Designer Interview: Raven Knits

I know Raven (Ravelry link) casually from the four years of  the Gift-a-Long and elsewhere on Ravelry, and also from Google+. (She’s posting an inspiring daily hat feature for the GAL over there, by the way, and also on Instagram.) I associate her with her cute dog, Amber, and also patterns named for less well-known aspects of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Raven Knits Design bundle
© Raven Knits Design

Like Nim, Raven has used some of my stitch patterns in some of her designs, which you can find here. (Ravelry link)

Parthenocissus leg warmers
© Raven Knits Design

I like all of those, of course (I might be biased), but I also like her other work. Here are her Parthenocissus leg warmers, (Ravelry link) which are attractive and practical.

1. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in a non-crafty immediate family; my mother did manage to knit one sweater for my Dad when they were first courting, but only managed to knit one sleeve of a baby sweater when she was expecting me, which she turned into a finger puppet when I was 2 years old. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I was exposed to the level of craftiness in my extended Dutch family, and that led me to seeking out knitting lessons from the English mother of my boyfriend when I was 19. I haven’t put my needles down since.

My earliest designs were sweaters for my two sons. I was armed with a stitch dictionary and a pattern wheel; a cardboard device where you could turn the inner dial to the size you wanted, and plug in the number of stitches and rows needed for that size. I learned quickly that changing the stitch meant changing the gauge; my eldest in particular was squished into many lovely textured sweaters that really didn’t fit him. It wasn’t until Ravelry that I started trying to write down my ideas into patterns other people can follow.

Most of my patterns are inspired by nature, particularly plants. My father has a degree in horticultural science, and English as a second language, so very often he didn’t know the English common name for the plants around us; he taught me the latin names instead, and those have become my pattern names. I think lace naturally lends itself to organic motifs, and lace is still my favourite thing to design. Shawls don’t have to worry about that awkward need to fit human bodies that was such a struggle when I was knitting for my boys…

2. Which of your patterns do you think are great but are overlooked?
I’m particularly fond of Tiliacaea. (Ravelry link) I love the versitility of the pattern, and that no two Tilias need to be exactly the same. The two pattern motifs of the body can be swapped around as you wish, so it doesn’t ever have to be the same shawl twice. …but since it’s an “any gauge” pattern and requires a bit of mathematical effort from the knitter, I think folks are a bit intimidated by it.

It’s really not that difficult, and I’m glad to help out if anyone’s stuck.

3. What attracted you to joining in with the Giftalong?
I’m one of the 71 designers who have been part of every Giftalong since the beginning, and I was really excited by those initial conversations. The idea of networking with people, supporting and cross-promoting each other really appeals to me. I feel like a lot of the time designing is a really lonely job; as much as I like and respect other designers, at the end of the day they’re also my competitors. It’s nice to put that aside for a while and really appreciate where everyone is with their design journey, and be inspired by the way other people have approached a shape or stitch pattern.

4. What are a few patterns from the Giftalong that have really caught your eye?
Ooh, I’ve found some beauties! I’ve fallen in love with Anna Dalvi’s stranded colourwork stocking cap, Maple Leaf Touque, (Ravelry link)which caught me totally by suprise as I still think of Anna as a shawl designer.

And there are a couple of cardigans that will be finding their way into my library: Sand Snake (Ravelry link) by Paige Reisenfeld and Houghton Cardigan (Ravelry link)by Marie Greene. I seem to collect cardigan patterns every year during the GAL. I love both of these for their clean lines and attention to detail.

Finally, I’m definitely casting on a MOTES hat (Ravelry link) by Evie Scott. I love the way she adds little pops of texture into the stripes of this hat. There are matching mittens as well, if anyone’s looking for a set.

5. I’ve noticed that several of your patterns are named for more obscure characters from Tolkien, which I really appreciate. Do you think of the designs first, or do you find the name and then figure out the design to go with it?
It’s kind of funny; I’ve been a Tolkien fangirl since the age of 6, but I was really reluctant to start designing for that fandom. Mostly because I felt that it was already a very crowded arena, particularly after the Peter Jackson movies came out, and I felt odd about jumping onto the band wagon. …and then some friends told me to get over myself, as good friends are able to do, and I began plumbing the Silmarillion for ideas…

I chose the ring rune as my inspiration; ultimately there will be 20 main patterns in the Inspired by Middle Earth collection, one for each of the Great Rings of Power. Nine for men, seven for dwarves, three for elves, and one for the One Ring itself. It’s been an interesting way of approaching designing for Middle Earth, because it seems there are so many Elvish patterns already available, and so few Dwarvish ones…

I don’t think so much of the design first, but of the people or concepts I want to represent; the name comes first, and then the pattern follows. I wanted very much, for example, to explore the concept of the ring of enchantment around Doriath, so the Girdle of Melian was an obvious name for a pattern. After that, I had to decide how to conceptualize the enchantment in knitting stitches, and landed on representing the four seasons of the year, the twisting maze of the enchantment itself, and the wilderness beyond the borders of the hidden kingdom.

You can find Raven online here:

Ravelry: RavenKnits
Google+: Mindy Dykman
Instagram: RavenKnits