02 Apr 2017

Discovering Knitting Heritage with Francoise Danoy

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This year as we journey together to explore our knitting roots and learn more about knitters and knitting from around the world, I’m starting a series of guest posts to introduce you to designers from different places and cultures.

Knitting from the United Kingdom and Northern Europe tends to get a lot of press, and so do designers who have a background and ancestry in these places. My goal is to introduce you to a wider variety of designers and knitting styles by featuring designers who are women of color, designers who are not straight or CIS gender, designers who are from every continent, designers who normally publish in languages other than English. In other words, I think we need to see more of the diversity that exists in our knitting world.

The physical world seems smaller than it has ever been before, but in many ways we are still stuck in our separate  silos, or bubbles, of sameness. It is my goal to break down some walls, build some bridges, and connect knitters and designers from different backgrounds so we can all work together to knit a better, more colorful, softer world.

I’d like to kick the series off with this post by Francoise Danoy of Aroha Knits.

Discovering Knitting Heritage with Francoise Danoy 1I learned how to knit at 22 years, about three years ago. I originally picked up knitting as a New Year’s Resolution, to learn a new hobby to help deal with boredom and depression. Unlike many other arts and crafts that I had tried to get into over the course of my childhood – which I would start, get decent at, but then got discouraged and then stop all together because I felt like I could never really get over that “hill” where I would suddenly become a master at the craft – knitting was one that I instantly got addicted to and I could encourage myself to keep going, keep learning, keep expanding.

During that moment of expansions, I had a far-fetched dream: I wanted to become a knitwear designer and figure out how to incorporate Maori motifs into my work, as a way to connect with my cultural heritage and enrich the fiber community that I had so quickly fallen in love with.

Growing up, I didn’t have much of a connection to my mother’s culture. I was born in Sydney, Australia, moved to the United States when I was six, and spent a few years in France, being immersed in my father’s culture.

Discovering Knitting Heritage with Francoise Danoy 2Knitting has become a very peculiar way for me to reconnect and discover my heritage. The Maori have their traditional textiles and form of arts and crafts (through weaving and woodwork, for one) and knitting is definitely not one of them. However, knitting lends itself well to many of the Maori motifs and designs, such as taniko. Taniko are geometric patterning that are used to decorate the tops of cloaks and traditional attire. These are mostly woven pieces, but the easily repeatable, geometric nature of the design made it simple to translate into stranded color work pieces. I’ve been able to publish designs featuring such motifs, and they make some of my favorite designs to date.

However, my heart is completely for lace shawl designs. So how do I work my culture in there? Through the form of story-telling. I like to name my designs with Maori words, which will often reflect the theme or story of the design. For example, my newest pattern release, the Pikorua Shawl, is named so after the “twist” like lace stitch decorating the border, and represents the traditional “twist” motif often seen in Maori pendants, which symbolizes the bond fostered in friendship or love.

Discovering Knitting Heritage with Francoise Danoy 3Not only does me sharing the story of the designs and how they draw inspiration from my culture serve as a way to educate and enlighten my audience to an indigenous culture they have not had heard of before, but it’s also a way for me to strengthen my bond as well as learn about my ancestry. Every time a knitter works up a pattern of mine, I like to think they are contributing to the renaissance of Maori art and crafts, as we are working together to breathe new life into it’s history and future by crossing it over with a new medium.

Learn more about Francoise Danoy and Aroha Knits:

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