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Interview: Carolyn Macpherson


Today’s second interview is with Canadian designer Carolyn Macpherson of The Next Beautiful Thing.

Carolyn Macpherson

Carolyn Macpherson

Who taught you to knit/How did you learn to knit?
My Nana taught me when I was quite young – maybe 6 years old or so? She would have me down to her cottage for tea and then pull out old knitting pins (kind of like dpn’s I suppose). She would wrap one end of each with elastic bands so my stitches wouldn’t fall off and then patiently talk me through many garter stitch doll scarves and blankets.

How did you get started designing?
A few years ago, my husband (the man) looked at me after I had thrown another wip down in exasperation and said, “You change those patterns up so much, why wouldn’t you just make your own?” Something with that kind of clicked in my head and I had to think about it for awhile… like a year awhile. Then, slowly, after a whole lot of reading and research, I started to work my confidence up enough to start putting original patterns out into the world.

What inspires your designs?
Oh geez. Everything and anything! It could be something I hear or see or dream. I could be out for a walk and see a tree with really nifty bark and *snap* a picture goes into my phone for future mulling over. My phone is almost out of memory because of all the photos on it! Though truthfully, for it to realize from an idea into an actual pattern, it’s usually got to be something that has strong emotions for me. A feeling of a place. The mood of a storm. Loss of someone or something. Hope…. Oh and the beautiful spaces around me. I love this province (Ontario) and how diverse and gorgeous it is.

Which comes first – the yarn or the inspiration?
I would LOVE to be able to say it was inspiration first. I have so many notebooks full of sketches and ideas that i often buy yarn for and then the feeling has passed and I’m already on to something else (lol, I’m very much a “hey, how’re you doing… SQUIRREL” kind of gal). Most of the time, I’ll buy yarn that catches my eye for some reason and I have to let it sit out where I can see it for however long it needs to tell me what it is supposed to be. The last yarn sat there for about 5 weeks and suddenly one evening it came to me how perfect it would be as a slouchy tam. I had the pattern drafted, swatched, sample knitted, frogged and knitted again, within 24 hours. Now, comes the tricky part of getting the icky computer work done.

What characteristics do you try to incorporate in your designs?
Hopefully bits and pieces of my personality. Hints of things that I love. People, places, stuff around me. Some are just fun with perhaps a nod to popular culture, like the “Rainbows! In Space!” wrap was an attempt at teasing my youngest son, Ewan, about Nyan Cat. Other things, I try to incorporate an essence of times, places. For instance, I have a shawl in testing that is quite literal in this way, called “Silent, Soft, Slow” and the lace patterning reminds of bare tree limbs and snowy winds. Another item that is in development is more suggestive rather than literal with a mood of those hazy winter mornings where the sun shines yellow and almost watery through grey cloud cover.

What is your favourite type of item to design?
Hats seem to come easiest to me, but I really enjoy working lace. Shawls are a bigger canvas for lace and I’m just getting started into more shawl design. I just wish I could wear them more often!

Tell me about “The Ghost Hunter’s Cloche”, what is the story behind this design?
Oh that’s a long story, lol. The short version is this… My eldest son who is Autistic (both are unfortunately), Aidan, is a ginormous fan of the tv show “Ghost Hunters” and it is one of the very few shows that the entire family will watch together. Early last fall, someone on the TAPS team did an amazing thing to brighten Aidan’s life and sent him some TAPS swag. It simply was incredible. The next episode we watched, one of the men was wearing the exact same t-shirt as one of the ones Aidan had got, while one of the female investigators was wearing a kind of amazing felted tweed hat. Around that same time, I was also doing quite a bit of urban exploration and the people I was with would always joke about what would happen if we ran into ghosts. Somehow these two things kind of mashed up and I had dreams of a vintage heroine off ghost hunting in mysterious country manors. I imagined that she would be wearing something like “The Ghost Hunter’s Cloche”. If only I could find my own haunted mansion to explore!

Do you have an aspirational knit – a complicated/challenging design that you want to knit “some day” when you feel ready?
As a designer? Geeeeez, man, how I’d love to learn how to grade sweaters properly! More research is needed on this! As a knitter? I so want to get my colour work chops up. There are so, so many gorgeous stranded colour work items out there and I would absolutely loooooove to make myself a bohus style yoked sweater.

Silent, Soft, Slow

Silent, Soft, Slow

What is coming next? What’s in your release queue?
Here is where I bounce excitedly! I have several projects getting ready to go and I’m hoping to release quite a few things (4 hats, 3 shawls, 2 cowls, 1 pair of slippers… and a partridge in a pear tree) before the end of December. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been procrastiknitting quite a bit this year. I also am so thrilled to say that I’ve been talking, plotting and hatching plans with another designer friend for an awesome project which should be ready to premiere Fall 2016! Be sure to stay tuned!

Your desert island yarn? (if you could only knit with one yarn from now on which would it be?)
Wow… that’s like asking me to pick a favourite colour! LOL I don’t know if I can pick just one. Excuse me while I walk over to my stash (currently living in my living room… our basement flooded) and fondle some lovelies to see if I can decide. Yep. Nope. Can’t do it, man. How do I choose? Dyeing method? Fibre content? LOL I’m actually stressing about this… I suppose, if I absolutely had to have only one kind of yarn I’d want depth of colour and “glazing” like you’d get from madelinetosh or Yarn Indulgences on a base of Kate Davies’ Buachaille…with maybe a bit of alpaca thrown in…Geez Louise, lol, I’m such a freaking yarn whore. Seriously. I can be sweet talked in to just about anything if yarn is involved.

Which is your most under-appreciated design?
Easily, it’s “My Watch” cap. Every single time I wear mine, I get so many random compliments from strangers. It’s got a double thick brim, to keep ears warm, and worked in a twisted broken rib which turns into geometric pillars and then into garter stitch which neatly hides the crown decreases. It’s a fun knit, quickly worked in DK weight. I’ve made it myself a few times for my kids and brothers last year as gifts.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d like to share with other knitters?
Be excellent to each other. I really, really mean it. There is so much misery and ugliness out there in the world. Knitters are creators! We make and treasure beautiful things! We support one another and help each other grow. We shouldn’t shame someone because they use acrylic yarn, or are struggling to learn basic stitches or speak a different language in a different country. We do all have our challenges and more than plenty of differences. But I have this theory that knitters are nurturers. The patience and care we put into our work, if we could just try to apply that out there in that great big world, I think slowly, stitch by stitch, we would start seeing a global community coming together for the better of so many things.

Any knitting/designing New Year’s resolutions?
Hahahahahahaaaaa, yeah…I’m supposed to be going a yarn diet. The challenge has been put to me to at least make it 6 months without purchasing any new yarn and work through some of this stash. Although, as I said, I’m easily bribed, swayed, induced, and/or sweetened with any and all kinds of wooly, fibre-y, beautiful cakes, skeins or hanks. *big exaggerated wink*

If you could have dinner with one knitting designer (living or dead) who would it be and why?
Another hard question! I have several designer “heroes” that I truly look up to; Carol Feller, Romi Hill and Melissa Leapman. And I would absolutely be over the moon to meet any of them! Buuuut, I think, I need an amazing one-of-a-kind, full of laughter kinda night out and I can’t think of anyone more fun, random and brilliant than Stephen West. He’s one non-repeatable colourway of a designer who isn’t afraid to be himself and in embracing that has become one of the most easily recognizable faces of knitting. I think it would be a total blast, even if all we did was knit and bitch.

View all of Carolyn’s patterns here. All photos copyright The Next Beautiful Thing. All images used by permission.

You can find Carolyn 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
One Comment to

“Interview: Carolyn Macpherson”

  1. On December 7th, 2015 at 5:57 pm Jan Says:

    My all time super favourite designer! Great interview.

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