Sunspun Fine Yarns


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Meet the Maker – Hannah Ginn from Circus Tonic Handmade

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Here’s another first for us – a yarn trunk show! If you hang out on Instagram you may have encountered Circus Tonic Handmade’s beautiful stream, which features Hannah Ginn’s soft, delicately coloured, hand-dyed, handpainted and speckled yarns.

Hannah lives in Sydney, but on 1 September, from 10am to 1pm, she will be at the store for some seriously engrossing squish and tell. Do drop by and say hello, and to pick up some goodies for yourself. In the meantime, here’s Hannah!

Tell us a little about yourself, Hannah, and the Circus Tonic Handmade story.

IMG_0115I live in Sydney with my husband, three kids and Hector the hound. I actually grew up in many parts of Australia and in Dubai before it was the mega-city it is today. My mum is English, so we would go to the UK for holidays. I didn’t return to Australia until uni, and haven’t left since!

I trained as a molecular biologist and worked for years in a genomics centre at UNSW. With daycare fees spiralling ever upwards it became counterproductive for me to work. I decided to take a break in mid-2015, take all the kids out of care and start over. Knitting and craft was a salve or tonic for our everyday crazy, loud, circus-like household life … so Circus Tonic Handmade it was. And now, the yarn has taken over!

I was home only a few weeks when I saw I needed another major goal to keep my spirits up after such a huge life shift. I had learnt to knit in 2013 when I was expecting my first winter baby, and often spent many hours wondering how I could turn my love of all things fibre and textiles into a business. I had been a huge quilter and knitting absolutely transfixed me once I began. Once I found hand-dyed yarn I was smitten!

What were your earliest influences and yarn dreams?

I always link back to certain times and places when I’m daydreaming about yarn. I recently found out my grandmother made kilts and then remembered looking through tartan and knitted yoke samples as a kid.

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I started collecting fabrics on my travels when I was fourteen. I made scrunchies for pocket money and sold them to the cool kids at school in my lunch break!

My biggest can-do role model in terms of making is my mum. She used hand-making to survive motherhood, and made lead-light windows, sewed our clothes, grew our food, made our quilts and curtains, stencilled our rooms (eeeepppp! Lol) and has recently started a little residential upholstery school in the Southern Highlands of NSW.

Nothing is beyond her – and she actually trained as an opera singer! I remember standing under her skirt as she sang at a wedding, so it’s in the genes.

Tell us how you choose your yarn bases, and where you source them from.

I’m obsessed and I love all kinds, so my yarns are a mix of Australian and internationally sourced bases. I’m trying new ones all the time, depending on availability and even requests.

We love the bird names for your colourways, they are so inspired! How did they come about?

I’m always thinking about yarn, and while I pay attention to what’s on trend I really try to keep on my own path.

IMG_0095I based my current collection on Australian native birds as I thought that would give me a theme with plenty of scope. Some colourways are immediately recognisable while others take more artistic licence.

You have a lovely knitterly understanding of yarn and colour. How much does knitting experience inform your dyeing?

I love semi-solid tonals for garments especially as they were the types of yarns I first found as a knitter that I couldn’t resist.

IMG_0203I’m newer to speckled yarns but I love how they bring single-stitch pops to accessories. There are so many dyeing techniques to introduce speckles so it’s an ongoing education. From my former life as a scientist I’m used to taking very strict notes, experimenting and delayed gratification, so my dyeing will keep evolving.

How do you come up with the colours for an update/release? Do you work thematically, with a plan, or do you follow your nose and let serendipity take the lead?

I have sets of colourways that I feel go really well together so I tend to decide which ones will be the core of an update and then build around them. I try to come up with a couple of new colourways each update as customers love new yarn.

IMG_0255How important is social media to your business?

Instagram is centrally important to any indie dyer as it’s a great way to communicate what’s going on at HQ. I know the sorts of posts I enjoy looking at so I try to give my followers some lovely eye candy each day.

I don’t get a lot of time to knit these days and so showing my yarn knit up by talented and adventurous customers is really exciting and informative – I appreciate the sharing of project pics very much.

IMG_0279What does a day in your life look like? Do you manage to keep the kids and the dyeing business in neat compartments or does it all meld together in an organic fashion?

As business is picking up, Greg my husband is taking more and more of the weekend household and kid duties as I smash out several sixteen-hour days! As he does 55-hour weeks himself that is a huge commitment.

IMG_0084Each day I dye yarn, plot and plan, sew bags, visit my saintly post office, and do all the office jobs like photos, labels and packaging etc. We have two kids still at home during the day so we paint, ride scooters inside and generally hum along. They do watch a few too many movies, but I figure as long as I’m in the vicinity it’s OK!

IMG_0083Do you still knit a lot? And do you use other dyers’ yarns?

I love so many indie dyers! They are too numerous to mention, but in particular I love Skein, Miss Click Clack, The Uncommon Thread, Hedgehog Fibres, Baerenwolle, Madeline Tosh, The Wool Kitchen, Voolenvine Yarns, Knitsch, Spun Right Round and Skein Queen.

I am in awe of the colours available in Jamieson & Smith’s Shetland wool. I’m also a huge fan of Patons Dreamtime merino yarns and Bendigo Woollen Mills. I love them all!

IMG_0192What and which other designers, artists or creative people inspire you?

I have always been a huge fan of Gustav Klimt, and I find it amusing that I see quilting and speckles and swirls all through his paintings and portraits.

Knitwear designers I constantly find myself drawn to are Melanie Berg, Ambah O’Brian, Kristen Finlay, Wei Siew Leong and The Lace Eater, and Françoise Danoy. There are so many others – Ravelry is my oyster!

What can we look forward to in your trunk show at Sunspun?

My trunk show at Sunspun will be a lot of fun. Retailing online misses so much of the personal interaction with knitters, and I’ve never met a knitter I didn’t like!

I will bring a lot of speckled, handpainted and semi-solid tonal sock yarns. My travelling limits what I can bring, but I hope to offer something everyone will like and want to take home. My mum and I are sewing a big stack of very covetable project bags too so there should be lots of delicious items to see.

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Meet the Maker: Clare Devine of KnitShareLove

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Clare Devine. Devine by name, divine by nature, as exemplified on her blog KnitShareLove, a space that, Clare says, allows her ‘to share the things that inspire me, the makers that create things that make my heart skip a beat … a space to share the magical fibre things that fill my heart with creative inspired joy’.

Clare now calls Melbourne home, after lives as a writer, designer and technical editor. Originally from South Africa, her incurable wanderlust has seen her knit her way around the UK, back to Western Cape and now, Australia.

You may have encountered some of Clare’s designs for accessories on Ravelry, which have secured a worldwide fan base for her. Best of all, for the next little while, she is all ours! If you’ve been to the shop on Monday, you may just have met Clare.

(All pix courtesy of Clare. Click on the pictures to take you to the patterns.)

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In KnitShareLove you’ve created such a warm, big-hearted community space. The site really speaks to knitters and people who love the craft and all that is associated with it. Beyond the patterns, you are so much about sharing skills. Tell us when the site began, your ambitions for it, and how it has evolved over the years.

KnitShareLove evolved over a number of years, really. I first started knitting when we were travelling in Australia but I did not think about turning it into a business until I had my little girl. KnitShareLove was officially launched this year but the sentiment has always been at the heart of what I do. I love knitting and sharing my passion with other knitters, whether that is through my designs or sharing skills. KnitShareLove is a space to bring together all the things I love most about the knitting community.

Did you become a designer from your other life as a technical editor? I guess I’m wondering, did one lead to the other?

Those two lives sort of grew together hand in hand as I transitioned from working a full-time job in an entirely different field to working from home to look after my little one.

I love working as an editor, it allows me to flex the grey matter and play with Excel … I have loved worked with many designers over the years from all over the place, and always enjoy getting to know them and their working style.

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You’ve lived the knitterly life in a few different countries now. Is there a difference in knitting/making culture in each of those places? And has the Net made access to these communities easier?

I think there is always a difference between places – the climate, size of a place and access to yarns has a huge role to play in how people knit and how we interact.

I loved living in Edinburgh and sometimes think I was spoilt by how awesome it was – the knitting scene there is really active and I had so much access to all sorts of wonderful yarn and fibre inspiration.

That said, I’m really enjoying finding my way around the Aussie fibre scene. Nothing beats making new fibre friends and discovering new yarns. I am really interested in locally produced yarns so I’m currently on the hunt for interesting producers in Australia. There isn’t the same small-mill-style yarn creation happening here as in the UK, but I’m finding some stunning yarns and am always on the look-out for more.

Let’s talk about your design life. Are you led by the yarn, or does the design come first, then it’s a matter of finding the right yarn to do it justice? Or is it a combination of all that and other intangibles?

This really depends on the design. Sometimes I am led by an idea for a collection where I know what I want and I pick yarns to match; The Tea Collection was a little like this. Once I knew I wanted to create a series of Tea Hats I picked out yarns that balanced the collection and matched my design ideas for each tea.

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In other collections I’m very much driven by the yarn. Neighbourhood Sheep Society is very much like this. This is a really fun project I work on each year with Jess from Ginger Twist Studio in Edinburgh. We pick yarns that fascinate us, she works her colour magic and dyes them up, and I let them speak to me about what they want to be. I’m a firm believer in swatching and letting the yarn tell you what it wants to be – this always works better than trying to make yarn into something it is not suited for.
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Tell us about your ongoing romance with socks and hats. Why? 

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For ages I swore I wouldn’t knit socks – I just didn’t see the point! Then a switch flicked in my brain and I was madly in love with sock construction. I love that there are so many different ways to turn a heel or shape a toe. I’ve had lots of fun over the years designing socks. Socks also make perfect travel projects, so I always have a few on the needles ready to pick up as I dash out the door or set off on a big adventure.

Hats – they were my break from socks! I started with Lapsang and then I found myself obsessed with the idea of Tea Hats and I took it from there. I love that you can get a hat from a single skein – I can pick up interesting yarns here and there and always have enough yarn for a great hat.

I also detest having a cold head or feet, so hats and socks are must-have accessories in my wardrobe.

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What are the signature Clare Devine touches to your work?

I think my signature would be incorporating tips and techniques into designs that elevate your knitting. I love teaching and am always trying to learn new things that I can use in my workshops to help knitters improve their knitting. I try to factor these things into my designs so you are always adding to your knitting repertoire. I recently started producing tutorials to accompany my patterns – they can be found here.

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Tell us about your design process, and how you know when you’ve got it with a piece of work.

My design process isn’t as streamlined as I would like. I think that is partly the way my creative brain works, and partly because the last few years have been pretty chaotic with many house moves and lives spread across three continents.

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I have lots of ideas and notebooks full of sketches. Sometimes things take ages to click into place, but occasionally everything just falls into place pretty quickly. The process of taking an idea from concept through swatching to a final pattern is fairly long. There are lots of bits and pieces that need to be aligned to get to the final proofed pattern. Working with supportive technical editors and brilliant testers is always a joy and helps me fine-tune the final product.

Do you get a chance to knit others’ patterns? And do you tinker with them – does the designer brain kick in and go, hang on, you can get a better result if you do this …

Not as much as I would like! Knitting isn’t the quickest activity and I almost always knit my own samples so most of my knitting time is taken up with sample knitting and design work. I do try to knit other patterns occasionally though. When I’m knitting another designer’s pattern I like to let my design brain switch off and just enjoy the process – I find it more relaxing that way.

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Which other designers, artists or creative people inspire you?

This is a hard one – there are so many inspiring designers and creatives out there! One of my favourite knitwear designers is Bristol Ivy. I think she’s a genius when it comes to pushing the boundaries of construction and knitting technique. I love her aesthetic and style, and wish I could have endless knitting hours to work on knitting some of her amazing designs.

Yarn and colour is a huge inspiration for my work, and I’ve enjoyed discovering local hand-dyers since I moved to Australia, including August Bird, Miss Click Clack, Circus Tonic Handmade, Gradient and, more recently, spotted at Bendigo, Owl of Athena.

I also find lots of inspiring creatives on Instagram and have enjoyed discovering local artists and designers. At the moment I am fascinated by dyeing, fabric, quilting, exploring our new adopted home country and knitting. Some interesting accounts I have seen recently on Instagram include @Iamalchemy@Arrowmountain@Maxhosa@Mazeandvale@Rebeccadesnos@Trinannelie@Salt_and_still@Seaskyeat@Vic_pemberton and @Thefolkmaker.

What can we look forward to in your trunk show at Sunspun?

We have picked out a selection of hats, shawls and socks for the trunk show. I also have a few new patterns that will be debuting at Sunspun.

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Akin (pictured above, and Clare is wearing one too, at the start of the story) is an easy hat that is perfect for the whole family – it comes in seven sizes – and you can knit it in almost any yarn weight. Perfect for a quick winter warmer (certainly very much needed in Melbourne at the moment).

I’m also releasing three socks that were previously only available in The Knitter, a UK magazine, so I’m very excited about showing those off.

Most of all, I am looking forward to meeting local knitters and fibre folk!

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From 30 July, drop into Sunspun for Clare’s trunk show, where you can touch, feel and try on her wide selection of accessories. All of Clare’s patterns are available for purchase with a 10% discount (Sunspun members can add their usual discount) for the duration of the trunk show.  On Saturday morning, Clare will be in the shop to say hi, answer questions, sign patterns and help you decide which beautiful yarns to choose for your next knit!

On Tuesday 2 August from 6.15pm–9.15pm Clare will be teaching her Snell Cowl class, a slip-stitch colourwork project.  Call us on (03) 9830 1609 to secure your spot.

 

 


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July at Sunspun

July sees us right in the heart of an Aussie winter. Now we don’t have snow here in Melbourne (sadly some of us may think!!) but let’s just pretend, for the length of this newsletter, that we do! And if you are in the Dandenongs or some regional areas of Victoria then you most certainly just had a wee amount of snow.

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So settle in, read on and let us tell you more about what’s on in July at Sunspun.

Our regular Friday Sit & Yarn just keeps going from strength to strength. You can see the July dates in the table below. Don’t forget this free group is open to all, just remember we have had to cap the number each Friday to 10 to be able to accommodate everyone around the table. Some lovely friendships have already been made and new people are joining in!

Term 3 classes have started. We have some fabulous classes for you during July, including a new Knitting Clinic so you can get some help to finish off those projects that have been sitting in the ‘too hard’ basket just waiting for some loving attention. Don’t forget the ‘oldies but goodies’ on the calendar as well! To help you entertain your small people in the school holidays we have the second of our new kids knitting classes – Knitting Skills Extended – for those who are familiar with the basics. Adele is our teacher (you can read her bio here) and we would like to assure you that she has a current Working With Children Check. Just give us a call at the shop (9830 1609, Mon – Sat 10am-5pm) and we can answer any queries you may have as to class content and each one’s suitability for you or your children. Don’t forget our adult classes are now conducted on Tuesday nights. Children’s classes are on Thursday during the morning. Our private classes are proving to be very popular and allowing many customers to have personalised help with their knitting and crochet dilemmas. All the info is on our classes page.

As you know from a previous blog post, we now have a Product of the Month each and every month! The highlighted product for July is the very lovely Shilasdair yarn – Luxury 4ply. This beautiful Scottish yarn is from the Isle of Skye and has been a customer favourite for a ‘wee’ while. It is a 4ply (Fingering), 40% merino lambswool/40% angora/10% baby camel/10% cashmere yarn. Truly exotic!! It is hand dyed with beautiful natural dyes and comes with very generous meterage on the skein. It’s perfect for jumpers, cardigans and accessories – we have some samples knit up for you to see it ‘in action’. Our upcoming blog post will tell you more. A yarn that just cannot be ignored!!

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A lot of us may only get as close to snow as a pretty snow globe this winter!

This year we want to showcase the talents of some very skilled people in our community. Kirsten Johnstone joins us again in July for the launch of her new mini collection, Kei, for Woolfolk. The garments and accessories will be in the shop on Friday/Saturday 8th/9th July for you to see and Kirsten will be in the shop on Saturday 9th July from 11.30 – 3.30pm to chat and help. Come along and say hi. All the details are on the blog.

We are very fortunate to have the lovely Clare Devine as a staff member. Did you know that Clare is a very talented designer and has a very devoted worldwide fan base? Towards the end of July and running into August we are soooo looking forward to being able to share many of these designs with you in a Trunk Show. We will be following our usual trunk show format and having a Sunspun Members’ Meet, Greet and Nibbles Night (with fashion parade) on Friday 29th July (by invitation only) with Clare’s knitted samples in the shop throughout the following week. More info on this later in a separate newsletter and blog post. If you are a sock and hat lover be prepared to swoon!!!

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In our Ravelry group, Sunspun Fibre Folk, our new monthly discussion threads for you to participate in continue. The first is centred around garments – each month we feature a new garment and ask you to share past or current projects. The second is more general and talks about yarns, colours, shapes, etc. Lots for everyone! For July, our garment focus is sweaters and in the ‘other’ thread we will be chatting about the kinds of sweaters you like to make – pullovers, cardigans, vests, oversized, fitted, lightweight or thick and snuggly – so jump on in and tell us what you like! And don’t forget to share your show and tell by using the ‘Share with Group’ box on the project page for each of your projects. You will notice lots of folk have already been sharing with us. To show everyone how clever you are we will be posting a selection of these projects to our Facebook Page once a week (if you don’t want us to share your happy snaps just let us know in this ravelry thread).

So, that’s July. A month to learn, shop, share and dream about snow while Mother Nature sends us a lovely cold winter just right for our knitted woollies.

Happy ‘yarning’,
Karen.


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Kirsten Johnstone – Kei Collection Launch

As you know, at Sunspun we have a very soft spot and a great deal of affection for designer, Kirsten Johnstone, and her beautiful designs. Earlier this year we showcased many of those designs in our very first trunk show.

Kirsten is a local Melbourne gal who has made a wonderful splash on the international knitting scene. She has designed for such influential companies as Brooklyn Tweed, Quince & Co, Woolfolk, Blue Sky Alpacas, amirisu and Shibui Knits.

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We are privileged to be able to share her new mini collection for Woolfolk with you. In Kirsten’s words, “the Kei Collection (Kei is Japanese for shape) comprises four designs in Woolfolk Tynd with a unifying Drawstring Element and named after a shape to help ‘tie’ the collection together (bad pun fully intended)”. How exciting! We will be one of the first to see them! There are both accessories and garments in the collection.

Have you been in the shop and felt the exquisite Woolfolk yarns? Truly a sensual experience! The softest 100% merino yarn we have ever had in our hands – with the additional desirable qualities of being ethically and sustainably produced. Tynd is a 4ply yarn with a tight twist that creates both an elegant and lightweight fabric. The colour palette is both sophisticated and understated. A perfectly lovely marriage for Kirsten’s designs that also embody both these qualities.

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And so to the nitty gritty details:

The Kei Collection will be in the shop for you to touch, feel and try on! Kirsten will also be present in the shop to answer all your questions. At the previous trunk show she soooo enjoyed meeting you all and being able to help you with pattern and yarn choices.

The Collection: in shop Friday 8th and Saturday 9th July
Kirsten: in the shop Saturday 9th July 11.30 – 3.30pm

Additionally, Kirsten’s patterns from the Kei Collection will be available for purchase with a 10% discount (Sunspun Members are entitled their usual discount as well) for the duration of the mini launch. Annnnd, Woolfolk Tynd will also be available for 10% off during the Friday and Saturday of the collection launch. Cleverly, two of the designs use only one skein of Tynd so it is the perfect time for you to try this truly superb yarn.

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So, we hope that you will come along and touch and feel and try on and chat and enjoy the wonderful creations in Kirsten Johnstone’s new Kei Collection!

Happy ‘yarning’,
Karen.


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Meet the Maker: Georgie Nicolson of Tikki Knits

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Gidday Baby

If there is a designer whose work is a go-to for kids with knitterly parents, Georgie Nicolson’s patterns are likely to win hands down. There might have been Gidday Baby cardigans for new babies, a Rainbow Dress for a toddler, an Olearia vest for kinder, Jane for summer cardigans and a Wallaby for a quick-sticks make in time for winter.

To date on Ravelry, there are about 10,500 Milos and over 1000 Granny’s Favourites floating around. And you can see why: if you’ve ever knit from a Tikki pattern, you know they knit up quickly; the sizing options are generous, often from babies to teens; they are easily adaptable; and being top down, they are easy to customise as you go. Plus, they are well tested, so you know there will be few surprises.

So, come and meet the woman behind these creations.

From childhood patterns for Barbie to everything from kids’ clothes, hats, adult cardigans and more – it has been quite a creative ride, Georgie. Tell us how Tikki Knits began and how it has evolved.

I published my first pattern quite by accident in the January 2008. I had purchased the most stunning 200 g ball of gradient yarn and was looking for something to do with it. This was back when gradient yarn really wasn’t readily available (I hadn’t seen it before) and there were no patterns. With some encouragement from knitting friends I set about designing a pattern, which became the Rainbow Dress.

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Rainbow Dress

It took me many, many years before I could call myself a designer; even now I feel a little uncomfortable with the tag. The knitting landscape was really different then, knitters didn’t really take the leap to designing as happens today.

Since then, my business has evolved significantly. It was my testers who convinced me that I should actually charge for Milo. I didn’t feel I had the design background or the experience to do so, but I am so glad they talked me around. I would have been happy to have sold fifty copies!

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Ideally, I would love Tikki to be a self-sustaining business. In the last few years I’ve started teaching, which was a natural progression given I was a secondary teacher before having children. I love the opportunity to engage with other knitters and share my knowledge and skills. It balances very well with my husband’s teaching career, and we travelled to New Zealand for Knit August Nights last year. I’ll go back again this year too.

Your work is beautifully realised and well constructed – your techniques for button bands and sleeves are so neat that I’ve stolen them for other knits, for instance. Tell us what makes you tinker away at a sleeve or ponder how to get a band that sits flat and looks wonderful on the wrong side.

I think at heart I’m what I would call a lazy perfectionist. I like things to be as finished and perfect as possible but at the same time I’m kind of lazy and just want the process to be over. I don’t like having to darn holes under arms (which seems completely counter-intuitive to the concept of seamless knitting) or spend too long finishing things.

I like shortcuts and hate doing what I consider to be unnecessary, which is why I like to puzzle over things I consider aren’t perfect. Ironically I’ll spend a lot of time looking for a solution that will save other knitters time!

Some of my favourite finishes or techniques are really just lazy options as well. When I was designing Ziggy I wanted the jumper to have a folded and sewn hemline and cuffs, but when it came to actually seaming the fold, I decided it looked better as a rolled hem. Some knitters think the round of purl was deliberately used to stop the hem/cuff from rolling too far. It’s really a happy coincidence that it performs that function because it was meant to be the fold line!

 

From the ebook bundle Deception, where the colourwork is much simpler than you
would think. In most cases, only one colour is ever worked in a round, with much
of the colourwork created by slipped stitches. 

And how do you know when you’ve got it? Is something ever finished for you, or do you still beaver away at published patterns?

Sometimes it’s really obvious, you get that a-ha moment that creatives love to talk about; others you’re never quite so sure. With Milo I really wasn’t sure, and when I finished the sample it took me a couple of weeks until I tried it on my wiggly baby. I was that unsure until I saw it on him. That really taught me to trust my instincts more.

Other patterns, you just know it sings even before you’ve finished knitting it. Bloom was definitely one of those patterns.

I like to treat a pattern as finished once it’s published. I’ll go back and correct errors or redo the layout but I rarely tinker with the pattern itself. You’ve got to step away and move forward. Your body of work says much about your journey as a designer, it’s testament to your own growth and development.

So many of us think the life of a knitwear designer is all about the knitting and dreaming up designs, and focus on that, even though we know it’s as much about numbers and troubleshooting and grading.

I had a friend drop over one day when I was grading, bits of paper spread everywhere as I tried to nail those last few figures. She’s a knitter but still had this weird idea that I spent my days sitting around knitting! She remarked, ‘Ah, so there’s quite a bit more to it than just the knitting?’ Ah, yeah!

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My work day doesn’t begin until 11 or 12. I ride to school with my kids, then it’s my daily bike ride and the usual household drudgery. I work from then until 3:05pm when I have to collect my kids from school. In this time period, I generally deal with emails, write and grade patterns, and anything else that pops up. Sometimes I get the chance to sit and design. Usually it’s not until the evenings when I take my knitting out. Sometimes I’ll work after dinner, and there are days when I don’t knit at all.

On average, how long does a piece take from first swatch to publication/upload?

I’m not sure I have an average timeframe – I tend to get too easily distracted by new and shiny ideas! Some patterns have taken two years from first sample to publication, others have only taken a couple of months. I have a ridiculous number of sample garments where the patterns haven’t been graded or photographed or quite finished because something else seemed more urgent. But I do actually perform better and apply myself to the one task if there’s an external deadline hanging over my head.

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Wallaby

Do your patterns come to you resolved or does the success of the piece lie in the countless hours of finetuning and working with test knitters?

I spend a lot of time finetuning in the design process: knitting, ripping and re-knitting, scribbling out notes and rethinking approaches. Before I even start knitting there’s a lot of scribbling and sketching and note-taking that goes on.

I don’t consider my initial concept to be the holy grail though. When knitting the sample it’s not unusual for me to change a design element dramatically; I’m very open to change through the entire process. But by the time the pattern gets to test knitters it is pretty much done and has been edited to within an inch of its life.

Working with tech editors really finetunes your pattern; they’ll make sure it is consistent throughout, all the numbers add up, check that your charts match the instructions, and that the instructions are clear, concise and will produce the garment in your photos. Tech editors are worth their weight in gold.

Test knitters really perform the function of testing the clarity of the pattern instructions: do they make sense when you actually knit them, and they may pick up minor things that have been missed, but that doesn’t happen all that often. They’re not responsible for any major changes to the pattern but are a beta-step, that last final test or a double clarification to make sure things actually work.

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Aire River

I love reading that you knit other people’s patterns, and your posts on Lila are so insightful. Whose work do you enjoy knitting? And do you knit them to the letter or finetune as you go?

I try to mix it up. Last year I knit two Lilas, a Vitamin D, quite a few pair of socks and even managed to crochet a couple of baskets. You learn so much more by actually doing – not just new techniques and little tricks, but the experience also helps clarify or reinforce your own work. I don’t really knit more than one design from a designer though.

I try really hard to knit them to the letter, as a mediative process, to get some of the zen/yoga feel that your normal knitter experiences, but often I can’t help myself. My brain finds it hard to switch off and not deconstruct. There have been a couple of instances when I’ve convinced myself that the designer’s way must be better, only to later regret it when the garment is finished!

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My Favourite

What are the challenges to running your own business? How do you reconcile the business and the creative aspects?

Balancing time and sometimes even finding time for my business is a massive challenge. One of the issues with working in a creative field on your own is that it’s too easy to prioritise other aspects of life over your working time. The hardest challenge has been finding a working schedule that works for me AND sticking to it. I’m easily distracted and working from home doesn’t make it easier. Everyday life rears its head, and work takes a back seat. I think when you’re working from home in a creative field it is hard to convince people that you are really working.

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I like to be deliberate about separating work knitting and pleasure knitting, which is why I knit other people’s patterns. Sunday is a no work-knitting day for me – I give myself time to knit whatever I like or work on my Memory Blanket. I also like to mix it up with other crafty pursuits, sewing, stitching or crochet. Keeping it fresh and mixing it up helps me keep it all in perspective and lessens the pressure.

How do you choose the yarn for your creations?

Traditionally, it’s been selected from my stash – yarn that I’ve purchased, quite often from indie dyers. I choose what best suits the design, what colour my kids will wear or looks good on them. Sometimes the yarn comes first and I’ve designed a garment to suit the yarn and its characteristics rather than the other way around. More recently, I’m consciously trying to select yarns that are more ethically and environmentally produced.

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Summer Festival

What and who inspires you?

Elizabeth Zimmermann and Barbara Walker are both great inspirations. While EZ’s approaches to construction and tips on everyday knitting are pure genius, I love Barbara’s book Knitting From the Top Down very much – so many lightbulb moments while reading that! I’m also inspired by the fabulous work of some of our local wool producers who are doing amazing things in the field of ethical sheep-raising and promoting Australian wool.

Nan from White Gum Wool is an absolute treasure and her approach to farming fills me with hope for the future of the Australian merino industry. People like Nan and the Dennises from Tarndie inspire me to work with local yarns and to support our industry. Yarn with a strong backstory and history really resonates with me, as I’m sure it does for many other knitters. That’s also why I love Shilasdair, which comes from the same isle as my paternal ancestors.

What can we expect from Tikki Knits in the future?

This year, I’m going to release more patterns, teach lots of people about the joys of knitting and maybe even learn a few new techniques myself. I’m hoping to publish at least twelve patterns and transfer all the existing ones to a new layout. I’m also hoping to work on special projects that celebrate the diversity and dedication of some of our smaller Australian yarn producers – there are great stories there that I’d love to share.

I’ve also been developing a range of patterns – gum leaves, native Australian wildflowers and wind turbines – for a community art textile project called WARM, one of the most enjoyable but challenging projects I’ve worked on. The project explores why the earth is warming and what we can do to make a positive change. It launches in mid-March and will be exhibited at the Art Gallery of Ballarat in September. Community knitters are knitting and contributing elements that will be used to construct a giant landscape created by artist Lars Stenberg.*

* You can participate and contribute to the work; just click on the WARM link above for more information.


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Meet the Maker: Kirsten Johnstone, Assemblage

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Kirsten and her new pup Zali. She is wearing Namiki, a design with a treetops motif, knit in Woolfolk Tynd.

It is no secret that all of us at Sunspun are huge fans of knitwear designer and architect Kirsten Johnstone from Assemblage. Kirsten’s knits often feature simple, classic shapes with subtle, effective embellishment, and the finished pieces are timeless, to be dressed up or down as the occasion demands.

We admire Kirsten’s work so much that when it came time to refurbish our interiors in 2014, she was the logical choice, the one we thought who could understand the needs and workings of a yarn store, and how best to store and showcase yarn and finished objects.

We are pleased to have Kirsten coming instore on 9 March as a special guest teacher; she will be showing knitters how to make her Seven Circle neckpiece. Call or email us to book your place. In the meantime, make yourself a cuppa and meet the woman behind the knits.

Tell us a little about Assemblage: when it began, your ambitions for it, and how it has evolved.

Assemblage began soon after I discovered online blogging. It’s hard to imagine today, but there was a time when I didn’t know there was an online craft community! I had read an interview in The Age and they listed a website address. I opened the link, not really understanding what a blog was, and noticed all these extra links in the sidebar. Well, I was off and cruising my way through many of those key blogs from that first wave of online crafting. It was such a pivotal moment for me in terms of crafting.

I had always loved ‘making’ from a very young age and had stopped during my higher schooling and university years. The discovery of the online world of crafting was not only an encouragement but a relief – here was my tribe.

The knitting side of things really began with my discovery of Habu Textiles; their Kusha Kusha Felted Scarf was my first knit project in more than fifteen years, which reignited the tactile delight that knitting imparts and opened up a whole new world of yarn possibilities.

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Element, from Wool People 9 for Brooklyn Tweed. Pic by Jared Flood.

It’s been so gratifying watching your designs from Melbourne go out into the wider world, through your association with Brooklyn Tweed, Shibui, Amirisu, Quince and Co. and Blue Sky Alpacas. It must be satisfying seeing your design sensibility so warmly embraced, and so many iterations of Seven Circle, Rauin, Zumthor, Kozue and Hane out there. How did those associations start?

It is always exciting to have my designs published and seeing people’s finished projects.

My first association was with Brooklyn Tweed, who contacted me with an invitation to submit a design for the inaugural Wool People series. I cannot tell you how exciting that was! Then I was invited by Shibui to submit a design for their Geometry Collection – I submitted three for them to choose from, and to my surprise and delight, they used all three. I love seeing a little bit of Melbourne being included in collections around the world.

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Fusuma is a cowl knit in Shibui Pebble.

When designing, are you led by the yarn you want to use or do you do your own thing? Or is it a combination of all that and other intangibles?

I suppose each designer has their own methodology and typically it depends on the scenario. If I am invited to submit a design, then the yarn is effectively already chosen so that becomes a given.

I try to maintain a sketchbook of ideas that I regularly refer back over. This is my primary design reference from which I draw ideas, perhaps annotate with a yarn and colourway, stitch pattern options, and thoughts on construction or design options for the piece.

The actual design is always something I want to wear. I decided at the very beginning that I didn’t want to design just for the sake of it; I wanted it to be enjoyable since it is my second job and therefore needed to be about joy in the process. They are always designs I love and wear, and hope others might too.

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The treetops motif in Kozue are also echoed in Namiki.

Your work is always so beautifully realised, the finishing impeccable, with details that lift a familiar silhouette into something more. What makes you tinker away at a hemline or a stitch pattern or revisit a beloved pattern of yours to give it a new twist?

Thank you. I have learnt so much since my first forays into knitwear design. The perfectionist in me seeks to ensure a quality fit, excellent construction and knitting technique. This has continued to develop along with my own understanding of knitwear design.

This is the beautiful thing about design in all its guises: each and every new project provides an opportunity to stretch myself as a designer, to grow, to develop, to try new things, to refine my process and outcomes.

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Rauin; pic by Tamara Erbacher.

And how do you know when you’ve got it with a piece of work? Is something ever finished for you, or do you keep working away at published patterns – or, at the very least, let the subconscious work on it for you?

Ah, yes! The eternal designer’s question: when is the design complete? There are definitely times when yes, I feel the design is exactly what it should be and I am supremely pleased with the end result.

Sankai|Woman is an example of this. This design was an extension of one of my very first designs, Paper Crane. I love Paper Crane for its simplicity and how it plays with the inherent properties of knitted fabric to roll, which I showcased by juxtaposing two grains of stocking stitch across the bust. I thought these two features could also be applied in a more fitted and somewhat traditional sweater with some serious short-row shaping for a more polished result with hidden cuff details and tailored back shaping.

Paper Crane (left) and Sankai (right) have a fraternal resemblance. Sankai pic by Tamara Erbacher.

On average, how long does a piece take from first swatch to publication/upload?

If I am submitting a design to a company, I spend at least a month sketching, swatching, washing, blocking, photographing, drafting and then writing up my design proposal. I submit a PDF with all the relevant design information, which might include a sketch of the piece drawn to scale with dimensions (yes, ever the architect!) and possibly front and back views of the design, the design concept, yarn, gauge, needles, stitch pattern, design details and techniques.

Once the design is accepted, we agree on a date for the final knitted sample; it might be eight to twelve weeks later for a single piece, with a sized, graded and tech-edited pattern accompanying.

It might then take between four to six months for the yarn company release the pattern to the public. So, all up, somewhere between seven and twelve months.

For my self-published designs, the process is more organic. I have a small self-published collection coming out in Woolfolk Tynd soon. After initial sketches and swatches, I received the yarn and started work on the first design. Unfortunately at times the collection has been set aside for my work commitments but I am pleased to report I am now on the home straight. It has been two years in the making! Thankfully, not all my designs take this long – usually more like three to six months from start to pushing the ‘publish’ button.

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Zumthor.

Do your patterns come to you resolved or does the success of the piece lie in the countless hours of finetuning and working with test knitters?

You can see from the above that my answer here is a definite no! For me, it is a process of countless hours of visualisation and contemplation, often in the early hours of the morning when I should be asleep.

I prefer to knit each design because I finetune the piece as I go. My sample knitter is fabulous, but I try to limit her potential frustration by providing designs that I have already worked through at least once. I trust her to point out any errors or ways I could phrase a particular technique or sequence to make it simpler or more readily understood by another knitter.

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Hane; pic by Tamara Erbacher.

We know you have another life as an award-winning architect. How do you reconcile both jobs? Do they play well together? It may be projection on my part, but it does seem like architectural elements find their way into your knits.

While I love designing knitwear, I work hard to ensure it stays fun and is a positive, creative outlet. At the end of each day, I love sitting on the couch with my knitting for a little bit of ‘me-time’. Being an architect is definitely my main role and not something I am willing to give up just yet.

I agree with you, my design aesthetic plays across both my architecture and my knitwear design: clean and minimal, highly functional and efficient, considered and refined. I also love sewing and photography, and have dabbled in ceramics and printmaking. I see a consistent design aesthetic across all these disciplines.

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The Fractal Cowl is a sliver of Melbourne for the world: the triangles in the body of the cowl are inspired by the architecture at Federation Square, designed by Lab Architecture Studio.

What are the challenges to running your own business? How do you get the business and the creative aspects to mesh?

There are many challenges. Architecturally speaking I always need to find new clients; the majority of my projects come via personal recommendation.

Also work–life balance and time management (24 hours are simply not enough!) are big challenges. While there are many benefits to running your own business there are most definitely times I wish I could simply clock off and leave it all behind at the office. For me, knitting is an excellent way to relax and switch off while still being creative.

What and who inspires you?

I am passionate about modern design in all its forms – architecture, art, ceramics, fashion, food, furniture, sculpture … the list is long. Japanese design and designers. I love the concept of simplicity – the process of paring back to the essentials to release an inherent beauty or key element.

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Amime; pic by Tamara Erbacher.

What is on the horizon for Assemblage?

2016 is going to be a great year for Assemblage! I have two design commissions to be released in the first half of 2016 along with new self-published designs, including two small collections in Woolfolk, two pieces in Habu and a re-release of a design in Shibui. I’m excited about the next chapter and I so love being a part of this crafting community.

Pebble_2_small2And a big thank you to Sunspun, who are avid supporters of my designs and my local yarn store. I look forward to meeting some of you at the class in March!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s been such a pleasure having Kirsten with us. Come and say hello to her on 9 March for the Seven Circles class, and knit one of her designs – we promise you won’t be disappointed!