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Interview series 39 – Mary C. Gildersleeve

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photo of mary gildersleeve in colourwork yoke sweater
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 – Mary C. Gildersleeve


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

A native San Franciscan, I began designing shortly after teaching myself to knit at the age of 8. Knitting and designing were my constant activities throughout undergrad (BA Journalism), grad school (MBA Marketing). I’ve had designs published in Knitters, Cast On, Interweave Knits and a lace design was featured on the cover of the Second Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits as well as many other publications and books. My designs run the gamut from cables to colorwork, lace to textured stitches and I have also published two books: Great Yarns for the Close-Knit Family; over two dozen hand-knit designs inspired by a dozen fantastic family read-alouds and In His Image; Nurturing Creativity in the Heart of Your Home. I am still designing, teaching knitting, and generally loving my (albeit hectic) life in Northern Virginia, 50+ years after first learning to knit.

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

My mind is always so full of design ideas that my needles can’t keep up! And, unfortunately, my time has been so limited lately that I haven’t published much in the past few months – but I’m still always designing and knitting. I have a few key books I return to: EVERYTHING by Elizabeth Zimmermann, stitchionaries from Barbara Walker, country-specific books by in-country designers – I turn to these for ideas if needed. Also, LOVE reading and re-reading “The Knitter” magazine from UK!

collage of 3 photos of an adult wearing a cabled waistcoat

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?

Each design has a different work-flow! Sometimes I have a yarn (and my stash is WAY TOO BIG) that is begging to be knit so I’ll try different ideas out – so making a “sample” or mini version of what’s in my head that the yarn must be. Or I see a knitted item in a store or on someone (last week I surreptitiously took a couple of pictures of a woman’s sweater, sitting in front of me in Church!) and then start charting before I’ve selected the yarn. Or I just jump in, start knitting and later chart out stitch patterns, colorwork or details. It’s crazy fun.

Mary wearing a lace poncho in iridescent yarn

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?

Way back, in an age before Cathy published Stitchmastery, I was using a cross stitch software package to chart – but cables were hopeless, and it really only worked for colorwork. I then tried the highly recommended Excel spreadsheet and that just took too long … and then I heard that Stitchmastery had just come out and I thought: I’ll give it a try and see if it will work. And boy did it! I loved it immediately and have used it ever since. I use it for cables, colorwork, lace and mosaic stitch charts. I also use it to “sketch” out shaping to ensure I have counts correctly and to figure best layout of the stitches or colorwork. For my design work, I also use Stitchmastery for “grading”; for instance, with raglan sleeve shaping, I chart each size to ensure the sleeves will fit properly for the different sizes.

I love how Stitchmastery can replicate so I only have to do a small part of chart and then fill the sweater with how it will look. I will often do a full-size chart: so if the sample is a sweater front with 100 stitches and I need 50 rows below the underarm and then another 30 rows to the shoulder, then I’ll create a chart with stitch-multiple (ie 10sts x 15rows) and copy and paste onto a chart that is 100sts x 80 rows. I can then “no stitch” for the underarm and neckline shaping and see how to best fit the patterning so it begins and ends, and back and front shoulders meet, etc.

I also use the percentage of image a lot – I zoom out to 25 or 10 percent to see if I like the look of the colorwork repeated (especially key with the kaleidoscopic effect of Fair Isle stranded work) or I zoom way in (150% maybe) to fiddle with each square individually until the overall looks right – I’ve unvented stitch patterns and cable patterns this way! The Inishmann Vest – one of my most popular designs – shows just such a cable “un-vented” on the back. All these charts for this pattern (as with all my designs) are Stitchmastery charts!

I can’t think of any enhancements that haven’t already been put on the wish list that Cathy is always chipping away at. I know I don’t use half of the capabilities she already has built-in!

photo of a fair-isle hat with bold designs

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

I’m currently working on a two-color, stranded colorwork cardigan that is going to be pretty cool – it has the side seams growing slowly to “start” the sleeves (sort of a “batwing” or dolman style but not as aggressive an increase). There is a separate chart just for that area which will then be replicated in the fold-over bands that will surround the cropped, boxy silhouette. I knew I’d be in the car this weekend so I charted a colorwork pattern for a slouchy hat done in worsted – which I was able to crank out in the 6 hours of riding with my husband. I love how it turned out, but hats don’t work for me so I will make a headband for me with just the central large motif – a great bonus to using Stitchmastery as it is super-simple to “cut and paste” parts of charts into new charts: recycling at its finest! I’m also planning a lacy poncho (similar to my Pervenche Poncho) for an upcoming 10-day trip to the Holy Land where I will need to have my shoulders covered for some of the sites and for the plane ride where I’ll want something on my shoulders but nothing too fussy or fitted.

Learn more about Mary:

You can find Mary’s designs on Ravelry, on LoveCrafts and on her websites and

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