Monday, February 29, 2016

Ravelry Group Robin Hunter Designs

If you read my blog but aren't members of my Ravelry group I should let you know the group is a great location for you to see different content. I often use it as a place to link to interesting news articles and the  blog posts of other knitters. The article about Vladimir Teriokhin in the NYT is a great example. Check it out.

Friday, February 26, 2016

An Interview with...Alice Tang

Convertible Cowl-Hat

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the knitting world.

You can find Alice here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Many of my designs are inspired by geometrical shapes and origami. I am an engineer by training and see knitting as a form of architecture. 

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I haven’t designed any entrelac patterns yet but I like it for recreational knitting. 

How did you determine your size range?
I usually design according to the publication’s guidelines, unless the pattern has features that limit sizing.


Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I subscribe to several magazines so I can see what they are publishing and can submit accordingly. I don’t focus so much on individual designs or designers.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I think there are patterns for all levels of knitters so there shouldn’t be any controversy. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
Since I mainly publish through third parties I don’t need sample knitters.

Soft Kid Wrap

Do you use a tech editor?
I use a tech editor for self-published patterns but magazines and yarn companies use their own tech editors. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I only design part time so that’s not a problem. 

How do you deal with criticism?
I try not to take it personally, as sometimes my patterns have errors even with professional tech editing, and I correct them as soon as possible. But sometimes when I feel it’s not justified, I try to ignore it – although it’s difficult sometimes. But everyone has different tastes and ideas and you can’t please everyone.

Al Fresco Camisole

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Everyone should pursue what they love doing but they need to know that it is very competitive and not terribly lucrative. 

What’s next for you?
Continue doing the same thing. I enjoy the part time pace of my work.

Convertible Cowl-hat


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Oversize Knitting

There's a tradition of large scale knitting among installation artists. My local readers in Toronto may remember Janet Morton's house cozy.

I've just come across the work of Jacqueline Fink and Lara Hutton. They collaborate on massively sized knits which are inspired by the shapes of natural sea treasures.

features massively oversized knits that are inspired by the delicate forms of natural sea treasures; even the muted tones draw inspiration from the sea. - See more at:
For more photos you can go here:  and here for an in depth profile on Jacqueline.

Jacqueline Fink and Lara Hutton
Jacqueline Fink and Lara Hutton
Jacqueline Fink and Lara Hutton
Jacqueline Fink and Lara Hutton

Monday, February 22, 2016

De Quervain's Tenosynovitis

I'm currently somewhere between angry, frustrated and depressed. I'd been knitting at almost my normal production rate when my De Quervain's tenosynovitis started up again. I had continued doing the exercises physio gave me and added in the rubber ball rolling method. I stopped doing the massage on the tendon some months ago. Last Thursday, after no knitting for five days (while feeling very sorry for myself and bored) I started using heat and massage again. I had a very noticeable hard knot on the top of my arm just below the bend. My physiotherapist says the knots are similar to an internal scarring and the massage breaks it up. When I was seeing her regularly it took several weeks but the knot did completely disappear. When I compare to my right arm there is no knot on that tendon. Friday morning I got up and had to ice it due to noticeable swelling. I'm trying to scratch the knitting itch by reading knitting blogs and books, however I'm feeling anxious and jittery! This is total proof to me about the calming nature of knitting. 

If you want to read more about the benefits of knitting, here's a recent article from the Globe and Mail

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Ball Bands and Gauge

We knitters like the rules to be clear. When we read a ball band we expect it to be true. Prepare yourself, I'm about to challenge your expectation.

I treat the ball band information purely as a starting point. It's really more of guideline not a hard rule. Yarn companies want to sell their yarns so they label them with lots of information. It may say it's fingering, DK or worsted weight. Many yarn shops arrange their yarn by weight as a way of helping out their customers and their staff make substitutions. Yarns which don't fall into specific categories are problematic. Often these yarns will have great pattern support to help sales. This does cost the yarn company more money though, as in spite of their offers of free patterns, they pay either full time staff or indie designers to create patterns for them. The cost of the patterns are buried in the cost of the yarn.

Sometimes yarn companies will push the yarn into a different category. A common example is fingering weight yarn being used for socks and gloves at one gauge and then the same yarn is used for lace at a much looser gauge. I've also used heavier yarns, knit more loosely than recommended for specific reasons. Often it's been scarves or shawls where I want more drape added to the fabric.

Two of the reasons we can't just look at a yarn and determine weight have to do with the spinning process and the loft of the fibre. 

The spinning can change the yarn depending on it's relative level of tightness or looseness.  

I've recently experienced this when comparing two 100 % cotton DK yarns. I was able to get gauge with both yarns but I had to use a 3.25 mm needle on one and a 4 mm needle on the other. 

The yarn stats are:

100% cotton
105m / 50 g
4 mm
22 stitches, 28 rows to 4 inches / 10 cm
Yardage to weight ratio: 2.1

100% Cotton
230m / 125g approx.
4mm needles
22 stitches = 10cm

Yardage to weight ratio: 1.84

You can read about yarn ratio calculations here.

Yarn 1 is much more tightly spun than yarn 2. Yarn 1 required a smaller needle to get the same gauge. 
In the case of loft, think about mohair lace weight yarns with ball band gauges of 18-25 stitches per 4 inches. According to The Craft Yarn Council that yarn fits into categories 2, 3 and 4, ranging from sport, baby, DK, light worsted to worsted.

Friday, February 12, 2016

An Interview with...Annie Rowden

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the knitting world.

You can find Annie here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
It comes from all sorts of places. Often just the raw need for a particular garment or accessory to be in my closet, or sometimes a particular stitch pattern calls me to explore it, but I’d say for the large part it will be the yarn that guides the journey of what it wants to become. One of my most favourite patterns of last year was actually quite a stressful time as I was trying to force the yarn into a design that wasn’t quite working, but, on a deadline, I kept pushing until I was almost at the bind off, only to rip it out completely and start afresh. The final Stories from Snoqualmie Shawl, full of cables and garter stitch, was exactly where that yarn wanted to be.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
This is a tough one! I go through phases of exploring techniques as new designs challenge them. But I have to say that getting to know different ways to cast-on and bind-off is particularly fun for me! It’s incredible how the different techniques can add so much to your final garment. 

How did you determine your size range?
Like many things in knitting I’m still learning this as I go. My first ever cardigan design I published had 12 sizes, in the hopes of offering a size for everyone, and also the challenge of grading all those numbers! Not perhaps necessary, but I learned a ton. I write children’s patterns with my good friend Ashley Yousling under the name Little Woolens, and we began writing patterns 0-4yrs, only to learn that knitters wanted at least up to size 10-12yrs. So using our wonderful customers as a guide that is the range we now focus on. Of course stitch patterns and pattern repeats often influence how many sizes are possible, but I like to write up a wide range to make the pattern accessible for everyone. Similarly for accessories, hats, mitts etc, if more than one size is possible, I’ll write them up.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
Yes, I think this can be a worry for many designers, however I’d say that I am more so inspired and encouraged when looking at other peoples work than fear I might be influenced. I trust that my work is from my own creative spirit and that at the end of the day what we each produce, if designed from the the honest creativity we all have, then the outcome will be unique and your own. I really enjoy working alongside other designers and seeing what they’re up to - like I said, its a great source of inspiration for me!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I think this is a totally personal issue for the designer. You could say it’s a business decision. I feel although I write patterns whichever way I want to, I can definitely recognize that there are some designs which folks are perhaps hesitant to cast on because of the complexity. However, when a knitter conquers those fears of a more complex pattern and ends up with a finished project that they previously thought they couldn’t master, its the best feeling ever!! My designs are such a reflection of where I’m at in life - if I’m longing for simple knitting then I’ll design a comfortable pattern, but then at times when I’m looking for a challenge who knows what I’ll conjure up!!

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I do most work all by myself, and only hire sample knitters when I my schedule doesn’t allow for all the deadlines to be met. Sample knitting is still something I’m still exploring, and I miss being able to do all the knitting myself, but sample knitters are a great tool and I hope that I build more confidence in leaving the knitting part to others!

Did you do a formal business plan?
No! Haha! How my design work started and has grown has been very organic. I’ve gone with the flow, so to speak. In my ‘other life’ I am a dairy farmer and mother which also has it’s ebbs and flows, and my knitting has to fit in with it. Having said that, this year I do have a few short term and long term goals which will hopefully keep me on somewhat of a path! What is more important to me is staying true to what I enjoy and believe in. I strive to support local and domestic fibers, or organic fibers, and natural dyes. I can only cram so much knitting into my life and from a farmer stand point I love to work with yarns that I know exactly where they came from, and hopefully support the hard work of fellow farmers/growers/mills/dyers. We are in a wonderful time in the industry where this interest is growing and there are so many transparent yarns to choose and learn from. I encourage everyone to be mindful, and question where the yarn you are knitting with came from!!

Do you have a mentor?
I’m a self taught knitter, so initially I would say that I don’t really have a mentor. However realistically, even though she doesn’t know it, Susan B Anderson was my first mentor! I learned to knit from her Itty Bitty Hat book. I found it at the library while living in Finland! Other great teachers and authors have been Elizabeth Zimmerman, Barbara Walker, Shirley Paden and June Hemmons Hiatt. Out of the pages my biggest influences are close friends Ashley Yousling and Andrea Mowry, but everyone I seem to come into contact with in this wonderful knitting world can have an influence on my work. It’s amazing and so, so wonderful that even someone who might consider themselves a ‘beginner’ may have a technique I haven’t come across before, or a way of looking at a problem I hadn’t thought of.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Only that I must have fun, and stay true to myself and keep in line with what I love and respect. As much as I want to be successful, I don’t want to do it at the expense of cramming in too much work, stressing over deadlines, or working with companies that I don’t align with. Sometimes it’s tough to see others with what seems like all the knitting time in the world. Not only do I know that social media can extremely suggestive, but I know that my journey is my own and I shouldn’t and can't compare myself to others. I try to keep in touch with my truest dreams and desires, and I’m very conscious of avoiding the feeling of being expected to ‘perform’ and crank out patterns.

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes! I couldn’t do what I do without my wonderful tech editors. In a way they are also my mentors! I learn something new from them every pattern we work on. They are also a great sounding board, if I have an issue I just can’t get my head around, they brain storm with me and often bring something to the table I hadn’t thought about. Its very easy to be ‘too close’ to a design! 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Oh, the ongoing challenge! I’m lucky that my life is very flexible and I can find pockets in most days to spend on my design work. However there are seasons of the year where the farm work is heavy and I long to be with my needles, and vice versa. Knowing that these phases come and go is what makes those ‘unbalanced’ times easier. Learning to say “no” has been a big turning corner in my design work in helping to maintain a balance - my two year old will only be little once!

How do you deal with criticism?
We are very lucky that knitters are some of the most supportive and encouraging group of people!! But everyone once in a while I’ll come across a negative tone. I learned a long time ago that you cannot please everyone, as much as I might try, and knitting is a very personal thing, and if a customer isn’t jiving with one of my patterns I’m not going to get offended or get upset about it. It’s also pretty entertaining to recognize that the stronger worded messages or emails often come after a knitter has struggled with a particular part of a pattern and in their frustration (oh don’t we know what frustration well!) sent a hasty email. And then the remarkable difference in tone the following messages have, once we have worked out the problem and they’re happily back on their way!

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Follow your dreams, remain open to all opportunities and who knows what might come round the corner! Don’t compare yourself to others, but focus on making sure that you are enjoying your OWN journey. Also, ask for help, fellow designs and knitters are often extremely open in helping and guiding you along your way! They are a great resource in learning about things that might be a mystery to you! There really is room for everyone in this industry!!! 

What’s next for you?
Anything and everything!!! I always have a few designs going, and more specifically I’m working on a collection with an amazing yarn that I’m really excited about. I’d like to teach more and am looking to pursue that! Other than that, I like to, as Mary Oliver so perfectly puts it, “Keep room in your heart for the unimaginable.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Are you Limiting your Ability to Improve your Skills?

Free Pattern
As a teacher I spend lots of time planning classes and working out how best to share information and skills with students. 
I found myself fascinated with this post from  Scott H Young. I teach adults and I'm very aware of how often they become intimidated in workshops when learning new skills.
In the blog post Scott says "when you’re young it’s okay to be bad at something and keep doing it." I'd never thought of this as an age related problem. He also points out "Kids enjoy many pursuits, simply because they’re given heavy praise for work that wouldn’t meet scrutiny if an adult produced it." 
I have read Carol Dweck's book Mindset and that book had a big impact on my teaching. It made me see how much of it is really about encouragement and reassurance. This however is a paradigm changer for me, mindset is all about internal process but the age shift may be about cultural expectations placed on us by others making anything less than perfection unacceptable. 

You can read my post about Mindset here.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Knot a Problem, Who Knew?

I just came across this group on Ravelry. I immediately and unexpectedly teared up when I started to read about them. Why did I have this reaction? My mother loved untangling yarn. I always thought that was a strange but lovable quirk of hers. My mother died 35 years ago and I have wonderful memories of her. I have one old acrylic sweater that she knit for me. I've never been able to let go of it. I still have the pattern and periodically plan to re-knit it for myself. It's on the someday list.

For those of you not reduced to tears by this group. You should know they have 2889 members so perhaps it's not so quirky after all. They give advice on their pages as how to approach the tangle and you can contact them to help you connect up with someone to untangle your yarn for you.

Friday, February 5, 2016

An Interview with...Heidi Kirrmaier

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the knitting world.

You can find Heidi here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in almost anything I look at, sometimes in unexpected places. I have a tendency see lines and geometric patterns in many things, from buildings, landscapes and artwork, to clothing I see people wearing or in fashion magazines. My designs are often centred around one particular shaping element and I don’t typically add much embellishment beyond what is required to incorporate that element and construct the remainder of garment around it.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Because my designs often involve non-conventional, seamless construction, a provisional cast-on is a very useful technique for me.

How did you determine your size range?
My patterns generally cover a standard range from XS to XXL, with no more than about 3 inches between sizes. Sometimes a design will have inherent increments that dictate the possible sizing. Either way, I try to include about 8 sizes so that the majority of knitters will find a suitable size, minimizing the need for customization. Nevertheless, I do encourage knitters to make adjustments if they feel they need to in order to achieve a fit they prefer.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I think it is important to be aware of what is going on in one’s industry, but I don’t fear being influenced by others’ designs. As it is, I have more ideas than I will ever be able to produce!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
Every designer has to decide where to strike the balance between how much detail to include in the pattern, and keeping the instructions concise. Ideally every knitter would have the same level of knowledge and skills, but this is not the case, making it difficult to determine the right balance. While I personally do not believe patterns should be expected to repeat instructions for common techniques that can be found elsewhere, if a little extra information can easily be included to provide clarity then I think there’s no reason not to include it. If a special or unusual technique used in the design, then it is reasonable to include the details for that or at least provide a reference or link to find more information about it. In the end though, a pattern is just a pattern and should not be expected to be a comprehensive knitting manual!

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I knit samples myself, but I always have my patterns test knit by others. There are a variety of knitters who do this for me, most of them volunteers.

Did you do a formal business plan?
I don’t have a formal business plan, primarily because designing is my second occupation. I have a fairly demanding full time job in a completely different industry. This means I have a limited amount of time to dedicate to designing, so I basically create designs as they come to me and take time I need to complete the patterning process. So far, this has generally resulted in releasing a new pattern every few months for the past 5 years or so.

Do you have a mentor?
My evolution into designing happened rather organically via Ravelry. I started by posting projects, many of which I had designed myself. Others took interest and asked if I’d write up the patterns, so I slowly started doing that and my business grew from there. As such, I haven’t had a mentor, but I’ve learned a lot by going through the relatively public process on Ravelry and receiving open feedback from many knitters.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
My business model is quite simple; it amounts to having clarity around what my focus should be, at least for the foreseeable future. There are a lot of different activities that can be undertaken in the field of knitting (for example: retailing, teaching, tech editing, sample knitting, photography, yarn production / dyeing, etc.), each of which requires a somewhat different skill set. For me, I have no doubt that my strengths lie in the technical and aesthetic aspects of design. Given the limited hours I have, it makes most sense for me to focus on the creation of new designs and pattern production.

Do you use a tech editor?
No, I do all the math, and triple (and quadruple!) checking of all the numbers and pattern components myself. For confirmation, I rely on my test knitters to point out if they discover any inconsistencies or errors.

How do you maintain your life/work balance with both a full time job and a part time knitting design business?
Actually, designing itself provides me with balance. My day job involves a lot of responsibilities and can be stressful at times, so I thrive on knowing I get to immerse myself in a very different world to counterbalance that. Both the creative and mathematical aspects of designing energize me, as does being connected with a community of crafters who regularly put a smile on my face when I see their creations. I do take my designing business very seriously though; I work hard to ensure my patterns are of high quality and that I am available to answer questions should the need arise.

How do you deal with criticism?
I take all feedback into consideration. There are many ways of approaching the various elements of designing - including the visual lay-out of a pattern, the pattern writing style, and the actual design - and it is natural that people will have different preferences. I try to accommodate those where I reasonably can, but I know it is not possible to please everyone all the time.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Decide what your strengths are, and focus on those. For example, if you love knitting and think therefore you want to open a yarn shop, you need to realize that this will not mean you will be spending a lot of time knitting, but rather you will be hiring staff, buying inventory, and doing accounting (or hiring staff to do accounting!) You may very well have several skills, but be sure to be deliberate about how to effectively apply them, and recognize you may need help if you start your own business. Be realistic about the time commitment and expenses it will take to be successful. Lastly, once you have a career in knitting, it is no longer a hobby!

What’s next for you?
More good designs and satisfied knitters, I hope!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

All About Swatching

When I'm working on a new design I spend lots of prep time on the swatching process. The photo above is the swatch for a garment. It's the second swatch, I moved down a needle size when I decided the first swatch was a little too loose. I was happy with this one. The yarn is Blue Heron Rayon Metallic. It creates a gorgeous drapey fabric. I initially thought this stitch might not work as I've used rayons in the past which have flattened out too much for a knit-purl textured stitch to work.

This is my info sheet. I use graph paper, you might not be able to see the blue lines. I lay the swatch on it and draw around it. I use a pencil but I darkened it with pens so you can see the lines. I've noted the needle size I used. Next I steamed the swatch which showed no change in size. Then I washed it by hand and laid it flat to dry. I always follow the label instructions since knitters who use the same yarn I used in a pattern will most likely follow the label. My last step was to hang the swatch for 48 hours by standing up my blocking board. When I did this I got 1/2 inch of growth over 6 inches of knitting. When laid flat again the growth disappeared. You can calculate the growth in length for a garment by percentage but I will warn you, my experience tells me the growth percentage increases the larger the piece is. So this information will be an indication but not a firm number. 

.5" / 6" = .084"

If my garment is 15 or 16 inches from hem to underarm the growth will be at minimum.

15" X 1.084" = 16.26"
16" X 1.084" = 17.34"

The way I handle this is to knit the garment about 2-3 inches short of the target number and then hang it for 48 hours to reassess. Once I've checked I'll adjust accordingly. I'll add details in my pattern to help the knitter. My schematic will reflect finished measurements. The pattern instructions will reflect shorter measurements. The pattern notes will list the amount of drop I got so the knitter can adjust according to their preferences and personal row gauge. I also do the same thing with linen, which shrinks so the knitter can adjust during the knitting. The last thing I do when I'm knitting for myself is to decide what is the shortest and longest length acceptable to me because fibre can surprise you and if I set my expectation up for a range of results I am more likely to be happy with the finished product.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Modifying Knitting Patterns and Standard Sizing

Here's an example of how an average woman (me) measures up in comparison to the Craft Yarn Councils Standard measurements. These are the measurements which North American publications prefer designers to use. I'm not saying they have done any thing wrong here. We do need a starting point. These are body measurements not garment measurements. Read on and you will begin to understand why I learned to  modify all the patterns I used when I first started knitting.

Most of us start with the Bust measurement. I'm a Medium.

The next measurement is Centre Back Neck-to-Cuff, I'm not on the chart, I'm less than a X-Small.

Back Waist Length, same problem, I'm not on the chart.

Cross Back (Shoulder to Shoulder), I make it, I'm an X-Small.

Sleeve Length to Underarm, I'm not on the chart again.  

Upper Arm humm, I'm a Large? 

Armhole Depth, I'm not on the chart...again.   

Waist, I'm a Large.

Hips, I'm in between a Small and a Medium.  

How to do you compare? More importantly, do you take the time to compare?