The Mind of a Designer: When Mohair Met Intarsia
Lately, I’ve been a little obsessed with Mohair.
Now before you recoil in horror, let me assure you that I am staying right here on this side of the computer screen and you can stay right where you are: no one is asking you to sniff Jerry Seinfeld’s Mohair Sweater.
For the winter issue of PomPom Quarterly, I knit a rectangular shawl called Palindrome. When I proposed a mohair stripe, the editors called my bluff and sent me three colors of Shibui Silk Cloud for the entire thing! Knitting it took some getting used to, but soon I was sailing along. I kept holding it up to the light, admiring the colors, the diaphony (is that a word?), the elegance. I began to consider a whole knitting arc of silken mohair: hats, sweaters, ruanas even: a backlit silken mohair corona framing me from every direction. Zsa-Zsa, eat your heart out!
(Palindrome. Photo by Amy Gwatkin.)
Two Great Tastes (That Taste Weird Together?)
While I was writing my article about Shetland, I could not help but think about the potential for silk/mohair applied to stranded motifs, and my mind just danced with the idea. So I got my hands on some beautiful colors of Mohair Luxe from Lang Yarns, and started to play.
With the exception of one polka dot sweater I saw in Patricia Roberts’ Covent Garden yarn shop window 30 years ago, I don’t remember seeing mohair used in color work, and I’ve certainly never seen it stranded. If I haven’t seen this before, there might be a good reason. I knew that I had to proceed with caution. My motifs would have to be simple. Too much detail and what I was after would be lost. Going whole hog down the Shetland XOX road might prove too muddy to be pretty. So I tried out my idea with simple squares, using one color at a time for each repeat, a row of spots in a rainbow array. And because mohair is potentially sheer, I also tried to use a larger gauge so that the stitches would allow the strands behind the fabric show through. I wanted the mechanics to be visible.
My first draft emphasized the colors I was using. I was insecure about how many stitches I would need for the color to read, so in my 6-stitch repeat, I used 4 stitches of color, so they would dominate the fabric. What I saw when I finished was nice enough, but it was disappointing. Maybe a little too, um, aggressive?
What I was hoping for was something just a little blurry, dreamy even, like a Helen Frankenthaler painting or a Nani Iro double gauze print (examples in the gallery above). So I tried again, changing only the ratio of color to background, and what I got was so much better.
See the faintest whisper of the strands behind the fabric there? Exactly what I wanted. Magic. So once I settled on this series of dots, I had to make the next step: what do I do with this?
What To Do With This?
As a designer, I always think first about sweaters, and for this motif I think there’s at least two possibilities. An oversized round yoke would be lovely. Silk Mohair should have a lot of room to move so it doesn’t cook you in your boots. With the airy quality of the fabric, a sweater with 10 inches or more of extra room would still be very flattering, like a soft focus filter or candlelight. (Trust me, I’m in my fifties, I know about such things.) It’s a little bit Gabor sister, a little bit Bardot. You’d need a simple tank to wear underneath, unless of course you are more daring than I. Throw over slim jeans and the perfect boots, and voila, dahling. You are instantly a glamour kitten.
As a cardigan, I might move the stranding as a wide band above the hem and crop it a little. At this point I have to think again about the outfit it would complete, which is why I worked it up in another color, thinking of it as a party topper for the perfect sleeveless dress. Navy as the background color is the perfect way to turn this into an evening out (or in) affair. The little dots of color suddenly pop in a stained glass kind of way, and now I’m wondering what would happen if I tried in with that yellow as the background color. I could do this all week!
So I have the sweaters covered, but what else could it do? A cowl possibly? Silk/mohair is pretty spineless as a fabric on its own so it would collapse immediately. Mohair is best as an accent in this situation, like the ridges in the Breton Cowl. So I thought instead about a poncho, again capitalizing on what silken mohair does best. Three ideas, two the usual folded rectangle, one a seamed mobius so that the equally pretty back of the stranding could play a role as well. I’ve never been much for ponchos myself, but when I sketched up the possibilities, I wobbled a bit. okay, I wobbled a lot. I’m actually quite smitten with the one on the left. I would wear that. Oh yeah.
If you like the idea, I invite you to play with it, or at the very least, throw a little silken mohair into your next shawl, even knit the whole thing with it. Give it a try, and tag me on Instagram if you do. I’d love to see what you come up with!