Monday, February 28, 2011

Interview with a Designer: Ashley Knowlton

Grand Duchess hat, by Ashley Knowlton

Today, I'm excited to share my first interview with a designer. Ashley Knowlton, aka Wonk on ravelry, is a young knitwear designer who has self-published upwards of 25 patterns, including the ebook Gwynedd. Several of her designs have also appeared in Yarn Forward Magazine. From ornate cabled hats to intricate lace shawls, her work covers an array of techniques. She agreed to an interview through the magic of the internet, so here it is.

All photos copyright Ashley Knowlton; used with permission.

In your Ravelry bio you describe yourself as “A wonderfully misplaced…American” - as a misplaced Canadian myself, I’m always interested in expat stories. How did you end up in Wales?
In my teen years, I saved up my money so that I could spend a year studying in the UK. This was realized in my second year of university, when I said goodbye to my parents, got on a plane, and landed in England. A few weeks later, I met a young man on a bus, where he smiled, introduced himself, and sat down next to me, thinking that I, like most people on the bus full of international students, was Scandinavian. I drew my home state of Washington for him, but it was still a few weeks later when he realized I didn’t come from Washington, D.C. We fell in love very quickly, he came to my hometown in the US for a year, and we got married in a park in my home county a year and a half after we met. After that we moved back to the UK - we decided it was the right place for us to be.

According to your rav bio, you’re also a novelist. Could you tell us a bit about this?
I’m a bit of a lapsed novelist, unfortunately! I’m suffering from the longest bout of writer’s block I’ve ever had, plus I haven’t had time to commit to it with a demanding schedule of tech editing and design. I’m hoping to get back into it when time allows.

How did you get your start designing knitwear?
I’ve knitted (in various degrees of quality) since I was five, but really got into it when I discovered Vogue Knitting and how hand-made knits can actually be flattering and fashionable. I re-taught myself from there, started adapting my own knits, then started from scratch with design. I found stitch dictionaries and design books - checked out from my wonderful local library in the US - to be extremely helpful in this process.

Describe your design process.
I usually sketch it out first, maybe a few times. I sometimes have a stitch that I’ve based the piece on, and decide where to feature it - in a detail at the neck, or an all-over pattern on a hat. After that, I’m usually in a hurry to start, so I swatch, write the rough draft of the pattern, and cast on in the same day. I go back and grade the pattern later, since I’ve usually made changes to the pattern during knitting and it’s much easier to edit a pattern for one size than it would be if it were fully graded.

Do you have a current favourite yarn?
Ooh, I like so many of them! I’ve always been a big fan of Handmaiden, and I love the British Indie Dyers I’ve tried like Posh and Fyberspates. I’m not sure I can choose a particular yarn as they all suit such different purposes.

Are there any fibres that you particularly like to use?
Good ol’ merino. It’s so versatile, and I love how it holds its shape. I also love a touch of silk in my garments and accessories.

Where do your design ideas come from?
It depends on how inspired I’m feeling. Sometimes I have to leaf through magazines, books, and online clothing catalogs before I find inspiration, while sometimes it just comes to me from details in buildings or a landscape.

The pattern collection Gwynedd contains 12 patterns for a wide range of accessories – do you have a favourite item from this collection?
I think I might have to say Neolithic. It’s quite a unique piece, and I felt so proud of myself when I came up with it and worked out the techniques that would allow the shawl to work without being too cumbersome or downright impossible. It was also my first colorwork design piece, so holds a special place in my heart.

What are your favourite knitting techniques?
I suppose my favorite technique (though I'm not sure if I can call it that, as it’s more placement of stitches than anything else!) is accentuated waist shaping - it’s something that I like to use in sweaters for myself as my waist is very small in proportion to the rest of my body, and it calls attention to that fact. I find that using particular proportions on where to create this shaping is particularly useful for it.

Are there any techniques you would like to explore in future designs that you haven’t used much so far?
I’d love to do more colorwork. I’d also love to learn how to steek! But first I need to overcome my fear of my sewing machine (and get it to work properly). I also find the task of choosing different colors to go together in a colorwork project quite daunting.

Currently 10% of your pattern sales go to support the RSPCA – what made you decide to donate a portion of your pattern sales to charity?
My husband and I are big proponents of charitable causes, and I thought it would be a great way to promote some of my favorite charities. I have had some wonderful suggestions from knitters for charities to feature in the future, and am always on the lookout for lesser-known ones to support.

Tell us about your upcoming Spring/Summer collection.
I’m so excited for it! I have about five designs going on at once, right now, as I try to finish everything in time. It’s going to be a little of everything this time - shawls, cardigans, tanks, and a few other things. Lace will be a particular feature. Everything will be in lighter weight yarns (lace or fingering), but with larger-than-expected needles so the projects won’t be at all maddening to knit - which is an important feature when I’m making the samples!

Thank you for sharing, and I look forward to seeing what comes next!

You can keep up with Ashley on her designer page, ravelry group Ashley Knowlton Designs, or her blog Ashley Knits.

Friday, February 25, 2011

FO: wibbly manos cowl scarf thing

Inspired by the spate of circular/infinity scarf/cowls appearing lately, I made up my own using some wavy wavy cables. I do love cables.

Ravelry project page

Manos Del Uruguay Silk Blend is so soft and drapey and wonderful. I love knitting with it, and I think it is perfect for cowl and scarves. This cowl took one 100 g skein in the Danube colourway.

Not colour accurate

T-shirt from The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. Let's fight crime with maths!

I wrote up my notes for this project, thinking I'd try to publish it as a free pattern, but I've been hit by some knitting stagefright. What if it isn't original enough? I'm not entirely happy with how it hangs, maybe it's the wrong length, it's not perfect. I'm coming into conflict with my own unperfectionism. Help! Haha. Just let me get over myself and it will be fine.


Anyway, it's too warm to wear it today - 12 degrees! In February! I can't believe it. Yesterday was my birthday, and at a high of 14 degrees Celsius I think it was the warmest birthday I've ever had. Wow.

More FOs at Tami's Amis

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

WIP Wednesday: Close encounters?

The brown blob I showed off last week now has the beginning of a sleeve. It's not actually capable of standing up on its own; I put an upside-down water glass inside.


And then I thought it looked a bit like Devil's Tower writ small. And I was amused. And then I got the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind stuck in my head. And I decided to share my amusement with the internet, and a blog post was born. What do you think, denizens of the internet?
Photo by Andrew Yool

See more WIPs at Tami's Blog

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dispatches from the unphotogenic kitchen

After seeing some gorgeous soft pretzels on This Boy Knits, I was struck by a desire to make my own. So I did. Except mine turned out more like un-pretzels.

A selection of mangled pretzels

Once I had formed the pretzels, they stuck so badly to the baking sheet that most of them got mangled as I tried to poach them. Next time I try this, I'll have to find a solution to this stickiness. Maybe my dough was too moist.


The ones that didn't fall apart completely swelled to become vaguely pretzel-y buns without holes. I suspect they didn't rise enough in the first rise? Maybe?

Anyway, they are very tasty despite their blobbiness!

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

Friday, February 18, 2011

further inspiration fodder


I received two sock books for Christmas. Fittingly, I'd knitted both of the givers socks for Christmas, but they couldn't have known that when they bought these books for me! I joked that now I have no choice but to become a hardcore sock knitter. While I'm not ready to cast on any more socks at the moment, I do find poring over these books very inspiring. 2010 was my year of committed sock knitting - maybe in 2011 I'll become hardcore? We'll see.

Think Outside the Sox is full of crazy. I mean that in a good way, but wheee. There are lots of patterns ranging from fairly standard to insane in terms of construction, techniques, and colours. At the risk of seeming dull, I'm currently more drawn to the fairly standard ones than the wild ones, although I love browsing and considering the insane ones. I'm most likely to knit the Interlochen Cables socks by Angela Sivers. Not sure why I like them so much, but the simple cables appeal to me. I also love Drip Candles by Kirsten Hall, which looks like a great pattern for using up leftovers.


I'd been eyeing Sock Innovation online for some time, so I was excited to look through the book. Some of the patterns are daunting, and I look forward to the challenge - I kind of want to make them all, but I'm not sure where to start. Currently Devon, Cauchy, and Rick are vying for top of the queue.

Also, in awkward fangirlishness... I got the book signed when Cookie A was in Edinburgh a few weeks ago.

Celebrity knitters, you guys. I can't remember the last time I got a book signed by its author, but there you go. The opportunity presented itself and I felt compelled. (Obviously, she was super nice. And while we're at it, I also chatted a bit with Anne Hanson, who is also super nice. Whahey.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

pretty world


I feel lucky to witness such beautiful sunsets from my living room.



Saturday, February 12, 2011

Generosity and inspiration

I'm in a bit of a rut knittingwise and otherwise right now, but at least on the knitting front I have some exciting things to bring me out of it.

Today I received a very generous gift as a "random act of kindness" from a raveler in the UK RAK group.


Alpaca yarn, destined to become several pairs of colourwork mittens over the next few months.


So soft and lovely. The mixture of neutrals and colours is perfect. I can't wait to cast-on.


I borrowed some stitch dictionaries from the library. I love browsing stitch patterns, even if I don't have any reason to use them. They are inspiring and engage my imagination.


How do you get your enthusiasm back?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

WIP Wednesday - blobs

Not much to show for myself these days. I have two works in progress at the blob stage of knitting, so they'll have to do for today.


This brownish blob will eventually be the inspiringly named 113-17 jacket with raglan sleeve and pattern on yoke in ”Silke Alpaca” from DROPS design. Oddly enough, it doesn't have raglan sleeves, so I have no idea why it is called that. But never mind. I am rising to the challenge, since the pattern has some idiosyncracies and a wacky wacky chart... Also I'm doing a few mods that other ravelers have done as well, so it may not end up resembling the original. Whee!

Watch while I attempt to be artistic with the brown blob.

Blog blob blobby blob

Next up: blue blob.


This is an experiment in Manos Silk Blend that I hope will turn into my first written pattern. It's a circle-scarf / cowl thing, or will be eventually. I love this yarn, and kind of want everything I wrap around my neck to be silk blend. Heh.


It's not really this colour. I did some colour correction so it no longer looks turquoise, but the real colour is darker and deeper.

That's me done. Off to apply to more jobs I won't get! Okay, no more whining. (But seriously, Universe? Get someone to hire me. I swear I'm talented and awesome.)

See more WIPS at Tami's Blog!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Last of the Christmas FOs

I can finally show you the Podster Mitts I made for my brother for Christmas. He carries around an mp3 player all the time, so I thought he'd appreciate the clever "ipod thumb" flaps.


Pattern: Podster Gloves by Glenna C.

Yarn: Rowan Felted Tweed DK



I wanted to make this man-sized and warm, so I used a DK yarn instead of fingering weight. Thing is, felted tweed isn't a true DK - I later learned that its recommended gauge is DK to allow for drapiness, etc. Nevermind. I actually like how the fabric turned out at this non-drapy gauge. My gauge was about the same as the pattern called for, but I increased the length as I was going. They seem to fit, since my brother's hands are narrow but long.


The pattern is awesome, but quite fiddly. It has to be fiddly because flip mitts are constructed in a fiddly way no matter how you look at it. I definitely want a pair of these for myself, but it will be a while before I can face doing all those fingers again. (Thank goodness I didn't do the full glove option).

I finished these at the beginning of December but forgot to take photos before I sent them off, and it took a while to get photos of them, since people with lives understandably don't think blog photos are a top priority! Heh.

See more FOs at Tami's blog!