designer interview: Loraine Birchall – Woolly Madly Deeply

annabella dress
Annabella Dress by Loraine Birchall

As I wrote earlier, I will be posting interviews with some of my fellow Indie designers who also participate in the Indie Design Gift-A-Long 2014. To read more about what this Gift-A-Long entails, click here. Today is my interview kick-off with Loraine Birchall, from Woolly Madly Deeply. She joined me in the chat room of the La Visch Designs group on Ravelry:

Hello Loraine! I’m very excited to be having this interview with you and get to know one of my fellow Indie Design Gift-A-Long designers a bit better.

It’s great to have the chance to chat you, thanks for asking me

You’re very welcome! Ready to get started?

Yes, ready when you are

Ok, first question: would you please tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a web designer in my day job and a knitwear designer in my ‘free’ time. I’ve worked in all sorts of jobs and careers over the years making anything from submarines and warships to websites and sweaters. I live in Ulverston, a few miles outside the Lake District National Park in the North of England. Born in Scotland but I don’t feel Scottish as I’ve lived in England more than anywhere else.

That is a very diverse background! If I read it correctly, your general career path has been designing related. But how did you start designing knitwear?

I’ve knitted since I was about five years old, my Grandma in Edinburgh was a sample knitter for the wool houses up there and made gorgeous fair isle and cable knits. I loved watching her. If I wasn’t watching her (or my English Great Grandma who was an avid knitter), I was meddling the garage with my Scottish Grandpa, he was an engineer and taught me how to take things to bits and put them back together, so I’ve always been fascinated with construction of any kind. I’m a curvy pear shape so nothing off the rack fits, I always had to modify to fit me, it made sense to sell the patterns I’d spent so much time on and was a natural progression after many years of making it up to fit myself.

I hated maths at school so it’s funny that I use it so much in terms of knitwear sizing patterns and also for the technology in my day job which involves lots of databases.

Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

It comes from everywhere, it might be a texture. Like some carved stonework or a panel of wood, bark on trees that sort of thing, but mostly the yarn tells me what it wants to be. I sit with it in my hands, swatch a bit and see what it wants me to make. Sometimes it takes a bit of ripping back but I won’t stop until I know exactly what kind of fabric it will be. I love color and texture, clever slipped stitches, mosaics etc

Other times, I think, I need some mitts and I have these two shades of yarn. Then I play with it a bit and write something up

Do you start you design process by starting playing with the yarn, or do you completely work out the design before starting knitting?

Most times I start with the yarn. Swatch, swatch and swatch until I like what I’ve got. Then I work up the design from there. I like to feel the drape of the finished fabric first, to see how it wants to lay. Does it curl or lay flat for example? Once I understand the fabric it’s easy to make that work with a shape of a cardigan or an accessory as you understand the characteristics it will give to the finished piece.

A lot of my swatches develop into hats or sleeves, I’m with Elizabeth Zimmerman in not wasting any stitch I knit lol

That is so interesting!
Some minor swatching aside I personally tend to write up the pattern before knitting it 🙂

I do it that way around if it’s for a magazine submission and there is a fixed deadline, it’s faster.

What’s your favorite thing to knit?

I love to make garments, sweaters, cardigans, large wraps. Hats and shawls too. I don’t enjoy making socks or gloves but I LOVE wearing hand knitted socks and gloves. So, sometimes I just have to get on with it. I like to wear my knits and as I’m usually cold, sweaters or jackets etc are perfect for that. Also, I have a selection of what my partner calls my ‘old lady shawls’ to wrap up in on cool nights.

Ah, those big warm wraps. My favorite too for when it’s cold!
What is your favorite pattern of your own design?

I like unusual construction, so modular knits. Aything knit on the bias or in an usual way. So, I guess my Adult Modular Cardigan or the Amazing Modular Baby Cardigan for that reason. But for something feminine with lots of details, the Rian Cardigan wins the day. I love them all for different reasons, sometimes is the yarn or the texture that excites me.

Adult Modular Cardigan Jacket
Adult Modular Cardigan Jacket

Pick one of your own designs that you think makes the perfect gift and tell us why you think that.

Oooh, that’s a tough one to answer. I love to wear hats and my Festival Hat is the favorite at the moment. It’s such a great way to use up scraps of color and make something unique. It looks really complicated but is actually so easy. It’d fit from a baby to a huge, man head and could work with lots of weights of yarns. It makes a really warm fabric. The ‘bubble wrap’ effect of the stitches makes it trap the air and keep you toasty warm. Loraine Birchall

It’s like being asked to choose your favorite of your kids lol, I feel I shouldn’t have a favorite.

I can indeed see that your Festival Hat would be great to customize and to use of scraps. I really like the colors you chose for your sample version. Those bright colors really brighten up a dreary autumn day.

Thank you, it was fun to knit. The decreases on the crown took a lot of working out lol.

festival hat
Festival Hat

Are you doing any gift knitting yourself this year?

Gift knitting: I’m making a hat for my Dad. Also, a Gansey Driving Cap by Anne Carrol Gilmour. She’s a lovely lady and her patterns are a delight to knit. I’m knitting two sweaters in the GAL, Taliesin Sweater and the Cranberry Brioche Sweater. Plus the Mom’s Favorite Color Hat, which is plaid, a great joke which made me laugh. I have to knit a cardigan for my new niece who is named after my Grandma, Lily. I knitted a Sloth toy for my son. Loraine Birchall

Lots more to do!. However, I may cheat and do the sleeves on a few cardigans on my Bond knitting machine. That’ll speed things up.

Wow, you really have quite a list of projects planned!
I’m looking forward to see your WIP’s and FO’s appear in the various GAL 2014 threads 🙂

I knit obsessively. I take my knitting to meetings (it helps me listen and focus). On the bus, when I’m being driven somewhere, to wait outside meeting rooms etc. My handbag always has emergency knitting in it. It puts the brain into an Alpha state, so it helps relax you as if you had been meditating.

Yes, I can see how all those minutes here and there are adding up…

I said I was obsessive lol :0
I treat it like a piece of work and schedule it into my day. Control freak maybe?

I see a bit of structure and order as a good counter weight for the chaos that usually accompanies the creative aspect of designing. There has to be some balance 😉

Thanks, I’m really enjoying the GAL so far, what are you knitting?

I intend to knit the lineside beanie, the Lumberjack beard-hat and have various designs going on that need samples finished. Busy!

It sounds busy but it’ll be great fun. I love the beanie and the beard-hat is great fun. I’m part way through one test knit and about to start another but my part of that knitting is all done. Loraine Birchall

It is a balancing act, if I feel like goofing off, I ask myself does it take me closer to my goal or further away? That usually gets me back on track, but I do take some time off.

Lovely! That’s it for my questions…

Thanks so much for doing this, Susanne, it’s really appreciated

You are very welcome Loraine! I really enjoy this chance to get a to know a fellow designer a bit better 🙂

It’s fantastic to chat to you, I’ve really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to see your new designs when they are ready.

Wonderful and thank you. Have a great evening! Loraine Birchall