Interview with Jen Arnall-Culliford

knitwear_380.CR2
(Jen Arnall-Culliford in her Puffin Apple hat design)

As part of our Cross-Country collaboration, Jen and I thought it would be interesting to interview each other about our different approaches to producing our different designs. (You can read Jen’s interview with me over on her blog today.) Jen is a sharp, focused and highly professional tech editor. In this capacity, she has worked with me on many projects, including Colours of Shetland. But she’s also an accomplished designer, though for some bizarre reason she doesn’t really think of herself as such. This is something that I think needs to change, because Jen designs beautiful, well-thought out patterns, and has, I think, a genuine feel for the structure and behaviour of textured stitches. She has a real knack of bringing a classic design to life with a well-thought out, well-placed motif, such as that which you can see on her Puffin Apple hat above, or the Bruton Hoody (below) that she designed for Cross-Country Knitting. Jen, you are a talented designer, and must keep on designing! (Anyway, you can’t stop now as there are already plans afoot for Cross-Country Knitting Volume Two! ho ho.)

1Croplr
(Bruton Hoody)

I should also mention that, as well as being available via Ravelry as an ebook, Cross Country Knitting, Volume One is now also available as a beautifully-produced 20 page booklet, which you can order in print from Magcloud.

So here’s Jen’s interview.

Where did you start, Jen, when planning this design?
When we hatched the Cross-Country Knitting plan, I had pretty much hung up my designer hat, and decided to concentrate on editing. I am constantly faced with the temptation of casting on the projects that I edit, and I’m lucky enough to edit many of my favourite designers, so I was generally feeling as if I didn’t have much to add to the vast number of stunning patterns that are already out there. And then something like this came along, and tempted me out of “retirement”. The opportunity of publishing an eBook with you was too much to resist, you temptress! There are also situations where I want an item, and I just can’t find the right pattern out there. I design for pragmatic reasons, rather than because I have a constant supply of inspiration just welling up within me. In many ways, I see myself as a reluctant designer, with enormously encouraging friends within the industry.
Anyway, when I do decide to design, different designs take me in different ways! This time I knew that I wanted to design something for Jim. I knew that it couldn’t be too fussy, but I wanted some knitting interest as well.
Inspiration came from a number of places…
* Jim wears lots of zipped cardigans and hoodies.
* I had a vague memory of a T-shirt he once loved that had a trio of stripes down the left side.
* Maria Erlbacher’s Twisted-Stitch Knitting is one of my favourite stitch pattern collections.
* Editing Nick Atkinson patterns for The Knitter had shown me some clever ways of knitting strips within a piece without having to break off yarns.
*Over a period of days, these different strands came together in my head to create a hoody with interesting construction and a twisted stitch panel on one side.

How did you go about choosing yarn for the design? How much did you swatch?

Ever since I used Excelana 4ply for my Snawheid, I have wanted to use Excelana (from Susan Crawford and John Arbon Textiles) for a garment. It was SO pleasurable to knit with. I’ve had some in my stash for ages, and cracked open a ball for swatching. I tried both the DK and the 4ply weights in good-sized swatches (this is unusual for me – I’m usually a lax-swatcher who will get away with a micro-swatch whenever possible – naughty Jen!). The yarn is perfect for texture work. It’s a lovely balance of great stitch definition, springy woolliness and softness. The Persian Grey shade was also spot on for Jim’s clothes palette, but not too dark to hide the cable panel. The hoody would also be gorgeous in the Cornflower Blue shade, or Ruby Red perhaps!

jenheid1
(Jen’s Snawheid, knit in Excelana)

Is knitting your design an essential part of the process for you?

Again, it very much depends on the design. Some designs evolve during the knitting (Puffin Apple with its many rips and reknits stands out here!), and others are so well-formed in my head that I can start with writing the pattern straight away. I’m lucky enough to work very closely with Kim Hobley, who does a lot of sample knitting for me. She often helps me to create a design in a reasonable timescale that would otherwise have been impossible. For Bruton, I was working on a smaller-scale version (which is currently in hibernation). I needed to knit the technique so that I could explain the construction clearly in the written instructions, but in this case Kim knitted the full-size sample. We see each other regularly, so she can let me know quickly if anything isn’t going to plan, and I can check on progress too. As a technical editor I’m very used to imagining through the steps of a project and ensuring that the instructions are clear, without actually knitting it myself. I’m also happy to make calculations from the swatch and write up the whole thing from that point.
In the end I have chosen the DK weight for Bruton, as I knew I would be more likely to knit a man’s hoody in DK rather than 4ply, and the swatch has a satisfying weight and drape to it.

CCK interview2
(Jen’s swatches for the Bruton Hoody)

What are your aims when you write up the pattern?

I go with the same principle I used when I wrote up my Chemistry PhD thesis! Someone should be able to easily follow my instructions and get the exact same results. They shouldn’t be left wondering whether I did it one way or another. I aim for as consistent a pattern writing style as possible, with a balance between including lots of detail, but not over-complicating things. You can’t account for everyone’s pattern preferences, but I aim for a set of instructions where the information is presented as logically as possible. You and I have fairly similar pattern writing styles, so we were able to make a few minor changes on each side and ended up with something which works for both of us. I lost the cast off/bind off battle (it wasn’t really a battle!), but in return I was able to capitalise your abbreviations. Compromise being an essential part of teamwork.
(Kate says: ho ho, next time everything will be lowercase)

CCK interview1
(Jen’s thesis!)

Were there any challenges that were specific to designing a man’s garment?

Getting the balance of designing something that Jim would wear, but that knitters would not be bored to tears by was tricky! I’m happy with the finished garment, and Jim has been wearing it non-stop for the last 12 months, so I’m guessing he is happy with the outcome as well. I’ve been holding myself back from stealing it for my wardrobe too!

VTinHoody2
(Jim is happy in his hoody)

11lr
(Jen is happy in Jim’s hoody)

Thankyou, Jen!

Cross-Country Knitting is here!

CCK_webbanner

I am very excited to announce the publication of Cross-Country Knitting, Volume One!

Cross-Country knitting is a collaborative venture between myself and my lovely designer-comrade, Jen Arnall-Culliford. Jen and I live at opposite ends of the UK: she’s down there, in Somerset, and I’m up here, in Scotland. Yet the internet has enabled us to work with one another, and, as well as forming a friendship, has forged a bond between us about many knitterly things. Jen and I often talk about our design ideas, and about our general approach to design. Interestingly, both our design ideas, and our approaches to them, are really very different: in many respects, we have distinct styles, but they are styles that work very well together. Given this, it occurred to us that it might be fun to test our collaborative acumen with a joint design challenge: what would two very different designers come up with when working to the same general brief? The first challenge we set ourselves was to create a man’s garment that was functional, wearable, and would appeal to contemporary masculine tastes. It was an especially enjoyable challenge for me as, though I’ve knitted many sweaters for Tom, I had never actually produced a man’s design before. Well, this pair of garments – totally different, but distinctly complementary – is what we came up with!

CCK_FeaturedPatt-LARGE

Jen designed the Bruton Hoody . . .

corben

. . . and I designed the Machrihanish Vest.

Tom

I’ll be back tomorrow to tell you all about Machrihanish, (which knitted up in lovely Jamieson & Smith Shetland Heritage is of course, the garment whose steeks I was finishing off the other week), but for now I just wanted to announce the launch of Cross-Country Knitting, and the release of the e-book of Volume One!

In Cross-Country Knitting, Volume One, you will find patterns for both the Bruton Hoody and the Machrihanish Vest, plus a feature article by Jim Arnall-Culliford (aka, the inimitable Veuf Tricot) on the perils of giving and receiving hand-knits, as well as a cut-out-and-keep Cross-Country Knitting gift tag to attach to your finished knits. The e-book is now available via Ravelry, and the print booklet will very shortly be available via MagCloud.

Jim’s running (and knitting) for Refuge

VeufTricot

Who is this man? Well, some of you may know him as Veuf Tricot, author of the scabrous and witty column in UK magazine Simply Knitting. But I know him as Jim, husband of my good friend and colleague Jen. As well as being a teacher, writer, and all-round good egg, Jim is currently in training to run his first marathon in London on April 21st in support of Refuge — a UK charity which supports women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Not content with predictable methods of seeking sponsorship through through direct donations, Jim whipped out his needles and yarn and got to work to raise some cash. With the assistance of three great independent yarn dyers and, of course, the inimitable Jen, Jim has created a collection of three marathon-themed accessories, with all sales going towards his fundraising efforts. I recently caught up with Jim to hear more about the project.

Tell us about your three designs, and the inspiration behind them. 

It started off with an email from Sarah at Babylonglegs offering to do a special colourway to help with my fundraising efforts. We then both wondered about doing a pattern as well. This was on a weekend when I spent a lot of time waiting at traffic lights driving up to Manchester. I can’t imagine where the colour choices came from! . . .

ready2(The Ready Mitts will keep your hands warm during Winter training, and are knitted up in Fyberspates MCN sport)

. . .The choice of accessories was quite straightforward. Fingerless gloves are a must for winter running, so they are as much practical as decorative. Similarly, the hat had to serve the purpose of having a thicker brim than crown to keep my Prince Charles ears warm without running the risk of overheating. I also had visions of knitters cheering me along the marathon route in London swinging their scarves around their heads like continental football fans as I serenely loped past.

steady1
(Jim’s ears are cosy in his Steady hat, knitted up in in Skein Queen’s beautifully rich and vibrant Saffron ‘Desire’ yarn)



This is your first marathon. What has been the most challenging aspect of the training?



The training itself is generally fine. It’s the worrying when I miss a session due to work, injury, illness, or simple exhaustion that’s the hard part. My real fear is that I won’t be sufficiently prepared. That and getting up on a Sunday morning to leave the comfort of a warm bed to pound the streets in the pouring rain.


Can you turn a heel?

I’ve turned my ankle on many occasions and turned stomachs, but I don’t think I’ve ever turned heads and never a heel.



ready1

Some adventurous marathon runners, like Susie Hewer, have found ways to knit and run simultaneously. Will you be attempting to combine these two activities?

No. I can’t do more than one thing at once. Before Christmas, I couldn’t run and look where I was going at the same time, so I found myself landing face-first onto the pavement. In my defence, it was dark and the recycling box I’d tripped over was black.



Veuf Tricot had a lot to say about the penchant for pompoms this past Winter. What is your knitting-trend forecast for the Spring? 


Cabled onesies inspired by Aran jumpers. Infantile, but traditional.



You have documented Jen’s focused obsession with all things teal-hued . . . but is there a particular shade of yarn that floats your boat? 


My appreciation of all things knitted for me is well documented. I don’t think there’s a particular single colour that I must have absolutely everything in. Having said that, I do like my green Fyberspates Gloucester Tweed socks and the Skein Queen Steady Saffron for the Steady Hat in particular.



steady2

Veuf Tricot documents the world of knitting with a certain amused detachment .  . . and yet you are a knitter and designer yourself, who is completely implicated in that world. What I am saying is that despite your occasionally scabrous remarks you clearly love knitting really. What’s your response? 


I am a knitter and designer, not a Knitter and Designer. While I’ve been satisfied with the outcomes thus far, I’ve no great affection for knitting itself. My being part of Knitterworld is probably more about my marriage than for knitting. I think that the columns I’ve done for Simply Knitting are a kind of alternative to love letters or poetry, neither of which are really me. Despite my antipathy towards Knitting, I still pay attention, take it all in and support her in her incoherent gibbering.

go1
(Jen will be supporting Jim wearing her Go! scarf, knitted up in Babylonglegs ‘semi-precious’ in a specially-dyed colourway)



Finally, tell us why you are running for Refuge?

Domestic violence is more prevalent within our society than most people realise. It’s not something you often see out in public, but something you learn about long afterwards. We have friends who have suffered domestic violence, or lived in fear of violence, and we simply haven’t known about it until much later on. Refuge work with mostly women and children to help them to escape from their abusive relationships and move on. Some funding for the services provided by Refuge comes from the public purse, but with budgets being cut, fundraising is becoming ever more important. I could have set up a monthly direct debit and been a supporter of the charity, but felt that I could do more.
The second reason is that Refuge has become a family charity. Both my sister and one of my brothers have run the London Marathon to raise awareness of Refuge and my sister-in-law has worked for them. Last summer there was a bit of an awkward family dinner with fingers pointed at both me and my other brother with cries of, “Who’s next?”
Of course, the main reason is that I have tried to escape from having to model for Jen’s blog. Unfortunately, it has all gone a bit wrong as I’ve had to model my own designs. Still, it will be worth it if I hit my fundraising target.

Thankyou, Jim!

Running a marathon is no small feat — living with another runner I know what a gargantuan emotional and physical effort the training takes and what a massive achievement it is to run that distance on the day. Jim’s fundraising target is £2,000. He has currently raised just over half that sum. Please support him and Refuge by purchasing the Ready, Steady, Go! ebook via Ravelry. For just five pounds you’ll receive three great patterns and help him reach his goal. If you prefer to make a direct donation, you can do so here.

go2

Refuge help run the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 08082000247. Call if you are worried yourself or about someone you know.

Fun in Frome

gables

Did I mention that I really love my work? This week work took me to Frome — a beautiful small town in a part of Somerset which I have never visited. I was there to see Jen . . .

jen

. . . and also got to hang out with Jim (the inimitable Veuf Tricot) and Scooter. The latter is a very smart feline — far too smart to injure his dignity posing for photographs.

scooter

Jen and I worked (and plotted) really hard, and then then took an afternoon off to potter around town. I’m really glad we did, as Frome is a place that seems to demand pottering.

Everywhere you look, there are inviting windows to peer into. . .

window

tea

And things to look at . . .

dogsbestfriend

bouquets

seagullmask
(This needle-felted Seagull mask was one of an incredible collection in a shop called OWL. )

On Catherine Hill, there are several fabulous vintage stores, selling niche and carefully curated garments and objects. I love this selection of cloches . . .

cloches

. . . and am concerned that this dress and its very particular green is going to haunt me.

shirtwaister

Catherine Hill also boasts a lovely haberdashery shop called Millie Moon

milliemoon

I have a mild addiction to ribbons and trims . . .

trims

. . . which was certainly fed there.

spoils

And best of all, Catherine Hill has its own lovely yarn shop – Marmalade Yarns

marmaladesign

In this extremely pretty and well-situated shop, Catriona and Maxine sell a superb selection of British yarns from mainstream producers like Rowan to some of the best independents like Skein Queen, Fyberspates, and Shilasdair. Marmalade Yarns is also a stockist of (ahem) ME. I don’t think it will ever stop being exciting to visit a place that sells my book and patterns.

marmaladeyarns
(Jen and Catriona outside Marmalade Yarns. Yes, Catriona is wearing an o w l sweater!)

Thankyou, Jen, for a fun and productive couple of days, and for a great introduction to Frome!

woolfest


Herdwick lamb


Mel, Felix and I – setting up shop


Wearing our Deco cardigans, and ready for, um, action. . .


Woolfest throng


Periphery


Susan’s stand was utterly delectable. Everything was displayed so beautifully.


Customers admiring Helen’s gorgeous wares.

Natalie’s fab herd-of-sheep stitch markers.


Jen and Nic having a giggle.


Lily France looking fabulous in the Betty Mouat sweater


Bruno the North Ronaldsay ram. What a lovely old boy he is.


Woolsack cushions.


Deconstruction.

There are two rubbish things about my present situation: one is suffering from post-stroke fatigue, and the other is worrying about the grim possibility of whether or not one is going to be suffering from post-stroke fatigue. I can tell you that there was quite a bit of the latter in the lead-up to Woolfest. This was the first time I’d attended any sort of public ‘event’ in my new professional capacity and I was (to put it mildly) concerned about whether or not I was going to be able to manage. Happily, I have three amazing comrades – Tom, Mel and Felix – who shouldered much of the burden, and thanks to them, everything was totally FINE. Things were very hectic, and the weather was insane, but I met many, many lovely people, and it was grand to see folk walking around in sweaters I’d designed, and being generally enthusiastic about what I do. It has been quite a weekend, so I’m going to take a few days off to relax now. In the meantime, I have released the Sheep Carousel and Tír Chonaill patterns as digital downloads, and I will be back in a few days with news about the availability of my kits, if anyone is interested.

Textisles is out!

WHOOT! I am exceedingly happy to report that Textisles Issue 2 is now available!

In this issue you receive:
Two patterns (for the Betty Mouat sweater and the BMC)
and four feature articles (three by me, and one by Susan Crawford). There is also a “meet the maker” interview with Griseldis Schmitthuber, who, with a little knitterly-know how and a few skeins of Lana Grosa sock yarn, whipped up a truly fabulous swimsuit.

And there’s more!

Thanks to the unstoppable Melanie Ireland, there are 3 video tutorials available to help those of you who want to knit the Betty Mouat patterns, but are unfamiliar with the techniques that they involve. The videos look at: 1) no-purl garter stitch; 2) working with several colours; and 3) cockleshell lace. You can view the tutorials here.

Both patterns were test knitted by Melanie Ireland and tech-edited by Jen Arnall-Culliford. I love working with Jen and Mel. I love my work! Seriously, I have had a blast putting this whole thing together.

So what are you waiting for?

Download your very own copy of Textisles Issue 2 today!

B o r e a l

We had a lovely day out in the Highlands today. Bruce loves a good walk up there – though, as you can see, he is not a fan of sitting still and posing for a photo.

Would you like to see what I’ve got on underneath that jacket?

Boreal — my new design!

Two years ago, just before Christmas, we were out walking on the same West Highland hillside. I spent several happy hours tramping through the snow, photographing trees and undergrowth, and marveling at their transformation in the frozen landscape. You can see those photographs in this post. I was particularly transfixed by the effects of snow on the branches of fallen trees . . .

. . . and I decided then that I’d like to knit something inspired by those West-Highland conifers and their snow-covered branches. Two years later, this is the result.

Boreal is knit in Artesano Aran, a well-spun, hard-wearing 50/50 wool-alpaca blend. It is one of my favourite aran-weight yarns, and is superb for Winter colourwork, as it makes a lovely dense, warm fabric. I knit this dress from it a couple of years ago, which is still going strong, and still looks great. There’s a good range of Wintery colours, so it was an ideal choice for this sweater.

Boreal is knit from the bottom-up, and uses a modified seamless yoke construction.

The sizing covers a 32″ to a 50″ bust. I’m wearing my sweater with a couple of woolly layers underneath, and about 2.5″ positive ease. It is really warm, exceptionally cosy, and quite possibly ludicrously seasonal.

It makes me feel jolly, anyway.

I’ve spent over a month working away on this sweater and its pattern, and I confess to being very pleased with the finished result in both knitted and written form. The pattern has been tech edited by the brilliant Jen-Arnall Culliford, and test knitted by the equally brilliant Melanie Ireland. I hope to show you some photos of Mel’s rather different Boreal sweater very soon! Anyway, if you’d like to make your own, the pattern is now available here or here.

It was so nice to be out in the hills today – I do love a good Winter walk. We had a grand one, and our day concluded with some suitable refreshment from what has to be one of the best places to buy beer in Scotland.

Slainte!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,067 other followers