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Interview series 44 – Hiroko Payne

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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 – Hiroko Payne aka The Hare And The Crow

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

My background is in fine arts – I went to school for printmaking and medical illustration, but I also started sewing at a very early age. I had a friend who was into historical reproduction clothing and she wanted help with recreating a corset. The architectural aspect of clothing always made sense to me and it was fascinating making a two-dimensional thing become three-dimensional through folding etc. I spent a lot of time learning sewing techniques and by the time I got to knitting, I was very visually orientated and I’d create a paper or fabric mock-up first to ensure the fit to a body.

I am dysnumeric and was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. As a child I would score really well for reading and communication, but I struggled with maths and numbers eg long strings of numbers or reading analogue clocks. When I was 9, I started seeing a maths tutor and she realised I had no trouble visualising concrete items and then doing arithmetic using spatial numbers in my head, but I was really bad at attaching that to the written number. So she taught me to knit, and it became a physical example – eg adding or removing stitches changes the shape and size. It was the thing that made numbers work for me. So I started obsessively knitting patterns – not for finished items, but I had a book of lace motifs and I really enjoyed knitting them, and then I would unravel them and knit some different ones.

When I was studying, I was next door to the textile department and I used to go there to hang out between classes, and ended up learning about fabric dyeing and things. In my last year of school when I was really stressed, I picked up a crochet hook and finally go into creating 3D items out of yarn. Soon I was seeing items I wanted to recreate and knitting came back into the picture. I’d have clear specifics in mind as to what I wanted, so the design instinct was always there – I was rarely following someone else’s patterns.

Eventually I felt the urge to share something I’d designed, and Ravelry provided the ability to publish. I’ve lived many different places and knitwear design is something I’ve always been able to take with me, unlike sewing, etching, etc which have sometimes been challenging physically – or even due to import rules for materials!

two people wearing knitted henley jumpers, one orange and one deep dark green. they are holding mugs in similar colours but opposite to the jumpers they are wearing.

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

I think all muses are unusual! Recurring sources for inspiration for me definitely include traditional Japanese motifs and decorative arts (my mum is Japanese), period sewing details and structure in clothing and how they can be translated into modern knitting (along the lines of Alice Starmore’s Tudor Roses) and the different ways people have approached and solved fit questions through time. I think a lot of my design inspiration is mixed up with my painting inspiration too.

Hiroko wearing a detailed cable knit cardigan with shawl neck, smiling over her shoulder

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 recently upgraded from a stack of disintegrating notebooks to an iPad and it’s helped a lot! The design process for me almost always starts with a theme and a desired item with a specific case usage. Usually there’s a very free-form period after that, where I’ll be creating different swatches or miniature versions of an item and experimenting with ideas for various elements of the design. Once I’ve decided on my preferred options, I get a lot more methodical with a set work process – usually setting up all the different blank chart files and folders needed for the design, writing out the measurement specs, then drawing a rough flat-lay as if I was sewing the item (with arrows to show directions of knit etc noted on it), then bust specs and various fit models so I know the proportional changes for grading later. Then I’ll write the pattern for the size I’m knitting first as I go along, and then the remaining steps to put the design document together.

closeup of knitted cardigan with colourwork at the yoke and sleeve ends. The person's hand is sliding into a pocket on the front of the cardigan

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?

I’ve been using Stitchmastery since 2011 or so. I’m a very visual person so using charts has always been part of my knitting and designing process, it’s also a holdover from sewing. When I started doing knitwear design to publish, I found it natural to chart out my lace and some people suggested Excel but with my career background I was used to using programs like Illustrator, InDesign and so on, so I hoped there would be specific software intended for making knitting charts. I test ran Stitchmastery and another program and much preferred Stitchmastery’s ability to modify the appearance of stitches and also the ability to create stylesheets, something I was used to with InDesign and so on.

There are a few small things I’d like Stitchmastery to be able to do, for example having more key-stroke shortcuts. I work on really big charts and sometimes the repeated clicking through menus/palettes can give some wrist strain. Affinity Designer and Publisher have a lot of shortcuts and automations, so my hands are used to working in that way. And I’d love an option for opening the text-editing box in the key that doesn’t require multiple clicks – eg Opt+click or something.

I love the user stitch libraries and stylesheets, being able to fine tune exactly what I want across all my designs really streamlines my work. And I think it is well thought-out from the perspective of a knitter. Even if you have no experience of other publishing software, it’s not as steep a learning curve as you might expect. I think the process of drawing a chart is logical if you are a knitter and understand what information a chart needs to communicate.

photo of busy desk with laptop and large screen both showing intricate knitting pattern, one in stitchmastery software

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

I have a bunch of exciting things coming up. I’ve recently released a really simple jumper called Baselayer – it’s a lighter under-layer which I imagined being used on a camping trip or something you’d throw on after a run. I’ve designed it with Brooklyn Tweed’s new sportweight, Imbue Sport. It’s a really quiet piece with a focus on being comfortable and well-finished, with thoughtful details eg an option for a long cuff with a thumb hole, and the thumb hole isn’t on the seam as I find that placement twists the seam.

I’m currently working on the last of my Samurai armour inspired items. The last one is Dō, which will be a jumper instead of a cardigan. Kote was published in 2022 and Sode (Ravelry link) was first released in 2018 in Laine Issue 6. I’ll be re-releasing Sode soon too, to cohere with my current publishing style, with revised charts, added technical illustrations and an extra 9th size. They are all heavily cabled, with ideas about protecting yourself from the day, eg high necklines, shoulder epaulettes, etc.

I also have a collaboration with SpinCycle for a very twee stranded-colourwork cardigan, mitt and tam set which I’m hoping to publish in the autumn.

close up of man wearing knitted henley jumper with wrist-warmer built in and thumb hole

Learn more about Hiroko:

You can find Hiroko’s designs on her website or Hiroko’s designer page on Ravelry, and you can keep up to date with Hiroko on Instagram.


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