• 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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Shawl Design with Kirsten Kapur

shawl design

When the email came out from Fibre Space a few months ago with the list of upcoming classes, “Shawl Design with Kirsten Kapur” was the first one my eye lit on. I love shawls. You wouldn’t know it, looking at my project page–sadly devoid of any shawls, although I have knit a shawlette–Mary-Heather Cogar’s Simple Things. I love the pattern (obviously, since I’ve knit not just one, but two of them), but part of what I love about it is that it’s great for showcasing colorful hand-dyed yarns that would obscure intricate lace patterns. So my lace shawl experience is non-existent…

…which would probably make the idea of me taking a shawl design class sort of silly, but I’ve never let a little thing like inexperience stop me. Now that I know about shawlettes (I think part of the reason I’ve never knit a shawl is because of the size and time; I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that I knit children’s items because they’re smaller and quicker), I can see me knitting more, and I’d love to be able to design my own. More than that, I knew I should jump at the chance to expand my design knowledge, even if I never design a shawl pattern to share.

So I signed up right away, thinking there was a good chance the class would fill up quickly…and looking around the room as the class got started today, it looked like it was sold out. I’m sure as much as the class itself, the teacher was a draw. I didn’t recognize the name Kirsten Kapur at first, but she’s the designer behind the great designs at Through The Loops. Her Pembroke Vest in the inaugural issue of Petite Purls is on my to-do list for every male in my family under the age of 8. And this was personally exciting for me because I’ve never taken a class from a well-known designer before.

The shawl design class was a 4-hour class, and I have to say I was surprised when people started cleaning up their gear that 4 hours had already passed…at the same time couldn’t believe that I’d learned so much in just 4 hours. As I told Steve, I left both confident that I could design a lace shawl with multiple stitch patterns and in even more awe of people who do design those intricate patterns. I knew intellectually that a lot of work would have to go into those designs, but now I know that from a bit of experience as well.

Really, the whole experience was wonderful. Kirsten is an awesome teacher: friendly, personable, fun, and very confident in her subject matter. I was really impressed by how she managed to juggle a class full of people with a wide variety of experience; she easily bounced from students having trouble with charting their initial stitch pattern to others who were asking about altering stitch patterns, to others still asking for advice on designs they’d started putting together before the class. And I enjoyed working and chatting with my fellow students, who all seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as I was.

At the end of the 4 hours, I left with the beginnings of a shawl design. It’s nothing intricate or terribly special, but I’m quite proud of it. I learned how to pick out lace patterns–both an initial pattern and then other patterns to coordinate with it, and I learned some tricks on how to modify lace patterns and fit them in. I think my resulting design is going to be cute. Now all I need to do is find the time to finish it…but I’m going to finish it and knit it!

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Back to School Shopping

This past weekend was the tax-free holiday in the state of Virginia. Naturally, I took advantage of the chance to buy the kids’ winter clothes, as well as the supplies my son Jeffrey needs for kindergarten (less than a month until my oldest starts school. Mom is not ready). And I took the opportunity to buy my school supplies as well.

Nope, I’m not going back to school–at least not a traditional school–at 36. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but I’m plenty happy with my master’s. I needed supplies for one of the classes I’m taking from Shannon Okey, aka Knitgrrl. Shannon has a virtual studio where she teaches online classes. I wish I could remember for sure where I’d heard about them, but I’m pretty sure it was from a fellow Three Irish Girls knitter on Ravelry, who was taking one of Shannon’s classes. I’d also been seeing tweets about Shannon’s book, The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design, and they were so overwhelmingly positive that I figured there had to be something worth looking into. So I hopped over to Shannon’s site, checked out the book (which I bought; more on that in a later post), and found the Tech Editing class that my friend was taking.

The class was full, so I signed up to be notified when a class was enrolling. A few weeks later, I got the notification and clicked right over to sign up. And then I flipped back to the page that I’d clicked through to originally, because I saw that she also offered a Designer 101 class that was currently enrolling. Signed up for that one as well.

Over the course of the next several days, I uncovered several more classes that were enrolling, and I signed up for 3 of them: Get Published!, Marketing and Branding, and Fashion Illustration. The class on getting published I’m taking in more of an observer role; I don’t have any plans/desires to publish a book of any kind at this time–heck, I still don’t have a single “for sale” pattern published–but that might be something I’m interested in down the road. Additionally, a lot of what’s being covered is applicable beyond just the world of book publishing. I am nearly completely clueless on proposals, so anything I can learn will be good for me.

The Marketing and Branding class, despite its small size and the fact that I haven’t done many of the assignments yet, has already given me some great lessons I’ve taken to heart. It’s where this blog idea came from, for one, as well as the associated Twitter account–both separate from my personal blog and Twitter account. And then there’s the Fashion Illustration course. Of all them, this might be the one I need most desperately because…I can’t draw.

Really, I can’t. I have trouble sometimes drawing a straight line if you spot me a ruler and gridded paper. My stick figures (the best I can do) would make Picasso say “Whoa!” and my sense of proportion and perspective would leave Escher shaking his head.  And that was the class I needed the supplies for: drawing tablets, colored pencils, pens, blending tools (what the heck are blending tools? I wondered), and more. I admit–I had fun shopping for that stuff. I get a real sense of pleasure from good pens, paper, and drawling tools…I just can’t use them very well. The first assignment still has me a bit paralyzed.

The classes I’m most active in are the Tech Editing and Designer 101 classes. We are 2 assignments into each, and I can honestly say that I’ve already learned enough to make both classes worth the enrollment fee of $65 each…and there’s still so much more to come! Shannon and her teaching partner Alexandra (who runs the Tech Editing class) are great instructors with lots of great info to pass on, but classes are even richer due to the diversity of the classes. We’ve got beginning designers and tech editors, of course, but we also have established designers (I will admit to a major fan girl moment when Georgie Hallam of Tikki Fabric Addict joined the same Tech Editing class. I’ve knit her Rainbow Dress, am currently knitting Bloom, and plan to knit a couple Milos…and that’s just near term), test knitters, and an independent yarn dyer who wants to have a better idea of how to work with designers.

So for anyone with any interest in the design process, from any angle, you’ll want to look into these classes. And if you join the virtual studio, say hi! I’m there as Jen Johnson.