Colour, texture, and construction, and the connection between the three drives prolific knitwear designer Kirsten Kapur to produce her delicately detailed designs. Spending her early years as a textile and apparel designer, Kirsten soon discovered the complete joy in knitwear design and finally felt like she’d found her place. Since then, Kirsten has been knitting and designing beautiful shawls, hats, mittens, and everything in between.
We sat down with Kirsten to chat about her newest collection all about the 5 boroughs of New York City, her design process, and everything unique and wonderful that she draws inspiration from.
The 5 boroughs collection
What inspired you to create a collection about the 5 boroughs of New York City?
A little over a year ago LoveKnitting approached me to collaborate on a KAL and design a shawl inspired by my home, New York City. The response from the knit-along participants was very positive. I really enjoyed my involvement, interacting with knitters and seeing their projects. We had so much fun with the KAL, that it seemed natural to finish out the collection with patterns to represent the other four boroughs. When people from other places think of New York they think of skyscrapers and Times Square, but this city is so much more than that. We are a city of neighbourhoods, each with its own character. I wanted to celebrate all of the boroughs of New York, and their diversity.
Did you visit every borough when designing the patterns?
I have been to each borough many times, but spend most of my time in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The only borough I didn’t visit during the design process was the Bronx. It was very cold at the time, and many of the places I like to visit in the Bronx are outdoors.
Which pattern in this collection holds the most meaning to you?
I’m usually most attached to my most recent design. I’ve just created the Corona Park shawl, and I’m thrilled with that design, but I think when I look back at the collection, my favourite will be Manhattan Mist. It’s the pattern that began this whole project so it will always be special.
Inspire, design, make
How important are your surroundings when you’re coming up with design ideas?
My inspiration comes from time spent out and about taking in the city and its people, so buzzy environments are best for that part, but when it comes time to sit down and pull my ideas together into a cohesive design, quiet is best. I’ll sit down with stitch dictionaries, sketch, and start to plan. After that there is more quiet work to be done on the computer -- creating charts, calculating sizes on a spreadsheet, and writing up the framework of the pattern. Once all of that is complete I make the sample -- usually while listening to audiobooks or streaming movies/tv shows.
I find inspiration pretty much everywhere: the pattern on a ceiling tile, the railing of a fence, a combination of colours that an unsuspecting stranger is wearing."
You’ve said that ‘creativity is rooted in the “mess” of everyday life’ for you. Where’s the craziest place or moment where inspiration has struck you?
Ha, this is a tough one because ideas are constantly popping into my head. The place that sticks out the most was years ago when we were taking our son around to tour colleges. We were in an auditorium listening to representatives of the university tell about their programs. The space had one of those accordion style room dividers, and all I could think about was putting that into a design -- I think I even sketched some ideas on the handouts they had given us. I didn’t hear a thing the speakers were saying, but luckily my husband and son were paying attention. It ended up being the school my son attended.
How do you go about designing? Do you just start making and see what happens or do you like to plan first?
I do a little of both. I start with an idea, but things change quite a bit once I start knitting. This is particularly true of shawl design. For me finding the right balance of scale, colour and texture is easiest when I have the piece in front of me.
What are your favourite tidbits you love to share with budding knitwear designers?
Most of us work in independently, so it’s hard for beginning designers to know what the process is for working with yarn companies and publishers. It’s good to have a network of designer friends you can reach out to when these questions arise.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find inspiration pretty much everywhere: the pattern on a ceiling tile, the railing of a fence, a combination of colours that an unsuspecting stranger is wearing. Sometimes the yarn is the inspiration. I’ll see a yarn and instantly know what I want to create with it.
What are three of your favourite yarns that you always come back to?
I adore the Fibre Company’s yarns. They create interesting blends in beautiful colours, I think my favourites are Acadia, and Road to China. This collection was the first time I’d worked with Debbie Bliss’ Fine Donegal (I used it in the Corona Park shawl). I absolutely loved it and will definitely use it again. And finally Malabrigo’s Rios can’t be beat for sweaters, hats, mittens, pretty much anything that you need a worsted-Aran weight for.
Do you follow anyone amazing on social media that inspires you?
I spend most of my social media time on Instagram because it’s so visual. There are countless knitwear designers I admire. Some are good friends, and others I admire from afar. Norah Gaughan is one who I admire from afar. She is an absolute genius with cables. Nancy Marchant has absolutely revolutionised brioche. My friend Thea Colman designs beautiful sweaters, I would make every single one of them for myself if I had the time. I also follow creators of a lot of other crafts. Weaving is a great inspiration for knitting design, I really like Aamos Designs. For sewing my friends Odacier and Sonya Philip create easy to sew and fun to wear patterns that pair wonderfully with hand knits. I’m just starting to dive into the world of ceramics but I love the work of Modhome Ceramics.
You’ve said you love to spin your own yarn, what are your favourite fibres to work with?
I love BFL because it spins so easily. When I want something nice and relaxing to spin that’s what I usually choose. But I also like Cormo, Corriedale, Romney, and a blend of merino and silk among others.
New York, New York
How long have you called New York home?
I’ve lived in New York City since 2011. Before that we lived about an hour away in New Jersey and visited the city quite often.
What do you love about living in New York?
I love so many things about this city that this answer could get a little lengthy. So I’ll pick one of my favourite things. It’s the availability of classes in just about any new skill I’d want to learn. I am interested in pretty much all crafts. Among other things, I have taken weaving, shoe making, rug hooking, dyeing, and am starting a ceramics class next month. I even found a blacksmithing class that I gave to my daughter as a Christmas gift.
Do you have a favourite spot in each borough?
I have a lot of favourite places, so this list could be different an hour from now when I think of something else for each borough, but I’ll list what comes to mind right now:
In Manhattan I love just about any place along the Hudson River, Battery City Park and the Hudson River Park are standouts.
In Brooklyn it’s the Textile Arts Centre where I take weaving classes on wonderful looms in a beautiful sunlit space.
In Queens it’s got to be Corona Park where I photographed its namesake shawl. My mother told stories of going to the World’s Fair there when she was a child, so it always reminds me of her.
In the Bronx it’s the New York Botanic Gardens with hundreds of acres of plants and beautiful landscapes.
In Staten Island it’s Snug Harbor, a cultural centre and botanic garden. The Chinese Scholar’s Garden there is a beautiful and tranquil place.