Missoni high fashion and the humble variegated yarn

One of the big draws for knitters who get to London this summer is the Missoni exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum where you can see a selection of the beautiful, colourful knitwear the company is famous for and learn a bit about the ideas behind the designs.

missoni knits

A few lucky people, including this blogger, have been able to get tickets for talks from members of the Missoni family and the design team where they have explained the work that goes into creating the knitted fabrics. Although the form of knitting done on Missoni’s machines is very different to what we produce on our knitting, how the team thinks about the weight and drape of the yarns they use and the colour combinations is very familiar. The company has a “knit lab” where the design team experiments with yarns, fabrics and colours – hands up if you’d love to visit.

One of the colour looks Missoni is famous for is the “space dye”as in this dress.

missoni space dye

The space-dyed look is achieved through what you and I would know as variegated yarn and so there are plenty of options for you to create your own high fashion looks.

So we have picked out a few of our favourite variegated yarns for you and collected  some tips on using them for you.

  • As the Missoni team pointed out, how the colours distribute in a piece of knitting will depend on how long each piece of colour on your yarn is and how long your row is. This means the colours may distribute in a different way on the body of a jumper and on the sleeves. But as they also suggested, don’t worry about this and enjoy seeing what the colours do.
  • Think carefully about stitch patterns and swatch before you embark on a large project. Variegated yarns can fight with some textured stitches which means neither the lovely colours nor your beautiful knitting are shown off at their best. On the other hand these yarns can work well with lacy patterns feature lots of eyelets.
  • One very effective use of variegated yarn is with a complementary plain yarn in colourwork, which means your fair isle or intarsia pattern changes over time. Pairing a neutral variegated yarn with a bright one can also work here.



Behind the scenes: Creating a pattern collection

In the first of our occasional looks behinds the scenes of the yarn industry, we talk to Annabelle Hill, sales and marketing director at Stylecraft about putting together pattern collections.

Why do yarn companies produce pattern collections alongside their yarns?

It is important to have the right yarn at the right price, in the right colour range, then add some lovely designs and photography and styling that appeals to a wide audience. I’m always working towards a finished product that is inspiring and approachable. Our knitters need to be able to say I can see myself wearing that.

At the beginning of a year we make a plan for yarns to launch and designs to go with, but most importantly we keep the end user in mind and make all our plans thinking what would she (or he) like to make or create? How can we engage and excite the knitting and crocheting community we are so glad to be a part of? I just keep asking those questions every time I’m making a plan or looking at something new.

How important is finding the right designers to make yarn ranges successful?

I’d say this is a critical part of a yarn’s success. You need designers that understand what knitters and crocheters are looking for in a project. Designers who can add a touch of flair to a design without making it a terribly complicated knit.

How many designers do you work with a Stylecraft?

We have two in house designers and usually work with four or five freelancers at any one time as well. I am always keeping an eye out for new talent.

Do you choose designers to work with particular yarns or to you introduce them to a selection of yarns where they can take inspiration?

This really varies. When introducing new yarns into our range we’ll often pick a designer to do a collection for that yarn in its first season.

In later seasons it can be more led by the designer – this often happens with our crochet designer who we invite in for a visit to see all our yarns. Then we work together to choose projects in yarns that say something to her. I think that this approach gives the most exciting results.

stylecraft pattern Collage

Women’s sweaters in Malabar Aran and Ombre, men’s sweater in Life chunky, wrap in Swift Knit and bag in Senses Lace

Do you set themes for the designers and the new patterns you want?

Yes we do. We like to have a fashion conscious style so when we brief our designers we will talk to them about what trends we have seen in the shops and how those may relate to the hand-knit or crochet designs that they are about to do.

How does the process work?

Well the process is sometimes more and sometimes less formal, but basically the first step is that the designer is given a brief. They then do sketches and knit swatches which are submitted for approval.

What happens once you have an approved design?

Once a design has been signed off, a full pattern with at least five sizes has to be written (the grading of a pattern to different sizes is quite a skilled job). The first written pattern is then sent out to a knitter who makes the garment in time for the photographic shoot.

The team then need to find a location, book photographers, models and so on so that we end up with some lovely images for our pattern fronts.

Meantime, patterns are checked for errors and laid out by a designer before the whole thing is sent off to be printed.  All in all the process takes about 16 weeks from beginning to end, and has passed through at least a dozen hands before we have the finished pattern.