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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Novel Knits by Ann Kingstone

Ann Kingstone is a designer from Yorkshire in the north of England. I've met Ann on a couple of occasions and she's such a lovely person and a great designer. So when she asked if I wanted to be part of The Novel Knits Blog Tour I was happy to say yes.

 I asked Ann a few questions. I must admit I'm not a literary genius. I prefer 'chick lit' and 'knit lit' but my husband and kids love books and my oldest daughter is doing A level English literature so we do have books by a lot of great authors as well as many British classics in the house and I really ought to read some of these books one day.

The designs in the book are inspired by British authors. Who is your favourite  British author and why?
AK: Most folk won’t have heard of him! As a child I was utterly captured by the work of Arthur Ransome, and still love to return to his books to this day. Right now there is a hard frost outside my window making me want to go and dig out ‘Winter Holiday’ and curl up in a chair with some blankets and a hot drink for a good read...

Arthur Ransome wrote his Swallows and Amazons series between the first and second world wars. The books beautifully present the innocence of English childhood at that time, and show how with a child’s imagination the world around us becomes an adventure playground. 

How did you choose which authors to base your designs on?
AK: It doesn’t really feel like I chose them, rather it’s almost as though the designs themselves chose the authors. Most of my designs begin as an idea for a garment with a particular stitch pattern or construction, and then as I work out the details I also begin to think up names. For me naming a design is an intuitive process; it is like I am looking to discover the name rather than decide it. I always know when I’ve got there because I feel a sense of the name being ‘right’.  Of course, most of the designs end up with literary names because English literature is such a passion of mine; it’s where I go looking for the names!

About a year ago I discovered Jane Austen. Simon bought Vanessa the BBC series 'Pride & Prejudice' on DVD for Christmas 2010 and we watched it in Norway over that Christmas and New Year. I then decided I ought to read it and downloaded it to read on an e-reader on my phone. I then went on to read Mansfield Park and Sense & Sensiblity. I loved Pride & Prejudice but I think Mansfield Park is my favourite. There are several designs in the book inspired by Jane Austen's novels. Which is your favourite Jane Austen novel? 

AK: Funnily enough, my first favourite was Mansfield Park too, but that was before I had read Pride and Prejudice. That then became my favourite, and has remained so ever since. I think Jane’s gentle humour is most superbly expressed in this book, especially in the wonderfully comic characters of Mrs Bennett and Mr Collins, and in the very clever wit of the heroine, Elizabeth Bennett.

My favourite design in this book is 'Pemberley', which is just stunning. I do like stranded colourwork. 

There are several 'fair isle' designs in the book so I asked Ann for her top tips for stranded colourwork.
AK: For speed it really is essential to learn a method for holding both yarns at once without having to let go of either at any point during knitting. I prefer holding one yarn in each hand, known as the ‘two-handed’ method of stranded knitting. Alternatively, it is possible to hold both yarns for continental knitting, using the middle finger or a yarn thimble to keep them separated beyond the point where they are picked. With practise these methods become very intuitive and speedy, and I find stranded knitting almost as fast as my other work. 

Another Jane Austen inspired design is 'Hartfield' which is inspired by 'Emma'. I saw 'Emma' on DVD over Christmas and I really enjoyed it. I'd started reading it before christmas but wasn't really getting into it. I do like this design though.

Another author featured in the book is JRR Tolkien who, I must admit, I know nothing about. I do like these 'Lady Of The Wood' fingerless mitts though. They are so pretty.
 'Lissuin' is another design inspired by JRR Tolkien and is another beautiful fair isle design.
 I also asked Ann a little bit about local knitting history. What is Yorkshire most known for in knitting terms? For example when I think of Shetland I think of fair isle and Shetland lace? I know a lot of mills were situated in Yorkshire but I’ve never been to Yorkshire and don’t know much about the knitting history of the region?
AK: There are two key strands of knitting tradition in Yorkshire; coastal gansey knitting (traditionally seamless!), and the glove and stocking knitting traditions of the Dales (also traditionally seamless!). I briefly described the Dales tradition to MaryJane Mucklestone in her blog interview with me last week. Both this and the Gansey tradition are special interests of the local historian Penelope Hemingway, a knitter from East Yorkshire with a very informative blog. I know she is currently working on a book about ganseys, and a republication of the classic book ‘The Old Handknitters of the Dales’. 

What’s the state of knitting in Yorkshire these days? On the increase? Thriving?
AK: It is very much on the increase, with yarn shops and knitting groups springing up everywhere. For example, four new yarn shops have opened within a 5-mile radius of my home within the last few years! Ravelry has done much to bring local knitters together socially, and the Knitting and Crochet Guild continues to support knitters in growing their skills. Only last week I taught a class about feather and fan in a lively gathering of the Leeds K&G group.

The last chapter in the book is inspired by JK Rowling who I'm sure everyone knows wrote the very popular Harry Potter books. My kids (and my husband) were big Harry Potter fans, so although I've never read an entire book, I do remember reading bits to Em when she was little and catching glimpses of the odd Harry Potter DVD. And although I'm not a big Harry Potter fan I do like these knee-high socks, 'Durmstrang'. I've always wanted knee-high socks but the thought of knitting them puts me off so anyone who knits knee-highs in a fair isle pattern is worthy of admiration in my book and that the stitch patterns are inspired by Nordic designs is another plus.
One of my favourite knitting accessories are fingerless gloves. I find them so useful as my hands are frequently cold. I can wear them while knitting or typing. And i do love the ruffle on these pretty 'Unbreakable Vow' mitts.

How do you think British knitting has changed over the last 50 years?
AK: My Mum has lots of old knitting patterns from the 60s and 70s, so I have to base my understanding of how knitting was then on those, and on her continuing knitting preferences. Basically garments then were mostly knitted flat then seamed, and rarely had waist shaping! Even fair isle was knitted back and forth by the majority of knitters, with the traditional seamless methods remaining pretty much local to Shetland knitters. I think this was because, as now, people’s knitting skills and preferences were shaped by the availability of teaching material and patterns. The availability of teaching material and has been massively magnified by the internet, and so many more people are now learning seamless constructions and advanced knitting techniques. Also, able to select from a far wider variety of patterns, knitters have shown a preference for more fitted garments. They seem to me to be less influenced by fashion, and more keen to knit garments that will flatter their shape.

I self-published my first e-book last summer and then decided to have it printed as well. I found the whole project much scarier when I decided to have it printed than when it was ‘just’ an e-book. Not sure why an e-book was less daunting but it was. How did you find the process of self-publishing a book?
AK: It was indeed daunting! There were so many more considerations for print than for digital publishing, especially because in print the length of the book and the use of colour have a significant impact on cost. In order to make the book affordable it was very important to manage these carefully to minimise production costs. Another major consideration is that once the book is printed, any errors are irreversible, so it is imperative to have the book very carefully proofed by a technical editor. However, I was warned by friends in the business that even rigorous technical editing doesn’t prevent all errors getting through. I’ve found that to be true, and as a perfectionist I find it very hard to take!

On the other hand, I loved the feeling of doing something significant with my design talent. Having a book in print is such a huge achievement, and I feel that the process has done a lot for my confidence and sense of identity as a designer.  

Did you design all the garments and accessories in the book with the book in mind or did the book come together afterwards?
AK: About half of the designs were already in existence when I decided to do the book. Once I knew where I was heading though, the rest of the designs were carefully planned to fit in with the overall scheme. The last design to be added was the Unbreakable Vow mitts. Although I had plenty of Potter-themed designs in my portfolio, most of them are socks, and I didn’t want to only have socks in the Harry Potter section of the book!

Where can people buy your book from?
AK: At the moment it is only available from a few yarn shops and by mail order from my website. However, it will soon be distributed to a wide range of UK yarn shops by Great British Yarns, and in the US by Cooperative Press (they are currently initiating the first US print run).

Have you got any plans for any future books?
AK: I’m currently working on a book featuring knits through the seasons to be published this June. I do plan more Novel Knits books after that though. For a start, as I live in Bronteland I simply must do some designs with a Bronte theme as I live in Bronteland! 

'Novel Knits' has 15 designs in total inspired by 3 different authors. There is a variety of lace, fair isle and travelling stitches, 2 garments, 3 pairs of handwarmers, a bag, 3 shalws, a blanket, a beret, a hooded scarf (the one on the front cover) and 3 pairs of socks/knee highs. 

The patterns have clear charts and written instructions.  The book is the same size as a paperback novel which makes it easy to pop into your knitting bag. There is a small technique section in the back of the book describing some of the unusual techniques used in the book.

You can find Ann's website here and Ravelry designer page here. 
Thank you to Ann for letting me be part of The Novel Knits Blog Tour.

I'm working on a very exciting new club at the moment and I'll reveal all in a couple of days. Next on my list is a shop update and there will be more yarn added to the sale


Ann said...

Thank you for the review of the book & the interview - it's very interesting

Rhian Drinkwater said...

Some gorgeous designs and a really interesting interview.

Surely everyone has heard of Arthur Ransome?! Swallows and Amazons is a classic!