I wasn’t expecting so many incredibly thoughtful questions when I asked what you wanted to know about the book. In fact there are so many I’m excited about answering that I’m going to break the answers down into several posts. It seems logical to begin at the beginning of the process so in this post I’ll talk about inspiration, my design process, my interest in knitting and how the book will help you knit successful projects. In the following posts I’ll write more about sizing, why I choose to photograph the sweaters on a plus size model and how the book can help you learn how to get a great fit; then a little more about what makes the content of the book a bit different from others available (I think!); and finally about the process of producing the actual book. Birgitte asked “Do you find inspiration in fashion magazines, etc. for your designs or do you aim to make them timeless?” and Inansa also wanted to know if I thought about the longevity of my styles: “do you design completely in the now or do you think about how the styles will will look for example five years from now?"
I find inspiration allover the place, but I’m not particularly interested in fashion trends. Knitting a garment is a pretty big investment of both time and money, so I try and design with that in mind, I really hope you’ll want to wear your sweaters for a long time without them being so classic that they’re too boring to ever wear. Vintage clothing and costumes from films are definitely a source of inspiration but it’s important to me to find a balance and create something that’s wearable today without looking like a costume.
Of course, there’s no point in trying to design styles that knitters will want to wear for a long time if the actual garments don't hold up. This is a problem that Sam has had, “I’d like to know if there’s a lot of information about the longevity of sweaters and yarns, I’ve made a couple sweaters and just found issues with them AFTER wearing for a couple times. The first time, it fit perfect then… not so much. Are there any hints on how to deal with slouchy shoulders and length-shrinkage?”.
This is something that’s covered in both the yarn selection and swatching chapters. Sometimes you need to balance how appealing and soft a yarn is in the skein with how hardwearing it will be. Many yarns also change gauge after washing and wearing so simulating that with your swatching is important to minimise nasty surprises.
The construction of the garments also plays a role in how well they will hold up, Pat asked “I’ve read that seamed sweaters have more 'structure' and 'hold their shape better' than seamless sweaters, but I know most of your sweaters are constructed seamlessly (my preference!), and I’m curious what your response is to the claim that seamed sweaters hang better and are less likely to droop out of shape over time.” All but one of the garments are seamless, a personal preference that many of you seem to share, like Eva who wondered “if any – and how many – are seamless or almost-seamless (e.g. made in one piece). I hate seaming, so I always look for seamless patterns.” I don’t find that garments require seams to hold their shape, but they do need some structure which seamless garments can lack. I use techniques like binding off and picking up stitches, sturdy shoulder joins and edgings to create that internal structure particularly to avoid necklines and shoulders stretching out of shape. Larger garments obviously consist of more fabric and have more weight which can stretch the garment out of shape, something that Taphophile mentioned “Do they maintain structural integrity in the larger sizes? Or is how to maintain structure addressed in the book?” I don’t find that larger sizes need different techniques, but it is possible to pay less attention to structure with smaller garments and get away with it. While grading the sizes I focused on where the garment would hang from, I often find that, for example, the shoulders on larger sweaters are scaled up far too much causing the whole garment to look sloppy and shapeless.
Borghildur asked “Do you knit as you design to see if it works out or do you design the whole garment and then have a test knitter do the knitting?” Chantal asked “Do you sometimes use a knitting machine? Because it’s impossible to get to knit as much as you do without getting tendinitis ?”
I knit everything at least once. A lot of designers design on paper (or really, on the computer), working swatches of particular elements and then handing the pattern over to a sample knitter. I have so much admiration for that ability but I can’t do it, if for no other reason than that I would find it terribly dull. Although I try and calculate at least the basics for all sizes before starting so that I can see that the design will scale well, I do a lot of my designing on the needles. It’s perhaps not the most efficient process but I think it also means I’m very aware of what the experience of knitting the design is like, I focus on creating knitterly details that flow well as you’re working. This is partly why I don’t use a knitting machine, although people create beautiful items with machines it is a different process, I want my designs to be interesting to handknitters in terms of both the finished item and the process. Sometimes when I’m getting ready for a photoshoot I do end up knitting for hours per day and feel the toll on my hands, wrists and shoulders. The biggest thing I’ve done to help with that was actually to buy a really good computer chair, an ergonomic keyboard that allows me to type with my wrists at a natural angle and replace my mouse with a pen and tablet. While knitting I also try and take frequent stretching breaks and sometimes wear supportive braces.
There is no way I could have knit every stitch in the book though! Sample knitters, however, are wonderful and you’ll be able to see the team that worked on samples for the book in the acknowledgments. Poor Sarah and Rebecca get landed with my half finished projects once I’ve worked everything out and things like the second sleeve need to be finished. Sarah doesn’t seem to hate this too much though, she said “finishing Ysolda's sweaters is fun, I get handed something already on the needles and given instructions like 'keep going for x more inches then ask me about the decreases.' This all happens usually without a written pattern and without knowing what the finished garment will look like. And its kinda exciting to be working on something so far in advance, and I know that rest of the sample knitters and I feel lucky to be part of the process of getting the patterns out to everyone else!”
Going back to my design process Melissa asked “Designing wise, did you make a mood board or start a collection of objects to inspire LRITC? If so, may we see it in a blog post?”
My process isn’t particularly organised, more scribbles on scraps of paper than pretty mood board, but I’m so glad to hear that you’re interested in the inspiration and design process for the patterns. Each contains a “design story” where I talk a bit about this.
This book wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t fallen in love with designing knitting patterns rather than something else, which Jennifer asked about “My question is not about this book, specifically. I’ve been wondering, 'Why knitting?' I mean, you are talented and creative, and could have pursued all sorts of design outlets. What is it about knitting that captured and holds your interest?”
This question stood out to me as particularly interesting, but it’s not very easy to answer. It’s true that I considered other design paths, including architecture and costume and for quite a while I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was also the kid that read every craft book in the library, there was an origami phase, a glass painting phase, a miniature doll phase, etc... My class choices in high school were also a little allover the place, I liked maths and physics, creative subjects and literature and didn’t want to narrow that down as my advisor strongly suggested. But what put me off all of the creative paths I considered was the lengthy training process and the time spent working as essentially a technician, being a tiny specialised part of a larger creative process terrified me.
I learnt to knit as a child, but to be honest for a long time I thought it was pretty dull. Somehow, in my late teens, something clicked and I became fascinated with discovering the underlying structure of it. From a very young age art materials were always available and I was encouraged to experiment and create my own projects rather than following step by step directions. Recipes were basic cake formulas inviting variations and I listened to my mother rail against my formulaic school art classes. Thanks mum! My first real (ie. finished) knitting project was the lil devil hat for a friend who asked if I could knit it for her because I was her crafty friend. I had no idea what I was doing but it turned out ok and left me excited not about that project in particular but that about my newfound hat making knowledge and all of the other hats I could make based on the basic process. I didn’t think about becoming a knitwear designer (I didn’t really know that was even a thing), it was just natural to me when learning a new craft to create my own projects, just following patterns as written never even occurred to me I wanted to figure out how it worked and put that knowledge to use.
I went from creating my own rather freeform projects to writing patterns because of the internet, I’d post photos of my projects online and other people wanted to knit them. Learning very much as I went along I started sharing patterns and in the process discovered that this was a way I could do many of the things I loved - maths and writing, design and craft, without having to choose.
There were lots of questions about yarn, like Azterya’s: “I’m curious about how the design and yarn choice come together. Do you design for a particular type of yarn and then see how it works or does the yarn selection come further into the process. I’m also interested in how the yarn choice factors into the construction of garments.”
Tia asked “Does the yarn speak to you and tell you what it wants to be?? If this is the case and readers have a particular yarn that they love that is the right 'weight ' for the pattern how can they tell if the drape/ finished fabric properties will work for the style??”
Sometimes I do start with a yarn, I often have some vague ideas that I want to work on but the yarn choice helps to direct the particular details. Other times I will have a very clear idea for a design that requires a particular fabric, I then go to my library of shade cards and look for something with the necessary properties. Even when I have very fixed ideas though sometimes the yarn changes things once I start knitting, or the yarn I’ve chosen doesn’t work as well as I hoped it might. I really wanted to use a tweedy yarn for Angostura, but it didn’t have as much stitch definition as the silk blend I tried on a whim and fell in love with.
Sara also asked “I notice that you often use yarns from the UK, which I think it is safe to say gives great pleasure to us UK knitters. I am always looking for yarns that have been created with as much love from start to finish as they can (including the animals as well as the people!) and are as close to me as possible, and preferably that I can get from my local yarn shop (I love those ladies!). So how much does the origin of the yarn itself and how its been formed etc. become part of your approach to your patterns?”
It’s so great to hear that knitters are mindful of where their yarns have come from and supporting their local shops. Obviously I have customers allover the world and the US is my biggest market so I need to balance local to me with availability to the majority of my customers, my choices are definitely made a bit differently than if I was just choosing yarns for personal use. Although I really love the yarns we choose for the book and they come from companies I love to support I understand that often knitters want to use a different yarn for all sorts of reasons. There is a pretty extensive chapter on selecting a yarn that not only gets the right gauge but also has the right fabric properties for a particular project. I hope that it will be helpful to knitters like those Ana mentioned “Usually the recommended yarns are sold internationally on the Internet, but for example, in my country it is very hard to find yarn in stores (almost only in two cities) and my students are not proficient internet users. So, sometimes they choose the wrong type of yarn and the project doesn’t come out as they thought. Is your book prepared to explain how to choose a yarn for each project?” The main goal of the whole book is that projects will be more likely to turn out as you hoped.
More specifically, I tried to make the yarn information provided for each pattern as useful as possible, describing the necessary properties, giving details of the fibre content of the yarns shown and providing exact yardage rather than the number of skeins. Jessica asked “Is there a section that tells how to accurately estimate yardage?” and Tia also wanted to know how I calculate yardage. The patterns indicate approximately how much more yarn adding an inch of length will require but this isn’t a how to design book so estimating yardage for other projects isn’t within the scope of the book. However I’m afraid there really is no magic formula, experience gives me a rough idea of how much to start with (fake that experience by looking at a range of similar patterns), but I basically just calculate the amount needed for each size from the amount used for one. I weigh the sample and then work out how many stitches are in each size (fun!) and multiply the yardage of the sample by the percentage difference in the number of stitches.
Hanne-Kristine asked about swatching “Did you make any swatches? If, how many? And have you kept them? I’v just learnt the great value of making swatches and I’ve seen on a blog that put all off the little swatches on a designer wall. Cables, Lace patterns and more, in different colors, it’s really beautiful.”
Yes, swatches are super important. I couldn’t design at all without lots of swatching, I wouldn’t know what the fabric I was working with was like and even more fundamentally there would be no numbers to base the pattern on. There is a whole chapter on swatching and techniques that can help you to make swatches that will be as useful as possible in getting the result you want. Swatching is particularly important when substituting a different yarn for a project, you can use the swatch to evaluate how well the fabric will work. Did you see my blog post from last year where I asked people how they felt about swatching? There are some really interesting comments there.
D Louise asked “At what level knitter is your book aimed? Will a beginning or intermediate knitter be daunted by especially the calculations?”
I don’t put levels on my patterns, although sometimes I’ll mention if something is particularly beginner friendly. Knitting isn’t a practise with a set order of progression, once you have the most basic stitches down and have practised a little you can then go on to all sorts of techniques in whatever order appeals to you. Often successful projects for new knitters are about being able to correctly interpret the pattern and attitude. I try and make patterns that are as easy to figure out as possible, attitude is up to you. My best advice to beginners is to make things you really want to make or wear so that you’re motivated to figure out how to do it. None of the calculations in the book are particularly complicated and again, attitude is the most important thing. If you’re willing to take it slowly and think about what you’re doing there’s no reason an adventurous beginner can’t succeed with anything in the book.
Of course most of the people who worked on the book are very experienced knitters, but Julie who did the graphic design hadn't been knitting for very long at the beginning of the project and she's yet to make an adult sweater. I asked her for her thoughts on how the material in the book has helped her: "working on the book made me feel like I can actually tackle a sweater. I was intimidated by it before but am now really excited to knit my first sweater from the book, all the tools are there." It's great to hear that she's still excited about the content of the book and how it will help her own knitting, having a graphic designer who could knit has helped the book I'm sure and in some ways I think it helped that she wasn't incredibly experienced although she's created some gorgeous projects. While laying out the patterns Julie was very focused on making them as user friendly as possible, making sure that everything for a particular step could be seen at once without lots of flipping pages and gave me lots of great feedback on the content as well.