Friday, June 24, 2011

Guest Post: Knitwear Designer Janel Laidman

Who taught you to knit?

I learned to knit by watching Danish girls knitting when I was an exchange student in Denmark. They all had been knitting since they were young children and I was too shy to ask questions, so I copied what they were doing and puzzled the rest out of knitting patterns. Because of this I ended up with a few quirky habits. 

What knitting method do you use? Continental? English? 

Well, here's my first quirky habit. I actually do both, although mostly Continental, and I'm also a combination knitter which means my purls are mounted in the opposite direction from most people's. For a long time I couldn't follow patterns very well, because I didn't realize that my combination style affected things like decreases and it never seemed right to do a k2tog or an ssk when the pattern suggested it.

What is your favourite stitch pattern? 

I like to create my own stitch pattern so I guess my favorite is always the one I'm currently working on right now. 

What is your favourite yarn? 

All of it! Well, maybe not all of it. I like different yarns for different projects. I'm also a spinner so I always have the option of creating the exact perfect yarn for whatever I want to do. 

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

I work a lot with size 0 (US) needles because I knit so many socks. I think my favorite sizes though are the US 3 -- US 5 range. I like different finishes depending on the project. For sock knitting I like a nickel plated needles or the Blackhorn carbon fiber needles. For lace and sweater knitting I like the Darn Pretty Rosewood circulars. For swatching I prefer straights and for that I have a nice set of Lantern Moon needles which are both pretty and lightweight. I have yet to try the Signature needles, but I have a feeling I would like those as well.

What is your favourite item to knit?

Currently it is lace. I also love socks of course, but I have had a very long love affair with lace. 

What are you currently working on? 

I'm currently working on a stitch dictionary of new stitches with tutorial information on designing your stitch patterns. I also have two different sock clubs running the illuminations club which is all stranded colorwork, and the Art & Sole sock club which is sock and other accessory patterns inspired by art. All of these activities keep me pretty busy, but in between I try to get a few other patterns out. Right now I'm working on designing a lace shawl.

Why did you become a knitwear designer? 

Well, I used to be a biochemist, and my job involved growing huge quantities of e.coli. Knitwear design seemed like a much less smelly alternative! Joking aside, I became a knitwear designer because I love designing and I saw an opportunity to try and make a living from it. I also wanted a portable career because I was planning to move to an area without a lot of biochemistry type jobs.

Do you attend fibre festivals? 

I love to go to fiber festivals! I love to see the sheep, watch the dog trails, eat the fair food and buy lovely goods from small business vendors. I used to be a vendor at fiber festivals and so I know that it's a tough job setting up and taking down and selling all day long. I love to support these folks. Plus, you find amazing stuff that you can't find through regular commerce channels.

Have you taught knitting classes? Where? When?

I love to teach. I teach both knitting and spinning and I've taught at Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat, Stitches West, Sock Summit, Knit Nation, SOAR and other places.

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

Seeing what other people do with my designs. I love when people take my design and make it their own.


The most challenging part is being a one-woman business. It's tough to wear all the hats, designer, bookkeeper, promo department, secretary, mailroom and more. It seems I'm always behind on something!