This is the 17th in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of the 2019 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.
Debra Gerhard of Spruce Lane Designs has a background as a designer, but not in fashion. For years she worked as an environmental engineer, addressing environmental impacts. These days, her design work involves taking hand-dyed yarn and turning them into colorful geometric sweaters and shawls with stripes, lace, cables and other textured stitches.
How did you decide to become a knitwear designer?
I was never one to follow a pattern exactly as written. I would usually use the pattern as a “guide” and then add my own shaping, motifs, edgings or other personal touches. A number of years ago after I left engineering to be home with my son, I started sample knitting for a few yarn companies which subsequently lead to technical editing of patterns. Around this same time, I took a few knitwear design classes at the Rhode Island School of Design.
I released my first design, Checks Mix Cowl, which was based on a swatch I had done for one of my classes. However, I didn’t release anything else for about two years after this initial design and instead spent my time doing more technical editing for a number of designers and yarn companies. I finally made the leap to mostly designing around 2017 and now I find myself struggling at times to turn out all the ideas I have in my head. I love the process, and I especially enjoy seeing knitters’ interpretations of my patterns and their use of color combinations and various yarn bases.
How has your background as an environmental engineer informed your work?
As an environmental engineer, I would be charged with designing and applying the best remedy for addressing environmental impacts. And just as each impacted site presented a unique set of issues, I find that the processes I used to identity these issues and form a solution are very similar to the processes I use in my designing. I have also found that my love of math is deeply ingrained in designing and grading. I love to see the numbers unfold, and I enjoy applying geometrical concepts to some of my shawl designs.
Tell me about what inspires your designs.
I take my inspiration from a variety of sources: an architectural detail, a colorful sunset, a spider web I may spy when out for a hike, bark on a tree, nature, found objects and many other sources. I have been known to tell my hubby to “pull over” so that I can take a picture of something that inspires me. I am drawn to color and patterns. I like to create colorful knits that fuel the imagination of each knitter and hopefully inspires them make my pattern their own.
When and how did you learn to knit?
My mom taught me how to knit when I was 10. My mom knits continental style, which suited me fine as I am left handed. I started with the garter stitch scarf and seamed hat as my first knitting items and continued with more hats and a few mittens. I didn’t knit much during junior high and high school, but in college I picked it up again and knitted the “boyfriend” sweater. I started to seriously knit in my late 20s after getting married, and I haven’t stopped since that time.
What’s the first thing you do when you start designing a pattern?
After deciding on yarn, I will make a large swatch of the design/motif that I have in mind to see how the colors play together and to get gauge. Once I’ve gotten gauge, I will work up the numbers and write out a draft of the pattern, including any charts, if needed. I like to have the pattern completed as much as possible before I begin knitting so that I am in a sense, “testing” my own design and I have the ability to make edits as I knit.
What are your favorite colors and have they changed at all since you started designing?
My favorite colors are purples, reds and other rich, saturated colors, and that hasn’t changed much. I also like the playfulness of speckled yarn with the surprising pops of color. Additionally, I am just starting to explore the color and textural effects of working with two strands of yarn, specifically a mohair/silk base coupled with a Merino base.