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Interview: Carol Feller


This morning’s interview is with Irish designer Carol Feller of Stolen Stitches.

Carol modeling Woodburne Cardigan

Carol modeling Woodburne Cardigan

Who taught you to knit/How did you learn to knit?
I actually don’t remember learning to knit; it feels like I’ve always known! I suspect in reality that it was a combination of school and my mother. My earliest knitting memory was from school probably at the age of 6 or 7 knitting fingerless mittens in a delightful lemon acrylic. I actually found them in my parent’s attic a few years ago and they brought back a lot of memories for me. Interestingly the love of knitting appeared to skip a generation in my house; my mother always found knitting too slow and she much preferred crochet and sewing but her mother was a fantastic knitter. In fact at one point when she was being wheeled in for an operation she made them stop so she could examine the stitch pattern on the doctor’s sweater 🙂

How did you get started designing?
Designing did not initially begin as a conscious decision. When I left school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I did an art foundation course with the intention of becoming a graphic designer. During the course I found that textile was actually what I gravitated towards and I won an award for my textile design at the end of the year. However I missed math and science so I switched to civil engineering, specializing in structural engineering. After graduating I moved to Florida with my husband and worked for a few years as a structural engineer there. However engineering also never felt like the perfect match; I wanted both! Over the next few years I had 4 children, moved back to Ireland, ran an online natural parenting company and eventually after selling the company decided to become a full time mother.

That didn’t last very long; within a few months I rediscovered knitting and was immediately hooked. I swiftly moved from relearning knitting to designing. The first pattern that I had accepted was a knit ball for Knitty magazine, Doddy. This suddenly made me realize that I could become a designer! I set up a website, began submitting to other magazines and self-publishing my own patterns. For the first time in my life I had found the perfect blend between art and math.

What inspires your designs?
Inspiration comes in many forms; sometimes it’s a wonderful garment detail, other times it might be a fantastic yarn or yarn combination and other times I just want a functional garment that fits! The busier I get the harder it is to find the mental quiet space that’s needed for creative work.

Which comes first – the yarn or the inspiration?
It’s not always the same, sometimes when I’m asked to do work for a yarn company by it’s nature the yarn comes first. I’ll then work with the yarn swatching and building my idea until I have something that works well with the yarn. Other times (especially for magazine work) I’ll envision the end product; how it fits, how the stitch pattern will behave and then the challenge is to find a yarn that complements the design you want to do. This is the easiest way to work, as you’ve already got the image of the finished piece in your head and you’re pulling the strands together to get it to work.

What characteristics do you try to incorporate in your designs?
In my designs there are a few things that always make me happy; I like seamless deigns, interesting construction methods that make you think (but still make sense!), and wearable pieces. I want all of my designs to be both fun to knit and also very wearable. As a knitwear designer you’re really performing two roles; a fashion designer that creates objects that people want to wear but also a knitter that writes patterns which are accurate, easy to follow and teach knitters new skills while they are working on them.

What is your favourite type of item to design?
I love designing and knitting garments, especially cardigans. From a knitting point of view I like working on big projects; you spend time setting it up and planning it and then you have several weeks of knitting fun to work on them.

Tell me about “Short Row Knits”, what was the inspiration for this collection/book?
I’ve always loved short rows; they are so versatile and easy to use. However when I began using them I really hated the pick up method for the standard wrap and turn. I kept messing with it until I found a way to get it to work better for me. From there I started learning as many short row methods as I could. This lead to short rows becoming one of my first in-person classes and it proved very popular. From there I did a free Craftsy mini-class that now has almost 160,000 students! Based on the popularity of short rows (and the fact that I use them in almost everything I design) it seemed like a perfect topic for my new book.

Do you have an aspirational knit – a complicated/challenging design that you want to knit “some day” when you feel ready?
I don’t really! As a designer I like to challenge myself, so often when I’m a little uncomfortable with a technique or type of yarn I’ll do a design in it to push myself to mastering it. This happened last year with lace weight yarn; I found it hard to keep very lightweight yarn tensioned so I avoided lace weight. In the Irish Yarn Club last year I picked a Hedgehog Fibres lace weight yarn for the Feamainn shawl. I loved working with the yarn and got over my lace weight fear!

My next challenge now is stranded colorwork. While I am able to work stranded colorwork the challenge for me is to design something I like to wear. Often these designs are complex and heavily patterned which is very different from my own personal style. I want to create a design that uses this technique in a very contemporary way that feels more like me.

What is coming next? What’s in your release queue?
I’ve currently got a few designs ready to go, they’re just waiting for the right season! One is a lighter weight sweater that will be released in the spring and the other one is a children’s sweater and hat combo that is nearly ready for release.

A little further down the line I’m busy planning the Irish Yarn Club for 2016. The yarns are coming in so I’m working on the designs. I love this club; being involved right from the yarn and color choice to the end design gives you so much control.

Finally I’m also at the first stages of planning for another bigger project that I hope to release next September. It’s still in early development but I’m giddy with excitement 🙂

Your desert island yarn? (if you could only knit with one yarn from now on which would it be?)
Is that really possible? I suspect for me that that yarn would keep changing. One of my current favorites is Dovestone DK from Baa Ram Ewe. I did a booklet for them, Dovestone Hills, that was released in August. This yarn is a great blend of soft and rustic that makes it rather wonderful to knit!

Which is your most under-appreciated design?
Hmm, there are some that get lots of love but aren’t knit very frequently but one that I just love that just never took off is the Mayu Skirt. I love knitted skirts, they’re great to wear with a pair of leggings and big winter boots but I guess not everyone feels the same way about knitted skirts!

What’s the one piece of advice you’d like to share with other knitters?
Nothing in knitting should scare you! If you can knit and purl and read a pattern then the whole knitting world is open to you. Keep lots of technique books close by, ask for help and don’t worry about ripping.

Any knitting/designing New Year’s resolutions?
I’m in need of a little recharge time. Creativity doesn’t work in a rushed world so I’m overdue some time out. I’ve run a business before where it kind of ran away with me. I was so focused on growing the business that I didn’t take the time to look at the direction it was going in. I have to keep reminding myself to regroup, remember what I love and stop myself from heading in the wrong direction. To keep the business sustainable for me I have to keep loving it. This means that I must allow myself enough time to design, redesign and think about what I’m doing. As there are so many hours in the day this sometimes means turning down commissions and making hard decisions.

If you could have dinner with one knitting designer (living or dead) who would it be and why?
Is this dinner for fun or to learn?? For fun it’s probably be Laura Nelkin, she is a ton of fun!

Now if we’re being serious and it’s for learning then I’d love a dinner with Eilzabeth Zimmermann, she seems like such a fascinating woman.

View all of Carol’s patterns here. All photos copyright Joseph Feller. All images used by permission.

You can find Carol 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!

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