Interviewee – Mara Licole
1) Could you give us a potted history of your yarny background?
I started knitting in 2014. It is a long story but basically, I had just moved from the Midwest to New York. I did not want to pull my daughter out of school (high schoolers need stability) so for the first time since she was born we lived separately. Once I arrived here for work, I experienced a toxic and discriminatory work environment. With the stress of being away from my daughter and the stress of work I needed something to keep my hands busy. I had been crocheting on and off for about 15 years at that point so I tried that but it just did not satisfy. One day I picked up the only knitting book I owned: Simple Knitting by Erika Knight and jokingly decided I was going to try knitting the muffler that was in the book. I went on a search for yarn and supplies. I bought bamboo yarn and very cheap slippery needles. The yarn kept falling off the needles…it was a mess! However, once I make up my mind to do something…usually, I am going to do it. So, I went back to the store and bought wooden needles and thicker yarn. I turned on YouTube and by the end of the week I was knitting perfect little 10-20 stitch swatches of garter and stockinette. I was in love with knitting. What started as a joke became serious very quickly. I realized that when I knitted, I was too distracted with counting stitches and rows to be stressed, depressed, or anxious. So, knitting quickly consumed me.
2) What made you cross over from knitter to designer?
I started designing in 2016. I was in law school and could not afford to buy patterns. Also, I needed a way to earn extra money. I worked on my design ideas in between studying and my part time job but I did not publish any of those designs. It was not until I had to leave law school, because I did not have enough money to finish, that I started designing again. I was so stressed that year. I felt like a failure because I am rarely unsuccessful at accomplishing goals I set out to accomplish. That is major stress for a perfectionist. So, I returned to New York from Boston and by September I had cried so much that I decided that if I did not get away, for a solo adventure, I would probably sink into a more serious depression. So, I counted my pennies, booked a 6-day overseas trip, grabbed my passport and yarn, and hopped on the plane. By the time I landed back in America, I had completed a new hat pattern and a few weeks later I had a cowl and mitts to match. Those patterns solidified my desire to design. So, from 2016 to 2019 I designed part-time while working full time. I have been designing full-time as of August 2020. It is challenging to run every aspect of your own business but I love it!
3) Do you have any recurring sources of inspiration or unusual muses for your design work?
Generally speaking, I consider myself a Romantic. Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century. It is a movement that focused on emotions, feelings, moods, spirituality, imagination, mystery, and fervor. Artists from this period tackled various subject matters that included landscapes, religion, revolution, and beauty. The people of that time period were very much like I see myself. They were idealistic, passionate, and willing to stand for something. They were not afraid to show their emotions and vulnerability and both often came through in their art. So, this is my main guide for inspiration but all types of art tend to be my go to for inspiration. Artists, nature, music, photos, poetry, and literature… all the best muses.
4) When you have an idea, do you always work to a set workflow (eg swatch-knit-chart or chart first then knit) or does your approach change with each design?
In every aspect of my life I am well organized, strategic, and quick to create an efficient workflow. However, art typically demands that you go with the flow for the best results. At least to some degree. So, my workflow usually changes often. Especially if the shape is new to me or it is something I have never knit before. Sometimes I start with a swatch, sometimes I see a stitch pattern in one of the dictionaries that immediately becomes a newly cast-on design. I will say that recently I started to try injecting some consistency into my workflow by creating charts almost as soon as I decide I am about to test out a design idea. This allows me to work faster than I used to and surprisingly to me, it quickly became a faster way to make corrections as I tested the pattern. Using the Stitchmastery software, I set up the main chart and then as I work I simply add a symbol as I go. Whereas, if I am writing, I typically have to put my knitting down, and symbolically write out the instruction. So, I do not have a set workflow, but creating a chart of the used stitches tend to help with accuracy and speed when I do it from the beginning.
5) 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?
A few things led me to Stitchmastery. I cannot remember how I found it exactly but I do remember I was researching charting programs and there were not very many available. Stitchmastery (if I recall correctly) allowed you to try the basic features of the software before buying. That is always a plus for me. But more importantly, I loved the charts it makes. They are aesthetically pleasing and clean looking. I love that there is an option to get rid of the no stitch edges…there are so many reasons why I chose to use Stitchmastery. I also appreciated the ability to simply purchase the software without having to worry about a monthly fee or premium for updates. It simply made sense.
I am still learning the power of Stitchmastery and there is a lot that I feel I still do not know how to do with the software. My absolute favorite feature is the ability to create custom symbols and stitches. I love creating custom symbols because it is easier for me to find them when I am trying to create a chart. At this point, I live in the Stitchmastery software! (laughs)
6) Please tell us about your latest publication or next exciting project!
At the moment, I am working on updating all of my old patterns to have the same style, formatting, and layout as my new patterns. I am almost done, finally! So, once I complete that task I am hoping to cast on my first sweater design. I almost always have a shawl design on the needles so I just finished one up and will be adding another one soon. I am working on improving my workflow a bit so that maybe next year I can respond to a few submission calls. I would like to see my designs in a variety of publications soon.
Learn more about Mara:
You can find Mara on Instagram at @maralicoleknits and her designs on Ravelry at ravelry.com/designers/mara-licole.