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.


  1. Loving the shawl, and loving the photos on your blog too!

  2. Great interview! I had never heard of Ashley Knowlton before; thanks for featuring her. Her designs are lovely. :)

  3. Lovely interview... Ashley has such fantastic designs! Thanks for sharing!