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Interview series 42 – Stephanie Earp

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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 – Stephanie Earp

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

I started designing almost as soon as I started knitting, in my early 20s. I was going to an appointment that I knew I was going to wait forever at, and I’d already read every magazine in the waiting room. I walked past a magazine stand and I bought what I thought was a Vogue magazine but it turned out to be Vogue Knitting! I had so long to wait that I ended up reading it anyway. By the end I’d decided I was going to make one of the sweaters in it, and went straight to a craft store and bought yarn and needles. This was before YouTube so I was really figuring out the stitches from a book I got from the library. I learned to knit a little bit from a babysitter so I wasn’t starting from a complete zero, but it was pretty crazy!

It hit me really quickly that you can take the shapes from a sweater and change the stitch pattern, or the yarn, or the sleeve shape, and get a different sweater. So even as I was knitting that first sweater I was thinking about modifications. Around that time, a lot of online knitting magazines were starting, like Knitty, and there were publishing opportunities that were open at entry level, so I started doing that. In that period, I’d say my greatest triumph was having a piece in an Interweave Knits Jane Austen Knits collection, which was a fully steeked colourwork jacket – an example of “you don’t know what you don’t know”, it was quite an ambitious thing to do at that stage! But I was proud of it, and still am.

Then I took a long break from designing – my career in marketing and arts got more intensive, and then I had my daughter and started knitting for her. I started to get back into it, and then moved to Montreal and one day walked into a yarn store – Espace Tricot, which I now co-own – and the next thing I know, I had accepted a job working a couple of days a week. Being around all that yarn completely reignited this urge to design, as well as discovering how much the world of design had changed – Ravelry and the ability to sell patterns direct to consumers hadn’t been in place when I was designing before. It all seemed so possible to get back into it. I started self-publishing, but also working hard on submissions to magazines like Pom Pom and Laine magazines & book collections, and eventually doing a collection with Manos. People started coming to me, which was always the dream – that my work would reach enough people that someone would come to me and ask me to work with them. It’s been an amazing 20 years!

HR – we had a chuckle at how differently things could have been if it had been a Vogue Woodworking or Vogue Car Engineering on that magazine stand!

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

The easy answer would be that I look at fashion. As I’m getting older, I’m increasingly interested in what people are actually wearing in the street, rather than fashion magazines. I’m definitely inspired by what other people wear and how they wear it, and thinking about what I want in my own wardrobe.

I would say I also like a constraint. I think that’s why I like magazine calls for submission, I like being given a little bit of a box and trying to figure out how to do something within that box that maybe I haven’t seen before. Often the designs I’m most proud of come from a problem-solving place. An early example that I self published, I had 4 skeins of Madeleine Tosh DK that were a fade and I couldn’t get any more of those colours. I wanted to work out if I could use the vast majority of the yarn and create a sweater. It lead to a very ribbed, body-con sweater that used every last yard of the yarn.

Constraints really help me – if it’s too wide-open of a field, I can find myself lost. I’ll give myself artificial constraints, eg here’s a book I’m reading, I’m going to try and design something for this character – what would they wear, what would fit into the world of the book? That helps me narrow down the field of possibilities so that I can find a place to start.

woman wearing colourwork yoke sweater with striped body and sleeves

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 would say it changes with each design. I’m not a lover of swatching, if anything I’d say I tend to draw and chart first more. Occasionally if I’m not sure what the yarn wants to be, I’ll throw the yarn on my needles but I find I go back to the same things I’ve done before eg certain Estonian stitches I really love etc. I like working with charting software, either looking at different stitches or playing with colour. It’s really nice to be able to do it on a screen and work out the kinks first before I start knitting.

knitting 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?

Back in the early days I was using a free knitting font in a word processor. As far as I knew, that was the only thing that was available. When I got back into designing, I’d changed computers and couldn’t find the font any more. So I went searching on Google and spotted Stitchmastery. I had worked with Kate Atherley back in the early days a bit and I knew she was blogging about it so I thought “if it’s good enough for Kate, it’s good enough for me!”, and I got right into it. I didn’t sit and read the manual or watch all the videos, I’ve found or figured out the things I need as I needed them, so I’m sure there are things I might like that I’ve not discovered yet. It’s great to be able to watch a short video and get right back to work. I feel like having this tool, that helps explain tricky design features, frees me up to be more ambitious, where otherwise I might feel those would be too difficult or time-consuming to explain in a pattern.

I do find the naming and saving convention a bit frustrating, making those decisions before you’ve designed anything. Sometimes I have a day where I’ll just go through all the files I’ve saved as Default 1, Default 2 and see what they are! But I know the under-girding of big software sometimes means it’s not possible to change. It’s workable, I just try to keep in mind to make logical choices at the start!

Cover picture of Knits From The LYS book

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

Espace Tricot as a collective have published a book called Knits from the LYS with Laine Publishing in December. It features 5 designs from me, 5 from my business partner Naomi and 5 from our staff and teachers that have worked with us in the store. The two models also worked at the store for years, and are great knitters and designers themselves, so it really feels like a team project and really represents us as a shop.

One of the most ambitious things I’ve ever designed is in this book, the Aurora Cardigan. Stitchmastery definitely featured heavily in the creation of this pattern as it has 8 or 9 charts. The base sweater is a chunky cabled sweater with set in sleeves, knit flat and sewn up, but it has these sections of reverse stockinette. Then you knit a bunch of colourwork and steek it to cut patches that you then sew into those sort of recessed areas of reverse stockinette. So there’s a lot of charts, both cables and colourwork, and they don’t repeat and aren’t symmetrical. I don’t think I could have done it without Stitchmastery. It was one of these projects where I was charting as I knit, stitch by stitch. Figuring out how to condense the charts to fit into a book page was a challenge! We’ve taken the sample to Vogue Knitting Live and a few trunk shows and people always want to look on the inside because it gives the optical illusion of having been knit in the round, which would be extremely challenging due to the two different gauges. It might not be something everyone would knit, but for those who take it on it’s like a real showstopper. I’m really proud of it!

work in progress Aurora Cardigan with the colourwork swatches laid beside the base layer of the cardigan

Stephanie wearing her Aurora Cardigan at Rhinebeck in the autumn sunshine

Learn more about Stephanie:

You can find Stephanie’s designs on Ravelry and on LoveCrafts. You can keep up to date with her on Instagram and on her website.

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