Those who follow me on social media may notice that I continue to be excited whenever one of my designs appears in a knitting magazine. I came to designing - well designing in a public and business way - later in life than many and as a designer I feel I am a mere infant. As a result every time someone understands and appreciates what I am trying to achieve, it is another milestone.
In part this is what makes a design of mine appearing on a cover special. But it is more than that. For a long time I was a magazine editor. Not in the knitting arena but when it comes to covers that doesn't matter. Any editor working on any magazine - whether that be news stand, subscription or arriving due to your profession on any subject, engineering, healthcare, photography, fashion or craft to name a few - will tell you how important the cover is.
Your cover is what makes people take your magazine off the shelf in the newsagent or open it when it lands on their desk. If your cover doesn't work, it may mean that all the other content you've worked so hard on goes unseen.
Every cover involves thought and collaboration. The editor, designer and others may come up with several versions before the right one emerges. Illustrations and photo shoots are planned with suggestions of what might work on the cover. It also requires a knowledge of your audience and what attracts them.
So when this happens...
The new Knitting and The Knitter out this week plus the current Simply Knitting
... and three of my pieces are on covers simultaneously I feel particularly grateful.
This means that my idea and execution, the styling, the photographer's and editor's vision and so much more have come together to create something the magazine team will really resonate with their readers.
It is always exciting when I can finally share a design. For magazines I work so far ahead that I can have finished something for a few months before I can show it off. But then you get wonderful images like this in the magazines.
The brief was Bitish yarns and British literature, and so I came up with a shawl using Victorian stitch patterns that could have graced any of Thomas Hardy's female protagonists from Tess to Bathsheba.
It uses a yarn from pretty much Hardy country, Devonia from John Arbon Textiles in the Bleeding Heart colourway (also perfect for the theme) - this is the 4-ply version of this recently launched yarn (there is a DK as well) and as with all the Arbon yarns I really enjoyed working with this soft blend of Exmoor Bluefaced, Bluefaced Leciester and Wensleydale wools.
The shawl is made of three triangular panels with a knit on edge and is one of those lace patterns that looks more complex than it really is to knit. The main body has a short lace repeat and once you get started with the edging it flows along.
I always look forward to seeing the final pictures of a pattern commission. It is often some time after I supply the sample garment when I see the eventual images from a shoot, perhaps when a magazine is published.
It is of course interesting to see how a garment has been styled but I also look at how the garment sits and particularly around the armhole and shoulder because this is something I work a great deal on and have quite strong views about.
So I was particularly gratified to see these detail shots for the Lily Twinset in Knitting issue 173 (from GMC publications)
They really show how the sleeves fit the two garments and a neat shoulder seam.
In my own designs I tend to write shoulders that are shaped using short-rows rather than cast off to create a slope and then join the shoulder seam using a three needle cast off. That's where the stitches from the front of the shoulder are on one needle and the ones from the back on another, as you cast off each stitch is worked through one stitch from each needle together (photo tutorial here). I like the neat flat shoulder join you get.
For the sleeve top I like quite a tall steep curve. Other designers prefer a flatter sleeve head but I personally like the way the taller sleeve top sits round the upper arm and shoulder. I also spend a lot of time using geometry to calculate the length of the curve so it will sit in the armhole without difficult bulges. On some garments I also use decreases and increases in the upper back to have a curved rather than a straight armhole.
This may sound very geeky and obsessive but it pays off when the sleeve sits as well as in the centre pic above and I can know that my pattern will produce a good garment for each of you.
I came late to sharing my knitting designs let alone receiving commissions from magazines and yarn companies.
I have had a long career as a journalist but I still remember the excitement of having a bylined piece in a major national newspaper for the first time. I had to suppress the urge to tap fellow tube passengers on the shoulder, point to the article they were reading and say "I wrote that".
The same sort of thing has happened each time I have had a design on the cover of a magazine. Right now I could happily spend time in various branches of WH Smith rearranging the hobbies shelf so that there are lots of copies of Knitting (issue 172) along the front to show off my Autumn Leaves tunic.
I love the editorial description that the mag team came up with. It sums the pattern up as the perfect mix of challenge and TV knitting because there is some instarsia and plenty of stocking stitch.
It is designed to be a simple flattering piece for over leggings or a skirt that is a comfortable but striking seasonal garment.
Yarn used is Yarn Stories fine merino 4-ply - very smooth with strong colours which work well for this design.
The magazine has come up with some alternative colour combinations that make the leaves seam more like feathers.
Meet Joan a very versatile knitted T-shirt that you can find in the latest issue of Knitting magazine (issue 171).
Joan was inspired by Lucy Liu's character Joan Watson in the Elementary TV series. The character has a fabulous selection of knitwear and favours layers with long-sleeved t-shirts under knits, stripes and colour blocks. So I wanted to create an easy wear top that would look good on its own or over a long-sleeved tee and a design that would allow knitters to have a lot of colour options.
For that reason it is knitted in Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino. This sportweight yarn comes in a vast range of colours giving everyone the opportunity to choose their ultimate stripe combo.
The choice for the sample was to fit with the magazine's Americas theme and I was very pleased how the two blues worked with the red but I am planning a couple of alternatives for myself - one with turquoise and purple and one with orange where the red features in the sample.
What colours would you choose? I'd love to see your choices
I love vintage patterns and have piles of old knitting magazines from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, so I was very excited when Christine Boggis, the editor of Knitting magazine, put out a call for knits inspired by the 40s.
Even more so because for a while I had had a picture of a vintage teapot that I wanted to use as a template for a colourwork jumper and I realised this was great fit for the brief. Colourwork and stripes were popular choices for sweaters in the 1940s because rationing meant people often reused wool and only had limited supplies.
I named my design sketch Tea Time and included the story of the teapot in my submission. Soon Christine cam back to me saying she like the design and could I do a tea cosy to go with it. An unusual request bit fun and one that now makes a lot of sense having seen how the magazine styled its shoot this month.
The new issue of Knitting magazine is out and it includes my Spring Leaf cardigan. A simple draping cardigan for over a light top or dress.
It has a bolero shape with a curved hem line and the leaf edging is knitted on so the leaves grow up the front symmetrically. The leaf pattern is based on a Victorian edging from the Knitting and Crochet Guild archive.
It is one of those knits that is much easier than it might a appear at first glance at the pattern.
The yarn is Lotus Yarns Tibetan Cloud Worsted - my first time using 100% Yak - which is lovely and soft and very rich colourwise with the right drape for this project.
I love a cable or two. They add interest to both design and the process of knitting and you can use them to aid construction or shaping, so I was very excited a few months ago when the editor of Knitting magazine put out a call for design submissions for a cable special.
I was even more excited when I was commissioned to produce my modern take on a traditional aran-style cable jumper in a natural off-white yarn.
It was a design I'd enjoyed coming up with and it was also a sample I really enjoyed producing (I just need the time to make one for myself).
Given how much I loved this design, it was a true pleasure to see it as the cover garment for the March 2017 issue of Knitting.
The magazine has labelled the design as "advanced" but don't be alarmed, if you have mastered basic cables, all that is happening here is and arrangement of various types, the technique is the same. Take a look at my posts on understanding cable instructions to boost your confidence (part 1, part 2, part 3)
I used New Lanark Aran for the design - an affordable, hard working yarn that I am a big fan of and one that comes in a wide colour palette. Knitting has some suggestions about other colour choices.
I am really looking forward to seeing versions of this cosy jumper.
I'd wanted to make something in this yarn since I'd first come across it and especially in this colour combination of dove and french navy. So the Knitting "Winter Blues" issue was the perfect opportunity, especially as I think 4-ply cardigans are very useful layering garments in winter (in particular one as changeable as this).
The graduate stripes keep the interest when knitting and create shape, especially at the back.
I enjoyed creating this pattern a lot and am thinking of making one for myself in another colourway - perhaps chocolate and burnt sienna or bottle and taupe.
In the meantime I am working on another design in this yarn that I can't reveal yet but again I'm enjoying the colour combinations
2016 has been seen as a universally bad year and, yes, some of my friends had a dreadful time last year and yes some of my celebrity heroes died but for me it was about positive change and emergence.
On the other hand I had a tough 2015 full of bereavement and health issues for me and others. I ended that year tired, drained and in need of some change in my life.
For someone who is a freelancer, one of the problems of making changes is that the need to earn can take up all the time that you would require to find new ways of living and working. At the beginning of 2016 my working was divided between writing and creating social media content, and tech editing/pattern writing with the odd bit of teaching. Designing was something that happened in my down time (when there was some) and although my head was full of ideas, it was mainly for me because I didn't have the confidence to share my final patterns or put many submission in. Putting myself out there felt risky - especially after 2015. I had published a few patterns by the end of 2015
At the beginning of the year I had one permanent contract for work which on paper accounted for about a bit more than of my time but not necessarily 50+% of my potential income in a month. In reality it tended to take up more time than that which meant I was working well into evenings and weekends and wondering whether I could take on the growing amount of other work I was generating. It also meant I had no time to draw or transcribe pattern motes from the things I was creating - let alone time to experiment or learn.
Socks where among the notes needing turned into patterns
And to be honest, it was the least satisfying of everything I was doing. But walking away was a massive risk. That job meant regular income and stability but on the other hand my other work was growing. Yet still I held on. Then I found myself trying to meet one freelance deadline in the lunchbreak from the regular part-time job and that lunchbreak was interrupted because yet more was being added to the role. I stressed, I flailed, I panicked and then I decided to resign from the job.
Big risk number 1!
So then I was able to say yes to the new work I was offered and suddenly had time to work on my design ideas, write up some shawl patterns etc. It also meant I was working entirely from home so I could arrange my working time to suit me, fit in some rehab time from an operation I had had late in 2015 and be creative when inspiration struck.
Of course this didn't mean i was suddenly publishing patterns and submitting design ideas - I hadn't had that much of a confidence injection - but there was plenty of tech editing and writing to be done. And new work to pitch for.
Then risk number 2 happened! This one I owe to Prince.
One the day that the death of the pop legend was announced I was listening to some his music and doodling a shawl with a purple pencil.
The next morning by chance I heard that the editor of Knitting might be interested in "weekend knits" accessory patterns with a Prince theme. So the doodle became a sketch, and a submission with yarn choices and I sent it off. By the end of the day I had a commission for my Purple Rain shawlette.
Once I'd made one submission, it was at least a little bit easier to put in more submissions. I also realised I should have been doing this much earlier - the few patterns I had previous released had received good feedback and I'd actually one two knitting design competitions in 2015. And if you don't submit and share your ideas, how are you ever going to get your designs noticed.
So now I've had a series of items in Knitting with more coming up there and in other places, and the good feedback continues. Though I still feel slightly surprised when I see other people knitting my designs.
Despite this I still had lots of finished samples and patterns in various stages of completion so I decided to give myself a little jeopardy and a very definite deadline.
So for risk number 3, I applied for a stall in the Indie Spotlight section of the new Yarnporium yarn show to sell patterns and introduce myself more widely as a designer. This was as much about publishing patterns and standing up to say I really am a designer as selling on the day and even for someone like me with plenty of experience of craft shows, that was a real challenge. But I did it and you can read more about it here.
So I will always think of 2016 as a positive year for me. It may have taken a long time but I have achieved something my 10-year-old self really hoped for - I am paid to design clothes.
So going into 2017, my working life now has a three way split: writing and social media. tech editing and pattern writing, and designing. I'm happier, I'm more fulfilled and my belief in following my dreams has been revived. What happens next, who knows?