As well as being an urban-fantasy author, CQ’s Vicki Stiefel is an avid knitter. In fact, when she was preparing for the launch of her novel, CHEST OF BONE, beta reader and fellow knitter Rosemary Hill suggested the novel needed a book of knitting patterns to accompany it.

Vicki got together with renowned professional knitting designers Norah Gaughan, Rosemary (Romi) Hill, and Karen Clements (knit1LA) to collaborate on a knitting patterns booklet, and the rest they say is history.

CQ CEO Alisa recently sat down with Norah, Rosemary and Karen to talk about how they met Vicki, and the knitting community.


1) I guess to get everyone started, can you tell me how you have met, and how you have decided to collaborate on your knitting patterns booklet, to go with the Chest of Bone? I understand it’s not exactly done, right? Also, are you ladies doing this professionally, or do you still hold “day jobs”?

Norah: I don’t think we have all met. Our group centers around Vicki.  I met Vicki when she called me to ask if I would contribute a pattern to her book A Laidback Knitter’s Guide…  She was convincing. I said yes and also went with her on a road trip to the NH Sheep and Wool Festival.

I’ve been designing handknit professionally since …well, for a long time.  It provided me with two day jobs in the past, each as a design director. Right now no additional day job.

Karen: Hi Alisa, I only know Vicki. I’ve never met Nora or Rosemary, though I know of them and their work. I’m fortunate to not have to have a day job and to be able to design patterns full time.

Rosemary: Vicki and I met years ago when she co-wrote a book called “10 Secrets of the LaidBack Knitters: A Guide to Holistic Knitting, Yarn, and Life.” I knew her co-author and they asked me to design a pattern.

I beta read “Chest of Bone” for Vicki and LOVED it! I’m a huge fan of the urban fantasy genre. We just started talking about there needing to be knitting patterns to support the book!

I am a full time knitwear designer. I also teach at retreats and festivals.

2) How long does it take to put together a pattern, and what goes into it? I hear a lot of readers are knitters, and most knitters are readers, but I have never gotten into it myself - my grandmother knitted, but somehow she has never gotten around to teaching me or my mom, so the patterns look cool, but “all Greek” to me.

Norah: I am juggling so many things at once i don’t really know how long it takes to put one pattern together.  I can’t count the hours that ideas are bouncing around in my head, or that I spend on Pinterest looking at fashion inspiration to combine with whatever my current knitting or construction jag is.  When I do sit down to sketch it happens pretty quickly. Then come swatching stitches for the right fabric / silhouette combo - give that an evening or two.  Figuring out the construction and writing the first instruction for my knitter may take a couple shots of a few hours each.  I like to mull over things and change my mind. I need the extra time to remain flexible and open to new ideas of how something could be achieved.  The actual knitting takes from 40 to 60+ hours depending on the size and complexity.  The sweater then needs to be blocked. Changes are made to the instructions and it needs to be written in more sizes. My least favorite task. Sometimes I farm that job out.  There are still some checking tasks to be dome, but you get the ideas, right?

Karen: The length of time depends on the piece. How I work is I start constructing my sample and write the pattern along the way. I then send it to a tech editor to check my math, size it and make a schematic. I then photograph the sample. Once I have all the elements I can make a pdf that I upload online making it available for purchase.

Rosemary: The amount of time to develop a pattern varies all over the place. Some patterns take years to come to fruition while others almost write themselves in just a week. Basically, it is designing a piece of clothing and then figuring out the best way to create/knit it. After that, you need to make the directions understandable to others, so that they can create the same garment successfully.

3) Do you guys knit a lot these days? Try out all the patterns yourself? And what do you do with the proofs of concept?

Norah: I knit every day. I definitely knit all of my proofs of concept. We call them swatches.  I hoard all of my swatches in a big basket until i don’t know what to do with them.  When a friend of mine wanted a batch to use in an art project I was thrilled.

Karen: The length of time depends on the piece. How I work is I start constructing my sample and write the pattern along the way. I then send it to a tech editor to check my math, size it and make a schematic. I then photograph the sample. Once I have all the elements I can make a pdf that I upload online making it available for purchase.

Rosemary: I knit almost every one of my designs. Those that I don’t, I will do a giant swatch to test all the stitch patterns and shaping, and then send it on to a sample knitter. I keep all of my samples (if that’s what you mean), since knitters like to see trunk shows with all of the knitted pieces. I keep most of my swatches, as well.

4) Are you thinking of using modern technology to make things easier to visualize? Like virtual reality and whathave you? I would imagine it might be useful. Or do you just keep track of the patterns in your mind?

Norah: I draw sketches on my iPad and make diagrams on my MacBook Air. It’s a combination of old and new. Not exactly virtual reality. Sometimes I fold up paper models. That’s fun.

Karen: I use a computer solely to write the pattern, but need that hands on process.

Rosemary: I’ve always been able to think in 3D, so no - no plans for virtual reality or 3D models! It would take too much time to set up for limited benefit. What’s really important is the type of fabric you are creating, and the way the garment would drape on a human body. With 3D modeling or VR, I’d be assigning a fabric type and a fit to the garment that may or may not be the same as the ultimate finished object. It’s more helpful to swatch and create a “muslin” of the design by sewing up knitted fabric if I need to visualize the fit. 

5) Do you have a marketing plan for the booklet? Where are you planning to find your reader base? Are there knitting / sewing expos? How does one make a name for him- or herself in the community?

Karen: I think Vicki is taking care of that end with the booklet so she would be the person to ask. For the latter question, the internet makes it easier to get your name out there. It’s just a matter of putting your time in on social sites like instagram or on a blog or website. People respond to good design and well written patterns, word of mouth is big in this community.

Rosemary: There are knitting shows and events, retreats, yarn stores, forums, and even a dedicated social media platform for knitters. Overall, knitters are very tech savvy. We’re on social media a LOT. Marketing for a knitting pattern booklet is just like any specialized hobby where the hobbyists are online quite a bit. 

6) Since we’re a reading community - I have to ask. What is your favorite book (this question is for everyone) and what book hero / heroine would you have loved to meet the most in real life. How about the least? What would you tell them, if you could?

Norah: The Secret Garden remains one of my favorite books. I read it over and over when I was a child, so I would like to go with Mary and Dickon as the heroine and hero I most would have like to have met.  I would like to teach them how to knit. They both would have been happier if they could have known the power and thrill of making something with their own 2 hands.

Karen: Hmmm, I have too many books I like so I can’t think of one particular character I’d like to meet. I know who I wouldn’t want to meet, Madame Defarge!

Rosemary: That is a difficult question! I love books. So I’ll tell you the book I read when I need a boost in spirits: “The Secret Garden.” I don’t even know how many times I’ve read it! Other books I love: “Pride & Prejudice,” “Persuasion,” “Gone with the Wind,” and the Kate Daniels urban fantasy series. To be honest, I’m not really interested in meeting any book heroes or heroines. I love books because I can imagine the characters any way I wish. I wouldn’t want to meet the actual character and have my whole idea of the person dashed away. I often have that problem with movies, as well.

7) And because we’re a community deeply divided these days by politics, fears for the future, financial woes, I have to ask. Does knitting really help, relaxation-wise - as it does the protagonist in Vicki’s Chest of Bone? And if you are doing this for a living, are you really constantly relaxed - or do you need to search elsewhere for something to take your minds off things. And if so, can you recommend some of your techniques?

Norah: I suspect Knitting does help settle my fears. I am not at all constantly relaxed. I am always plagued with guilt about something else I maybe should be doing… BUT imagine how I would be without knitting. :)  Knitting adds focus. It’s amazing how much I can remember about whatever I am listening too when I am knitting.  I have been cooped up all winter now and haven’t been out walking in nature. I highly recommend walking in nature to make things feel better.

Karen: Regardless of the climate, I have nervous energy that knitting satisfies. Anything fiber related I do. Knitting, crochet, weaving, spinning… I don’t necessarily want to take my mind off of things but rather be able to think more clearly. Being a fiber artist helps me achieve clearer more mindful thinking (if that makes sense). My technique was passed to me from my grandmother, mother and aunts, “just do” and I do, everyday! ;)

Rosemary: Okay, so I completely burst out laughing when you asked if I was always relaxed! I think whatever you do for a living, there will be stresses. The trick is to do something you love so that the stressful aspects are overcome by the pleasure you get in doing your job. I love creating and designing beautiful things. I also love the math involved. And I’m a workaholic, so I have to do something I love. There’s no such thing as leaving my job at the office for me, so I chose something I enjoy.

But back to your questions…yes, knitting can be relaxing, especially if you’re someone like me who constantly fidgets. But there are people for whom knitting or working with their hands is frustrating. To each his or her own. I do knit for relaxation and I also design things in my head and engineer them. But I don’t actually swatch a new design or write up patterns for relaxation. That’s the part I least enjoy.

When everything is getting to me, the best thing I can do is go outside. I live out in the high desert and the sky is so huge and there is so much open space that it always puts things in perspective. I feel small and comforted at the same time. I also do positive affirmations. If I badly need a boost in spirits, I read “The Secret Garden” or listen to it while knitting.

About Norah Gaughan

Raised by artists in the Hudson Valley (her father, Jack Gaughan,  was a well known science fiction illustrator in his day) Norah was immersed in both art and the needle arts from an early age. Norah went on to earn a degree in Biology / Art from Brown University.  During the years that followed she concentrated on her greatest love, knitting. First as a freelancer for yarn companies and knitting magazines; then as the design director at JCA and more recently, as the design director at Berroco where she headed up the design team and published sixteen eponymous booklets. Norah’s upbringing, schooling and experience coalesce in her two hardcover volumes Knitting Nature and Norah Gaughan’s Knitted Cable Sourcebook, both published by Abrams.

You can find her patterns online at http://norahgaughan.com/

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About Karen Clements

Karen Clements of Knit 1 LA is a knit and crochet pattern designer specializing in heavier gauge yarns. Growing up in a family of knitters and sewers has fostered a life long enthusiasm for fiber that she loves to share, especially with her two young daughters. You can find her patterns online at http://knit1la.com/

About Rosemary (Romi) Hill

Knitwear designer Rosemary (Romi) Hill lives on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern Nevada, where the high desert nights are cool and the air is clear and crisp. A lifelong crafter and knitter, she is inspired by the natural surroundings in her corner of the world, and her designs have an organic flow. Her work has appeared in publications such as Vogue Knitting, Interweave Knits, Knitscene and Twist Collective, and in numerous books. Romi’s book New Lace Knitting from Interweave Press was published in September 2015 and features timeless patterns for garments and accessories. She loves dark chocolate with chili peppers, and she’s a sucker for a great pair of cowboy boots.
See Romi’s full pattern collection at www.ravelry.com/designers/rosemary-romi-hill .
Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @RomiDesigns, and on Facebook at Designs by Romi.
www.designsbyromi.com