This month I’m talking to Holly Chayes, a knitwear designer. Holly is also the author of Shawl Geometry series, a 3-volume series of books that will tell you everything you want to know about making the shawl shapes you want to make! First published in 2013, Holly has revised and expanded the series to make it even more informative!
These monthly features of other creative businesses are a way for all of us to get to know these wonderful makers; it has been a long-time interest of mine to explore how other creative people make their way as professionals.
I first came to know Holly through her Shawl Geometry books in 2013. I’ve had her here to be interviewed twice before because I love her inquisitiveness and style. So welcome back! I am anxious for everyone to know about the Shawl Geometry series update.
Q: Who has been the most inspirational person to you specifically around shawls?
A: Two current designers that I adore following are Woolly Wormhead and Bristol Ivy, I’m constantly in awe of their creativity, their individuality, and the elegance of how they write their patterns. So, I love following what they’re doing and being inspired by their creativity & innovation.
But I don’t think I can talk about who influenced the Shawl Geometry series without talking about Elizabeth Zimmerman.
Her most obvious influence was her PI Shawl Shaping method – which I think is genius in it’s simplicity. The whole premise of shaping a circular shawl with this shaping is that you concentrate your increases or decreases in shaping rounds, and between your shaping rounds you work an expanse of fabric without shaping. Each time you work a shaping round, you either double (if you’re increasing) or halve (if you’re decreasing) the number of stitches you have on the needles, and each time you work a section without shaping you either double (if you’re increasing) or halve (if you’re decreasing) the number of rounds you work without shaping. Then when you’re shawl is knit, you block the beegeebies out of it, and you’re left with an elegantly shaped circle.
But I also vividly remembering knitting Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Jacket pattern just to see how it worked. I certainly didn’t have any baby recipient in mind, and I don’t think I actually ever finished the project, but I do remember that being the project where I realized you didn’t have to knit things “conventionally.” Knit a sweater from the bottom up or the top down, knit it whole or knit it in pieces, knit from the middle, or cut it up and put it back together – if you wanted a sweater, and in the end you got a sweater, who cares how you got there?!
That sort of unconventionality, and curiosity about what’s possible within knitting, definitely had a HUGE influence on the very basis of how I approached creating the Shawl Geometry Books.
I think the Pi Shawl was a breakthrough for so many people! I don’t think I was aware that shawl knitting was a thing for a long time. Like many people, I assumed it was quite difficult until I started understanding the structure.
Why the Shawl Geometry Series?
Q: What inspires you most about shawls?
A: What inspires me the most about shawls is how versatile they are. I love that shawls are basically a blank canvas to do whatever you want to do with.
And that’s something I really wanted to explore writing the Shawl Geometry series of books, I wanted to experiment and find out just how may ways there were to shape a shawl.
I think the best way to describe the Shawl Geometry Books is as a series of three books, which when taken together become a master class in shawl shaping using increases and decreases. Which sounds ridiculously specific! Three books just focused on increasing and decreasing to shape knitted shawls?!?!
But that’s what it is – the series is a very (very, very) deep dive into this one aspect of knitting.
Shawl Geometry Book One covers all the basic and common shawls shapes. Shawl Geometry Book Two gets into weirder shapes, less common shapes. And Shawl Geometry Book Three focuses on the theory and principles of shaping and transforming knitted shawls, that way we can geek out over shawl shaping theory together.
Which is another thing that I find endlessly inspiring about knitting shawls – you can knit them no matter what skill level you are. You can knit super simple stunning shawls, or you can knit endlessly intricate ones, and anything in between.
I completely agree! As I read through Shawl Geometry, what struck me was how you can take the shaping into garments and other things too. Once you understand how to make something flat then . . . .
Q: Where do you wear/use shawls?
A: One of the fantastic things about shawls is that they aren’t just versatile in the making or designing, they are also a fantastically versatile thing to have with you.
My favorite sorts of shawls to use and carry with me are the sorts that are gigantic scarves. I think they’re the easiest to style, and also the most useful to have on hand. You can use them as a neck-scarf, or a rain protection head-scarf, or as a blanket, and in a pinch if it’s not too lacey as an emergency bag if what you need to carry isn’t too heavy.
Okay, I admit I’ve never carried things in my shawl, but love them for all the things you say. I always travel with one because you can use them in so many ways! Plus they often look dramatic and fashionable with so little effort.
What follows the Shawl Geometry Series?
Q: What is new for you now?
A: Now that the update to the Shawl Geometry series is successfully completed and available, I’m beginning to turn my attention to/back to a new style project/blog. The last style project I did was the Self-Made Wardrobe Project that I talked about the last time I was here. I just realized that I started that project way back in 2014 – which feels like forever ago!! So I’m excited to dive back into a style project. Especially, since this project is still in the messing about/finding the voice of it/anything is possible stage!
So while, I’m not entirely sure what the final form of this project will be, you can checkout it out in it’s current state at WhoWearsWho.com (and sign up for updates about it, as it evolves).
I’ll be looking forward to that! I was such a fan of the Self-Made Wardrobe Project, and this one looks like fun. Clothes are such a wonderful way to express ourselves, or explore ourselves. I never think style and fashion are frivolous—just a lot of the players are.
Find and Follow Holly Chayes
Find and follow her on her website: hollychayes.com
And follow her new style project at: WhoWearsWho.com