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Interview series 31 – Leela Frankcombe

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In 2017 we ran a survey of Stitchmastery users and one response particularly caught our imagination – someone told us they would like to hear from other Stitchmastery users and how they make use of the software. We’re delighted to bring you a series of interviews with designers, tech editors, magazine editors and teachers – we hope you enjoy reading them!

Interviewee – Leela Frankcombe of Leela Mary Knits


1) When did you start designing? Could you give us a potted history of your yarny and designing background?

My first design was published in (hang on, just let me check) 2017. I’d been thinking about it for a while before that but I felt like I didn’t have the right kind of background to be a ‘proper’ designer, I’ve never been to art/design school or even worked in a yarn store or anything. My day job is as an academic in the field of climate science, not a job that is associated with arts and crafts.

My knitting background is a fairly standard one I think – my mum taught me to knit when I was young and then I didn’t touch the needles for years until I took it back up in my twenties. Once I discovered how many beautiful yarns and patterns were out there I was hooked – especially once I came across brioche which is my absolutely favourite technique.

These days I fit designing in around my science job and my family so my publishing is somewhat sporadic. But I find that it is an extremely satisfying creative outlet for me, so I plan to continue as long as I continue to have ideas that interest me.

close up photo of purple shawl with brioche stripes and sections of criss-cross. A posey of small yellow flowers is laid on top

2) Do you have any recurring sources of inspiration or unusual muses for your design work?

I seem to use a lot of flower and leaf motifs, partly because I think they are beautiful but also because brioche lends itself very well to those kinds of organic shapes. Waves are another theme I find myself coming back to. Partly I think that is influenced by my work – I’m an oceanographer by training so I spend rather a lot of time thinking about water.

Purple and orange shawl with brioche stripes and cables

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?

My approach is reasonably set – I generally sketch out the design on paper and then get straight into knitting. Charting comes after the knitting is finished.

Is it terrible of me to admit that I often skip swatching completely? I can get away with it because most of my designs are shawls, there gauge isn’t such an issue and I rarely have to do complicated sizing calculations. If I have a complicated motif in mind then I might swatch until I’m happy with it, but usually the start of the shawl acts as the swatch. For me the most complicated part of a shawl is usually the beginning, where I am trying to make the pattern fit in with the shawl shaping. So I usually have to frog and restart at least once, which gives me a chance to change needle sizes if I need to, without going through the extra step of swatching. That is my excuse and I am sticking to it. I must admit though, that I am planning some garment designs, hopefully in the near future. And then I will most definitely be swatching.

blue and white shawl with diamonds and groups of stitches resembling bubbles

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?

My first couple of published designs had charts made in Excel. That whole process was fairly painful, and then I had a pattern where the chart would have been so large that I just couldn’t face the thought of such an unwieldy spreadsheet. So I started looking around for other options. Stitchmastery was the number one recommendation, so I gave it a go and I am ever so glad I did!

My favourite feature is the automatic translation from charts to written instructions. When I tell you that the pattern I’ve just finished charting has more than 100 rows (and it’s two colour brioche, so actually that’s more than 200 rows!) you will understand that I am not kidding when I say that this feature literally saves me days and days of work on each pattern. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be publishing half the things I knit if I had to write 200 rows out individually.

Most of the time when I wish for a feature in Stitchmastery it turns out that the feature really is there, I just didn’t look properly. The other day I was wishing that the software could validate my stitch counts and not two days later there was a post on Instagram about exactly that. So perhaps you can tell me if there’s a good way of renaming rows in batches. As I mentioned, in brioche you have two passes for every row and it gets kind of tedious having to rename them all by hand. [HR: unfortunately there’s not a method for this just yet, but we are aiming to make it easier to make brioche charts!]

black shawl with rows of different coloured brioche flowers in shades of blue and green

5) Please tell us about your latest publication or next exciting project!

It will be a little while until my next pattern publication. The 200 row behemoth is only just off to be tech edited and tested and I don’t like to rush my testers. I have another shawl on the needles of course, and one that is percolating away in my brain waiting for my needles to be free.

But I do have another yarny project that I’m very excited about – I’ve started up a yarn club! It’s called Yarn of the Antipodes and it’s a mystery club featuring Australian dyers and makers. The first parcel is just about to go out to subscribers and I’m really hoping that everyone likes the surprise. There are so many talented local makers out there, so this is my small attempt at supporting some of them.

Learn more about Leela:

You can find Leela’s designs on her website, on Payhip or on Ravelry. She can be found as @leelamary on Instagram.

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