This interview was originally published at Dirge on January 16, 2016.
When I began knitting in the winter of 2005 as a means of keeping both warm and sane during a weird and terrible time in my life, I never dreamed I would come into contact with and eventually become part of such a diverse community. As I knit and purled away the hours, and eventually the years–in what I now refer to as “the shitty black abyss of Central New Jersey”–I was soothed by the slow magic of softly slipping each stitch from one needle to the next.
I came to think of this wooly sorcery, this stitchy witchcraft, as “yarnomancy.” It provided a connectedness, sometimes quite literally, that I was sorely lacking in my life at that time. As I gave form to each new knit I crafted–connecting each stitch, one at a time–I tapped into a creative drive I didn’t know existed within me, and in my growing confidence, I connected with a community of like-minded people. These knitters, along with their craft, saved me.
One such knitter who believes in this ritual connectedness is Portland, Oregon-based designer Angela Thornton, of Morph Knitwear.
Designed for individuals who want to feel “powerful, mystical, and like a total bad ass,” Angela Thornton’s Morph Knitwear is an intensely personal endeavor melding artistry and utilitarianism to create handmade garments that challenge the traditional perception of knitwear, while retaining classic virtues of durability and timeless elegance. Her pieces are fashioned from a single strand of fiber, the process of creation “giving a unique connectedness to the fabric of each piece, a connectedness which allows the knit to give form to the emotional processes and explorations of its maker. “
We recently caught up with Angela after her completion of Morph Knitwear’s Sand and Storm collection and its corresponding editorial. Read on to learn more of this bad ass knitter’s unique vision and the magic that she weaves into each of her creations.
As a fellow knitter, I can’t help but to be immediately interested in how you came to knit in the first place. I think I read somewhere that you began knitting in 2010 or so, is that correct? And what prompted the desire to learn?
Angela Thornton: I actually began knitting as a little kid. I can’t recall who it was who taught me, but all of my grandmothers knit, as well as my mother, so it’s safe to say it was one of them. My earliest solid recollection of knitting a real project is with my grandmother–we would visit her in Minnesota in the summers and she would set us kids up with a ball of cotton each and some old plastic needles to have us knit dishcloths for her kitchen. I loved that kind of project when I was younger: fast, and satisfying. I casually knit through high school (especially after I had seen Rodarte’s knit tights from their F/W ’08 collection), but then didn’t touch a pair of needles again until I was living in Germany in the summer of 2010. Through that summer and fall I re-learned the basics and then that winter I got bored with what everyone else was knitting and began designing my own patterns.
What was the catalyst behind launching Morph knitwear? What was/is your vision for the brand? How would you describe your brand, the essence of Morph Knitwear?
The catalyst behind launching Morph Knitwear was really experimental, and a direct result of beginning to design my own patterns. I decided as a personal challenge to try to create pieces that were cohesive, and as I did so I also thought, “hey, fuck it, why don’t I try to sell this online?” I was actually really surprised when things sold! I took that, coupled with my immense creative satisfaction as signs to keep at it, and I think I’ve essentially kept it very true to me, and to what I see the brand to be–evolutionary, textural, and created with integrity of design, method of production, and ethics. My vision for Morph Knitwear is and has been essentially the same since my experimental launch: to create clothing that I want to wear, made using ancestral techniques in a non-exploitative manner. Morph Knitwear has definitely become more refined as I have honed in on my own personal style and simultaneously grown in my technical ability, but essentially it is born of the same concept-to create because I cannot fathom not creating, and in doing so, bringing awareness back to mindless material consumption.
I have read your remark that the things you make are really just an extension of yourself. How would you describe your personal style? How does that inspire and influence the designs you create? As a further to that, tell me about the type of people that you envision wearing your pieces.
They really are! Not only because I make each piece by hand, so while in the process the pieces are physically extending from my body, but in a more liminal sense as well. Everything I make comes from somewhere in my head, from the need of somehow being able to express myself. I’ve always used what I wear as a direct method of self-expression, so naturally I feel the need to create things that can be worn as such. My own personal style has evolved and solidified over the years, and at this point is basically an armor of black. I value tactile quality and timeless shape in the clothing I wear, as well as integrity in its method of creation. I envision people who are self defined, strong willed, tender, and unique as the wearers of my creations.
Do you wear your own knits? What are some key pieces that you can’t live without?
I do wear my own pieces, though not as many as one would expect! That being said I absolutely can’t go without my merino wool vest or the newer pieces I’ve designed for Sisters of the Black Moon (the Haze sweater in particular) once the temperatures drop. I also wear a lot of my lighter weight dresses in summer, so perhaps upon reflection I do wear more of my work than I think!
How long does it take you to design a knit? And how often is one of your creations knit by hand, as opposed to a knitting machine? I’m assuming that there is an entirely different kind of pattern for hand-knit vs. machine knit? Do you have a team, or are you a one-woman operation?
The length of time it takes to design something is completely arbitrary. Sometimes I won’t even make a sketch of a piece, I’ll have such a clear vision of what I want it to be that I just get working and bust it out. Sometimes, though, a piece can take me weeks to make and remake in order for it to be right. That process holds true for both machine and hand knitting, though the actual pattern writing process is different between the two. For each collection I usually do about 60% of the pieces on the machines, and 40% handknit, though it really just depends on the end product I want to make–handknitting is ideal for some, and machine knitting for others. At this moment I have one amazing intern who helps with production, but other than that Morph Knitwear is a one-woman operation!
That brings me to my next question; I know you have made a few of your patterns available for intrepid knitters who may want to bring one of your creations to life for themselves, with their own hands. How do you choose which patterns to release for this purpose? Many knitwear designers eventually release a book of patterns–is this something that interests you at all?
The patterns I’ve chosen to release are generally archived pieces that I am no longer producing, though honestly several of them have been popular designs that I just got sick of knitting myself! (Re)writing patterns to be readable to the general public is such a time-consuming job for me that I don’t see myself releasing a book of them anytime soon, but I think if I ever have the spare moments I will try to release several more of my archived pieces to Ravelry. And who knows the future? A book might happen sometime!
Your previous collections–Infinite Abyss; Behemoth; Blood, Ash and Bone–these all conjure wonderfully dark, gritty, fierce, primal imagery. Can you talk a bit about the inspirations for these collections, and what we might expect from future collections?
I think the inspiration for the collection names (as well as the collections themselves) all come from a place of wanting to imbue my creations with those aspects. I want to create pieces that express a deep, dark, primal ferocity, a connection to the old while being a clean slate for the new. I want the people who wear my pieces to feel the fierce, animal beauty and power of natural fibers, the human magic and intent woven into each piece. I want the clothing I create to simultaneously be a shield and a proclamation of self. The places I find myself most shielded and most myself are in shadows and mystery and the cycle of light from darkness. I simply try to create worlds reflective of these feelings through each of my collections.
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