An Interview With

An Interview With: Gudrun Johnston

It has been too long since we have posted one of our designer interviews!  We are excited to jump back into this feature with Gudrun Johnston, the force behind  The Shetland Trader.  Gudrun recently self-published a book, available in both hard copy and electronic form, aptly named The Shetland Trader – Book One. (website link) + (ravelry link).

As many of you know, Gudrun published the stunning Kerrera pattern featuring Organik in Magma, so we were delighted when she wanted to use The Fibre Company yarns, this time Canopy Fingering and Savannah, for three of the ten projects in the book.  In conjunction with the official release of the book, she graciously agreed to participate in an interview with us. Enjoy!


Kelbourne Woolens: Let’s get back to basics.  When did you start knitting and what led you to start designing?

Gudrun Johnston: I first learned to knit around the age of 10 but only long enough to make a rather unattractive vest, which, thankfully I did not feel the need to keep!  Knitting really began in earnest for me about 6 years ago when I moved to the States and my daughter needed a replacement for a much treasured blanket that we had misplaced in the airport during our move.  I would say I fairly instantly became obsessed with knitting and found myself making modifications to patterns to suit my needs.  However it wasn’t until I took a “top down raglan” class that I fully realized the possibilities of designing my own garments and things took off from there.


Plivver, Featuring Canopy Fingering in Yerba Mate*

KW: What is the significance of the name “Shetland Trader”?

GJ: This was the name used by my mother for the knitwear business that she ran back in the 70’s in Shetland.  I thought it would be nice to revive it for my own designing.


Plivver, Featuring Canopy Fingering in Yerba Mate*

KW: You publish all types of designs — sweaters, shawls, scarves, hats, etc — while still managing to maintain a very cohesive overall aesthetic. Do you consciously have an overarching theme in your designs, or do you tend to just design whatever appeals to you at the time?

GJ: Mostly I like to design using seamless construction methods and find that I’m continually exploring the possibilities within these parameters. I have also been very influenced by Shetland lace patterns and some of the techniques used for traditional Shetland shawl construction. All of these things have formed the basis of my designing thus far.


Teetik, Featuring Canopy Fingering in Acai*

KW: The Shetland Trader, Book 1 is a really gorgeous collection of designs inspired by the Shetland Islands. We know that it is where you are from so it is an understandable point of inspiration, but for those not well versed in the history and aesthetics of the area, what specifically about the Islands inspired you?

GJ: I would say that the strong history of lace that Shetland is famous for is the biggest contributing factor for this particular collection.  All the patterns use some element of a traditional lace pattern but in a more contemporary context. The beauty of the landscape was also significant to me in that I pictured all the designs with Shetland as the canvas in which they would be photographed.


Teetik, Featuring Canopy Fingering in Acai*

KW: We’re delighted that you used Canopy Fingering and Savannah in the Shetland Trader book and Organik for your gorgeous hoodie, Kerrera. What were the qualities of the yarns that appealed to you and why did you think they were the perfect yarns for the projects?

GJ: All the yarns have a homey/organic quality to them that appeals to me.  They are not only wonderfully soft but also durable. The more muted colours of these yarns also spoke to me as being perfect for the designs I had in mind.


Kerrera, Featuring Organik in Magma

KW: Let’s talk about your design process.  For the Norie, Teetik, Plivver and Kerrera, did you have a project in mind and then choose our yarns, or did 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?

GJ: I find it goes both ways when I’m designing; sometimes the yarn comes first then the design and vice versa. For Plivver I knew I wanted something with a nice soft hand that would have some drape to it and Canopy came to mind as a perfect match. In the case of Norie it was the yarn that came first, telling me what it wanted to be!


Norie, Featuring Savannah in Seafoam*

KW: For each project, you picked different colors from the Fibre Co palette.  With the vast resources available to knitters, you must have many many options to choose from.  How does color inform your design process or do you just pick based off of what colors you like on that particular day?

GJ: I’m particularly influenced by colour when it comes to yarn and more often than not I go with more natural or slightly muted looking shades. For this reason I adore all the colours in the Fibre Co range. I found myself returning often to your booth at TNNA just to enjoy the calming colours on display!


Norie, Featuring Savannah in Seafoam*

KW: It seems you published your first few patterns in free online magazines, and then quickly jumped right into self-publishing.  What is your favorite aspect of the self publishing process, and what do you struggle with most.  Are there things about the process that surprised you?

GJ: I love that I have total control over the whole design process.  I can pick the yarn, the colour, the size range and how it should be styled.  I can change my mind about any element of the design along the way if I want.  I also have direct access to alerting my customers of changes in patterns and I can help them out with the pattern should they need it.  There really aren’t too many downsides to self-publishing.  The most challenging aspect is perhaps that you have to be pretty self-motivated to get it all done!

KW: Whats next for the Shetland Trader?

GJ: The Shetland Trader Book Two of course!


We are delighted to also offer a contest in conjunction with this interview.  One lucky reader will win a copy of The Shetland Trader – Book 1, and enough Savannah and Canopy Fingering to knit both the Norie and Teetik hats!

Just leave a comment telling us your favorite sweater construction – knit in pieces, set in sleeves, raglan, top down, seamless, yoke, what have you – and we’ll randomly pick a winner next Saturday December 11th.  Good Luck!**

Comments are now closed for this post! Look for the winner soon! Thanks for all of your entries and good luck!

**{One comment per person, please!}

*Photograph by Jared Flood and used with permission by Gudrun Johnston.

47 thoughts on “An Interview With: Gudrun Johnston

  1. Susan Coombs says:

    My favorite sweater construction is seamless, bottom up, with three needle bind off and short row shaping for shoulders. I just competed Audrey with road to china light and I love the yarn and sweater construction. Beautiful book! – Susan

  2. I love this book, everything it is just screams to be knit and worn by me. I like to use different methods when making sweaters – for mindless tv knitting or when I am not sure if I have enough yarn a top-down raglan is always a winner, but for more special, favourite projects I love to knit each piece and seam it up neat and nicely. And for colour work a round yoke is wonderful.

  3. Caro B says:

    My favourite construction is top-down raglan, I think, though I like working set-in sleeves from the top-down too.
    Interesting interview, thanks; I like Gudrun Johnston’s work very much.

  4. Rebecca says:

    I particiularly enjoy seamless top-down raglans, with bottom up raglans being a close second.

  5. Ivana says:

    Oooh a book AND yarn! I love Gudrun’s designs, and I’ve never tried your yarn so it would be a double bonus! My favourite so far is the seamless top-down.

  6. Rachel says:

    The book looks amazing – beautiful photography, great patterns – would love to win (and yarn, too? What could be better!). My favorite sweater construction would be a top down raglan – I’m tall and long-waisted, so I find this construction to be easiest to get my sweaters to be long enough!

  7. Tamara says:

    So far I have really enjoyed the top-down construction. I have done a sweater in pieces, and while the seaming took a very long time, I do think the end product had a more professional look to it. It’s just hard to commit a day to seaming!Would love the chance to work with some of your yarns.

  8. Amanda says:

    Gorgeous patterns, gorgeous photography, fabulous yarns…what’s not to love?
    As far as sweater construction goes, I’m pretty amenable to whatever works best for the particular project. I am a sucker for a seamless top-down though, for an easily customized fit.

  9. elsa says:

    Wow a book and yarn, love the designs, especially the Norie hat.My favorite kind of sweater construction is top down. Have made several and all have turned out great.
    thanks for the giveaway, very generous of you and Gudrun!

  10. Greeley says:

    I prefer top down raglans for mindless, well-fitting sweaters but my favorite technique is the sleeve treatment from Gudrun’s “Audrey in Unst,” which has transformed my sweater approach.

  11. Nicole says:

    For me, I’m in love with seamless knitting. I’ve yet to try set in sleeves but perhaps an Audrey in Unst will inspire me to tackle this technique 😉

  12. kelly-ann (on ravelry) says:

    I like both equally, but it is kind of nice to cast off and not have to procrastinate on the sewing up of pieces. I didn’t realize so many of Gudrun’s designs were seamless – very attractive to me!

  13. Emma Fassio says:

    I love topdown seamless sweaters:):) They are just incredible, how they come out as for magic from your needles:):) I love the interview, thank you for sharing it, it is so inspiring and the pictures are incredible:)Emma

  14. Gwynne says:

    I have the Kerrera pattern and have yet to begin it. I do prefer raglan, seamless construction, but am finally branching out and doing set in sleeves.
    Love Gudrun’s designs and look forward to purchasing this book if I don’t win 😉

  15. Lori says:

    My favorite sweater construction is top down raglan. It makes it so easy to try on along the way to get a custom fit. Nice interview and the book is on my holiday wish list as well as some of the yarn 🙂

  16. sam says:

    My favorite is anything seamless normally but I don’t mind seaming…I love set in sleeves!

  17. whitney says:

    I adore yoked sweater construction (I even started the “Society for the Appreciation of Yoked Sweaters” group on Ravelry on Flickr!), although these days the seamless, set-in sleeve (a la EZ) is a close runner-up.
    Gudrun’s designs are so wonderful – I just got my copy of the book in the mail and I love it! Thanks for the interview!

  18. torirot says:

    As long as it’s seamless, I’m ok. And I don’t mind steeking. I love Gudrun’s design, and I would love to win a copy of the book!

  19. ElectricMo says:

    I find Gudrun’s designs absolutely beautiful! I always wish I could visit the Shetland islands.

  20. Thea says:

    Well, I know for certain that my favorite is a raglan. I’m (happily) not busty enough that it looks unfortunate. As for the others…I love the ease of seamless sweaters but also enjoy knitting pieces. It’s also much easier to knit in pieces because they’re easier to carry along with me. And I think it creates a better definition in many cases.Top down or bottom up? Hm, in a classic indecisive moment, I like both.
    I just like knitting sweaters. Really I like knitting everything. Except with mohair or acrylic. And cotton. They hurt. Jerk fibers.

  21. Karalee says:

    What a wonderful prize! Such beautiful yarns, designs, and photography.
    My favorite sweater construction is seamless, especially top-down for the ease of trying on while in progress and reassurance that it will actually fit when I’m done.

  22. Margaret Nicolson says:

    I love top down seamless construction but am not opposed to the seaming of pieced sweaters and feel they actually go faster. I hate any thing with dropped shoulders!

  23. Adria says:

    Thanks for this peek into the design process of such a talented designer! Love Gudrun’s work!
    I have been enjoying yoked sweaters this fall, but, really, any seamless construction is my preferred M.O.

  24. Suzanne says:

    Seamless, without a doubt. It takes full advantage of the capability of the knitter (or crocheter) to create the fabric and garment together, as a whole.

  25. Linda says:

    I prefer seamless, top-down raglans but will use whatever best suits the current project. The interview with Gudrun was great and I look forwrd to seeing more designs from her.

  26. Liza says:

    Thank you for offering a give away. I generally love seamless designs. Gudrun has put together a fantastic collection. It was fun to learn a bit more about her from your conversation.

  27. eileen says:

    My favorite is definitely top-down seamless–I’m 5’11”, so nothing fits unless I try it on every step of the way. (The seamless bit mostly speaks to my deplorable mattress stitch.) What a lovely contest–thank you!

  28. Carolina says:

    What gorgeous patterns and knitted in one of my favorite yarns!My favorite technique is top down. I get to try the sweater on as I go and when finished get to wear it right away!

  29. Alli says:

    Great interview! It was really interesting to read about the inspiration behind the designs. I think my favorite construction is bottom-up seamless construction, usually yokes. I don’t really like seaming because it is hard for me to find the time to sit down and do it properly so my nearly-finished-knitting pile gets out of control with too many seamed projects.

  30. Courtney L. says:

    What a wonderful Interview. I prefer the seamless, bottom-up construction method with short row sleeves. I love that you get the fit and style of set-in sleeves without having to finagle two pieces of shaped knitwear at once. Although, i do enjoy a long stretch of mattress stitch (i find it methodical and relaxing, like embroidery).

  31. Kimberley says:

    While I honestly enjoy all methods and especially enjoy the variety of trying something different with each project, I have to say I have a weakness for seamed sweaters. I’m one of those people who actually likes finishing and the thrill of piecing something together and seeing it all come together just doesn’t get old for me. Thanks for the contest – would LOVE to win a copy of Gudrun’s book. So many great designs!

  32. Megan says:

    Each method has it’s usefulness and beauty, but most of the time I would prefer raglan. Thanks for hosting the giveaway!

  33. Maryanne says:

    I much prefer no-sew knitting, and my favorite construction would be seamless raglan from the bottom up. My favorite to wear, however, would be a set-in sleeve…

  34. Eliza says:

    I really like the knit in pieces kind — I like the feeling of finishing the separate pieces; blocking is easier and more precise, it seems; and the seams really do stabilize the sweater. I find top-down in one piece sweaters sometimes skew with wearing, and they get so heavy to move around as you are working on them. The one exception is that I don’t mind doing set-in sleeves top-down rather than sewn in. This seems to really help by taking away a tough task of getting the sleeve inserted just right.

  35. Zoe says:

    I am a new fan of the top down seamless sweater. I have always had lumpy set in sleeves, and decided that I was just hopeless at knitting sweaters and gave up on them. Then I discovered the top down seamless yoke sweater. And the top down seamless raglan. And that I’m not hopeless at sweaters, I’m just a seamless kind of girl.

  36. Kathie says:

    Top down construction is the only type of project that gets to the finish line. I love making other types of patterns but sadly they never get finished.
    Love your blog!

  37. Suzie says:

    I positively hate to sew seams!!! Therefore, I love any technique which nets me a sweater when I finish the last knit stitch! Oh, and i”m slightly picky about the neck part — if it is a top downer, it had better have short rows — those funnel necks are for people who don’t mind a bit of pressure on the neck — unlike me!

  38. GinkgoKnits says:

    So far, my favorite is top down raglan because I’m a poor seamstress and setting in a sleeve is difficult to do neatly enough for my perfectionist tendencies. I’m planning a yoked sweater now and about to try the seamless set-in sleeve technique on another project. I have great hopes for both of these. If I knew more about sewing I would probably find seams less stressful but I’m quite lacking in that crafting area.

  39. Birgitte says:

    My favourite construction is a seamless raglan. I love the simplicity of knitting it and not least how it emphasizes my shoulder shape 🙂

  40. Eva says:

    Although I prefer knitting anything seamless (I have a strong preference for knitting vs. purling), my favorite sweater construction is almost always… something new for me! I really enjoy unusual constructions or simply a style of construction I haven’t tried.
    Right now I’m knitting Red Oak for my very petite mother and am getting to try a modified drop-shoulder seamed sweater — not something I would have made for my curvy, busty self and thus fun to try. I don’t really enjoy seaming but it’s mostly because I’m not very good at it, so now I’m getting to practice!

    If I could get a little better at knitting backwards (I can do it for entrelac, but anything beyond those short bursts is beyond me), I’d probably enjoy flat knitting much more. Luckily, steeks are my friend!

  41. Kim Symonds says:

    I definitely like top down construction since I stink at any kind of sewing! This looks like a wonderful book.

  42. Dee says:

    Thank you for a chance to win Gudrun’s lovely book. My preference is for top down raglan sweaters and I could use more in this chilly Philly weather now.

  43. Melodie C says:

    I prefer raglan construction – it looks better on my shoulders!

  44. emily says:

    I love different kinds of sweater construction for different projects…I know that’s indecisive but I think there are lots of good reasons for and against seams 🙂
    I have knit three swaters to date: two seamless (a raglan and Ysolda’s Liesl) and one seamed cardigan. I have two other seamed sweaters on the needles…I am fascinated by Shetland TRader’s top down set in sleeves too 🙂

  45. Cathy P says:

    My favorite sweater construction is top down raglan because it’s easy to try on and it’s almost seamless. I really like the patterns in this book and would love to make those hats. Thanks for the giveaway.

  46. Celeste says:

    Thank so much for this insightful interview. The patterns are beautiful but, so much more meaningful to know the thought behind them. And the yarns…what gorgeous colors!
    I’ve knit sweaters in every construction and my favorite style changes each time. I’d have to say that currently I’ve been making several seemless cardigans, knit bottom to top with a yoke and picked up sleeves. I’m not such a fan of top-downs since I never seem to be happy with the final look. And, I keep returning to the standard pieced construction over and over. I like the classics.

  47. Elaine Gould says:

    Lately I’ve really been drawn to top down raglan or yoke styles, due in large part because after knitting a few and studying the construction, I understand it better–not to mention that I love that once I’ve completed the knitting, it’s usually just the underarms that need to be sewn. I still want to be proficient in all form as there are gorgeous designs out there in all styles and, of course, I want to be able to do it all !

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