected in her advocacy for issues that she has used her platform and craft to bring light to. An example of this was Lavanya’s free hat pattern, the Standing Rock hat, which proved to her that through her craft, she could merge other important parts of her life, environmentalism and indigenous advocacy. The pattern was released to raise awareness and resources for the people of Standing Rock and their continued battle to protect the water.
What began as a gesture of solidarity, of knitting a hat to raise awareness, quickly gathered momentum. Lavanya was bringing something she cared about as a person, into her knitting and has continued to do so ever since. She is insistent that there is power in community and shared knowledge, the knitting community is no exception to this.
Contained in Lavanya’s approach is a powerful idea that we build together, through truth and a dedication to beauty and process until all are raised by the floating tide. What a subversive and exhilarating idea.