One of the most intriguing presences in the knitting world, SpillyJane is somebody I noticed right away when her striking colorwork appeared on Ravelry. If you’re like me, you can’t get the Canadian designer’s mittens, socks, and other projects out of your mind, because all of her designs are lovely and memorable in different ways—for a knitter who works in repetitious colors, she sure doesn’t come across as repetitive! In addition to her eye-catching designs, SpillyJane comes with a personality that never ceases to surprise me. Just follow her on Twitter to see what I mean.
SpillyJane is generous enough to be one of our sponsors of the 10th Annual Mochimochi Photo + Video Contest—winners will receive PDF pattern packages from her—and she was cool enough to answer a few questions about herself and her design work. I’m excited to get to know her more. I think we could all learn a thing or two from SpillyJane.
Anna: You began knitting as an adult, right? what made you give it a try originally?
SpillyJane: I had actually learned basic knitting and purling as a child, but never made anything more complicated than squares for dishcloths. Almost twenty years later, when I was in graduate school, I had a professor who always wore beautiful hand-knitted socks. Even though I had stopped knitting, I was always into embroidery and making things, and I became intrigued by the possibility of making my own socks. I was really taken by the idea that my drive to make things could produce functional, wearable garments. I remembered knitting simple squares, but wanted to know how to get the knitting to turn around the heel. It seemed like a crazy thing to be able to do.
Anna: This is a question I often ask of people who work with yarn: How has your relationship with knitting changed over the years?
SpillyJane: I’m not even sure how to think about this question because knitting has gradually become a very big part of my life. The changes were so gradual I barely noticed as they were happening. At first knitting was something I didn’t have to do; it was something I picked up now and then as a challenging diversion. I had to concentrate on it and it could even be a little stressful as I learned. Now it has become second nature; I don’t really have to think about what my hands are doing, it’s just a part of me. I bring a simple Stockinette sock wherever I go. I knit in the car (as a passenger, I don’t drive), at restaurants, and at all sorts of social gatherings. Of course, sometimes I have deadlines for patterns, so it has also become work. I will actually knit a simple sock as a break from more complicated knitting I might be doing for work. My relationship has mellowed and intensified at the same time.
Anna: If one knows anything about you beyond your designs, they probably know that you live with a parrot. What does Earl do when you’re knitting?
SpillyJane: Earl is a big fan of knitting. On good days Earl does his own thing and plays with his toys or sits on his perch and has a snack while I do my work. When he flies over and lands on my knee I know it’s time to put down the knitting and give him a scratch. But sometimes he can’t resist trying to “help,” especially if I am not using my usual DPNs. I have to be careful with circular needles because he is unnaturally attracted to the cord, which he could snip with his beak pretty easily. Neither can he resist straight needles, as the wooden beads on the ends are like tempting bird toys. He has developed a taste for yarn tags, and he has to search inside every ball for his favourite treat. When he was still relatively young he nibbled a hole through a bag, stole a skein of my hand-spun sock yarn, and tried to fly away with it. At least he has good taste.
Anna: We all know (or think we know) what cat people and dog people are like. What are bird people like, very generally speaking?
SpillyJane: Bird people have to be a little bit crazy. There is a lot of intense personality in a bird, way more than one would expect in such a small package. I call it “birditude.” Earl thinks he is a person, and he wants to be involved in everything that happens in his space, which is the whole house. Birds are very intelligent and complex, and can be messy and destructive. But bird people are patient and tolerant because they know the reward of a bird’s love is worth it.
Anna: You say in your bio that some of your design inspirations are songs. Can you tell us about one of your favorite song-inspired designs?
SpillyJane: Songs inspire my patterns in two different ways. Sometimes, like with Psychic Hearts, I have an idea for a pattern and then make the connection to a song title. In those cases the song really inspired the name more than the pattern itself. Other times, like with L’amour et la Morte, I was inspired by the song to make the design. That song is quirky and combines love and death and the old and the new. The socks pattern was inspired directly by my listening to the song.
Anna: Let’s talk gnomes. I believe that people and gnomes can live together in a spirit of tolerance. Do you agree?
SpillyJane: Yes of course, just as long as they stay out of the fridge. When you start finding beard hairs in the butter things get iffy.
Anna: If you hadn’t gotten into knitting, what do you think you’d be doing right now?
SpillyJane: I used to do a lot of paper crafts before I started knitting. I would bring origami everywhere, just like I do with my socks now. A friendly stranger once challenged me to a friendly “origami throw down” at our local pub. It was surreal, but fun.
Anna: Back to knitting. What’s your favorite color combination right now?
Anna: Can you tell us about your design process?
SpillyJane: My inspiration comes from things around me. I see something, like bricks or tiles or ironwork, and it sticks in my head. It may not strike me as a pattern right away, but eventually it has to come out. It will just come to me and suddenly I know it will be a pattern. Of course, not everything easily translates into knitting, so once that happens it’s just a matter of sitting down with a grid until it works. Sometimes it works fairly quickly, other times it can take a long time to get it working properly.
Anna: What’s your trick to keeping yarn from tangling while you’re knitting with multiple colors? And what’s your mental trick for staying calm while working with multiple colors? (Some of us get really tense when doing color work, I think.)
SpillyJane: I knit with both hands. This avoids tangles by keeping the balls of yarn separate, one to the left, one to the right. As far as staying clam, the more you knit colourwork the easier it becomes. I focus on the emerging pattern itself and become so absorbed in the process I don’t worry so much about the challenge of actually knitting it.
Anna: I’d love to know what you do when you’re feeling uninspired, and want to get back your creative energy.
SpillyJane: When I’m not feeling creative it’s like being in a rut. A change of scenery can usually help. It can be as simple as going out into the garden to be with the plants and their lovely, green, energy. Sometimes I will go a little further afield for a walk through one of our local nature reserves for something a little bit stronger. Travel is always good for a more dramatic change. Many of my patterns have been inspired to visits to other cities.
Anna: Do you teach or do other events? Can people meet you anywhere?
SpillyJane: I am not really into teaching, but I love meeting other knitters. I have done several trunk shows and book signings, which I have always really enjoyed.
Anna: Are there any other upcoming projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?
SpillyJane: I put ideas for individual patterns on hold while I was finishing my book. Now that it has been out for a while, I plan to start turning my backlog of ideas into patterns. I have several in the works, particularly for socks, that should be coming out in the near future.
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Thank you to SpillyJane for sharing a peek into her life and work! You can find SpillyJane’s designs on Ravelry, and follow her via her blog and Twitter. And don’t forget to enter the Mochimochi Photo + Video Contest by November 14th for a chance to win a pattern package of SpillyJane’s lovely designs!