I’m really excited to start this week off with EK’s very first ‘Maker Monday’, featuring Emily Nugen of The Blue Mouse! Emily is from Columbus, Ohio, and is one of my current favourite knitwear designers. She is also the face behind The Portland Wrap, which was featured in my lastest post. Emily was kind enough to take a few minutes out of her day to answer some questions about herself, as well as offer some great tips for those who are considering venturing into pattern writing for themselves!
So to start off, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself, and how you started knitting?
I learned to knit in middle school, but really picked it up when I got to high school. It was the perfect creative outlet for me, and something I really loved doing. Now I’m 21 and have been knitting for over eight years, but in the past year it’s transformed into something completely different for me. Initially I could only knit a basic scarf, but last October I designed my first pattern and fell in love with that aspect of knitting. I never imagined I could be able to design knitting patterns, heck this time last year I couldn’t even knit a hat, and now I’m knitting and designing shirts, sweaters and all kinds of more advanced things. I can’t get enough of it, so much so that even though I just graduated college I’m pursuing this as a career instead of looking for a job with that degree.
Your patterns are very unique, and it seems like something new is always in the works! With the thousands of knitters online, how do you keep a sense of individuality? Where do you find inspiration?
Something that has been important for me when designing patterns and maintaining a sense of individuality is to stick with what you like instead of trying to please other people. I design items that I would wear or that I would keep in my house instead of following whatever trend is going on now or what is popular. In doing so it makes my designs unique because I’ll probably be making things that other people who are following what’s “in” aren’t and people start to take notice. I have a book of 500 knitting stitches and I draw most of my inspiration from it. I love flipping through it and bookmarking the stitches that stand out to me, and then brainstorming what I think those patterns would look great as. I keep a running list on my phone of all my project ideas and the stitches that I think would pair well with them. Now they don’t always work out, but that’s all part of the process, you’ll fail a lot and that okay, that’s normal. I draw a lot of inspiration from Pinterest, I love looking through the fashion section and seeing what I like and if any of it could be knitted. I also take elements of clothes I see and incorporate them with stitches I like from the book, like one of my new patterns has ruffled sleeves inspired by a top on Pinterest with a lace back I found in the stitch book.
How long does it typically take you to write a pattern, and what sort of process goes into it? Do you have any tips for readers who are considering venturing into the art of pattern writing?
It depends on the size of the item I’m making. So for a washcloth pattern that I make in three sizes, it takes me maybe a day or two to knit them up and another few hours to photograph and type up the PDF. Those are the easy patterns to design, making garment patterns is much more time intensive. I just designed a crop top pattern a couple weeks ago and it took me a few days to knit up one size of it, but that’s the easy part. As my boyfriend reminds me, the last 20% of your work is 80% of the work, meaning that the last bit takes the longest and that rings so true for the design process. The last 20% of this process is to convert the pattern to multiple sizes (I knitted a size S, so converting it to XS, M, L, & XL) and type it all up into a PDF. The math involved with converting a pattern of this type took me a long time, and typing up pages on pages of the PDF took a long time as well. In the end it took me a couple days to knit up the first size of the pattern and a few days to convert and type up the pattern in multiple sizes. The easy part is knitting it, the hard part for me is all the math involved with converting the sizes.
If you’re thinking of getting into pattern writing I encourage you to try it, and I have a five tips for you:
TIP #1: Just go for it. It can be scary to put a project you’re proud of out there in front of the world, but I encourage you to just go for it. What is the worst that could happen? Maybe someone doesn’t like it, but who cares? Maybe a test knitter finds an error? Good! Then your pattern can be corrected before buyers get to it. My point being, there is nothing too horrible that can happen if you just try it.
TIP #2: Swatch and swatch again. The gauge is so important when it comes to designing, especially if you’re going to be converting it to multiple sizes. Make up a couple swatches and block them before starting your project. I know it feels so tedious and annoying because you just want to get started on an idea, but this step is critical.
TIP #3: You don’t need a fancy software to design the PDF. I use Pages which just came with my macbook, but you could also use Word or Google Drive has their own version of word that would work too. Just use what is available to you.
TIP #4: You don’t need fancy yarn. I had the misconception before I started designing that you needed to buy really fancy and expensive yarn for designing patterns, and while there’s nothing wrong with that you don’t need it to make a pattern. Use the yarn you’re comfortable with and that you like.
TIP #5: have it tested by other knitters. People love getting access to free patterns so if you offer people the option to be test knitters most will jump at the chance. Ask them on your social media pages, or in Ravelry groups and you’ll be sure to find people to help you out.
We all have some items we love to knit more than others, what are a few of your favourites? Is there anything that sits at the bottom of your list?
I’ve really fallen in love with knitting shirts and really anything with sleeves because it’s so new and difficult for me that I enjoy the challenge. I like to knit items that are challenging because it pushes me to learn new techniques and to grow and I feel so satisfied when it’s completed. I’d say I like making larger and more difficult items as opposed to hats and scarves because of the process, I feel like I’ve accomplished a great feat when they’re finished. Scarves are at the bottom of my list for now, but perhaps it’s because summer is here and I’m excited for summer knits.
Believe it or not, we’re almost halfway through 2017– What are your goals for the next half of the year?
It’s crazy how fast this year has gone by! It’s almost time to start working on fall stock, how did that happen?!? I have a few short term goals: I want to have 50 patterns out, or close to it, by the end of this year (ambitious I know so we’ll see how it goes, ha!), reach 10K on Instagram, do more knit hangouts with local knitters, and I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a blog/website. I’m overflowing with ideas for this year and I’m so looking forward to creating as much as possible.
Finally, as a pattern writer you must play around with many different types of yarn, and i’d love to hear about some of your favourite brands! What is so great about them, and where do you recommend purchasing them?
I’m pretty cheap when it comes to yarn, so I get it all either from Hobby Lobby, Michaels or JoAnn’s. Hobby Lobby is winning the yarn game in my opinion, my favorite by far is their ‘I Love This Cotton’, it’s the most incredible yarn. It’s crazy soft and durable, yet lightweight and airy at the same time. All my summer projects have been made out of that so far, and it makes the softest baby blankets too. I also use their ‘I Love This Yarn’ all the time, it’s a great bargain because they come in large skeins yet they’re cheap and the yarn is actually very soft and comes in an endless amount of colors. I love to use it for blankets because practically any color combo you can dream up they have available. My other favorites are Michaels new Color Wheel yarn, and Lion Brand’s Heartland yarn although I don’t use them nearly as much as Hobby Lobby’s yarn.
Check out a few of Emily’s patterns below! Click on the images to purchase them for yourselves.
Seattle Sweater Wrap Pattern, CA$6.95
Rainier Headband Pattern, CA$6.95
Louise Scarf Pattern, CA$6.95