Ann asked me if I'd take part in the Novel Knits blog tour, and as the first stop on the tour, here is my interview with her! This is Ann's first book, self published (which you know is something very important to me!) and is available through her website (print) and Ravelry (digital)
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.
That's interesting; so, basically you start with the most difficult part? Smart!
With any design I tend to start from the main area of focus; where the biggest design statement will be. All my designs start with an Idea for a design element that excites me. So much so that I always want to swatch out the Idea as soon as I have it. Yet for pragmatic reasons I'll often develop it further with charts, and sometimes plan out the whole design (stitch counts, and construction decisions) before I cast on a single stitch.
For example, Pemberley started as an Idea for a shaped front panel using the travelling colourwork technique that I had come across in Kieran Foley's work. Once I'd charted out the main pattern panel I swatched it. Then I turned my thoughts to the garment shaping. Whereas (don't faint Woolly!), for Lórien I had knitted both the band and the Hat body before I even considered how to decrease in pattern for the crown!
2) How do you find constructing garments in the round with many of the techniques used, which many knitters may feel would be more at home on a garment that's knitted flat then seamed?
I love translating garment constructions to circular knitting! Seamless garments are generally much more knitter-friendly than seamed ones. That's because knitting in the round is nearly always worked on the 'right side'. This makes it a particularly good method for stranded or twisted stitch cable projects where there is pattern on every row. It's much easier to see what to do when working pattern on the right side. I also find purling in stranded pattern quite fiddly, so avoid that as much as possible!
Historically many knitted garments were in fact worked in the round. As far as I can tell the preference for seaming handknits was almost purely a 20th century phenomenon, and thankfully many 21st century knitters have developed a preference for seamless constructions again. The work of Elizabeth Zimmerman, Barbara Walker, and Eunny Jang has done much good in reversing the trend for flat knitting. Sadly Britain, historical home of seamless gansey, sock and fair isle traditions, is lagging behind in the seamless revolution. There are just a few well-known independent designers working here who are producing contemporary seamless designs, notably Ysolda Teague, Liz Lovick, and Kate Davies.
My Mum recently knitted a jumper with a circular cabled yoke from a Sirdar pattern written for their 'Click' yarn. The whole thing was knitted flat and seamed, even the yoke! From a knitterly point of view that was plain crazy, however Mum accepted it without question because that was what she knew. In fact it would be hard for her to follow a pattern for a circular knit jumper, because that would be so different for her. And I guess that's why so many traditional designers in the UK work almost exclusively with seamed constructions; it is what they know, and it is what the majority of knitters here know.
3) What was the greatest challenge to you when writing this book?
The page size! Because of the literary theme I was committed to the smaller format. I wanted the book to resemble a novel in it's appearance. However, this was particularly challenging for the layout of charts, especially larger charts such as those used in Pemberley and Lanthir Lamath. With the help of my technical editor I managed to make this work by splitting down the charts into bitesized pieces. And in fact I've received good feedback about the readability of the charts.
Another issue related to the page size was the length of the book. As a self-publisher I planned for small print runs, and these come at a significantly higher cost for each book than large print runs do. So to keep the book affordable for knitters I had to keep the page count as low as possible. At 104 pages it is still rather lengthy compared to equivalent self-published works. Nevertheless, I think we did very well to get 15 patterns, including two stranded jumpers and several complex lace and cabled knits, into that number of pages without compromising the quality of the instructions. All of the patterns have full line-by-line written instructions, and all of the stitch patterns are also supported with charts!
4) Where does your love of colourwork come from?!
When I was an enthusiastic teenage knitter, Kaffe Fassett presented a series on British television called 'Glorious Colour'. I loved this programme! Week after week of wonderfully inspiring presentations about knitting with colour. That was the beginning of my love affair with colourwork.
At 19 years old I married a Cumbrian farmer's son, and we set up home on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. Together we visited many museums and hertitage centres in Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales, many of which feature examples of traditional knitting and knitting tools. The Hawes museum for example has a wonderful display of knitting sheaths and of colourwork gloves produced by Dales knitters. I was delighted to find that my beloved hobby had so much local heritage, and I love the feeling of connection to these knitters that I get from creating my own colourwork patterns. For years I've nursed a secret wish to collect and use original knitting sheaths. In the West Riding of Yorkshire, where I am from originally, the regional style of knitting sheath was a turned spindle. I'd especially love to find one of those!
Hungry for this kind of connection to the knitters of yore, as a young woman I learned to spin and dye. Alas, Herdwick and Swaledale wools, of which I had plentiful supply through my in-laws' Langdale farm, do not make the best handknitting yarn. My first handspun colourwork was a fair isle tank top (vest) for my husband. I made it with thick yarn that I had dyed with natural dyes, including onion skins and lichen. The finished article was so rigid it could have stood up unsupported! He never wore it...
5) Which is your favourite garment in Novel Knits, and why?
Lissuin is my proudest achievement to date. It was the product of a lot of research about shaping in fair isle, especially for the armhole, and was my first ever steeked garment. I was determined to produce a colourwork jumper that is very feminine and flattering to the figure. I'm particularly proud of the sweetheart neckline, which I had never seen done on a colourwork jumper before. Also I love the luminosity of the lighter colours in the fair isle pattern.
6) Where do you see your next challenge?
I would love to inspire and enable fellow knitters to expand their knitting skills. I often come across knitters admiring advanced patterns in my range, yet saying they won't attempt them because they are so daunted by the techniques involved. This always makes me feel sad! That's why I've launched a 'knitting school' at my website. It's a way of combining my knitting knowledge with my love of teaching, while equipping knitters with the skills to knit the things that they currently feel are beyond them. Of course, I've started with colourwork lessons! ;o)