Hello yarn folk! Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Jen Arnall-Culliford, who is an amazing designer, editor, and writer! She is the brilliant mind behind the Year of Techniques, a set of patterns and linked tutorials that can help knitters get out of their comfort zone and try something new. As a technical editor, she has worked with so many of our favorite designers: Kate Davies, Bristol Ivy, Carol Feller, Gudrun Johnston, Donna Smith . . . the list goes on! I personally love her style and can-do attitude. She is helping knitters learn new things (which is close to my heart) and expand their horizons. Luckily for us, Jen is also just about to release a *new* Year of Techniques–I’m looking forward to seeing what she’s come up with! Plus, Jen has generously agreed to sponsor a GIVEAWAY for her Bruton Hoody! If you want to get involved, head over to our Ravelry thread OR the YouTube video for Episode 49. Leave a comment about what techniques you’d like to learn! So, enjoy the interview below, get to know Jen a bit better, and . . . I bet you already have one of her books in your collection, so share it with a friend 🙂 All pattern photographs are © Jesse Wild
KTS: How did you begin designing your own patterns for shawls, sweaters, and accessories?
Jen: My design career started when I worked as Technical Editor on The Knitter. I was involved in the commissioning process for the magazine, and had an idea for a pair of socks using the helical knitting method. My Editor, Juliet Bernard, took a chance on me and commissioned them for Issue 7, despite me not having written a knitting pattern previously. I really enjoyed the process, but only because I’d had a very techniques-lead idea. I then went on to contribute a number of designs to The Knitter, and the sister publication, Simply Knitting, each time guided by a particular technique, or necessity within the magazine commissioning process. After I left The Knitter, I worked with Jeni Hewlett at Fyberspates to produce her first pattern collection, and I contributed a few designs to that book. I’ve never really considered myself to be “A Designer”, but rather someone who does designs from time to time. I certainly couldn’t make a living from design alone.
KTS: I love the idea of a Year of Techniques! Maybe it’s because I’m an editor (of an academic journal), but I’d love to know more about the process of creating this collection of patterns and techniques.
Jen: We are launching the follow-up to A Year of Techniques in just a few weeks’ time, and we’ve been working on it since late autumn 2017! It’s quite a long process to put together the right combination of techniques, designers, patterns, tutorials and videos! The first job was to approach designers whose work I love, and ask them whether they would be interested in creating an item that could be used to showcase a particular technique. I am lucky in that my work as an editor has allowed be to work with many of my design heroes within knitting. That’s made the commissioning much easier. That said, this time round there are quite a few who I haven’t previously worked with, so it’s been great to get to know their styles. I then spend some time talking techniques with each designer, and we come up with a concept for their piece and select a technique, item and yarn. I then have to make sure as I go along that everyone doesn’t want to design blue hats in the same yarn! Once we had all 12 projects sorted out, I spent a morning switching pieces of paper around to create a timetable so that each technique in introduced in the right order (some techniques build on each other, and some items use techniques that we’ve taught previously). Each season then needs to be balanced for the mix of type of project (not all socks, or three hats in the summer etc…), as well as to give a roughly balanced cost for the seasonal yarn kits. Once all of that is sorted, it’s just a case of the designs being completed, photographed, edited and then tutorials written, swatches knitted and hand shots taken. Oh and there’s some video filming in there too. It’s a really big job, but also a lot of fun. I hope that knitters will enjoy the programme of learning and knitting that we have put together.
KTS: Do you have other favorite designers or mentors that have helped you (literally or figuratively) along the way?
Jen: Oh gosh! There are so many, but the main people would have to be Jeni Hewlett from Fyberspates, and Kate Davies. It was Jeni who gave me the confidence to go freelance, and she supported me so much when I was starting out with my own business. We worked on a number of pattern collections together, and she’s still really important to me now, as she and her husband Andy have helped us to develop our Something to Knit With yarn ranges. I started editing for Kate in 2011, and she has been really supportive of my design work. We published a number of patterns together under the Cross-Country Knitting title, and then I co-edited The Book of Haps with her in 2016. Without Kate we would never have published our own books. She was absolutely sure that I had something to share with the knitting world!
KTS: You also offer yarn support and kits . . . what is your favorite thing about running a yarn shop online?
Jen: Having a really good excuse to buy lots of my favourite yarns? And I absolutely love packing orders, as it’s like shopping vicariously for other people. I get really excited for what other people might make with their parcels of squishiness!
KTS: What advice would you give to someone who wants to begin designing?
Jen: Read a lot of patterns, and knit from a wide range of different patterns. That way you can get a feel for the sorts of things people find confusing and frustrating when following patterns. You can tell that I come to this from quite a technical perspective! I have no advice at all about where to get inspiration for how something might look because that really isn’t my strong suit, but if you have a broad knowledge of pattern writing techniques and ways of expressing things, you have a good start at helping other people to recreate your idea.
KTS: What’s new on the horizon for you?
Jen: At the moment I can’t see beyond the launch and roll-out of the next instalment of A Year of Techniques! It’s a behemoth and so much fun, it will be all-engrossing for the rest of this year.
KTS: Where can folks follow your work and find out more?
Thanks so much, Jen, for sharing your ideas and expertise! I love meeting new people (and sheep!): if you are an indie dyer, a hand spinner, a shepherdess, a small flock owner, a mill operator, or a wool trader, I would love to feature your work on this site. Please get in touch via email or Ravelry by clicking the “About” tab (above) Happy knitting! 🙂