Norah Gaughan’s meticulous design work has inspired countless knitters to pick up the needles and cast on. Her unique vision and style make many of her designs instantly recongnizable. Her work is often characterized by geometric shapes and natural forms, often with detailed cabling or twisted stitches. Her designs have appeared in many of the well-known knitting publications, and in 2006, she published her first book, Knitting Nature. She is now the Design Director for Berroco, and continues to develop new and amazing techniques and patterns.
Recently, Knitting Daily, Interweave Press’s daily newsletter, asked readers to choose some of their favorite designs published in Interweave Knits magazine to supplement their recent book, Best of Interweave Knits. With dozens of stellar designs represented, readers chose their TOP 5 favorites. …and guess who had not one but TWO designs represented? Ms. Norah Gaughan! The Top 5 design patterns are available now through May 14th for FREE download in a PDF. To promote this Readers’ Choice Award, Knitting Daily is setting up the top designers with some bloggers for a little one-on-one.
I had the great opportunity to chat with Norah and find out some interesting details about her work, her inspirations, and what else she likes to do with her time…
As a designer who is inspired by nature and natural forms, how much time do you actually get to spend in nature? Can you share some of your favorite outdoor activities and / or memories?
Well, I live in New Hampshire Thursday night through Monday morning, and the Contoocook river is in my back yard – that’s nature. I grew up in the country too, climbing trees, walking through the woods to school, catching frogs in the brook. I nearly went crazy my first few months at Brown longing for the smell of Fall leaves. Turns out, crazy as it sounds, that the best place to commune with nature on the East Side of Providence is in the Swan Point Cemetery. As far as favorite memories go, I love being in places that feel like another world to me, where the flora is alien to someone who grew up in the northeast. For this reason I am fascinated by the Sonoran Desert in Arizona with all of the Saguaro cacti and desert scrub. Likewise, I am totally enamored of Iceland. Geysers, waterfalls, moonscape like lichen covered lava flows, hexagonal basaltic rock formations, gorges, and glaciers – it’s so amazing.
At the beginning of the year, you wrote a couple of blog posts about your Top 10 indispensable knitting books. Can you share some of your favorite general titles and authors? What was your favorite book growing up? Do you have (or make) time to read for pleasure now?
The book I read over and over as a child was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My grandmother (who lived with us) remembered loving it as a girl and bought me a beautifully illustrated edition original to her era. I also read a lot of Andre Norton. I had a writing correspondence with her too. My father illustrated Science Fiction and that’s how I made the contact. The best book I’ve read lately is The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and I’m currently making my way through Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea by Carl Zimmer. It’s so well written that it’s is easy to read, despite being a science book. It’s going slowly only because I’ve been knitting an awful lot lately and I can’t do both at once. I did ‘read’ Freakonomics on tape while knitting – that worked out really well and recently I listened to all three autobiographical books by food writer Ruth Reichl. I love hearing works in the author’s own voice.
When you have a concept for a new design, do you think in terms of lines and measurements? or do you sometimes have a color or texture in mind first and build a design around that? With the Tweedy Aran Cardigan, the texture of the tweed seems to be a large element in the design. When you design for Berroco do you choose the color and/or texture of yarn?
Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? It all depends. With the Tweedy Aran cardigan, the textured fabric came first. Then I had to dream up the best silhouette for that time and place. Color is almost always secondary for me, as a vehicle for showing off the pattern stitch or structure to it’s best advantage and to be wearable. There are times when the structure and shape of the garment comes before the swatch for me, like with the Sand Dollar Pullover from Knitting Nature. When I design for Berroco everything begins with the yarn – after all, [the reason] I’m there is to sell yarn and really, the same is true for editorials in Interweave and Vogue Knitting. I’m just luck that I get to express myself at the same time. [Photo: Alternate sketch using the sand dollar motif]
After a design is submitted and sent in for the photography shoot, possibly goes out for a trunk show exhibit, makes the rounds at the expos and markets, do you actually get to see it again? Do you know where the original Nantucket Jacket is now? Do you ever have the opportunity to wear your own designs?
At Berroco, after a design is photographed it first spends time with the tech editor and the pattern checker, then it’s shipped off to the TNNA trade show. After a few relaxing week’s sitting about the office it travels to yarn shops for 6 months, a year, or more. We are having second samples made in a larger size these days so many of the trunk shows have both the model size and the size that fits me. So, after the pieces have made the rounds, I do occasionally get to wear my own designs. I have no idea where the original Nantucket jacket is now, but somehow I managed to snag the Tilted Duster [Photo: Original sketch for the Nantucket Jacket]
Many thanks to Norah for sharing her art and design in so many mediums, and for taking the time to answer my questions!
…and be sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour!
Mon. April 14: Sandi Wiseheart interview on Smoking Hot Needles
Wed. April 16: Kate Gilbert interview on Moth Heaven
Thurs., April 17: Stefanie Japel interview on Chez Aristote
Fri., April 18: Evelyn Clark interview on The Panopticon
Have you knit one of Norah’s patterns? are you currently working on one? Tell us about it! Leave me a comment and let me know!