A glimpse into knitting designer Kirsten Kapur’s inspiration

Kirsten Kapur is one of those designers who consistently impresses me. I marvel at her use of texture and color, particularly her color combinations. While I’ve knit only three of her more than 250 simple and elegant patterns, I have several more in my favorites. So, when I heard that Kirsten, a fellow New Yorker, had been invited by Paola Vanzo, the owner of mYak, to give a talk on her design inspirations over tea and knitting in the West Village, I RSVPd faster than you could say yarn.

The event took place in the library of the Trace Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes Tibetan culture where Paola is managing director, and which houses an appointment-only pop-up shop for her yarn line. It was through her work in Tibet that Paola came to create mYak in 2011, working with a cooperative of nomads from the Tibetan Plateau to harvest and mill the super soft, Cashmere-like yarn from the underbelly of the baby yaks that they herd. It’s a story that deserves its own blog post.

Kirsten recently collaborated with Paola on two designs using mYak yarn: The Wave Hill brioche cowl, named for the estate and public gardens in Riverdale in the Bronx, and a lacy two-color shawl called Acorns and Arches, crafted with colors created using a natural mushroom dye. The two patterns set the scene for Kirsten’s inspirations, essentially knitted interpretations of the natural world.

Before becoming a knitting pattern designer a decade ago, Kirsten worked as an apparel and textile designer in the garment industry in New York City, where she also lives. While the city may not seem like an immediately obvious place to get natural inspiration, there’s plenty.

“In this city we have some pretty amazing places we can go,” Kirsten said. “We have some fabulous parks, like the New York Botanical Garden, Central Park. I go to these places and find inspiration for color, texture, obviously the shapes of the plants.”

She also uses the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (near me!), Hudson River Park, Rockaway Beach in Queens — particularly in winter — and the aforementioned Wave Hill. After taking photos, Kirsten returns home and starts playing around with the yarn in her healthy stash, drawing on the colors from her images of flowers and leaves, water and animals — even seaweed.

Kirsten then pores over stitch dictionaries and then plays around with charting software, making the patterns work for the look she’s trying to achieve. A lot of her design work also happens once the yarn gets on the needles, with changes made when stitch patterns aren’t working.

While some of Kirsten’s design names are obvious, many are particularly clever. Her Reynard Socks, for example, are named for the fox character in fables, and feature a fox-like lace pattern when viewed upside down. Cladonia, one of Kirsten’s best-known patterns, is named for the lichen on a rock she photographed it on.

The photographs are also what draws me to Kirsten’s patterns, and she recounted what it took to capture this view of A View From the Hill, on Rockaway Beach on a freezing, windy January afternoon.

After Kirsten’s talk, and after we finished up our tea and pastries, there was also the opportunity to shop the mYak pop-up, which had such a beautiful display.

Of course I wore my own Cladonia to the event and Kirsten was nice enough to pose for a photo with me while wearing the sample!

Untangling: Lara Smoot

As a designer, Lara Smoot was an “early adopter” of Indie Untangled, and I’ve loved getting word of her latest designs — from her Game of Thrones-inspired shawls to her incredible colorwork socks — on the Marketplace.

For the 2016 Where We Knit yarn club, I paired Lara up with Dami of Magpie Fibers and they came up with a simple, beach-inspired pair of mitts in an icy blue. I’m hoping to cast on soon to help me get through the winter.

I spoke to Lara about her background and how she starts work on some of her more complex pieces:

When and how did you learn to knit?

My grandmother taught me basic knitting when I was in my early teens. She didn’t teach me how to purl and I wanted the scarf that I was knitting to look smooth (stockinette) so I figured out how to knit backwards. I put my needles down after that scarf and didn’t pick knitting up again until about 12 years ago and this time it stuck!

What made you decide to become a designer?

I wanted to create something new and unique and be able to share it with other knitters. My goal is to create patterns with clear and concise directions that produce beautiful results. Knitting should be fun and I try to have that come through in my designs.

What did you do in your “pre-designer” life and how does that influence your design work?

I showed horses for many years and designed and sewed custom riding clothing during that time. Creating custom garments that fit people taught me a lot about sizing and, of course, measuring. Later on, I worked in marketing for a nationally known insurance company and after that I was the director of social media for a yarn company. Working for the yarn company taught me a lot about the yarn industry and gave me so much insight on what goes on behind the scenes.

The Game of Thrones-inspired Fire and Blood.

Tell me about what inspires your designs.

Oh my gosh, I’m inspired by so many things! Patterns that I see in nature, the beautiful colors in a skein of yarn, music that I’m listening to, my favorite characters in a tv series. All those things inspire me.

You seem to design in a variety of colors. Which are your favorites?

I love bright colors and speckled and variegated yarns to work with. Pinks, purples, blues and green are some of my favorites. I love gray too. It’s the perfect complementary color to go with anything bright.

What’s the first thing you do when you start designing a pattern?

Have a big cup of coffee! All kidding aside, it depends on the project. Sometimes I start with a sketch, sometimes I swatch before I sketch. With my colorwork designs, like Shark Bite and Fright Night, I create the chart first. I have an idea of what I want the piece to look like and keep tweaking the chart until it’s what I envisioned.

The Seacoast Mitts pattern from the 2016 Where We Knit yarn club.

Where is your favorite place to knit?

At home with my pugs in my lap and a good cup of coffee or tea while watching a knitting podcast.