Interview Answers!

Thanks so much to all of you who entered our Blog Tour Contest and asked such great questions!  We have compiled all of the questions and our answers below. Enjoy!

Dotti asked: Was there any specific era and/or design book that inspired your book?

Kate + Courtney: Not one specific decade or time period, but more "general" vintage ideas and time periods provided the inspiration.  A lot of the pieces or techniques that provided the initial inspiration were very popular in the beginning of the 20th Century, so if we had to pinpoint a certain era, that would probably be it!

Heather asked: What was the most challenging part of working together on your book?

K + C: Where to begin? Hah! Really, though, despite a few stresses, the process was over-all an enjoyable one. We began the book after Kelbourne was about a year old, but we had known one another for over 3 years and had worked together at a yarn store prior to starting the company so we knew each other pretty well. The hardest part was probably managing our time and not letting the stress of the book get in away with our priorities of running Kelbourne and maintaining focus on the The Fibre Company.

Lauren asked: I’m just wondering how you two manage to produce so many unique and interesting designs - how do you keep these good ideas coming, and how do you keep track of them all?

K + C: It is pretty safe to say we probably have more ideas than time. Many are duds, many evolve into something different, and many need to wait until the proper time – the right collection, season, opportunity – so even though there may be 25 ideas, only 3-4 actually go anywhere. Despite us both attending years of art school, we don’t keep a “sketchbook” – but we do collect images, jot down ideas, and talk a lot about what we want to knit and do a lot of research before planning collections. We do, though, have a section of the wall over the desk where we tape up notes, ideas, and drawings we don’t want to forget.

Andrea asked: Now that the book is out and a big hit, have you two thought about doing another book? if so, what eras/designs/techniques do you think you might want to delve into in a similar fashion as this one?

K + C: We would be lying if we said "no"!  We really enjoyed the process of writing a book - even though it was, at times, very difficult - but a sequel is definitely on our minds.  We would, though, want to make sure it wasn't another book of the same things, so finding a "theme" that is similar, but still unique is a priority.  It is definitely something we will be thinking about more and more as the months go by, so stay tuned!

Regina asked: Are your designs inspired by the colors of your yarns, or vice versa? Do you ever dye yarns with particular designs or motifs in mind?

K + C: For the most part, the ideas come first, then we assign colors to the project based on what mood we want to convey or how we want the design to fit into the collection. For example, the “Winter Harbor” chapter of our book has a lot of blues, creams and pale colors to evoke the stark colors of winter on the eastern shore. One exception to this rule is Fair Isle – a lot of times, we will have a more “abstract” idea, then pick colors and allow them to inform the motifs or overall look of the design. We do our color development 6-12 months in advance, so there is not a direct correlation between designs and colors, but we do introduce new colors based on missing hues in a line, or if we had a color in mind for a design and it was not yet available.

Meg asked: How did you end up as distributors for The Fibre Co. yarns? Was this something you ever saw yourself doing?

K + C: The Fibre Company was started by Iain Stanley and Daphne Marinopolus in 2004 as a processing mill and spinning and dye house and they were responsible for every single step of creating the yarns. In the beginning of 2008, they wanted to change the business model so they looked for both a new manufacturer and distributor. Our sales rep for the PA territory knew us from working at the yarn shop, so she asked Courtney if it was something she considered doing. Courtney then called Kate to see if it was something we could to together, we took a trip up to Maine to meet Iain and Daphne and the rest, as they say, is history! When we first met in Philadelphia, Courtney was contemplating a master’s degree in fashion design - specifically theater costume - and had taught some courses at MICA, and Kate was in grad school for textile design with a weaving focus, so we were both taking the steps towards achieving our goals of having jobs in a textile related field, but in a million years, we never could have dreamed this one up!

Debbie B asked: Do you have favorite pattern? I know I do from each designer. Which is yours of your own design and your partners?

Kate: To be perfectly honest my favorite changes depending not only on the day, but what mood I am in.  Since we get asked this question a lot, I am going to "cheat" a little this time and expand my options to all of my published designs and say my favorite is the Emerson Cardigan from the 2nd collection of our For Sale patterns.  I really like the combination of quirkiness and classic lines, and how the Fair Isle pattern evokes a woven fabric.  It also incorporates a lot of little techniques - Fair Isle on both the RS and WS, seaming, short row shaping, and set-in sleeves - that I think come together to make a really wonderful sweater.

Courtney: Well, from the book I really like a lot of them!  I think the Yangtze Cardigan is definitely one of my favorites.  I'm currently re-knitting it in the color laguna.  Overall, of all our published designs I like the Linden Shawl which was just released.  When I was initially swatching I was on the fence as to whether or not I was in love with the look of the eyelet pattern but I'm really glad I stuck with it.  I think the shape and the pattern came together just perfectly.

Raymonde asked: Yarns have changed a lot these past few years, we now have a huge choice of different fibers, alpaca, cashmere, soy, milk, bamboo etc. What do you see as being the next big thing in yarns?

K + C: We've been thinking about this a lot, actually!  One "trend" we have noticed in the last few months when visiting yarn shops, talking with owners and seeing what is popular on blogs and in people's Ravelry project pages is that a lot more knitters are moving towards smaller companies, more "handcrafted" small batch yarns, higher quality materials, etc.  This trend is apparent in a lot of other aspect of daily life - canning was very popular last year, a lot of small "local" restaurants are popping up, and people are investing is fewer things of higher quality.  If course, we would love our yarns to able be a part of this trend, so while our goal is to always keep growing, we still pay a lot of attention to the product and would rather stay smaller if we ever had to sacrifice quality or originality.

Thea asked: First, I love the classic lines you’ve used for your patterns. As for my question (which is a bit of a two-parter, to be honest), do you draw upon outside sources for inspiration? By that I mean, artists, nature, books, etc. If so, what/who inspires you most and in what way?

K + C: There isn't really a straight answer to this question - what inspires us and the sources we look to changes depending on what we're working on at the time.  For example, for the "Vintage Feminine" chapter, we looked at a lot of images, both fashion and home dec, from the 20s-40s for our color and style inspiration, and we are currently working on a collection of patterns heavily inspired by the "outdoorsy" fashions of the 1980s - think Eddie Bauer, L.L.Bean, etc, so for that, we're looking at a lot of print ads and t.v. shows that evoke the style we want to achieve.

Ginerva asked: Which pattern in the book would you recommend as quick and/or easy?

K + C: One of the things we really wanted to pay special attention to when designing the book was the process of knitting and taking the time to not only enjoy the finished product, but also the experience of creating it. A lot of the projects are knit on smaller needles, require a bit more concentration, or incorporate a new technique not very common to most knitters, and as a result, there are not a ton of “quick” and “easy” projects. If, though, someone was interested in a smaller project to start things off, both the Vorderrhein Hat and Madeleine Shawl are good places to start – the Vorderrhein hat is knit using Organik, a worsted weight yarn, and has cables that repeat around the body of the hat, so the pattern is easier to memorize. The Lace Shawl is knit in Road to China Worsted on larger needles and features a repeating bias stitch, so it, too, should be pretty easy to memorize and complete in a not-too-long period of time.

Minh asked: Have fun during your tour!  If you were each given a month to travel (unlimited money too!) and explore a knitting tradition, where would you go?

Kate: Oohh....what a treat! Are you paying? Hah! I would probably go to the U.K., starting first at the Victoria and Albert Museum and then traveling around to Scotland and Ireland.  I think this would afford me the opportunity to not only learn about the history of knitting, but would also provide me with inspiration covering many areas, including Fair Isle, lace and cables.

Courtney: I've always wanted to go to Norway and visit Annemor Sundbø's studio, Ose Ullvare.  I'm a huge fan of her work, and was so sad to hear about the closing of the Torridal Tweed Factory.  What an amazing resource she had!

Steph asked: You ladies have a wonderful knack for modernizing vintage style elements and creating unique and timeless designs. Do you ever get the urge to create (or actually create!) trendy, kitschy, or out-of-your-aesthetic pieces? It seems that everything coming out of Kelbourne Woolens is elegant–where are the flubs, the pieces that didn’t work? Are there any pieces that didn’t make the cut for the book?

K + C: Well, firstly, thank you! And if we showed you all the flubs, no one would think we were elegant anymore! In all seriousness, though, there are definitely things that don't work out - Kate spent a sad Saturday a few weeks after sending in her final book samples unraveling a failed sweater that never made it to completion.  For the most part, we do want to create more timeless pieces, but every once in a while we throw in a little "kitsch" - there is a sweater in the book with beavers on it, after all! Kate also sometimes likes to go a little "cute" with her Fair Isle, which is why you will see a lot of heart motifs incorporated into her designs. The "Whale Watch Hat" she designed for New England Knits is also a good example of a design on the slightly kitschy side of things!

Thea asked: You have been doing some amazing stuff in both design and in yarn - which is your fave? Or do each of you kind of spearhead one? I’m so impressed that you can balance both!!

K+ C: Thanks! It sounds a little cheesy, but we really love both.  There are definitely certain aspects of running the company that one of us does more than others - Courtney does more of the accounting stuff, Kate spends a lot of time writing code and working with the graphics and marketing, for example - but when it comes to both the yarns and design, we work together as much as possible.  Since we have favorite colors, and favorite styles, it is nice to have two opinions for "balance" in the designs and product development. (And if Kate had her way, all of the yarns would only have werid off grey tones, mint green and pink!)

Alli asked: Have you knit any of the projects from the book for yourselves? Which would be your first project from the book that you would knit for yourself and why?

K+ C: Kate was finishing grad school last fall, and since this meant her creative brain was taken up by creating jacquard designs and writing her thesis, there wasn't much left for knitting.  As a result, she knit herself a Yvette Roositud beret as a treat during that time.  (Rav link to her project page here). We are doing a knit-a-long in a few weeks, time, too, - you can read more about that here - and are very much looking forward to knitting more patterns from the book - especially for ourselves!

Liza asked: I would like to know how long it took to bring about this book; from the first idea in your head to create it, to the actual completion date?

K + C: We would be lying if we said working on a book was not something we always had in the back of our minds, even when we were “just” working at a yarn store – it is hard not to be inspired when we had access to all of the books as they were published! Since running Kelbourne was our main focus, we didn’t really pursue doing a book until June of 2009 after speaking to some of the acquisitions team at Interweave. We then worked on the logistics – proposal, time frame, etc – for about 2 months and really dove into the book in September of 2009. From start to publication it took about 16 months!

Barb T. asked: Did you/would you consider including a guest submission in your collection?

K + C: Since we're so small, we unfortunately don't have the man power to manage something like that - we have trouble enough managing ourselves! With that being said, we do love to support independent designers and have a few ways we do that, so if you have ideas, send us an email at info {at} kelbournewoolens {dot} com.

Rachel asked: When you design, do you design for yourselves or for the public? By that, I mean, do you create items based on your own personal tastes (which is what I think I would do!) or on what you see a need/desire for out in the world?

K + C: Well....we definitely design with the general public in mind, but that doesn't stop us from designing things we want to knit and wear! Sometimes we do have to "reign" it in a little, though, and consider practicality in our designs, whether it be a sweater that will be impossible to size properly, or a color combination only we would love.  We tend to have some pretty strong ideas about sweater construction, too, so that comes out in our designs, and don't omit a difficult technique from a design if we think it is necessary for the quality of the overall piece.

Elaine G. asked: The names have peaked my curiosity.  I like all the nature references in Collection 1 - rock tree octopus! (course there the ‘nice hat’ thrown in there?). Is there a Swedish or Finnish connection? Collection 2 seems like it could be all colleges or universities. Was there some special criteria? And was there any plan to the naming of the patterns in the new book?

K + C: When naming patterns, the “actual” name of the pattern always comes last. For Collection 1 of our for sale patterns, the idea for the names evolved from a friend of ours who called the En Blekksprut beret the “Octopus Hat” during the development of the collection. You can read all about the process of naming those patterns here. For the second collection of for sale patterns, we named all of the patterns after streets in Brookline, MA, where we had the photoshoot, a subtle homage to Kate’s mother in law, Lynn, who resides there and was our photographer. We just released a third collection of patterns all named after trees, as the collection had a “green” color scheme and a lot of the lace motifs we used are reminiscent of flora.

For the book, a lot of the patterns were either named based on the country of origin, or family members or places in the United States that mean a lot to us. For example, the cover sweater, the Adelaide Yoke Pullover, is named after the town in Australia where Kate’s grandmother grew up, and the Rhodes Point Gansey is named after one of the towns on Smith Island in Maryland where Courtney has a home.

Linda asked: I love that your yarns are made in the 1) USA and 2) in Philly! I didn’t know that the Philly part was a connection when I fell in love with your yarns. My question: Do you have tours at your mill? If not why not?

K + C: Currently Savannah is our only US made yarn, and just the dye process is in Philly, and the spinning is done in a different part of the state. The mills themselves are not “ours” – both mills also produce many other products for the textile market, so we cannot lead tours there. It is definitely a good idea, though, as watching the manufacturing process is endlessly fascinating!

Kirsten asked: Since I am living in Germany and always have to buy the yarn when we are traveling in the U.S. or order it online, my question is whether there are any plans to sell you yarns in Europe as well? And how did you come up with the name “Vorderrhein”?

K + C: We are open to distributing in  Europe and elsewhere, but unfortunately the cost of shipping prohibits this from being a really effective method.  If you know of anyone looking to start a distribution company where you live, though, send them our way!  And Kate named her hat Vorderrhein after the river because she thought both the cable pattern and color was reminiscent of a winding river and liked the connection to Germany/Switzerland, where the twisted stitch cabling technique is thought to have originated.

Connie asked: I would like to hear about your collaboration - how do you divide up the tasks, was each person responsible for so many designs?

K + C: We are each responsible for both the designing, knitting and pattern writing of our own designs. We touch base with each other throughout the process, though, to make sure it is in "line" with or original intentions for the collection or if we have a problem or need a second opinion, but the bulk of the actual execution is up to us individually.  When producing designs for our own publications, Kate does the formatting and initial tech editing as well as the .pdf layout an design.

Mark asked: When I am reading or listening to music, I love to design knitwear for a character in the book or song lyrics. Do you ever use such techniques to get your creative juices flowing?

K + C: Not really - but it is definitely a good idea! Our patterns usually begin with an idea we have had from something we have seen or a general "theme" or idea.  We do need a new collection for this fall, maybe we will use it as an opportunity to do some reading for inspiration!

Courtney L asked: What would you want your knitting legacy to be? Think of Elizabeth Zimmerman and the legacy she has left for future knitters.

K + C: To be honest, this is something we have never thought about!  It would be an honor to be remembered at all, but if we had to pick something, it would probably be the influence we had on knitters to learn something new with every project and not to be afraid of seaming!

ikkinlala asked: When you design, do you think first about what you’d like to knit or what you’d like to wear?

K + C: Probably a little of both. We do, though, modify a design if the pattern - especially a sweater or other garment - does not translate well into other sizes, and we usually modify a technique or change the stitch pattern we're using if the process of knitting is not an enjoyable one.

Rebecca asked: Were there any patterns you were longing to include that had to get cut for space reasons?…and if so will we see them again?

K + C: One of the great benefits (at least we think so!) to the book is the number of techniques covered, which took up a large number of pages. As a result, we did have some pretty lengthy patterns, and, sadly, during the final editing process a sweater design of Kate’s was omitted for space. We both really love the sweater, so are trying to find the best way to publish it – maybe it will be the inspiration for a whole new collection of vintage modern knits!

Eliza asked: Did you have all the patterns ready when you pitched the book to Interweave, or did you get inspired by the book project to make up the patterns?

K + C: Part of the proposal and contract process requires not only an idea (a “thesis statement” for lack of a better phrasing) but also designs to reinforce or demonstrate the idea. For the book proposal, we had a lot of sketches and swatches of designs we wanted to create for the book, but nothing was complete or had been knit and all were original ideas. Many of our initial ideas were seen through and made it into the book, but others – due to a repetition in technique, lack of cohesion in the story or evolving concept – did not. We still have the proposal, though, so we do think about knitting and writing p the patters, either for future publications or for our own line of patterns.

Sharon asked: Did you have to re-knit any of the projects in either a different yarn or a different color based the editors’ suggestions for how the book should look?

K + C: Amazingly, no! Once of the best things about working with Interweave was how flexible they were and how little micromanaging they did with us throughout the process. Because we were lucky enough to be able to use all Fibre Company yarns in the book, we were able to make color and yarn choices as the process developed, which we think really helped make the book really cohesive.

Elise asked: How does one get a job with your company? I would love to be involved in a creative fun company.

K + C: Unfortunately, we are not hiring right now, but, more broadly I would say, just keep looking! There are a lot of opportunities out there where you can be creative. (And don't worry - we definitely don't sit around all day doing fun things -  Courtney spent the morning downloading the bank statements and I was editing patterns all week last week!)

Kate L. asked: You both have a lovely sense of individual style in your design - how do you feel you have been inspired by and learned from each other during the writing of the book?

K + C: We definitely do have a different style, and this is reflected in our knitting.  More than anything, we learned to find ways to "meet in the middle" in order to ensure the designs were cohesive enough to comprise a whole collection, but also individualistic enough so that who we are as designers was still apparent.

Duni Asked: Did you ever fall out-of-love with a design during this process? if any designs hit the cutting room floor, would you consider reworking them for a later release?

K + C: Depending on the project - if it is a design for a magazine publication, for example - sometimes we just have to "make it work", but will change or modify the color, stitch, etc, if we don't like it.  When designing for Kelbourne Woolens, either for sale or free patterns, we do give ourselves leeway to cut a pattern if it really isn't working.  There is actually a little pile of swatches on Kate's desk right now that we are going to re-visit to see if they would work for an upcoming collection. Sometimes, too, if you don't look at a project or swatch for a week, month - even a year! - it looks different, and hopefully better once revisited.

Lisa H-L asked: What a lovely book. Such wonderful patterns to showcase equally wonderful yarns. My question: As you both have an obvious affinity for vintage fashion and a flair for styling, do either of you collect vintage patterns or vintage clothing?

K + C: Courtney collects a lot of vintage dresses, and we both collect vintage sewing and knitting patterns, but our vintage collecting is more in the "homegoods" arena - Courtney collects vintage salt + pepper shakers, and Kate loves old storage containers, buttons and strange photographs.  In fact, for Courtney's birthday in January, she got her "two old jars and a bowl" - green glass mason jars from the 1920s and a jadeite mixing bowl.

Bordergirl asked: What inspires the yarn colors selected for each pattern? The colors in your designs are lovely.

K + C: The book is broken down in to chapters, so each chapter was assigned a color "theme". For example, Vintage Feminine was pale floral tones, Winter Harbor was smokey blues, greys and white and Rustic Weekend was fall tones such as russet, browns and greens.  For each design, we picked colors based off of which chapter it was going to be in.  Also, our yarns have a pretty cohesive overall look, so this helps bring the designs together as a whole as well.

Jenni asked: Are there any people or characters - real or fictitious - you would like to design something for? If so who, what would you outfit them in? Is it something you’ve already designed or created, or would it be a new challenge? And of course the “why” behind your answer

K + C: Hm....Kate would be pretty psyched if Zooey Deschanel wore one of her designs, but we really don't design with other people in mind.  Maybe our next collection should be inspired by our favorite actresses or heroines from a book!

Keelin asked: As a new and young (16 year old) knitwear designer, how did you get started on your book? What drove you to begin in your career in knitwear designing? And how did you come up with your idea for this book?

and, in a similar vein,

Emily asked: Any advice for aspiring designers?

K + C: We answered a few of Keelin's questions about the book process above, so we'll focus on the design aspects here.  Probably the number one piece of advice would be to pay attention to the details - there are a lot of small things that come together to make a great design!  Also, keep at it. Both Kate and Courtney were designing for almost 5 years before publishing patterns that were noticed by anyone other than their close friends and family.

Jenna B asked: Was it vintage kitsch that made you choose beavers? And part 2 of the question: did you consider doing squirrels? I ask since half the people I show the book to think those are squirrels anyway!

and, in a similar vein,

Heather asked: What was the inspiration behind the Maple Bay cardigan? It reminds me a bit of the old Mary Maxim cardigans that were super popular when I was a kid. All the best with the book!

Courtney:I was totally inspired by those Mary Maxim patterns.  They are all so amazing, and Canada has such a rich knitting tradition a felt that leaving out an homage to our northern neighbors would be unspeakable!  I also have a soft spot in my heart for absolute kitsch, but I try to make it accessible and flattering at the same time.  Hopefully I succeeded in this one.

Zoe asked: I’ve heard you both talk about vintage patterns and books as sources of inspiration, but which modern fashion designers do you especially admire or look to for ideas?

K + C: Kate is always eager to see what the Denmark company, Casch Copenhagen has come up with, as well as Mociun for their prints and fabulous color combinations, and Courtney really loves the designer Rachel Comey.

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Thanks so much to everyone who asked us a question and entered the contest! Stay tuned...tomorrow we announce the winner!