Today’s interview is with Marnie MacLean, a prolific designer whose pieces are not only eminently wearable but also classically beautiful.
Marnie MacLean, modeling Willowherb
How did you get started designing?
My mom is a knitter and dad used to crochet so I grew up in a house filled with yarn and pattern books. I’ve been knitting and crocheting most of my life, though I didn’t really get serious about it until after college. When my now-husband and I moved from Boston to the Los Angeles, in 2001, I picked up my knitting needles more seriously and never really looked back. I started knitting things for myself and writing down what I did. Some of those first few patterns are a hot mess but online patterns were still really rare so I had the freedom to experiment and find my style. Once I started publishing with Twist Collective in 2008, I really started seeing my designing as more than a side hobby. It’s very much a job for me and it’s one I truly love and hope I am improving on, each year.
What inspires your designs?
This may sound strange but I actually think that people put too much value on “inspiration” when it comes to designing. Certainly, that’s what got me started and that is what fueled my first designs, but when you publish regularly, and on deadline, the need for inspiration can be the enemy of getting things done. I design things I want to wear, and sometimes I have a strong vision that drives the end product, but it’s not uncommon for me to simply sit down with some yarn and needles and a stack of stitch dictionaries and just push myself to create. I’ll swatch a bunch of ideas, pull out a sketch pad and try to fit the swatches into something that I would want to wear. Of course, there are other times when something really does feel like an inspiration, and those can come from anything. When I feel like I need some ideas and jumping off points, I’ll look up textures and patterns in nature or historical costumes, and see what little details interest me.
Which comes first – the yarn or the inspiration?
Either. Sometimes, yarn companies or even publishers will send me yarn for an as-yet undefined or loosely-defined project. In that case, I construct a finished piece around the qualities of the yarn. Other times, I have an idea for a project and then I seek out the right yarn for the finished piece.
What characteristics do you try to incorporate in your designs?
Well, I’ve been designing for a little over a decade and I have over 100 patterns under my belt, designed for men, women, and children and for knitters and crocheters of all levels. I’m not sure there’s any particular characteristic I consciously work into all my designs. Part of keeping designing interesting is feeling like I’m doing new things so while I might have a recognizable style, I hope that there’s enough variety in my portfolio to please a lot of people. What matters more to me is writing patterns that knitters and crocheters find clear and accurate. I’m constantly assessing the feedback I get and working to make my patterns better.
What is your favourite type of item to design?
Well, I love bigger projects like sweaters and shawls, and I think that’s reflected in my library of patterns. While there’s something to be said for designing pieces that a person can knit or crochet in a weekend or with just a single skein of yarn, I find designing those sorts of patterns almost anti-climactic. They are just done too soon for my taste.
Your desert island yarn? (if you could only knit with one yarn from now on which would it be?)
Who could pick? Yarn is like food. If you were to eat the same thing for every meal, every day, you’d grow tired of it quickly. Some foods are best kept for special occasions or are wonderful in moderation, others are basic staples that can appear in most meals but would be unsatisfying in isolation. Yarn is the same for me. I love the variety and the right yarn changes from project to project.
What’s your “comfort knitting?”
I love working stockinette stitch, especially in the round, and good quality metal needles and yarn that doesn’t split. I can happily knit it while carrying on a conversation or watching a show in the evening. It’s mindless and calming and unobtrusive. Perfect for times when I don’t want to think too much.
Which is your most under-appreciated design?
I would have loved for Jamison Square to have done better. It’s the sort of garment I love to wear, but it never really resonated with knitters.
Which three GAL designs are top of your list to cast on?
This is almost as hard as the desert island yarn question. There are so many amazing designs in the GAL. I can count on one hand the number of designs I’ve knit by other people, since I’ve started designing but if I had time to knit other people’s stuff, I think I’d choose:
1. Carol Sunday’s Cambridge
2. Julia Trice’s Elia (full disclosure, she’s a close friend of mine, but that pullover is the bee’s knees) and
3. Natalia Sha’s Elderberry
Continental or English?
I’m a combination knitter and I knit continental. When I do stranded colorwork I hold one yarn in each hand which I guess means I’m knitting continental and english.
What’s the best thing about knitting?
I always tell people that I like that I am being productive while vegging out in front of the tv.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d like to share with other knitters?
Try new things and don’t expect perfection the first time.
Any knitting/designing New Year’s resolutions?
I don’t make resolutions. I think that we are either ready to do something or we aren’t and that moment has nothing to do with the day of the year. I do hope that I’ll only design for as long as it brings me joy and that I continue to find ways to make my designs and patterns better. That’s something I have to work on all year round.
View all of Marnie’s patterns here. All images copyright Marnie MacLean 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!