November 24, 2008
Today’s Limelight spotlights Anne Hanson, the designer of all of those beautiful Knitspot patterns that we never seem to get enough of! (And for those of you attending our next Spring Fling, Anne will be here teaching classes on lace knitting for us. I’m excited about that! Spring Fling signups will go up in December. I’ll keep you posted.)
Loopy: Hi Anne! Thanks for taking the time to be in our Limelight today. How long have you been a knitter and who taught you to knit?
Anne: I’ve been knitting for 44 years. My grandmother taught me when I was 4 years old; I had pestered her for some time before that to teach me. My biggest interest in learning was a fascination with stitch patterns; I wanted to make them all, but especially I wanted to make cables (ha, I learned right away that it would be a while before I could do that!). Stitch patterns have always been another language to me.
Loopy: Another knitter who learned from her grandmother – that’s wonderful. What is your favorite item to knit?
Anne: Hmm, that’s a tough one! There are so many things I love to knit, but I guess I’d have to say my favorite would be a sweater.
Loopy: From looking at your patterns, it does look like you have plenty of knitting interests. Your patterns cover quite a wide variety of things. How did you go from knitting to designing?
Anne: I started at a pretty young age . . . I’ve always been a person who wanted to create something new to use knowledge I gained about structures and techniques. I also have a deep background in sewing and garment construction, so once I understood how garments went together, I wanted to create shapes of my own, both in sewing and knitting. The big attraction with knitting is the ability to create a unique fabric as well. I put together my first sweater design as a teenager, and though my gauge was off and it ended up too big for me, it was a nice cabled design, which my brother wore for some time.
Loopy: Lucky for him! You are a prolific pattern writer, putting out new patterns every month. Does your brain just overflow with ideas?
Anne: Hahaha, it does . . . I pretty much eat, sleep and breathe knitting ideas, which can be exhausting. Sometimes my head hurts from having too many! And often I get way ahead of myself. It’s a challenge to manage a runaway imagination. It helps to be a good editor; it’s important to know how to weed out, sort, and save some ideas for another time.
Loopy: How many new patterns a year do you shoot for?
Anne: I don’t really shoot for a specific number; my production is more organic than that. I just make things that I want to knit, using yarns that I’m eager to work with, and that I think other people will also be interested in, and if it seems right, I create a pattern for it. It really helps to have a blog to put things out there and test the responses; that can be a good guiding force, though of course, not the only one. Now that I’ve been marketing my designs for a few years, I plan around the seasons a little more in order to provide knitters with the patterns they are seeking for the moment. Right now I am working more on warm knits and accessories and a little less on lace scarves and shawls (and warm knits are what I want to be making now, too!). In january, I’ll start transitioning into spring knits and more lace.
Loopy: Do you always knit up the first version, or do you chart it and have test knitters do it up for you? And how do you find your test knitters?
Anne: Yes, I almost always knit the samples for my designs; there are just a couple that I haven’t knit myself. The sample is a good way for me to work out precisely what the design should be and to find any tricky areas that will need specific pattern directions. I can create a much better pattern by knitting the sample. In a few cases, where the sample is a variation of another design (such as the stole version of a triangle shawl) I can let go of knitting the sample myself, but I only do it when time is too short to accomplish it. Plus, sample knitting is so bloggable . . . hee-hee! Once I get my sample to the point where all the components are working, I write up the pattern and send it to some test knitters. I like to have at least two test knitters of differing skill level on every project, if possible. I find it incredibly valuable to have feedback from knitters of all levels. Test knitters come to me mostly from my readership; usually someone will write to tell me that they are interested in doing it and we will work on a small project together to see if they like the process enough to continue. I try to keep it fun! It’s important to have test knitters who work fairly quickly, are diligent about feedback, and stay on task within the process. I have been very, very lucky to work with a rotating group of knitters who are talented, patient, enthusiastic, and offer constructive support. Being more of an “outlaw” myself, I am very grateful that others want to work with me this way; I consider it a gift and an honor to work with knitters who take on that role.
Loopy: And I can only imagine that they consider it an honor to work with you on your new designs. What is the most challenging thing that you have knit to date?
Anne: Hmmm, that’s an interesting question, because my biggest challenges have always been “firsts”. The first lace shawl I designed (the four seasons shawl; not a pattern I offer in my shop) was challenging because I did not foresee that I should have planned ahead more. I ended up juggling at every pattern transition to make what I HAD knit work with what I wanted to knit next; it ended up taking a year to complete because I had to stop and start so often. My first lace knitting surely must have been challenging, though I honestly don’t remember when I started working with lace patterns. Reading a pattern for the first time and trying to figure out what the heck they meant with their very abbreviated instructions was challenging for sure. Knitting with fine yarn for the first time was challenging and it took a long time for very fine yarn to grow on me. Right now I am trying to get myself psyched up to some day knit a stranded sweater of some kind with steeks. I’ve never done one because that kind of knitting is rather slow (and I like to be quick), and because I’m a lazy knitter and I keep looking at the task as if it will be a big pain in the neck. Yet, I have always yearned for a beautiful fair isle sweater and I’m not going to get one unless I knit it for myself. hahaha, so that’s my challenge right now, to discover the fun in a project like that. and it might take years . . . once I get past these types of initial challenges, I don’t find any particular kind of knitting all that difficult; when it comes down to it, knitting really is just knits and purls and yarnovers.
Loopy: Well your Four Seasons Shawl is just beautiful! And with everything else that you do, I’m surprised it only took a year. Speaking of challenging, what do you think is your most challenging pattern for knitters?
Anne: The Bee Shawls and Morning Glory have more challenging stitches than some of the other shawls; Irtfa’a and Lacewing have more challenging construction, where the knitter has to keep different instructions for different sections in mind at the same time.
Loopy: I know that lace knitters really love your challenging designs, and the beautiful shawls that result from them. What is your favorite part of your job? And your not-so-favorite part?
Anne: I really love engineering a pattern; it’s a fascinating process to bring the work from an intuitive level (designing on the needles) to a practical level (a written pattern for what I did on the needles). I get a big thrill from putting stitches and construction on paper in a logical way so that others can create the same piece. And of course, I love knitting and handling all sorts of yarns . . who wouldn’t love that? My least favorite part of my job is compromising between actual knitting work and completing tasks related to running my company. There are many many roles to play in running my own business, and too often I have to borrow from my knitting time to get everything done.
Loopy: I can relate to that! The knitting part is definitely more fun than the nuts and bolts part of running a business. Does anyone else in your family knit?
Anne: My mom knows how to knit but she doesn’t any more. My sister knits quite a bit. David has progressed from not wanting to knit at all, to saying that he thinks he might want to learn some day (that has taken 12 years though, so we won’t hold our breaths for it . . .)
Loopy: Well “some day” is better than “not at all”, so you’re right, it’s progress. Are there other hobbies that you enjoy?
Anne: I love cycling, traveling, cooking, and working in my vegetable garden.
Loopy: And what would be your favorite way to spend a day off?
Anne: A nice long bike ride with David, followed by a good meal and a nap, then spend the rest of the day knitting.
Loopy: That sounds like a good plan! Anything else you’d like to add?
Anne: Thank you for having me as your guest! Answering these questions has been very thought-provoking and given me plenty to mull over.
In The Loopy Ewe news, did you catch the re-stock over the weekend and the new stuff up today? Dream in Color Starry, Namaste Zuma Bag and Accessories, sKNITches Big Tryst, 3 AM Enchantments bags, more Trekking, past sock club and kit patterns, Hand Maiden Casbah, Prism’s Merino Mia, and more.