A couple questions Emily and I often get asked are: how long have you been knitting and how did you learn to knit. For me, I’ve been knitting for 15 years and I taught myself from a book. Not a ‘learn to knit book’ (that would be too easy), it was a stitchionary from the 70′s, a book full of different stitch patterns and a few pithy instructions on the knit and purl stitches.
So what did I knit? I started with a super ugly swatch. Not necessarily ugly because of my knitting (although that obviously needed improvement), it was ugly because it was in a hideous shade of purple in a squeaky acrylic yarn; but I was so proud! That didn’t stop me though, I knit a garter stitch scarf that evened out my tension and then I turned my eye to my very first design project: a blanket.
Because I was working with a stitchionary it seemed like the best thing to do was to work my way through the different types of stitches, some cables, some lace, and some texture. I started creating 6 foot strips of different stitches (still in horrible yarn, I didn’t learn about natural fibers until a few years later). I learned how the different stitches worked as I went, with a lot of missteps along the way. I made not one but three of these blankets!
The finished project is still around, my mum just brought one by for me to fix a few weeks ago. It has some easily fixed holes (they are only at the seams) and then it will be sent back to continue its life as a couch blanket.
What was your first knit project?
More blankies from Tin Can Knits :::
Emily is our lovely model. If you are in Vancouver you have probably met her at a show, seen her lurking around yarn shops, or perhaps confused her with designer Emily (it happens, we get it). Emily is also a big fan of ours and an avid knitter, most recently smitten with sweater knitting! Here is the low down on what Em has been knitting up.
First up is her Grace cardigan by Jane Richmond. When we went down to Seattle for Vogue Knitting Live last year Emily and I went a little crazy at the Hazel Knits booth. I still have 2 skeins on a pedestal for the perfect project, a couple of skeins became a sweater for Hunter (more on that some other time), and Emily walked away with a sweaters worth of Artisan Sock in ‘Zest’ (and I think another skein or 2….it was a bad day for our wallets). The sweater was Emily’s first completed sweater for herself and it is fantastic!
Next up is Emily’s Low Tide Cardigan. I can’t remember when she scooped the lovely SweetGeorgia Tough Love Sock in Cherry but the combination of yarn and pattern is amazing. She even trekked to Button Button to get the same buttons we used on the original. She managed to get some beautiful glass buttons (ours were plastic) and they sparkle against the bright red.
Emily hadn’t considered the Antler Cardigan until she tried on our sample at Knit City. It was just a hop skip and jump over to the Sweet Fiber booth for some Cashmerino Worsted in Smoke! She whipped this sweater up in no time, I think it was only a few weeks since she was ready to wear it by Christmas! I love the way it looks in this colour, a beautiful neutral with hand dyed interest is the perfect yarn for a simple cable yoked sweater like Antler.
The most recent conquest by Em is a sweater she knit as a gift. She knit up Beeline by Heidi Kirrmaier in Cascade 220 for a friend. I think she might be a little jealous though and I’m sure another one is in the works for herself!
You can check out all of Emily’s knitting exploits on her Rav page (including any project details you might be interested in).
Have you been knitting sweaters? Tell us what’s on your needles!
Emily’s faves from Tin Can Knits:
It has been 2 weeks since Emily and John got married and I think I’ve finally recovered enough to write about it! The wedding itself was a stunning affair, with a lovely glowing bride, a bag piping groom, gorgeous hand made bridesmaid dresses, and kilts whirling at the Ceilidh dance. I was lucky enough to have crossed the Atlantic to join in the fun and photograph the happy couple.
Emily wore a pretty navy party dress and John wore his kilt. I think her dress says everything about Emily. She isn’t really a traditional gal (although weddings are pretty traditional in themselves), she knows what looks good, and she can definitely be a party girl (you should have seen her on the dance floor!). The wedding dress sums it all up nicely. Emily also designed her bridesmaids dresses and with the help of Chantal (behind Em in the shot below), finished sewing them up just the day before the wedding!
One of my favorite moments of the evening was John piping down the isle. He played a hint of Star Wars that lightened the mood and had everyone smiling and laughing. He beamed as Em walked down the isle, ready to continue their life together. I’m getting weepy just writing about it! After the ceremony and a few pics the party began: there were swirly skirts and kilts, flowing wine and champagne, and happy guests chatting and dancing the night away. Truly a wedding to remember!
Jane Richmond is a west-coast designer who creates simple, pretty, and very wearable designs. Alexa and I had the pleasure of working alongside her in the recent book Cascadia, and we have made time to chat with charming Jane on several occasions.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jane in person this fall when we were both in Vancouver for Knit City 2013. Jane Richmond, Shannon Cook (her design partner on their recent book Journey), Alexa and I enjoyed a lovely lunch and non-stop chat about design and the knit business!
Since I’ve been writing about design this month, I wanted to share Jane’s work, and a mini-interview with her about her story and her design process.
What we love about Jane Richmond’s designs
One of the strengths of Jane’s work is her ability to create designs that are simple and minimalist but at the same time clever and distinctly beautiful. As any designer knows, a simple design does not mean a simple design process… achieving the level of clarity, simplicity, and beauty that Jane brings to her knit designs takes a lot more thought and design iterations than you might guess.
The Arbutus cowl is a clever design that uses short rows to maximize the volume you can get from a small amount of yarn. It is nit from a single skein of hand dyed DK yarn (shown in Madelinetosh DK in Sequoia), in a solid colour, with only knits and purls, but it has so much volume and texture using this amazingly simple palette.
The Strathcona scarf also uses an extremely minimal palette of biasing mesh lace and garter stitch, but combines them in a really effective way for a strikingly modern finished piece (shown in Quince and Co Sparrow in Blue Spruce)
Both Arbutus and Strathcona can be found in Jane’s first book, ISLAND, published in 2012. ISLAND is inspired by (and exquisitely photographed in) truly beautiful locations on Vancouver Island. As I was born and raised on Vancouver Island myself, the photography and styling of this book really took me home.
The amazing video (created by Jane’s creative partner-in-crime Shannon Cook aka luvinthemommyhood) made me tear up with nostalgia for the Island! All the photos for Island were taken by Jane’s brother, the talented Nicholas Kupiak.
What Jane has to say about her work :::
After my recent post about my own design process, I asked Jane about her work as a knit designer, and you can read a bit about her story today.
Emily: What inspired you to take the leap from knitting to designing?
Jane: I learned to knit as a child and knit on and off through my late teens and early twenties but it wasn’t until I was pregnant with my daughter that I became a regular knitter. I knit up a storm during and after my pregnancy and shortly after Elsie was born (2008) I discovered Ravelry — which changed my world! Being able to see and share projects with other knitters really pushed my knitting to another level. My entire life I’d never had a knitting friend, and now I had an entire community to connect with.
I soon joined my first knitting group — a warm and inviting group of ladies that knit once a week at a local coffee shop. I was sad to leave them when I moved from the Lower Mainland back to the Island and made it a priority to find another group to knit with. I soon found another group of wonderful women! We became fast friends and attended our first Fibre Festival together. There I picked up some local fibre from a mill on Salt Spring Island. It was the first time I’d bought yarn just because it was beautiful — in the past I would have chosen a pattern first and the yarn to go with it next. I took the skein of mustard coloured yarn home and rather than look for a pattern I decided to swatch stitch patterns with it, and eventually came up with a loose mesh stitch that made a simple little scarflette. I brought my project to Knit Night to show everyone what had come of that yellow skein of local yarn and everyone loved it, they encouraged me to put my notes on Ravelry so that others could make the scarf too.
I went home and did just that and the response was more than I expected — I hadn’t expected anyone to notice the scarf really, it was so encouraging — not only did people like the Mustard Scarf, they liked it enough to download the pattern! That Christmas I challenged myself to design each gift on my knit-list — a scarf for my brother Nicholas, a cowl for my Mom Marian, mittens for my B-Mom Fran (Frances), a toque for my sister Betsy (Elizabeth), and a bolero for my sisters Emma and Pasha (Cozy Bolero), and a hat for my friend Amy (Aesderina). I’ve been designing ever since!
Emily: What is the most complex design you have ever created?
Jane: The most complex design I have ever created was the Beacon Hill cardigan for Cascadia. Anyone familiar with my designs probably knows that my aesthetic is minimalist, classic, simple. Beacon Hill was outside of what I typically design.
My original submission for the book was actually a hat using the same raindrop stitch pattern (later published as Wellington). The editors really liked the stitch pattern and hoped that I would resubmit only this time using the stitch to create a garment. I liked the idea of a challenge and got to work sketching my ideas for a long cardigan with a striking shawl collar and all over raindrop stitch pattern.
Once I had conquered the body and sleeves — both in written and knitted form, I felt very close to the finish line. All that was left to do was the collar. I had never knit or designed a shawl collar but I had very specific ideas about how it would look when it was complete. I did quite a bit of research before beginning and couldn’t find anything that was quite as full or substantial as I was aiming for — I like my collars big and bold, everything I was finding was subtle and dainty. I decided the best thing to do was jump in and use trial and error to design the perfect collar.
My first attempt didn’t have enough shaping to lay nicely along the back neck and shoulders. Attempt number two had just the right amount of shaping but wasn’t nearly tall enough. It was hard to get the fullness and the height when limited to a certain number of stitches and rows. One thing I knew for certain was that I wanted the fabric to be doubled up, this meant that each attempt took an enormous amount of time and effort (the collar alone used an entire skein of yarn) but by my third attempt I had nailed it! And I can’t tell you how gratifying it was — I hadn’t settled or compromised, I’d followed through and brought my design from paper to knitted garment. I learned so much along the way — it was a challenging and very rewarding experience.
How about you? Do these design stories inspire you to bring your own ideas into knitted form? Perhaps you have a story about the most challenging or satisfying project that you have created. Tell us story in the comments, or share your photos on our Facebook page!
The beautiful, energetic and eclectic Lee Meredith, creator of Leethal Knits, is a southern California to Portland transplant.
Lee chose to make her home in Portland because she fell in love with the city’s vibrant DIY and indie design scene at a time when this kind of community was hard to find.
Leethal Knits patterns feature many options for size, design, and yarn weights – this makes knitting her designs an adventure with great possibilities for creative use of colour!
Alexa got to know Lee last year at TNNA (check out the knitted mustaches…), and I had the pleasure of meeting her in Portland while I was teaching and signing books on the west coast last October. I find her playful attitude toward design, and her bold and unrelenting use of colour very inspiring!
What we love from Leethal Knits
I admire Lee’s attitude toward colour, and the way she combines colour with pattern and texture. Her designs also use unique construction methods to great effect, so they are interesting projects to knit, as well as being exquisite finished objects!
Another favourite of mine are Leethal’s Either/Or mittens (part of the Remixed Collection). These fingerless (or full) mitts are a very special design, with a unique construction – knit starting from the thumb outwards.
As with many Leethal patterns, these mittens can be knit in any weight of yarn, and the construction is emphasized by stripes, garter stitch, or colour changing yarns. The flexibility in her patterns is excellent for beginners and creative knitters!
What Lee has to say about her work, and design in general :::
After my recent post about my own design process (as it applies to knitting patterns, and my own work), I asked Lee what she thought ~ here is a mini-interview with her take on design for hand knitting.
Emily: What inspired you to take the leap from knitting to designing in the first place?
Lee: When I first started knitting in college (about 10 years ago) I was self-taught, and this was in the pre-ravelry dark ages, and pre the abundance of awesome modern knitting books we have nowadays. So basically, I taught myself knitting techniques from intro books and random websites, but didn’t use patterns, so everything I knit from the very beginning was technically my own design, though they started out very basic.
After a couple years of garter stitch scarfs, stockinette hats, and other basics, with new techniques I learned incorporated into them (like, learn cables, make a hat with cables), I discovered Knitty (check out Lee’s free pattern Superduper… it’s on the cover of the latest issue!) and other free patterns online and learned how patterns worked in general. So after a couple more years of occasionally knitting from a pattern, but mostly just continuing to learn new techniques by reading patterns, and then improvising my own stuff, I finally realized that I could write my creations into patterns! I think Ravelry was a big factor with this realization – seeing the huge community of knitters out there who wanted to knit from patterns. I had already been “designing” for years, by improvising my knits, so it made sense to teach myself how to write patterns, and start teaching other knitters how to make my stuff!
Emily: What is your favourite part of the job as a pattern designer?
Lee: My favorite part is definitely the designing itself – getting the seed of an idea, brainstorming, swatching, sketching, writing out parts, until it develops into the design, and then knitting it and watching it turn into a real item! So satisfying! (Plus, I really love that I can watch movies and tv shows during a big chunk of my work process!) Another part I really love is getting to see other people knit my designs and enjoy them, through ravelry projects and forum posts. Knowing that the patterns are out there in the world making other knitters happy is a really fantastic feeling!
Emily: Could you tell the story of one of your designs?
Plus, there had been more and more mystery KALs popping up over the years, so I decided I wanted to come up with an idea to differentiate my next KAL from the rest. And because of the way I tend to design, and think about design, I knew I could incorporate lots of different options, both to make it more exciting, and to help prevent unhappy knitters – if everyone could choose design options for every part of the project, they’d be much more likely to end up with something they liked in the end! I could even expand on that further by offering different items to choose from… so as the brainstorming process went on, it hit me, a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style knit-a-long!
Pick your item, pick from a selection of different options for each section of the knit-a-long; there could even be some kind of story or something, with like code names for the options so it’s still a mystery KAL. I sat on this idea for a while, knowing it had major potential, but not having a clear vision for how to put the whole thing together… Then it was one of those epiphany moments where an idea just hits out of thin air – I could turn each week’s knit-a-long clues into a mini-booklet, so that there’d be pages, so the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure inspired choices could actually say “if you want to do this option, turn to page 11″ etc, with each knitting pattern option on its own page of the booklet. And then each week there would be a new booklet, and at the end you could use them altogether, as a full on Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style knitting pattern!
Then it developed into figuring out how to bind the booklets all together, and I ended up making more than just one booklet per week/section, and in the end, it’s an 80 page DIY book, with 4 different items and 20 different stitch patterns! That seed of an idea really took on a life of its own – I had no idea where it would end up when I first starting thinking about a mystery knit-a-long with multiple options; I’m so happy with where I was able to take it! (Side note: participants had a fantastic time with the first one last year, so I am planning on making it an annual event every summer!)
There are two questions I am often asked by knitters and enthusiasts:
1. Where do you get your inspiration?
2. What is your design process?
This month on the blog we will reveal our pattern design and development process, speak to other knitting pattern designers about their relationship with design, and provide some tips and tricks for knitters who want to branch out into design!
INSPIRATION IS OMNIPRESENT
The question “Where do you get your inspiration” is total bollocks.
Inspiration is all around us, omnipresent. In the architecture of the nearby church, in the waves of the ocean, in the retro shirt I discovered at a thrift shop, in the precise green of my husband’s eyes. In the autumn colours on my morning run, or the bright contrasts of neon lights. I could go on, well… probably forever. I find inspiration just by looking around and observing the beauty in my world (and I’m sure you do too… although you may not recognize it as such). It is simply always there, and everywhere!
The difference between designers and people who say “I’m not creative” is that designers recognize the beauty in the world around them as inspiration for things they want to make. It’s not such a great leap… let’s look at the process.
INSPIRATION + DESIRE = DESIGN
For me, inspiration translates to design through the vehicle of desire. It could be the desire to own a beautiful handmade object, or the desire to make something exquisite and unique for a loved one, or simply the the desire to challenge yourself creatively, or answer a ‘what if’ question.
EXAMPLE ::: wave lace > estuary > low tide
Let me tell you a story about a few of my favourite designs.
I love my Mom, and I wanted to make something really special for her 60th birthday (this is the DESIRE part of the equation).
wave lace stitch pattern
Where did I begin? My INSPIRATIONS: my mother has the most beautiful blue eyes, and looks great in blue that brings them out. She is an avid sailor, and loves the ocean, and we have spent some of our best times together out on the water and walking along the beach. So I wanted to use the colour blue and design a lace stitch pattern inspired by the ocean.
Many hours of swatching later, I had developed an organic and original lace stitch pattern, which (with the help of my fav lace yarn, SweetGeorgia Cashsilk Lace), became a beautiful lace scarf.
There was a simplicity to the wave lace scarf, but I decided I wanted to re-use the lace stitch pattern in a larger scale, more complex piece. Starting with the structure and logic of the little lace pattern, I created a larger-scale, more detailed lace stitch pattern, and combined the two stitch patterns to make the Estuary Shawl (free pattern, perfect for challenging your lace skills).
Low Tide Cardigan
While creating these two knits, I noticed that the wave lace pattern had a strong bias to it; and I held it up to my body, and imagined how, as a bodice, it would make a really great v-neck neckline. And so I asked myself “what if this were the bodice of a swoopy, lacy, lightweight cardigan?”.
We were working on Pacific Knits at the time, and I was feeling nostalgic for the beautiful beaches and ocean scenes of my childhood home on Vancouver Island. These inspirations and a desire to challenge myself lead to the design of the Low Tide cardigan; which I knit in a silvery grey reminiscent of the graphic wave patterns left in the sand at low tide.
What does the design process LOOK like?
Once you have your INSPIRATION plus your DESIRE, you can generate a BIG IDEA. When the big idea strikes (often in the shower, or just as you are drifting off to sleep), you must capture it by getting it down on a bit of paper… a sticky note, an index card, a napkin… it doesn’t matter, but don’t let it get away!
BIG IDEA in place, the development of the design is all about details! Picking a yarn (if you haven’t already), making swatches, determining the details that will support the ‘big idea’, the technical process of writing the pattern, calculating stitch counts for an extensive set of sizes (this is called ‘grading’ the pattern), testing the pattern, and getting it professionally edited and photographed!
Stay tuned for our upcoming post about the nitty gritty specifics of the pattern development process – we’ll be giving you a behind-the-scenes peek at what our job really entails.
What inspires YOU? What would YOU like to create?
Everyone, even those who deny their creativity, have the capacity to find beauty and inspiration in the world. What do you find beautiful? If you felt like you have the skills and ability, what would you like to create?
A few of Emily’s favourite Tin Can Knits designs :::
I used to hate Valentines Day. I’m a bit of an un-romatic (unlike Emily, who is a rather romantic gal) and so Valentines seemed a little like an obligation and fraught with possibilities for let downs and social awkwardness. Now that I have 2 little kiddies though, every holiday is an opportunity for crafting and baking! There will be cupcakes, cookies, crocheted balls, and an adorable i heart rainbows hat!
i heart rainbows is a matching sweater and hat set from our first book, 9 Months of Knitting (the hat is a *free* pattern!). We wanted something super sweet for a little one and rainbows fit the bill. We are children of the 80′s after all, Rainbow Brite was kind of a big deal.
I thought Hunter could use a bit of whimsy for Valentines so I whipped up this hat using one of my favorite colourful yarns: Tanis Fiber Arts. While I adore the original rainbow, I thought something more subdued was in order for Valentines. I used Yellow Label DK instead in of sock yarn, since I had all the right colours in DK (see more about my Tanis obsession here and here). I followed the pattern for i heart rainbows hat with the following changes:
Pattern Changes: Since I was using DK weight yarn I had to make a few changes. I cast on 96 sts for the ribbing and increased to 100 sts after. I worked a my rainbow, my heart chart, and my rainbow in reverse, then I knit in MC until the hat was 5″ . For the decrease set up round I knit 10 then placed marker, the rest is according to pattern.
i heart rainbows hat project details:
Yarn: Tanis Fiber Arts Yellow Label DK in Frost, Royal Flush, Pink Grapefruit, and Poppy
Needles: 3.5mm for the ribbing, and 4mm for the rest
Pattern: i heart rainbows hat (with the above alterations)
Jones loves to throw balls. It’s a little uncanny how accurate he is and how much entertainment he gets from throwing them one after another. He loves to throw them with a pre-emptive ‘throw!’ too. When I saw these crochet balls on the Purlbee I knew they were perfect. Soft (now more goose eggs for Hunter) and a great opportunity to practice my weak crochet skills. I whipped up a set of three and immediately I was hooked. The possibilities of stripes and solids, big and small, it was endless! I gave the first set to my neighbour’s son for his birthday and then I got started on Jonesies for Valentines!
crochet balls project details
Yarn: Tanis Fiber Arts Yellow Label DK in: Blue: Frost, Seabreeze, Teal. Pink: Royal Flush, Pink Grapefruit, Sunset. Green: Buttercup, Lemon Grass, Spearmint. Purple: Garnet, Lilac, Velvet
Hook: 3.5mm crochet hook
Pattern: Crochet balls from the Purlbee
What are you working on for Valentines? Something sweet for a loved one?
More sweet patterns from Tin Can Knits