Pretend Interview with Pam MacKenzie | Part 1

Pam MacKenzie, who blogs and writes a column about knitting that gets posted on, interviewed one of my favorite knitwear designers, Angela Hahn.

I first became aware of Angela when I saw her #30 Aran Wrap Cardigan in Vogue Knitting Fall 2008 that combines two of my favorite things—tons of cables and minimal shaping and finishing.

As usual, VK’s styling is about as helpful as their pattern names.

Who wears a slinky floral slip dress and chunky jeweled necklaces with a heavily cabled casual cardigan unless you’re running out to check your mail and forget that a) it’s 45 degrees outside and b) you’re not Madonna?

It wasn’t until Angela blogged about her design, modeling it herself with khakis and a chunky belt and showing it from every angle, that knitters began to knit it.

I’m one of those knitters.

So anyway, back to the interview. If you squint at Pam’s questions and edit them slightly, they can be applied to me and my designs, and since Pam hasn’t asked to interview me yet*, why not pretend that she did?

Q. I first became aware of your designs when someone recommended the Aran wrap you designed for the 2008 Fall issue of Vogue Knitting. She said it was a design that would work for women of all ages. I would add that it would work for women of most body types. I bought alpaca yarn for it and plan to make it one of these days. When did you actually start design knitwear? And what inspired you to do it?

A. I’ve been a serious knitter since high school, but back then, I knit patterns to the letter. As my skills and confidence grew, I started designing my own things. I still have one of my first designs that I made up as I went along—a navy blue vest with vertical pink stripes knit up in Sugar ‘n’ Cream cotton.

My first officially official design is one I self-published in 2009, my River Road Fingerless Mitts.

Holding my favorite book.

Q. You have two pages {half a page} of designs on Ravelry. They range from hats and cowls to sweaters, from shawls to mittens and even a tote bag {hot water bottle cozy}.  And you use all the techniques, from lace to cables to stranded knitting. Your designs are symmetrical and asymmetrical. As the designer, do you see unifying principles or qualities in your work? I see you reinterpreting classics in original ways.

A. I love designing things that are simpler than they look. My aforementioned River Road Fingerless Mitts are a good example. They look cabled, but there are no cable crossings—only knits, purls, increases, and decreases. All four of those happen every other round, but if you can do those things, you can turn out a very nice pair of mitts.

Every design starts with the idea to do something a little different, so I focus on the details. I’m also a perfectionist and will spend hours figuring out a way to make sweater ribbing flow into a cabled design or I’ll knit several versions of the same thing, trying this thing or that.  And I’m always thinking about the knitter, looking for ways to make the knitting of a thing easier.

Q. Where do you get design ideas/inspiration? Do you start with stitch dictionaries or with everyday objects or yarn when you design?

A. Ha. Writers get asked this question a lot, and the answer is: everywhere. But it’s not the idea, it’s the execution.

I can’t get enough of stitch dictionaries. They’re often my bedtime reading. I love paging through them, waiting for something to knock on the door of my design eye. I can pass over the same stitch pattern five hundred times, and one day I see it for the first time.

From writing novels, I’ve learned that the making comes in the doing. I can think about a design, but I must have the needles and yarn in my hand to create anything. A hat I designed for Knitscene came into existence when I started swatching with two different yarns. My head didn’t know what I was doing, but my hands did. After I cast on, it took all of 10 minutes for the design to start taking shape on the needles. (That doesn’t happen often enough.)

I also like to zoom in on elements from other designs and reinterpret them. Or take something minor and make it the main element.

Q. You have two designs in the spring issue of {an upcoming design in the Holiday 2014 issue of Interweave Knits and another in the Fall 2014 issue of Knitscene}, the Plumage Wrap and the Zephirine Cardigan. Although they are very different, they both appear to me to have a sort of rounded yoke around the shoulders {hat-like quality to them}. One is a lacy sweater, the other is a cabled wrap {twisted-stitch hat and the other hat has a colorful swirl}. Did you design them at about the same time? Did designing one of these projects give you ideas about designing the other one?

A. Nope and nope. But, like a lot of designers, I try to get the most out of a single design. I used the cable from my Very Blackberry Pullover on my Irene Adler Pillow. I used the star pattern from my Harts and Stars Cozy on my Starlight Cowl. And of course, there’s my developing Ironheart series that uses the same stranded colorwork heart design on a sweater and a hat.

Okay, that’s the first part of my pretend interview with Pam MacKenzie. The second part of her interview with Angela Hahn will be posted next week, and so will mine.

*Whenever one of my yoga students says “I can’t do it,” I reply, “You can’t do it yet.” Then they keep showing up for class and doing the work and pretty soon, I’m not hearing “I can’t” anymore. The making comes in the doing.