An Interview with: Cecily + Melissa!

We, like many of you, are super excited about the release (TODAY!) of Melissa LaBarreCecily Glowik MacDonald's new book with Interweave Press, New England Knits! (For a complete list of the projects on Ravelry, click here).  We have a few special connections to the book -- firstly, we adore Cecily + Melissa and have been waiting (not so patiently) for the release, secondly, Kate has a pretty strong affinity for New England (in fact, she is in the car driving there right now for her annual family vacation) and thirdly, there are two really stellar projects in the book featuring Fibre Company yarns, Kate's Whale Watch Hat (blogged here) + the  Mystic Pullover by Melissa -  so we are doubly excited to be able to do an interview + contest with them celebrating the release!

Here goes!

Kelbourne Woolens: Let’s get back to basics.  When did you start knitting and what led you to start blogging?  Did you know each other prior to starting your blogs, or did you meet via the online knitting community - either Craftster, Ravelry or reading each other's blogs?

Melissa LaBarre: I learned very basic knitting in the mid-90's, while working in a nursing home. I picked it up again 6 years ago and never put it down again. Cecily and I met a long time ago through mutual friends, but we lived in different states. We reconnected once we found each other on Ravelry and realized we had a lot in common.

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Montpelier Jacket by Cecily Glowik MacDonald

Cecily Glowik MacDonald: I have a BFA with a concentration in painting and moved to NYC after college where I soon found it impossible to find space and enough ventilation to use oil paints in our tiny apartment. I had mentioned that I would like to learn how to knit to a non-knitter friend and she gave me a copy of the Stitch-n-Bitch book as a Christmas present.  I quickly became addicted. And, yes, thanks to Rav Melissa and I got to really get to know one another.  I feel like I am still very new to blogging and don’t quite have it all down yet.

KW: Did you find yourself designing your own original patterns from the start of your knitting experience, or did you evolve into a designer as time went by?  What led you to become designers if the process was an evolution from 'casual' knitting?

ML: I accidentally made patterns by just making things up for myself. I never thought that I'd be writing them down for others.

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Hampton Cardigan by Cecily Glowick MacDonald

CGM: I immediately began adjusting and adding to the patterns that I was knitting for myself or for gifts.  Once I found out that anyone could submit designs to most knitting magazines, I started submitting.  I think because I started so early after learning how to knit, I had no fear of rejection.  I just had a lot of hope that someday one of my designs would get published!

KW: Can you talk specifically about your book, New England Knits?  What was the inspiration behind the book -- (besides how awesome New England is!), and why did you want to work together on your first book?  Did you find the process for the book was different than your process when knitting an individual garment for a magazine or other publication?

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Providence Hoodie by Melissa LaBarre.

ML: I think New England is kind of notorious for being both awesome and then unpredictable, weather-wise. Really, that crazy weather was major inspiration for the book, and why it's loaded with cardigans, which are great pieces over several seasons here.

CGM: The wonderful and intense temperature changes through the seasons and even within the same day in New England makes for great inspiration for hand knits that are versatile.  I wanted to work with Melissa because she is one of the most wonderful, interesting, talented, kind and thoughtful women I know. Because I had a job in the knitting/yarn industry, I had experience needing to have a bunch of designs brought to completion at the same time. I just had to remember to balance my knitting time with my pattern writing/ grading time.

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Mystic Pullover by Melissa LaBarre (featuring Organik in Atoll + Aquatic Forest)

KW: What is your favorite item in the book and why?

ML: Oh boy, of Cecily's patterns, my favorite is the Hampton Cardigan.  It's in my house right now and i might not give it back! Of my own sweaters, I'd have to say the Providence Hoodie. I know I'll wear it lots after the trunk shows.

CGM: Melissa’s Salem Hooded Jacket! Pockets, a hood, and the beautiful ribbon detail = love.  From my projects, it would have to be my silliest one, the Montpelier Jacket.

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Salem Hooded Jacket by Melissa LaBarre

KW: You asked 4 other designers, including Kate - lucky her! - to design an item for the book.  Why did you choose Kate, Kristen, Carrie + Cirilia to participate?

ML: Well, New England Knits started out as an idea for a multi-designer book, but evolved into our own book after talking with Interweave. We were still hooked on the idea of having some of our talented friends participate, so we got to keep 4 guest designers.

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Whale Watch Hat by Kate Gagnon Osborn. (you can read about this design here).

CGM: All 4 of these wonderful and talented ladies have New England connections and are incredible people with amazing design skills!

{Kate takes a moment to blush/pat self on back}

KW: You both have a very impressive portfolio of published designs.  All demonstrate a wide variety of items - sweaters, accessories, even some skirts.  Do you have a particular item you like designing best, or technique that you are most drawn to, or are you more "equal opportunity" designers?

ML: I enjoy knitting hats and sweaters the most, so that's what I tend to stick to design-wise.

CGM: I definitely enjoy designing garments the most, cardigans and skirts are my favorite items. I think that I might actually enjoy grading patterns more than I would like to admit to myself.

KW: If time - or possible practicality - was not an issue, what would you most love to knit/design?

ML: If time was never an issue I'd design only fingering and sport-weight sweaters. unfortunately time is always an issue.

CGM: Oooo, more dresses!

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Chelsea Skirt by Cecily Glowik MacDonald

KW: As designers, you have published your patterns in a wide variety of formats, including Interweave and Vogue magazines, your own book, New England Knits, for yarn companies (including our own!), and also self-published patterns.  Did this just 'happen' as a natural result of your designing or did you make a conscious choice to not limit yourself to one variety of publishing media?

ML: What I most enjoy about designing is working with a variety of yarns and working with and meeting new people through each opportunity. I've learned a lot this way.

CGM: Yes, I am just so thrilled to now be able to design with any yarn that I want to.  I feel like each new yarn I get to knit with brings new ideas for designs.  There are so many amazing people in the knitting world that getting the chance to work with many people and many venues provides tons of new chances to learn more about designing.

KW: When designing, do you have a project in mind and then choose the yarn to go with it, or do you first swatch and then design a project specific to the yarn’s properties? Do you find that your methods change depending on the project or do you have one way you always work?

ML: For self-published designs, I'm often inspired by yarns (I work at Webs, it happens a lot), for other publishing routes, I have to submit the design without knowing what yarn I'll use, so I often pull design ideas from the notebooks I have around the house.

CGM: My methods definitely change.  When submitting for magazines or books, you need to have the design ready to go and keep the details true to your accepted submission.  When designing for self -publishing, the idea that I begin with often transforms as I work on it.

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

ML: Your yarns are dreamy.

CGM: I second that!

KW: Thanks, guys!  We think you're pretty dreamy, too.

But wait, there's more! As a little added bonus, we wanted to give you, dear readers, an opportunity to win a copy of their fabulous book, New England Knits, AND the yarn to make Kate's Whale Watch Hat (rav link here, blog post with more details here).  That is 4 (count 'em, FOUR!) skeins of Canopy Fingering, one each of Orchid (white), Macaw (navy), Blue Quandons (bright blue) and Fern (mint green) AND a brand spankin' new copy of New England Knits!  Woot!

How does such an amazing thing happen, you ask?  Just post a comment here answering this question:

What project from New England Knits is at the top of your Ravelry queue and why?

The contest is open from now until July 11th, 12 midnight EST.  Once all comments are in, we will randomly choose a winner!  (Please be sure to include contact info - an email will suffice - in your comment).

(Unless specified, all images © Interweave Knits and used with permission from the authors)

**comments are now closed!  We will announce the winner this evening, July 12th.  Thanks SO much to everyone who participated!**