I love to look at a wall full of colourful yarns, run my fingers over the skeins, admiring the softness and texture while dreaming about what delightful creations I could knit, if only I made the time (and had the talent).
Then there are people like Kitchener`s Janelle Martin who take yarn admiration to the next level, and not only knit gorgeous things but create intricate patterns to showcase the richness and beauty of the wool. The bonus is people get to look fabulous in her creations.
Meet knitting instructor and pattern creator, Janelle Martin, the mind (and fingers) behind eclecticcloset.ca. For Janelle, pattern creation is more than the end result; it’s about creating organic, creative designs that start as a blank canvas and become a colourful and textured piece of art.
I had a chat with the knitting maven Janelle, who aside from her knitting projects also reviews books and manages strategies to support community mapping and sustainable economies.
What’s the best thing about knitting?
It makes me a more patient person! It relaxes me and allows me a creative outlet. Plus, it uses both sides of my brain at once, so anything I learn while knitting I tend to remember in great detail. And at the other end of those miles of yarn comes something you can wear.
It’s also social – there is a whole sphere encompassed by knitting. Knitters flock to one another and when we meet each other, we automatically have something to talk about. I traveled around New England in October visiting yarn shops and promoting my designs (you can see posts on my blog about the trip). Even though I was traveling alone, I never felt lonely because I spent each day meeting knitters and yarn store owners.
How many attempts do you need to make a pattern ready to publish or sell?
Some designs flow out of my head, onto my needles and then to the printed page without any bumps.
Others take a year or more to have them ready to publish or sell. My Flower Bell Stole is one that went back to the drawing board multiple times. I love using Japanese stitch patterns and this design features several, but the ones I used in the first version “ate” yarn and so I had to go back to the drawing board and rethink part of the design. I’m pleased with the final version but it is different than the original I had envisioned.
What inspired you to make your own patterns and publish them?
It started as a challenge just to see if I could do it. I had never really thought of myself as creative but I was always drawn to collage work and I think designing knits is closest to this process.
I start with my `blank canvas` by choosing the shape of the piece I want and then I combine stitch patterns to create the texture upon that canvas.
The exciting part is creating organic designs. I like there to be continuous lines in my work, for the stitch patterns to grow out of each other. Often this means I have to create transition charts to move from one stitch pattern into the other. My complex lace designs, such as Cartouche Shawl had five or six charts to handle these transitions, but the result is worth it.
Tell me about the knitting classes you teach at Shall We Knit?
As a guest teacher at Shall We Knit?, I teach advanced beginners and knitters interested in learning new techniques. One of my favourite classes to teach is on intentional pooling. Ask anyone who has knit with hand painted yarn, it can sometimes pool (the stitches of the same colour stack up near each other over several rows) and create blotches of colour in the knitted fabric. With intentional pooling, the knitter takes advantage of this and uses calculations and adjustments in tension to get the colours to line up in vertical stripes. It takes a bit of work but produces stunning effects.
Is your blog a forum for your patterns as well as your other hobbies, such as your book love?
I started the blog in 2005 when I was reviewing books for several online review sites. I mainly focused on literary fiction, mysteries, non-fiction about social issues and of course, knitting books.
As I began designing, my blogging seemed to decrease. I do want to get back to book reviewing again, but that won’t seriously happen until I finish graduate school in a few years. For now, I promote my designs, post things that catch my eye, and occasionally post about my garden.
What kinds of books do you like to read?
I love literary fiction, British literature, mysteries and fantasy/science fiction. Recently I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy as I wait for the next season of Game of Thrones to start.
I just finished Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, Sebastian Faulks` fantastic homage to the works of P.G. Wodehouse and A Feast of Crows by George R.R. Martin.
Any plans for a knitting pattern book?
Not right now but it is something I think about. I think the first step would be a mini-collection of 4 or 5 designs released together. A number of designers are creating some interesting work like this and I have few ideas coalescing.
What is your favourite wool to work with?
For merino, my favourite is independent dyer Indigodragonfly’s yarns. Kim McBrien is a textile artist based in Haliburton who has an amazing sense for colour, a wicked sense of humour and a love of geekitude that shows up in her crazy colour names that give nods to popular culture like Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Downtown Abbey. I’ve designed several patterns using her yarns including my most recent release Sargaço Shawl.
And then there’s cashmere…such a lovely fibre to use. Tabi Ferguson, owner of Sericin Silkworks is a local spinner/dyer who sells luxury fibres. My scarf pattern Gothic Forest was knit in one of her gorgeous cashmere yarns.
Any advice to beginning knitters?
Knit with yarn you love to touch and don’t be afraid to try new things. And take as many classes as you can. I still take classes from teachers I admire because I always pick up a new tip or a different way of doing something.
Spend some time on Ravelry – it’s the best resource for knitters on the web.
We all make mistakes; don’t let yourself be discouraged by them. Just keep knitting!
What else do you like to do in the arts-culture world?
I enjoy the Stratford Festival: we’re so lucky to have it on our doorstep. I also have friends involved in the Kitchener-Waterloo Comedy Festival (March 6-8) and Words Worth Books brings in some great authors for readings.
I also have a Little Free Library in my front yard at kid height, filled with children`s books. There is nothing better than seeing the neighbourhood kids stop and pick up a book.
Do you have a wish for Waterloo Region?
My biggest wish is that the region focuses on becoming more sustainable. My favourite quote on the topic is from Julian Agyeman, Robert Bullard and Bob Evans who describes the urgency for sustainable cities as “the need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and into the future, in a just and equitable manner, whilst living within the limits of supporting ecosystems.” My hope is that this region will someday lead the way in sustainability.
Janelle was recently nominated for a 2014 Arts Award Waterloo Region in the category of textiles. Good luck Janelle.
P.S. What is your favourite topic of conversation?
Books and literature: what have you read lately?
All pattern photos by Shawn Miller; Intentional pooling example and little library by Janelle Martin; colourful yarn image from A little loopy but I’m hooked blog