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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gift-A-Long Designer Interview: Marnie MacLean

One of the other 292 participating designers in the GAL this year is Marnie MacLean (Marnie MacLean Designs) or Marnie in Ravelry. You can see all of her patterns here. Get 25% off her participating knitting patterns during the Gift-A-Long sale from November 13-21 with the code “giftalong2014.”

When did you start designing and why? 
Well, technically I started designing knits in junior high school, probably 25 years ago, if my math is right. I would knit hats for myself and, as weird as this sounds, I crocheted a blanket for some raccoons. My best friend's family ran a wildlife rehabilitation center and the baby raccoons were the cutest thing you've ever seen. Raccoons explore their world with their hands, which are very sensitive. I made a crochet blanket with old keys and other interesting textures, worked in, for them to play with and tear to pieces. That's exactly what they did. But I really didn't get designing in earnest until about 2003, when I started posting the projects I made for myself, for free online. It would take quite a few more years for me to refine my skills, and my patterns to the point where I thought they are of a sufficient quality to start selling. Every year I learn a few more skills and try to make my patterns better. I started on a whim, but I keep doing it because I absolutely love seeing other knitters and crocheters make my designs.

What is your favorite pattern you have design to date and why? 
According to ravelry, I'm up to 114 designs so there are a few to choose from. I try to always design stuff that excites me, so that even if it's a flop, I can still feel good about the project. I guess my favorite is often one I've designed recently. I'd probably choose the Willowherb pullover at this very moment. I really like the asymmetrical motif placement on the body, the darts and the soft gray color of the yarn.

And if I had to choose from my few crochet designs, Aasha would be the favorite of the bunch. I just love that border motif and I spent a lot of time trying to create charts that would make crocheting the design easy even for people who are relatively new to crochet.

What is your least favorite pattern you have design to date and why? 
A lot of my older designs, from before I started designing professionally, are below the standards I hold myself to now. I leave them up for free because people still knit them and I am happy to have people use them as jumping off points. They are also good reminders of how far I've come. They are part of the reason I try to offer so many tutorials for aspiring designers, on my blog, There aren't really training programs for designers and I was lucky to be able to start before people had high expectations for online patterns. I want to help other designers have a positive experience designing for an audience who expects much more, now. 

What inspire you to design? 
I think, like most designers, inspiration can come from a variety of places including historical fashion, costumes in movies, TV, and live performances, runway shows, people on the street, things seen in nature and necessity, and sometimes, there is no inspiration, per se. I publish pretty regularly and I don't always have the luxury of waiting for inspiration. I find that simply pushing myself to design is inspiration enough.

What is your design process?
In most cases, I have a rough idea of what I'm going to do either because I've created a submission for publication or I've pitched an idea to a yarn company who will be providing yarn support. The first thing I do, once I have my swatch, is to calculate and chart out everything for the pattern. I don't write the pattern, but I have all the numbers for all sizes (if it's multi-sized) and all the charts in the final form so I can actually test what I plan to use in the final pattern. This is especially important in shawls with larger charts and garments in many sizes. If I can't multi-size the pattern in a logical way, there's no point in knitting the sample. Better to find a solution that works for all sizes and make sure the sample is a good match for the final pattern. Once the sample is knit, it's usually only a couple hours of work to get everything finalized for the publisher or tech editor. Since I'm updating numbers as I go, I don't need to worry about reverse engineering the finished sample, when I'm under deadline.

What is your favorite yarn (fiber, weight)? 
I guess that all depends on what I'm knitting. For shawls, there's something absolutely magical about a lace weight yarn with some silk in it. While they aren't always as practical to wear because they are so delicate, the gauzy fabric is breathtaking in even the simplest stitch pattern. For garments, I'm most fond of merino and merino blends. I love pieces that are fitted, or semi-fitted and merino is soft enough to wear near the skin and has tons of natural elasticity. A DK weight is my go-to choice for most garments. It's thick enough that a sweater doesn't take too long to knit but not so thick that it can only be worn a few weeks of the year.

What is your favorite needle/hook?
Almost everything I knit is worked on a US 4, 5 or 6 needle (3.5-4mm). For crochet, I love my US D, E and F (3.25-3.75 mm) but the best needle or hook is always the one that makes the fabric look best.
Which of your pattern make for really great gift? 
Well, I think shawls are a great option for gifts, if your recipient would like one. They don't need to be sized to fit a particular person's shape and worked in a sturdy sock yarn they make wonderful scarves in winter and beautiful accessories in warmer weather. Eight of my shawl patterns are part of the GAL. I also have a hat and mitten set, Uchiwa, that would make for a quick knit for someone who doesn't like shawls.

Does anything intimidate you in knitting or crochet?
I don't think anyone should be intimidated by knitting or crocheting. Practice with inexpensive yarn, if a technique is new, but other than steeks and yarns that are damaged by a lot of ripping and reworking, almost everything you do in knitting and crocheting, can be undone. I've been knitting and crocheting long enough that I've made almost any mistake you can dream of, and I'm a better designer for it. It's the lessons you learn the hard way that teach you the most.

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