Last Sunday, we held our very first knitting workshop! It was a complete beginners class in which the six students were taught to cast on, knit, purl and cast off and started to make a pretty pair of fingerless mittens to take home.
The class was taught by our new tutor, Melanie Edgar, who was super stoked to be passing on her love of all things woolen to newby knitters! The other day Holly invited Melanie to the Cafe for a cuppa and a chat about her art. We thought we'd share their conversation with you as inspiration for any aspiring knitters out there!
Holly - OK, so let's start with a bit about you! Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Melanie - My name is Mélanie. I was born in Orléans, France where I lived until my mid-late twenties. I then moved to London, United Kingdom, where I worked as a web programmer / designer. That’s also where I met my husband, Nick, and where our son Lucas was born.
In 2012, we made the life changing decision to move to Christchurch, New Zealand (my husband’s home city). And that’s where we are, right now!
Holly - And we're so glad to have you! I think my next question has to be, when did your love affair with knitting begin?
Melanie - I started knitting when I was about 7 years old. My mum was a knitter. One day, she was knitting and I was bored. I asked her to show me. She cast on for me, taught me how to do a knit stitch and that was it! I made a tube dress for my Barbie doll and that’s how it all started!
Holly - Lucky Barbie! And what is it about this particular craft that really grabbed you?
Melanie - I’m not sure! I like a lot of crafts, but knitting is the one I am most faithful to. I love the process of knitting (much more than the finished products, which I enjoy too). But I just love watching the yarn transform into a fabric, and the fabric into a garment or an accessory. It’s like magic, especially when you turn the heel on a sock or when the combination of increases and decreases create a lace pattern!
I also like the endless possibilities that you get when you grab the needles and the ball of yarn. You can make so many things with just this combination!
I also like that it’s portable. I do a lot of quilting, but that means being stuck at the table cutting or at the sewing machine (let’s not even talk about the pressing!). With knitting, I can take my craft everywhere. I’ve been known to knit while walking around the garden, or even while walking around Orana Park with my 3-year-old boy!
Holly - Tell me a little about one of your favourite projects....
Melanie - Oh la la! What a question! Just one? They are ALL my favourite projects (well, all the ones I’ve kept, haha!). But if I had to choose just one, it might be my colourwork yoke jersey (is that how you call them here?). I designed it and it turned out even better than what I had in mind. Don’t you love it when something like that happens? The yarn is absolutely lovely, the perfect combination of frivolous and practical (Rowan Felted Tweed, Alpaca blend that’s machine washable – I’m all for washing washable).
And the colourwork. I love love LOVE the colourwork.
It’s one of my favourite thing to knit, but it can be tricky to design, especially when there’s some kind of shaping going on as well. Here, I had to integrate the increases that make the round yoke into the colourwork. In this one, well, it’s perfect! It’s just smooth and everything flows. And I absolutely adore the little scallops around the neck. Just perfect!
I toyed with the idea of publishing the pattern. Is anyone interested in knitting a sample / testing the pattern, ha?!
Holly - I'm sure there will be a few keen to try it out! Do you have a favourite place where you like to go to knit?
Melanie - Hmm, not really. Of course, I love to knit sitting on the sofa while watching a good movie. But I don’t get to do a lot of that lately – and I will get a lot less of it soon as we are moving to a new place without TV!
I like to knit everywhere. But if I had to choose a favourite, maybe that’ll be the beach. There’s something utterly decadent about knitting on the beach (or maybe it’s just me? No, don’t answer that!)
I find that knitting makes me able to deal with otherwise stressful or boring situations / locations. I HATE waiting, so knitting while in the doctor’s waiting room, or in-line at the bank / post office just takes the edge off of things.
Holly - What items do you enjoy designing most?
Melanie - Anything with colourwork? Socks? Socks with colourwork?! I’m quite varied in my designs, so far, from baby clothes to lacey shawls, and socks too, of course (which you can all see on my Ravelry designer’s page).
What inspires me is the challenge of taking a stitch pattern (be it colourwork, cable or lace) and combine it with a definite shape, such as a sock, a cardi or a shawl. Items that you wear need to have a certain shape and slapping a stitch pattern onto that is just not that straightforward.
And if you are adding multi-sizing to the equation, you can have an Excel file that would scare a statistician (I had to find a job which uses a lot of Excel files, they do, don’t they?).
But that’s what I enjoy when I design, the problem solving. That and creating stuff that people will wear – I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was 13. Well, I sort of got there in the end, right?
Holly - Who is your favourite knitwear designer and why?
Melanie - Oh Gawd! You are doing it again! I can’t choose. And I don’t want to get any of my friends angry! Having worked as a technical editor, I got to meet either virtually or in real life quite a few of them and I love them all.
Ok, here are a few, in absolutely no special order:
- Kitman Figueroa: A-MA-ZING shawls. I knitted her Jaali pattern and I love it. I wear it so often. I’ve got her Damask in my queue and I just need to take the time to choose the yarn and cast on.
- Cecily Glowik MacDonald: I knitted her Leaflet, which is one of my most worn items and I can see myself knitting / wearing any of her other cardis / pullovers pattern. They are just simple enough with the right attention to the killer details.
- Sarah Hatton: she designs a lot for Rowan and British and international magazines and her patterns are always so nicely written.
But there are many many other designers who are inspiring me either to knit or design and it just feels wrong to only name a few!
Holly - I know, tough question! Sorry! Let's talk about where knitting fits in these days. Do you think people's perceptions of knitting have changed in the last ten years? If so, in what ways?
Melanie - I think it has. I can’t quite talk about how knitting is viewed in New Zealand as I’m still brand new here (only arrived last August!).
But I think people’s perceptions have changed. Knitting (and other crafts) are much trendier. There has been this whole ‘Make Do and Mend’ thing that has come back to the UK – and everywhere else. People now want to make stuff. They want to buy a ball of yarn and knit their own scarves. Not necessarily because it’s cheaper to make (yarn is expensive), but there’s been this rejection of fast fashion and how cheap shop bought stuff is actually not that cheap! Yes, knitting a scarf can cost you $100, but if you take good care of it, it will last decades. Try that with a scarf from Kmart.
Also, making your own stuff means that you can show your personality through the yarn you choose, the colours and the design. I think people are craving for a little bit of individuality.
It’s not so much about ‘knitting grandmas’ anymore, though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – I cherish the stuff that my grandma has knitted for her grandchildren.
There’s a younger crowd in knitting, and they are more fashion aware, and also they are more involved in the worldwide knitting community through blogs and Ravelry (3 millions users!!)
People want to learn, they are booking workshops, private lessons, asking relatives or friends to show them and that’s terribly exciting.
You don’t get this weird look when you say that you’ve knitted your pullover or scarf or whatever. Now, most often, you get a ‘wow, that’s great. I wish I could too’. Well, the thing is, you can. I truly believe that most people can learn. If I could learn as a child, then anybody can too!
Holly - What are you working on right now?
Melanie - Right now, well, right now, it’s not too bad. I’m not a very faithful knitter. But if you ignore the couple of projects that are hibernating (one silk stole and one beaded stole – I just don’t have it in me to work on them at the moment, they are just not that enjoyable, right now), then I only have 3? (mental check) projects on the go.
- A colourwork (I guess I could say fairisle, but I think colourwork works better for non knitter) sleeveless top for myself. It’s quite slow and intense, partially because the colourwork is very involved (it changes on every round) and partially because I’m
making it up designing it as I go along. For
these reasons, I’m only working on a few rounds at a time. I’m halfway through
the armholes and I’m kind of looking forward to the moment when I’ll have to
open the steeks (that’s when you take your scissors and deliberately and
without alcohol involved CUT YOUR KNITTING). I love knitting this project, but
it takes a lot of brain space.
- A pair of stripey socks in gorgeous Knitsch yarn (Wellington based indie dyer). This is brainless and exactly what I need when going somewhere. I love knitting socks, they are the ultimate portable project. And you get this befuddled look on people’s face when you tell them that you are knitting socks, which is priceless. I give a lot of my socks away to deserving relatives and friends, so I don’t have that many myself. Which is why I always need to knit some more.
- I’m just about to cast on a pullover for myself. With our move here, I got rid of most of my wardrobe, so I need to add more key pieces. Like, you know, warm pullovers. This one is going to be very straightforward: top-down, with a cowl neck and either a round yoke (if I can be bothered to do the maths) or raglan sleeves. All of that with a yarn that’s been sitting in my stash for almost 3 years.
Holly - Nice to here you're list of UFO's (unfinished objects) is long like ours! One final question, do you have any advice for knitters wanting to get their patterns published?
Melanie - That’s a tough one. I’m not sure I’m the best one to ask, because I got very lucky. I started with technical editing, which gave me the right contacts, after that, it was much easier to pitch my ideas to the magazines’ editors. Nowadays, you can start by self publishing, which is not a bad thing to do if you do it right.
- Get yourself a Ravelry designer account. You can sell your pattern in a pdf file there, which comes to little to no cost to you. That’s a good thing when you’re starting out.
- Get your pattern tested and / or technical edited. That’s probably the most important thing. You will want your pattern to be as free of errors as possible. It’s a massive turn-off when your pattern is riddled with errors. You don’t want to be THAT designer.
- If you want to get published in magazines, paper or online, send out a lot of submissions. All the big magazines should have guidelines, moodboards, etc explaining what they are after. That’s your first clue. They will also explain how to submit. That’s important. You really don’t want to spam the editor with your submissions. You want them to be your friends. So just follow the procedures (unless THEY ask you otherwise).
- If you don’t know already, learn to grade your pattern in several sizes. Excel is good for that and there are tutorials online to explain some of the process.
- Don’t expect to make a living off it. You might, eventually, be able to, but certainly not until you acquire a certain level of ‘fame’. That’s ok, just be realistic about it (and don’t quite your day job just yet).
- Knit, knit and knit some more. Try new techniques. That will broaden your design abilities and make you more versatile for publications.
- But really, just be creative!
Holly - A big thank you to Melanie for taking the time to sit down for a chat with me! I hope everyone has enjoyed reading!
If you are interested in learning to knit, or would like to further develop existing skills, we have a number of workshops with Melanie coming up over the next couple of months. Head over to our website to find out more!
Sunday 26th May, 12 - 3pm
Sunday 16th June, 12 - 3pm
Wednesday 29th May, 6 - 9pm
Wednesday 19th June, 6 - 9pm
Sunday 5th May, 11am - 3pm
Sunday 2nd June, 11am - 3pm