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!
1) Could you give us a potted history of your knitting, designing and teaching background?
Interviewee – Karie Westermann
1) Could you give us a potted history of your knitting, designing and teaching background?
Well, I’ve been teaching pretty much all my life – what I’m teaching has just changed. That’s always been a natural thing – I started in primary school helping the other kids, and I’m actually a trained teacher. I used to teach English as a foreign language and as a business language, and I’ve taught technical writing at university, which is helpful now! So it was quite natural for my yarn career to link in to that.
My knitting history really started when I was about 4 or 5 and my great-grandmother taught me to knit. She lived on the Danish equivalent of a croft in the middle of nowhere, and I remember sitting next to a Kerosene stove and learning how to knit. My family have always been quite “maker-y”, and I really liked to crochet as a kid because it was a lot faster and you didn’t need a pattern, you could just do it. I liked knitting and crochet and dress-making, but then I stopped. And I got back into it when I fell ill in 2007. I couldn’t read, watch tv, listen to the radio, or anything, but my partner (now husband) said “you used to knit – we’ve spoken about it” and went down to the yarn shop which was run by Lilith of Old Maiden Aunt at that time, and bought me some yarn and needles. I realised that even though I couldn’t consciously remember how to knit, my hands knew what to do and I was able to cast on. It was the early days of Ravelry and in time I joined that and put lots of projects up.
Rowan Yarns contacted me about a year later with a part-time job offer and so within a year of getting back into knitting I was working in the industry. I did some teaching with them, and then we had a lot of beads in stock and I was asked to come up with a pattern for a scarf using the beads and that was my first ever pattern I’d written and put together. And I thought “oh, ok, that went fairly well – let me see if I can do that again!” and it went fairly well too. I had joined a knitting group that Lilith went to and she gave me two hanks of a new yarn line she was launching at Knit Nation, and asked me to design something with it – that was my first design that went on Ravelry – and that went fairly well too, and it’s never really stopped. I’ve designed for magazines, and then in 2014 I decided to go freelance and it’s all gone fine! I started teaching in some local yarn shops across Scotland, and the first Edinburgh Yarn Festival. So that’s how I ended up in knitting – it was all a bit by mistake but I feel like it combines a lot of things I’m good at – I’m quite creative and also quite a logical thinker. My technical writing background really comes into pattern writing. I used to work as a technical editor, I occasionally do some consultancy helping museums, art galleries and magazines with curating, and I’m mentoring some young people in the industry as well, so it’s all combining my interests – in the logical side of how to put something together and how to communicate it in a way that meets people where they are; in being creative; in being quite nerdy and liking to do research; and in liking to teach. I’m in the middle of my ideal Venn diagram – with no meetings – and I’m about to start teaching on knitting cruises!
2) Do you have any recurring sources of inspiration or unusual muses when designing?
I do. I am quite nerdy, and if I get interested in something, I tend to really want to dive in deep. It’s been a thing my entire life – when I was 10 I was really into Romanesque church architecture of the 13th century. Now I know that if I find something I’m super interested in, I want to tell the story. So that tends to get channelled out into my work. Some examples – my Doggerland collection is about psycho-geography, land art and Mesolithic archaeology. But it’s also about the idea that “we’re all humans, and even humans that lived maybe 10,000 years ago are still people we could relate to”. It’s about climate change and what happens if we lose a place that we used to call home and it’s disappearing under the sea. It’s about recognising what makes a place a home. It’s about materials and how we use them.
I have a small series called Authors and Artists, which is still on-going – about women who have inspired me. Then I wrote an entire book based on early printing (This Thing of Paper), as in a past life I did print culture as an academic topic. So exploring early printed books, the invention of the printing press, the idea of how do we go from handmade to machine made, why do we still make things even though there are machine-made items that are cheaper and quicker, also the materiality of things – what does it mean to have a favourite pair of needles in your hands? Why is the feeling of yarn that sings to you an important thing to us as makers? It’s about agency and about voice, and being a female making textiles, and embedding our stories into textiles, so the text becomes textiles and the textiles become the text.
So basically – whatever my brain latches onto, I try to find some universal framework and commonality to communicate and how to tell the story. Making is rarely just about making, and figuring out why we make stuff is a preoccupation of mine. But I also just do normal stuff like “this is a pretty hat!”
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?
I feel like I’m always juggling about 6 or 7 things at a time. I get an idea and make a sketch, and store it away to come back to later. Sometimes it’s mind mapping, sometimes I note out little motifs, it can be quite colourful. With the sketches for This Thing of Paper, I have early notes about how to structure the story, and working out what designs I would need to tell the story. For collections I tend to start with colour palettes and design vocabulary – so for Doggerland, garter stitch and simple lace work were the paired down vocabulary. I just used natural colours with one dyed colour, a seaweed colour that the Mesolithic people would have known, and then tried to look at the ornamentation in woven materials that exist from that time. With This Thing of Paper, I looked at mediaeval manuscripts and the exuberant mineral colours, and the type of ornamentation used on the letters, and made sketches of those and took elements of those to turn into motifs.
And then I sit down and start playing in Stitchmastery, trying out colours or textures and see what pops up. I swatch those and keep them to one side, and keep referring back to the sketch book to work out whether these should be garments or accessories.
I try to balance collections with colourwork, lace, cables, and with different weights of yarn as well, and make it a rounded thing. With single patterns, it tends to be a strong idea that doesn’t really slot in to a collection but I’m still really interested in. Again it starts with fragments that fit together and then come up with a concept. It’s very late on in the process before I have anything on my needles – lots of things happen on paper and Stitchmastery before the swatches, but they are important for finding out the material qualities of the yarn. I really envy people who say “that’s a pretty yarn” and just get it straight on the needles – I think I’d be a lot quicker, but I just can’t work that way. The grass is always greener!
Sometimes, though, you get a brief that you work to, from a magazine or a collaborator. I’ve worked on something that hasn’t come out yet, for a collection for a designer and part of my approach was researching that person – what kind of ornamentation do they wear, if any, and then interpret that in the given material.
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 began using Stitchmastery quite early on, I think when I started working on Doggerland, around 2012 or 2013. Prior to that I was working with Excel sheets and when I was doing that, charting a shawl would take me about 3 to 4 hours. I had a trial period with Stitchmastery and realised I could cut that down to about 30 minutes. The ease of use of Stitchmastery was mind-boggling from the get-go because I didn’t need to configure anything myself – it was already done. In the beginning I mostly designed lace, and I could make repeats easily to see how things would scale up or down, and get the written instructions for it. Then I started delving into other things and it’s such a go to for me. It’s really quick and intuitive for me. The amount of stitches is fantastic, though I do sometimes have to go in and customise some stitches. I like going back in later and changing charts too, and it helps with proof reading before I send things to my tech editor. I like being able to compare different versions of a design side by side. I like that you can put in different repeats for different sizes and colour code them. It’s very malleable! And it looks pretty!
The moment I realised it could generate vector charts was a very happy day – I actually had a Facebook memories post come up the other day where I said “I have discovered vector charts – THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!!!”
If there is one thing I could change, it would be to be able to use different colours for the fonts eg for the chart title. If I could set that with a hex code it would be great. Especially for books, the exact right colours are important! At the moment I change those in my pattern layout.
5) Please tell us about your latest publication or next exciting project!
I’ve released a few shawls lately – Shawl for an Art Lover, which was my wedding shawl; Canny Lass, which uses yarn from Whistlebare where I recently spent a day teaching, and Summerisle, which I released to coincide with teaching at Woollinn. I’ve recently started up a Patreon for writing projects, and I have a couple of collaborations and single pattern releases coming up.
You can find Karie on Instagram as @kariebookish, on her website at https://www.kariebookish.net/, and her designs are available on Ravelry at https://www.ravelry.com/designers/karie-westermann