Swatching feels good. I ended ripping out this entire thing once I figured out what it had to tell me. I’m the kind of person who sketches things out almost entirely in my head and on paper, and swatches purely to check the numbers.
It’s been nice turning my sketches from the last few weeks into something real, and having a schedule that’s reasonable enough that I can innovate again. Work got so bad for a long time that I couldn’t knit anything beyond what a pattern told me to.
I also got to flex some different creative muscles recently, on a photo shoot in Joshua Tree for some chosen family in bourbon and cowboy boots, Outlaw Soaps, complete with burritos at sunrise and hasty costume changes in an open field and sand in just about everything.
It was nice remembering that, right, I do know my way around a camera. Danielle’s and Russ’ pure joy as they proofed photos together meant a lot. She’s one of those people you hear about who quits a fancy tech job to relentlessly pursue a dream, so company photos that make them feel happy and excited aren’t just marketing material — they’re fuel that helps keep a dream running.
Anyway, back to swatching and writing up some patterns that have been a long time coming. Also, I’m trying out posting from my phone with this updateand lemme tell you, it’s cool, but pretty inconvenient.
Here — until next time, have some pure, high-proof Joshua Tree sunrise.
For the last couple of years, if a band I like is playing somewhere interesting, I’ll pick up a ticket and plan a cheap vacation around it. Airfare is easy if you pack light, and distances seem short when you’re from California, a state that takes days to drive across. So that’s how I ended up in Laramie, Wyoming last month to see Iron & Wine and Gregory Alan Isakov.
I spent a few days first in Fort Collins, Colorado, nursing a cold before I headed up to Laramie. On the way back down toward Denver, I swung by Gypsy Wools in Boulder, which carries print copies of Flatirons, and saw their store sample on display.
The last time I’d been in the store, it was still in progress, but this time it was hanging right there in the store, next to one of the print version of the pattern. I *think* I managed not to hop from foot to foot with excitement when I saw it, but I was definitely glowing when the owner, Barb, shook my hand and told me they’d sold out of the pattern. I’ve really got to work on my habit of getting squeaky-excited and holding both hands to my mouth when cool stuff like that happens.
I left with a light step and a slightly lighter wallet, thanks to my “I don’t buy souvenirs, but local things I can’t get at home don’t count” policy. That’s why I underpack my luggage by a few pounds on the way in, and make up the difference in yarn, whiskey and local beer on my way back.
It’s hard to resist yarn when I’m out there. I keep finding yarns from Colorado, Wyoming and thereabouts with muted, deep colorways clearly inspired by the colors of the landscape, and they really speak to me. Please, someone make yarn that looks just like a storm rolling up over the prairie:
(Fifty pounds seems like an incredible amount of luggage to me. I usually fly with a tiny carry-on bag that fits under the airplane seat in front of me, but on this trip I’d brought gear for several days of camping in potentially snowy winter weather. Only once I got there did I learn I can cheaply and easily rent camping gear all over notoriously outdoorsy Colorado. Whoops.)
Howdy! Today on the blog is another indie designer interview, this time with Carolyn Kern. (Her blog is here, if you’re interested.) (Funnily enough, like me, she also has a pattern named Double Dutch!)
You may’ve seen her patterns before, with Interweave Knits, Blue Moon Fibers, or Quince & Co., and I can totally see why: she’s a natural for their styles, which heavily favor timeless patterned and color accessories.
… But I know what I like best! (The answer to that is nearly always “stripes” or “herringbone,” if it’s a context where the answer can’t possibly be “bourbon.”) This one has both. (Not bourbon.)
Anyway – to the interview! (I hope you read that last sentence in your best “To the Batcave!” voice, like I did.)
How did you fall for knitting? What kept you casting on after that first wonky scarf or potholder?
I grew up in a “crafty family”. All the women in my family learned how to sew, knit, crochet and embroider. Some, like my mother, and my father’s mother, worked more at the needle-arts than others. They were the greatest teachers I could ever have had, and, of all of my sisters and cousins, I was their most willing pupil. I just always liked “to make stuff”.
My first knitted object was a rainbow-colored (from a worsted weight yarn, dyed in a way that was then called “ombre”) garter stitch square. I folded it diagonally and made a kerchief type hat for my Barbie doll. I guess you could say that it was my first design. (I was seven years old.)
What kind of project do you never get tired of, and why? (Mine’s hats. I have a whole fishbowl full of them. They’re fast and easy, and they don’t get tons of hard use in the Bay Area, so they don’t wear out.)
I have been knitting sweaters for myself since I was a teenager. I love sweaters and I wear them a lot.
I still make most of my sweaters from other designer’s patterns (sometimes heavily modified). Even though I know that I want to, and probably should, create my own sweater designs, it is like comfort knitting to me to work to a pattern. I appreciate that a sweater must be made over time –that there is plenty of time to think and modify – and I actually enjoy the finishing – it can be both challenging and rewarding.
My knitting now is a balance between my original accessory pieces, and my slow and steady sweater knitting. It works for me.
Are there any particular themes to what inspires your designs – texture, color, nature, a particular time or place?
Color and texture are big with me. I do love stranded colorwork. I enjoy using my simple knitting chart software (Stitch & Motif Maker V3) to make charts and knit to them. I have always loved color and enjoy putting colors together. I also love knitting that is full of texture, and have been exploring more kinds of textured stitch patterns over the last couple of years.
I have also recently been inspired by modern textile design and the stitchery work of Alabama Chanin, and I hope to work on some pieces that involve embroidery in the not too distant future.
What’s your favorite part of designing?
I have, so far, designed accessory hand-knit designs. Though I originally thought that I would be better at designing garments because of my long history of sewing and knitting them – I try not to worry about that for now.
What I really enjoy about designing accessories, is going online and browsing what are current fashion design trends in accessories. There is so much to see when you google something like “Fall 2014 Accessory Designs”. I get a lot of inspiration from the internet and even from occasionally leafing through fashion magazines.
I am also always on the lookout for “Calls for Submissions” from knitting magazines and yarn companies. These can often be found online (designer groups on Ravelry are a good source of links).
More and more, the editors of magazine are putting together mood boards and even Pinterest pages, to inspire designs around the pre-planned themes of their future issues. I love these! I print the ones that I like best, and tack them to a wall (near where I work at my “day” job). Even when I do not submit something for a call, they can still inspire me later on.
What was the hardest thing about designing when you started out, and what part of designing challenges you the most now?
I found putting together design proposals for magazines quite difficult at first. No one will exactly tell you how to present your design idea and what to include. And you always want to make a good impression.
This has gotten a lot easier, now that I have done it so very many times (and have grown to accept the many rejections that come as a part of the process.) Besides visually showing what your idea is, you need to provide enough detail on how you plan to execute it, so that the editors know that you are actually capable of making it.
My biggest challenges are now in my Indie design patterns. I have a hard time taking photos that I really like. I also know that I need to spend more time on marketing, as in selling myself, and using social media to promote my work. None of that comes easy for me.
Do you collect anything, other than yarn?
I do have quite a collection of yarn! I can’t really say that I collect anything else except maybe knitting needles and knitting books.
Do you have a favorite “underdog” knitting technique – grafting, seaming, weaving in ends, something that most knitters seem to hate — that you think doesn’t get enough love?
I already mentioned that I really do not mind finishing. To an extent that is something that many knitters hate, but if they could take the time to learn what they need to know, they would come to love the pride that goes along with making and completing something beautiful.
Is there a technique you can do that you’re really proud of, maybe because of its difficulty or how well you do it?
I don’t mean to be redundant, but my answer would have to be similar to my answer to the previous question. (In the coming months, I am not sure exactly when, I have plans to post a series of finishing tutorials on my blog.)
Say you’re stranded on a desert island in a very improbable shipwreck that leaves you with tons of knitting needles an infinite source of one particular yarn. What yarn would it be?
A very tough decision! If I could have every color possible (there are over 100, I think), I would say Cascade 220 worsted. It is, to me, a great workhorse of a yarn. I love it for stranded colorwork and it has great stitch definition for textured and cable knitting.
I’m with her on Cascade 220. What a workhorse. Plus, you could probably pick apart the individual plies and get a decent laceweight! Check out Carolyn’s patterns on Ravelry!
I really dig Toby’s style. Her patterns have this really great mix of texture and classic lace, but not quiet at all — there’s lots of bold color (Stripes! So many stripes! I love stripes!) and graphic appeal that I really enjoy.
Not to mention the yarn — When I was going through her designs, I kept noticing the knockout yarn from indie dyers featured all over her work, and how well it relates to the designs. I love a designer who knows when to crank the volume all the way up on an texture or lace pattern, and when to keep the pattern quiet so the yarn can take the spotlight.
So: To the interview, where we nerd out about designing and Neil Gaiman, and I accidentally momentarily break her with a question about yarn.
Your chandelier tattoo is amazing! (I know that’s not really a question. I’m excitable and I’ve had too much coffee and blackwork tattoos are my favorite.)
Aw, thanks! [Nov. 20] was its seventh birthday. I may bake it a cake.
Any excuse for cake.
You named a pattern collection “Everwear.” Are you a Neil Gaiman fan? Did Neverwhere influence the patterns in the collection? (If not – How did the London Underground influence those designs? Was it a mood thing? Did you take visual cues from the stations you named your patterns after?)
I am a Neil Gaiman fan! I LOVED Neverwhere. I read it for the first time when I was about 13 and I’ve reread it several times since then. I also love the BBC miniseries—I have it on DVD. It’s one of those so-bad-it’s-good type things, but I secretly love it in a non-ironic way. The title of Everwear is a pun on Neverwhere.
Anyway, Neverwhere did inspire the names of some of the patterns in the collections … Knightsbridge, Earl’s Court, and Blackfriars, for example. I spent some time in London in 2011–I took a class in knitwear design at the London College of Fashion. I got off at the Shepherd’s Bush station for that class, and I stayed in South Kensington.
Some of the names have nothing to do with Neverwhere or my own personal experience—St. John’s Wood, for example. It’s fun to imagine a forest in the middle of London. I wonder if some of the inspiration for Neverwhere came from making up stories about the names of stations.
You’re an artist; you mentioned on your blog that your dad’s an artist; clearly, this isn’t just a thing you do, it’s a thing you are. You’ve also got multiple fields of experience and study – knitting, writing, did I see dyeing on your blog?, and so on. Do those inform each other? What does writing teach you about knitting, for example?
It’s interesting, actually—knitting and writing involve such different parts of my brain that I have a hard time switching from one to the other. It takes a long time for me to transition between them. Maybe it’s because knitting is so visual and writing is so cerebral, but it’s like two different languages. I have to switch from thinking in pictures to thinking in words. That’s why I’ve had such a hard time keeping up with my blog. I really want to write more, but that means I have to switch brain channels.
Making the jump to full-time knit designer must’ve been thrilling, but also at least a little terrifying. When did you know for sure it was the right thing to do?
Haha, I’m not sure I ever had a moment when I knew for sure it was the right thing to do. I try not to think about it too much. Like you said, it was a little terrifying. It’s still a little terrifying.
I always knew I wasn’t destined for a “typical” job. I worked in an office one summer during college and it was the worst summer of my life. I was always exhausted and I cried all the time. I was just miserable. So every choice I’ve made since then has been in service of keeping me out of an office building.
I did once have an internship in the Flatiron building in New York, with MacMillan Publishing. That wasn’t so bad—there were lots and lots of windows, and my job was to read unsolicited manuscripts that got sent in.
Designers are often inspired by specific places. Are you? What are some of your places?
London, like I mentioned, definitely inspired a lot of my work, but I haven’t been back there since 2011. I just moved to the Hudson River Valley this past spring and I’m really loving it. It’s really beautiful here, especially in the fall.
Your patterns use lots of incredible yarn from indie dyers. How do you choose the yarn for your designs?
I’m all about indie dyers—I think so many of them are doing such amazing work. I’m a die-hard festival-goer, which is where you can see some of the most exciting yarns, in my opinion. Although I’ve met some of my favorite dyers at TNNA trade shows, like Brenda of Phydeaux and Sarah of Fiberstory (look for some upcoming collaborations!).
A lot of the time the yarn comes first and the design follows. That can make it really tricky to request yarn support—”Hi, I love your yarn! I don’t know what I’m going to make with it yet, but if you send me some, I’ll probably have a design for it sometime in the next few months.”
I often sleep with yarn on my nightstand so it can “tell” me what it wants to be while I’m sleeping. My family teases me about it, but it works.
Say you’re stranded on a desert island in a very improbable shipwreck that leaves you with tons of knitting needles and an infinite source of one particular yarn. What yarn would it be?
I’ve been sitting here staring at that question, writing and deleting answers for a very long time now. I give up. I can’t possibly choose!!
Are you an audiobook listener, and if so, what’re you listening to lately? Any goofy weaknesses? (I have an embarrassing number of How To Train Your Dragon audiobooks, because David Tennant.)
I ADORE audiobooks! Right now I’m listening to Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun, which takes place in the semi-near future, and everyone in the world except for like, three people, suddenly become completely unable to sleep. Everyone is in a hallucinogenic stupor and the infrastructure falls apart. It’s interesting, and sort of creepy. Luckily, I’ve never suffered from insomnia in my life—the opposite, in fact. I have to set an alarm even on weekends (“weekends”—days of the week mean nothing to the self-employed) or else I’ll sleep all day long.
Back to audiobooks, though—I’m embarrassingly fond of trashy mysteries and thrillers. I love Laura Lippman in particular. My favorite of hers is And When She Was Good. I also really like her short story collection, Hardly Knew Her.
I can conclusively tell you, after spending hours not long ago shooting reference photos, that hands look completely crazy.
“Cool, that looks like knitting,” you think, and then you open Lightroom and it’s all weird foreshortened thumbs everywhere that make your knitting look like a fistful of earthworms getting into a fight under a blanket over a particularly fierce round of cat’s cradle.
It’s all for a good cause, though: My Double Dutch hat pattern is back in my hands and I’m going to redesign it so I can self-publish it. It had a great run at Bella Knitting, and I’m all excited about a chance to get my feet wet with design software and photography for it and a couple other patterns that are about ready for testing.
I have a fingerless glove pattern I’ve been working on for ages. I finished the prototype three years (!!!) and two apartments ago. The pattern itself has survived a hard drive crash, chronic disorganization, the launching of my grown-up career and the concomitant working all the goddamn time and essentially shelving my knit design aspirations, a fairly long “why the hell does the world need another fingerless glove pattern — oh, right, it doesn’t” phase, a chunk of “my god I’ll never get this stupid, stupid thing done” ennui, and finally one last bout of “the hell with it; in three years I’ve only seen a couple patterns like this, and I like mine better, so screw you, world.”
It’s been so long that I can finally test-knit it myself, since I’ve completely forgotten the intricacies of how the pattern works and can look at it like a stranger — a very, very confused stranger, as good lord did this thing contain some baffling errors and do my baroque design solutions only make sense while I’m working them out. When I hit a design snag, for a week or so I exist in a fever state, constantly knitting and shaping and folding and testing gauge in my head, until the whole solution springs whole from my forehead and onto the desk, like an Athena trailing yarn ends, stitch markers and uncountable illegible chicken scratches on envelopes all over the house.
But, after plowing through it twice in the last month, I can proudly say that I fried the last pattern bug with a metaphorical magnifying glass yesterday, and the pattern is now tested.
I am on my last test knit for awhile. I have promised/blackmailed myself into not knitting anything that isn’t from one of my own patterns for a bit, and that means no test knits no no no don’t even look into those groups unless you’re posting things yourself. it’s gotten to where I have pages and pages of sketches and patterns mostly worked out or half-finished or just in need of testing, and I’m starting to feel like a sham for posting on designers’ groups on Ravelry, and I miss working in InDesign so much that it hurts.
So: more movies, more knitting, more sitting still. More doing. More MAKING!
The boyfriend needs a hat, I’ve decided. An earflap hat with squirrels. He picked up the nickname “Squirrel” from friends on a camping trip, and I’ve seen him blow ten minutes trying to creep up to one to see it up close. He’s also a sucker for earflap hats, even though we’re poised on the edge of a warm spring. Whatever, he’ll probably wear it anyway.
I picked out his favorite shade of electric blue, with a good saturated red for the squirrel design, since he loathes brown. (My favorite color? Fire-engine red. We tend to check in before dyeing our hair to make sure we don’t end up with the same livid red or magenta. We are not subtle people.)
I did a quick check for squirrel charts on Ravelry, but the charts were small and heavily stylized, so I’m drawing them myself. Translating small, round, spastic animals into big, chunky blocks without losing their essential squirrelness is fun. I’m primed by an extremely nerdy childhood hobby: origami. As a kid, I’d fold and fold and fold, then hold up the finished product in front of someone and demand “Can you tell what this is?” If they guessed wrong, I’d go back to folding. The best response I ever got was “OH MY GOD IT’S THAT THING FROM STAR WARS!” when I figured out how to make an X-wing.
The X-wing, if you’re wondering, is the only origami that’ll get you laid. Fold one of those out of a peeled-off beer label, and you’ve got a fast ticket into nerd-boy pants.
I don’t practice origami much anymore, but since I am a born fidgeter, I end up making most of it when I’m out at bars. The boyfriend has a small collection of tiny drunk paper animals: a few cranes, a bright pink manatee, a shark twisted out of the sticky label from a bottle of Poppy Jasper. Last Friday I went out with some officemates after work, and got to see a drunk coworker charging around the financial district, cheerfully yelling and counting off from the fortune teller he held in one outstretched hand, which I’d folded for him out of a torn-up bar menu.
The challenge of origami, or drawing charts, or caricaturing, is figuring out how to get across somethingness with the smallest amount of real estate. What says “squirrel”? That big question-mark tail; the long smooth curve of the back; eyes; a large head; those wide-mounted eyes. Squirrel!
One reversible brioche stitch hat: finished. Check it!
The decreases turned out exactly as I’d hoped. I also like that the hat construction has a pleasing symmetry to it: the hat is 64 stitches around, there are 32 rounds before the decreases, and the decreases are worked four times per round over four stitches. It’s also reversible, meaning it has two sides. It’s nerdy, but damn I love powers of two!
The hat itself is super easy to make, once you get used to the whole brioche thing. The decreases take a bit of concentration at first, because each decrease has to be set up on the previous round to get that nice, neat spiral, but they’re not so bad. I managed to get through the whole hat without consulting my notes, so it’s pretty easy.
I took copious notes while making this, so I think there’s a real possibility that I could write a legible pattern for this.