• The Magpie Knitter…

    ...trying to get from "Oooooh, shiny!" to a design.
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  • Jen Johnson began knitting in 2007 while pregnant with her daughter and does most of her knitting for her daughter and son. When she couldn’t find the patterns she wanted, she added designer to her job titles of Navy wife and mother. Jen loves the inspiration she gets from all the beautiful yarns available, as long as she doesn’t get distracted by—ooh, shiny!
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Ooooooooh, shiny…that’s me.

Only it’s not really shiny things as much as pretty colors…namely, pretty colors on yarn. I started knitting in August of 2007 while pregnant with my daughter Lexie (in southeast Texas, of all places–not really known for a place where one needs a lot of wool sweaters). I think I’d only been knitting for 2 days before I got distracted by another yarn and pattern and cast on for a baby sweater while the scarf for my son Jeffrey was still on the needles. And so it began.

When I couldn’t always find the perfect pattern for the beautiful yarn was in love with, I decided to branch out and design my own. My early designs were usually single-sized patterns for one of my kids, like the dress for Lexie or fingerless gloves for Jeffrey…and they didn’t always work (let us never speak of the golf ball shaped thumbs on the toddler mittens again). But whether I ended up with an awesome finished object or an…um…learning experience, I loved the process and getting to see my children in something I designed…and then getting to see other people in something I designed.

Where this is going…

So, when my favorite independent yarn dyer, Sharon of Three Irish Girls, announced a call for design proposal submissions, 2 designs that had been vaguely floating around in my brain coalesced and jumped to the forefront. The situation couldn’t have been more perfect. First, I’ve had more “ooooh, shiny!” moments with Sharon’s yarns than with any other I’ve seen. Second, my children are older now–Jeffrey starts kindergarten in the fall, oh, my!–and I’m ready to branch out from my stay-at-home mom career. I honestly had never considered becoming a professional knitwear pattern designer…but I couldn’t ignore the signs, even if I wanted to.

I thought and researched and scribbled and erased and swatched and frogged and rethought and jotted and typed and blocked…and finally, sketched. That last was probably the hardest part. I, um…have trouble drawing a straight line with a ruler. I was the despair of every art teacher I ever had when it came to proportions.

Oh, and to complicate matters…Sharon had specifically asked for designs that would showcase her yarns. Most of her colorways are variegated so I was trying for designs that had more interest than stockinette but would neither be lost in nor compete with the yarn. And I had to capture that in my sketches too!

Finally, I had my best attempt at each proposal together and emailed them in. I learned it’s hard to type professional sounded submission emails with your fingers crossed, so I had to compromise with crossed toes.

Note to self: Uncross toes before trying to walk.

Then all I could do was wait. It helped that several of my friends in the Three Irish Girls group on Ravelry had also submitted design proposals, so we got to wait together. I wasn’t too nervous–to be honest, I thought my inexperience would work against me and it was unlikely that my very first design proposals would be accepted…until the day Sharon planned to announce her decisions. Then I was hitting the Send/Receive button on my email client several times an hour…right up until the email was sent out apologizing that due to the number of submissions, decisions would be delayed a day.


As promised, the email arrived the next day. I steeled myself and opened it.

“Thank you so much for your lovely design submissions…”

Uh oh. It sounded like the beginning of a polite and kind rejection letter…

“–we are very pleased to offer you the opportunity for publication with Three Irish Girls!”

I had to apologize to the kids for scaring them with my inadvertent shriek.

So, here I am.

And welcome to The Magpie Knitter! Here, I’ll be working to overcome to my “ooooh, shiny” tendencies to create beautiful designs…and maybe amuse you as I go. Enjoy!

Yarn pictured in header:

1. Cascade 128 Superwash Deep Sapphire, 2. Malabrigo Chunky Velvet Grapes (2), 3. Cascade 128 Superwash Olive Heather, 4. MDSW haul 2010, 5. 3IG Springvale Bulky Creamsicle and Mimosa, 6. Noro Kureyon Sock Yarn S40, 7. Stash Menagerie March 2009, 8. Castle Fibers Royal Luxury Peach, 9. Ellyn Cooper’s Yarn Sonnets Metallo Fern Gully (2), 10. Three Irish Girls Lindon Merino Arboretum (1), 11. 3IG Springvale Bulky Seacoast (2), 12. Frolic and Waterlillies (2), 13. 3IG Corpus Christi Beach and Texas Sky (1), 14. 3IG Wexford Merino Silk Just a Girl (1), 15. Artyarns Beaded Ensemble and Sequins 160s blue-greens, 16. Cascade Yarns 220 Superwash Paints 9869


2 Responses

  1. Hi Jen – I always enjoyed your blog TSWOFA – I was attracted to it because I grew up in the San Jose/Campbell area in California and had visited the Winchester House for years. If my memory serves me right, I remember a picture of you when you made a blueish colored hat (sort of like a cloche hat with a button on it) and a neck warmer, also with a button on it. Now that winter is upon us, I was thinking about what I wanted to make for this winter, and the picture of you with the hat and neck warmer came into my mind. I don’t think it is the un-purled cabled hat – the green one with the cables. If you are the designer and/or knitter of this lovely combo – is it available for sale or download?

    How brave of you and how creative of you to take designing serviously. I wish you all the best in this knitterly world. thank you – Hester from Atlanta

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