Barb looks to the folk tra­di­tions of north­ern and eastern Europe for her in­tri­cate de­signs

The Knitter - - Contents - www.rav­­sign­ers/barb-brown

We chat with this cre­ative Cana­dian de­signer

BARB BROWN, from Al­berta in Canada, loves to cre­ate socks, bags, and other ac­ces­sories in­flu­enced by folk tex­tiles, and pat­terns in­spired by the hand­knits of her Shet­land-born great-grand­mother. We chat­ted with Barb about her knit­ting life.

Who in­spired you to take up knit­ting?

“I grew up sur­rounded by women who knit­ted - it was just one more job women did. I started to learn when I was around four years old, and sold my first hat when I was 12. It was around the same time that I be­gan be­ing in­ter­ested in the his­tory of my fam­ily, es­pe­cially my great-grand­mother Jerem­ina who came from the Shet­land Is­lands. She em­i­grated to Canada in 1885, with her spin­ning wheel. My fam­ily still owned (and wore) sweaters she had made from her hand-spun.”

Do you have a favourite artist, writer, poet or mu­si­cian who in­spires you?

“Roberta Mur­ray is an artist who has in­spired me from the first day I met her. At the time, she was a spin­ning teacher. She also knit­ted, and painted her fin­ished projects. She wove. She loved pho­tog­ra­phy, and took it up as an art form. We of­ten talked about art, and women’s work, and the eco­nom­ics of it all. We were dis­cussing my de­signs, and she said, “Some­thing like what you’ve done needs to be paid for, and it should be well paid for”. Some­how, com­ing from her, it was like a huge kick in the pants! It gave me the courage to send off my first de­sign sub­mis­sion.”

Which de­signer has most in­spired you?

“El­iz­a­beth Zim­mer­mann, hands down. Un­til I dis­cov­ered her books, I felt guilty when I changed a pat­tern! Her Knit­ting

Work­shop changed all that. It was as if I had been given a li­cence to change things, and re­ceived a de­gree in de­sign­ing. It lit­er­ally set me free to ex­press my­self with yarn.”

Tell us about the colours, land­scapes or ar­chi­tec­ture that in­spire your de­sign work.

“In­spi­ra­tion is ev­ery­where. Right now, for ex­am­ple, I have ideas I’m work­ing on… a shawl in­spired by a paint­ing of Paris in the rain; a wrap in­spired by a dream I had of dancers on a hill­top in a thun­der­storm; a coat­i­gan in Ice­landic lopi in­spired by old em­broi­dery pat­terns; a heavy, sturdy, out­door sweater in a Cowichan style with Ukrainian Easter Egg pat­terns.”

What is your favourite knit­ting book?

“I think it would have to be Knit­ting in the

Nordic Tra­di­tion by Vibeke Lind. It al­ways in­spires me to try some­thing new, and to play with the tech­nique and see if I can make it dif­fer­ent. Knit­ting is a liv­ing thing. If we don’t grow it, and make it our own, it be­comes static and bor­ing.”

Which de­sign from your port­fo­lio are you most proud of, or is most spe­cial to you?

‘The first is ‘Road­sidea’. I saw some na­ture-dyed wool from Elder­berry Yarns, and I had a vi­sion of the socks I wanted to de­sign with it, al­most as if they were hang­ing in the air above the yarn. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced this be­fore, but these had a stitch I’d never seen!”

“The other is ‘Seraglio’. I grew up sur­rounded by strong women who fought hard to be treated as equals. Over the past 10 years, there have been at­tempts to erode the rights we’ve achieved, and it has both an­gered and fright­ened me. I wanted to de­sign some­thing that spoke of my feel­ings. The bot­tom mo­tif shows ear­rings and but­ter­flies rep­re­sent­ing the lux­u­ries be­hind the Seraglio walls; the mid­dle por­tion sym­bol­izes the lat­tice, the screen be­tween women and the out­side world; and at the top are the hooks, rep­re­sent­ing how dif­fi­cult it is to get out once a woman agrees to go in. The sparkling yarn is the beau­ti­ful, ex­cit­ing world be­yond.”

Are there any tech­niques or tra­di­tions you’d like to ex­plore fur­ther?

Lately, I’ve been play­ing around with the tra­di­tional zigzag pat­terned mit­tens from Ro­vaniemi, Fin­land, and the Roosi­tud tech­nique from Es­to­nia. I have an idea that in­volves both, and is in­spired by one of my favourite Ukrainian Easter egg de­signs. I’m not sure where it’s all go­ing to take me!”

1 Like many of Barb’s de­signs, ‘Seraglio’ has a story be­hind it 3 Barb’s great-grand­mother, Jerem­ina Colvin, taught knit­ting to the Cowichan peo­ple 3 Barb finds in­spi­ra­tion in Vibeke Lind’s book 4 She ad­mires the art of Roberta Mur­ray

‘Eve River’ is a de­sign from The Knit­ter Is­sue 117

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