Designer Q & A – Attic24

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 15-03-2019

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We are so excited for our special guest visiting the Craft Barn tomorrow. It’s only Lucy, from Attic24 blog! How fantastic is that? Lucy will be joined tomorrow by fellow knitting and crochet buddies, Emma Varnam and Winwick Mum. Pop in store and say hello, the gang will be here from 10am – 4pm. In anticipation for her visit we sent over a few (maybe more than a few) questions to delve a little deeper into the creative world of Attic24. Lucy kindly responded with some great answers. Enjoy having a read of our Attic24 interview, it is really interesting to learn more about her crochet journey.

Designer Q & A Attic24 | Black Sheep Wools

When did you begin crocheting?
Before I had my children, I was a self employed designer-maker working with textiles and embroidery. I ran my little handmade business from home, making brightly coloured textile pictures and a range of embroidered greetings cards. I packed up my textile business when I had my first child in 2002, thinking that eventually I would come back to it.
Fast forward to 2007 and I was very busy being a full time Mum to my two young children aged 3 and 4 then. I loved that time in my life, but I found myself starting to miss my old creative work and began to look for a way to balance out the needs of my young family with my need to do something creative for myself again.
It was a friend who suggested I try crocheting – she knew of my arts and textile background, and thought that crochet would appeal to me as she had just learnt herself and was finding it very therapeutic. We agreed that yarn crafts were far more child friendly than sewing, being that you can sit on the sofa amongst the chaos of family life and pick up a crochet project far more easily than you can get out a sewing machine and ironing board!
So I decided to give it a go, borrowing a crochet hook and ball of yarn from my friend and getting her to teach me the basics of crocheting a chain. I bought a small beginners crochet book from a local yarn shop and over the next few days I taught myself the basic stitches and learnt how to make a simple granny square. I knew straight away that I wanted to crochet blankets, and those very first granny squares eventually became my very first blanket.
That was over eleven years ago now, and I can honestly say that learning to crochet changed the course of my life. I still have that first blanket draped over the back of my sofa and it’s one of my most treasured things.

Designer Q & A Attic24 | Embroidery | Black Sheep Wools

Attic24 Embroidery

Designer Q & A Attic24 | First Blanket | Black Sheep Wools

First crocheted blanket Attic24

What sparked your love with this wonderful craft?
I fell in love with crochet primarily because of the ease of it. As a mum of young children, it was something I could very easily fit into the small pockets of time I had throughout my busy days. I would keep my yarn handy and I would pick up my granny squares whenever I had a chance. Even if it was just a few stitches here and there, I loved that I was doing something creative just for me, for my own pleasure and satisfaction.
And of course, there was the colour therapy too. When I first walked into a yarn shop to purchase a few balls to make granny squares, I was hit by the sight of so much beautiful colour on those shelves that I knew I had found something that would bring me a huge amount of happiness. I had always loved bright colours when I worked with fabric and stitch, and finding out that yarns could give me the same sort of colour-fix was such a great surprise.

Granny Squares Attic24 | Black Sheep Wools

What inspired you to begin writing a blog?
Around about the same time that I learnt to crochet, I also discovered the online world of creative blogs. Blogging was still relatively new back in 2007, but I began following a few blogs that really resonated with me – ladies who were sharing snippets of their daily lives, their homes, gardens and creative projects which I found hugely inspirational. I had already begun sharing some of my photos and projects on Flickr (remember this was back in the day before Pinterest and Instagram existed, I know, how did we ever manage?!) and I found that I really enjoyed being a part of a creative online community. It was like suddenly finding my tribe when I had been living in solitary for so long! Writing a blog and joining in with the community I had discovered was the next logical step, although it took me almost a year to pluck up the courage to do it. I had recently relocated and moved to a new town so was feeling a little lost at the time. My youngest had just started mornings at nursery, so for the first time in many years I had some precious child free hours at my disposal. I had always loved writing (I was an avid penpal in my teenage years, writing letters to friends all over the world), and taking photographs to go with my words became a newly discovered passion. There was no end goal, just a desire to share and connect with others, and to be able to fill my free time with a new and exciting hobby.

Designer Q & A Attic24 | Black Sheep Wools

Your blog is so popular, how does it feel to know there are people all around the world reading your blog and making your designs?
Honest answer???? It feels FANTASTIC!!! I The community which surrounds Attic24 is absolutely wonderful and I truly value the friendship and connections that it brings to my life. That sense of belonging is very precious to me, especially as I spent so many years feeling quite alone with my creativity and my quirky way of looking at life. Mind you, having said that, I find that even after all these years I still very much write my blog and create my designs for my own personal pleasure and need.

You design beautiful blankets. For someone who has never seen any of your fabulous makes before, which would be your top 3 to begin their Attic24 journey?
I mainly design my blankets with new crocheters in mind, keeping the stitches pretty basic and creating full photo-heavy tutorials to help with pattern reading. The simplicity of my designs also makes my blankets into perfect projects for those who want to indulge in some therapeutic hooky time where you can lose yourself in the rhythmic stitches without having anything too complex to concentrate on. For those who are very new to crochet, I would suggest blankets that have repeating rows with very little counting involved – the Granny Stripe, the Hydgrangea Stripe or the Sweet Pea.

Designer Q & A Attic24 | Black Sheep Wools

Photography is a huge part of your blog and has been from the very beginning. Would you say that photography is an important part of your creative process? Do you take inspiration from what you have snapped?
Yes, yes, yes, I would absolutely say that photography is at the very heart of everything I do. Each and every one of my blog posts tells a story through photographs, and I always begin a post by uploading all the images in an order which makes sense to the inner dialogue running through my mind. The narrative comes afterwards.
My camera is one of my most valuable tools, allowing me to capture and record all sorts of things which may end up inspiring new designs or colour palettes. In fact most of my recent blanket designs have been inspired by nature, and it’s my photographs and visual observations which spark these creative ideas.

It’s always lovely to see your captivating photos of nature and the great outdoors. What is your favourite season?
Summer is my best favourite time of year, without a shadow of a doubt. I especially love very early summer (late May here in my patch) when we have those gloriously long, light days and all the greenery is back in the woods. Also flowers – summer flowers are a true delight and never fail to inspire me.

Floral Inspiration | Designer Q & A Attic24

Woodland Inspiration Attic24 | Black Sheep Wools

When you aren’t crocheting what other crafts / hobbies do you enjoy doing?
I learnt to knit as a child but hadn’t done much until a few years ago when I learnt to knit socks. I love having a pair of socks on the go alongside my crochet, it’s a different kind of a challenge for me and I get huge satisfaction from wearing socks that I’ve made myself. Plus self striping sock yarns are an addiction that I’m totally on board with!
I discovered the pleasure of modern cross stitch designs last year and that feels like a true hobby for me. I like being able to sit quietly and stitch without any other agenda, it’s just a beautiful way to relax and spend time.

Colour plays a huge part in your crochet, how do you settle on a colour palette?
When I was first crocheting, I would choose my colour palette by first selecting a yarn type, then going into a local yarn shop to gather together all the colours that made me happy. It was always a quick, simple, instinctive process and not something I ever gave a great deal of thought to.
These days I really enjoy having a story behind my colour palettes, and spend a long time thinking about the bigger picture and choosing colours that describe a particular season or place. Once I’ve decided on the theme, I visit and research, taking photographs and collecting natural materials (eg summer flowers, or autumn leaves and berries) which I use as my starting point for selecting colours. I then pull out my yarn pegs (simple wooden clothes pegs wrapped with yarn) to build up groups of colours which tell the story, arranging them and playing with them over many weeks until I’m happy with the overall balance. I then begin sampling, which often leads me to make one or two final adjustments with my colour choices – sometimes a collection of colours just doesn’t play out as you expect it to once you begin working up a pattern. I find I make emotional decisions about colours just as much as visual ones – I really do like to “feel” the colours somehow and always know when I’ve created a great colour palette because I feel like I want to cry (it sounds soppy, but it really is that intense!)

What inspires a new design? Colour or crochet stitch? What is your creative process?
This is a really interesting question, and I’ve talked a little bit about my creative process of choosing colours in the question above.
It’s always the colour choices which come first for me, although I’ve often got a vague idea of a stitch pattern at by the time I come to select the colours. I try and think about my story and what I’m attempting to convey with my colours, and then think about a crochet stitch or pattern that will work best to do the job. For example, in my Moorland blanket, I chose the colours to describe the feeling of walking across the high Yorkshire moors in Summer when the heather is blooming. I immediately thought of using a wave stitch to describe the gentle undulations of a long distance landscape, with very successful results.

Designer Q & A Attic24 | Black Sheep Wools

Do you have a favourite shade of Stylecraft Special DK? If so, what is it?
My favourite shades of SSDK are the blue/green ones, echoes of sea and sky. Duck Egg, Cloud Blue, Storm Blue, Sage and Lincoln. I adore these shades and am naturally drawn to include them in my blankets whenever I can.
Interestingly, the colour which is used the most in my blankets is Meadow – I don’t think it’s a beautiful green on it’s own, but it’s wonderful as a mid tone green amongst other colours, especially those ones which are inspired by nature.

What is your go to crochet stitch pattern?
I don’t think I really have a go-to stitch, but I do really love creating stripes. I’ve been drawn back to the ripple stitch many times over the years (I think I’ve made 7 ripples blankets in total) so maybe that would be the one.

Brights or pastels?
I would have to say brights as I am instinctively drawn to them. Bright, vibrant colours make me feel good and I love to use them in my designs.
I’m discovering a new love for softer colours though, and my next project uses quite a muted colour palette (inspired by nature) which is unusual for me. I’ll be interested to see what everyone makes of it!

Do you have a favourite place to crochet?
I pretty much crochet wherever I am and am used to taking my crochet out and about with me. I adore crocheting outside in the Summer when I’ve got a beautiful view to gaze at (crocheting on the beach is a favourite). But I also love to cosy up beside our open fire in the cold months of the year.

Attic24 | Black Sheep Wools

What are your crochet plans for 2019? Are there any cryptic clues you can share?
I don’t tend to plan all that far ahead, but I can tell you some of the things that I’ve got lined up. I’m working on a new blanket right now which will be ready to share in the Spring. I’ve chosen the colours and am in the sampling stage for the stitch pattern – I’m very excited to begin on a new blanket journey.
I’m thrilled to be heading abroad in April and May to teach on two Stitchtopia crochet retreats in the French Alps. The retreats will be focusing on circles of colour – I’ll be creating some new mandala designs as a way of teaching some yarn-based colour theory, including how to find inspiration for colour palettes and how to use them for crochet projects.
Beyond that I’m not sure what I’ll be working on – I’ve always got lots of ideas bubbling for smaller projects, oh and in July I’ll be planning and choosing colours for my next annual crochet-a-long blanket…….I’ve already got an idea for a theme, but I can’t tell you just yet!

What direction do you see crochet going in the next 5 to 10 years?
Do you know what, I would be so, so happy if my own personal direction didn’t change too much in the next decade as I’m enjoying myself so much right now. I love the balance of my creative life, getting to crochet, design and write at a pace which suits me. I am very much a “go with the flow” type of person and don’t tend to plan much or have any great ambitions for the future. I love the luxury of living in the moment wherever possible, enjoying each day as it comes.
As for the direction of crochet in general, I hope that the increase in popularity continues. I’ve seen a massive change in the decade since I started, and I think this is mainly down to the huge variety of yarns (and colours) that we now have at our fingertips. I would love to see more affordable natural yarns (wool, cotton, linen, bamboo) coming in a large range of beautiful colours – it would be amazing to crochet a gloriously colourful natural fibre blanket in a yarn that doesn’t break the bank!

We can’t wait for you to visit the Craft Barn on 16th March. Are you looking forward to coming and spending time with us in store?
Yes, I really am looking forward to it, I can’t wait to experience the famous Craft Barn! I don’t get out that much you know, spending most of my days working alone either at home or in my studio. So it’s always exciting to tiptoe out of my Attic every so often and meet with other like minded people. And if there is yarn to stroke and cake to eat, well I consider that a very, very good day out indeed!

Read Attic24 blog here.

 

Designer Q & A’s – Dee Hardwicke

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 01-11-2018

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It was sometime last year that I first spoke to Dee Hardwicke over the telephone. We discussed the possibilty of her coming to the Craft Barn in Warrington for a visit. It was at that point I realised what a hard-working, super creative lady Dee Hardwicke is. When you visit Dee’s website you are instantly welcomed with an abundance of exquisite design. Dee is not only a knitwear designer, publishing two books – A Story in Yarn and Colourwork Knits, she is a talented water colour artist. Creating designs for homeware, stationary and more. I bought a calendar last year from the National Trust, featuring lovely woodland animals, when I got it home I discovered it was designed by Dee Hardwicke. It’s not just at a yarn shop you will come across her designs!

Our exciting news is that Dee will be joining us this month for a Designer Trunk Show on Friday 23rd from 3pm – 5pm and a sell out (sorry) workshop teaching Intarsia Design Knitting on Saturday 24th. The trunk show is free to attend. Dee will be signing copies of both books, and this event will be a unique opportunity to see some of the original watercolour sketches, templates and knitted swatches behind Dee’s beautiful designs. Dee will also be on-hand to talk about her inspiration and to help you select palettes for your own quilt or knitwear projects based on the stunning collection of Rowan yarns to be found at Black Sheep Wools. You’re bound to feel completely inspired to pick up your knitting needles! If you aren’t sure of the Craft Barn’s location pop over to our website for details.

Dee has kindly answered a designer Q & A for us with a selection of inspirational photos. Grab a cuppa and have a read below.

You have a very distinct style in both your knitting and painting designs. What would you say is your main source of inspiration?

I find endless inspiration in nature. I live in Wales, between the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains, so I’m surrounded by the most beautiful countryside. No two days are ever the same, and I love the shapes and colours that emerge from season to season and from year to year. I always have my sketchbook to hand so that I can paint the world around me, and it’s often something as simple as an autumn leaf or a tiny flower which plants the seeds of an idea in my mind. I only have to step outside to feel inspired.

In your latest book Colourwork Knits: 12 Hand Knit Designs Inspired by Natureyou have designed a stunning collection of garments and accessories. What is your design process, from inspiration to finished piece?

Thank you! My designs begin with the watercolours and drawings that I make in my sketchbooks. I then develop them into designs for specific pieces, laying out different yarns alongside my watercolours to help decide on palettes, then creating charts and knitting test swatches. When I visit for my Designer Trunk Show on 23rd November, I’ll be bringing some of the original watercolours and swatches for the designs which appear in my books so everyone will be able to see how the process evolves. The knitwear itself is inspired by the shapes I like to wear, such as roomy boyfriend sweaters and fitted cardigans, and I decide which yarns to use depending on the specific design. For example, yarns such as Rowan’s Valley Tweed are ideal for ‘drawing’ with and they’re perfect for creating detailed motifs such as the pretty butterflies on my Pom Pom Shawl and the design on the Circle Flowers Sweater featured on the cover of Colourwork Knits.
Dee Hardwicke Colourwork Knits
Scarf from Dee Hardwicke’s book – Colourwork Knits

 

What is your favourite Rowan yarn to work with?

I love working with Rowan’s Felted Tweed and Valley Tweed since they’re both perfect for colourwork, and I’m very excited about the new Cashmere Tweed, which is a blend of extra fine merino and cashmere. It’s incredibly soft and offers amazing depth of colour. It’s also a really forgiving yarn for colourwork and I’m using it in designs for my next book. I can’t say too much about the book at the moment but I’m very excited about it and I’ll be revealing more on social media over coming weeks.

Is there a particular shade that you are drawn to every time you start a new design? Or a palette of shades?

I work really instinctively when it comes to choosing palettes, and I love experimenting with different colour combinations. When I’m hosting workshops, I always encourage people to play around with colour and to see what palettes they’re inspired by, since there’s no right and wrong. It’s amazing how an unexpected dash of colour here or there can transform a familiar palette; even now, I constantly feel that I’m discovering different ways of using colour. Rowan’s yarns have such beautiful, natural tones and the colours are very much those that you’d find in the landscape, from deep berry reds to rich autumnal oranges and fresh spring greens. Rowan also regularly launch limited edition ranges and capsule collections so there are always lots of exciting new palettes and textures to work with from season to season. I feel inspired just thinking about it!

 

Being a designer as a full time job, do you ever get time to enjoy knitting for pleasure?

I’m really lucky that because I’ve always been very creative, being a designer never really feels like work since it’s more a way of life. Some of my earliest memories are of making little outfits for my dolls and of drawing in the garden, and I’m always happy when I’m knitting … whether that’s in my studio, or tucked up at home by the fire with a piece of homemade cake to hand.

Can you remember the first thing that you ever knitted?

I can! It was a sweater, and I was so inspired by the yarn I was knitting it with that all sorts of variations to the pattern and colour-scheme kept popping into my mind. Of course, I really didn’t have the technical knowledge to match my ideas and so the result was somewhat mis-shapen … but very loved!

 

Do you have a knitted / crocheted treasure? A piece that you could never part with, a gift or maybe something you have made yourself?

The quilt that I knitted for my book A Story in Yarn: How to Design and Knit an Intarsia Heirloom Quilt is my most treasured knitted piece. It’s autobiographical and is inspired by some of my most special, happiest memories, which I talk about in the book. Judging by the lovely messages and photographs I get from people as far afield as the States and Australia, their versions of the quilt have become incredibly special to them too. The fact that my quilt was the starting point for this somehow makes it seem even more precious.
A Story in Yarn

With all of the fabulous designs featured in your books there must be one, two, maybe even more that you would love to wear / have in your home? We would love to know your favourites.
I really do love all of the designs but the Pom Pom Shawl is particularly versatile and can transform an outfit in seconds, adding a glamorous touch to jeans and a sweater, or a welcome splash of colour to a black dress. I’ve had so many compliments for it, and I know that the shawl is one of the first things that many people have knitted from Colourwork Knits (it’s an easy pattern to knit, too). My Boyfriend Scarf and Boyfriend Sweater are perfect for bundling up in on a chilly day, and they’re made from Rowan Alpaca Soft DK so they feel really luxurious to wear. I’m also rarely without my Dee Motif Cardigan since its fitted shape is so flattering and it’s knitted in a gorgeous red (Rowan Valley Tweed in Wolds Poppy).

Dee Hardwicke Rowan yarn garment

What delights will you be sharing with us at your Designer Trunk Show on 23rd November?

I’ll be displaying a selection of garments from Colourwork Knits, including the Dee Motif Cardigan and Pom Pom Shawl, although in view of what I’ve just said above, I may well be wearing them on the day! I’ll be bringing the original watercolours which inspired designs from the book too, as well as knitted swatches, so everyone will really be able to get an insight into how a design evolves. I’ll also be bringing my intarsia quilt and some of the beautiful flower and leaf templates and charts used to create it. The event will be a wonderful opportunity to chat to people about the design process and, I hope, to inspire them to get knitting!

Dee Hardwicke Rowan

What are your creative plans for 2019? Any new knitting books on the horizon?

Very excitingly, I have plans for two new books, one a collection of really wearable knitwear in beautiful colours, and the other focusing on interiors. I can’t say too much at the moment but I love social media – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc – as a way of giving people a behind-the-scenes look at what I’m working on so there’ll be lots of clues over coming weeks and months! www.deehardwicke.co.uk / @deehardwicke

Designer Q & A’s – Graeme Knowles-Miller

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 06-04-2018

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Earlier this year we were lucky enough to have knitwear designer and tutor Graeme Knowles-Miller in store teaching 2 mini workshops. He taught one crochet workshop and one knitting. Graeme was a huge hit with everyone, not only those he taught, but also the Black Sheep staff. It is always nice to meet someone new from the yarn industry and hear their story. We thought that it would be a good idea to interview Graeme, to share his yarn filled life with you too. Without realising it you may have already knitted one of Graeme’s incredible fair isle sweaters.
Graeme will be back at the Craft Barn on 14th July teaching two half day workshops – Learn to Crochet AM and Fair Isle Knitting PM.
Enjoy reading Graeme’s answers to our designer Q & A and taking a look at his fabulous designs below. Spot the man himself modelling for his MA collection.

Q&A with Graeme Knowles-Miller

 

When did you learn to knit?
During the 3rd year of my BA I wanted a set of jumpers in my final collection to compliment two tailored suits.

Graeme Knowles-Miller | Green Jumper

Can you remember the first ever item that you finished?
I can and looking back now the quality of work was terrible! It was a chunky raglan gansey in variegated yarn with a pattern designed to reflect Harrogate across the yoke. What was I thinking? Not very gansey at all.

What inspired you to choose knitting as a career? Where did your journey as a designer begin?
Knitting as an actual career is something I fell into, after my BA I went travelling for a bit and decided to do an MA centred on hand knitting when I got back. Bit of a snap decision but it worked out. As for my first proper design, that would be with Baa Ram Ewe who ran a limited edition set of their fantastic Titus that had been over-dyed by Joy The Knitting Goddess. It was a simple pair of fingerless mitts.

Graeme Knowles-Miller

Graeme Knowles-Miller

Graeme Knowles-Miller

Graeme Knowles-Miller

Graeme Knowles-Miller

Graeme Knowles-Miller

Where can we find your designs? Who have you worked with?
My designs are all over but mostly on my Ravelry page (GraemeKnowles). The page features many of the things I’ve done for BRE including the Yorkshire Shores book which you guys stock; also a lot of the free patterns for Debbie Bliss and Designer Yarns that were done when working for them. Luckily I’ve also been commissioned into quite a few magazines such as Knit Now and the American Knotions.

What would you say is your signature knitting design style?
Fair Isle definitely, it’s what I enjoy the most and always to have fresh ideas for.

What do you have on your needles at the moment?
That’s a good question; I have a set of Ecclefechan mitts by Kate Davies that really need finishing, a stash busting blanket and a Christmas present already. Other than that it’s just lots of sampling or future projects.

Do you have any new designs in the pipeline for 2018? Anything you can share?
I should be bringing out a set of mittens and a jumper from my MA collection that I’ve finally managed to get round to sorting. They’re delftware colours meets traditional Norway style which I’m really looking forward to seeing what people do with. There should also be a KAL but that’s still a bit secret.

Where do you begin when designing? With a sketch, yarn, colour etc?
For my own brief a motif will normally be my starting point, what is the story I want to tell and how can I get that across effectively? If it is for a client they will always have a starting point which can be very helpful. Then usually comes a bit of sketching on a random bit of paper (often an old envelope or newspaper on the train) before casting on a sample square. There are many things that work on paper that just don’t suit a knitted fabric, so often it is best to get sampling straight away.

Icelandic Yoke | Graeme Knowles-Miller

Fair Isle Idea | Graeme Knowles-Miller

What has been your highlight so far as a knitting designer?
Being a co-author along with Alison Moreton of the Yorkshire Shores book. We worked very closely with Baa Ram Ewe to create a set of modern Gansey/Guernsey inspired pieces which included a great day out in Staithes on the Yorkshire coast for the shoot.

Yorkshire Shores | Graeme Knowles-Miller

Do you manage to fit in time to make things to wear yourself?
I’m afraid not, most of my spare time is taken up on the allotment or with my bees in good weather, and designing or teaching when it’s bad.

Do you have a treasured handmade item that you cannot part with?
A Cashmerino Aran version of Donna Smith’s Baa-ble Hat as its super warm, fits me perfectly and I always get compliments on it.

You also crochet – have you been crocheting as long as you have knitting?
A little longer but there isn’t much in it, so 5 or 6 years now, I’ve been teaching it for longer than knitting though.

What sort of projects do you enjoy crocheting?
Little characters are a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine; last Halloween I made a ghost pattern classed George and had a great time taking him on all sorts of adventures for social media. Other than that it’s mainly granny squares for charity blankets as they’re a mindless project and use up spare yarn.

Do you have a preferred style of crochet hook that you use?
Soft-grip handles are quite good as they don’t seem to push into your palm too much. Mostly I’ll use what’s to hand but I really don’t like the feel of plastic ones as there is too much resistance to the yarn.

We can’t wait to have you back at the Craft Barn teaching workshops in July. What do you have planned?
It’s going to be great to come over and see you guys again, I’ll be doing two lessons that day; Learn to Crochet and Fair Isle 101. The first is pretty obvious, for those who don’t know anything about crochet or did it years ago and want to get back into the craft, I also teach left-handers their way so it’s great for anyone really. The Fair Isle class is a technical workshop showing all the tips and tricks for perfect colour work from how to hold the wool, yarn dominance and hiding those pesky tails.

What is your favourite yarn?
Without doubt it has to be Jamieson & Smith’s 2ply Jumper Weight! Such a fantastic texture, great colour palette and the 25g balls allow you to experiment with a huge range of shades without it breaking the bank.

4ply or chunky?
4ply as it lends itself so well to Fair Isle especially the J&S I just mentioned or the new Baa Ram Ewe Pip both of which as so well suited.

Circular or straight needles?
Circular, I knit almost everything on them even flat projects. This is most helpful on the train when other passengers don’t want poking with knitting needles.

Muted shades or bright?
Definitely muted as you can’t really go wrong with palettes of traditional heather tones or classic combinations.

Do you have a favourite place where you knit or crochet?
My quiet office at home, away from everything I can concentrate fully on the project.

Do you listen to music or watch TV whilst knitting?
I actually really enjoy knitting in silence but more often than not it is on the train. People-watching and making go hand-in-hand because anything you see might be the inspiration for a whole collection. Being around strangers in public spaces definitely helps fuel this.

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Designer Q & A’s – Sue Stratford

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 19-10-2017

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This November we are very lucky to be having knitting designer, Sue Stratford visiting our Craft Barn in Warrington. You may recognise Sue Stratford’s name from many toy knitting books, including Christmas themes, meerkats and cats. She can often be found at craft shows up and down the UK, having recently been at the Knitting & Stitching show at Alexandra Palace in London. She is one busy bee and enjoys keeping everyone up to date via social media and through her website.

Sue will be teaching two workshops and doing a book signing / toy knitting tips in store this November. On Thursday 9th November Sue will be in store for the afternoon from 2pm – 4pm sharing knitting tips and signing copies of all her fabulous character books including her latest book ‘A Bird in the Hand’. Bring along your Sue Stratford makes to share or ask Sue’s advice on knitting toys. Very handy if you have a project on the go at the moment eager to finish for Christmas.

On Friday 10th November Sue will be teaching Learn to Knit in the Round, a full day workshop which includes a delicious lunch and an exclusive cat doorstop pattern that you will begin to make on the day. Sue will guide you through the technique so that you will confidently be able to knit in the round on future projects. Other techniques covered include using circular needles and double pointed needles, magic loop technique, jogless join (for working stripes in the round), three needle cast off, short row shaping and the i-cord. There are still places available should you wish to book.

Sue Stratford’s second workshop is on Saturday 11th November – Bird Toy Knitting workshop a full day once again that includes all of the usual yummy delights (lunch and a slice of scrumptious homemade cake in the afternoon) and knitting too. Choose from a selection of birds to knit on the day. Sue will have the packs made up ready for you to select. Making the bird you will cover a variety of helpful techniques that you will be able to use in many knitting projects – including short row shaping ,intarsia colourwork (and a tiny bit of fair-isle), interesting finishing techniques and lots of hints and tips. Find more info and book a place today. 

With Sue’s visit just around the corner we thought it would be nice to ask her a few questions about her crafty life. It is always nice to delve into the creative world of a designer. Sue has answered a selection of questions below and added in one or two pics along the way. We look forward to seeing you in store in November. Enjoy!

Who taught you to knit? What was the first thing you ever made?

My Mum taught me to knit as a child.  One of the first things I knitted was at school, we had to make something that would be displayed at Parent’s Evening and so I started making a navy tie for my Dad.  When my parents found my work it said ‘Susan – bookmark’.  In those days, long term projects weren’t for me!

When designing something new, where do you begin? Is it a sketch, with a colour palette or sampling?

I find lots of things inspire me and spark an idea, it may be a ball of yarn that I just look at and can see what I could make it into.  I always start with a sketch because I can see what I want to end up with in my head, but it really helps to get it down on paper.  I always thought I wasn’t good at drawing but I have had to get better!  I love flicking back to that original sketch and seeing that my finished design looks just like it.

We can’t wait to have you in store teaching workshops in November. How long have you been teaching workshops? What inspired you to teach?

I am really looking forward to coming to Black Sheep Wools to teach workshops.  I have taught for over ten years, starting when I opened my shop in 2006.  I really felt it was important I taught the classes as I believe that it gave my customers confidence in my abilities.  It is very satisfying seeing people learn and achieving something they thought they couldn’t do or was difficult.

You are best-selling author of many knitting books. Which was your favourite to design for?

I have loved working on all the books I have written and have to say that usually whatever I am working on at that time is my favourite but there is a special place in my heart for ‘Knit Me, Dress Me, Love Me’.  The idea came after I made knitted bunnies wearing a sewn dress for my daughters and their cousins for Easter a few years ago, I loved coming up with the ideas for the clothes and enjoyed doing a bit of sewing too!

Do you have a favourite place to knit / design?

I just like to be at home, sat on the sofa when everyone is at school and enjoy the peace and quiet!  I usually have a cat sat near me and our dogs Hetty and Spike.  The time goes so quickly and I get completely caught up in what I am doing.

Do you enjoy doing any other crafts? 

I have an addiction to craft, I like to embroider, I do dressmaking, tapestry and crochet too.  Unfortunately, there are just not enough hours in the day!

Is there a knitted project that you treasure? Made by yourself or a handmade gift from a loved one?

I think that knitters really appreciate a hand knitted gift as they know how much thought and work has gone into it.  My knitty friend Pam gifts me gorgeous knitted socks which I love, Jill made me a fabulous shawl which obviously took her a lot of time to do and was such a thoughtful present.  However, the things that I will treasure most are the baby cardigans that my Mum made for my children, I still have them all and they bring back lots of memories.

Do you have a favourite yarn to knit with?

I am a yarnaholic, I just love yarn!  But I have to say that I much prefer knitting using natural yarns, the feel of the yarn just does it for me.  I have really enjoyed using the Coopknits yarn in my designs and my next ‘Me’ project is a jumper using Baa Ram Ewe ‘Titus 4-ply’ which I have knitted with before and can’t wait to use again.

Do you enjoy knitting for yourself?

I do feel there is no one more grateful than yourself when it comes to knitting.  I knit a lot for me.  Although it may be more accurate to say I have a lot of knitting in progress for me… finishing things is a bit of an issue at the moment but I know eventually I will get round to it!

Do you have a top knitting tip that you could share?

My best knitting tip has to be swatch!  If you are making a garment and feel you don’t want to work a tension square but just start, think twice.  I did this when I was in my early twenties and ended up with a jumper which went past my knees and sleeves that also reached my knees.  Ever since then I have ALWAYS swatched.  To me it is part of the project and the ritual of buying yarn, choosing your pattern and getting ready to make it.

 

Designer Q & A’s – Emma Wright

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 16-11-2016

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Discovering new knitting patterns to add to your wish list is always such a delight. Even if it takes a little longer than anticipated for them to come to fruition, it is a comfort to know that your list is always there. Over the summer we added a new yarn brand to our collection – West Yorkshire Spinners. Along with delectable yarns, this included a spectacular range of patterns.  Many of which have been designed by the lovely Emma Wright, including the Illustrious book all designed and styled by the talented young designer. The ‘Hermione’ cardigan from this book is now on my wish list!

It was through taking on the West Yorkshire Spinners range that we first came across Emma Wright, knitwear designer. With so many designs under her belt having worked with many well-known names in the industry, already (she’s only in her early twenties), we wanted to know more. We invited Emma to the Craft Barn for a knitting natter and we are very pleased to share that she will be teaching workshops at the Craft Barn in 2017. Keep an eye out on our workshops page for updates. On 25th March next year Emma will be at the Craft Barn for a designer showcase day – pop the date in your diary. More details of this event will be coming up in 2017.

On the weekend of Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th November Emma will be taking over our Instagram. This is super exciting for us as it will be our very first Instagram takeover. Emma will be sharing lots of inspiring photos over the weekend so be sure to check it out.

To delve into the mind of a knitwear designer, I sent Emma some questions to share here on the blog…….

emma-wright-headshot

When did you learn to knit? Who taught you?

My nan taught me to knit when I was only young but I never really took it seriously until I went to college. I don’t really remember learning, it’s almost like I’ve always known how. My sixth sense!

Can you remember the very first thing that you ever made?

Unfortunately I have no pictures. Putting aside the teddy blankets, teddy scarves and Barbie clothes, I made a 1960’s inspired shift dress when I was 16 for my first textile project. With a sewn on Peter pan collar and buttons.

Where did you begin your designer journey……..How did you become a knitting designer? Did you study at University? What inspired you to make this decision?

After going to college to do fashion and textiles I went to Nottingham Trent where I graduated in 2014 in Fashion Knitwear and Knitted Textiles. I have always been creative, design ideas pop in my head constantly and after completing the knitted shift dress for my first textile project at college I just knew I wanted to do knitwear. I love the freedom both knit and crochet can offer and I am automatically drawn to colour and texture!

When designing something new, where do you begin? Is it a sketch, with a colour palette or sampling? What is your design process?

Each design is different, something in my everyday life can spark an idea. Something I’ve seen on the catwalk, something vintage I’ve seen in a shop or as simple as a stitch pattern that must be made into that scarf or jumper. I think exciting details, texture and colour can bring a whole new and modern lease of life to a classic jumper.

I am also a massive Pinterest addict, A great place to relax and find inspiration!

emma_wright_workspace2

As a freelance designer you must have worked with various big names in the industry. Where can we find your designs?

I have been very lucky to work with some of the best brands and designers in the industry such as Debbie Bliss, Erika Knight, Louisa Harding and The Fibre co. I also designed a pattern book called Illustrious for West Yorkshire Spinners which was inspired by heritage and took on a very classic autumnal feel with a wearable modern twist!

star sweater in baby cashmerino

Emma’s design ‘Star Sweater‘ for Debbie Bliss.

wys illustrious book

juliet wys illustrious

hermione wys illustrious

Which other knitwear designers do you admire?

I am a massive fan of Gucci, nobody does glitter like they do! I love the femininity of Orla Kiely and as I’ve said previously I’m very driven by colour, texture and pattern.

What have been your knitting highlights of 2016?

Oh wow! I’ve just recently done a collection of crochet interiors for DYChoice. This is my first crochet collection and my first interior collection so quite an achievement for me and I am very proud of the final collection. Early in 2016, I designed an AW16 collection for DYChoice called Alchemy. Inspired by the magical word itself, to be transformed or created through a magical process. For me this was knit and as the yarn is full of colour and texture through fibre I worked on colour placement around the classic silhouettes. For photography I styled the collection with metallic and dark autumn shades.

alchemy1 emma wright

alchemy2 emma wright

alchemy4 emma wright

Do you enjoy knitting / crocheting for yourself? If so, what do you make?

Yes! When I get time (which is rare) I like to make winter accessories, hats, scarves and headbands usually.

Can you share any projects you have coming up in 2017?

I always dread this question but I have a head full of secrets, I’m pretty good at keeping things hush. I keep my social media as up to date as possible with up and coming projects and new releases, I have also started my own emmaknitted Ravelry group which is quite exciting!

A couple of fun questions before you go……

Knit or crochet? Knit

4ply or chunky? Chunky

Pastel or bright? Oh that’s hard, I love both!

Do you have a favourite place to crochet / design? Does anywhere in my pj’s count?

Do you do any other crafts? If yes, what? I love sewing, embroidery, papercrafts… crafts in general!

Do you have a favourite yarn? Yes! Erika Knight Vintage and Maxi Wool

Keep up to date with Emma on social media here
Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: @emmaknitted
Hashtag: #emmaknitted
Ravelry Group: emmaknitted

Sara chats with Heike from Made with Loops

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 27-10-2016

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Last week we had blogger and designer, Heike from Made with Loops at the Craft Barn. Whilst she was here (on top secret business) we took the opportunity to do a video of Sara chatting with Heike about her deisgn inspiration, what her latest projects are and general knit & crochet natter delving into her box of finished makes.

 Here are just a selection of Heike’s favourite projects from over the years. A gorgeous bundle of colour expressed in crochet.

made_with_loops_projects

Designer Q & A’s – Susan Pinner

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 27-04-2016

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In the run up to Yarn Shop Day 2016 we caught up with crochet designer, Susan Pinner to ask a few questions about crochet. Susan will be here on Yarn Shop Day sharing all of her crochet treats and doing a book signing between 10.30am and 2.30pm. Along with two books full to the brim of her own fabulous designs – ‘Granny Squares‘ and ‘Granny Squares & Shapes‘, Susan also designs crochet patterns for Stylecraft.

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There will be many more talented crafty folk to see too, including demonstrations of weaving from Beryl Weir, sock knitting with Winwick Mum and even more crochet with Crafternoon Treats! Read our Yarn Shop Day blog post here.

sue_pinner

Who taught you to crochet? What was the first thing you ever made?

My best friend’s Gran when I was about 8 or 9, but I never made anything until my early teens and it was a gold, orange, brown, oatmeal rug in RUG WOOL that someone had given me……very hard going with huge tassels on each corner.

What projects do you have on the go at the moment? Any top secret snippets of crochet you can share?

Nothing TOP SECRET I wouldn’t get paid lol! But I’m doing some felting projects some free form projects and researching some new stitches that always leads to a variation on a new stitch in one way or another.

red_felt

crochet_puff

Have you ever made something that you will treasure forever? A project that took a little longer than expected, a labour of love or perhaps a beautiful piece that you just cannot part with. 

Almost everything I make…I find hard to part with. Two of my favourites are these and old, old freeform flowers on stripes, a felted hat that made it to Knitting Vogue Knitting magazine anything I do from real life like the primsoes and the Chunky Monkey CAL I did last year.

felt_hat

SILVER LACE BLACK PRIMROSE

bright_blanket

When designing something new, where do you begin? Is it a sketch, with a colour palette or sampling?

How long is a piece of string? Sometimes from a sketch, sometimes from a colour combo, a new stitch or a new yarn. When working with yarn companies you have to be able to adapt your style to their wants and new yarns and sometimes restricted colours

This one was from a sketch…

flower_diagram

You now have two books full of your designs – Granny Squares and Granny Squares & Shapes, plus you do lots of fabulous crochet designs for Stylecraft. Do you have a favourite design?

The latest designs are usually favourites but if you push me to pick one for Stylecraft…..the new Tartan blanket and cushion.

tartan

And the bead and bezel I did for Stylecraft blog tour…I’ve made them up in lots of colour combo’s since.

crochet_necklace

Your books are full of really lovely designs, are they suitable for a beginner? Are there any designs in particular you would suggest?

This daisy pattern so versatile, easy to make and can be made in so many colour combo’s and sizes from 3ply sock yarn to Aran, this picture is from a 1950’s colour chart as a box cushion for our 1975 camper.

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And the blanket motif…again its versatile.

granny_squares_book

Do you do any other crafts?  

Not really, these days crochet fills my time, a bit of paper crafting especially at Christmas time.

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If my crochet time was my own I would do far more free form crochet, I have  bags of crochet circle waiting for me to join them together and tapestry crochet too, like this one.

black_white_crochet

Do you have a favourite place to crochet?

My craft room the light is fabulous and I have a double sofa unit like a bed in there, but any where that’s comfy, the sofa, in bed…lots of space to spread out all the yarn and 4 cats and bury myself…..a tidy moment doesn’t look like this often!

crochet_display

Designer Q & A’s – Crafternoon Treats

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 01-03-2016

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If you are a keen crocheter and often delve into the crafty blogosphere you may well have heard of Crafternoon Treats, aka Kathryn Senior. Kathryn started her blog back in 2014 and has continued to blog ever since. Last year she began a series on her blog called the ‘Bagalong‘. The idea of the Bagalong is that everyone from all corners of the world makes the bag at the same time. Kathryn has a fantastic Facebook group for the Bagalong where fellow Bagalong crocheters can come together to share hints, tips and offer support. The patterns are usually Kathryn’s own designs, however sometimes she features someone else’s design, all along the bag theme.

This month she has released her latest Bagalong project – Sunny Days beach bag by Annaboo’s House, a bag originally designed as an exclusive pattern for Black Sheep Wools. Kathryn has chosen her own ‘beachy‘ colour theme and slightly adapted the pattern. Both patterns are available to download from our free patterns page or you can purchase yarn kits from our website.

sunny_days

Annaboo’s original bag design

Beachy bag

Crafternoon Treats adapted beach bag design

Whilst we were working with Crafternoon Treats on her Bagalong project, we thought it might be nice to get to know a little more about her crafty world. Read our interview with Kathryn here –

Who taught you to crochet? How old were you?
It was so long ago I can hardly remember! I must have been about 10 or 11 and I think I learned at the same time as my mum. We sort of taught each other. She was a great knitter and very skilful but I never got on too well with two needles. I took to the hook like a duck to water though.
As I got older, life took over and crochet sort of fell out of fashion so I put my hook down in the early 1990s and didn’t rediscover crochet until a few years ago. I was really surprised to find how it had become so popular again and I’m now completely addicted.

What was your first ever crocheted project?
I started with something easy – an intricate lace doily made with really thin cotton and a tiny steel hook and worked from a chart. It just seemed to come naturally and back then, I didn’t crochet with wool or other yarns at all.

Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
Ideas just seem to pop into my head – usually when I’m working on crochet projects. There are so many possible things to do and to make, and far too little time. I based my hexagon autumn inspired blanket on some finds from a walk but I often just put colours together because they make me feel good.

circles_buttons

What is your favourite yarn to crochet with?
I don’t think you can beat the quality acrylics that are around now and that offer such a huge colour range. One of the things I want to do in the future is to try out other yarns and I’ve been very interested to hear about the possibilities of hand-dyeing yarn from one of the lovely ladies who comes along to my new Crochet and Chat group.

Where is your favourite place to crochet?
Just about anywhere but I have two highly favoured spots – both by full length south facing windows in my house. Crocheting by natural light is the best and I am all set up in my lounge with a lap blanket and a quilt/crochet fusion throw that I made as part of the crochet along with Lucy at Attic24 just before Christmas. These colours are so uplifting. Upstairs in my office/studio I’ve just set up a new spot where I can crochet but also do the photographs for my tutorials and patterns.

mandala

Do you ever watch TV or listen to music when doing your crochet? If yes anything in particular?
I do crochet when the TV is on to relax but often find I miss most of the program… crocheting is a lot more interesting than most of what’s on. I also like to crochet with friends, either at the Crochet and Chat that I mentioned or just in the evening at a friend’s house. I have several crafty friends and we each do our own thing – two sew, one knits and I crochet.

Do you have a favourite crochet snack?
No, one of the good things about crochet is that it takes my mind off eating in the evening! Not that I am particularly overweight but those extra few pounds can creep on very easily if chocolate or cake is at hand. Bake off has a lot to answer for as it always makes me crave a slice of Victoria Sandwich but, if my hands are busy with a hook, I can resist!

Are there any crochet designers you particularly admire?
There are so many wonderful designers out there its difficult to choose. I like designers that inspire people to want to crochet and who encourage and produce easy designs that look fabulous. I have been lucky enough to meet up with Lucy at Attic24 quite a few times now and she is definitely Queen of crochet inspiration. I also love the work of Sandra at Cherry Heart, Kara at Petals to Picots and Dragana at Dada’s Place.

What inspired you to write a blog? When did you start blogging?
I started my blog in April 2014 so it’s coming up to 2 years old now. I’d recently lost my mum, who I was very close to and realise now that I used crafting and creating as a way to handle my sadness. I’m interested in all sorts of crafts – handmade books, silversmithing and beading – as well as crochet but I sort of got side-tracked by the hooking and it’s become the focus of the blog. That might change over time but, for now, I’m really interested in sharing my ideas and patterns and makes.

Do you have crocheted treasure? A piece that you could never part with, a gift or maybe something you have made yourself?
I have three small crocheted dolls and some fine crochet lace that were made by my great grandmother. I remember them from my childhood and I found them in my mum’s things after she died, all placed in a special pouch with my great grandmother’s wedding ring. I can’t say for sure that they were made by her but I think there is a very good chance.

You make lots of lovely crochet bags, what other items do you enjoy crocheting?
I like making blankets but they take a lot of time and I find I can’t rattle off blankets very quickly. I love my autumn inspired chunky hexagon blanket, which sits on top of my bed. I’m half way through a seascape ripple, which I must get round to finishing but bags do rather take over!

blanket

If you could give us just one crochet tip, what would it be?
Get a little notebook and write down notes to yourself about crochet projects that you do. This is really important for me when I’m designing but even when I’m doing something with a pattern, its essential to note down the colours of yarn, hook size, what the pattern is and any changes you have made as you’ve gone along. We are all guilty of putting projects away for a while and after just a few weeks I find I open up a carefully wrapped piece of crochet with no idea what hook size I was using or exactly which blog I downloaded the pattern from.

What inspired you to start a bag along?
It started sort of accidentally. I’ve always wanted to knit a pair of socks so I joined in with the Sockalong by Christine of Winwick Mum last year. I actually made a sock (still to make one to match but we’ll gloss over that…) and joked on Instagram that we could have a Bag-along and make crochet bags. The response blew me away so I set up the Bagalong group on Facebook to make my Retro Granny Stash bag, expecting it to generate a bit of interest for a month and fizzle out. I’m amazed that so many people are interested in crochet bags – we now have 4000 members and they are all bag-crazy!

autumn_colour_bag

Just some of Kathryn’s crocheted bagalong delights.

purple_bag

lace flower bag

Do you find yourself attracted to a certain colour or colour palette when you are starting a new project?
I love bright colours but I also like dramatic palletes and pastels. Vintage greys and muted tones look fabulous. Like I said – so much to crochet, so little time…

kathryn_saraSara and Kathryn in the fabric room surrounded by lots of Kathryn’s designs,

Designer Q & A’s – Arne & Carlos

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 10-02-2016

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Arne & Carlos

[Credit – 30 Slippers to Knit and Felt, Arne and Carlos Knitting Scandinavian Style, Arne and Carlos’ Easter Knits, Knitted Dolls with a Designer Wardrobe, 55 Christmas Balls to Knit, Knit and Crochet Garden]

In anticipation of the upcoming workshop and lecture with Arne and Carlos at the Craft Barn, I sent over a few questions to find out more about the talented duo. The answers below are just a brief snippet into their creative lives, I am sure they will have lots more to share in their lecture on 23rd February 2016. If you can’t make it to the lecture* (there are still a few places left) you won’t miss out completely as we do plan to film a short video with them too. Keep an eye out on our YouTube channel for this popping up.

*If you would like to book a place on the afternoon lecture (2pm -3pm) please call 01925 764231 or email info@blacksheepwools.com.

When did you first pick up a pair of knitting needles and learn to knit?

Who taught you? Did you knit / crochet from a young age? Arne started very young, probably before Primary School. He learnt from his mother, grandmother and great grandmother, as they all lived under the same roof, in a farm in the traditional Gudbrandsdal region of Norway, where his ancestors have continuously lived since the early 17th century. Carlos learnt as a child too, also at school, as crafts were taught to children at school in Seden in the late 70s. He stopped knitting for a while, though, and picked it up again as an adult.

Can you recall your very first finished project? What did you make?

Arne made a scarf with the letters: ABBA. Carlos can’t remember, made a bracelet for his mom.

How did you get into designing?

Arne has a degree in fashion design for the school of design in Norway, so he is a professional designer and also worked as a teacher in fashion design and pattern construction.

Your first book ‘55 Christmas Balls to Knit’ was a phenomenal success and has now been published in over 10 different languages. What inspired the choice of Christmas baubles?

It was just the idea, of taking the already existing, traditional knitting patterns that form part of our heritage and finding a new way to use them. The idea of a bauble was very appealing, because it was a small item that could be knitted very quickly. At the time, no one was knitting Christmas Balls.

Do you prefer to make small scale projects, such as baubles or larger items, such as garments?  

Definitely small projects.

What would be your one knitting accessory that you can’t live without?

A nice thick scarf, to protect us from the cold Norwegian winter.

I read that you have worked with many international brands including fashion house Comme des Garçons. That must have been an exciting opportunity, what did you design?

Do you have any photographs? Among other things, we designed the Space Invader Sweater that Arne wears on the cover of 55 Christmas Balls to knit.

christmas_balls

Can you give us just one knitting tip?

Knitting tip: When you knit with 2 colours, always carry the thread you are not knitting with for a maximum of 5 stitches, then twist with the other thread, to lock it. That way, you wont have too long floats. If you need to twist on more than one row, make sure you never twist in the same place in the row immediately after, as the other colour will show through.

Do you have a favourite colour combination you are always drawn to for your fair isle knits?

No. We like to work with all colours. I think the way we put colours together is what makes us stand out from all the other designers. We do it instinctively.

Do you enjoy knitting for yourself? If so, what do you make?

Yes we do, but unfortunately it’s been ages since we had time to make something for ourselves.

Where is your favourite place to knit?

In winter, it’s in front of the fireplace. In summer, it’s in the garden.

Where do you begin when you are starting to design for a new book? Do you begin with colour, a theme etc?

We usually start with a small idea and then look for ways to develop. It is not easy to explain how we do it, though.

Do you have a knitted / crocheted treasure? A piece that you could never part with, a gift or maybe something you have made yourself?

Actually, we have an archive of old knitted pieces that we collect. The most precious ones are the jackets and sweaters knitted by Arne’s grandmother, as they are exceptionally well made.

What exciting projects do you have coming up in 2016? Anything that you can share with us?

We are excited about the first catalogue for Schachenmayr (I believe it’s for Patons in the UK) that will be out in the summer and also about the new yarns we have designed for Schachenmayr.

Designer Q & A’s – Martin Storey

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 29-01-2016

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Yesterday saw the launch of the very first pattern of Martin Storey’s second Rowan Knit Along (KAL). Martin Storey’s first Knit Along took place in 2014 and was a huge success. Patterns were released over a period of weeks a square at a time. With the final pattern released being the sewing up instructions to guide how to join the beautiful jig-saw of squares together. Sara enjoyed taking part in the KAL too and took her blanket on display at the many craft shows we attend throughout the country. Many of our customers enjoyed taking part including a lady called Chris who’s blanket can be seen in the photo below.

chris_martin_storey_kal

Martin has gone for a different look this time round with 4 colour ways to choose from all in tonal shades, still using the Rowan Pure Wool Worsted yarn, exploring the many different shades there are on offer. The colour packs are available to order on the website already made up for you.

martin-storey-kal-colours

We are lucky enough to have the 2016 KAL blanket up on display in the Craft Barn at the moment. It really is a fantastic blanket that has had so many positive comments, both the design and choice of yarn. If  you are taking part in the knit along please do share your progress with us on social media or on email amy@blacksheepwools.com.

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To coincide with the start of the Martin Storey knit along 2016 I got the chance to ask Martin a few questions about his life as a designer and working on his second KAL.

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When did you first pick up a pair of knitting needles and get the knitting bug?

I first got the knitting bug around the age of 5 or 6. I was taught to knit by my infant teacher, the wonderful Mrs Cross. Mrs Cross felt it important that both boys and girls learnt the basic skills of knitting, sewing and cooking. I still remember the plastic pink and yellow needles we learnt to knit with!

What was your first ever knitting project?

One of my first projects was a very badly knitted scarf, sweater and pair of trousers for Sindy’s boyfriend ‘Paul’ – at the time [the early 1960’s], a very popular fashion, teen-doll. I still have ‘Paul’ dressed in his original knitted outfit.

What / who influenced you to take the next step and pursue knitting as a career?

Around the late 1970’s, friend of a friend introduced me to the fabulous and at the time, quite ground-breaking handknit designs of Patricia Roberts. I just loved her early work and it was probably her design influence that got me thinking about a career in knitwear.

Your first knit along one was a huge success. We can’t wait for your second Rowan knit along to begin. This time you have gone for a tonal colour palette, what inspired the colour choice and overall design?

For my KAL 2 in the Pure Wool Superwash Worsted, I looked to the motifs, textures and colours of our North Europe, knitting traditions. The knitted textures and colourwork patterns of the Shetland Isles; the Faeroe Isles, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland. A look which is currently very popular in interior fabric, wallpaper and fashion design. Unlike my first KAL, the knitter can now choose from four, classic tonal palettes, chosen to fit in with the most popular, interior colour schemes. A very soft and natural palette: a calming, blue palette; a fresh green and a zingy, spice palette. Whichever colour suits your mood and interior.

Can a beginner knitter join in with the KAL? What sort of stitches will feature?

Once again this KAL has been designed with the beginner knitter in mind. In the first KAL we explored simple texture created by knit & purl stitches, together with simple lace and cable techniques. Having gained those skills, I’ve developed them a stage further and in this blanket we start to create more recognisable motifs in both one colour and two colour squares. Delicate heart motifs in simple texture, lace and with a further option that introduces the beginner knitter to a simple bead technique; Nordic tree motifs in texture and eyelet stitches; A fun, moss stitch spots square. Linking all these motif squares together and introducing a brand new ‘colourwork’ skill for this KAL, I have designed three squares in two colours and without the ‘fairisle-headache’ of stranding or weaving the yarns at the wrong side of work. These colourwork squares are all achieved by working two or four rows in each colour [as if you were working a stripe] and the colour-effect gained by simply slipping stitches.

How do you begin the design process? What comes first a knitted swatch or a sketch of the design?

Before I even put pen to paper or yarn to needles! I begin with lots & lots of research from all sources. I buy all the best fashion magazines every month [a must for keeping up with knitting trends], I have a huge collection of vintage knitting patterns, old cross stitch & embroidery books [great for colour work inspiration]. I trawl antique fairs for interesting fabrics, charity shops, people wearing interesting knits on the street, the internet, on holiday, films, watching the tv! Then, once I’ve compiled all my research, I start to refine ideas into groups and that’s when my actual designing process begins. From this point it’s normally a swatch first and when I’m happy with the look of the swatch, I start to sketch out the ideas into a knit-shape.

What excites you about knitting? The 3D fabric it creates, the variety of stitches, yarn or the endless possibilities?

I suppose I particularly enjoy designing for men, usually with myself in mind, so I know that I can get something I wanted knitted! Anything textured or cabled is my signature handknit design – though I am rediscovering the joy of designing handknits in fairisle or intarsia colourwork. Pattern and colour are once again, very popular in hand knitting.

Does the yarn you are using influence your design?

Yes, for example if I was working on a cable or texture design then I tend to go for the more traditional ‘pure wool’ yarns that in my opinion always show cables to their best effect. For colourwork my ‘go-to’ yarn is Felted Tweed. The Felted Tweed colour palette is sumptuous and the yarn gives colourwork pattern a real vintage and timeless feel. I used Felted Tweed in my recent, ‘Easy Fairisle Knits’ book.

Which other designers do you admire?

Oh, a difficult one to answer. I’ve always admired all my fellow Rowan designers:- Kim Hargreaves, Marie Wallin, Lisa Richardson and Sarah Hatton. Also, I very much like Jared Flood’s, ‘Brooklyn Tweed’ range of designs and the uniqueness of Steven West – I particularly admire his bright choice of colours and the originality of his knit designs.

What is your favourite yarn to knit with?

I love working with Felted Tweed. The colour palette is sumptuous and the yarn gives pattern and texture a real vintage and timeless feel. I used Felted Tweed for my recent book ‘Easy Fairisle Knits’. The sequel ‘More Easy Fairisle Knits’ is due to be launched this summer 2016.

Do you enjoy knitting for yourself? If so what do you make?

These days, I don’t tend to knit much for myself. My knitting time is usually spent on swatch ideas or experimenting with stitches. I recently started knitting myself a shawl collar jacket. I got the back knitted up quite quickly and put it aside to concentrate on design. Six months later it’s still sitting there, waiting to be completed….!

Do you have a knitted treasure? A piece that you could never part with, a gift or maybe something you have made yourself?

Yes, my Patricia Roberts grapes and cherries slipover. It was my first challenging knit that I made way back in the early 1980’s. I took it along to my interview for a place at Art School, where it was much admired and I believe the reason I was offered a place on the course.

If you could give us just one knitting tip, what would it be?

When slipping stitches, always slip the stitch purlwise unless otherwise stated on the pattern. This will help to prevent your stitch from twisting. This is how I would advise to slip the stitches on my new KAL.

With a new year ahead of you what knitting plans do you have for 2016? Are there any projects you can share?

Design-wise, 2016 is going to be a busy year for me! The sequel to ‘Easy Fairisle Knits’, ‘More Easy Fairisle Knits’ is due to be published this summer. Also, two new books in the pipeline for autumn 2016 – a sequel to ‘Nordic Knits’ and a book featuring Afghan throws, blankets and cushions for the home. In the meantime, I will continue to contribute designs for the Rowan Magazine and their seasonal brochures.