Michael got in touch with us in 2018 when he was submitting a design using Hayton 4ply to Cast On, the magazine of The Knitting Guild Association. This design was My Garden Window and is so quintessentially ECY we fell in love with it! Michael quickly followed this up with another lovely design using Hayton 4ply which incorporated beautiful lace stitches as well as contrasting colours. In the time since then Michael has continued to amaze us with his creative designs and we were delighted when he expressed an interest in our Lowther Lace as we were keen to work with him again. Lacy Circles is a beautiful triangular shawl featuring a circular motif. To celebrate the release of this design we wanted to find out more about the man behind the designs.
Can you tell us about your background and how you came to become a designer?
When I was around 9 years old my mother showed me the basics of knitting and crocheting. However, I grew up on a farm in the northeastern U.S. and in that area and at that time, knitting was not one of the approved pastimes for a young boy. The needles and crochet hooks were put aside – for quite a few years, in fact.
Several years ago I started to knit again and it quickly became an integral part of my daily life. I bought lots of books and learned a wide range of techniques. Then I bought more books and experimented with lace, texture, and colorwork stitch patterns. It wasn’t long before I started combining stitch patterns into designs and decided to write out the instructions so I could share them with others (and remember them). I soon discovered I could upload the patterns to the internet and was off on a new adventure. I also improved my skills and increased my range through the Master Hand Knitter certification program of The Knitting Guild Association (tkga.org).
Over the past few years I have designed patterns for accessories, including shawls, wraps, cowls, hats – and one Fair Isle-patterned gansey. I’ve self-published the majority of my designs but have also produced others for yarn companies and online and print magazines.
What’s your favourite garment or accessory to design, and why?
I particularly like to design shawls, wraps, and cowls, as I see them as pieces that can be enjoyed by knitters of all skill levels. They also are amenable to a wide variety of stitch patterns and combinations of patterns and are fun designs to play around with. Although I enjoy the finished product when designing garments, I like to be able to finish projects more quickly.
Where do you go to for inspiration? How does this influence what you decide to create within a design?
Travel has a major impact on both the motifs and colors I use in my designs. Some decades ago I spent the better part of a year in Central America and was captivated by the colorful work of artisans in Mexico and Guatemala. Many years later my travels took me to Africa, where I was enthralled by the magic and mystery of Egypt and Morocco, and the talented artisans of South Africa. I have been fascinated by the designs of rugs in Turkey and the embroidery I’ve come across in China. There’s such an amazing wealth of hand-crafted riches throughout the world – and I certainly enjoy travels of discovery.
I like to spend time in historic settings, visiting local artisan markets and bazaars, and also taking in landscapes and natural features. I try to recreate what I have seen in stitch patterns—interpreting elements of nature, landmarks, and textiles I’ve come across.
A couple of summers ago, we visited the Shetland Islands – long an inspiration to me, both for the knitted lace from the northern island of Unst, and the wonderfully colorful patterns of Fair Isle. On a trip to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania last year I had the opportunity to get some hands-on advice on color-stranding knitting technique in Riga, Latvia. At the end of that trip, on a visit to the Russian National Museum in St. Petersburg, I found inspiration for a new colorwork design based on a piece of ethnic embroidery.
Can you tell us about your process when you design a new piece? You live in a really beautiful part of the world - does that help to inspire your design process?
I work from memories, sketches, and photos of places and things I’ve seen on my travels and then move on to select/design the stitch patterns and choose colors. Usually it’s design first – but sometimes it’s yarn and/or color first. Since I moved to Thailand in late 1998, the country’s natural environment, iconic images, and architecture have provided ongoing inspiration for my designs.
Who are your favourite designers that you the admire most or take inspiration from?
My work has been influenced by Kaffe Fassett’s creativity with color. Overall, I’m most inspired by the historic traditions of Shetland and the stitch patterns of Fair Isle and of the Baltic and Scandinavian countries – and the countless knitters over the centuries who have contributed to that body of work.
Where are your favourite places to go for tutorials and guides for your knitting? Do you have a tutorial you would recommend?
When I was working on The Knitting Guild Association’s Master Hand Knitter program I found Arenda Holladay’s series on technique tips really helpful – and they’re still my go-to resource: www.arendaholladay.com/p/index-of-knitting-tips.html
What’s your knitting nemesis? Is there any technique that gives you the shivers?
What attracted you to Eden Cottage Yarns/how did you find us?
I originally learned about Eden Cottage Yarns on social media – in a tweet from someone I was following. I loved what I saw and started browsing the website. My interest is not only in the exquisite yarns you offer, but the family-like atmosphere you create. It’s very special.
Does the yarn selection influence what you decide to design? If the answer is yes, why?
It depends on the project, but to me yarn and color are always important – from the right yarn for the desired stitch definition to the right colors to create the desired pattern detail and overall effect. I don’t typically by yarn impulsively – but during this lockdown I now wish I had!
You’ve started machine knitting fairly recently and are making really fast progress with that - how did you come to it, and how are you finding it?
I’m not so sure that my progress is all that fast, but I am learning my way around the basics. It’s much more difficult that I imagined.
I’d seen some of the Fair Isle work done on a knitting machine and after designing and hand knitting a Fair Isle gansey for my Master Knitter program I thought that I probably wouldn’t want to do one again unless I could knit it by machine. I love designing patterns and love swatching and knitting small to mehium-sized articles, but I don’t love hand knitting acres of tiny stitches.
What I’m trying to say is that I will continue to hand knit my wraps, shawls, and cowls – but may branch out into garments, and those would be designed and knit on my machine.
Thankyou so much Michael for answering our questions, it's so lovely to read more about you and your knit background/inspiration.