Today on the ECY blog we are featuring a UK designer that I (Victoria) have known and worked with for a decade (where did that go?!). Anna Elliott was one of the very first people I collaborated with, back when I lived in Manchester and worked at Purl City Yarns - I think that that might be how I met her actually. It seems like a lifetime ago, so this interview is probably a bit overdue if we’re honest! It’s really interesting though so I hope you’ll enjoy hearing about the design process and more…
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you came to become a designer?
I grew up in a family where lots of making went on - my Dad made model ships, my Mum sewed clothes for us, my three siblings were creative and my Grandma and aunties were all knitters. I learned to knit from my Grandma and to sew from my Mum. [I] was always making stuff but I ended up going down more of an academic route at school, studying English Literature at University, becoming a business journalist and then a teacher. Knitting was always there as a hobby and I never really thought about the ‘making it up as I go along’ knitting I often did as designing. Then when Ravelry came along I had a try at writing up the pattern for a jumper - Coniston - that I had designed for my toddler son. Around the same time I entered an open subs call for a new magazine called ‘Knit Now’ and things more or less grew from there. It took about fifty published designs before I felt as though I could call myself ‘a designer’- in fact I still feel strange saying that now!
What’s your favourite garment or accessory to design and why?
I started out mainly designing accessories and although more recently I’ve enjoyed creating garments I think hats will always be my favourite things to design and make, for lots of reasons: They don’t use too much yarn, so you can afford to treat yourself to something a bit special; they don’t take too long to make, but then again you get a good number of hours of knitting pleasure out of them; they are a perfectly sized blank canvas for all sorts of techniques and yarns; there are lots of occasions when a woolly hat can be worn- even in summer you can have them for chilly evenings at a campsite, after a swim outdoors or an early morning dog walk; they can be complex and technical or a great beginner project; almost any yarn can be made into a hat, with the right pattern; and pretty much anyone, regardless of age, gender, style preference etc can rock a knitted hat - it’s just a matter of finding the right one!
This is my Flora hat which I made in 2013 in Bowland DK. It's still a wardrobe staple, six years later!
Where do you go for inspiration? How does this influence what you decide to create within a design?
My inspirations vary. Sometimes it’s places - I love being outdoors in natural spaces, so quite a number of my designs have grown out of my connections to certain places where I’ve tried to create something that could be worn there and [which] reflects the environment: perhaps through the stitch pattern, colourwork motif, colour or just the way the item functions and is worn. Other times I get ideas from favourite books, songs, [and] even food spark[s] my imagination, which means the design elements reflect more of my feelings and mood when I think of those things. My most recent work has had inspiration from closer to home - literally - as I have been working on a series of patterns that reflect life at the renovation project cottage we live in. They are very much ‘real life’ designs, things that I really wear at different times of year and for different functions in our life here, but the there are also details such as colour and texture that reference the cottage itself and its surroundings.
Can you tell us about your process when you design a new piece?
My ideas often come to me as a fully formed picture in my head, whether just out of nowhere or in response to a call for submissions. Then I work back from there, deciding on the weight and qualities of the yarn I want to use and designing or finding the stitch pattern or colourwork motifs I will use. Once these are in place I will swatch, or with smaller pieces I might even just experiment on the needles, making notes as I go. I don’t tend to use sketching much, unless I am coming up with a design proposal for someone, but I do make little technical drawings to help me work out details. Then comes the number crunching, using spreadsheets and a calculator to get the ‘bare bones’ numbers of the pattern. Usually it’s after this stage that I knit a sample, so that I can check and adjust those numbers as I go. Once the sample is in hand, I write it up, sort out photos and get it tech- and copy-edited.
Who are your favourite designers that you admire the most?
I’ve yet to knit from a Stephen West pattern but I really admire his innovation and creativity. I love seeing how he plays with shape and colour and texture and when you see people wearing his designs you see how cleverly he makes quite avant garde ideas really wearable in real life. Jeanette Sloan is also on my ‘to knit’ list for her elegant use of texture[s], which really sing out when strong colours are used. Although they are really modern designs, they also make me think of the way colour and geometrical shape was used in Art Nouveau designs . I am not usually a shawl wearer but I really fell for her Dionne shawl, so I am currently trying to decide on a yarn and colour for that- if I don’t wear it I will gift it! I’m a big fan of Claire Neicho’s colourwork designs - they are just breath-taking thanks to the way she brings motifs and colour choices together so that they [really] dance. Finally I have to mention the pattern writing skills of Rachel Coopey. As a frequently failed sock knitter, I bought one of her sock pattern books because someone had mentioned how good her pattern writing was, with no intention of actually casting on. Her patterns were so well written and tempting that I am now the proud wearer of many successfully hand-knitted socks and have even designed a few myself!
What are your favourite places to go for tutorials and guides for your knitting and crochet? Do you have a tutorial you would recommend?
I have various books I dip into for tutorials - Ann Kingstone’s ‘Stranded Knits’ has a great techniques section for colourwork, and I bought Jen Arnall-Culliford’s ‘Something New to Learn about Cables’ which is particularly good for those moments when you see a mistake you’ve made several complicated rows back. She also has some good online tutorials, as does Ysolda (I was a frequent visitor to Ysolda’s video for tubular rib cast on until I finally memorised it). I will also look at the Purl Bee and Knitty websites for how-to guides on techniques I am less familiar with.
What’s your knitting nemesis? Is there a technique that gives you the shivers?
Intarsia is a pet hate of mine. I can do it, but I really dislike it. There is something about having all those separate sections with yarn breaks that really sets my teeth on edge. I love the rhythm of chugging back and forth or round and round, even if that involves yarn floats or complicated cabling. The stop/start of intarsia? Nope!
You and I have worked together on and off for the best part of a decade (!) now, and I can’t even really remember how we first met: what is it that keeps you coming back to ECY yarns?
Wow! It must be about a decade - but we don’t look a day older, right?! I think the first ECY yarn I got to use was for some mittens called ‘Treacle Toffee’. I’d seem your hand-dyed yarn in Knit Now and I thought you might be able to help with the rich, autumnal, falling leaves and low sun colour I had in mind, and I was right! I think it’s your sense of colour, in particular the way it seems to tune into the natural world of plants and the seasons, that keeps me coming back. When I have designs like my ‘May’ loop scarf (pictured further up), which was inspired by blossom, I know you’ll be able to give me the perfect shaThis is After Eight, made in Hayton DK. I added one pattern repeat to make it into a beanie for my enormous head and it's perfect!de - delicate, but never prissy pastels!
This is After Eight, made in Hayton DK. I added one pattern repeat to make it into a beanie for my enormous head and it's perfect!
Does the yarn selection influence what you decide to design? If the answer is yes, why?
I think it works both ways. Sometimes I have an idea for a design and the idea more or less dictates the yarn- it needs a solid colour, or good stitch definition, or a rustic, woolly texture for example. That said, I do get regular yarn ‘crushes’, where I will see a particular yarn, or even a shade of a particular yarn and I really want to get my hands on it and design something. Then it’s a matter of working out what technique and features will be the perfect partners to make the qualities of that yarn sing. Often, when I visit yarn shows, I allow myself one off-shopping-list ‘inspiration skein’, which I choose just because the colour, feel or maybe even the story behind it makes my heart sing. It might then sit in my stash for a little while after I get home, but when I go back to those ‘inspiration skeins’ they often spark new creative directions. I have a feeling that the ‘Minted’ hats I designed for you might have begun in that sort of way… (The Mint Collection is available to download on our website HERE)
If you had to pick just one ECY yarn and colourway, what would it be and why?
Although I do love the hand-dyed, if I had to pick one ECY yarn, it would probably be Milburn DK. It’s so versatile because it has that great combination of retaining stitch definition while feeling soft and luxurious. It holds structure but can also have a bit of drape, which makes it great for textured pieces. I think in terms of colourway I would have to say Rust- maybe because I love deep orange shades at the moment, and maybe there is also a touch of nostalgia, as it reminds me of the first one of your yarns that I used for those mittens all those years back!
You can find Anna on social media in these locations: annaelliottdesigns annaelliottdesigns
@AnnaEDesigns AnnaEDesigns Anna Elliott Designs and to browse the designs of hers available on our website click HERE.