Interviewee – Mary W. Martin
I have knitted on and off since I was a child but had never thought of designing knitwear. A few years ago I knitted several of Lucy Hague’s patterns and was introduced to slipped stitch cables over two colour garter stitch. Her designs are striking and I was fascinated by this technique that seemed to allow the knitter to “draw” anything onto knitted fabric. Around the same time a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer so I knitted a lot of hats for her and I started experimenting. I used the slipped stitch cables technique to make a hat with pink breast cancer awareness ribbons on it – I put this design on Ravelry because it felt good to do something that might help in the fight against cancer. I made several of these hats and I noticed that the inside of the hats looked like plain garter stitch – you could hardly see the design of the cancer ribbons on the wrong side. I was still thinking about the slipped stitch cable technique a lot and wondered if I could use it with enough precision to “write in cursive” with knitting. Putting the two ideas together, I thought it would be fun to write a secret message inside a hat.My plan was to create a hat with the cancer ribbons on the outside and “Fuck Cancer” on the inside. I started by figuring out how to write “Fuck Cancer” on a one sided hat and then I knitted the reversible hat. The reversible hat turned out ok but not perfect. So I submitted my one sided “Fuck Cancer” hat to Knitty magazine.
I continued to experiment with reversible designs that all had a different design on each side of the fabric. I wasn’t happy with the result because the design on one side would show through on the other side. Then I saw that Lucy Hague had created the Bain Scarf. It is a one colour reversible scarf that uses a slipped stitch cable technique – it is completely reversible because she uses the same design on both sides.
I was about to start knitting a shawl for a friend who is blind. I had already planned to used the slipped stitch technique to create eye motifs on the shawl (she collects accessories with eye motifs) so I tried making the motifs reversible. It worked! I love the result as my friend can feel the raised slipped stitch design and she doesn’t have to worry about putting the shawl on with the good side out.
This technique with matched slipped stitches applied to both sides of the knit created a beautiful fabric. I started playing some more with the technique and realized that it was extremely flexible. I wanted to share this technique with other knitters but didn’t think that others would be interested in eye motifs, so I designed a couple of geometric patterns. These turned into the Coffee Moms Cowl and the Reversible Honeycomb Cowl, Hat & Scarf series.
2) Do you have any recurring sources of inspiration or unusual muses for your design work?
My first few inspirations for my knitting designs were based on things that I wanted to make for friends.
The feedback that I received after publishing my first few designs was that they were too complicated for some knitters. So I designed the Reversible Step Series. These introduce the basic cable stitches that I regularly use in reversible slipped stitch knitting.
I recently released the Love it or Leaf it Reversible Cowl. The leaf motif is regularly used in knitting patterns and I wanted to see if I could make it reversible. This cowl shows the flexibility of the reversible slipped stitch technique and the ability to incorporate lace elements.
I really enjoy exploring the application of this technique. Things I am playing with are: using more than two colours; putting the designs over something other than garter stitch and having a different design on each side.
3) When you have an idea, do you always work to a set workflow (eg swatch-knit-chart / chart first then knit) or does your approach change with each design?
If an idea is simple enough, I will cast on to test if my idea works.
With reversible knitting, it is not always easy to figure out how many stitches to cast on to test something. In that case, I would chart out the first row of a design just so I can figure out the cast on. If the reversible design is more complicated, I will create a chart by pretending it is a one sided design; this is usually enough to test a mirrored reversible pattern. As I am knitting a swatch, I will encounter situations where I need to create a cable that I have never used before, I will write out each step of the cable, test it out a few times as I continue to knit the swatch, and then create a custom stitch in Stitchmastery to use in charts and record the stitch details.
If I’m happy with a design, I will fully chart a reversible version in Stitchmastery to generate written instructions. I will then work from the written instructions as a test of the chart.
4) What made you choose to use Stitchmastery? Is there a particular feature you use most regularly or couldn’t do without? And is there anything you wish Stitchmastery could do?
I purchased Stitchmastery when I was designing the Fuck Cancer Hat. That design uses a lot of non standard cables and the stitch count changes throughout. I tried Excel and several other charting tools but there was still too much for me to keep track of without the ability to create custom stitches.
I would not be able to create most of my patterns without the custom stitches. Other than a few basic stitches, my cabled patterns are almost completely custom stitches. Having each stitch catalogued so thoroughly in Stitchmastery saves me a lot of time.
Because I have so many custom stitches, I would love to be able to organize them better and to be able to print the contents of the custom stitches library. I would also like to be able to apply a different colour to each cell of a multi-stitch cable.
5) Please tell us about your latest publication or next exciting project!
The commonality between all my designs has been the use of a slipped stitch. I expect that I will continue to explore its application.
This week I released the Love It or Leaf It Reversible Cowl. I am very excited about this design because my test knitters told me that this is an addictive knit and their choice of colour combinations were unexpected and gorgeous. I am working on the Scarf/Shawl version of this (sneak peak above Q4). This technique looks great in a gradient and a big shawl is a fabulous canvas for displaying this stitch pattern.
I will be releasing the True Colours Scarf in the next month (sneak peak above Q5). It combines mosaic and marled knitting to create a colourful piece with rainbow stripes. This is a fun knit as you feel like a star working 6 yarns at once. The best part is that this combination of techniques is simplified into an easy-to-memorize 3 row repeat.
I am very excited about marled knitting – it is possible to create fabrics with a different intricate design on each side of a one layer fabric. This is a current prototype. It has so many possibilities!