Today I’m sharing my last interview in this month’s series on intermeshing crochet. Barbara Mann, also known as mulenga, is a designer, teacher, and all around advocate for double filet. (Nickerjac, a fellow member of the East London Crochet Group, shares her thoughts on the difference between double filet and intermeshing crochet in this interview.)
Barbara lives in London and can be found online as mulenga on Ravelry, or via the Double Filet website of the East London Crochet Group. Images are copyright Barbara Mann and are used with permission.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first learn to crochet?
Barbara: My Dad learned to crochet while a prisoner of war, and taught my Mum and me after his release, when I was about 7. I remember knitting the body of my school cardigan while my Mum knitted the sleeves. My motto through the years has been Each one teach one, and my two daughters are competent knitters, crocheters and designers – and teachers.
UC: How did you become involved with the East London Crochet Group?
Barbara: It started around our kitchen table with a group of friends exploring Double Filet crochet! We decided to put on a workshop in our local church hall, which became a regular three-monthly fixture. We called ourselves the East London Crochet Group because that’s where most of us came from to start with, but people started coming from all over London and further afield, one even from Scotland. Several years on, from 2003 we added a 3-day residential workshop. We are affiliated to the Knitting and Crochet Guild, some of our contacts came that way, others through SkipNorth, others in manners lost in the mists of history.
UC: Your group seems to have developed a strong interest in intermeshing crochet, or double filet. How did you learn this technique and what do you enjoy about it?
Barbara: I attended a free-form crochet course in 1991 with Sylvia Cosh and James Walters. James showed us an experimental sample of Double Filet crochet (similar to the first sample here – ironically about as far from free-form crochet as you can get). I was hooked, and knew immediately where my next twenty years were going! What do I enjoy about it? Creativity, colour, texture, practical results (dramatic capes and afghans), designing …
UC: Do you design your own projects or do you mostly work from patterns?
Barbara: I rarely work from patterns unless from one our design team! Between workshops a group of close colleagues meet round our kitchen table twice a month to plan the next workshop, and we normally come up with a dozen or so pages of ideas and drawings suitable for different levels of experience, or to encourage folk to design their own. Each year we pick a different region as a source of inspiration (the Celtic world, the Mediterranean, Russia, Africa …), developing designs from all manner of crafts.
UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your collection?
Barbara: [Laughs]. Barbara Walker‘s Mosaic Knitting. Not crochet, but adaptable. Our crochet Bible is the Harmony Guide to Crochet Stitches compiled by James Walters and Sylvia Cosh. But usually we have a pile of books around our theme, e.g., for Japan: some 10 books on traditional gardens, embroidery (sashiko), kimonos, amigurumi, Japanese prints, bonsai, heraldic motifs …
UC: Do you have any crafty blogs or websites you visit regularly for inspiration or community?
Barbara: I am beginning to be more computer literate, and am thoroughly enjoying Ravelry. No doubt this blog is one that I should start to follow!
Thanks so much for sharing your time with us, Barbara, and for your kind words about my blog!
Today, I’m pleased to share an interview with crochet and knitting designer, Michele DuNaier. You may know Michele as the designer behind MAD Cap Fancies. Michele can be found on Ravelry as MADuNaier, on her designer page, and in the MAD Cap Fans group. All photos are copyright Michele DuNaier and used with permission.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first learn to crochet and knit?
Michele: My first lessons were as a child at my grandmother’s knee. She came from a long line of knitters and crocheters; when she was young in “the Old Country” that was how the family’s clothes were made. She could knit a thigh-length stocking in one afternoon, so she was exempt from farm work! I would say I am more of a crocheter than a knitter, although I love both.
Michele: After retiring, I became heavily involved in knitting and crocheting for charity. After making over 100 hats in the space of a few months, I began to find it simpler to just design my own. Then, when I realized Ravelry made it so easy to self-publish, I thought – why not?
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Michele: My inspiration comes from a variety of sources. The seasons inspire me, of course, as well as favorite books, movies, and television shows. A lot of my designs are inspired by old Victorian patterns and doilies. I also like to design what Ravelry friends tell me they are interested in – for example, they currently have me looking into crocheted crescent-shaped shawls.
UC: Most of your patterns are self-published. What do you see as the advantages and challenges of self-publishing?
Michele: I actually have 3 designs published in pattern books so far, and a fourth due out this July in a magazine. I prefer self-publishing, however; it gives me the creative freedom to design whatever I like, format the pattern as I wish, include photographs, poetry, creative writing, and whatever else I want to throw in! Plus, I am always loathe to sell away the rights to my patterns – each one seems like one of my children. I can’t say that self-publishing contains “challenges” – more like “opportunities” to express myself as I wish.
UC: What are your favorite things about designing?
Michele: I love the Math inherent in needlework design. Not that I always totally understand it or can predict what will happen, but I love wrestling with it in shawl design. I also love parts of needlework design which I did not even expect I would be doing, such as photography, design layout of the pattern file, and doing some creative writing to get things out of my mind and onto the page (or rather, the screen). I think of my grandmother often as I crochet and knit, and wonder what she would have thought of her granddaughter’s patterns virtually traveling the world via Ravelry!
UC: Since you’re multi-craftual, do you have a favorite “go to” craft when you’re working on projects for yourself?
Michele: It depends on the project. Certain types of projects seem to call for knitting, others crocheting. But then I love to try and create a design to use the other craft instead, just to see if I can. For example, hats and baby boy sweaters just seem to me better done in knitting than crochet, so I have tried to design some in crochet just for the fun of doing it differently.
UC: From your Rav profile, it seemed like you transitioned from a life in tech to a life on a farm/homestead. Can you tell us about this transition and how it impacted your crafty life?
Michele: I do not live on a farm or homestead, really. I live on the edge of a forest, but did that even when I was working in the technical field. However, the transition from work to retirement was what enabled me to have the time to begin designing. And ironically, I found there are so many steps involved in designing and self-publishing which are similar to software design and support. Sometimes I mistakenly refer to my patterns as “programs…”
UC: Are there any crafty websites you visit regularly for inspiration or community?
Michele: I am compulsively on Ravelry throughout each day, especially now that I have my own group, MAD Cap Fans. I also frequent (all too often) websites which sell yarn, such as Jimmy Beans and WEBS…
Thanks so much for stopping by, Michele! Good luck with your upcoming releases!
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first learn to knit and crochet?
Amy: When I was about 20, I had a job cooking pizzas back in Iowa City, Iowa, home of the Iowa Hawkeyes (University of Iowa). Our busiest times were after 1 am when drunken college kids are in their prime (joke). But when it wasn’t bar time, things could get very quiet. Crossword puzzles entertained me for only so long, so I decided to learn how to crochet. My grandmother crocheted but her Alzheimer’s got the better of her before she was able to teach me. I picked up a “how to crochet” booklet at my local craft store and took off from there. I learned the basics from that little booklet but “invented” everything else I did. I’m so happy that was the way I learned, because it taught me to be in tune with what I was doing, and that nobody could tell me I was doing something wrong. I totally thought I had come up with a brand new idea which I eventually learned was called tapestry crochet. Ha!
Fast forward about 10 years, when my (now) husband and I owned our own pizza place. He delivered the pizzas, I cooked them. This was in the same college town with the same sort of down periods when college kids weren’t living it up. I unsuccessfully tried to learn knitting a couple of times before it finally clicked. Because I was a crocheter first, the throwing method of knitting where yarn is tensioned with the right hand just didn’t make sense to me. I found a video online that demonstrated continental knitting and I was finally able to “get it”. I delved into as many aspects of knitting as I could and drowned myself in technique knowledge. I did eventually learn how to throw-knit when I got into stranded knitting. Being able to hold one color in each hand makes the job much faster.
Amy: My answer is probably very similar to a lot of knitwear designers out there. I would have in my mind this perfect sweater that I wanted to make and would scour the internet for such a pattern. When I couldn’t find what I wanted, I’d end up starting out with a base pattern and then adding my own modifications. It was soon clear that I didn’t really need that “base” pattern to start with, and that I could simply start from scratch. Ravelry makes it possible for someone like me to write up a pattern and offer it to the world, so that’s what I did. It was this combined with my incessant need to be “making stuff” constantly that led me to design knitwear. Ravelry also made it possible for me to have a place to house my portfolio. When I made my first submissions to Knitscene, Lisa Shroyer was able to see what I had done previously and that I actually know how to knit.
UC: You’re currently the design coordinator for Universal Yarn and Premier Yarns. Tell us how you entered that work. What are your favorite aspects? What are some of the challenges?
Amy: I’d been knitting for a couple of years and designing for maybe 6 months when I saw a post on Ravelry advertising for the position. I asked Kirk (my husband) how he’d feel about moving to North Carolina before applying for the position. I’m sure neither of us imagined I’d actually get the job, but after an interview process, I did! I don’t have a design degree or formal training. Being formerly self-employed taught me a lot about understanding people on both sides of a situation. In addition to crochet and knitting, I have a sewing background (self-taught) that has been instrumental in garment construction, shaping, grading etc.
I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have my job. I get to help develop yarn, pick colors, name them, draw, knit, etc every day. I just got back from our mill in Turkey where I was able to learn more about exactly how our various yarns are produced. After that, I was in Cologne, Germany at the annual Handarbeit craft trade show where I was overwhelmingly inspired for a couple of days by all the up and coming trends and new products in the craft world. I also feel lucky that I actually still love to knit and crochet, even though it’s my job!
Although I work for a yarn company, we’re not this huge corporation. The number of people in the office is actually very small. It can be very challenging to be constantly creative and have good ideas. The trick is realizing which ideas are not so great and trying to forget I had them! But that’s a joke, really. It’s a process, this creative thing is. And it’s important to keep an open mind and explore all options. Another thing that plagues me are pattern mistakes. Everyone who writes and edits patterns has them from time to time. I do my best to make sure the patterns I’m responsible are as accurate as possible, but they still work their way in some times. When I field a phone call or email from a customer with a pattern problem, I always take it fairly personally and feel awful. I know what it’s like to be confused in a pattern and wonder if it’s me or the pattern. It stinks!
UC: Your first solo book, Knitted Mitts & Mittens, has just been published. What was the development process like for this book? Will you take a mitt(en) hiatus after this, or are you more excited to knit them than ever?
Amy: Pam Hoenig, the craft editor at Stackpole Books, gave me great freedom with the projects in this book. It was basically just like, make 25 fingerless gloves and mittens, I know you’ll do a great job. And that was it. I thank her in the book for this liberty and I will thank her again now: Thank you Pam for your trust! Limitations can be helpful, but it was great to not really have any with this book. This was a liberating experience! Obviously, that all the patterns are for mitts/mittens are a limitation in and of itself. But I can’t lie, there were times when I wondered if I could possibly come up with another idea for a fingerless glove. In those times, I’d do what I usually do when I’m blocked about something in life: forget about knitting completely and do something else (possibly involving a glass or two of wine). It’s fun how one idea can lead to another. I think it’s so important to keep an open mind in designing. If I’ve imagined something and sketched it out and my stitching ends up going a different direction I let it take me there if that’s where it needs to go. I try not to robotically do things, but to be mindful of each step and detail.
I naturally am drawn to knitting garments. What can I say; I love clothes! But doing all these small projects that can be completed in such a short period of time have made me rethink my garment love. Yes, I’m excited to make more fingerless gloves. I forgot how nice it can be to start and finish a project over the course of just a day or two!
UC: What are your favorite knitting books (besides yours, of course) in your collection?
Amy: I actually own almost no knitting books. I have the first three books in Barbara Walker‘s library which I love to refer to from time to time. The most recent knitting book I purchased was Cast On, Bind Off by Leslie Ann Bestor. (UC comment: You can find my review for Bestor’s book here.) I’m always most interested in finishing details and other persnickety things in knitting. (I’ve been trying really hard to find a good reason to use “persnickety” lately).
UC: What’s your favorite fiber to work with and what do you love about it?
Amy: Linen, definitely. It just feels good. I read lots of complaints by people who don’t like working with it. Certainly, it’s not as pleasant as knitting with springy wool. Soaking linen (and letting dry) helps the stiffness. The drape and breatheability of linen are just unbeatable. Something about the raw natural texture draws me in like nothing else. Plus, it only improves in softness each time it’s washed and dried!
UC: Are there any crafty websites/blogs you visit regularly for inspiration or community?
Full disclosure: A free giveaway copy of this book was provided by the publisher. Although I accept free books for giveaways, I do not accept additional compensation from the publisher, nor do I guarantee a positive review. My reviews are based entirely on my honest opinions. This also post contains affiliate links. You can read my affiliate and review disclosures here.
I’m sure my readers who primarily knit have been asking themselves, “When is our giveaway coming?” So today’s post is dedicated to all you knitters out there!
One of the reasons I retaught myself to knit was to take advantage of the many great books available to knitters on clothing and sweater design. For some reason, there are very few crochet books focused on sweater and clothing design. Since Lily Chin released Couture Crochet Workshopin 2006, I have seen a few crochet books here and there which talk about fitting and sweater or clothing design, but most of these books still emphasize pattern alteration rather+ than design from scratch. (I do hear that Custom Crocheted Sweaters: Make Garments that Really Fit by Dora Ohrenstein, due out in January, 2012, will be awesome.) Since I started knitting again, I have slowly been collecting the various books that I’ve been hearing about from knitters about over the years.
I haven’t actually read these books, so I can’t give them a full review. But I have perused through them and can provide some descriptions. Eventually, I hope to read them all and apply my learnings to both knitting and crochet.
This book is organized into three sections. The first, “Aran Background and Fundamentals,” is a primer on Aran sweaters, various types of cables, different layouts, and knitting tips. The second, “Constructing an Aran,” reviews different construction and sleeve types including bottom up, top down, dropped shoulder, peasant sleeves, set-in s sleeves, raglan sleeves, vests, t-sleeves, and wide saddle. The last section, “Aran Sweater Projects,” includes patterns.
The book is mostly in black and white, with color photographs of the projects. There are knitting charts, many illustrations, and “decision points” in the steps of each of the construction methods. From the little that I’ve read, Szabo seems to write in a conversational tone, like a mentor explaining something to you. The retail price is $24.95 and it is available from Szabo’s Blue Sky Knitting as well as the major book retailers.
This book has eight chapters. “Learning to See” has some interesting photos of vintage knitwear. “Designing with Yarn” reviews properties of different yarns and seasonality, and provides tips on swatching, estimating yarn needs, and charting a pattern. “Fit & Silhouette” focuses on taking measurements, ease, and choosing structure, sleeves, and neckline. There are small sections on designing for a full figure and for maternity wear. “Designing with Knit & Purl” explores different patterned stitches, how to arrange repeats, and edgings and trims. “Color & Graphics” reviews different types of colorwork. “The Comfortable Classics” includes a gallery of classics (e.g., Chanel suit, Matador, etc.) and gives some sketching tips. “Themes & Samplers” has tips on slip stitch and twisted stitch patterns, cables, bobbles, eyelets and lace, motifs, and beaded and embroidered embellishments. “Dressmaker Details & Finishing” explores different silhouettes (e.g., trapeze, princess, etc.), shaping techniques, creating patterns, collars, lapels, pockets, cuffs, and finishing techniques.
This book looks like a textbook – my edition is hard cover and text heavy, with great historic photos and ample illustrations. Each chapter after “Learning to See” includes a section called “Swatch Project and Designer Notebook” and at least one garment pattern with a “What If…?” exploring different options. From looking through it, the book seems like a self-study/correspondence course with assignments that would turn you into a solid designer by the time you complete it. The 1998 edition retails at $24.95.
This book is organized into steps (as the title suggests). Step 1, “Inspiration, Stitches and Yarn,” emphasizes the personal nature of inspiration and includes photos of nature, a review of color and colorwork, different types of stitch textures, embellishments, and yarn. Step 2, “Ideas onto Paper,” focuses on using graph paper, gauge, scale, pattern repeats, converting measurements, and planning the design. Step 3, “Knitting a Swatch,” is all about the importance of swatching, gauge, and making adjustments. Step 4, “Mapping out the Design,” reviews body measurements, basic construction types, schematics, and measuring for accessories. Step 5, “Getting Knitting,” discusses the calculating yarn amounts, writing up your patterns, and different shapes (for scarves, blankets, cushions, bags, hats, socks, slipovers, sweaters, jackets/cardigans, and straight skirts), necklines, and collars. This section has instructions for each shape, neckline, and collar, written out in smaller font than the rest of the book, and sizing charts. The book also includes 48 pages of knitting graph paper.
This book is relatively light on text and has many vibrant and colorful pictures. It seems geared towards visual learners. The retail price is $17.95.
The book is organized around 12 basic designs: Classic Raglan Pullover, Classic Raglan Cardigan, Seamless Cape, Seamless Skirt, Reversible Pants, Sleeveless Sweater, Seamless Set-In Sleeve, Seamless Saddle Shoulder, Kimono Sleeve, Square-Set or Peasant Sleeve, Dropped-Shoulder Ski Sweater, and Classic Cap.
There are a handful of black and white photographs but illustrations and schematics of each design. From the little I have read, the tone is very conversational. It seems like having a great teacher sitting next to you while you are working on a project. I especially like the “pause” and “continue” prompts at various points within each design. The book retails at $20 and can be purchased directly from Schoolhouse Press, as well as major book retailers.
The subtitle of this book is “Basic Designs in Multiple Sizes and Gauges.” It’s basically a sweater recipe book. The designs included are Drop-Shoulder Sweaters, Modified Drop-Shoulder Sweaters, Set-In Sleeve Sweaters, Saddle-Shoulder Sweaters, Raglan Sweaters, and Seamless Yoke Sweaters. Each design includes guidelines for creating that style of sweater in child and adult sizes based on a stockinette gauge of 3-7 stitches/inch, and a cardigan variation. There are also tips for several variations of ribbing, necklines, edgings, and waist shaping throughout the book. There are some additional patterns (“copy cats”) in each chapter.
This book seems like the intermediary between following patterns and completely creating your own designs. It talks you through the number of stitches to cast on, when to shape armholes, sleeves, etc. But there is also design advice sprinkled throughout. It also has a great book design. It is a hardcover, spiral-bound book so it lays flat, and it includes an elastic marker to keep your place. There’s also a pocket in the back where presumably you would keep notes. There are many full color photos and each pattern sample is photographed on a model. The retail price is $26.95 and you can purchase it directly from Interweave Press or through other book retailers.
This book is organized into two parts. Part I, “Before You Begin,” covers yarn, body shapes, measurements (with very detailed and frequent illustrations), pattern stitches, color, estimating yarn, and gauge. There is a fair amount of discussion about the way in which the yarn, the stitches, and the design combine to flatter the wearer. For you math-phobic people out there, the book has a 14 page chapter called “Understanding the Arithmetic of Knitting.” Part 2, “Doing It – The Actual Designs,” includes chapters on different designs – The “T” Topper; The “Da Vinci Man” Sweater; The Puff-Sleeved Boatnecked Beauty; A V-Neck Pullover Vest; A Cabled, Classic, Crew-Necked Long-Sleeved Pullover; A Cardigan Jacket; A Child’s Raglan Turtleneck; A Timeless Adult Raglan Cardigan; All-in-One-Piece-from-the-Neck-Down-Pullover; A Coat of Many Colors; The True Batwing Sweater; Icelandic Yoked Pullover; Traditional Aran Fisherman Sweaters; and Diagonal Sweaters. There are additional chapters on sleeves, necklines and colors, and “interesting effects” like stripes, different colored cables, etc.
This book seems very informal (the sweater design names give a hint of that) and chatty, and there are some personal stories peppered throughout. It seems to have more information on the math than other books, even going so far as to include “fill in” problems. There are some black and white photographs and many illustrations. I’m not sure what is different in the new edition because I haven’t checked it out yet, but it retails at $24.95.
This book takes a different approach from the rest, by walking the reader through a sampler – basically a sleeve sized project that teaches many skills including different methods for casting on and binding off, stripes, short rows, button holes, increasing and decreasing, stripes, cables, pockets, and hems. The first section focuses on the sampler with illustrations, photos, and detailed directions. The next section, “Equip Yourself,” is all about yarn, needles, and other tools. The third section, “Unravel Your Thinking,” briefly explores construction and gauge. The fourth section, “The Basic Sweater,” walks through a sweater design adapted from Elizabeth Zimmerman. This section includes a formula page (“the Gauge Page”), which can be adapted for different gauges and measurements. The final section, “The Sweater Variations,” covers different necklines, cardigans, sleeves, and accessories.
The edition I have includes a small insert with color photos of completed projects and is spiral bound so it lays flat to allow reading and knitting. I would describe the writing style as casual instructional (e.g., “You will now be working back and forth on the needle”). I like the idea of the sampler since taking on a full sweater is a pretty large project if you don’t feel confident in the design and/or your skills. There are several newer editions, and I’m not sure how similar or different they are from my version. The second edition retails at $25.95 and can be purchased directly from Down East or through major book retailers.
What’s your favorite sweater/garment design book for knitting or crochet?
Now that you are all fired up about designing that sweater you’ve always dreamed of…
Today’s giveaway is a knitting supply kit including: