Coronation Knits: An Interview with Susan Crawford
Knits fit for a
king queen. I’ve rarely discovered a knitting pattern book that I consider to be perfect, but I think I may have found one now. Everything about Coronation Knits by Susan Crawford is meticulously planned and produce, and she did it all in less than six months. I am amazed at the results and extremely happy to be part of the book tour to introduce this book.
In what ways do I find Coronation Knits to be perfect?
- The designs are meticulously thought out.
- The photography beautifully displays the garments while also evoking a specific mood, time, and place.
- The layout of the book is clean and the patterns are easy to read.
- The book design, as well as the photography, is evocative of the theme.
- The patterns are well written and easy to follow.
- The book is available in paper and PDF formats.
Now that I’ve finished drooling over this book, I’d like to introduce you to the author, Susan Crawford. I met Susan a few years ago when I was traveling in England and we’ve been friends ever since. We hit it off, and had a wonderful time sightseeing in Liverpool and Southport, and sharing ideas about publishing knitting books. Although we rarely get to see each other, we keep in touch from time to time on Twitter and through email. I was so surprised to hear about Coronation Knits coming out this summer because Susan just released a gigantic volume of vintage patterns, A Stitch in Time vol. 2, earlier this year and I couldn’t imagine how she had been able to plan and produce another book in the same year.
I asked Susan about this, as well as about some of my favorite parts of Coronation Knits in this interview. I hope you enjoy getting a peek into Susan’s creative process and seeing some of her gorgeous photos.
DD: Susan, thanks so much for including me in your blog tour for Coronation Knits. I can’t believe you’ve come out with another book so soon after A Stitch In Time volume 2. We’ve been hearing so much about the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee even here in the states. Of course, since we don’t have our own royal family, we vicariously and ironically follow yours! What made you decide to release a book inspired by this special event?
SC: As I mention in the book the inspiration behind the project began with a scrapbook which my mum had put together as a girl. I had then looked through this scrapbook many many times as a child and as an adult and had absorbed these images my mum had collected of the then Princess Elizabeth and her possibly even more glamorous sister, Margaret. I also think this period of british history is a very interesting one and reflects in many ways what is happening in the country now in 2012 and it fascinates me how history repeats itself even though the circumstances creating this repetition aren’t actually the same. Being able to combine a glimpse at this time and create a knitted collection around it was an unmissable opportunity for me.
DD: How long ago did you start working on this book? As I said, I can hardly believe you’ve followed up with another book so quickly, yet Coronation knits is beautifully detailed in every way: the garment designs, knitting, graphic design, and photography are all gorgeous.
SC: The decision to do the book wasn’t taken until February of this year. I had been considering the concept since last year when still working on A Stitch in Time volume 2 but had put it on the ‘back burner’ so to speak as there just wasn’t any time available to work on an additional project. Then in February I was feeling a little more rested after the completion of A Stitch in Time 2 and decided that if I was going to do this book I needed to make a start on it otherwise it wouldn’t stand a chance of being ready for the Jubilee celebrations. I did try to complete it by May but that was just too unrealistic a target! June was tough enough. I had mood boards and concepts ready to start working on but when we started working in February I hadn’t actually created any of the designs or written anything. I think what made the project achievable was a very clear vision from day one of exactly what I wanted to achieve, the colour palette I wanted to use, the number of designs, the variety of designs and what I wanted to say. For the first time in any of my book projects I set the maximum page count before we started so that we had a unmoveable control to stop me from continuing when I needed to stop. This worked extremely well. From the very beginning of the project I knew the background to all the photographs would be ‘The Royal Route’ which in turn really helped create the book’s theme from the very beginning. Knowing how the designs would be photographed at this early stage provided a certain liberation to the project as it took away the ‘worry’ of how the art direction and styling would be achieved. Gavin, my husband, created the book layout and came up with the concepts such as the little crowns around the page numbers and as usual did an amazing job of turning my individual pieces into a coordinated body of work. As I am the photographer aswell as the designer I am able to think about how each individual project will be shot whilst still creating the design and I really think this helps create a coherent story throughout the book.
DD: As you know, I love when knitting books contain stories — either explicitly or implicitly. Anything that is inspired by vintage designs is so full of meaning and depth. One of my favorite things in Coronation Knits is the boxes at the end of each pattern that tell about your inspiration. Did you write those before or after you designed the project?
SC: I physically wrote them after the projects were designed and the book was almost completely laid up so that I knew how much space I was allowed for each one! But, the inspirations were usually in place before the designs were created. For Example, Amies, was a direct result of my response to Hardy Amies’ dress which he designed for the Queen and which was worn by her on a state visit to Australia.
DD: I enjoy learning about about artists’ design processes. Do you make mood boards or sketches? How do you get from a spark of an idea to a finished knitted item?
SC: I do make both mood boards and sketches – maybe because I’m formally trained, but its how I instinctively work. I had many ideas which related to the overall Coronation theme and some resulted in finished knitted items, others didn’t reach that final stage of development. Once I have a spark of idea and have started sketching or collecting related material for my mood board I usually then look for the right stitch pattern that will convey what the piece is to say and will work with the shaping or structure of the design. Once I have that I begin to swatch to see how these things fit together. Its not usually until this point that colour plays a part, although with Coronation Knits I worked slightly differently to normal as I knew the colour theme from the very beginning. It was more a case in this instance of deciding which design would use which yarn and which shades within the theme. Many design concepts don’t get beyond the swatching stage, some get to the first knit stage and still get rejected, so there is a lot of experimentation goes on before the final design selection is made.
DD: I LOVE the Royal Route map that you included in the book, and used as a back drop for many of the photographs. How did you decide to use this as part of the book?
SC: I had the Royal Route map before I really started work on the Coronation Knits designs and it was part of my overall mood board and I knew before I started work on the project in earnest that I wanted to include it in the book in some way. It was when I talked this through with Gavin that he suggested that he could create a wallpaper with the image and then paste to the studio wall to use as backdrop. It took him over two days to attach all the separate sections of the image to the wall making sure they were all in the correct place and matched perfectly. I love it so much and I don’t think the book would have looked as good without it.
DD: In your books A Stitch in Time volumes 1 and 2, the designs are actual reproductions of vintage patterns, updated to work with modern yarns. Are any of the designs in Coronation Knits reproductions? Or are they all your original creations?
SC: Most of the designs in Coronation Knits are my original creations, but Lion and Unicorn is an adaption of a pattern in the ‘Coronation’ Issue of Stitchcraft from 1953. Whilst I love the vintage version of this pattern there were a whole number of things which I felt made it an unsuccessful pattern for today’s knitter. In this original 1953 pattern the jumper (sweater) is knitted in two separate pieces resulting in a seam down each shoulder and the full length of the top of each arm. I rewrote the pattern to be knitted in one piece from the bottom front edge, using short row shaping at the upper arms and shoulders to create the slope needed on both front and back, and then the knitter continues down the back to the bottom back edge where the work is cast off. In addition to this the neck was extremely high and tightly fitting as was the style in the 1950s. Most of the time I try to leave design details like this in place but on this occasion the jumper would have been almost unwearable because of this, so I adjusted the neck, not massively, but enough to make it a more wearable garment. Finally the original pattern is only in one size which was to fit a 31 inch chest. I graded (multi sized) the pattern so that it now offers a wide range of sizes.
DD: The color palette for this book is so elegant and subdued. How do you go about choosing the colors for a collection?
SC: I had such fun putting together the colour palette for this collection as for something like the Stitch in Time books there are too many projects to have just one coherent palette. With 14 designs in Coronation Knits I was able to work on a much tighter theme and then explore shades and tones available from different sources within that theme. The concept was obviously red, white and blue but I wanted to vary that as much as possible whilst still creating an overall look in the book of a slightly subdued ‘aged’ palette. I also tried as much as possible to find shades that contained a certain amount of grey in them so whilst they would contrast with the background they would also blend with it. I have always loved playing with colour. I worked for a time as a print room technician at our local art college and this involved me mixing the inks for the various forms of print techniques being learnt by the students. And due to budget constraints the inks available were always in limited supply and even more limited colours and this trained me to be very creative within a very constrained colour range.
DD: What was your favorite part of creating this book?
SC: Without doubt the design process. Being able to work right through the process from mood board to final design and then styling and photography was so enjoyable. With working on A Stitch in Time 2 for over two years it had left little time for my own design work so being able to devote myself completely to a design project was cathartic, liberating, exhausting and wonderful!
DD: What part was most challenging?
The most challenging part was really the strict deadline. We commenced working on the book late February of this year and were complete for the end of May. I don’t think I have ever created something so elaborate and so satisfying in such a short time scale.
DD: Where can US readers purchase Coronation Knits and is it available in both print and PDF formats?
SC: The book can be purchased either directly from my website www.susancrawfordvintage.com or from www.amazon.com or www.thebookdepository.com The pdf version is also available from my website or also from my ravelry shop here http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/sources/coronation-knits
DD: Susan, thanks so much, once again, for taking the time to talk to me. I’m sure my readers will all be quite interested in getting a look inside of your design process.
All images (c) Susan Crawford.