Friday, February 11, 2011

Guest Post: Knitwear Designer Holli Yeoh

Interview with Knitwear Designer Holli Yeoh

Who taught you to knit? 

I was taught to knit by my mother when I was five years old. I remember carrying my knitting around the neighbourhood that summer while I was working on my first project--a baby pink scarf. I don't honestly remember if I ever finished it but I do remember that several of the rows were a dirty grey because I must have been knitting with grubby hands. I also remember counting my stitches at the end of every row and then running home to have my Mum fix my dropped stitches. 

What knitting method do you use? Continental or English? 

I was taught to knit in the English method. I've marvelled at how quickly Continental knitting can knit and I've tried to change my style a few different times, but I'm too impatient to put in the practicing time while my hands are getting used to the movements. I do sometimes purl in the Eastern manner--wrapping the yarn around my needle in the opposite direction while holding the yarn in my left hand. This twists the stitch on the needle, but I fix that on the next row by knitting into the back of the stitch. I find this combination knitting results in better tension but it does slow me down.

What is your favourite stitch pattern? 

For production or mindless knitting (like when I'm watching a movie or I'm at the playground with my son) I like simple stocking stitch. I don't have to look at what I'm doing so I'm freed up to concentrate on other things. I enjoy almost every kind of stitch through the simple process of knitting gives me such a sense of peace and fulfillment.

What is your favourite yarn?

I love working with wool. I like the really squooshy soft ones for their tactile sensation. I love yarns with a nice twist to them and the stitch definition they provide. Tweedy yarns are lovely for the little flecks of unexpected colour. I've been working with fingering weight or 4-ply yarns for the past several years and I really love the drape and hand of the fabric they create.
Is there a needle size that you prefer to work with? Bamboo, plastic or metal needles?

Addi Turbo circular needles are my go to knitting needles. I have over 30 of them and it's never enough. I use both the standard and the lace tips depending on what I'm knitting. Because I like knitting with lightweight yarns that means I use small sized needles. A 3 mm size (approx. US 2) is my favourite size. I have 13 of them in my needle inventory. And yes, I do keep a needle inventory because I have so many ideas, samples and projects on the go. I can't remember where all my needles are at any give time.

Why did you become a knitwear designer?

I've always created. I majored in crafts (jewellery, ceramics and textiles) in art college and received my degree in Fine Arts. I was working as a jeweller, both teaching and designing, and was feeling uninspired. We wanted to have a baby and I felt that the toxins I was exposed to at the jewellery studio were just too risky. Knitting was my passion though and it was consuming all of my free time. I decided that it was time to apply my design skills to knitting.
It didn't occur to me that I had no instruction or experience in knitwear design. My art college education gave me a good grounding in design in a general sense and I applied that and my common sense to figuring out how to design knitting patterns. There were few resources at the time although now there are many books on designing your own knits.

Tell me about your first pattern?

Because I was completely consumed with my new found motherhood and babies, it was natural that my first design was a baby sweater. At a knitting retreat in 2001, one of the knitters introduced me to self-patterning sock yarn. I was smitten, but I wasn't interested in knitting socks.

Because I was pregnant and had babies on the brain, it occurred to me that a baby sleeve is about the same circumference as a sock. The computer-generated striping sequence of the yarn should work on a sleeve and also cardigan fronts which were again used a similar number of stitches. Self-patterning sock yarn would look great knitted into a tiny sweater. That's how Candace, my first published pattern came into being. It was designed as a present for a friend's baby who was born six months after my baby was born.

Where did it appear?

I first published Candace myself in 2003 and it's available for purchase on my website. Ravelry and I wholesale it to yarn shops. It also appeared in the 2005 Accord Knitting-Pattern-A-Day calendar.

Since then I've had patterns published in the online knitting magazine, and Twist Collective as well as in print in Amy Singer's No Sheep For You. I've designed on commission for yarn companies as well as self-published several more patterns myself.

Do you attend fibre festivals?

I've attended the Victoria Fibre Festival several times and a local event at Surrey Museum called Pic-Knit. I really enjoy the opportunity to interact with the knitting public. I would love to attend some of the major events and festivals in the United States, but family obligations have made it difficult to manage.

Have you taught knitting classes?

I love to teach knitting workshops and share techniques and tricks. I've taught locally in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island and every summer when we visit my parents in Edmonton I reach at the local yarn shop, River City Yarns. I would really like to travel and teach more. Meeting new knitters and sharing what I know with them is very gratifying. It also provides me with an opportunity on what knitters need help with in patterns and how they think.
I'm also encouraging a whole new generation to knit by teaching classes at my son's school as part of their noon-hour programs.

What are you currently working on?

I'm juggling a lot designs at the moment and they're all competing for my time. Unfortunately that makes me less productive! I have four children's sweaters in various stages of completion. All of the calculations are done, most of the writing is done, the samples are almost finished, they still need to be photographed and tested. I have several adult designs that need to make it from the sketchbook to the spreadsheet to the needles.

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

It's exciting to see knitters' reactions to my designs to see if they understand what I'm trying to communicate with them. Being able to spend my days immersed in the knitting--both the physical knitting and the planning and making it work part--are immensely rewarding.


Marketing and paperwork are definitely challenging for me. I would love to be able to just create and have someone else swoop in and spread the word for me and do my books.

Thanks so much, Holli, for visiting me today. I wish you much success with your career.