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Olann And Interview



I have been fortunate enough to be interviewed for Olann And magazine by the lovely Deirdre, and the resulting write-up is now up on their website. 

The subject of the interview is my sheep-to-garment project. I will have more details about that here soon, but I have to say the above excerpt pretty much sums it up : ) 

If you aren't familiar with this publication already, Olann And is Ireland's new(ish) fibre and craft magazine, and it is definitely worth a look. Aside from the personable and engaging features, Olann And offers knitting patterns, hosts knit-alongs, publishes a blog covering local events in all corners of Ireland, and hosts a very entertaining podcast. You can also join the Olann And group on ravelry for the latest updates, knit-alongs, and more. 

My sincere thanks to Olann And for featuring my project! 


Knitting Jobs: the Professional Test Knitter



I am not and never will be a professional test-knitter. My hands are sufficiently full with my own designs and a gazillion other projects, to venture into the realm of test-knitting for others. 

That said, I know some excellent test-knitters, for whose skill and professionalism I have tremendous respect. Should I ever be lucky enough to design on a grander scale than I do now, I shall be delighted to hire them. And by that I mean literally hire them - as in pay them, with actual money, for their valuable services. 

I say this by way of an introduction, because it is my impression that many independent knitting pattern designers today are genuinely unaware there exists such a creature as a Professional Test Knitter. In fairness, this is understandable, considering how many knitters are not only willing, but eager, to test-knit for free. There are multiple groups on ravelry where designers and knitters connect in this manner, and my aim here is not to criticise this. Rather, I want to point out that this type of exchange is not the same as engaging a professional test knitter, and that designers for whom precision and punctuality are crucial do have the option to hire a professional.

Think of it as the difference between asking a talented and enthusiastic friend to photograph your wedding/ make your website as a favour, versus going with an actual wedding photographer/ web developer. The former often works out wonderfully. But the sets of expectations in the two types of exchanges differ. In the same vein, a professional test-knitter differs from a hobby knitter who is happy to test-knit patterns. 

Professional test knitters exist. They are employed by yarn manufacturers, editors of knitting publications, pattern designers, sometimes even yarn shops. And they deliver to their clients an impeccable service. 

What the client can expect from a professional test knitter:

. fast, skillful knitting

. the ability to meet a deadline

. willingness to knit a pattern in any size/colour requested, or several variations

. a résumé that details their experience, skillset/qualifications, and provides references 

. regular progress updates, if requested, once the test-knit is underway 

. a final report noting any mistakes in, or difficulties with, the pattern 

. submission of the finished sample knit, if requested (i.e. a professional test-knitter does not expect to keep the sample)

What a professional test-knitter can expect from their client:

. monetary compensation for their services, equivalent at the very least to minimum wage 

. yarn and tool support for the project’s duration (i.e. the knitter will return the supplies at the end, if requested)

There are instances where mutually agreeable barters/ trades are arranged. Indeed, a designer might find it tempting if a test-knitter is willing to work for yarn, or in exchange for keeping the finished sample. Just be aware that, as you venture further from the paid compensation model, the parameters of your exchange will blur. In the end it is pretty simple: If we want someone to work for us professionally, we better treat them like a professional - i.e. pay them for their work, and test-knitting is no exception. 

So where does one find a professional test knitter?

I suggest going on the usual ravelry groups and announcing that you are looking for one. Make it clear that you are offering a fair wage and require a résumé with references. That should limit the responses to those from qualified knitters.

Finally, do you think you might like to become a professional test knitter? 

You could, if you...

. are a very fast knitter; ideally a speed knitter - it’s the only way the work makes sense for both you and the client financially

. have wide knowledge of knitting techniques, stitch patterns, etc.

. have vast experience knitting from patterns 

. are able to knit with a variety of yarns 

. are able to knit without growing emotionally attached to the finished product, which you might not get to keep!

. are responsible, communicative, and able to meet deadlines 

. are able to obtain references confirming all the above - the client needs to feel secure, that you will not abscond with their yarn, never to be heard from again! 



Meet Me at Flax Fest!



It was just over two years ago that I discovered The Derrylane Flax Mill in Dungiven, Northern Ireland. This working mill and weaving studio is ran by Marion and Hermann Bauer, who, since moving to Ireland from Germany decades ago, have made something truly special happen on their premises: small-scale linen production, at a time when it was generally on the decline.

The restored stone cottage is their home and their workspace, and once a year they generously open the Mill to the public and host a magical festival celebrating their love of natural fibre. There are makers' booths, activities and workshops, and lots of local and international visitors. This year’s itinerary includes a fashion show, a concert, a Blacksmithing demo, Hand-spinning demos, and the premier screening of Flax People - a film about the linen industry of Ireland.

This year, I am taking an active role in the Open Day. I will have a dress on display at the Fashion Show. And I will be teaching a Continental Knitting workshop. Jennifer Leinhard of Woolfinch Studio will also be there, teaching a Natural Dyeing workshop. We will have a booth with hand dyed yarns and more - so if you stop by, do say hello.

The event is free!

The details: 
Flax Mill Open Day
Saturday, 9th September
Derrylane Flax Mill
Dungiven BT47 4QD
Northern Ireland


'That Looks Store Bought'



The first time somebody told me that something I knitted looked store bought, I did not realise it was meant as a compliment. I interpreted 'store bought' to mean generic, uninteresting, lacking in special touches. Granted the piece they were referring to was a deliberately plain sweater, so I took this in stride.

On another occasion, a similar comment was made and I responded with an apologetic shrug. And it was only when the woman added 'I can't spot a single mistake and the fabric is so... even! This looks like something I'd buy at Marks & Spenser.' that it dawned on me it was meant as a positive thing (even as I winced at the M&S reference!). 

I have since had a conversation about this with other knitters. And the consensus seems to be that indeed 'that looks store bought' is a compliment. It basically means that the knitting looks tidy, even, polished, professional. 

Okay. So... interesting. And nice to hear that of course. But also funny, when I think about it - that the mark of good hand-knitting is when it doesn't look like hand-knitting. 

I am not of the school of thought, that mistakes and uneven tension are to be celebrated as what makes an item look hand-knit. I believe in honing one's technique to avoid such things, in striving to produce skilled handwork. 

But I do feel there is something. That there is a special look - even an aura - to a hand-knitted piece which gives it soul and which sets it apart from machine-produced store-boughts.

To compliment a hand-knitted piece by saying that it looks store-bought, undermines that - and reinforces the deeply held cultural perception of knitting as a necessity-based, second-rate craft with low inherent value. 

Am I overthinking an innocent, off the cuff and well-meaning remark? Well yeah, of course. At the same time it is often the innocent, off the cuff remarks that give the best insight into the way we view things as a society. 

While knitting has become dramatically more popular over the past two decades than it's been for some time, I am not sure the way it is viewed on a cultural level has changed all that much - or, at least, has changed in a positive way.  I will try to elaborate on what I mean by this in future. But for now I am off to the shops, donning my store-bought-looking sweater ;) 

Free Knitting Patterns: My Philosophy



Since I have put up a couple of free patterns recently, I wanted to address where I stand on the subject of when, if at all, the practice of offering free knitting patterns is appropriate.

Firstly, let me be clear: I believe that designers should be compensated for their patterns. Pattern design involves hours of work - and not just creative work and experimental knitting. There are tedious mathematical calculations involved, copywriting, photography, proofreading, layout, research into pricepoint, and so on and so forth. Put simply, a knitting pattern is a product. Offering it for free undermines the designer's work as well as the work of other designers. 

That said, I see a few logical exceptions to this, and personally I find it acceptable to offer free patterns in the following instances:

1. Where the pattern serves as supporting material for a paid product or service - for example, the designer's own yarn range, or a class the designer is teaching. In this scenario, the pattern is not so much free, as included in the cost of the product/service.  


2. Where the pattern is sufficiently basic, so that the information it provides can be considered 'common knowledge' to experienced knitters. The many free patterns floating around for 'vanilla' socks, garter stitch scarves, ribbed beanies, easy top-down raglan sweaters, and the like, are examples of this. In this scenario, the pattern serves as a good-will gesture for beginner knitters who can benefit from accessible patterns, as well as those knitters simply looking for an easy project and don't like to improv-knit. But it does not de-value the designer's (or other designers') skills.

So that's my take on the matter, and the patterns I offer for free fit into one of these categories.  

I am not critical of designers who do things differently. I am only explaining the logic behind what I might offer for free, and why, while recognising that others have their own reasons for adapting a different approach. 

I hope that answers the question for anyone who was wondering. 

At the moment I have two free patterns online, and you can download them here:
Dotty!  (cuff-down socks with short row heels and toes and a subtle polka-dot motif)
Over the Dunes (a top down raglan-sleeve pullover, knitted in the round)