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Interview: Karen Robinson


The first interview of the 2015 interview series is with Karen Robinson of Karen Dawn Designs.

Who taught you to knit/How did you learn to knit?
I’m self-taught although I have taken a few classes here and there. While I was in the first year of my PhD program, I wanted something to do besides reading (which had always been my hobby, but I was doing so much reading for school). I was in Target one day browsing the book section and a book caught my eye: Stitch ’N Bitch by Debbie Stoller. I thought that knitting sounded like it might be a nice break from graduate study, so I bought the book, got some yarn and needles, and worked my way through it. I also watched some videos online through

How did you get started designing?
I took a class at my LYS for how to design your own scarf. I had actually designed a colorwork hat a while before that but never sat down and wrote out the pattern. So with the scarf, I was determined not only to design it but also to write and release the pattern (that’s my Criseyde Scarf). But it took another two years before I started actively designing (having a toddler sometimes puts other things on hold for a while!).

What inspires your designs?
The inspiration for the names of the designs comes from medieval literature, so lots of Arthurian legends and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the like. I don’t try to make the designs mimic medieval-style clothing, but I do try to use stitch patterns (as well as yarn choices) that help with the connection between the name and the design.

Which comes first – the yarn or the inspiration?
Both. Or rather, sometimes it’s the yarn and sometimes the inspiration. Although I’ve definitely bought yarn for new designs, I also love going into my stash and pulling out a skein that’s been sitting there for a while and figuring out what to do with it. But yarn selection is a major part of my design process, both for the yarn content and the color.

What characteristics do you try to incorporate in your designs?
I enjoy working with lace and cables the most (sometimes both at the same time), so those are the types of stitches that I tend to work into my designs. And I want my designs to be something very wearable and functional, that the knitter can use daily, although I’m not opposed to a special occasion project. I also aim for designing projects that use 1-2 skeins of yarn with the idea that these patterns can be worked with those single skeins picked up here and there because the yarn was irresistible even with no project in mind.

What is your favourite type of item to design?
Definitely cowls. I love wearing them because you can keep your neck warm while not having to worry about having loose ends on a scarf to mess with. I prefer knitting in the round so most of my cowls are knit in the round. And I love how something so seemingly basic can have so many different options in its creation.

Tell me about “Gawain’s Shield”, what is the story behind this collection?
The collection is the result of several things coming together at once. I knew that I wanted to develop a collection and actually had a different idea in mind at first. Then I learned how to work German short rows. I usually avoided short rows before because I only knew the wrap and turn method and that seemed like a pain, especially with picking up the wraps. German short rows changed that and suddenly I wanted to work with them all the time. Originally, I was just going to do one individual design using the short rows, but ideas kept coming and I was having trouble narrowing them down to one. So I started thinking about how I might develop several designs using short rows into a collection.

Gawain's Shield cover image

Gawain’s Shield

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is my favorite story from medieval literature. As I was working on the ideas for the collection, I had the story in the back of my head. The number five is important to the story and I realized that I had been focusing on five different designs for the collection. So after thinking about how to incorporate the story into the collection, I kept coming back to the significance of the pentangle on Gawain’s shield: five-pointed star, five crescent-shaped shawls. At that point, the decisions I made about the collection were directly related to the story and to the five ideals of knighthood, which make up the pattern names.

And at about that same time, I had worked with Elizabeth Green Musselman on developing a logo for my yarn business (Round Table Yarns). She was starting a business with Anne Podlesak to provide services for designers from photography to tech editing to graphic design (Stitch Definition). I was so pleased with the work Elizabeth had done with the logo, and after talking to Anne and finding out how similar our backgrounds were, I knew they were the ones to help me in putting this collection together. And I couldn’t be more pleased with the work they did on it.

Do you have an aspirational knit – a complicated/challenging design that you want to knit “some day” when you feel ready?
I see so many of those beautiful circular shawls and I keep thinking that I’ll make one someday. I actually started the Evenstar Shawl once but ripped it out because I had put it aside for a long time (I started it just before my son was born and didn’t have the energy/brainpower to work on it after he was born) and lost my place in the pattern. I’d love to get back to it or something like it at some point. Heck, I’d love to design one of my own as well.

What is coming next? What’s in your release queue?
I have a couple of hats and cowls that are at various stages of progress, so those should be releasing in the next couple of months. I’m also feeling the desire to experiment with shawl shapes that I haven’t used before, so that’s what I’ve been focusing on lately.

Your desert island yarn? (if you could only knit with one yarn from now on which would it be?)
My first non-acrylic yarn was Malabrigo Merino Worsted (at the time when that was the only yarn produced by Malabrigo) and I fell in love. It’s still one of my absolute favorites. But as lovely as it is, it has a tendency to pill something fierce. So I think I would chose Malabrigo Rios instead. Beautiful colors. Super soft. And better wearing that the single-ply yarn.

Which is your most under-appreciated design?
Definitely my Laudine Shawl. I used three different colors on this triangular shawl as well as a ruffled edge. The colors create a chevron design and the stitch pattern is nicely textured, so it’s a warm shawl that I envisioned someone using to curl up with on the couch with a good book. But it seems very few people share that vision because I have yet to sell a single copy of it.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d like to share with other knitters?
Be an adventurous knitter. Don’t look at a pattern and say, “Oh, I haven’t done that before so I guess I can’t do this pattern.” Instead, if you see a pattern you really want to make but find there’s something in it you haven’t done before, use it as an opportunity to learn something new and develop your knitting skills. That’s how I’ve approached knitting and it’s been so much fun to be able to add to my knitting knowledge.

Yet at the same time, always have a “mindless” project on the needles for when you want to knit but can’t concentrate on something more complicated.

Any knitting/designing New Year’s resolutions?
Just keep trying new things. There’s still a lot to explore both in knitting and designing, and I hope to continue picking up new skills.

If you could have dinner with one knitting designer (living or dead) who would it be and why?
That’s a pretty tough question because I can think of quite a few people I’d love to have dinner with. How to pick just one? I think right now I’m going to say Elizabeth Green Musselman because I’ve loved working with her and we missed meeting in person at an event earlier this year. I think we have a lot in common, and she would be a delightful dinner companion.

View all of Karen’s patterns here. Lady Bertilak Cowl and Gawain’s Shield photos copyright JS Webb Photography. Remaining photos copyright Karen Robinson. All images used by permission.

You can find Karen on the following social media sites:

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!

posted under interview, Knitting
2 Comments to

“Interview: Karen Robinson”

  1. On November 19th, 2015 at 4:58 pm Katinka Says:

    This was a fun read — many thanks to you and Karen!

  2. On November 21st, 2015 at 11:07 am Beverly Says:

    What a lovely interview! I’m fascinated by the connection to medieval literature. Of the patterns pictured, I especially like the Lady Bertilak cowl. Off to check out her other designs!

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