Guest post: Lisa Beth Houchins

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Hello Knitters! I am Lisa Beth Houchins at Meanest Mommy Knits. I am a tech editor of knitting patterns, and I provide left-brain help for right-brain people. Thanks to Annika, one of my wonderful clients, for inviting me to be her guest blogger. She suggested that I tell you a little bit about what I do as a tech editor and how I became one.

As a tech editor, I partner with Annika and other designers to help them release the best, most professional pattern possible. We all know how frustrating it is to be knitting a pattern that is riddled with errors. Some typos or minor inconsistencies are one thing, but serious errors can keep you from being able to knit an item correctly. (I’ll never forget the time I was knitting a complicated, cabled sweater and figured out that the pattern chart key had the cables listed wrong. I lost 20+ hours of work. Ugh!) A designer hires a tech editor to make sure her pattern is correct, clear, and consistent. That designer is committed to publishing the best possible pattern for her customers. Think of it as proactive customer service!

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When I tech edit a pattern, I read through the pattern as if I am knitting it, but I don’t actually knit it. (I’m pretty good at visualizing how the pattern will work as I read through it.) Here are some examples of things that I’d check in a typical tech edit:

  • Does the pattern have all the parts it should? Title, measurements, gauge, materials, abbreviations, directions, etc.
  • Do the directions make sense? Would a knitter be able to make what’s in the picture if they follow the directions? Are there other ways to explain things that would provide additional clarity?
  • Is the pattern grammatically correct? Does it have proper punctuation? Are there typos that need to be fixed?
  • Will the sizes work on an actual person?
  • Are the stitch counts and other math correct? (Each pattern gets its own spreadsheet where I check the math.)
  • Does the chart match the written directions?
  • Are all the abbreviations listed in the Abbreviations List? Are the stitches explained correctly?
  • Is the pattern consistent throughout? Are abbreviations used consistently? Is the same style used throughout the pattern?

Basically, I’m looking for things that would make it hard for a knitter to follow the pattern or make the pattern seem less professional than it could be. After I have gone through the pattern, I let the designer know what I’ve found. The designer takes this information into consideration and makes her desired changes before publishing the final draft. The designer has the final say over what changes she makes. She is the boss of her design and pattern!

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I became a tech editor more than a year ago. As a long-time knitter and occasional knitting pattern designer, I knew there was a market for someone to help knitwear designers publish clear, correct patterns. Luckily, I found some online classes that helped me figure out that a tech editing career would be a good fit for me. These classes (plus previous careers in education and in the math/computer field) gave me a solid background and also provided the practice and confidence I needed to get started. I am also about to start The Knitting Guild Association Technical Editor certification process. I’m thrilled to have found a dream job that combines knitting, math, and working with people.

You can follow me on social media or contact me with questions about tech editing:

Ravelry/Instagram/Twitter

Website: https://meanestmommyknits.com

 

Designer of the month – Susanne Ouellet

The designer of this month is the amazing Su. I don’t think I have met anyone with quite so much energy and enthusiasm for what she does than Su. She first caught my attention when she was still travelling through Asia with her stunning landscape photography and conviction that you can knit anywhere including when sitting at a beach. Su was featured on this blog before when she kindly agreed to share some of her experience on knitting while travelling and I am very fortunate that she was also willing to be interviewed as the designer of the month. Especially because she has also recently started a newsletter to help people in the fibre industry with their business skills which I certainly signed up for.

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When did you learn to knit? Did someone teach you or did you teach yourself?

I first learned to knit when I was about 6 or 7. My mother taught me the basic knit stitch, and I happily knit a couple of simple things, like a scarf, but never really got into it until much later, after graduating from university. I was living with my parents at the time and applying for jobs, and felt like I had way too much time on my hands. I ended up finding some of my grandmother’s old knitting books and decided to knit a pair of baby booties for my sister-in-law. It was a bit of a challenging project for not having knit anything much more complicated than a scarf before that, and they each turned out different sizes. Even still, I remember feeling like this whole world of possibilities had just opened up to me at that moment. The things I could knit! I started to look up different patterns, bought some supplies, and started buying yarn on Knit Picks. That was when I got serious with my knitting.

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Why did you start designing? What gave you the idea?

I first thought about designing my own pattern while I was traveling and working on my Wooly Ventures blog. This might sound a bit crazy, but one of the reasons I wanted to start designing was because I felt it was something I just had to do if I wanted to be taken seriously as a knitting blogger. I had already knit up designs of my own in the past, which were mostly hat patterns that I made up as I went along. It was a bit of trial and error, and I had the terrible habit of never writing the instructions down! This obviously didn’t work so well. I then challenged myself further while traveling in Malaysia, and wrote up a pattern for a pair of mittens. I found it incredibly challenging and difficult, and I still did not understand the concept of pattern grading, so the pattern was only offered in one size. I then ended up taking the pattern down from Ravelry, as I felt it should be offered in multiple sizes, but lost my motivation to update it.

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This experience put me off designing for a while, and it wasn’t until this year that I decided to try it again. This time, I hired a tech editor and also enlisted the help of several test knitters and am so glad I did! I found the whole process much easier just by having the support and encouragement of others, rather than designing the whole thing by myself and getting frustrated that it didn’t quite turn out the way I had envisioned. After completing this last hat pattern (which will be published this August), I feel much more motivated to continue with designing knitwear.

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What is your favourite yarn and/or fibre to work with? Why?

I’m a bit obsessed with Beaverslide (link: http://beaverslide.com/) wool at the moment, for several reasons.

  • It’s 100% Rambouillet (a French merino) and feels incredible! Soft, but also hardy and durable.
  • I love the natural looking colors.
  • It comes from a small family-owned operation in a tiny town in Montana, and I love knowing that I’m supporting a smaller outfit vs a very large company.

I’m also in love with the feel of alpaca. I would love to knit myself up a beautiful alpaca sweater one day soon!

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English or Continental (or both)? Which way do you knit?

I’m an English style knitter, but I’ve been wanting to learn Continental for the longest time! I can do Continental when I’m knitting Fair Isle, but I need to practice more, otherwise my gauge gets wonky. I’m always in awe when I see others knitting Continental, especially when purling!

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Do you practice any other (fibre) crafts?

I recently started sewing, and I love the practicality of it! It’s motivating me to sew my entire wardrobe (eventually). I am also planning on starting natural dyeing very soon, which I am very excited about! After dyeing, machine knitting and weaving are next on my list of new skills to learn. I’m in love with all things natural fibre, so any type of craft that involves it (embroidery, spinning, weaving, etc.) is something that I would be interested in learning. The only problem is finding the time for all of this, and  the space – I would need a much bigger craft room!

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What does knitting mean to you? Why do you do it?

Knitting means so many things to me. I find it very empowering to have the skillset to create something useful and practical with so little (two needles and some yarn) in an age where so many of us are addicted to our smartphones. It is also my creative outlet – there are just so many stitch patterns out there, along with different yarns, patterns and colours – the combinations are truly endless! I’ve also been drawn in more and more this past year to the ‘slow fashion’ movement, and love knowing exactly where my garments came from. Lastly, knitting is just pure fun! There is nothing more relaxing and therapeutic than listening to an interesting podcast or documentary with a good mindless knitting project.

What do you have planned for the future as a designer? Do you want to make it a fulltime job or is it a hobby for you?

Right now, designing is a hobby for me. I don’t design nearly enough to even consider having it as a full-time job. For the future, I want to continue learning new design skills. I would love to try my hand at designing a sweater pattern, and learn all the aspects of garment shaping along the way. I feel as if it will be a ways down the road until I get to that stage, but for right now, I’m happy with acquiring new skills at my own pace. I don’t want to rush or pressure myself to design more, as I did that once and I found it sucked all the fun out of the actual design process. I’d rather go slow, and enjoy every moment of it.

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You recently started a newsletter to support other designers and fibre people to turn what they are doing into a business, what gave you the idea?

I really enjoy the ‘tech and business’ side of my blog. When I first started to consider ways to get subscribers and more people to my website, I was clueless, but after sifting through countless tutorials online I managed to figure out how to bring in consistent traffic to my website! I know that it’s not an easy process, especially if you don’t have a background in blogging or web design, and since it’s something I enjoy doing, I want to help others in the fibre industry grow their business online. Part of it is also because I feel that if I can help others in the fibre industry grow, more and more people will become exposed to knitting and making their own clothes, and the popularity of knitting will increase to the point where it would be strange if you don’t know how to knit. That would be amazing.

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Are there plans to take this further in addition to your designing?

Yes! I have been very busy these past few weeks working on a new business idea. In addition to my newsletter, I am creating an online course with the same theme of teaching creators in the fibre industry on how to use social media to attract more traffic to their website and convert their traffic into long-term customers.

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Why do you think business support tailored to one (wo)men operations in the fibre industry is important?

Many one (wo)men operations in the fibre industry start small and have little business experience, if any. It’s a “learn as you go” process, and it can feel overwhelming when you’re just starting out! When you think of a knitwear designer, for example, you may think that it’s mostly designing knitwear all day, but in order to sell your patterns, you need to be able to market and promote them effectively! There is a lot of information out there related to online businesses and marketing, but it can be hard to find good business information related specifically to knitwear design and other fibre arts. I want to help fill this gap, by providing good business advice tailored to women in the fibre industry.

I also think it’s important because successful one (wo)men businesses are more likely to continue in the long term, and smaller operations gives them the flexibility to build our business from home. By working from home, they not only get to spend more time with their family with greater flexibility, but also contribute to the household income and to society by producing something of value. In turn, this creates a feeling of empowerment, a motivating factor to create even more beautiful things, in a positive feedback cycle.

 

You can see more of Su’s photography on Instagram, or check out her blog and Facebook page.

A visit to Chatsworth House

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I mentioned my love for Jane Austen a few weeks ago in my To knit to post for April. Not only have I read all her books but have also seen most adaptions. For precisely this reason I enthusiastically joined in a recent trip to Chatsworth House that was organised through my work. The appeal of seeing this grand house that functioned as Pemberley in the Pride and Prejudice adaption with Keira Knightly was made even more attractive by the current exhibition they have on display in the house about the Fashion of the house.
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Not only is the house beautiful and full of inspiration but the displayed garments were magnificent. My favourites include the stunning Chinese wallpaper and two of the period dresses (see blow). The exhibition featured a great combination of period pieces and modern pieces by contemporary designers such as Vivienne Westwood.
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The contemporary pieces were beautifully displayed in the grand dining room and featured some interesting garments.
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But before you get to them you work your way through a lot of period pieces which featured some incredibly tiny waistlines that must have been very painful to achieve.

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All the garments were in excellent condition and really allow visitors to see the handiwork of not only the designer but of seamstresses and embroiderers. It really is incredible to see how much detail is paid to achieve the desired effect.
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In addition to grand evening wear the exhibition also included some more casual day and sports wear, like riding outfits, and a collection of rather hilarious jumpers.
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The house and exhibition had a lot to offer so we had lunch before heading to explore the gardens which are huge. Incredibly well maintained they offer grand views of the house and have some fun activities like a maze and various sculptures.
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Chatsworth House is definitely worth a visit!

Summer fibres: Hemp

This is the last series in my summer fibres series and I have to say it has been a highly educational process. I have learned a lot by researching all these fibres and have been given a lot of food for thought when considering what material to use for my knitting and sincerely hope that this little series was helpful and interesting to you too.

Hemp is a variety of Cannabis (not to be confused with marijuana which is another variety altogether) and has a long history of domestic cultivation. Other than fibre it was amongst other things also used for paper, sails, animal bedding and lamp oil. The production of hemp has declined a lot in the last century but it seems to be an upcoming material again.

How hemp yarn is made

Hemp grows from seed and is an annual plant which some farmers tend to use as a rotation crop. It grows best in mild climate with a humid atmosphere and likes well drained and rich in nitrogen soil.

The crop is ready for harvesting when the plants begin to shed pollen which (when using the hemp for fibre) is around 70-90 days after seeding. The harvesting is done by a specific harvesting machine and from what I gathered during my research the machine differs from other harvesting machines (e.g when using the hemp seed rather then the stalks)

The next step is retting which is either done in the same way as linen (read about it here) or by leaving stalks in the field for up to six weeks for retting. This process loosens the fibre and naturally removes pectin which functions as a binding agent in the hemp plant that holds the woody inner fibres and outer bast fibres together. During this time the stalks are turned repeatedly. The process also releases a lot of nutrients back into the soil. When the retting is completed the stalks are baled up to allow easier storage and transportation.

After the retting process the next step is to remove the woody core fibres from the outer bast ones for which a sequence of rollers, also called breakers or a hammermill are used. Afterwards the fibres are ready for spinning. They are typically twisted together to form long continuous threads.

Pros and cons

Hemp is a very resilient plant and does not require the use of much pesticides making it a somewhat more environmentally friendly crop than others discussed in this series. It shares many qualities with linen including the characteristic of becoming softer with use, being a strong fibre, resistant to moths, rotting and mildew, and breathable.

However, it is very inelastic and doesn’t stretch much. When using the chemical process to retting it becomes a less environmentally friendly product.

Hemp and hemp blends

From this list I have only worked with one yarn but I have tried to find a good selection of yarn companies and blends.

Isager Plant Fibre (ramie, hemp and bamboo)

Rowan Hemp Tweed (wool and hemp)

Hemp for knitting AllHemp6

Bare Naked Wool Hempshaugh Lace (merino, hemp and silk)

Hemp pattern ideas

 

 

 

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Dominika by Marie Wallin (wool and hemp)

 

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Beld by Bonne Marie Burns (cotton and hemp)

 

Other fibres in the series include Linen, Cotton, Silk, Soy and Bamboo.

 

 

 

To knit to – June Edition

This month features a beloved TV show that finally returned with a new season, a more or less newly discovered radio station and an honorary mention of my favourite knitting magazine which is celebrating it’s 5th anniversary.

The TV show – House of Cards

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Netflix just released season 5 and despite a slow start it has now picked up again. House of Cards is a great show because it is a show about awful people that still manages to hook you in wanting to learn about their fate. Also Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are brilliant together. If you haven’t watched it yet, do you will not be able to stop, I guarantee.

The radio station – BBC 6 Music

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BBC 6 Music was the station of choice of one of my flat mates at uni and I never understood her incredible enthusiasm for the station as I wasn’t much into radio at the time. My boyfriend recently started to listen to that station and I now understand why my flat mate was so enthusiastic. I will be honest and admit I don’t know much about music and will listen to nearly every genre from classical to folk and r’n’b without making a fuss about it which is why I like BBC 6 Music. They play a good mix of music, often bands I have never heard of but it is a great soundtrack to knit to and the often (and sometimes unintentionally) funny and weird DJs are also not to be dismissed.

The Magazine – Pom Pom Quarterly

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Pom Pom is hands down my favourite knitting magazine and it is celebrating it’s 5th anniversary which I think warrants a mentioned in this knit to list. The founders Megan Fernandes and Lydia Gluck started the magazine more or less in their kitchen and have managed to create a well loved independent knitting magazine that features stunning designs beautifully curated and photographed. I am always inspired when I receive my copy through the mail and highly recommend this magazine.

Summer fibres: Bamboo

Bamboo is another alternative fibre that I can’t wait to work with. Other than Soy yarn though I have at least handled some bamboo blend as a friend had it in her stash. From what I remember it felt lovely, very soft and for some reason cool. Not sure what exactly I mean by that but that is he first word I associate with it.

Traditionally bamboo wasn’t turned in to yarn as the technology was not developed. But bamboo was still used in textile production predominantly fo structural support. For example, stripes of bamboo were used in hats and corsets.

How bamboo yarn is made

Bamboo is actualy a member of the grass family and can be as tall as 35 m depending in the variety. The variety used for yarn is called Moso bamboo. Bamboo is a very fast growing plant and after planting the shoots reach their full height in just 8-10 weeks. Maturity is reached in about 5 years but as mentioned bamboo is a grass and actually benefits from cutting. As bamboo belongs to the grass family no replanting is required after harvesting. Also, like grass bamboo can grow very densely which allows for a good use of land.

Generally bamboo is an easy to grow plant. As harvesting does not require the destruction of the whole plant it is a more efficient use of land and bamboo also helps with preventing soil errosion as the plants remain in the soil after harvest to continue growing unlike cotton for example. The use water for growing bamboo is also much lower than that for cotton, which is usually described as a thirsty crop.

I will talk about the most commonly used process of turning bamboo into fibres next however I would like to mention that there are other methods to do it and that there seems to be an effort in making these new process less harmful.

After harvesting bamboo is processed by crushing and then submersing the crushed pieces into a solution of sodium hydroxide which dissolves the bamboo cellulose. By adding carbon disulfide it creates a mix from which fibres can be drawn off. It is worth mentioning at this point that there is research linking both sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide to serious health issues making this a potentially dangerous process for workers and environment in the surrounding areas it is not an ideal process.

As mentioned after the chemical process you have a mixture that is pressed through nozzles into a container of diluted sulfuric acid solution which hardens the cellulose mixture into bamboo fibre threats which are than spun into yarn.

Pros and cons

Bamboo has much more environmental friendly growing process as it uses less land, doesn’t contribute to soil erosion and uses a lower amount of water than growing cotton. Bamboo yarn is durable and has a nice silk like sheen and drape. It is an easy to wash fibre and can even go into the dryer making this an ideal option of baby and kids hand knits. Additionally, it is a hypoallergenic fibre and thus great for people with any kind of allergy looking to work with a natural, non synthetic fibre. Bamboo is also a breathable fibre which makes it a nice yarn for summer garments.

The process of turning bamboo plants into fibre involves the use of a number of harmful chemicals that have been linked to health issues if exposed too them long enough making this a process harmful to workers and the surrounding environment which makes this a not very environmentally friendly process that is also everything put sustainable.

Bamboo and Bamboo blends

As I mentioned at the start I have not knitted with bamboo yarn myself which is why this selection of yarns is a mixture of yarn that sounded like interesting and useful blends or from companies I have heard good things from.

Habu XS-24 (bamboo)

Three Irish Girls Bamboo Cotton Worsted (bamboo and cotton)

Old Maiden Aunt Merino/Bamboo 4ply

Anzula Haiku (merino, bamboo and nylon)

Bamboo Pattern ideas

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My cup of Tea Socks by Robin Lynn (merino, bamboo and nylon)

 

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Artesian by Rosemary (Romi) Hill (merino, bamboo and nylon)

 

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Askews Me Hat by Stephen West (alpaca, merino and bamboo)

 

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Meredith by Ruth Maddock (bamboo and cotton)

 

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Robin by Josee Paquin (silk, merino and bamboo)

 

Other fibres in this series include Linen, Cotton, Silk and Soy.

Designer of the month – Verena Cohrs

I honestly jumped up and down with excitement when this month’s designer Verena agreed to be interviewed. She is one incredibly talented lady and I admire her a lot, not only for her beautiful designs but also for her business sense and braveness. In addition, to being a designer Verena is also part of the team behind Making Stories, an independent knitwear publisher with a focus on environmentally friendly yarns which Verena was kind enough to answer a few questions about.

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When did you learn to knit? Did someone teach you or did you teach yourself?

I’ve been knitting for as long as I can remember. My mom taught me when I was little and my very first knits were miniature doll replicates of what she made for me. I progressed to clothes and accessories that actually fit me eventually and started teaching myself bits and pieces from various books and blogs. To date knitting is still something I enjoy sharing with my mother and I hope to be able to pass on this wonderful craft myself some day. My husband now knits, too, so knitting should be in the genes!

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Why did you start designing? What gave you the idea?

Even though I’m a researcher by trade, I’ve always felt the need to create. Growing up, I went back and forth about what I wanted to do and seriously considered learning something creative like dressmaking, but in the end went with a more traditional study choice. At that point, knitting and designing was something I just did on the side. Unfortunately I didn’t write down any of the patterns I designed back then – they would be such a lovely memory now!

While I liked my job, I never loved it as much as I love everything knitting, fibre and design related, and I honestly couldn’t be happier that I eventually took the leap of faith and quit my job. Almost one year ago I published my first design, the Tulsi Socks, and I still can’t quite grasp where this journey has taken me. This self-employed life has been absolutely wonderful so far and I haven’t looked back once.

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What is your favourite piece you have designed/knitted?

Almost always the last one I finished! I do have some all-time favourites though of course. Out of my own designs, I’d pick the Powder Snow Cozy, the Amalia Socks and the Fleesensee Hat. And I do love my Siri Sweater! Clara Linnea Öhmann’s Siri Cardigan design is truly gorgeous.

What is your favourite yarn and/or fibre to work with? Why?

My heart beats for sustainably made, natural, non-superwash yarns – no chemical fibres for me please! Socks are the only projects I might make an exception for every now and again as there are just so many colourful options out there. But other than that I like my yarns sheepy. Wool is the queen regnant of my stash and I’m constantly amazed at how the characteristics of wool yarns vary depending on breeds and the spinning process.

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What is your favourite knitting/designing resource? Books? Magazines? Blogs? Software?

Just recently I bought a vintage stitch dictionary. It’s from 1984 and absolutely gorgeous! Now the bug has bitten me and I’m on the hunt for more vintage knitting books. I also love Nora Gaughan’s Knitted Cable Sourcebook and Pinterest never disappoints either.

Can you describe your designing process? What is your favourite part?

The first thing I usually think about when designing a new piece is the feel I’m looking for. Is it going to be cozy and comfy, elegant, timeless? With a couple of ideas spinning around in my head I then start transforming my thoughts into knitting. Deciding on the final stitch pattern(s) and construction might take quite a while with some designs while with others I love the very first swatch. Once a first draft of the pattern is written up, I’ll knit up the sample and edit the pattern in case I change small elements of the design. After the pattern has been tech edited and test knit it’s then ready to be published. Seeing other knitters’ interpretations of the new design still gets me every time – it’s magical! As for favourite stages: I truly love them all, but I’d say the very beginning – the first thoughts of a new idea – and the last step – releasing the pattern into the wild – are what feels most special to me.

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English or Continental (or both)? Which way do you knit?

Continental! I’d love to get better at English style for colourwork though.

What do you have planned for the future as a designer? Do you want to make it a full-time job or is it a hobby for you?

Right now I divide my time between my knitwear designs and making stories, the knitwear design publisher Hanna Lisa and I founded. I’m super exited to continue working on both and can’t wait for the release of WOODS, our first book! As a knitwear designer, I look forward to working on more garment designs, to a (still secret) contribution to a beautiful magazine and to lots of collaborations with amazing yarn companies.

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How did Woods – Making Stories develop? What was the idea?

WOODS – making stories is a new knitting book that we created to share our passion for local, breed-specific European yarns, beautiful knitwear design and helping people expand their knitting knowledge. The book includes 11 minimalistic modern knitwear designs, profiles and interviews with amazing makers and lots of tutorials. Our goal is to bring people together through our craft and business ethos, and celebrate the creative talent and passion of hard-working fiber folks. Over the course of the last few months, this has shaped up to be a project beyond our wildest beliefs. We successfully crowdfunded our first book WOODS and couldn’t be more exited to continue working on making stories. (Pre-orders for WOODS are now open on our website!)

Do you plan to have more publications?

Yes, we do! We love working on WOODS way to much to stop anytime soon. The next issue, BREEZE, will be available in April 2018, and we just selected the designs and yarns we’ll feature (spoiler alert: they’re amazing!). In addition to this in-house series we’re working on a couple of other exiting projects and we can’t wait to share all about that very soon on our website and Instagram.

What do you like most about making stories?

With making stories, we have the chance to curate a collection of both beautiful knitwear designs and local European yarns while also offering additional content like tutorials and interviews. We basically get to make the knitting books we always dreamed of and everyone’s love for this project of ours has just been incredible. From the moment we first shared about making stories, the knitting community has been nothing but supportive and we’ll forever be thankful for this warm welcome.

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You can see more of Verena’s beautiful work on Ravelry and Instagram and support her on Patreon.