Unpicking the Stitches: How I designed the Bonnie jumper

So here it is:  My latest design for Knitting magazine – not to mention the blog post!  I am especially happy this month, because it’s the first time that one of my designs has been on a magazine cover.  It is all the sweeter since I didn’t know whether this idea would ever see the light of day, and I’ll explain why.

Bonnie was conceived at a time when I had no hope of ever becoming a designer in any way, shape or form.  She first appeared in my head when I had left my old job in academic research; so a good few years ago.  At the time I had completed an access course at the London College of Fashion and was helping Rowan to sell yarn on Saturdays.  Life was very quiet, but my imagination wasn’t.

At that time, seven years ago, I felt that I had no prospects at all.  I had just left a well-paid job to have a stab at something that I was deeply convinced was worth trying for.  The grant funding I was hoping to get for a foundation degree (old school HND for UK folk over a certain age 😉 ) didn’t manifest, so I couldn’t afford to retrain.  Sometimes it’s hard to get people to understand just how deeply held your inner conviction can be, especially in the face of cold, hard facts like little income and days when I barely spoke to anyone I wasn’t close to.  But I decided – not least because I had nothing better to do, literally nothing – to try to get some of my ideas on paper.  It was something positive to do when I couldn’t see a way out or a way to make things change. I knew I had research skills aplenty, so I spent what money I could on books, reading, and drawing paper.

Bonnie was one of the ideas I had at that time, and opposite you can see my original swatch, knitted in Rowan Wool Cotton DK (why oh why has that yarn been discontinued??).  It would have worked well in 4ply too, but I’m not much of a 4ply knitter. I like the weight, but I’m probably just a little too impatient!  Since I didn’t have the patience for 4ply knitting when I was working only one day a week, that probably says something definitive about me as a knitter 😉

Future Bonnie and friends – for she had several! – were put in a folder of faith.  And four-ish years later, I had the brave idea of seeing whether the little swatch above would be worth something to anyone.  I submitted it to the then-editorial team of Knitting, and was met with stony, cold silence.  No acknowledgement, no nothing.  Back in the box she went for another three years, along with any potential interest in my work.

And then there was a change of personnel at Knitting, I was contacted out of the blue, and after a year and a bit of working with Christine and the team, the 1940s brief came up.  Again I thought about that swatch and sketch.  I felt it was a good idea.  It looked to me as though it would fit a 1940s brief.  I had originally thought that it would work with a 1950s full skirt and Dior-type silhouette, but then again the wide-legged trousers of the ’40s were an equally good shout.  I composed the email, pressed send, and felt grateful that second time round I had more distractions while I crossed my fingers and waited.

Happily, things were very different this time!  There were a few hiccups with yarn selection – our first, second and third choices were unavailable – but Christine and I managed to find something nice.  The Designer Yarns Choice was a little heavier than I’d anticipated, but the stitch definition was beautiful and the softness of 100% cotton yarns is improving all the time.  I really enjoyed knitting with it.  The dart detail shows up really well in the cotton and there was a crispness that really worked with the chevron lace.  But stitch definition was the least of my worries; I still couldn’t quite believe that I was knitting that little jumper!  It was becoming A Real, Tangible Design in the world, not just an idea, square of knitting and lines on paper, and I was finally beginning to think of it as a material product that others might like to make.

When I knit my samples, I often think of ways in which the design can be altered for different people.  The success of Bonnie depends heavily on the waist being in the right place, and I think the best way to change the length without interrupting the lines of the pattern is to work more (or less) stocking stitch between each group of chevron stripes.  You can see from the photo above that there are three rows before the pattern kicks off; you can lengthen here, and/or in the next area of stocking stitch (see below left).  Make sure you adjust or check the side seam shaping too.

Here are some other photos I took whilst knitting Bonnie.  Apologies for the variable light:

There is always a period of radio silence between mailing the pattern and sample to a magazine and the moment you get a glimpse of the design in print.  January-March this year was pretty busy: many of the students at work were deep into their projects, aiming for Easter deadlines.  So when I happened to get a sneak peek the front cover of the May issue, my heart leapt!  It was the perfect thing to make me keep still and pause for a few moments, realising that Bonnie herself was on the cover.  And nobody knew what kind of journey she’d been on – until now.  It has been a lesson of self-belief, faith and patience for me, so I had to choose a cheerful name to complement the sunny yellow.  Bonnie was perfect: it is a Scottish word for cheerful, and also a popular girl’s name from the 1940s.

As for the other design ideas I worked on and knitted up at the time, hopefully you’ll see some of them in the not-too-distant future.  I wish now that I had been in the habit of writing the date on things: it can be a great motivator in situations like this.  You never know what that may bring, and I certainly didn’t seven years ago.

5 thoughts on “Unpicking the Stitches: How I designed the Bonnie jumper

  1. Definitely prefer the idea of this with 1940s high waisted/wide legged trousers than the 1950s context. If I could sew, I would be wearing more of that type of trouser! And although I don’t have a short sleeved jumper, I think there is a first time for everything – and Bonnie might be it!
    Glad it finally came together in the end. Some things are better for the waiting. 🙂

  2. It’s a great design! I’m going to take a stab at it on my machine but in 4ply — we’ll see how it turns out! Thank you for the tip about the waist, I’ll check the length dimensions carefully.

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