Category Archives: giftalong2014

Indie interview: Carolyn Kern of Carolyn Knits

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.)

Equilibrium
Equilibrium cowl. I bet you a dollar I’ll end up knitting it this winter.

Her blog’s fun to read — I especially liked this breakdown how Alabama Chanin influenced the pattern choice and color inspiration of her Rosebud hat. And she has tutorials!

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.

A source of inspiration for me can be found in fabrics [my Equilibrium Cowl and my Tartan Mitts] and traditional hand-knits [my Rosebud Hat]. I love to combine color and texture [as in all of my Playground Shawls].

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!

Indie interview: Toby Roxane Barna of Toby Roxane Designs

So! As part of the Indie Gift-Along, I got to interview a couple indie designers. First up: Toby Roxane Barna.

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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.

Look at this color scheme. LOOK AT IT.
Look at these colors. Look at all that texture. I kind of maybe sort of have been furtively yarn-shopping online today so I can make exactly these mitts in exactly this colorway. Yes, I have enough mitts already. I need more hands.

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.


Thanks, Toby! Readers — I can call you that, right? It feels oddly quaint. I like it — You can check out more of Toby’s designs on Ravelry. I also get a kick out of her Instagram.

Thanksknitting (is a terrible pun I’m sure has been made before)

So the Indie Gift-Along is still in full swing after that kickoff sale ended a bit ago. While checking out the Pinterest board of participating hat patterns, I ended up getting hooked by a couple of hat patterns, Rekaviður and Fuego, and I’ve already knit one of each.

First button stitch on my Rekaviður by @bristolivy! #giftalong2014

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Looking at that photo, I notice how many of my in-progress knitting photos are taken on the tables of cafés and bars. I took that photo in November, and here’s an awfully similar one from today, with coffee instead of a pint glass and my finished Rekaviður photobombing in the bottom right corner:

Sneaking in some rainy-day knitting on my lunch break.

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I knit most of Fuego in a day, sort of — by “sort of,” I mean I knit the brim and hat in a day, but only after spending two evenings in a row trying to cast on the right number of stitches, overshooting, ripping back, recounting, casting on more, getting fed up and starting over, and finally falling asleep on my boyfriend in front of Spongebob Squarepants cartoons with my knitting on my chest. Once I got past the hardest part — coming up with the same stitch count twice in a row — it went super fast.

I still need photos of the hats, but somehow between work and travel and hustling, a one-day holiday always manages to eat a week’s worth of spare time. I could’ve done it the day before the holiday, I guess, but this year that was the day my birthday landed on — and I had very solid and serious plans involving bourbon, live oysters, lobster poutine and not working at all at anything.

Anyway! As part of the Gift-Along, I got to interview a couple of other participating indie designers — Toby Roxane Barna and Carolyn Kern. I’ll be posting those interviews over the next couple of days, so keep a lookout.

Indie Gift-A-Long: Incoming!

When it comes to knitting I’m not exactly a joiner. I used to go to local stitch and bitch groups, and even hosted one for awhile, but these days the idea of spending limited downtime surrounded by boisterous knitters makes me go a little limp. It’s not that I don’t like knitters; knitters are great, and the Bay Area hosts knitting groups that are packed to the gills with fun, creative, friendly people. I don’t even really knit blockbuster patterns, except for one Koolhaas and a barely-started owls.

I eventually figured out my favorite knitting happens with me curled in a ball on the couch with a finger of bourbon and some Netflix, surrounded by pencils and sketches, and I roll with it. These days I’m often joined by my boyfriend and the sounds of video games, which I mostly ignore in favor of an audiobook. The best are Saturdays in winter when I have the place to myself, and I can sit and knit and watch the mist through the bay window and drink whole pots of tea and knit through whole series of shows. I like my own company.

So it’s been a surprise to me how much fun I’ve had gearing up for the Indie Gift-A-Long on Ravelry. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a two-month holiday knit- and crochet-along of patterns by indie designers, with prizes! And a sale! Like, a huge sale. Participating patterns — and there are over 3,800 of them — will be on sale starting Nov. 13 (oh my god that’s TOMORROW) through the 21st. I’m participating as a designer, throwing my measly four patterns into the ring. It took a little hustling to get a fourth pattern out of test knits and published by the sign-up, but I really wanted to be a part of it.

Which was weird for me because: not a joiner. If it were just a parade of ads and hype, I’d be rolling my eyes like crazy with the same skepticism that got me kicked out of volunteering as a summer camp counselor as a teen. (Yes, you can get kicked out of volunteering! They transferred me to office work for the city instead. I stamped a lot of checks, did a lot of data entry and ate a lot of sandwiches with the vastly entertaining middle-aged employees, and got laughed at like crazy when I showed up one day in thrift-store pants with a white stripe down the side like local police wore.) But I’m really enjoying the prospect of getting to talk to other knitters and designers during the whole shindig, and as a chronically late giver of handmade gifts, I can totally see the appeal of having cheerleaders help you get through gift-giving knitting. (Even though all my holiday knitting this winter will be entirely for one person: me.)

I’ll be interviewing a couple other participating designers (both way more established than I am — this ought to be interesting) and posting more about it as the gift-a-long goes on.

Don’t forget: The big sale starts tomorrow!