Eclectic Closet Litblog, Book Reviews & Knitting Designs

A litblog dedicated to book reviews/recommendations, as well as literary and publishing news. Now enhanced with knitting designs.

Interview: Karen Robinson

November19

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 knittinghelp.com.

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!

Vogue Knitting, Fall 2015

July8

Made in Canada column, Vogue Knitting Fall 2015

Some things require serious squealing and excited jumping up and down. Getting mentioned in Vogue Knitting’s Made in Canada column certainly qualifies! Getting described by author Lee Ann Dalton in Vogue Knitting this way, “Janelle Martin makes you want everything she designs,” put me over the moon. Seeing that in bold print under one of my designs brought me to my figurative knees. Thank you Lee Ann for your amazing words. And a big thank you to my mentors, technical editor, and the rest of the team that helped me reach this point – you know who you are!

A special thank you to the beautiful Jen and talented Shawn for making my designs look so beautiful.

Secret Society Shawl

July5

Secret Society in Bare Naked Wools Mrs Lincolns Lace
I am thrilled to announce that I’ve released the “teaser” pattern for my new collection, Northern Landscapes. I’ve been working on these pieces for the past nine months and am excited to see the work nearing release.

You can purchase Secret Society either as an individual pattern for $7.50 or by pre-ordering the ebook. The ebook (a $75.00 value) is available for $24.95 until the rest of the patterns are released in mid-August, at which time the price for the ebook increases to $35.95.

Secret Society in Stone Soup Fingering

The patterns in the collection are also collated as a “set” in Ravelry. You can purchase individual patterns and these will be credited toward the cost of the ebook. Once you’ve spent $34.95 you will automatically receive the rest of the patterns from the collection in your library.

Purchase Secret Society:

Purchase Northern Landscapes, part one ebook:

Northern Landscapes, part 1

June22

Burnt Cape Guernsey Stole in Bare Naked Wools Ghillie Sock

For the past 10 months I’ve been working on a semi-secret project, my first pattern collection! I shared the first details on the collection in an interview on the Knitspot website, whose fantastic Bare Naked Wools provide the foundation of the collection.

About the collection:
This past summer (2014) I traveled to Newfoundland, to the arctic coastal tundra region where the Vikings had the first European settlement in North America. Such gorgeous landscape! It’s inspired a collection focused around the landscape of this area of Newfoundland and its geological cousins in Iceland and coastal Ireland. I’ve been lucky enough to visit all three places over the past 10 years. I find the remote and stark landscapes inspiring – nature has such beautiful lines and movement.

Secret Society in Mrs. Lincoln's Lace

Secret Society

The first part of the Northern Landscapes collection will be released mid-August but the first “teaser” pattern, Secret Society, will be released on July 6, 2015. For now, please visit the pattern page on Ravelry and favourite it.

Secret Society in Stone Soup Fingering

Knitting in the Garden

April25

I’m not one who makes many resolutions at New Year’s but I knew that for 2015 I wanted to spend more time doing activities in my garden – my oasis – this year rather than just plant things in it.

View of my garden

View of my garden

I want to spend time simply being in it and enjoying the serenity with my cats, a cup of coffee and my knitting. While it may not be super warm yet in the most of the city (today’s high is 11C/56F), the sun lays in my garden all afternoon raising the temperatures significantly and making it an amazing place to knit in cooler weather.

Finley checking the garden for interlopers

Finley checking the garden for interlopers

In the height of summer I can’t knit here in the afternoon without shade or I risk heat stroke, but today, as I sit and enjoy the warm sun and singing birds, I’m reminded of what a treasure my garden really is. The tulips and daffodils are blooming, the cats are enjoying a nap in the sun and the neighbour’s wind chimes are playing in the breeze. For now I’m ignoring the weeding and clean-up and just enjoying my second Saturday afternoon in a row spent knitting in the garden.

Dwarf tulips

Dwarf tulips

It’s difficult to believe it’s been two months since I posted anything here or released a pattern. I have several that are almost ready to be released, they just need formatting and to be uploaded to Ravelry. So stay tuned for pattern releases coming soon. Most of my attention has been focused on this year’s large project, a collection of my designs being released in three stages. The first part of the collection will be released in August and a lot of the pieces are ready for photography. I’m very excited and will post in the next week to share more details. For now, I’ll leave you with this teaser photo, a pattern slated for release in July as a teaser for the collection – and today’s garden knitting project.

Any guesses what it might be when it's done?

Any guesses what it might be when it’s done?

Experimental Cowl

February17

Close up of Experimental Cowl
It’s been incredibly cold the past week in Ontario. Plus -30 Celsius could (including wind chill)! When it’s that cold you need lots of layers and really warm pieces to protect your skin from freezing. With temperatures dipping as low as they have, now seemed like the perfect time to release the Experimental Cowl.

I designed this cowl mid-January as an experiment. I was curious what cables would look like in super bulky yarn and I had this idea in my head. I wanted to do a centre cabled panel and then pick up off that to make a cowl in garter stitch. I had the perfect buttons from Melissa Jean (bought at Rhinebeck a few years ago) in my stash and I was sure the scale of the buttons would work well with the super bulky yarn.

Experimental Cowl showing alternate method to button it

I also wanted to create a stash busting pattern. The sample was knit with three strands of aran weight and one strand of worsted weight yarn held together, but any configuration of yarn that gets gauge would work. The pattern as written makes a fitted cowl but the pattern can easily be adjusted by working additional garter rows to make it longer.

P.S. Thanks Jen (model) and Shawn (photographer) for braving the cold temperatures to capture these amazing photos!

Variations on a Theme

February9

I suspect many designers do it. We create a design and then, much like a composer does, we continue to work with the stitch patterns over time – putting them together in different ways. Essentially, variations on a theme.

Sometimes this is because we aren’t done with a stitch pattern, it still has us in its grasps. Like a melody that haunts a composer, this stitch pattern isn’t ready to let us go. For me, that haunting stitch pattern is the one used in my Cartouche series (Cartouche Shawl, Cartouche Stole and Cartouche Slouchy Beret, if you’re curious). I’m pretty sure I’m not done with it yet.

Designs using cartouche stitch pattern

Cartouche Stole, Shawl & Beret

As I mentioned in the blog post announcing the release of Twisted Circles Cowl, the idea for it was sparked in early 2013, after I saw a picture of a stitch pattern that creates the illusion of circles, reminiscent of op-art, by the simple use of blocks of reverse stockinette stitch. I knew instantly that I wanted to use it in something but didn’t have an idea yet. Fast forward a year to a doodle made while I was on the phone and I suddenly found the inspiration to use the stitch pattern. I had been doodling hour glass shapes and it suddenly came to me – alternate sections of this circle pattern with a densely cabled pattern to create the hourglass shape. Do this multiple times in a circle to make a unique infinity cowl!

Twisted Circles Cowl, showing wide and narrow sections

Figuring out the shape I wanted essentially determined the construction. The cowl begins with a provisional cast on and is knit flat back and forth. The piece is finished by grafting the two ends together. The gently scalloped cable edging provides a beautiful frame to the face. All that was left was to figure out what yarn to use. I knew I wanted it to be a worsted yarn that had spring and loft and I love knitting with Indigodragonfly Yarn’s wonderful yarns and colourways. So I turned to Kim for advice and she pointed out the rich green colourway – “Is the Money Okay? Did they Hurt the Money? (Buffy)” – in their MerGoat Worsted base.

Twisted Circles Cowl

Twisted Circles Cowl

I had thought that would be the end of working with these stitch patterns until a friend presented a challenge – could I use the same stitch patterns to create a long, shallow shawl. The quick answer was yes, of course I could, but to make it something that would be attractive, wearable and yet could be written up as a pattern would be the challenge.

The shape was already determined what I had to do was determine how to put the stitch patterns together that would showcase the best qualities of each design. The added challenge was the differences in gauge between the two main patterns. In the cowl where the two stitch patterns alternated, these differences wouldn’t matter. In a longer piece, those differences could be significant, depending on where the stitch patterns were place.

Twisted Circles Shawl cover shot

Twisted Circles Shawl

During the design phase, I considered multiple shawl constructions methods; top down, bottom up, and even working the body first in the circle pattern followed by an attached edging of the dense cables. None felt quite right until I looked at the piece from a different angle and decided the construction needed to be worked from tip to tip. That way all three stitch patterns could be knit at the same time with periodic short rows are worked in the densely cabled sections to compensate for row gauge differences.

Twisted Circles Shawl, back view

I already knew this shawl was going to be published in Knitty and that it would be done in the luminous Clematis shade of Miss Babs Yowza – Whatta Skein. On to the knitting!

Thus ends the story of the Twisted Circles variations. Now I’m curious to see what variations the knitterati choose as they knit these patterns!

Twisted Circles Shawl

Twisted Circles Cowl

January19

Twisted Circles Cowl
Today I’m introducing my newest design, Twisted Circles Cowl. The idea for this cowl came to me in early 2013, after I saw a picture of a stitch pattern that creates the illusion of circles by the simple use of blocks of reverse stockinette stitch. Once I saw the rich green of Indigodragonfly Yarn’s MerGoat Worsted yarn, I knew I had found the perfect yarn for this cowl.

The cowl begins with a provisional cast on and is knit back and forth. The piece is finished by grafting the two ends together.

Interview: Elizabeth Elliott

January6

Today’s interview is with Elizabeth Elliott of e.elliott knits.

Note: It’s the last of the GAL interview series and, despite my well-meant intentions, did not get published before Christmas. Rather than have it get lost in the holiday season, I decided to hold off and post the interview today.

Firenze Mittens

Firenze Mittens

How did you get started designing?
I’d been playing around with structure and stitch patterns for a while, and came up with an idea for a reversible baby blanket with an integrated short-row hood (the Sweet Lullaby Seamless Hooded Blanket). My mum suggested that I write the idea down and submit it to Knit Picks’ Independent Designer Program, which had just started up. I sent it in, they accepted it, and they were so supportive and encouraging that I just kept going.

What inspires your designs?
To be honest, I don’t always know. Sometimes it’s a particular yarn or combination of colours; sometimes I want to play with a technique or experiment with structure; sometimes I’m just falling asleep and an idea will come seemingly out of nowhere, and won’t let me sleep until I get up and sketch it. The Firenze set started out as a scarf that needed a border. I was going for a Renaissance look, so I went to the library and looked through books of paintings from that period. I fell in love with a detail from Andrea del Castagno’s painting, Pippo Spanno, which it turned out worked better on its own than with the main pattern of the scarf, so I used it for mittens and a cowl, instead. I’m still looking for a border for that scarf.

Backroad Scarf, Aran weight

Backroad Scarf, Aran weight

Which comes first – the yarn or the inspiration?
It could be either. The Backroad Hats started with the yarn: Michelle at Widdershin Woolworks asked if I’d test out a new yarn she was thinking of carrying, and I tried to come up with a stitch pattern that would show off the variegated colourway and work well with the yarn’s sproinginess. The wrap I’m working on now started with an idea for a lace border; I tried several yarns before finding one that clicked. I’ve been working on some more colourwork ideas using the Sunday Knits 3-ply yarns: the colour palette is so huge, there’s lots of room to play around with colour combinations.

What characteristics do you try to incorporate in your designs?
Since I started spinning a few years ago, I’ve become more and more interested in suiting the yarn to the purpose: wooly wools for outer layers, tightly plied yarns for items that will see a lot of wear, lofty yarns for large projects like blankets. I try to come up with designs that are interesting to make, so that the process is as enjoyable as the final product.

What is your favourite type of item to design?
That changes all the time, but overall I’d say stranded colourwork. I like the mathiness of it — the challenge of coming up with attractive designs within the grid format — and it gives me a chance to play around with colour combinations.

Your desert island yarn? (if you could only knit with one yarn from now on which would it be?)
I think it would be Sunday Knits yarn. It’s soft and pleasant to knit with, with a good plying structure, so it’s very versatile. The colours are just lovely, too.

What’s your “comfort knitting?”
Socks. I used to be into fancy socks, but I find that I really like working on plain, 3×1 rib socks, especially since I’ve done enough of them that they’re mindless knitting for me now. When I’m working on one of those socks in self-striping yarn (especially in handspun), it feels like my hands just know what to do, while the stripes keep it interesting with no extra effort from me.

Jazz Age mitts

Jazz Age Mitts

Which is your most under-appreciated design?
I kind of feel like the Jazz Age mittens don’t get the love I thought they would. They’re getting more attention with the Gift-A-Long, especially since I changed the main photo (it’s so hard to choose the right photo sometimes), so hopefully more people will see them now.

Which three GAL designs are top of your list to cast on?
Well, I finished Laura Chau’s Orbital Ornaments and Birch Hollow Cottage’s Little Fox Mittens, both of which were a lot of fun. Next up is Marnie MacLean’s Cercis sweater for me.

Continental or English?
English. My English grandmother taught me to knit, so that’s how I learned. I’d really like to learn Continental, though. My stitching-and-coffee friend knits Continental, and it’s amazing to watch her go.

Gimble Mitts

Gimble Mitts

What’s the best thing about knitting?
Always having something productive to fill slack time. I recently had to fly to Alberta from Birmingham, and without knitting, those flights would have been mind-numbingly tedious. I like having a way to keep my hands busy while reading, watching movies or tv shows, sitting in waiting rooms, and so on, and at the end you have something you can use.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d like to share with other knitters?
Don’t be afraid to try new things. The worst that will happen is that you’ll have to rip out your work and try again, and even then you’ll have learned something.

Any knitting/designing New Year’s resolutions?
I don’t really do resolutions, but I think next year I’ll finally try to learn Continental knitting. I’d also like to be designing sweaters by the end of next year.

View all of Elizabeth’s patterns here. All images copyright Elizabeth Elliott and used by permission.

Changes in EU VAT rules and how it affects your purchase of my knitting patterns

January6

If you’ve been following the discussions of the new EU VAT rules that went into effect on January 1st, 2015, then this is probably old hat by now. For those that haven’t, I thought I should post a note about the new legislation and what I’ve done to comply – and of course, how this will affect your shopping experience.

Customers who don’t live in the EU won’t notice a change at all. Your shopping experience in my Ravelry store (or in Patternfish) will function as normal.

My prices have never been VAT inclusive, so EU customers shopping via Patternfish will see slightly higher prices that include their local VAT rate. EU customers shopping via Ravelry will be redirected to LoveKnitting to check out, at which time VAT will be applied to their purchase.

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New Tech Cowl



Vieux Carré Stole



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Don't Ask Y

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Combs Cowl



Mindfulness Cowl



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