Interview series 10 – Karen Butler

Interview series 10 – Karen Butler

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 – Karen Butler


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

I was brought up in a family where knitting was part of daily life; so knitting was the first craft I learnt when I was 4 years old. I was given one of those children’s knitting kits with the cute little balls of yarn in a basket, but unfortunately the needles were soon broken. Then my aunt supplied me with a pair of thick wooden knitting needles and bright orange yarn made from the off-cuts from nylon bedspreads; this was the late 1960s after all. My mother taught me to knit, and some of the pot holders I made still exist: apparently I said all the long loops I made in the process were to hang them from. I can also remember receiving help from my grandmother and aunt as a child. In less distant memory, I followed my first pattern, making a baby cardigan when I was 12. I can still remember sitting in the garden knitting, making modifications to the pattern with Mum’s guidance and learning key skills of working out frequency of increases and maintaining lace patterning when shaping.

Throughout my adult life I knitted on and off, but finally in 2010, knitting really started to take over my life. In the autumn of that year, I had a chance encounter with Ann Kingstone concerning a pattern a friend and I had knitted with very different results. After I had provided suggestions and Ann had updated that pattern, she asked me if I would consider tech editing her patterns. I already had some editing experience, so I agreed to do it on a trial basis. I’ve since learnt a great deal about both garment construction and sizing, as well as gone on to publish my own patterns and tech edit on a regular basis for a number of designers including Tin Can Knits, Anniken Allis, and Susan Crawford as well as Ann. Another role I’ve taken on is pattern support for a couple of the designers I work with; this helps me understand which aspects of patterns knitters have issues with and feeds into both my pattern writing and tech editing roles. Producing my own patterns also helps with tech editing, as it makes me much more aware of the constraints and limitations designers are working with, as well as possibilities offered by Stitchmastery and other software they use.

2) When designing, do you have any recurring sources of inspiration or unusual muses?

My designs are generally lace or colourwork, and often the result of falling in love with a pattern from one of my stitch libraries. I often modify patterns in Stitchmastery to meet my needs, adjusting stitch counts to work for different sizes or so one pattern will flow pleasingly into another. The patterns in my Morphology ebook developed from charting simple patterns and rearranging elements in Stitchmastery.

Woman with red hair wears knitted cowl with buttons and knitted mittens. She holds the cowl over most of her face.

3) When you have a design idea, do you always work to a set workflow (eg swatch-knit-chart / chart first then knit) or does your approach change with each design?

As the stitch pattern is usually my starting point, I generally start with charting in Stitchmastery and then swatch. This gives me information on gauge and pattern repeat size, so I can start to develop the design. I then get started on the maths using Excel and draft out a basic pattern plan before casting on the sample. Having seen designers struggle to get patterns written after a sample is knitted, I alternate sample knitting and pattern writing so wherever possible I can knit each section from the draft pattern to test the instructions. Writing the pattern in stages as I progress and editing as I work on the sample helps me to fit this work in during occasional free hours between tech editing for other designers. Once I have finished knitting, I usually have a pattern close to ready for tech editing. In fact, when knitting paired items such as socks and mitts, I am generally still knitting the second sock or mitt when the pattern is being tech edited.

4) Similarly, do you have a set process when it comes to tech editing, or are you lead by the designer/the pattern given to you?

There is some variation in the process as some designers send me the initial draft in layout, and others as a text file. For some patterns, the sample as been completed, for others I receive the pattern to check before it is sent to a sample knitter. This tends to affect the marking up process and the number of times I see a pattern. With all designers, final checks are always made on patterns in layout following sample knitting and also test knitting if appropriate.

I work on a print out (including charts) and refer back to any photos provided. After checking how sizing relates to standard sizing information, I read through the pattern from start to finish, making checks and marking sections I need to go back to such as yarn details. I work through as though knitting, checking the maths and instructions as I go, and making sure all patterning is aligned correctly.

Designers generally send me their spreadsheets to refer to for garments, but I prefer to do my checking on paper using mental maths and a calculator. A3 sketch books give plenty of space for garments over a wide range of sizes; I work in pencil, and mark any issues in pen. This gives me a record to check against in the next draft. I determine measurements based on pattern instructions, comparing with the pattern sizing table as I go along. I find this method quick and effective; while I can use Excel, I am slower at inputting both data and calculations.

Charts are checked visually, and I check any written instructions row by row against charts. Throughout, and especially with written instructions, I make suggestions to shorten and simplify the text. I use Stitchmastery to create charts from written instructions or to provide sample charts for patterns where additional charts are needed. Being familiar with how Stitchmastery works allows me to give useful suggestions for pattern charts.

I check the abbreviations list is complete for the pattern, and also the wording of instructions. Pattern style and consistency edits are marked at the same time as checking instructions and maths. I refer to previous publications and style sheets, as well as other patterns to be released in a book or collection, plus any particular requests for the publication depending on designer wishes. Working with a small number of designers on a regular basis means I have become very familiar with their styles and preferences.

When marking up corrections on the pattern pdf or digital text document, I take extra care to watch out for style issues. I check any items marked to be dealt with at this point, such as yarn details.

For second and any further drafts where there have been major edits, I check the edits against my marked file, check numbers against my calculations, recheck charts and their written instructions, and recheck the maths where there are significant changes to the pattern, before reading through and checking for style and consistency issues.

5) 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 purchased Stitchmastery in 2013 as it had the best support of any of the software available and was used by the designers I was working with. I love the clarity of the chart images: I use svg output for layout and pdf when I need a print copy. Another benefit is I can customize charts to my preferred style and preferences, including the production of written instructions for charts. The only thing I wish it would do is include instructions to repeat to last x sts. For some lace patterns in particular, this can make written instructions much shorter and also easier for knitters to follow.

Woman with red hair wears a blue and cream knitted hat

6) Please tell us about your latest publication or next exciting project!
My most recent pattern was the Morphology Tam, the fourth and final design in my Morphology Knits ebook (pictured above). The collection consists of the tam, a pair of fingerless mittens, a tubular cowl and a double knitted cowl; all designed using Jamieson’s of Shetland Spindrift. The designs are worked from a charted pattern I developed initially for the fingerless mittens. The pattern was then expanded and morphed for use in the other accessories. Each pattern has charts for both a 2 colour and an 8 colour option. In addition, there are separate charts so knitters can explore their own colour variations. Producing the same charts for different colour options was easy using Stitchmastery. The ebook also includes tutorials for techniques used in the patterns. The patterns are also available separately with relevant tutorials as well as in the ebook.

You can find Karen on Instagram as @kazrbutler and Twitter as @LiterallyYarn, and her designs are available from Ravelry at https://www.ravelry.com/designers/karen-butler
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