Shannon says Courage “is meant to soothe your soul. [It was] designed during a time in my life that I needed to have courage, it’s a project that you can get lost in, but also express your emotions and personality through. The mosaic knitting technique creates a gorgeous pattern while still letting your mind relax, so whether it’s knit during your happiest or most challenging time, Courage will bring you solace and joy. Choose colors that inspire you, and wear this shawl bravely as a symbol of your own personal journey.”
We’ve always been fond of Shannon’s designs and thought this was the perfect opportunity to find out more about her and her journey in the craft world. The following is an interview between Courtney Kelley and Shannon Cook. Enjoy!
Courtney Kelley (CK): I saw on your website that you started your design company in 2008. Kate and I started Kelbourne Woolens in 2008, too! What inspired you to start a craft business, and what led you down that path? In other words, give us your backstory!
Shannon Cook (SC): I love that we started the same year! Congrats to you both on 11 years!
After I had my first daughter (she’s now 12 - where has time gone? Ah!), I started a personal blog to document our lives and crafty projects (I had just learned to sew) for family and friends to read. Being a very social person it was a time in my life that I felt lonely. I was missing all the people I was used to chatting with on a daily basis. To my delight, other people started reading the blog; I quickly realized how much I loved the combination of writing and photography along with my passion for making. It was an easy decision from that point on to turn blogging it into a career and start designing which got me to where I am now.
I started with sewing and craft tutorials and was luckily able to monetize my blog from that point. At that time I was blogging full time which allowed me to work from home while I raised my girls. Once I started designing sewing patterns for sale I was hooked! I had put knitting aside (which I learned as a young girl) but picked it back up again when my second daughter was a baby and I couldn’t sew as easily. I started designing knitwear and haven’t looked back since! It’s been a dream come true and one I’m very thankful for.
CK: You are known for creating super fun and knittable patterns—designs that are about the process as much as they are about the final object. When you're designing, do you know what you want in the end, or do you let your needled dictate your journey as you go?
SC: Thank you! It’s funny you should as that! This is something I have struggled with in the past. I was a process designer who thought that they should try to plan ahead more and do the knitting after all the rest is figured out but I’ve slowly come to realize that I’m just not built that way. It removed a ton of the joy for me from designing. I love the “letting my needles dictate the journey” process so much more and there’s nothing better to me than when I can just let the yarn speak to me and help tell my story. I find that it allows me to express my creativity more and my customers resonate with it.
Courage was one of those designs. It had been a while since I was able to just let loose and “let it be” so to speak. It truly was a creative experiment for me and one that was extremely therapeutic and freeing. It was emotional and also joyful. It felt so good to let all the “math and rules” go and to just - be me. I’ve always said that when I allow myself to design like this the yarn and needles become my paint and paint brush. I love to draw & make art and so I find this lends itself naturally to me to express myself with the texture and stitches. Those wooly bumps are more to me than just knits and purls, they are glimpses into the stories I want to share within that particular design. I find the melding of the process, the pattern and the photography such a rewarding experience. The photoshoots are a way for me to help evoke the emotional response from knitwear and enable the customer to really see/feel what the message is I want to relay with my knitwear. I truly love it and I hope my customers feel that.
CK: As a designer, I feel like Courage is asking the knitter to go big—to step out and try something new, maybe a new technique or a color way that is outside of one's comfort zone—and I LOVE THAT. As a designer, do you feel like you need to push yourself to set outside of the colors and techniques and fibers that you are naturally drawn too, or do you tend to want to stick with what you know works?
SC: Great question! In terms of color it wasn’t necessarily asking the knitter to go big but more of allowing the knitter to have courage to be true to themselves and to choose what represents them and what they love to wear. I also wanted them to trust the pattern and that they can have the confidence to explore and try new things and be successful at them.
As for myself I love to learn new things, grow my skills and research all sorts of techniques, fibres etc. I’m a big time stitch library, knitting technique book loving kinda nerd. I’ll spend weeks just researching one technique—it’s just how I’m built. I don’t find myself sticking to what I know (colors, style, etc.), because I think we are always growing and changing, and I hope my designs reflect that philosophy. I design and knit what I love and what I want to make and wear. My personal motto has always been that and if I don’t love it to bits I won’t release the pattern. I do find that over the last few years I’ve found my aesthetic and what colors I truly love (and wear the most) and though I do try new things I do have a fondness for certain tones and fibres.
CK: (This may be a question that I just want to know!) You offer your patterns on multiple platforms, printed and digital—your website, Ravelry, Etsy, Kollabora, Love Knitting. Do you have a favorite platform, and how do you decide where to put your energy? Are you just hoping to reach as many people as possible, or do you just want to try new things? As a designer, managing all those platforms seems like it must take courage!
SC: I have a soft spot for Ravelry. That lonely stay at home mama has met and made so many wonderful life long friends via Ravelry. It allows me to support my family and to be part of a community. I do also enjoy Etsy from a business perspective and have been on there for a long time as well. I predominately sell sewing patterns mostly on Etsy. I find Kollabora is a place for me to find a different demographic that isn’t on Ravelry or Etsy. There are a lot of makers on there and I enjoy their site as well. Love Knitting is the site I’ve been on the shortest amount of time and I’m still learning and figuring my shop out on there. Overall, though I feel I have different customer demographics on each platform, and even though it takes time, I love being able to have my patterns accessible in more than one place for knitters and sewers alike.
CK: I just love that you used Germantown for your design. Selfishly, I want to know how you chose Germantown for this design. We feel like it is such a great yarn to pair with Spincycle's Dream State!
SC: I was so excited when I heard Germantown was being made. I think finding a good workhorse yarn that is 100% wool, that’s affordable and great to knit with is hard to find. I try to be aware of the cost involved with making my patterns - especially when using luxury yarns. I really appreciate the price point of Germantown and when I visited one of my favourite yarn stores, Tolt Yarn and Wool, last fall I had it at the top of my list to buy. I came home with some to swatch with and on that same trip was lucky enough to have had a personal tour of the Spincycle Yarns mill. It was fate. Once I put the two together I knew it was meant to be. I quickly ordered more Germantown from Tolt and got to designing Courage.
Thank you so much for having me on the blog!
CK: Thank you, too!
In partnership with Spincycle Yarns, we’ve teamed up for a Courage KAL hosted on Spincycle’s instagram @spincycleyarns. Find all the colors of Germantown here for your shawl and the colors of Dream State here. Post your Courage tagging @kelbournewoolens, @spincycle_yarns and use the hashtag #couragekal.