Friday, July 1, 2011

Guest Post: knitwear designer Sarah Barbour

Who taught you to knit? 

A very nice woman named Jill Baer. She was one of those people who you'd definitely want with you if you were stranded on a desert island; she could knit, spin, shear a sheep, grow her own food--that sort of thing. She was a great person to learn from as she respected patterns but also understood how to "own" your knitting. She recommended Elizabeth Zimmerman's books and of course they've been great resources as I've learned how to create my own patterns. 

What knitting method do you use? Continental? English? 

I'm an English knitter. I've taught myself Continental and use it for colorwork sometimes but I've never gotten used to using it for regular knitting.

What is your favourite stitch pattern? 

Just one? That's sort of like asking me which of my children I like best. Well, since I have three children, mind if I give you three stitches? (No, please do. : ) ) I think I'd go with moss stitch, which is easy, looks plush and cozy, and doesn't roll; fir cone lace, which gives you a very elegant looking fabric for relatively little effort; and though I love most cable patterns, nothing beats a Saxon Braid for making you feel like you've accomplished something. 

What is your favourite yarn? 

But there are so many! I'm finishing up a project in Valley Yarns Sheffield which is very nice, I made my Argentina shawl with Himalaya Yarns Duke, a single-ply, worsted weight silk probably the most elegant yarn I've worked with. I've loved most of the Blue Sky Alpaca yarns I've worked with. I could go on, but that might give you a sense of what I like.

Is there a needle size that you prefer to work with? Bamboo, plastic or steel needles? 

I tend to work most with #5, #6, and #7s. (US sizes) I tend to prefer sport-to-worsted yarns so those work well. No real preferences on the material--it really depends on what's going to work well with the yarn. 

What is your favourite item to knit? 

Sweaters. Which is too bad because they take forever. I keep telling myself I'm going to focus on scarves or hats 'anything quick' but the sweaters and the cardigans keep calling me back.

What are you currently working on? 

I have several patterns in various stages of almost finished: a cardigan that's being test knit; a hat with a matching wrap that I need to write out the charts for; and a crocheted shawl that I'm doing for a yarn company. And I just submitted my first book proposal to a publisher--wish me luck! (Absolutely! : ) 
I'm sure all knitters who pours over your beautiful will join with me in wishing you luck.)

Why did you become a knitwear designer? 

I began tweaking other people's patterns to suit me. And sometimes I'd buy yarn just because I liked it and then start playing around with it to see what it wanted to become. Eventually I was making things up from scratch. 

Tell me about your first pattern? 

My first published pattern was the Seafoam Shawl, though it was called the Sweet Ruffled Shawl when it was published. It's a very easy pattern, a simple 2-row repeat with a stockinette stitch border. 

Where did it appear on your website or in a magazine or ezine? 

It was published by Knit Picks. I think they sold it as a pdf file originally. A couple of years later, when the rights reverted to me, I made it available as a free pattern on my site.

Do you attend fibre festivals? 

The only reason I've never attended one is because to date, the ones that have been held within a reasonable drive of where I've lived have not worked well with my schedule for various reasons. I hope to rectify that soon. 

Have you taught knitting classes? Where? When? 

I love teaching knitting (and crochet). I've been teaching for about five years, mostly at a local yarn store and through our community college. Most of my students have been adults. I've met a really interesting mix of people from a wide variety of backgrounds and ages, but I've never had a single male student.

What is the most rewarding aspect about being a knitwear designer?

I think designing something is a little like having a child conceiving the idea is really fun, turning the idea into an actual object can be exhausting, writing the pattern (for me) is rather painful, but when I'm all done I can look at it and say, I did it and I love it to pieces! 


Personally, I find marketing my work quite challenging. I'm not great at putting myself out there and mastering things like advertising and Twitter and Facebook, etc. I'd much rather curl up and knit. But I'm slowly getting better at it.