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Interview: Aurelie Colas


Today’s second interview is with Scottish designer Aurelie Colas of The Auld (Wooly) Alliance.

Aurelie Colas

Aurelie Colas

Who taught you to knit/How did you learn to knit?
Like many people, I learnt the knit stitch thanks to my granny. I was 7 or 8. She would cast on a few stitches, knit a few rows to get me started, and I would knit a few rows before moving on to another activity.

Fast forward fifteen years, I have immigrated to Scotland to live with my partner. He was working long hours, I was searching for a job during day time (when the Internet cafe was open), and was at home on my own with no Internet, no phone, no TV until late at night. What does one do in this situation? I was cooking and baking. A lot. Until one day I realised that it was not sustainable: I had baked 75 muffins the day before, we knew no one in the city… For our own health, it was better if I could find another hobby.

The following morning, I woke up with my hands doing some motion. It took me a few minutes to understand that this motion was that of me mimicking the ‘needle in, yarn round, bring the stitch out’ motion. It was like a shock: I remembered how to do the knit stitch.

That day, I went to the book store, bought a beginner’s book to learn how to knit, bought some cheap yarn and needles. And I haven’t had the opportunity to bake 75 muffins ever since…

[Here is a link to a blog post I wrote this spring about how I learnt to knit.]

How did you get started designing?
I am not too sure… I don’t think I ever managed to follow a pattern without changing something. Not always for the best, mind you, I have made lots of errors when adapting jumpers, etc (and I still do). With each mistake and each project, I understand a little better how knitting works, how increases and decreases shape the fabric, how to play with drape, texture, cables, etc. And naturally, I want to build on this knowledge to make something else.

Slowly, I went from adapting things, to making my own things from scratch. The jump to actually writing the patterns came later, along with a desire to share an idea or a technique for instance.

What inspires your designs?
Mostly, I get inspired with texture or objects, with stories, and places. For instance, in the Castle Fraser throughout the year collection, based on a dear to me local Scottish castle, some designs are inspired by the texture of the roof or the shape of the windows, a little woodcarving, or the wallpaper of the library. I also like to add some humour to my knitting, like when I designed Puddle, Puddle, Splash! socks, which tell the story of a hiker or a dog walker in Scotland.

Sometimes, the magic happens and the design imposes itself in my head, like with Hobby Horse for Little Knights. But more often than not, a design idea starts with a ‘what if…?’ question. What if… the sock started at the heel? All Aboard! Puff puff puff… What if… the yoke of a cardi was worked side-ways and shaped with short-rows? Romane and Roman…What if…there was a hidden code in the sock? Date with Ada…What if… a sock was entirely knit inside out? Inside-Out Hypnosis

And yet, sometimes, the yarn tells me what it wants to be, like when I designed Christmas Scot-ing. It is one of the few designs I created where the yarn came first.

Which comes first – the yarn or the inspiration?
Most often, the inspiration comes first, and the yarn second. More precisely, I often start with a constraint, or a set of constraints, which I create myself. It could be a technique I want to use, an unusual construction, a very precise theme, or a combination of these.

I find having constraints stimulating, almost freeing, in fact. It is an interesting paradox that, when confronted to some constraints, creativity seems to bubble, and the brain comes with all sorts of ideas to challenge these constraints.

What is your favourite type of item to design?
Socks are an interesting object to design, because of the three-dimensional aspect. Also, there are two socks in a pair: they could match, they may not. It gives some freedom. However, all socks have to have some toe and heel, and a leg and a foot portion, and fit over a standard foot… which gives some interesting constraints in terms of shape, stretch of the fabric, etc.

Tell me about “British inventors and scientists”, what is the story behind this collection?
I have a background in science: mathematics, computer science and bioinformatics. A bit of theoretical chemistry too, but I have forgotten it all. I also did some engineering, and have now lived in Scotland long enough to call it home. So it was only natural that I would use this as a theme for a collection.

I selected 6 inventors or scientists, most of whom have a direct connection to my former life. This gave me 6 sets of constraints to work with, trying to create socks that would represent each of them, or part of their work, in a unique and distinctive way. For each pattern, I write a couple paragraph on the inspiration behind the design. In some cases, it sparked interesting discussions: on the work and fate of Rosalind Franklin when I published And there was Photo 51 for instance; similarly with Ada Lovelace and her contribution to computer science and algorithms after Date with Ada was released.

I have been working on this collection for almost a year now, and there is one last design to be published. A few months back, there was a little Guess the Scientist game in my ravelry group. But at this point, no one has guessed who the last inventor/scientist is…

Do you have an aspirational knit – a complicated/challenging design that you want to knit “some day” when you feel ready?
Do you mean using patterns from other designers? There are lots of interesting patterns I would like to knit some day. I like to buy patterns to understand a technique or a construction. None of them are left on the “to-knit” list because of their complexity. It is mostly for lack of time that they don’t end up on the needles. For instance, I would like to learn more about traditional knits, like Estonian lace, Latvian fine knitting, Andean colourwork, etc. Or special techniques, like the many ways to create a neckline, or to fit a shoulder.

If only I had a time turner…

What is coming next? What’s in your release queue?
In theory, socks and a blanket. But I also have a couple items for little people on the list which could jump the queue. And a couple accessories planned too.

Your desert island yarn? (if you could only knit with one yarn from now on which would it be?)
Shetland wool in fingering weight, probably. It is quite versatile, would work nicely for colourwork, jumpers, hats, mitts… I could cut into it if necessary without even having to reinforce the steek. It may not work as well for socks, but maybe I could add twist to it to fit this purpose (I mean, if I am on a desert island with nothing to do, I can always take the time to make a spindle and re-twist my yarn, right?). It comes in a million colours (dyed and undyed). And even better: it becomes softer and better as time passes. So, if I am to be stranded (haha) on a desert island, it better be with a yarn that ages nicely…

Which is your most under-appreciated design?
I don’t think I have much success with my bags designs. But that’s okay. I understand that knitting bags probably appeals to a minority of knitters. Even more so when double knitting is involved! Still, I don’t regret spending the time to design and create them. They were a fun challenge.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d like to share with other knitters?
Be daring. Don’t stick to what you know and do well: try new techniques, fail a lot and learn even more.

Any knitting/designing New Year’s resolutions?
Oh dear. I am so bad at resolutions… I have a few designs at different levels of completion. I should really complete some of them before succumbing to the “oh! shiny new idea!” issue. So I guess this could be a resolution?

If you could have dinner with one knitting designer (living or dead) who would it be and why?
Elizabeth Zimmermann. I came across Knitting without Tears one day as I was browsing the bookshelves in a lovely yarn shop. I read the first couple pages, took it home and read it cover to cover that night. I believe it changed my comprehension of knitting as a craft, as a tool to create fabric and garments the way I chose. It was such a freeing and empowering read. I would have loved to have the opportunity to listen to her. And simply to thank her.

View all of Aurelie’s patterns here. All photos copyright Aurelie Colas except for Inside-Out Hypnosis, copyright Jenny Rose Photography. All images used by permission.

You can find Aurelie on the following social media sites:

What is the Gift-A-Long? The GAL is a big knitting and crochet designer promotion with prizes and more than 5,000 people participating in a giant KAL/CAL. Come join the GAL group on Ravelry!

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