The next stop on our tour is to Thailand to visit Michael Harrigan, a knitwear designer.
Hi Michael! Thank you for joining the blog tour. Can you tell us where you live and where you are from originally?
I live in Thailand and have for most of the last 15+ years, spending the weekdays in Bangkok and the weekends at our house by the sea. I grew up in the US, in a rural part of very, very northern New York State, near the Canadian border, 5 miles from a village of 1,000 people. In late 1998 I came to Thailand for work and have stayed on into retirement. It actually feels more like home to me than my home country at this point, although I do miss things like the fragrance of lilacs in the springtime and the spectacular fall colors in the northeastern US.
How did you get started knitting and designing?
When I was about 10 years old I taught myself to knit, crochet, and tat. It wasn’t exactly what was expected of young boys in farm country and although I loved making things I didn’t pursue these interests for long.
In the 1980s I picked up the knitting needles again and made a couple of wearable pieces but didn’t get really hooked until about 2 years ago when I decided I wanted to take my knitting to another level.
I now spend as much time as I like experimenting with stitch patterns and creating designs that incorporate images from my travels – particularly in Asia, Europe, and Africa. Lace knitting in particular interest me and in my patterns you’ll find fall colors from the US, temple roofs from Asia, camels and elephants from Morocco, and flowers and garden images from England.
That sounds like the perfect way to spend retirement! How does where you live influence your designs?
Thailand’s natural environment, iconic images, and architecture inspire my designs, as you can see in the temple roofs, elephants, leaves, and blossoms I incorporate in the designs. For example, we have numerous leelawadee (frangipani) trees in the garden and the blossoms are very much part of the Thai visual identity. They’re also wonderfully fragrant. I’m incorporating leelawadee flowers and leaves in a design I’m working on at the moment.
Those flowers are so beautiful – I look forward to seeing the new design that incorporates them. Does Thailand have a big knitting culture?
Knitting is popular in Thailand, as are other crafts, but there isn’t a big knitting culture that I’m aware of. I’d say that historically there’s more of a silk and cotton weaving culture here.
Do you have a favorite local yarn store where you find all your beautiful fibers?
I don’t have a favorite LYS, although you can find a reasonable selection of yarns in Bangkok. I tend to look for good deals on eBay and hunt for yarn when I travel. I’m fortunate enough to be able to visit Europe, the US, or other parts of Asia on trips we take 3-4 times a year, so that keeps me in pretty good supply, while keeping the stash to a manageable size!
What’s your favorite knitting spot?
I have a favorite old chair in our house by the sea, where the light seems to be just right for playing around with designs and knitting the final products. It’s a plain old gray chair that needs some serious color, other than its two needlepoint throw pillows.
That chair looks so cozy! Do you have a favorite knitting snack or drink?
I tend to be a bit too messy to combine the two!
Who are your favorite designers?
Kaffe Fassett has been a major inspiration for me, as a man who has left his mark on the design and fiber arts world and for his unabashed use of color. I have been threatening to yarn bomb my favorite knitting chair in the style of Kaffe Fassett! My other favorite designers are all those knitters around the world that have contributed to our wealth of lace stitch patterns over the centuries.
Kaffe Fassett is amazing – it looks like he paints with knitting! What is your design process like?
I work from memory, photos, graphics, and actual objects, and translate what I visualize onto graph paper, doing my best to recreate what I see into lace stitch patterns. For the Thailand Memories pattern I wanted to incorporate the leaf edgings into the overall pattern of temple roofs and lotus buds, so that it was knit along with the body to the scarf – rather than added on later. This added some complexity to the pattern, but a satisfying result.
For some reason, although I create my designs with charts, the instructions for all of my published designs are written. Maybe I’ll make the transition to charted patterns in the coming months!
Do you have a favorite design in your portfolio that was inspired by Thailand?
The Thailand Memories Knit Lace Scarf is one of my favorites. It reminds me of the many temples that are found throughout the country. The design incorporates temple roofs, unopened lotus buds, and the leaves of the sacred Bodhi tree – all elements found in Buddhist temples.
It is an absolutely stunning design, as are all your others! Thank you so much for sharing your work and inspiration with us.
This project is very exciting and I loved being involved. Thanks so much for asking.