Meet In-house Couture Designer, Lidia Karabinech
The world of high fashion, the bustling streets of New York City, the flashy windows of Barney’s, Sak’s, & Bergdorf’s—String has a bountiful wellspring of inspiration from which to draw. Our cup runneth over, so to speak. With head designer Lidia at the helm and String’s faithful and incredible staff, it’s no surprise that String Yarns churns out the most innovative, beautiful, and haute couture designs.
Our very own Lidia Karabinech has been clicking away at the needles for over four decades. While we’ve always admired her fashionable eye and amazing ability to convert runway to retail, we realized there’s a lot we can all learn from Lidia. From her unique knitting method, her interesting choice for favorite fiber, and what she considers to be her richest knitting muses, we think you’ll be surprised and delighted to learn more about Lidia!
Let’s start at the beginning—where are you from?
I was born in the former Soviet Union, in Ukraine. I went to university in Kiev and then lived in western Ukraine, which is a beautiful mountainous area near Hungary. Then I moved to New York City in my thirties.
The Carpathian Mountains on the border of Hungary and the Ukraine
When did you start knitting? How did you learn to knit?
I learned to knit and crochet from my mother when I was 8 years old, so I have been knitting for almost fifty years.
What do you love about knitting?
I like to make things. From the very beginning I was interested in creating items I can wear. Even though I enjoy the knitting process, I always look forward to the completed garment.
What are your favorite fibers to work with? Do you have a least favorite fiber?
My forever favorite is linen. I think about blue flowers in linen fields, how it is treated with sun, wind, and rain. My grandmother used to live in a place where linen was grown, so it’s very personal. And I think linen ages like a woman—it becomes softer, relaxes a great deal, and it always retains its strength.
A flax field in bloom
(SIDE NOTE: The former Soviet Union is one of the world’s largest flax producers, and the Ukraine is now printing banknotes made from linen!)
Of course, I love cashmere for its softness and how easy it is to work with. The finished garment is so luxurious and always beautiful.
I don’t have a least favorite fiber. Even acrylic serves its purpose.
Are you a picker or a thrower - do you knit continental or english style?
I knit eastern European style, which is close to continental. I knit and purl through the back loop, but the yarn loops lay differently on the needle. I keep the yarn over my index finger on my left hand, no wrapping. (A helpful pictorial on Lidia’s method can be found here.)
How many WIPs do you currently have on the needles?
Countless. I have some sweaters that I started 15 years ago.
What is your favorite thing to knit?
Sweaters, cardigans, and big pieces. I also like to make scarves if I want to try a new yarn, so it’s not a big commitment. (Good tip!)
What inspires you to knit?
When we get a new yarn in the store, I just feel an itch in my hands to make something. Or if I see somebody’s intricate piece and I want to try a new technique. I feel there is always something new to learn.
How did you learn to design knitwear?
When I learned to knit, I had some books of stitch patterns but no written instructions for garments, so I learned to design from understanding garment construction and a little bit of math. I had no problem measuring myself and doing simple calculations. I studied tailoring and couture sewing later, so I mostly understand how things are made. I also read a lot of books about technique.
Where do you find design inspiration?
Everywhere. When I go to museums and see paintings or installations, I look for details that can be used in knitting. On a trip to Moscow, I drew inspiration from the famous onion domed churches and thought about how they could be translated into hat shapes or colorwork. Flower shows enhance my sense of color. And butterflies. Also, when I see runway “it” pieces, I like to use and reinterpret some of the details.
Lidia's Flower-Motif Beanie & the famous Onion Domed Churches of Moscow
Which comes first—do you pick out a yarn and then design based on the yarn, or do you fashion a design idea and then look for a yarn to suit the design?
It goes both ways. If I’m using a particular yarn as a starting point, I think about how it will drape, what kind of stitch can be used without being overwhelming, so you can see the beauty of the fiber. The shape of the garment has to compliment the body shape.
What is your/String’s design process?
We first decide what yarn we want to use, and then we consider trend reports, fashion magazines, what people are wearing on the street, what we see in high-end stores. Our goal is to present our clients with pieces that are trendy, but classic enough to be worn for many years without looking outdated. I personally like simple shapes with couture details.
What inspired the couture designs you did for Tahki Stacy Charles Yarns this season? (Modigliani Tunic, Titian Shawl/Scarf, and Orient Point Asymmetrical Skirt)
Missoni for Vogue 1971 (l) and Lidia's Modigliani Tunic in Filatura Di Crosa MiniTempo (r)
The Titian Shawl/Scarf in Nirvana & Superior (below left) is a simple piece that you can knit on a trip, or anywhere without thinking too much, just relaxing. The combination of yarns is soft, breezy, and light.
The Orient Point Asymmetrical Skirt (above right) is made with Tahki Yarns’ linen/cotton blend Laguna. This piece is easy to layer. I like the high/low silhouette because you can style it different ways—so it’s low in the front and long in the back, or with one side lower than the other. You can even wear it over your shoulders as a little cape. It’s a playful piece.
Of all your designs, which is your most favorite?
What was the last thing you finished knitting?
The Fruit Stripe Pullover is the last piece I made.
Set the mood. How else do you entertain yourself when you're knitting? (Watch tv, listen to music/podcasts, drink tea, etc.) Are you currently watching something while you knit that you'd like to recommend?
I like to watch (or listen to) TV, and drink a lot of coffee.
Thank you so much, Lidia! We loved Lidia’s view on linen, her magnanimous approach to the utility of all fibers—big and small—and how much her history influences her design process.
Do you have any questions for Lidia? Which is your favorite Lidia design? Let us know in the comments below!