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.