Lasse the Blue Whale

Yesterday and today were intense designing days. Me, at home, chewing gum without pause, sketching, notating, trying out ideas on my needles. The fruit of my creative energy is a knit Blue Whale, named Lasse (in honor of the little boy who inspired the idea -Lasse is his middle name).

Although I’ve knit numerous toys over the years, it wasn’t until I opened my Etsy store two months ago that I really started designing the objects on my own. I’m still such a new designer that every successful toy makes me giddy and proud, and a bit surprised that I have the kind of knitting sense, the sort of muscle memory, to be able to  brainstorm, trial-and-error a dozen times, and then finally actually succeed until I come up with something uniquely my own. You a knitter interested in trying your hand at toy design? Here’s my process.

1. Inspiration. This is pretty simple, and can be found anywhere -in nature, in books, in the people around you. In this case, I was inspired by the beautiful colored-pencil drawing of a whale that a seven-year-old boy very dear to my heart gave me last week.

2. Google Images. Once I know I want to make a whale, the next thing I do is two Google image searches. The first is of photos of actual whales. I want to gain a more accurate sense of a whale’s head shape, the position of its fins and eyes, any extra features I wanted to include. The second search is a for knit whales. This is to see what else is already out there, learn how others might have dealt with the challenges translating the whale anatomy into yarn. My favorite discovery on Google images is this:

apparently, fiber artist Hannah Haworth once created a life-sized blue whale to hang in a museum.

3. Brainstorming key features. I ask myself, what particular features make a whale unique. What do I want to make sure to include? I want to find a balance in the toy between biological accuracy and cute simplicity, so I pick three of four key special features, simplify the rest away. In Lasse’s case, I decide to focus on the shape of the tale, the long slow curve of the body, and a contrasting white underbelly.

4. Sketching. I sketch the whole whale. I sketch pieces that have particularly tricky shapes, like his fins. I sketch shapes that don’t look remotely whale-like on paper, but are my attempts to visualize what his outside will look like flattened, since the flat, unstuffed outside is what I will be knitting. This is the most challenging part for me.

5. Trial and error. I don’t wait too long to take out my needles. Following my sketches, I reflect on which techniques have produced similar shapes in toys I’ve knit before, and I try them out. Although I get his tail on the second try, I knit and unravel five versions of Lasse’s body before I create the one that matched my vision. Everything I try, I note down, so that if it does work, I wont forget how to do it for next time.

6. Putting it all together. Finally I have the pieces knit, I sew them and stuff them, and assess the final product. I am happy with Lasse’s shape and so I embroider on his eyes. I embroider a yarn mouth too, at first, but it looks too shark-like, kind of toothy-grin, so I pull it out.

And that’s it; Lasse is ready to be introduced to the world.