interweave knits

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.


No Backing Out Now

This week, Interweave Knits sent me a PDF proof that contains my hat pattern they accepted for their 2014 Holiday Gifts issue.



My pattern. In Interweave Knits. On page 100. Laid out and formatted with three professional photos (the actual sample hat knit by me, modeled on a darling girl who looks like Pippa Middleton) and my name and the little note about my design inspiration set off in a box made with squiggly lines.

They sent this document to me so I could review my pattern and make any changes or comments. I found a few errors (I used to be a technical writer and editor, so I know how to review something to within an inch of its life), but mostly I noticed that they published only about half of what I sent them.

The editor, Lisa Shroyer, had asked for a men’s size in addition to the women’s, which I included in my pattern, but they didn’t use it. I gave tips for when to remove stitch markers and specified the exact number of the round on which you should make the crown decreases, both of which they left out. I also provided line-by-line written instructions, but they used only the chart. (Note: I include such helpful info in all of my self-published patterns.)

My writing has been published a few times, so I know that magazines have to shoehorn in as many features and advertisers as they can, but it’s still surprising and disappointing to see how much and what they cut.

As with most things accepted by a reputable publication, whether poetry or short story or recipe or hat pattern, there’s a “kill fee” should they decide not to publish it. It’s a fraction of the original fee they offered, and it’s supposed to be used toward the side dishes served with the crow you’ll have to eat after bragging to friends, family, and countrymen for months about how you’re going to be published in a national—nay international—magazine.

Well, no crows will be digested because of me. (This time.) The PDF they sent contains the entire section that includes all the other designers’ patterns too. What this means is that my pattern is an integral part of the layout and there’s no killing it. Yay!

In all three photos, Pippa isn’t looking at the camera, so I figured my hat didn’t have a chance of making the cover. (Yes, I’m already going there. Why not?) But then I looked at other covers, and…

Please join me in sending up prayers that mine is the first pattern you’ll see.

Design WIP: Cabled Sweater > Inspiration

I’m starting a new design—an Aran-/Celtic-/fisherman-type sweater. It’s something that’s been on my knitting mind for a few years, ever since I read somewhere that designing one of these sweaters is part of The Knitting Guild Association‘s Master Knitter program. (I don’t know if that’s true because I’m not in the program, and TKGA doesn’t post the requirements on their website, but it doesn’t matter for these purposes.)

I’ve designed several heavily cabled items, but not something this complex because it’s a big, serious project that’s going to take a lot of time, and over the fall and winter, I had been trying to publish as many patterns as I could, which means small, quick items like hats and scarves. I’ve also been responding to several calls for submissions, designing small stuff for those.

But now I’m ready for total immersion in an intricate project that’s going to require every single one of my little gray cells, and probably all 11 seasons of Poirot. Twice.

Several things have inspired me.

Hop into the wayback machine, and we’ll see Alice Starmore’s book Aran Knitting, specifically her design, St. Brigid.


I haven’t knit this because I can’t afford the yarn.

We’ll also see Kim Hargreaves’ Demi from Vintage Knits.

Cables *and* twisted stitches.

Then last year, I knit Melissa Leapman’s #14 Cabled Turtleneck (Vogue Knitting Winter 2012/13).

Mine is on the left.

Then Kathy Zimmerman’s Bread Basket Pullover came out in Interweave Knits Winter 2014 in one of my favorite colors.

(c) Interweave Press

Hot pink cables.

I’ve also been working on my Stormy Cables sweater that has me making eleventy hundred cable crossings every four rounds. (Which you would think would put me off knitting any more cables, but it has done just the opposite.)

Earning my PhD in cabling without a cable needle.

And I’ve been seeing and pinning a lot of these types of sweaters on Pinterest.

Infinite cable combinations make these sweaters as unique as snowflakes.

Let the swatching begin.

Back Cover Intrigue

Except for a few lapses here and there, I’ve been a subscriber of both Vogue Knitting and Interweave Knits for many years. And in all that time, Classic Elite Yarns has sponsored the back cover of both magazines.

Subscriptions don’t pay a publication’s light bill; advertising does, and both the inside front cover and the back cover are the biggest, most prominent, and most expensive spaces you can buy. Ergo, Classic Elite spends a significant portion of their advertising budget to have their marginally interesting patterns featured back there.

I have a few magazines, and this sponsorship goes back years and years. From my own library, I see that they’re on the back covers of Interweave Knits’ Spring 2001 issue and Vogue Knitting’s Fall/Winter 1988. Probably even further back. They’re also on the back cover of the few issues I have of Knitscene, Knit Simple, and Knit.Wear.

So that means that Classic Elite has been sponsoring the back cover of VK for at least 26 years. They’ve changed the typeface they use, their style and styling, the placement of their name in the ad—center, sideways, top, bottom—and their models. But that four-color ad has always belonged to Classic Elite Yarns.

Until now.

The back cover of Vogue Knitting’s Spring/Summer 2014 issue

I always hold my cowl up with my hand, don’t you?

is sponsored by

Good thing she’s wearing tights.

We’ll be in suspense for a few months as we wait for the next issue of VK. Was Rowan’s sponsorship is a one-time thing, or has Classic Elite been toppled for good? If so, then the question is, what happened?

Organizing 134 Knitting Magazines

A couple of years out of college and into my “career” in the 90s, I had lost interest in knitting, so (it still makes me queasy to think about this), I gave away all of the needles, magazines, and yarn I had accumulated since the early 80s.

And it wasn’t even to a knitting friend. I didn’t have any at the time. I threw everything into bags and dumped them at a thrift store. Yes, years’ worth of now-vintage Vogue Knitting.

When I picked up knitting again—on a trip to Monterrey, Mexico of all things—I had to rebuild my stash and library. And since I had money and an eBay account, it happened pretty quickly. According to my Ravelry library, I have 134 magazines, which seems like a low count compared to what I can see on my shelves.

Eventually there came a time that I needed to organize them, which was on January 6th, apparently, because that’s when Amazon says I bought eight of these magazine files—with two-day shipping because I was motivated. But the files have been sitting on the floor of my studio since January 8th because I’m not sure how to go about organizing them.

By publication, in issue order is the obvious answer, but that’s not how I like to use my magazines. Sometimes I’ll grab a bunch of fall and winter issues and look through the designs, or I’ll want to compare Vogue Knitting‘s spring designs with the spring designs of Interweave Knits. (I don’t know why; I just do.)

So, do I break them up into seasons? Or split them into two types: warm weather, which includes the spring and summer issues, and cold weather, which includes fall, winter, and holiday. How do I handle all the different publications I have? I own one or two copies of other magazines, like Knitscene, Knit Simple, Rowan, etc. Do they get their own magazine file or do I mix them in with the big ones? And what about all those kitschy vintage leaflets?

I also have to consider that I’ll have to put them back where they came from after I use them, so I need a system that allows me to do that easily or I won’t do it and I’ll be back to the same mess I have now.

I looked online to see what other people had done, but it appears that no one but me has this problem. I had a glimmer of hope when I found this post about organizing magazines by month, but these are for home arts magazines that offer seasonal ideas, so in that case, it would be helpful to have every July magazine filed together when it’s time to plan a picinic for the 4th.

After much thinking and mulling, considering and rejecting, and a glass or two of merlot, here’s how I finally decided to file them: by publication, in issue order. Yep, the obvious answer. It’s really the best way, because of how I use them most of the time. I’ll do a pattern search on Ravelry, looking for, say, pullovers with cables in worsted weight yarn, and choose the option to show me patterns in my library. So, chronological order is what’s going to work best when I go hunting for the magazine.

After purging almost every vintage leaflet and several of the magazines that I know I’ll never use, the onsie-twosies are lumped together in one magazine file. Rowan gets its own section because its size demands it. And Vogue Knitting and Interweave Knits each have their own shelf.

On the bottom shelf, notice that Vogue Knitting changed from colored spines to white around the year 2007.

My Ravelry library is now accurate, reflecting 150 magazines. (I hadn’t added absolutely everything to the database, apparently.)

How do you organize your magazines?

The Second Love of My Life

After a ho-hum career as an amateur sleuth mystery author, I’m finally doing what I love: knitting. All day, every day. It’s as great as it sounds. Infinitely better than writing books because I can knit while I watch the The Rockford Files.

On my computer is a Knitting folder with a sub-folder called My Patterns that has several more sub-folders with the names of patterns I’ve self-published.


A growing list of self-published patterns.

I have to leave my house once in a while to earn money or go grocery shopping, but for the most part, I have all day to knit and knit and knit. I sunbathe when the weather is nice. I go for walks. I meet friends for coffee. Then I go back to my studio and knit.

I’ve sold a few patterns, but not enough to make grocery shopping the only reason I leave my house.

Two of my hat patterns have been accepted by both Interweave Knits and Knitscene, both of which will be released at the end of 2014, and I’m hoping that international exposure will set my sail. More on these hats later.

I have tried many, many times to get into Knitty, but still no joy. I haven’t given up, though. (Well, I have given up, but then I try again.)

On the bright side:

  • I have a computer with which I can write up patterns.
  • I have more ideas than I’ll ever have time to knit.
  • I’m not writing books on deadline for a publisher that has screwed me seven ways from Sunday on everything from promotions to editing to royalties.