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.