Friday, 29 July 2016

Designer interview - Nathan Taylor, Sockmatician and double-knitting guru

Nathan Taylor is a knitting designer who specialises in fun socks and beautiful double-knitting colourwork designs. As double-knitting becomes a popular trend, his geometric and colourful designs are attracting attention, so we asked him about the technique and his knitting passions

When did you start knitting?
When I was about eight years old, my sister was given a kit to knit a Pink Panther. I always wanted to do everything that my sister did, so I wanted to knit one too.Sadly, the kit only had enough materials for one toy, but my mum dredged up some really big needles, and some really fine dark green yarn. Naturally, I knitted a bit of a bag of holes and my Pink Panther looked a bit more like green string vest, but I was really proud of him and still have him to this day.
I didn’t keep up with knitting though, and it wasn’t until about five years ago that two friends of mine tried to get me to knit. I resisted their endeavours for about six months, telling them that I couldn’t think of anything that I could make that I would want to wear. Finally, they suggested socks.
The really important point about this story is that they taught me how to knit a sock - the construction of what makes a sock, rather than just putting a pattern in front of me. This was crucial, because I had a proper understanding of what I was doing and that has allowed me to become a designer. I started designing my own things straight away. I couldn’t seem to find patterns that were exactly what I was looking for so I started making up my own. I’ve never looked back. 

People nowadays ask me why I knit.  I reply: because I don’t know how to stop.

You are known as the sockmatician which suggests socks were your first knitting love. So how did you discover double-knitting
I stuck with just socks for a while, and all my early designs were for socks. I’ve branched out quite a lot since then.
As for the double-knitting (the hyphen is used to differentiate the technique from the yarn weight), I was at a knitting afternoon at a local yarn shop and a lady came in with a cardigan that she had knitted. It was all double-knitting, including reversible seams, and it was magnificent.
I had never seen anything like it before and I was instantly besotted with it.  I went home and looked up as much as I could online. I watched countless YouTube videos, and read hundreds of articles before ever putting yarn on the needle.
My very first double-knitting project was the scarf that became my Perplexus pattern (Nathan is wearing this above). It is about a foot wide, and about seven feet long, and took me four months to complete. I loved every single stitch, and of everything I have ever knitted, it’s still the one I go to most often.

What is the attraction of designing for double-knitting
For me, it’s that there are so few limitations to the kinds of patterns that you can produce. In other types of colourwork, such as Fair Isle, you can really only have about five stitches on one colour before you have to change or start catchng the floats but that can show through.
With double-knitting, you can have as many stitches as you like of one colour, without any problems at all. The other main feature of the technique is that there is no “wrong” side. Both sides are equally beautiful – the colours on the two sides are reversed, so you get two projects in one. This is perfect for scarves and shawls and for hats, as you can turn them inside out and have a completely different mood.  
Other plusses are that it is much more forgiving in terms of tension than stranded knitting, with no danger of puckering, and it lies perfectly flat too - I never block any of my double-knitting. Being double the thickness of single-face knitting, it’s also twice as warm, so it’s wonderful for winter accessories. I could go on and on for hours, espousing the benefits, as people who have taken my classes on the subject will attest...

Nathan’s popular W12 8QT scarf

 What is your favourite design so far?
That’s a really hard one. If I have to narrow it down, it would either be my Sanquhar Scarf, based on the centuries-old geometric black and white patterns from the town of Sanquhar in Scotland or it would be the 42nd and Lexington shawl I designed for Vogue Knitting Magazine (Fall 2015). The shawl draws inspiration from New York City’s Chrysler Building. I was incredibly proud to have been asked to contribute to the magazine’s double-knitting feature, and I tried to go all out to come up with something really special. 

Sanquar scarf

Double-knitting looks quite complicated when you haven't tried it for yourself, what advice would you offer to someone trying it out for the first time?
A lot of people think that double-knitting will be beyond their capabilities. I think it is a victim of its own success because the results can be so amazing, people get frightened and think that they couldn’t possibly do anything that wonderful.  
My own personal mantra holds true at this point: no matter how complicated the finished object, just like with any other type of knitting, double-knitting is only One Stitch at a Time (OSAAT). Incidentally, in Finnish, the word “osaat” means “you can” or “you know how” which could not be more perfect.
For anyone wanting to have a go, I’d suggest looking at all the online resources available - I have lots of video tutorials on my YouTube channel, but there are many more out there too. Really though, I’d say jump in and give it a go. What’s the worst that can happen? It’s only knitting, and the sun will still come up in the morning.
Start with something small, like a coaster, a potholder or just a little swatch, so that it isn’t overwhelming, and never forget, with double-knitting, there’s are twice as many stitches, so if you like knitting, and let’s face it, that’s why we’re all here, it’s double the fun.

Start small with a something like a phone cosy

You can find out more about Nathan and his patterns on his website and from his podcast which usually features what he is working on as a knitter and as an actor/writer, his latest stash enhancements and much more. You can also find him on Instagram

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Island of Sheep

Earlier this year we were approached by Arena Travel to see if we could get involved with one of their Stitchtopia holidays by providing needles for the knitters taking part and we were delighted to oblige.  The holiday is to The Faroe Islands – a fascinating location that is rich in knitting history.

The islands lie halfway between Iceland and Norway but today they are a self-governing country within the Danish realm.  Many knitters will know the islands as the home of designers Guðrun&Guðrun who created the iconic sweater used in the very successful TV series, The Killing.

On the Faroes there are lots of sheep, more than humans, in fact the name is thought to mean sheep island.  Most are Faroese sheep, a small hardy breed, and their fleeces come in up to 300 different shades all with their own names – the shades that is, not the sheep! 
Wool related trades have always been important to the islands.  During the Napoleonic wars the Danish army bought several thousand jumpers a year from the island communities. In 1898 the Norwegian parliament decreed that their soldiers should wear Faroese jumpers under their uniforms in winter time.

You may well have already knitted or crocheted with Faroese yarn from brands like Snælden, Sirri and Navia who produce beautiful products in natural hues as well as vibrant colour.  Although today knitting is mainly a social activity on the islands rather than an economic necessity, the traditional, distinctive Faroese motifs still play an important part in any native design.  In the 1920s they were collected and published in 1932 and take their influence from images such as stars, dancing figures and Thor’s hammer.  The National Museum has many wonderful examples of these designs.

For such a small archipelago, the Faroes are packed full of wonderful experiences for knitters and we hope you have the chance to visit in the future.

Arena Travel run regular holidays to the islands and you can buy Faroes yarns from The Island Wool Company who also kindly let us use their images.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Designer Interview - The Patchwork Heart

One of the most exciting crochet designers and bloggers around at the moment is The Patchwork Heart.  The colours and stitches, the founder, Heather, uses are quite simply sumptuous.  We managed to catch up with her to find out more about her craft.

How did you first get in to crochet?
I come from a crafty family where all my grandparents, aunts and cousins make things. I had the privilege of being taught to make granny squares by my mother at a young age and used to enjoy time with her diving into a big bag of colours, making squares for blankets.

When did you start designing?
Having a background in sewing and Mathematics, crochet was a natural progression for me, which took over my life about 6 years ago. My love for colour finds me designing colour recipes of yarn, which I share freely on my blog Facebook and Instagram sites.

What’s your favourite yarn?
My all-time favourite yarn for blanket making is Stylecraft Special DK. It is very soft, affordable, washes well and comes in a fabulous colour palette of over 60 shades. When working with cotton to make homewares such as mandalas, brooches and garlands my favourite yarn is Sirdar Cotton DK. This is very good value for money and comes in 100g balls, with a soft sheen and a  good twist meaning it does not split.

What’s the secret to your success?
I like organised crochet and work in a production line system. This increases my rate of productivity and enables easy planning of colours. So when making squares I will do all of the first rounds together then plan round 2  and so on. Making 1 square and measuring it first means you can then calculate how many are needed for your desired blanket size. At the end of a blanket I will make notes of its size, yarn used, pattern and hook size so that I can refer back to it in future.

What’s the best tip you can share with our readers?
I would advise people to read patterns twice and count their stitches often, to ensure no mistakes. It is very easy to think you know what you are doing and rush along making a mistake!

What inspires you?
I am inspired by colour. It may be a beautiful piece of china, fashions in the shops or flowers in a garden. When my brain sees something I like it automatically converts it into yarn colours and I am off planning a new make!

What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I am working on a project using ombre crochet in the Circle of Friends square by Priscilla Hewitt. This pattern lends itself beautifully to a sequence of shading colours. I plan to use these squares as a base for 2 new tutorials I will be writing soon. I am frequently asked by my huge gang of followers for advice, so I have listened and plan to write about how to hide ends and how to join squares using the continuous flat braid join.

Thanks, Heather, that all sounds very exciting.