I had the opportunity to catch up with Ruth Churchman, February’s Designer of the Month. Read on for a closer look into her inspiration and design process! And just a reminder than her wonderful samples are available for a live look for the remainder of February.
Ginger Twist Studio: Please tell us how you came to start knitting.
Ruth Churchman: My Mum started to teach me when I was about 8 or 9, but I struggled with it, partly because of the squeaky splitty acrylic yarn, and the thin needles. Luckily, a babysitter taught me how to crochet and I really took to it, started to follow patterns, and created some great things. In the post punk 80s I decided to take up the knitting needles again, and found I could now understand knitting patterns too, and knitted some great punk mohair jumpers. I‘ve still got the first jumper I knitted: drop shoulder, crew neck, black mohair with dark red fibres in it.
I put knitting aside then, until I moved to the Scottish Borders, and discovered Debbie Stoller’s Stitch ‘n’ Bitch book, and found new patterns, new yarns, joined a knitting group, and I’ve not stopped knitting since. I still crochet too.
GTS: What was your first design?
RC: My first published design was Tulips for Margaret wristwarmers, which I created for the first Glasgow School of Yarn, Mackintosh design competition.
I didn’t win, but I’ve continued designing and publishing my patterns. The design was based on a Charles Rennie Mackintosh textile design, from which I designed a stone carving, which I based the wristwarmers design on.
I wrote a blog post about the design process.
There were many designs before this, that never made it to being published, due to various practical reasons and design flaws. My Camellia wristwarmers made the cut though, they were designed several years before Tulips for Margaret, but just took longer to come into fruition.
GTS: Where do you find inspiration for your designs? I feel like there is a strong Victorian element for a few of them, particularly in the Evangelina socks. Do tell!
RC: Yes, I do have a bit of a predilection for the Victorian era. I love looking at vintage and historical fashion and textiles, and I’m interested in how these garments were made. I work at the National Museum of Scotland, and love looking at the vintage pattern books in the library. One of my colleagues found a late Victorian pattern book with photographs, in with the trade catalogues, and I fell in love with a baby’s bootee design, and wanted to see if I could have a go at following a Victorian pattern. The baby’s bootee I knitted was the inspiration for the Evangelina sock pattern.
Stitch patterns often inspire me, I love trying out different stitch patterns in different weights of yarn. Fair Flooer socks were inspired by the arrowhead lace stitch pattern, which I thought I could incorporate a flower shape into.
These were designed in Ginger’s Hand Dyed Sheepish Sock yarn. Dreaming Daisy shawl, and Camelia wristwarmers were both inspired by stitch patterns. My Cabled Tea-cosy pattern was designed specifically for a workshop I was running for beginners cables technique.
For the future, I have ideas about literature, calligraphy, and often the historical objects in museums inspire me.
GTS: And how about the Gujarati Diamond shawl?
RC: This shawl was inspired by Indian fabrics, brought back from Gudjarat (an area of India) by Lindsay Roberts (The Border Tart, Blue Moon yarns), where she went on a craft exchange programme.
She suggested I design a shawl for her lace weight indigo dyed yarn, and as her inspiration to indigo dye yarn derived from her visit to India, Indian fabrics seemed like an obvious idea. Also it was a lovely excuse to rummage through her fabric stash together!
I have written a blog post about this design process too.
GTS: Walk us through your designing process! How do you turn inspiration into an actual pattern?
RC: Generally it starts with several swatches, or one long one which gradually morphs into the effect I’m looking for. I write notes of the process/stitch patterns on my laptop, or on paper, changing them as I go. Then I will either knit the actual object from this notes, adding to the notes as I go, or I will create charts from what I have knitted and my notes, before knitting the object. I use a knitting design program, Stitchmastery to create my charts, it also creates basic written instructions, which I have to edit to my desired format. With the Gujarati Diamond pattern, after I had worked some swatches:
I had to design everything around the large 5 diamond motif, and work down and up from that motif to create the whole chart before I could fully knit the shawl, it involved a lot of maths, which is not my favorite thing. The pattern then needs considerable editing to make it make sense, and if I am grading sizes, I sometimes have to re-knit bits so I can see how it is working in a different size.
I then post the pattern onto a testers group on Ravelry, for knitters to test for me, or I strong-arm some friends, and I make any changes to the pattern from their observations. Sometimes I get a technical editor to have a look at it too. Then it’s photo shoot time, finalizing the pattern formatting, and publish!
GTS: Do you any other hobbies or interests, both crafty and non-crafty?
RC: Most of my hobbies are crafty, but I also sing in my local and work choir. I used to sing in bands too, and now I just enjoy going to gigs, mainly indie and rock. I enjoy adventure story computer games, I read literary novels (and some less literary). I love going to museums, galleries, castles, stately homes and walks in the countryside. I love all textile crafts, but weaving is probably my least favorite. I’m President of the Tweed Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, and enjoy our monthly meet ups and workshops. Recently I have been teaching myself Nalbinding, an ancient Scandinavian form of woolen fabric that pre-dates knitting. I am teaching it as a workshop for the Guild very soon. I also help run a craft group at work.
GTS: Are there any yarny events you are participating in this year?
RC: Well the big event of the year for me is the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, which is run by two friends, Mica and Jo, from the knitting group I go to. I regularly volunteer there, so anyone is going, look out for me amongst the crowd, I will probably be wearing one of my shawl designs.