As part of the original Around the World in 80 Skeins tour, the 29th stop was to Portugal to visit knitwear designer Inês Sousa.
Hi, Inês – welcome to the tour! Let’s start with where are you from?
I was born and live in Portugal, a beautiful country with a varied landscape, culture and wonderful weather.
How did you get started knitting and how did it turn into designing?
I learned to knit as a child, my mother taught me the Backwards Loop cast-on and the purl stitch. I was amazed by what her and her friends did with yarn and needles. In the 80’s knitting was very popular, I remember to think how cool it was and that someday I would like to knit colorful sweaters as well, even if it seemed something extremely difficult and totally out of reach. However, it didn’t stick and only in 2006 I started knitting again, this time seriously. I’m a self-taught knitter, I learned from books, on-line tutorials, videos, etc… From the beginning I had the tendency to modify patterns to get a better fit, change some elements and add new ones; therefore designing happened to me in a very natural way.
How does where you live influence your designs?
I’ve created patterns inspired by nature, poems, music, etc. I think that the diversity of the Portuguese culture and the ability to mix and match different elements from other cultures is very present in my work. I like to combine different textures and shapes. What concerns color, I imagine that the wide palette is a direct consequence of the fantastic weather we have with many sunny days and a fantastic light. I also enjoy photographing my work displayed in nature.
Who are your favorite designers?
Mies Van Der Rohe, Sebastião Rodrigues and Barbara G. Walker among others… I love the attention to detail of the first two and the colloquial tone along with the innovative approach of Barbara G. Walker (seamless sweaters worked from the top). They all were able to bring something new and special not only for their generation but for the next generations as well.
Do you have a favorite local yarn store?
I mainly buy on-line from a few stores localized in different places of the country: Bolas de Tons, Ovelha Negra and Tricot das Cinco. That’s where I can find suitable yarn for my projects which can be difficult to find at any local yarn store nearby, plus, the owners are very friendly.
What do you like to eat/drink while you work?
I like to drink herbal tea or decaf, I especially like ginger tea and oatmeal cookies (a vegan recipe).
1 cinnamon stick
2 or 3 black cardamom pods, peeled
One slice of Ginger root, fresh and peeled (approx 1”)
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
Boiled water (approx 1 litre)
Add the boiling water to the other ingredients. Let sit for 15 or 20 minutes. Serve hot, at room temperature or cold.
2 cups of rye flour
1 cup of oat flakes
1 cup of brown sugar
1 cup of dried prunes (~20 prunes)
½ cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Beat together the flour, oat flakes, sugar, cinnamon, olive oil and the dried prunes sliced in small pieces in a medium mixing bowl. Add the water and mix well. Spoon dough onto baking sheet using a tablespoon. Flatten each ball of dough slightly. Bake in middle rack of oven for 25 minutes.
Yum! That sounds like the perfect accompaniment to knitting! Where is your favorite place to work?
I can sketch and knit almost anywhere but there’s no place like home, it’s where I find the required time and energy to develop and test my designs. Plus, it is where all my needles and yarn are stored.
Is there a big knitting/crochet culture where you live?
I would say the Portuguese style of knitting (also called Turkish Knitting, Incan Knitting, Andean Knitting) which I can’t praise enough. It’s very easy both to knit and purl (contrary to many styles where the purl stitch is so difficult that some knitters avoid at all costs patterns with large sections of purling). The yarn is wrapped around the neck or runs through a pin placed on the shoulder requiring small movements from the hands, which allows a very relaxing posture. For this reason it is perfect for knitters with arthritis and carpal tunnel. Purling is so easy that many patterns knitted in the round, such as hats or mitts, are worked inside out with wrong side facing, consisting mainly of purl stitches.
That is so interesting – I may have to try to learn it just to save my hands. What is your design process like?
I sketch a lot, I draw charts in paper to check all the possibilities (modularity, transitions, ratio of increases, decreases, etc) and then I knit samples to test them. If it works I’ll start knitting with the “real” yarn and if it doesn’t, I’ll start all over again until it does. Sometimes, we have to “hear” what the yarn is telling us and find out different solutions, that’s when improvisation happens.
Do you have a favorite design in your portfolio that was inspired by your culture/environment?
I have many: Flor was inspired by a poem of Almada Negreiros, Pena by a poem of Fernando Pessoa and Sleepless Heart by a music of Rodrigo Leão.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful designs and inspirations with us!