An Interview with: Anne Hanson

We are happy to interrupt our yarn spotlight postings with an interview with Anne Hanson, the talented and lovely designer! We meet Anne at our very first TNNA in January and were delighted to be able to put a few skeins of yarn into her hands.  As the time went by and we became busier and busier, every once and a while we would think to ourselves "hmmm, I wonder if Anne liked the yarn?"  Luckily enough, we soon found out not only did she like it, she designed two gorgeous patterns featuring Canopy Fingering and Road to China Light and recently debuted them on her website.

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Dovecote is a triangular shawl designed in two sizes knit out of Canopy Fingering.  The shawl is knit top-down with a sawtooth knit on edging. The large sample modeled by Anne is knit out of Cat's Claw, a buttery yellow with subtle hits of peach and green, and the smaller out of Macaw, a deep rich blue with hints of purple.  You can read more about her lovely description of the shawl here.

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The Birnum Wood Wrap is a rectangular stole knit in Road to China Light based off of similar motifs and named after Shakespeare's Birnam Wood.

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It is constructed from either end and grafted in the center.  You can read more about her lovely description of the wrap here.

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(all images from Anne Hanson. Thanks, Anne!)

In conjunction with the release of her patterns, we asked Anne if we could interview her a little bit about her design process.  Read on + Enjoy!

KW: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk about your work with us!  Your shawls are really beautiful and we're so happy you chose to design them using Fibre Co. yarns.

AH: thank you so much; it was a real compliment to me when, at TNNA you flagged me down to say hello and introduce yourselves; i was completely seduced by the yarns you showed me at the time!

KW: Let’s get back to basics.  You currently have over 150 (!) designs to your name.  When did you start knitting and what led you to become such a prolific designer?

AH: i started knitting as a small child; my grandma taught at around the age of four years. i was attracted to the stitch patterns in the items she knit and wanted to make them myself.

i also began to sew and embroider in the same year and worked at all of those needlecrafts while growing up; during my teens i became interested in creating garments from my own designs. i worked in the fashion business during my 20s and 30s and was encouraged by various designers to "do something with my knitting". but i was shy and lacked the confidence to really put it out there.

i've always had lot of ideas in any creative thing that i took up; more than i can ever work on at one time. inspiration has never been a problem for me. in fact, if anything, my biggest challenge was editing and focusing my thoughts and training myself to turn them into good final designs.

it wasn't until my mid-30s that i started  seriously designing my own sweaters and shawls and several more years before i actually wrote knitting patterns to sell. even then, i sold them only on a small scale through local yarn stores at first.

then i started blogging and it all came together; readers encouraged me to sell patterns for my designs online and i tried it. one thing led to another and before long, i was selling enough to make it a full-time endeavor, which lead to lots more designs.

KW: We think it is safe to say the bulk of your designs incorporate lace.  What about knitting lace – and more specifically shawls – appeals to you?

AH: funny thing about that; it's true that the bulk of what the online community has seen of my work is lace. however, i have a deep background designing sweaters and knitting other types of fabrics as well, but i often forget that the general knitting public has not seen as much of that!

i've always enjoyed rather lengthy forays into specific types of knitting, working for 6 months or a year with aran patterns, for instance, then doing color work for a while, then working through various techniques or construction problems; sometimes this work manifested itself in garments and sometimes just a series of swatches. i rotated between different types of knitting and back again as my interest dictated.

i like lace because it is so architecturally interesting; it has rhythm and cadence and the patterns allow deeply-relaxed focus for me. but honestly, that is true of any patterned knitting.

i started a "conversation" around lace on my blog with my first shawl design, and have built on that geometrically over the last three years, incorporating all aspects of what affects the results, from needles, to yarn, to fiber, to the garment itself. i think the curiosity of readers has contributed to keeping this particular investigation going for so long.

shawls are a very special type of garment to knit; they have a romantic, narrative quality which is not reliant on the body that fills them. i enjoy "composing" stitches on the canvas of a shawl. they are also structurally interesting to knit; something is always going on to keep the knitter involved, especially in the shaped ones.

i'm making room again now for sweater knitting, which is a real passion of mine; i've missed it way too much and i have many designs that i want to publish. i like creating functional, everyday garments as much as shawls; it pleases me to make items that are useful and will receive hard wear on a constant basis. designing functional items that are visually attractive and interesting to look at is very satisfying.

KW: We’re so happy you enjoyed knitting with Canopy Fingering and Road to China Light.  What about the yarns do you think made them great for knitting shawls?

AH: both of these yarns are extremely pleasant to knit with! i just love a yarn that feels delicious as it runs through my fingers and both of these yarns fit the bill. then there is the fabric; i can't describe in words how soft and luxurious they are knitted up and how much i appreciated having the chance to work with them. these are important qualities in a yarn that you are using for a big project like a shawl; you'll want to pick it up and work on it every chance you get when the yarn is this lovely.

structurally too, these yarns are perfect for lace and shawls; the fiber content and relaxed twist contribute to fluid stitches and even fabric that blocks and drapes beautifully. the slightly-iridescent shading of differently-colored fibers used in the yarn, accents and highlights the folds of the fabric as it falls or catches the light.

KW: Let's talk about your design process. For these two designs, did you have a project in mind and then choose our yarns, or did you first swatch and then design a project specific to each yarn’s properties? Do you find that your methods change depending on the project or do you have one way you always work?

AH: having had the opportunity to touch the yarn in person and take a skein home from TNNA, i knew i wanted to make something soft and luscious with it! at first i thought it would be a small, accessory item. i wasn't necessarily thinking of a shawl design to begin with. later, i came up with a design that i knew would be enhanced by using these yarns.

i would say i have two muses: stitch patterns and yarn.

sometimes yarn inspires me to look for a pattern and sometimes stitch patterns call to me first and i have to find a yarn to go with them.

KW: If the design came first, what made you chose our yarns for each design?

AH: i began putting stitches together for a wrap design in laceweight yarn and realized that the heavier, slightly fuzzy fibre company yarns were even better suited to i had in mind. i wanted yarn that would enhance the "soft" qualities of the stitch patterns. i love how the fuzz of these yarns fills in the holes of the motifs with just a haze of color. conversely, the softness of these yarns take the edge off what are basically hard-edged geometric motifs of lines and diamonds.

i actually have a birnam wood wrap knit up in a laceweight alpaca/silk yarn as well, but i think the motifs translate MUCH better in the fibre company fingering and sport yarns. i like the scale of the motifs in the heavier yarn; they are bolder and have more impact.

KW: If the yarn came first, in what way did the yarn “inform” the designs?  More specifically, what about the fiber content, gauge, drape, or colors helped you in your design process?

AH: though the yarn did not inspire the design necessarily, i DO think i would always search for motifs that play well with the gauge, fiber, and tactile qualities of this yarn to enhance the things i like about it.

KW: You use a lot of hand-dyed yarns in your designs, but seem to stick to subtly shaded colors, or multis that stick to a cohesive palette.   Is it safe to say you prefer these types of yarns over commercially dyed ones?  If so, what about hand-dyed yarn (and specifically, The Fibre Co yarns!) appeal to you and how do you think they contribute to your designs?

AH: yes, i have to say that i've become somewhat addicted to hand-dyed yarns, or at least, those from smaller produces. first and foremost, i find there is a huge difference in the quality of the yarn itself from small producers; it's brighter, bouncier, softer, and more "alive" than 95% of commercial yarn. the overall quality and performance of the yarn is just better.

most small producers are hand-picking their bases and/or having them milled to their own specifications and the quality control really shows in the behavior of the resulting fabric.

hand-dyed yarns are the work of artists; i love the variations between batches and working with the unique hand of the dyer. every dyer has a style and no two handle the process quite the same way. even dyers whose sensibilities i would say are very similar, end up with vastly-different stock.

and i just LOVE having personal contact with the yarn makers; i can't say enough how these relationships have influenced my work. those of us that have been working together for a while agree, that we have not only reached new levels of artistic expression through collaboration, but have helped each other build viable businesses as well. it's very exciting!

KW: For each project, you picked pretty disparate colors from the Fibre Co palette.  Do your color choices reflect a particular "mood" you want to get across in your designs?   More specifically, why did you choose the Cat’s Claw (buttery orangey yellow) and Macaw (deep rich blue) for the Dovecote shawl, and the Grey Pearl (mid tone grey) and Ruby (red-orange) for the Birnum wood stole?

AH: well, color choices are probably an area that i am most likely to go with my "gut", at least at first, then figure out why later on, hahaha! in the case of the cat's claw, i just fell in love with it when i saw it hanging in your booth and it stuck with me all through the spring as a great color for a soft triangle shawl. once i had a design composed, i chose a stronger second color (the blue) and for the wrap, another neutral (gray) and a bright color (red) pretty much just by instinct. now that they are all knit up i love every one of them; the strong colors really accentuate the myriad patterns of holes, or negative space, in the work.  and the softer, neutral colors highlight the cushy solid areas.

KW: Is there anything else you would like to add?

AH: thank you again so much for inviting me to work with your yarns; it was a wonderful experience to knit with them and bring them to the attention of my readers. i hope we can work together again in the future!

We really loved working with Anne and hope you enjoy her patterns!