Archive for the ‘Designer Chat’ Category

Surprise Cowl

Saturday, September 12th, 2015

Its not everyday that we can have our cake and knit it too.  What that means to a knitter, is very seldom do we find a truly innovative array of textures and colours in one single ball (or cake) of yarn.  South African designer, Adele, is a visionary who has been handcrafting her very unique line of luxury yarns for the past thirty two years as a cottage industry following strict fair trade and eco standards.  Spun from locally sourced mohair and merino wool, these art yarns are currently being introduced in Canada.

Let’s chat with Adele and discover more about her enchanting yarn creations-

Adele

Adele Cutten

MM: Hi Adele!  Your yarns are exquisite and we are super excited to welcome this Thick ‘n Thin collection to Canada.  What got you started on this creative path?

AC: It was an expansion of my hobby.  Both of my grandmothers taught me to knit and in my early childhood I developed a love for it.

MM: Can you remember your very first project?

AC: Oh yes!  A scarf for my grandfather knitted in leftover yarns, of varying thicknesses, and bless him he wore it til he died.

82b0c365604f873719cbc7ab1bdb3ebe

Thick ‘n Thin by Adele

‘What you see on the outside of each yarn cake is a mere fraction

of the delightful surprise that you will find

as you knit your way through to the centre core.’

MM: Did you know at a young age that you would  find your passion in the yarn business?

AC: Well…. After doing a BSc degree I traveled and worked in the UK, visited woolen mills, and on the Isle of Harris I met the lady who wove tweed for the queen, a Mrs McDonald.  She collected the wool off the fences and went on to spin, dye and then weave. This blew me away and I decided that this is what I wanted to do.

MM: So you literally fell into producing designer knitting yarns, accessories and home textiles headfirst!

AC: Just about.  The craft developed through my passion and where I needed a skill I turned to books or guilds, friends and experimentation. I have no formal training at all.

PicMonkey Collage

MM: Your workshop is located in a rural area of South Africa, between East London and Port Elizabeth.  Do you draw inspiration from the landscape for your brilliant colour palette?

AC: I live on a farm where abundant wildflowers grow, and I love the outdoors, so yes, that’s where it comes from.  Also, from travel and the world around me….. alas nothing fancy.

Surprise Cowl

Surprise Cowl

SURPRISE COWL

Finished Size: 81 cm/ 32 ins x 20 cm/ 8 ins

Yarn: 50g ball Thick ‘n Thin by Adele col. #9 (shown above)

Needles: 6.50 mm – 80 cm circular

Tension: 11 sts and 16 rows = 10 cm/4 ins over st st

Cast on 88 sts, join in round being careful not to twist sts over needle.  Place a marker on first st.

Round 1 to 4: Purl.

Round 5 to 6: Knit.

Round 7: [Yo, k2tog], rep [to] across row.

Round 8 to 9: Knit.

Round 10 to 12: Purl.

Rep Rounds 5 to 12 twice.

Knit 2 rounds.

Cast off loosely.

Sew in ends.

Design by: Michele Meadows

Sock Knitting Queen

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

Island living certainly has its perks and for Pat De Clark, a resident of Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands), she was quick to realize that the secret to living in a community full of fishermen, loggers, and outdoor buffs starts with keeping all those feet warm and dry.  In an oceanic climate where the average rainfall amount is second only to the tropics, wool socks are in constant demand and are preferred over cotton for their ability to wick away moisture and retain elasticity, not to mention they offer a nice layer of padding inside boots or shoes.  Pat arrived in the Village of Queen Charlotte off the coast of B.C. in 1983 on a six week stint as an x-ray technician and never left.  “It’s quite lovely knowing and being known by everyone in town.” says Pat of Charlotte Island Knitting, who began knitting socks more than thirty years ago initially by hand and then on a double-bed machine, and has since made a cottage industry out of it.

Let’s get to know our sock knitting queen-

Pat In Her Studio

Pat De Clark In Her Home Studio

MM:  Hi Pat, thank you for stopping by today to chat with us.  Would you like a tea or coffee before we get started?

PDC:  Yes, I’m a tea drinker, thank you.

MM:  There is something so magical about gifting someone with a pair of knitted wool socks, and watching the reaction as they slip them on their feet.  Your socks are all quite beautiful.  Are these made on a machine?

PDC:  The ones that you are looking at are all made on an old home knitting machine.  It’s a double-bed Superba, and some of your senior readers may recognize it.  Machine knitting became popular in Europe after WWII and later spread to this continent.  It was a very popular hobby and also a means of extra income.  Machine knitting lasted until about the mid-nineties when it suddenly lost popularity and the manufacturers and support structure disappeared from the economy.  There are very few of us left now.

Fortissima Mexiko Peru Color by Schoeller & Stahl

Fortissima Mexiko Peru Color by Schoeller & Stahl

MM:  Have you always been a knitter and can you tell us how you got started in this business?

PDC:  Well…… my lovely English grandmother taught me how to knit when I was five, and I started to knit socks when I was about seventeen.  I’ve just never quit!  A friend bought me an old knitting machine at an auction and instantly I was hooked.  It soon became apparent that I could make much more knitwear that I could ever use so I started selling at Christmas craft fairs and it just morphed from there.  During the eighties and nineties, most of my production was for men.  That has all changed now…it’s about half and half.  It became obvious that I could sell more socks that I could ever possibly make, so now I just focus on the annual Christmas craft fair and a few special orders in between.

Supersocke 4 ply by On Line

Supersocke 4 ply by On Line

MM:  Do you have a set schedule that you follow… for instance, how many pairs of socks can you knit in a week?

PDC:  Yes.  I do set my goals for each season, divide them into months and weeks, consult my yarn supply and start knitting.  My current goal is ten pairs of socks per week.

MM:  Wow!  That is quite a lot for the rest of us sock knitters to aspire to.  What are some of the responses you have had from those who wear your socks?

PDC:  People like the fact that they are wool…..we live in a rain forest and are primarily outdoor enthusiasts, whether it is for work or play.  Wool keeps the feet warm even if they get wet.  There is no elastic in the ribbing to constrict, yet the ribbing I make is firm and stays up.  This is especially good for diabetics.  My socks are seamless, comfortable and last well, I have had customers who have been buying them from me for thirty years, and I have others who say their mothers bought them from me.  I seem to have become an Island tradition.

Sock Stockpile Growing

Sock Stockpile Growing

MM:  Yes….and I hear you are now taking to the open seas, to teach sock knitting on cruise ships.  How did this come about? 

PDC:   Oh quite by accident actually.  While on a cruise to Hawaii, part of the daily routine was a knit ‘n’ stitch get-together each morning.  I took my sock knitting along and it went from there.  I met some lovely women and had a really great time and still get emails on a regular basis from these women, many of them showing their latest achievements.  Very rewarding.  There is a big interest in sock knitting as I’m sure you know, there also seems to be a myth about how difficult it is.  My job is to demystify it.

MM:  What three little tips would you like to pass on to brand new sock knitters?

PDC:  1. Use only a good wool sock yarn such as On Line or Fortissima.  2. Two circular needles are easier to handle than four double pointed ones, and I prefer bamboo.  3. Relax and have fun!

Pat's Island View

Pat’s Island View

 

Designer Chat With Claudia Wersing

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Setting down a sewing needle to pick up knitting needles is no easy transition, yet German designer, Claudia Wersing has crossed the great divide almost seamlessly.  Initially trained as a dressmaker, Claudia completed a number of fashion collections for German designers, continuing on to achieve a Master’s Certificate as a clothing technician and merging her experience in all aspects of fabric construction with the more fluid nature of knitwear.  Now working as an independent designer, her crisp, clean style is frequently showcased in European publications, Burda, and Verena, as well as the latest Fall/Winter Collection for Mirasol.

 

Claudia Wersing

 

MM:  Hi Claudia, thank you so much for stopping by to share your views on design with us.  Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?

CW:  Yes…..I would like a Latte, please.

MM:  So, where exactly is your home base, and do you have a studio where you do all your work?

CW:  Throughout my life, I have moved around a lot.  I worked abroad for awhile, but now I live in Northern Germany in a comfortable old farmhouse in the country where my design studio is located.  I am very fortunate because I can see the lake from my desk, which I find to be very soothing and inspiring.  A few metres away, is an old farmstead building that I have converted into my wool shop.  This is where I work also, whether it’s selling wool or giving workshops.

Claudia's Studio

 

MM:  What a beautiful setting for a home and studio.  I understand you started your career in dressmaking, what led you to branch out into knitwear design?

CW:  Knitting played an important role in my childhood, and I have always had a passion for traditional handicraft techniques.  I don’t really separate knitting and sewing, as both crafts involve use of the hands.  They are just used differently.  During my work in the clothing industry, the collections always included knitwear and there is not much difference between creating a pattern for a piece of knitted fabric that must be sewn together, and creating one for a hand knitted item of clothing.  What’s important to understand is how to build comfort into the piece….. and of course, where the seams should go.  I like seams!

So in both my professional and personal life, I have always mixed sewing and knitting, and I find that both disciplines benefit from each other, they complete each other.  This gives me freedom in my work.  Anyway, when you are knitting the ability to sew becomes a great advantage.

MM:  Can you remember your very first knitted creation and what it looked like?    

CW:  Yes, I can remember it exactly!  My first knitted creation was a dress for my Barbie doll.  It was sort of a potholder belted with a woollen string.  It looked like a wraparound dress, but of course on Barbie everything looks stylish.  Later on, in the eighties, I knitted a lot of raglan pullovers and those big motif styles which are now very fashionable.  You must remember those??

MM:  Yes, I do and your designs look amazing…. very cutting edge.  I have seen several in Burda, Verena, and now in the Fall/Winter Mirasol Collection.  Do you still dabble in fabric design?

CW:  Thank you for the compliment, I appreciate it.   At the moment I am working exclusively in knitting design, I rarely work with fabric anymore.  This is a natural development, knitting has become more important during the past few years as more and more people discover the soothing and balancing effect of working with their hands.  That is why the demand for modern, wearable knitting designs has risen significantly.  Knitting is such an attractive counter balance to our increasingly technology-driven lifestyle and it suits people’s desire for ‘homeyness’.

Ushya by Claudia Wersing

 

MM:  Being trained as an apparel technician must bring incredible focus on detail to all aspects of your work, can you describe some of the intricacies that are your signature in knitwear?

CW:  Yes, I have to laugh….but you are right.  As a technician, a lot of value is placed on careful detail and you learn how to organise something ‘big’ into many little steps.  I laugh because my designer’s heart doesn’t like the technician in me, and always takes my inner designer to task and forces her to work carefully, testing everything for both feasibility and usefulness.  It demands precise work on the pattern and exceptional accuracy, but it is essential for a good fit.  That is exactly my signature; well thought-out patterns, pure straightforward designs that are both wearable and fit well with a clean silhouette.

MM:  Lucky you, to be able to work with yarns from Mirasol.  Ushya, Miski, and Sulka are all equally irresistible.  Where did you draw inspiration from for this lovely collection of knitwear in the latest book of designs for Fall/Winter 2012?  

CW:  Thank you again!  And yes…….it was a great privilege to be able to work with all these beautiful yarns.  I enjoyed it a lot.  I love alpaca and the Mirasol yarns have fantastic colouring and are exceptionally high quality.  These designs were developed during my stay by the sea, a place not far from my home.

Miski by Claudia Wersing

 

MM:  I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but if you had to choose….is there one favorite yarn that you really enjoyed working with?

CW:  Gosh… that is really hard to say, I have a great number of favorite yarns, as it is not only dependent on the season, but also on my mood.  I like to be able to work with different yarns for different occasions.  Sometimes, something cosy is needed, because you want comfort.  Then again, sometimes something a bit more exciting is needed for a glamorous occasion.  Therefore….. no, I have no favorites.  What I favor is constant motion and ever-changing.

Sulka by Claudia Wersing

 

MM:  Right now in Canada, ruffle scarves and lace shawls are very popular, and cowls for the winter season.  What seems to be the current trend that you see in Germany? 

CW:  That depends on the level of knitting ability.  Beginners like to knit hats and what we call ‘loops’ and those who want to try a bigger project usually choose a knit jacket.  The classic knit jacket is very popular and also a versatile item of clothing.

MM:  What’s ‘on your needles’ at the moment Claudia?

CW:  At the moment, I am preparing for a new workshop which deals with knitting Christmas ornaments, and I am knitting a size XXL ‘Fun Bauble’ with size 15 needles.

Inside Claudia's Studio

 

MM:  That sounds like a lot of fun!  Thanks for letting us take a peek inside your studio!

(images courtesy of Claudia Wersing)

(Video) For a behind-the-scenes look at the photo shoot for Mirasol’s F/W Collection 2012 by Claudia Wersing.

Designer Chat With Joji Locatelli

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

Ask any knitter what his or her fantasy job might be and watch how quickly their face illuminates with sheer delight.  Joji Locatelli is a designer living that dream, after trading in a white coat for the multi-coloured sweaters she now knits, and discovering her creative talents in a virtual candyland emporium where the knitting yarns are the ultimate treats.  Joji’s lively demeanor and refreshing enthusiasm catch on like wildfire, as she drops by to chat about designing life and her passion for knitting.     

Joji Locatelli

MM:  Hi Joji, and thanks so much for stopping by today to share a bit about your work and design.  What would you like to drink?

JL:  I’ll have a latte, thank you!

MM:  Has knitwear design always been your chosen career?

JL:  Well as a matter of fact….No!  I studied first to be a physician, and I was a great student back then!  After I received my degree and license, I worked as a doctor until my first son was born.  But I didn’t enjoy my career well enough to continue at it, and dreamt of knitting all the time…so I did whatever I could to leave that profession behind and began looking for a job that was related to knitting.  I found my dream job at a local yarn shop (Milana) where I met some incredibly generous people who have helped me to develop in this business.  At Milana, I get to play with colour, knit samples, and design lines of yarn.  Whatever needs to be done, I am in for it!  Designing knitwear just came my way a year ago…I didn’t really expect any of my designs to be popular, but people really liked them, which has encouraged me to keep doing it.  

Milana

MM:  Working with such wildy colourful and exotic yarns from Manos Artesanas must be like playing in a candy store all day long.  Is it the design idea that you develop first or does the yarn speak to you?

JL:  With Manos Artesanas, the yarn does the trick, it doesn’t speak to me, it shouts at me!  I try to keep the designs simple with this line, because the beauty and the colours in the yarn are so incredible, a more intricate pattern just wouldn’t allow the yarn to glow.  Yes, working here is unbelievable, all the yarn you can imagine, and at the reach of your hand…

Manos Artesanas

MM:  There are so many luxurious soft blends of yarn these days, you must have one special pet fibre that you adore working with?

JL:  Well, I haven’t been blessed with the opportunity yet to work with every blend available…but I know I love merino, in any shape.  For me, there is nothing like a great soft wool.

MM:  What is the knitting ‘vibe’ like in your hometown of Buenos Aires and at your LYS?

JL:  Buenos Aires is a wonderful city to live in.  I am truly in love with my hometown!  But the knitting vibe is very different here from the rest of the world.  I am not talking about the knitters that you find in online communities, those are a minority in Buenos Aires, and yes they do have similar knitting styles to others.  I am talking about the knitters we see every day at the shop.  Argentine knitters love FAST PROJECTS!  Big needles!  Lots of colour, texture…and loads of embellishments!  Lace is not popular here for that reason.  Hahaha.  Even though we don’t have harsh winters, knitters here choose thick yarns, novelty, and chunky blends.  I really love how knitting ‘vibes’ can be so totally different.

MM:  I see you belong to a knitting group, how often do you meet, and what source of inspiration do you draw from your fellow knitters?

JL:  Yes, I am very lucky to have really good knitting friends.  We met in an online community almost four years ago, and they have now become some of my most cherished friends.  We share the same passion for yarn and get together for knitting every Saturday.  My knitting friends are very supportive of what I do, and usually test my patterns for me (a big thank you!)  They even look for new ideas for me to work with.

Veronica, Joji, Federica, Alejandra, Andrea

MM:  You refer to your mom as a ‘Sleeve Master’…. there must be a story behind that special nickname??

JL:  Hahaha, you heard that??  Yes, she is the best!  Well, you know how knitters hate to knit sleeves, right?  You are almost done with a sweater, all the shaping is complete, you have passed through the hardest parts of the design, you try it on, it fits…. everything is perfect!  Not quite.  You still have to make two boring tubes to cover your arms!  But my mom loves to work on them (or at least she tells me so) because they are so mindless… and she can watch tv at the same time.

MM:  Yay!  Teamwork!!

JL:  I know, how great is that!  After I work out some directions for her, she usually knits all the sleeves for me.  The only time I knit them myself is when she is already knitting up the sleeves for another one of my samples.   

MM:  What’s ‘on your needles’ at the moment Joji? 

JL:  Well… I am working on two sweater designs right now.  One of them is a collared cardigan with ties, and flowers, and leaves on the back.  I recently designed a child’s version and it was very popular.  I hope the adult version will do the original justice.  The other design, I just started it today actually, is a cabled hoodie in a chunky yarn that will be knit in multiple directions…. I hope I can make that work!!

MM:  Best of luck with that one, I am sure it will look great.  Is there something that you recall as especially inspiring on your travels? 

JL:  I haven’t had the opportunity to travel very much…so no…but I think travelling must be so inspiring!  As a matter of fact, we are going away on a family trip to Europe next April, and I am already thinking of all the ideas I will bring back home. 

Joji has designed this Big Warm Cowl in Copitos, a super soft thick and thin wool from Manos Artesanas.  Its a free pattern to download and knits up with just two skeins on 19 mm needles. 

Copitos Cowl by Joji

(images courtesy of Joji Locatelli) 

Designer Chat With Michelle Porter

Friday, February 4th, 2011

As Canadian as figgy duff, maple syrup, and nanaimo bars, Michelle Porter is a homegrown talent who remains true to her roots, successfully merging her East Coast heritage into the ever-changing world of design.  With an intuitive flair for wearable fashion, and a practical approach to pared-down style, Michelle draws from her training and experience in all areas of the yarn industry.  Currently, she resides north of  Toronto and works as a knitwear designer for the Diamond Luxury Collection, as well as her own company, Fondle Patterns.  

Michelle Porter

Michelle shares her design philosophy with us and a glimpse at whats ‘on the needles’ for Fall 2011.

MM:  Hi Michelle, thanks for taking some time from your designing schedule to stop by and chat today.  Can I offer you something warm to drink, maybe a cup of hot chocolate?

MP:  Coffee please………. black, in the biggest cup you have, and if you don’t mind, I’ll have the rest of the pot!

MM:  What initially sparked your choice of career in the yarn industry?

MP:  As a child growing up in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, it was my grandmother who taught me the knitting basics.  I was able to follow complicated Barbie doll patterns as soon as I could read.  She also taught me how to make all the traditional cold weather accessories from memory.  As she was knitting for my sister and I, there I was alongside her, knitting for my dolls.  Now at ninety-three, I am knitting for her.  

Knitting For Barbie

I didn’t choose a career in the yarn industry, it just sort of happened.  Instead, I started out studying to be a medical lab technician, but after getting the worst strep throat of my life, and realizing I was way too sloppy for such precise work, I quit and went to art school, and later switched to visual merchandising.  It was while I was working for a window display company in P.E.I. that I helped the owner start up a yarn store as a side business.   This is where I taught my first knitting lessons and developed custom designs.

MM:  Since then, you moved to Toronto and really went full circle, from working in a yarn store, to taking over the reins and making it your own.  Having that daily interaction with customers and helping them in choosing the right pattern styles, did that further your interest in design?

MP:  When you are running a yarn store, there is so much to consider in regards to buying stock and selling to customers.  You can always pick the best quality yarn in the most attractive colours, but yarn can be knit into almost anything.  The most important aspect is the pattern.  Very few customers can knit without a pattern.  Most folks walked into the yarn shop with something specific in mind.  Imagine my despair when no such pattern existed.  Sometimes you can show customers two dozen patterns, all for the same style of garment, but none of them are just right.  Almost each and every time all they wanted was a basic, simple pattern, easy to follow and quick to knit.  Often, I had to write one up on the spot. 

Another issue that kept coming up, especially with my students, was the confusing pattern instructions, ambiguous wording, and inconsistent use of abbreviations.  I wish we could all follow the same format when writing patterns.  Customers also requested a full range of pattern sizes, mostly leaning towards larger sizes.

MM:  As a Canadian designer, do you feel we have our own signature style?

MP:  A signature Canadian style??  Well, the traditional items for sure, toques, mittens, socks, and sweater coats (2010 Winter Olympics come to mind).  Most of us Canadian knitters have these patterns or recipes passed down from our grandmothers.  Sometimes its hard to find a copy of any of these patterns available commercially, or even in print.  Its often surprising when we designers re-interpret these items, only to find that they are still so popular!  As far as my personal take on Canadian style- we have four seasons to dress for, so layering pieces are key, like cardigans, twinsets, wraps, and vests.  Simply put, items that can be worn to work, not just on the weekend. 

Diamond Luxury Collection #1407

MM:  So true…….and some of your latest designs for the Diamond Luxury Collection make use of bold cables as elements in shaping a garment.  Is this something we might see more of in the future?

MP:  I have always admired clever internal shaping.  Good shaping is important to keep the garment ‘slimming’.  It also helps to fuel the high fashion impression (handmade vs homemade).  I love how cables can change the tension, the direction and thickness of a fabric.  Darts are good too, but cables are more interesting.  I haven’t exhausted my cabling as shaping yet, but am looking forward to more lace effects in my next collection.

Diamond Luxury Collection #1406

Back Image of #1406

MM:  Which season are you designing for at the moment, and any hints at what we might be seeing?

MP:  Right now…….I’m designing for Fall 2011.  There will be lots of rich colours and equally rich fibres.  I am exploring some simple lace and textured patterns for sweaters (huge fan of four row repeats).  Also, I am trying out some alternative directional knitting, one piece sideways, top down, etc., and I really feel an accessory moment coming on.  The slouch hat has paved the way for cloches and turban styles.  Most of my ideas are still in the ‘swatch’ stage, but here’s a peek-

Mulberry Merino by Diamond Luxury Collection

Fine Merino Superwash DK by Diamond Luxury Collection

Baby Alpaca Sport by Diamond Luxury Collection

MM:  All equally gorgeous!  In the Diamond Luxury Collection, knitters have the creme de la creme of natural fibres to pick from.  If you had to choose just one, is there a special yarn that you really love to work with?

MP:  Mmh……My all-time favorite in the collection would be Baby Alpaca Sport because of its soft, seductive feel and huge colour choice.  Still, near the top of my list is Merino Bamboo for its spongy texture and slight sheen.  It gives good stitch definition, and a super even tension.  There are not as many colour options, but those twelve shades are all fantastic!

MM:   So, when you are on vacation, do you take your needles and yarn along, or prefer to turn off the switch?

MP:  Vacation……….um, see for yourself…..

Sun, Sand, and Socks

The worst thing I can remember happening was during a deep woods camping trip.  I had just finished my project, but hadn’t packed another one!  Now, I spend a full week planning projects beforehand.

MM:  Where is your ideal spot for finding inspiration for new designs?

MP:  My ‘ideal’ spot is not my reality spot.  Ideal is a lounge chair on a tropical beach, with a margarita in my left hand, and my sketch pad in my right.  There are baskets of beautiful yarns all around me….but in reality, most of my design ideas come to me in the early morning hours as I lay in bed.  The details that I work out then surprise me, I guess its the absence of distractions, so a stream of thought can properly develop.  Other than that, my home office is a good place to sit with a whole wall of yarn stuffed in hanging bins and the opposite wall as an inspiration wall filled with magazine clippings.  I also get ideas while working in the garden.  Flowers are fantastic when you look really close, with ruffled edges, folds and puckers.  Inspiration can come really anywhere, so I keep a pocket sketch pad handy. 

MM:  As a knitting instructor and designer, what’s the one thing you want every new knitter to learn?

MP:  PLEASE, please, learn to love the tension swatch!  Always do your tension first, make it larger than the standard four inches, make several of them, each with different size needles.  Wash and block your swatch.  This is the single most important thing you can do to guarantee happiness with your finished project.  Learn the stitch pattern while making the swatch too, if you don’t like it here, you surely will not like it on the whole garment!

(images courtesy of Michelle Porter)

 

 

 

Designer Chat With Hannah Thiessen

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Just back from a whirlwind adventure in Uruguay, Hannah Thiessen stops by to tell us about her summertime experience as an intern for Malabrigo, the country’s leading yarn producer.  A freelance knitwear designer from the States with a fine arts degree, Hannah made the trip to Uruguay for a firsthand look at how some of our favorite yarns are made.  Her journey took her to the bustling capital- Montevideo, a city rich in architectural and cultural heritage, and home to the Malabrigo headquarters where she wore a multitude of hats- Product Development, Creative Director, In-House Designer, Blog Writer and Customer Service.  Hannah also spent time touring through the lush countryside to Paysandu, to visit the Malabrigo sheep ranches and see where it all begins.

Malabrigo- literally means ‘poorly dressed’, the company is named after a small town where the weather is so cold, people knit to keep themselves warm.  

Hannah Thiessen

Hannah sits down to share a behind the scenes look at Malabrigo and the spirit of the yarns we all love to knit.

MM:  Thanks so much for dropping in to share your summer story with us, would you like some tea or coffee? 

HT:  I would love a mocha, actually!  I used to work as a barista so I am pretty partial to espresso.

MM:  Working as a Malabrigo intern this summer in Montevideo, Uruguay, wow!  Now that is a dream job.  How did it all come about?

HT:  I used to be an administrator for the group Malabrigo Junkies on Ravelry.  During my time administrating the group I was able to talk with Antonio, he is the head dyer for Malabrigo.  Sometimes members would ask me questions about what colourways they had in their stashes, due to missing tags, etc. and I was really good at identifying and remembering even the slightest differences between colourways.  One day, Antonio commented that it was too bad I didn’t live in Uruguay.  At the time, I was in school in the States, and we needed to organize summer internships ourselves, so I asked and they accepted!  The entire process was set up eighteen months in advance.

MM:  Knitters everywhere adore Malabrigo, but few of us are familiar with the story behind the yarn.  Can you share a bit of what you have learned about the company history?

HT:  Malabrigo was started because the folks in Uruguay saw a need.  So much wool (merino and corriedale) is exported from their country, yet not enough of it is turned into yarn there, some of it goes to other countries for processing and dyeing.  Antonio wanted to introduce something new to the market after seeing some lovely kettle-dyed wool, always in small batches and sold at the local street markets, not incredibly lucrative or high quality, just pretty.  So he began to dye wool in his kitchen, in a big pot on the stove and it all kind of developed right from there.  Previously Antonio worked as an architect, and now he runs the factory with his two brothers-in-law, Marcos and Tobias.  All added up, they employ about forty people to make our favorite yarns.

Inside the Malabrigo factory in Montevideo

MM:  So….. what  fun projects have you been working on during your stay in Uruguay?

HT:  Well……..a few of them are secrets!  But I can let you know that I was able to do a lot of work on Malabrigo Book 3.  As Creative Director, I assisted with the photo shoots, choosing the models, and styling the outfits, generally directing everything to give it that complete look.  I was also able to introduce a new color to the Twist and Silky lines- Manzanillo Olive!

MM:  Thats sounds like a delicious new colour, can’t wait to see it!  We know that Merino Worsted has a huge admiration society amongst knitters with over one hundred dreamy colours, and often described as melted butter on the needles.  We would love to know a bit more about the production process, and what you were able to discover while at the factory.

HT:  Basically the wool from the sheep is really carefully chosen, either merino or corriedale.  It comes only from Uruguay, and the country itself has very high standards for sheep treatment and management.  The sheep graze free-range through the hills and are herded by actual old style shepherds.  After the sheep are sheared, the wool is cleaned with very little water wasted and sent to a nearby EcoTex spinning mill.  Malabrigo chooses how the yarn will be spun to create some of our favorite yarns, next the wool is brought to the mill for hand dyeing by the workers.  The colourways are all dreamed up by Antonio and the chemist-in-residence.

MM:  Do you have an all-time favorite design in Merino Worsted?

HT:  Hard question!  I think I really love designs that show off the yarn while acknowledging its weaknesses.  I feel the best patterns for Merino Worsted are usually accessory items, things to wear on your head or hands that don’t get too much friction and will remain beautiful for a long time. 

MM:  Uruguay is a country with so much beauty and spirit, but there is much hardship as well.  Which charity projects does Malabrigo participate in?

HT:  Malabrigo just recently provided yarn for the International Knit In Public Day held in Montevideo.  The company gave away chunky yarns (Aquarella, Gruesa, Rasta) for knitters to use to make garments for orphanages and charities in the country.  They also donated some of the more luxurious yarns as incentive prizes.  Knitters get together in huge groups, knitting away, and during this past year alone, over nine hundred garments were donated!

MM:  That’s great to hear.  When you had a day off from your busy summer schedule, what was your favorite place to sit and knit and enjoy the local culture?

HT:  When I was in Uruguay this summer, I spent quite a bit of time knitting in my room.  It was wintertime there, so cuddling up with a big blanket, having music to listen to and knitting was really comfortable to me.  If the weather had been better, I might have spent more time outside on the back porch- the house where I was staying had a gorgeous back patio with a tiled bench.

My visit to the Malabrigo Sheep Ranch in Paysandu

MM:  Now that your internship has come to an end, and you have all these great memories to carry back home with you, can you share one that you will always cherish?

HT:  I think it was therapeutic for me to visit the sheep farms in Paysandu.  While I enjoyed the city, and the architecture there was fantastic, and most of my work was done there, the long trip by night bus to Paysandu was really precious to me.  The land in the centre of the country is so green and lush- lovely, rocky ground dotted with freshly-sheared sheep and small lambs.  I think that any knitter should visit a sheep farm at least once in their lives, its important to know where our materials come from.  Visiting the people who help make it all happen really brings the famial and heritage aspects of the needlecraft full-circle for me.  I love that knitting is a hobby with a heart.

(images courtesy of:  Hannah Thiessen)

Designer Chat With Debbie Bliss

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

A fair-haired icon in the world of knitting, Debbie Bliss continues to impress us with her down-to-earth signature style.  Living a busy life in London, with her husband, two children and a bouncy beagle named Monty, Debbie works mainly in her home-based studio designing classic knitwear with a modern edge, patterns which has been published in more than fifty books.  Twice a year, she visits Italy to source out new fibres for her own line of exclusive yarns, and regularly travels to North America to teach workshops and seminars.  Just last year, she added Editor in Chief to her long list of accomplishments.

Debbie Bliss

Debbie takes time out from writing and designing for the next issue of her magazine to fill us in on her design background and inspiration.

MM:  Hi Debbie, thanks for taking a break from your work to chat.  Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?

DB:  Tea please!

MM:  What a phenomenal journey your career has taken you on, did it all begin right after college with a knitted collection of plants and flowers?

DB:  Yes, it really did.  I was on a fine art based Fashion and Textiles course, which meant I had great fun making cardboard coats and hats from crisp packets, but when I left art school, I was virtually unemployable!  At the time there was a trend for making everyday objects such as a cake or a plate of bacon and eggs out of fabric, rather like the funky knitted pieces you see today.  I started to make knitted plants which I was able to sell to stores such as Liberty of London.

Lacy Shawl in Eco Baby

 MM:  From the start, your baby and children’s patterns have been a breath of fresh air.  Did you draw inspiration from your own two children, and as they grew your designs grew along with them?

DB:  Thank you!  I think the practical element became important after my first child, Billy.  Before then, I would definitely have been just interested in style over comfort but he was a very colicky baby who did not like to be dressed or undressed so I soon learnt that wide necks, button shoulder fastenings and cardigans rather than sweaters were easier to get off and on.  As my second child Nell grew older, and I mean three years rather than thirteen, she had very definite ideas about what she wanted to wear and my designs didn’t get a look at anymore.

Sleeveless Smock Dress

MM:  Looking back on that very first published design, what do you remember about it?

DB:  As far as I can remember, my first published designs were in a book called Wild Knitting, in which I contributed a knitted garden- a child’s raincoat knitted out of cling film (saran wrap) wrapped around beads, mad ties, and knitted insects.

MM:  Wow, that would be quite a feat, knitting with plastic wrap, but a brilliant idea.  The launch of a knitting magazine was also a brilliant idea.  Not only does it open doors to a brand new generation of knitters, it also presents a fabulous lifestyle.  How did this project come about?

DB:  I am a magazine junkie so was very thrilled when Soho Publishing (Vogue Knitting) approached me with the idea of collaborating on one. 

Boat Neck Top

MM:  In the Spring/Summer issue, you describe being a part of the Vogue Knitting Cruise to Mexico and Belize.  What did you enjoy most about your time at sea with a group of knitters?

DB:  It was a really enjoyable experience, my husband and daughter came along too, and it was wonderful to catch up with Nicky Epstein and Carla Scott, the other teachers and their families.  It was a great chance to meet up with all the knitters and share their enthusiasm for the craft.

MM:  Are there any design moments that you look back on now with a smile, and say, “what was I thinking?”

DB:  There are so many, its difficult to pinpoint just one!  I think proportion is so essential to a style, so it might be that when something comes back from a knitter, I wish I had made it longer, narrower, etc.  The knitted fabric can sometimes have a life of its own, and the completed garment can look rather different from the one I had in my head.

MM:  Your upcoming Fall/Winter Collection looks especially enticing, with the striking contrast in texture between Glen– a merino/alpaca tweed and Andes– a mulberry silk blended with baby alpaca.  Where did the inspiration come from in choosing these new yarns?

DB:  Andes, the mulberry silk is just so beautiful that as soon as I saw it I knew I wanted it in my collection.  I have always loved this particular blend with the softness of the alpaca combining with the sheen of the silk.  I do prefer smooth yarns that show off the stitch as a lot of my work includes stitch texture.  I have intended to avoid fancy or multi coloured yarns as they are not compatible with my style of designing.  Glen, however, is the perfect compromise, a tweedy style that has subtle tonal shadings in each ball to make the garment shade from dark to light and back again.  It makes a really unique fabric.  Although its a chunky weight yarn, it is soft and surprisingly lightweight, to make even the most generous jackets and coats really wearable.

MM:  What is your idea of a ‘blissful’ Sunday?

DB:  Aha, this is an easy one!  Sunday morning reading the papers, then a huge traditional Sunday roast with my family and friends around the table, the more the merrier, followed by a light snooze on the sofa with the beagle, waking up in time to watch the original version of Pride and Prejudice on TV.

A Line Cardigan in Amalfi

(images courtesy of Debbie Bliss)

Designer Chat with Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

On a soul-searching train trip through Europe in the early 80’s, a passion for handknitting design was ignited.  Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton has spent the last twenty five years knitting with Noro yarns, transforming colours of the rainbow into wearable art.  Her latest book release, NORO Meet The Man Behind The Legendary Yarn, showcases forty of her favorite designs, stunningly photographed, along with an inside look into the company that pioneered colour blending and natural fibre into the yarns we all love to knit with today.

NORO Meet The Man Behind The Legendary Yarn

NORO Meet The Man Behind The Legendary Yarn

We catch up with Cornelia between book signings and sweater designing.

Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton

Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton

MM:   Hi Cornelia, thanks for stopping by for a chat.  Lets sit down with a warm cup of tea and get comfortable.  It must be such a whirlwind for you at the moment , with the release of your latest book, NORO Meet The Man Behind The Legendary Yarn.  Are you currently in the midst of a book tour?

CTH:  Yes, I started in England in October at The Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandria Palace.  Then I was off to New York and Atlanta.  I am back in Sweden now, but will be attending the TNNA Show in Los Angeles in January, then the Yarn Market News Conference is in the works for March.

MM:  How did you come up with the inspiration for this book, combining forty of your exquisite designs with an inside look at Noro, the company and the man behind it?

CTH:  As you mentioned, the book is a compilation of some of my most popular designs from previous publications using the beautiful Noro yarns.  The inspiration for the book is Mr. Eisaku Noro, himself.  His respect for his craft combined with his perseverance in communicating his artistic ideas has been constantly developing for the last thirty years.  Noro yarns have always been among the most interesting on the market, season after season.  Innovative, creative, a bit whimsical at times, they are always exciting.  Since I have been a long time fan and have worked extensively with his yarns, I am very pleased to be associated with the presentation of Mr. Noro.

 
Benedikta Patchwork Sweater

Benedikta Patchwork Sweater

 

MM:  In this latest book, you describe the ‘ego’ of the yarn.  Can you tell us a little bit more about this and how your design process begins?

CTH:  My design process begins (and often ends) with the yarn.  If it is not sufficiently interesting to me I will leave it alone.  Noro yarns suit my way of designing very well.  They are very tactile as well as colourful.  It is the combination of the texture, the colours, and the spinning that makes them so complex.  Each yarn has its own characteristics- its ‘ego’.  In order to get the most out of a yarn and to show it off to its best advantage, you have to consider its ego.  To do a yarn justice, the designer has to take into account how the yarn responds to being worked with.  From there I get ideas about how I can best work with the yarn.  Where these come from depends……I just hope they never stop.

MM:  When you are at home in Sweden, what is a typical work day like? 

CTH:  My work day is quite full.  Since I make my own hours, I have the privilege of working evenings and weekends, experimenting with different yarns and stitch patterns, and running my own business, Hamilton Yarns.  I find that being a handknit designer is a lifestyle not just an occupation.

MM:  Since your venture into the world of yarn in the early 80’s, there has been great re-direction and growth towards eco-friendly fibres.  What other changes would you like to see in this industry?

CTH:  What I would like to see is more experimentation with yarn production.  Not just the production of a yarn because it is easy and inexpensive to make, but yarns with more distinction.  I think this trend has already started and will bring excitement to the market for years to come.

MM:  Did you have any notion early on, that yarn would play such an important role in your career?

CTH:  Funny that you should ask……thread, string, and then yarn have all been an important part of my life.  I started embroidering when I was thirteen, began to crochet at fourteen, went on to macrame jewelry at sixteen……and finally got to knitting when I was twenty- two and never looked back. 

MM:  Tell us what is ‘on your needles’ at the moment?

CTH:  I have a scarf I am working up in silk.  I have a jacket in my own yarn,  Heaven’s Hand, being finished.  I’m also working on another whole sweater too, and then there is that shawl…….

MM:  What is your image of a perfect knitting holiday?

CTH:  My idea of a perfect knitting holiday would be to go with a group of knitters to the south of France and stay at a country cottage.  I’d divide my days between learning cooking and knitting.  Throw in a wine-tasting or two and you’ve got a great week on your hands!

Horndal Hat and Scarf

Horndal Hat and Scarf

(Images courtesy of Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton)