Sophie McKane, aka Unicorn Designs, is a wonderful designer. In the past two years alone Sophie has released a number of beautiful patterns including some using Eden Cottage Yarns. Her designs have been published in magazines as well as several being self-published. We love her use of colour and stitch patterns, and thought it would be great to find out a bit more about her.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you came to become a designer?
My grandma was a prolific knitter and she’s the one who first taught me to knit, when I was very little. I knitted a LOT of plain garter stitch squares but then just stalled.
Fast forward to my mid-twenties, when I married my husband and moved from London to New York, where I didn’t know a soul. I read a magazine article about Sarah Jessica Parker being a knitter, and decided that NYC must be full of knitters and it would be a great way to meet people. Luckily part of that turned out to be true!
I discovered that my local yarn store was the world-famous Brooklyn General, a treasure trove of yarn, fabrics and inspiration. The owner, Catherine Clark, also works as a midwife and delivered all three of my babies. I met some of my very best friends in NYC through a mama and baby knitting group at Catherine’s store. We are still close today, even though I’m now back in London.
I made the leap from obsessive knitter to designer back in 2016. When my youngest child started primary school I found myself with more quiet thinking time, and the design ideas started flowing. After self-publishing a couple of patterns, I entered the Knitter of the Year awards hosted by Knit Now Magazine and won in the “New Designer” category. That was hugely exciting and gave me my first opportunity to design for publications.
What’s your favourite garment or accessory to design and why?
I always enjoy a good fingerless mitts pattern - they’re so quick to make, and a great way to try out new colour combinations or stitch patterns. I also think they’re perfect for gifting - a much safer bet than socks, where the fit is so crucial. Other than that, I really love a great baby cardigan or jumper. Just so cute!
Where do you go to for inspiration? How does this influence what you decide to create within a design?
I absolutely love going to yarn shops and festivals to discover new yarns, look at colours and learn more about the people behind the brands. I often go pretty wild and make lots of purchases, without having projects in mind. After fondling the yarn for a while back at home, I figure out what I’d like to do with it, and then I go from there. I always look for something that feels just a bit different, perhaps an unexpected way of combining colours, or a new technique or motif.
My guiding principles are things that are fun and interesting to knit, and easy to wear. I like designing contemporary kids’ garments that my own children love, as well as sweaters and accessories that I want to wear myself.
Can you tell us about your process when you design a new piece?
I begin with a couple of sketches and perhaps a sample square. I then usually plunge in with a spreadsheet to figure out sizing. I have a degree in maths and a love of numbers, so I enjoy geeking out in this phase of the design process. I usually then write the pattern out in full from start to finish and then just do final tweaks as I’m knitting the sample.
Tech editing and test knitting are really crucial stages in any design. I'm grateful to my wonderful army of test knitters who try out new designs and offer helpful feedback. If you're interested in test knitting then the website yarnpond is a great place to begin.
Who are your favourite designers?
I love the botanic yoked sweaters designed by Jennifer Steingass (@knit.love.wool on IG). She combines basic shapes and construction with the most beautiful colourwork. I'm also a huge fan of the amazing ladies behind Tin Can Knits - they have a wide range of designs for knitters of all skill levels, and a lot of free patterns as well.
I recently knit a stunning shawl designed by Nidhi Kansal of knidhiknits. Nidhi has some lovely patterns, including several shawls that would look great in ECY. Bristol Ivy is also such an inspiration - always pushing the boundaries of construction, design and fit.
Where are your favourite places to go for tutorials and guides for your knitting or crochet? Do you have any tutorials that you would recommend?
For design inspiration, I keep coming back to Alterknit by Andrea Rangel and the Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible by Hitomi Shida (available from many retailers).
What’s your nemesis? Are there any techniques that give you the shivers?!
I have never tried brioche. People say it's not really intimidating, but I just don't know if I'll ever have the mental space for it!
How did you first discover Eden Cottage Yarns?
Eden Cottage Yarns has been on my radar ever since I moved back to the UK in 2014. I think saw the yarns in person for the first time at the Unravel Festival in Surrey. But the moment when I became truly hooked was when I saw the yarns again at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March 2019. The ECY stand there was just beautiful and so inspiring.
I love shopping at festivals and local yarn stores, and find it can be a bit daunting to buy online. But with ECY, I just know the yarns will be even better in person. I did a season of the Potting Shed Club last year and loved everything that I received.
My first design with Victoria's yarns was in back in September 2017, and since then I've done four more.
Does the yarn selection influence what you decide to design? If the answer is yes, in what way?
Sometimes I have a very clear idea for a design and then I go out and seek a yarn that has the right attributes. For instance, I might need one that is rounded and plied to show off cables, or one that is soft and machine washable for kids' clothing. But most often, I am drawn like a moth to a flame when I see a beautiful yarn, and I have nothing particular in mind for it! I then take it home and hold it and look at it repeatedly over a period of time, until the right design idea comes to me.
If you had to pick just one ECY yarn and colourway, what would it be and why?
Oh man that is a really difficult one!!
I'm a real sucker for British wool, especially Bluefaced Leicester, so my favourite would probably have to be Bowland, in any of the weights. I find myself drawn to DK yarns at the moment, they're just so versatile. The pink Heliotrope that's in the online store right now is beautiful.
I have a skein of Keld Fingering in my stash right now, in the colourway Cloudless Sky. Wow, that is an absolute treasure! It's a really interesting base and I love it in the Dandelion colourway as well.
I also have a real soft spot for the Yarnlings, they are just too cute to resist. I do a lot of colourwork knitting and they're the perfect way to experiment with colour.
So to answer your question, I cannot pick just one ECY yarn and colourway lol!