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!