An Interview with Carol Feller

Carol Feller Lace Workshop

Carol will be one of our special guest designer workshop teachers in May. We find a out a little more about what makes her knitting click…

When did you first start designing knitwear and how did that come about?

If someone had told me 5 years ago that I would be designing knitwear I’m not sure I would have believed them! When I left school I spend a year doing a foundation art course. I wanted to do graphic design in college but during the year I found textile design very compelling. However the complete immersion in art left me missing more formal study so I went on to do my degree in engineering (Structural Engineering). After that I moved to Florida for a few years with my husband, have since had 4 boys and done many different jobs. I enjoy working by myself so I have always worked from home so that my schedule is more flexible.

I first began designing in 2007 and my first published pattern was in Winter Knitty (Doddy). I don’t think I really felt like a designer then, just a knitter who preferred to work from their own head rather than a pattern. Within a few months I found myself obsessively knitting and designing. It eventually reached a point where I was unhappy doing anything else! I think that this is common for knitwear designers, they are so miserable when they aren’t designing that they essentially have no choice. From there I kept writing patterns, first getting designs accepted for the book ‘Knitting in the Sun’ and then Yarn Forward magazine. Working with others as a designer really helped me on the road to becoming a professional. I had a clearer sense of what was expected of me and how to produce it. As with any other job you only get better with practice.

Last Autumn I had my first pattern published in Interweave and have had a design accepted for almost every issue since then. I have to keep pinching myself that this is actually happening to me, it all feels a bit like a fairytale!

I now regularly self-publish patterns through my website Stolen Stitches and will have a book coming out in 2011.

What is your favourite fibre or fibre blend to design with and why?

I actually enjoy working with a large variety of fibres and yarn weight. Every fibre behaves differently, creates a different texture and responses differently to stitch patterns so keeping a big variety in my work keeps me on my toes! For pure enjoyment when working with the yarn I love merino/silk blends. There are so many great variations of this blend out at the moment. It is so soft running though your fingers you just don’t want to stop knitting! The most recent yarns with this blend that I’ve worked with and loved are Fyberspates ‘Scrumptious’, Manos del Uruguay ‘Silk Blend’ and Sundara ‘Silky Merino’.

When I am knitting for myself I like my finished garment to keep looking well after months (or years) of use so Irish yarns such as Kilcarra ‘Aran Tweed’ would be one of my first choices. This yarn is both beautiful to work with and wears so well (and has some really wonderful colour blends).

The weight of the yarn is also as important a choice as the fibre. I’ve worked in all yarn weights but I think that my favourite weight would be dk to a light Aran. It knits up nice and quickly and I like the material of the finished garment. I find it easy to get into a nice knitting ‘rhythm’ with this weight yarn.

What is the most complicated technique you have ever used in one of your designs?

I don’t think that I use techniques in my designs that would be considered very complicated. I think that probably the most complex part of my patterns for knitters is the combination of several different things happening at once. An example of this would be in Azami that was just published in the Twist Collective. There is a lace pattern worked at the hem, which is decreased as you move up the garment. At the same time you are working waist/bust shaping and neckline shaping. I use chart/lists to keep track of the different parts of the patterns and wrote a little about it in my blog a few months ago.

Knitting is very logical and with patience I don’t think that any technique or style is beyond any knitter. It is just a question of whether you want to learn it (you may not really like the end result so the effort of learning it is just not worth it for you!).

How long does a design usually take to complete, from concept to submission?

There are so many answers to this question! There have been times (as with Centrique) where I picked up a hank of yarn to do a small swatch. It felt so good to knit with it that I wasn’t able to put it down! I knit, ripped, knit ripped and about 5 days later I had the smaller shawlette version finished. I spend 2-3 days working on the chart, writing the pattern from my notes and putting a pdf together for my test knitter, Sue, to work the larger version. When Sue had finished the larger version (it took a few weeks for the yarn to arrive) I sent it off to my tech editor and 2 weeks later she came back with some suggestions. I redid the chart sent it back to the tech editor and got final approval. Next we found a suitable location for our photo shoot (Kinsale for the shawlette version, our garden for the larger one) and put the photos together. The final step is laying out the pdf. My husband does both the photography and the layout for me. I am very grateful for this as he does a wonderful job and it means that I have more time to design! The first shawlette version was knitted at the end of July and by the time all the steps were finished the pattern was released in October. To produce a professional level self-published pattern there are an awful lot of steps involved.
The process is different with work published in magazines. They send out a call for submissions 6-9 months before the magazine publication date. You put sketches, swatches and descriptions together and send them off. Around 6-8 weeks later you hear yes or no and if you have a design accepted the yarn and contract is sent to you. Most of the magazines I work with are based in the States so I have a little less time to work on the knitting than American based designers. It takes 1-2 weeks for the yarn to arrive to me and then I have 4-5 weeks to finish the design, knit it and get it back to the States. Believe it or not I quite like the pressure – it is such a feeling of satisfaction when you are finished!

What is the strangest/most unusual/funniest source of inspiration you have ever had for a design?

I don’t know if this really qualifies, but the inspiration that stands out in my head is for the Necco Wafer Hoodie. I was walking through a shopping centre in Cork and looking at the window displays. In one window there was a little girl’s long sleeved t-short layered with a shorter top over it. I started thinking about how little boy’s knitted patterns seemed to be stuck back 50 years ago and had little to do with what we buy for our children to wear. Almost all of my boy’s long sleeve t-shirts are styled with a double layer to look like a short sleeve t-shirt on top. I decide to rise to the design challenge and figure out how to make a 2-layered knitted jumper for a boy in one piece. Figuring out the i-cord separation at the hems and sleeves was my ‘eureka’ moment!

What is your favourite thing about being a knitwear designer?

I get a great deal of enjoyment from knitwear design on many different levels. Possibly the number one satisfaction comes from that moment when the garment is finished and you realize that the idea that lived only in your head is now right in front of you, finished and just as you envisioned it. That is a hard feeling to describe, a sense of ‘I created this!’ Something where there was nothing.