When the Design Process is a Difficult Mistress: Making Doggerland

It has been just under a year since I first wrote about this great idea I had for a collection of knitting patterns. Doggerland has been a long time coming, in other words. As I started pulling everything together and prep the patterns for general release, I thought I'd share the design process. Hopefully it'll be of some interest to budding designers - I certainly would have loved a series of blog posts on this topic when I first began! Photo Shoot - DoggerlandWhen I first got the idea of designing a series of patterns inspired by Doggerland (the landscape now submerged by the North Sea between Scandinavia and the UK), I first began by compiling a moodboard. I began with free association: moss, lichen, flint  and stone. Once I had a good selection of images, I began sorting through them until I could see a definite theme emerging. The colour palette was very easy to spot, but I had to keep chipping away at my pinned images until I was left with strong textures and an organic feel.

See those words? Colour palette. Strong textures. Organic feel. Those became my keywords. I knew those words encapsulated Doggerland. I had to aim for those words every time I worked on the collection.

Next, I did research. I knew I had to learn more about archaeology, the Stone Age (specifically the Mesolithic period when Doggerland began to vanish), and geology. I wanted to learn about what sort of art these people made, what sort of motifs they used, and how they interacted with the landscape. I visited the library, I spoke with archaeologists and material culture specialists, and I I read a lot of academic articles in English, Danish, and German (my German was not equipped for academic papers on marine archaeology, it is fair to say!). I enjoyed this part of the process - possibly I enjoyed it a bit too much because I let it drag on and on. I also forgot what part I was playing: I wasn't a specialist and I didn't need to be. I was the designer.

Oh. Art. Motifs. Landscape. More important words.

Photo Shoot - Doggerland

Around mid-summer 2012 I began acquiring the yarns I wanted to use. I wanted organic yarns from the present day North Sea regions - I tentatively call them site-specific yarns although that is a loaded term in art circles - because I wanted the yarns to be grounded in a very specific landscape. You will see a lot of Snældan yarns popping up as well as yarn from Garthenor, New Lanark, and Hjeltholt. I was very conscious of the colour palette and as a result I chose mainly neutral/undyed colours (with one notable exception).

Then I began sketching and swatching. This is where I hit a wall. Everything I did turned out to be too complex, too intricate and simply too much. I needed to find a simpler design vocabulary, to pare things down, and to edit my ideas. This took a surprisingly long time. I had my first workable design finished by mid-Autumn 2012, though I had a lot of sketches and swatches to show for all my work. These have not been discarded, but may be reworked into other designs (never throw out ideas!).

I had done most of the legwork - the conceptualising, the visualisation, the research, the sketching, the swatching and even some knitting - but the hard work had just begun.

Next: Moving from ideas into actual objects - and what I could have done differently..