Today’s interview is with Mindy Dykman of RavenKnits. Mindy is another designer local to me but we only ‘met’ through the Gift-A-Long.
How did you get started designing?
I really started designing when my sons were little and I could find very few fun but boy-friendly knits to make for them. I messed around with converting patterns and used a sweater formula to create garments for them. This was years before I signed up for Ravelry, of course, so those designs never got further than the single prototype garment I put on my kid. On Ravelry I discovered lace shawls and indie dyers, and it was my desire to find a pattern suitable for strongly contrasting variegated yarns that spurred me to create my first ‘real’ design, Rosa Acicularis.
What inspires your designs?
I draw inspirations from three main sources; the yarn itself, the shape of natural elements primarily plants, and the ‘what if’ questions I have about basic knitting structure.
Rosa, as I mentioned, was inspired specifically for the yarn from which I knit my prototype – a glorious skein of Iachos yarn in the Styx colourway. I started designing at the same time that Kate Bachus of A Hundred Ravens Yarns started dying, and we’ve had a mutually supportive relationship as yarnie and designer since then, which has been lovely.
Most of my patterns have incorporated plant shapes and carry the latin names of the plants that inspired them. This makes my pattern library challenging to pronounce but also clearly indicative of the inspiration for the shawls.
Finally in the past year I’ve been playing a bit with the classic profiles of various shawl and stole shapes, and how to achieve them a bit more unconventionally. Wings of Change from the Spirit Wings eBook is a good example of this – it is a stole shape that starts as a classictab-construction top-down triangle. I had a lot of fun designing that one, and holding my breath when I got it to the blocking boards and finding out if what worked in my head would actually work in yarn, too.
Which comes first – the yarn or the inspiration?
A bit of both, although lately it’s been the inspiration that comes first, followed by me hunting through my stash to find something suitable. I have been trying to knit from stash first this year, although we all know how well that usually goes.
What characteristics do you try to incorporate in your designs?
I really enjoy combining a textural element with lace stitches, and then seeing how many different shapes can grow from one or two thematic stitch patterns. So I have a collection of designs themed around waterlilies that use large leaf motifs and an expanded garter rib, and I have an eBook themed around mythological birds using Estonian star stitches and feather motifs. I like grouping things that are similar, but use different weights of yarns and different constructions.
What is your favourite type of item to design?
I’ve been fixated on lace shawls pretty much from day one. Sometimes I feel like I should be fleshing out the collection with some small accessory pieces (hats, cowls, fingerless mitts, that sort of thing) but I never quite get around to starting.
Your desert island yarn? (if you could only knit with one yarn from now on which would it be?)
Fleece Artist Trail Socks, without a doubt. It is the only yarn I’ve worked with that I cannot bear to part with even a few inches of remnant scrap.
What’s your “comfort knitting?”
It sounds a bit mad, but colourwork. The first designs I knit for my little boys were fantastic intarsia dragons and fair-isle inspired sweaters. More recently I’ve taken to double knitting like a crazy woman, and am playing with the idea of double knitting an afghan in 2015.
Which is your most under-appreciated design?
Taking into account the length of time a pattern has been released, I would say the Nuphar Fichu is my most under-appreciated design. That’s a little bit odd, because its closest sister, the Nuphar Shawlette, is my most popular design. The fichu pulls in the same elements as the fingering weight shawlette, but is designed to use dk yarn and be just a lovely little confection to keep your shoulders warm, or to tuck into an open coat collar.
Which three GAL designs are top of your list to cast on?
A lot of my GAL casting on has been looking for suitable patterns for other people, but for me ‘personally’ I’ve got Alex Tinsley’s Howlcat on the needles, and have Rachel Henry’s Hornburg Cowl and Laura Aylor’s Spiced Cocoa mittens queued up. I have a new puppy and it’s cold these mornings when I need to be out supervising her in the yard – I want snuggly, warm accessories!
Continental or English?
English – I’m a pit knitter, so have learned to squish a remarkable number of stitches onto straight needles and use circulars only if I have no choice.
What’s the best thing about knitting?
The best thing for me is seeing how the yarn plays with different stitches to create its own story. I am always excited to see how a variegated yarn will flash and pool, or how the sheen of silk accents certain textures.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d like to share with other knitters?
Frog fearlessly. We have a great luxury in our craft that if something is not working, we can pull the whole thing out and approach it from a different angle. Knitting allows us to experiment without repercussion, so knit boldly and frog fearlessly!
Any knitting/designing New Year’s resolutions?
My goal for this year is to choose my yarns more mindfully, and work on a ‘look’ for my shop that is distinct and professional.
It’s been a great experience in this GAL to meet and pay attention to what other designers do with their brand, as well as with the patterns themselves, and it’s made me realize the importance of a cohesive style. My styling has been, well, amateur and chaotic, and I want to address that this year while I still have a relatively small library to revamp.
View all of Mindy’s patterns here. All images copyright Mindy Dykman (unless noted otherwise) and are used by permission.
What is the Gift-A-Long? The GAL is a big knitting and crochet designer promotion with prizes and more than 5,000 people participating in a giant KAL/CAL. Come join the GAL group on Ravelry!