My first "contact" with this month's designer was Pauline, a brilliant bonnet pattern for adult women. I still haven't knit one, but like the pattern very much nonetheless. Another current favourite of mine from this designer is the Entrechat - don't you just adore it?
The designer behind the hat is no other than Kristen Hanley Cardozo who, according to her own words, is dangerous with pointy sticks. She lurks stealthily in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a collection of yarn and patterns that threatens to take over the house. You can read about her adventures and mishaps at Knitting Kninja. So, here we go:
Worsted Knitt (WK:) What got you into designing in the first place?
Kristen Hanley Cardozo (KHC): I took up knitting as a way to use my hands and still be able to put my project down easily, but the moment I got serious about it, I knew I wanted to come up with my own designs. I wasn't thinking beyond myself at the time, but the idea of being able to create garments to my own specifications was intoxicating. I have very long arms and sleeves have rarely fit me properly on store bought garments. The idea that I could make a sweater that looked as I wanted it to, in the color I wanted it, in my unique size, was something I couldn't resist.
WK: I can totally relate to that! What are your favourite things to design?
KHC: Well, I don't design them as often as I design accessories, but sweaters are probably my favorite things to design and knit. There is still a joyous shock in finishing a garment and finding it looks like the picture I imagined and drew.
WK: What are your favourite materials to work with?
KHC: Wool and other animal fibers, definitely. I love yarns that have depth, yarns that take a color and make it come alive. It's a joy to knit with yarns of that sort as each stitch is something lovely to look at in itself.
WK: I love deep, vibrant coloured yarns, too. Who or what was your earliest inspiration that started you on your way to being the designer you are today?
KHC: I joined Craftster soon after I started knitting seriously, and it was seeing the beautiful garments people made there that set me on the path I am now on. The idea that someone could imagine a perfect garment and then make it seemed almost fantastic, but seeing other people do it made me feel like I could, too.
My first adult sweater Maude Louise (WK adds: Maude Louise II pattern page) was one I designed myself. It took ages, and I messed up again and again, but reading the posts on Craftster in which people said things like, "it's just yarn" or in which they shared their design inspiration or a tutorial to knit their designs made it all seem much more feasible.
WK: How do you usually design; how would you describe your designing process?
KHC: It's changed a lot over the years as I've gotten more adept at it. I used to just fiddle around with yarn until I had something I liked, but now I spend a lot of time before I ever start. I draw a picture of my idea, I work out colors and fibers and yarn weight, and I often have to shop around to find yarn that is ideal with my idea. I work out my sample size with an Excel spreadsheet that I later use for grading as well.
There are still elements of fiddling around with yarn until I have something I like, but less of it is random. There is a lot of narrative in everything I do, so I like to have a visual story to my work, if at all possible. I want the color and pattern and general feel to come together into something that feels cohesive, even if other people don't know or follow the whole story.
WK: That's really interesting! How do you conceptualize your designs?
KHC: build mood boards for myself sometimes, and I do try to draw out my ideas, even if it's only in loose form. I also make color boards for myself and try to find yarns that match the color boards to some degree.
WK: That sounds really creative to me. How does your "typical day" when designing look like?
KHC: Oh, the shame of it! I am not a straightforward and organized designer, so my day involves writing a bit of pattern, messing about on Twitter or Ravelry, taking a knitting break, and then returning to the work of math and layout and such.
I do my layout at the same time as I write up my pattern, so I need to have everything done in advance, like the math and at least an idea of where the photos will go and what size they'll be. I save the schematics for last, but the charts are usually done first because I work best from charts.
WK: Where do you get your inspiration?
KHC: I look a lot at fashion photography, of course, but I also like to look at historical fashion plates. Fashion is cyclical, and there are often gems of construction or concept in clothing worn years ago. One idea I've never really brought to fruition is a knitted great coat for women. I love the many capes of great coats, and I think there's a lot a knitter could do with that concept. I also look at mood photographs depending on what I'm going for. I have a couple of ideas for projects structured around a particular theme, and I seek out images that capture that idea.
WK: Sounds to me that you're a very visual designer; photos, mood and colour boards... I love it how there are so many ways we people do things and get inspired! Now, where do you do your best design work?
KHC: In my living room. I have my computer and my couch and easy access to my yarn and books, and that' most of what I use right there. I have started watching a lot more shows as I've started knitting more. I sit on my couch and knit and watch shows on Netflix. I need to get one of those lap desks for books so I can read and knit instead!
WK: I used to listen to a lot of audio books while knitting when I lived in Ireland with no TV. That was great! How do you nurture your creative spirit?
KHC: Well, knitting does a lot of that nurturing. I took it up seriously as a way to have a creative outlet and as a way to relax, and I still find it useful for both those things, even with deadlines. I need to find a way to balance my life so that I can get back to painting and drawing more, though. I think those would be pursuits that would round out my experience a great deal.
WK: Sounds good. What do you think is your "that one thing" that makes you a great designer?
KHC: Well, I don't think I'm a great designer, though I get better each year. But I think what's made me keep at this is that real sense of fulfillment I get from each new design. I love finishing a design. I love looking at the sample and the PDF and knowing that I made it and that now someone else can make it too. And there's a real rush every single time someone knits one of my patterns.
WK: A "love for the trade" so to say! I think that's something essential for anyone working in creative jobs. If you don't love it, there are hundreds of easier things you could do, so why bother basically. To wrap things up: what advice would you give to aspiring designers?
KHC: Ask questions, and keep designing. Each new design is a new learning experience and each design is a new opportunity for you as a designer to find an audience. Not all patterns will be a success, but that doesn't mean they aren't worthwhile.
Make things you enjoy knitting rather than desperately trying to figure out what other people will like. Get your patterns tested. Get the best photographs you can get. Many a lovely pattern is obscured by poor photographs that don't show off what's special about the design.
Get to know yourself by doing rather than waiting around to do until you know yourself. Your style will emerge in time.
That sounds so pompous when I read back over it, but I think it's all true, so I'll leave it!
WK: It doesn't sound pompous at all to me, but like solid advice from someone who's been there and still is, sharing their knowledge. And that's exactly the point I keep doing these interviews, so that newbies like myself can learn from the ones further on the road.
Ok, enough of that pathos - thanks Kristen for the lovely and inspiring interview!
I really enjoyed the interview. Fantastic advise - and not pompous at all!