all images © Joseph Feller

One of our trips this summer was to Southern Ireland, to see my Mum in her log cabin on the side of a mountain not too far from Cork. While we were there, we visited Carol Feller (who lives less than an hours drive for my Mum) and I got the chance to have a sneaky peak at her new book, Contemporary Irish Knits.

As we all sat down for dinner that evening (with a houseful of boys - Aran was totally in his element!) I was reminded of the last time we'd visited that part of Ireland, when my Mum was considering buying the plot she now inhabits, and when we visited Carol's house for the first time.

During that first visit, myself and Carol got chatting about knit design, as you do, and I remember her explaining to me how she'd started investigating beret shaping, for a design in progress that was part of a larger project. That was 2 years ago, and that beret that Carol had been working on became Bundoran.

Bundoran Beret

As part of the blog tour for Contemporary Irish Knits, here's an interview with Carol, that will hopefully give you more of an insight into her thoughts behind the book, as well as her design process and how it all came to be.

1) When you start a fresh design, is there one part of the construction or a physical point that you start with first? For instance, when I design a Hat I start with the crown, and provided the maths of that works out, I move downwards into the body and brim sections. It may not be knit in that direction, but that's where my thinking starts.

With garments, especially if they are patterned, it begins for me with the shoulder. First of all I have to decide what style of shoulder shaping will work best with the pattern stitch, particularly that how it is going to look as it's being decreased towards the shoulder.  This is especially important if I’m working raglan shoulders, because the decreases (or increases) form a very central visual focus for the garment.  After this I have to decide which direction I’m going to work the garment.  I find that for heavily cabled garments working from the bottom up is easier as the cable pattern is set and cables can be ended easily as the stitches are decreased.  Working the same pattern from the top down requires a very elaborate set of charts as all of the increases and cable positions for every size have to be shown in order to create the cables correctly.

2) How do you find constructing garments in the round with many of the techniques used, which traditionally may have been more at home on a garment that's knitted flat then seamed?

I think constructing garments in the round as a knitter is much easier, because you always have the public side of the knit facing you so you can easily see how the project is progressing.  As a designer, it does take more thought to write a pattern seamlessly.  It can also make the pattern a little longer as details need to be described more completely (or maybe that’s just the way I write patterns!)

To me, seamless garments are much more intuitive and create a better experience for the knitter.  The only exception to this is that you do need to carry a larger garment around with you while you are knitting! I design my knitwear primarily as a knitter rather than a designer,  knitting should be as easy to modify for the individual knitter as possible so they can customize to suit their own shape.

Most stitch patterns can easily be converted from the flat to the round.  My friend Sue (who knit the Straboy hoodie in the book) converted the blackberry stitch to the round and created a perfect solution.  Because the important ‘action’ for this stitch happens on a WS row, converting this particular stitch needed a little more thought than most.

3) What was the greatest challenge to you when writing this book?

It’s been a long time since I’ve worked on such a big, long term project, and planning all of the knits so far in advance, scheduling when they would be knit and when the patterns would written up took some getting used to!  However, I am now finding that I miss having a big project on the go, during the process it felt like a real ‘anchor’ for my work.

Apart from that, the part I probably worried about the most was writing the essays about the mills.  I don’t have extensive writing experience as I studied engineering in college (with minimal essay writing required!) and it required me to relearn a lot of skills that had long since been forgotten.  That said, once I got over the initial worry, the writing experience was actually more enjoyable that I expected.

Ballyragget Hat

4) You visited various mills in Ireland, talking to the mill owners - how was the general response to your venture? 

The Irish mills were really interested in talking to me.  They are starting to see a resurgence in the hand knitting market and were very happy to have more exposure in that area. The primary business for most of the mills (particularly Kerry and Cushendale) is in the weaving and clothing markets.  The yarn market for hand knitters has changed dramatically in the last few years and older mills are busy reinventing themselves to appeal to this new knitting market.  As with any business, in order to keep operating you have to keep changing and I think being involved with this book project has helped their exposure to a new market.

5) Where does this love of lace and cables combined come from?!

You know - I wish I knew the answer to that one myself!  I just love the interplay between the two.  Heavily cabled fabric can be very stiff and unyielding and lace (at least used in a garment) is fairly insubstantial.  Combine the two and you get the best of both;  the cables give substance to the lace, and the lace creates a more pliable cabled fabric.

6) Which is your favourite garment in CIK, and why?

I think the answer to this would depend on when you asked me the question!  I have lots of favourites but all for different reasons.  One of the stitch pattern transitions I was happiest with was in the Rathcooney hat and fingerless mitt set.  It was based on the simple cocoon stitch pattern that draws the knitting in for the cuffs/brim.  This stitch then naturally flows into the ribbing pattern (which forms the body of the mitts and hat). The end result is a very organical transition that makes me happy every time I see it!  The knit stitches on the ribbing stand out so well with the tightly knit Hedgehog Fibre’s yarn, creating a lovely sculptural/textured effect.

Rathcooney Hat

7) Where do you see your next challenge? 

Currently I’m working with the yarn company Fyberspates on a small booklet (7 patterns) of women’s garments and accessories which I’ll be self publishing, but after that I have no firm plans as of yet.  I really don’t want to plan things too far into the future, as it doesn’t allow you to act when inspiration hits.

However, I will be putting some thought into a longer term project as I really enjoyed working on the book.  I’m just waiting for the right idea to make itself known!

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Thank you Carol, it's so great to see your project come to fruition in such a fantastic book!

The next stop on the blog tour is the fabulous Ann Hanson of Knitspot fame - enjoy.

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AuthorWoolly Wormhead