Posted in Knitting
September 21, 2011

Contemporary Irish Knits blog tour stop

What can I say? It’s a very UK-author week for me here at Knitgrrl. First Woolly and now Carol Feller, both of whom I had the distinct pleasure of working with while I was still editing Yarn Forward. In fact, Carol wrote some articles for us on visiting Irish mills during my tenure at the magazine, accompanied by some fabulous photos by her husband. A quick look at the credits shows that he’s responsible for the beautiful images in the book, too!
But before I begin, here are the dates/tour stops for the book:
15 September: Stephen West              
17 September: Hoxton Handmade      
23 September: Rosemary Hill               
25 September: Ann Kingstone             
27 September: Marly Bird                    
29 September: JC Briar                         
1 October: Woolly Wormhead    
3 October: Anne Hanson              
7 October: Stephannie Tallent    
11 October: Alice Yu                      
13 October: Michelle Miller         
15 October: Deirdre Thornton     
17 October: Ilga Leja                      
I love that even as the book takes us around to some beautiful old mills, Carol provides yarn reviews of their products alongside the features and patterns. If you can’t get your hands on the exact yarn, this will be of great use to yarn substituters, as will the list at the back of the book.
The Tralee Aran skirt is a favorite of mine. It’s just slinky enough, and yet wearable — heck, I could even see pairing it with a matching cardigan for a very updated twinset. The cable hiding in the kickpleat is a genius and gorgeous detail.

Photo © Joseph Feller
(One aside, I got a little nervous watching Carol rock-climb in the photo on page 60 — a gorgeous shot, but a little nervewracking for this bystander!)
With patterns for men, women and children, Contemporary Irish Knits has a lot to offer every knitter who delights in cables, in beautiful wool yarn, and in the history and culture behind that yarn.
And now, some questions for Carol:
What was the most surprising thing you learned or saw as you were traveling around visiting the mills featured in the book?
I was amazed when visiting the different mills at how unique they all were. Each mill had developed its own methods for milling and selling its products that worked for them. Donegal Yarns is a larger mill than the other two and you really felt you were in a factory with large scale yarn production. They were completely focused on this and don’t have a factory shop (although Studio Donegal, with whom they work closely, is just around the corner). Cushendale, set within a village (the only mill that wasn’t in a rural location), has large windows and has retained some of its older machinery giving the mill an elegant, historic feel. Philip has a huge love of modifying machinery to suit his needs and really enjoyed showing us these unique features he had created. Kerry Woollen Mills is located near Killarney in County Kerry which is a very big tourist destination. As a result, they have a fairly large mill shop that caters for the tourist trade.
As an Irish designer, do you find that there’s a stereotype about Irish knitwear when you visit the States or elsewhere?
Traditional Irish knitwear has a very strong and unique worldwide reputation, but yes, is can be very stereotyped! Many people seem to have a fixed picture of “Irishness” that is anchored in a kind of romantic, historic idea of Ireland. While I wanted CIK to build on the skillful and creative work that that has been done by previous knitters and designers in Ireland, I really wanted the book to push Irish knitwear beyond these common pre-conceptions.
It’s funny that up to this point (with my self-published work) I think the fact that I am Irish has gone almost unnoticed. I think of myself as a designer first and foremost – and I think others do so to. Obviously CIK more strongly defines me as an “Irish Designer,” but hopefully at the same time the book changes our idea of what “Irish Designer” and “Irish Design” means.
What’s the biggest challenge for you when updating traditional types of designs for modern patterns? Fit? Styling? Something else?
Adding a good fit to traditional (or any heavily patterned) design does require a bit of forward planning. Sometimes I fantasize about the simplicity of just designing blocks of knits, but where’s the fun in that?!
I start the process by swatching different stitches and combinations until I’m happy with how they all work together. In many traditional designs the process ends there. They often don’t deal with the issues of fitted shoulders and waist shaping, as they would either use drop shoulders or simple saddle shoulders with no waist shaping. Adding a little more tailoring and careful details really makes a knit much more flattering and wearable so it is well worth the extra effort on my end. I need to be careful that my stitch patterns all work together with the shoulder style I am using, and that this is true for the full range of sizes given. I’ve given a fairly wide range of sizes in the designs in the book, from approximately 30” to 50” chest, so I had to be careful that both ends of the range work well. I think this is an issue for all contemporary designers; in older patterns you would often only see 3 possible sizes given, which is almost unheard of now!
Was it fun to work with your husband on the photos for the book?
Yes, lots! Over the last few years he has been doing the photography for all my self-published patterns as well as the layout for the patterns. This has really helped us to hone our couple working skills. Once we don’t step on each other’s toes it works really well. Both of us are so busy with our separate lives as well as rushing children around that it’s always nice to have an excuse for extra time together. We really need to plan more photo shoots at distant, exotic locations I think!
How do you manage to design such beautiful pieces and raise four gorgeous kids at the same time (as pictured in the back of the book!)? Do you have the best time management skills in the world or what?
I wish! I’m afraid that housework doesn’t get done and the kids usually have to call me 10 times to get me to answer (I kid you not). I try to be realistic about how much I can take on and not have too many deadlines overlapping. It usually works but I occasionally get caught out and things fall apart for a few days! I get most of my design and computer work done in the morning when they are in school, the afternoon is a crazy rush of homework/dinner/gymnastics/piano/tennis, and then when they all get to bed I get to sit and knit. I look forward to that time every day (and it always feels like such an indulgence when I am able to knit during the day).
With the book, the publisher knew that I had a lot of family (and self-publishing) commitments, so the deadlines for the book were planned with that in mind and it was never overwhelming.
If you could knit one type of pattern for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Cardigans, definitely! I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of them. When I begin creating it’s almost always cardigans or sweaters that are the first things that come to mind, and I get the most pleasure from designing and knitting them. It is probably helped along by the fact that I’m always cold, so even in the summer (Irish summer mind you) I’m always wearing a cardigan.
Don’t forget Rosemary’s stop on the tour tomorrow!

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