The Inspiration for Elliebelly Colorways: Cleo & Alphabet Block

As I've sorted through some of the storage space in my studio over the past few months in an effort to reorganize and create more room, I've been occasionally surprised by an unexpected skein of yarn, tucked away.  When I built my studio, its best feature in my mind was the walk in closet.  For that to make sense, you have to understand that we live with four children and a menagerie of pets in a beautiful, but small 1920's Tudor house, with virtually no built in closets and little storage space.

So when I built the studio in our basement, I decided to tuck a walk-in storage closet — a space big enough that four children and two large dogs could sit on its carpeted floor during tornado warnings — in the back of the studio.  Sure, it upset the judge because it encroached on that incredibly important space that houses the water heater and whatever other crap he piles up down there, never to be seen again his work area, but it was worth it, both for the storage and the security.  And best of all, one wall is made up of wooden cubby holes for storage.  Secure, anti-moth storage for yarn and roving.

Sometimes, skeins get lost in the back of a cubby, and rediscovering them can be a lot like finding a long lost friend.  While reorganizing, I found two old favorites tucked away: Some Cleo on Silk Basilisk and some Alphabet Block on Talia Merino.

image from www.elliebelly.com


I was happy to find them both — so happy that I put away the projects I was working on and promptly cast on for Christine Vogel's Drop Stitch Scarf with the Cleo (the scarf is finished — I need to photo it, but I love this picture of Ellie holding it on the needles midway through).

image from joycevance.typepad.com

I had forgotten that I had dyed some Alphabet Block for myself before Elliebelly closed.  I had been mourning it, because it was one of the last colorways I did, and I had no notes for dyeing it in my notebook.  But, tucked away with the skeins were some notes scribbled down on a napkin (lest you think I'm a well-organized professional kind of girl about these things).  Double Score!  I'm earmarking some of the Alphabet Block for a Scrappy Spiral Rug that the wonderful Kimberly R is knitting for me and will use the leftover for either a vest or scarf and mittens for Ollie.  And I'm overjoyed to have found the notes on how to recreate the colorway.

Coming across those unexpected skeins got me reminiscing about the inspiration for the colorways.  Inspiration was always, and I suppose by definition is meant to be, unpredictable.  Cleo was one of those colorways that came upon me gradually.  I've had a longtime love of the Austrian artist Klimt and the work of the Successionist movement he is emblematic of.  One of his muses was the Belgian dancer Cleo de Merode.  At some point, I came across a cache of old postcards of Cleo, and I've used images of her for over a decade in my college work. 


Although most of the photos are black and white, many of the ones I acquired are overwritten in a scrawling hand using purple ink.  And, as in the painting below, Cleo and other Viennese ladies of that day are often pictured posing in shades of gold and deep purple.  Although it took some time to mix just the right shades and get the position and amount of the colors to match the vision in my head, the Cleo colorway came from that opulent inspiration.

Portrait of Cléo de Mérode Georges Jules Victor Clairin (Fr843-919)

Alphabet Block, on the other hand, came from a simple inspiration and was an almost immediate creation.  I was doing some assemblage work in my studio, and needed something to prop an element on.

image from joycevance.typepad.com

I did a series of butterfly girls after taking a class with Stephanie Rubiano at Art and Soul — but unlike her simple, uncluttered pieces, I kept finding that I wanted to layer images on top of other items, and that meant I needed something to pop the images out.  I didn't want to use foam, because I was afraid it would degrade over time.  But, I found a solution as I walked through the kids' playroom, in the form of a bucket of old alphabet blocks.  It wasn't a complete set.  The corners had been chewed off by various dogs and the children had scribbled on some of them with markers.  There were only eight or ten of them — just red, yellow, and blue, with the occasional black marking.

Alphabet blocks

I used a couple of blocks in the assemblage, and as I worked with them, I began noticing the colors.  And the colors together.  Not having any green blocks in the little bin I had found, the inspiration for the Alphabet Block colorway was a golden yellow, a true red, and a deep-toned blue.  I had to include some black to represent the kids' scribbling on the blocks and left some undyed areas to throw the colors into relief.

In hindsight it seems to me that a lot of the value I found in creating colorways was the opportunity to slow down, to freeze a moment in time.  Not in a cerebral way and not in one that required any insight, but rather with a visual impression.  Alphabet Block will forever remind me of the beauty those well-loved little toys took on after years of play by my sweet children.  Cleo will always make me think of how much I loved exploring Vienna and its art, and of the fragile beauty of the strong women who populated the artistic scene at the turn of the century.  There is an extraordinary virtue in the strong, clear colors that transcends mixing powders and painting strands of yarn.  In many ways, creating colorways has become as much of an art for me, as creating a more traditional, fully developed canvas or collage.




The Drop Stitch Scarf

As a knitter, I either have a dreadful case of attention deficit disorder or I am a highly efficient, multi-tasker.  I'm never sure exactly which one it is.  I do seem to have a knack for working on multiple projects at a time though, and just this weekend, as I'm working steadily on my cabled afghan and almost ready for the finishing ruffle on my Far Away So Close shawl, I suddenly became infatuated with Christine Vogel's Drop Stitch Scarf Pattern.

I've actually been intending to knit this pattern since the first time I stumbled across it.  I like the airy look of the dropped stitches.  Last night I printed out the pattern and this morning I looked through the stash for a likely yarn.


I ended up pulling out some Elliebelly Basilisk in the Cleo colorway.  The yarn is similar to the pattern yarn in blend — 50% silk and 50% merino wool, but is a somewhat heavier weight, more of an aran than the DK weight Lady Godiva yarn from Handmaiden that the pattern was written for.

This scarf looks gorgeous in every photo I have ever seen.  But, I'm having my doubts as to whether Cleo was a good colorway choice.  I understand that this scarf requires significant blocking when finished to open up the pattern, so I'm keeping an open mind.  I'm worried that it needs more of a rainbow colorway though.  Before deciding on Cleo, I looked at some handspun that was in my stash and considered both  some of my own Alpaca that a spinner did in a DK weight for me and some unknown handspun, but rejected them both because I thought it might be too much color and pattern all at once. Now I'm wondering — did I pick the wrong yarn?

I'm going to go forward with Cleo.  It's a fun and simple pattern to knit and I need something easy and portable for travel the rest of the month.  The Afghan has become too big for a travel project and I need a break from the Barn Raising Quilts squares.  So Drop Stitch and I will travel together, and we will see how it turns out in Cleo.