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Anything visual can be a source of inspiration for a design, from a John Galliano garment to a plate of baked beans. Designers are mainly interested in the visual appearance and connotations of the objects, and seldom in the conceptual integrity of the design. Different sources of inspiration can be combined in one garment: a designer garment, a Roman ornament, a piece of tree bark.
Designers look for repeat patterns, ornaments, and motifs. Other textiles are often used as sources of inspiration for patterns. They provide rich sources of ornamental patterns, for example in embroideries, rugs, or tie patterns. Knitwear is often coordinated with other textile ranges. Knitwear designs are often based on textile prints in the same collection. All other design objects with patterns, such as tiles and mosaics, serve as sources of inspiration. Designers frequently use historic designs, such as William Morris wallpaper, and fine art can also provide a rich source. Everyday objects like sweet wrappers or buildings are also useful.
Many themes take their inspiration from nature. Animals, plants and other natural objects, as well as natural phenomena such as thunderstorms or sunsets inspire designers. Designers collect portable physical objects like leaves or shells, use photographs or work from memory. Designers never stop looking for sources of inspiration. When they see something suitable they turn it into a design.
Knitwear involves the creation of the fabric, as in textile design, and the creation of the shape, as in fashion design. These two elements need to be coordinated. The knitwear design and sampling process is highly complex, as there is a subtle interaction between the technical features of knitted fabric and its visual appearance.
Work on a new season begins with general research into the context of the coming fashion. Designers form an initial opinion of trends and strong design features by looking at forecasting materials from trend prediction bureaus, visiting shows and looking through magazines. Designers work out themes for their new collections and select a yarn colour palette. From the beginning many designers think in terms of concrete garments. The result of the research process is a skeletal concept of their new collection, the design framework.
At the beginning of a season designers gain an overview of the coming styles and trends. The designers gain a feeling for the looks of the season and know what will look “right”. Designers develop preferences for features that they carry through the rest of the season. Knitwear designers traditionally begin by visiting yarn shows and looking through yarn catalogues. They look at the feel and appearance of the yarn. Head designers often return from a yarn show with a fairly clear idea of their collection. Important fundamental design decisions are made at this very early stage, for example what types of yarns to pursue. Cones of yarn and yarn sale swatches get transformed instantly into garments in the inner eye of many designers. The garments in catwalk shows and fashion photographs provide a broader context for knitwear and show trends independently of the material the garment is made of. By being inundated with designs at a show designers can spot recurring features and form an opinion of the strong characteristics of that season. Individual garments, studied or purchased on shopping trips, illustrate important features and designers learn how they can be manufactured.
General design research continues with the development of individual themes, a topic tying together a range of garments. The themes are derived from the forecasting materials. The themes are expressed by sketches of garments, a colour palette and some topical images. When looking at them many designers think in terms of concrete garments. Not all themes are suitable to knitwear or to companies’ own styles and needs.
Based on forecasting materials from forecasting bureaus, write-ups about them in press and their own overall understanding of the context of a new season, designers develop about four or five themes for their own collections. The space of possible designs is severely limited by the selection of themes.
The company themes are expressed in theme boards with sketches and magazine clippings. Topical photographs can set a context, such a photograph of a Scottish heather landscape for a tweed collection.