Interviewee – Elizabeth Felgate
1) When did you start designing? Could you give us a potted history of your yarny and designing background?
I’m a lifelong knitter – my mother taught me when I was little, and I always knit but got a bit more into it when I had children and wanted to make things for them. The timing of my children getting a little bit more independent coincided with the arrival of Ravelry and a boom in YouTube tutorial videos, there were so many new resources and places to find help and I could teach myself many more interesting things. I began to massively expand the kind of things I made. I got into knitting lace and that gave me the bug to try designing some lace – the first design I published was a humongous lace shawl in Dye For Wool BFL fingering yarn, released in 2013 (Haunting shawl, pictured below). What really made me think I could go ahead and publish the design was that a fairly prominent designer at the time saw one of my project pages of something I’d made and said “I’d knit that”. It was totally unprompted but that encouragement really made a difference – I’d never have thought I could do it otherwise. Designing became a source of top up income while my children had started primary school but I hadn’t gone back to work full time. I was only self-publishing at that point, which meant it was totally flexible and I could set and change my own deadlines to fit around what was going on with the children.
2) Do you have any recurring sources of inspiration or unusual muses for your design work?
I think I am inspired most by techniques and how something works and wondering what I can do with them. For example, my first sweater design (the Artisan Sweater, pictured below) was inspired by an Elizabeth Zimmermann slipper (the Add-a-Booties). She was brilliant at 3D visualisation and they are knit flat but didn’t need to be seamed – the shaping and construction comes through picking up stitches. That made me wonder “could I make a sweater that way?”, so I did! There’s not a single seam and it’s knit flat. Another of my designs is my Gaugeless Sweater, which can be knit with any weight of yarn and you don’t need to swatch. It was inspired by shawl knitting. I was playing with folding shawls in different ways and wondered if I could use that to make a sweater.
I’m less of a visual person, I’m more inspired by concepts and abstract theories. One example is my Vintage China hat which I designed after reading a book on pattern theory and wondered what I could do with rotational symmetry and that prompted a colourwork design. I’ve also been inspired by maths – I’m not great at maths but I find it fascinating, and knitting can help you see the beauty in it – it’s a way in to it. My Fractal Wing shawl was designed when I was thinking about how to use the concept of fractals for the growth of a shawl. Sometimes it seems like lots of people assume that inspiration for designs will always come from a picture, for example a landscape, but I’m a much more verbal or concepts kind of person.
3) 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?
I wouldn’t say I consciously work to a set process, but I do generally follow a similar route. Particularly if it’s an idea that involves an unusual construction, I will start by drawing out (by hand) the various stages the knitting process would take, and that helps me see if the construction will work. Sometimes it doesn’t – eg I’ve forgotten to leave a hole for the head, or there are too many folds for there to be an arm hole! Sometimes I’ll then knit up the design in stockinette to check the construction without needing a chart, but if it’s a design based on a stitch pattern eg lace, I’ll chart that and then make the swatch. The maths is the last stage for me – I think some designers move onto the maths quite quickly but I like to get proof of the concept first, either on paper or in a knitted piece. I have drawn out the design processes I tend to follow in a Design Your Own Hat book I wrote for Knotions magazine, but I don’t rigorously follow them for every design!
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?
Word of mouth was the thing that made me try it, I think through the Budding Designers group on Ravelry. I started with Excel but it’s so easy to make mistakes, especially with big lace charts. I love the validation feature, knowing that all your rows add up properly. I can’t do without that! The copy, paste and rotate features are timesavers too, in big charts. My dream function would be a palette of recently used stitches that you can drag over the chart. I know you can return to the key to pick a stitch but it doesn’t always work for me (and less helpful when it’s a large chart and the key is far away). I can’t say enough good things about Stitchmastery though, the service is great and I think you don’t charge enough! I use it for all types of designs – I’ve been doing quite a lot of colourwork lately. But it really makes lace designing possible – if you think about how designers had to work before Stitchmastery, people like Herbert Niebling with those huge lace tablecloths … the amount of meticulous checking would have taken so much time and concentration. Stitchmastery has really enabled a whole raft of designers to design more complicated lace, it’s changed the landscape.
5) Please tell us about your latest publication or next exciting project!
My newest release is a yoke sweater called Charms which I’m self-publishing. The design makes me think of charm necklaces or bracelets. I was working on it over Christmas and it may have a hint of Christmas lights too! [HR: but knit it now, people! 😉 ]