"Shaping and stitch patterns that flow get me excited": Q&A with Katya Frankel
Katya Frankel is an all-rounder, someone whose designs span the gamut from baby accessories (she's published two books of kids' knits) to adult sweaters and lace shawls. She's also equally at home self-publishing or working with magazines. I admire and envy her output, and I thoroughly enjoyed making the Bowburn hat in last year's GAL – it's a really satisfying knit, with the overlapping stocking stitch panels flowing to and fro and ultimately forming a neat crown. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before my Little Dude gets a Dax pullover, too, and I've already noted how much I covet the Arrow Pullover.
1. How did you get into design?
I always loved creating things, with knitting and sewing being the dominant ones in my array of handcrafts. In a way I began designing at about the same time as I began knitting, because that was the way I was taught to knit – you figure out the pattern to fit yourself (or whomever you’re knitting for) and make it work with the stitch pattern, body measurements, and construction. Years later a friend wondered why I didn’t do it professionally and it kind of snowballed from there, with lots of garment construction and fashion design reading, working closely with a couple of experienced tech editors on understanding pattern grading across various types of garments.
2. What motivates you?
So many things: I love learning new techniques, figuring out new or better ways of doing things and finding clearer ways to describe pattern instructions; I love hearing back from the knitters, whether it’s about a tricky part in a pattern or to say that they enjoyed knitting something from it – they are all a part of what drives me.
3. What did your life look like when your kids were small (before kindergarten)? How did that affect your creative drive in that life phase? How do you manage your time?
I began designing for magazines when my children were little – probably because my children were little – really it all started because I could do something to have an extra income while staying at home with them. I won’t lie and say it was easy. The work hours were very restricted to mostly nap times and evenings, but at the same time it was amazing to have a creative outlet. You do learn to use every spare minute to its full, and I guess it taught me that you can switch on your inspiration when you need it because a couple of hours in the evening is all the time you might have that day.
4. Since you published your first patterns in 2007, what changes have you noticed online? And what’s changed for your own business?
The biggest change was that Ravelry was created sometime in the summer of 2007, banding so many knitters from practically every corner of the world into a wonderful community, if you like. This was not too long after I first started self-publishing, and it was amazing – it became much easier to find and get in touch with like-minded people, network with other designers, and even find freelancing jobs. Knitting has grown since then as well, as there are so many online resources covering every facet of it, from in-depth technique development to courses on tech editing.
5. What did you expect to achieve when you first started designing? Do you think you’ve met those goals, or perhaps surpassed them?
I didn’t have much of a plan, I just sort of jumped in feet-first and was astounded that people wanted to make my designs. It still amazes me and I love that aspect of knitwear design! At the beginning, all I wanted to do was to explore different knitting techniques and share my patterns. So in a way, I have surpassed that, and graduated into "now I am enjoying doing it professionally".
6. Where do you see your designs in five years’ time?
That’s a really tough one because five years seems like such a long time. I really enjoyed working on full collections of designs in the past, like I did with Boys’ Knits and Head to Toe: Kids’ Knit Accessories, and would love to put more books together if the opportunity arises. Similarly, I love working with yarn companies on developing designs that are made with specific yarns in mind and hope to do more of this; I find work on collections very satisfying as you can cover specific techniques in a lot of depth or concentrate on building the knitters’ skill sets.
7. How would you describe your design aesthetic? Do you feel your portfolio so far is a full reflection of your design personality, or are there aspects you still want to explore?
Personally, I love mindless knitting laced with some interesting details now and then. Telly knitting. And the majority of my past designs reflected that, so you would have seen quite a few of them rely on expanses of intuitive stitch patterns. But at the same time they have some interesting details incorporated. If I am researching a particular technique I try to integrate that into a design I work on. I am inspired by those techniques and the ideas seem to bounce one of the other; shaping and stitch patterns that flow in and out of garment elements are the ones that get me excited most.
8. What GAL patterns have caught your eye? Are you making anything?
Where do I begin? There are so, so many amazing designers taking part this year that it’s really difficult to pick just one. I’ve been doing a Top Ten picks to highlight my favourites on my blog this year for this reason. (Oops! Yes she has, and I've been enjoying those posts – brain fail. –R) I do, however, adore Emily Williams’ Trondra, and hope to make the time to knit it. The design is so well thought through, from its construction to the choice of the stitch patterns, to the way it’s all been put together.
9. What’s your favourite of your own designs? And which one do you think is the most underappreciated?
The favourite ones change continually, usually it is whatever I’m working on right now. The underappreciated? Maybe Prim Cardigan. (I love that one! – R) I remember absolutely loving the idea of designing a garment for a handpainted yarn that showcases variegation, with the slipped stitches highlighting its shaping and again lifting that variegation across the purled ground. I think its purled ground was the reason for it not being very popular because the knitters are being put off by the reversed stocking stitch, although in truth, with a stocking stitch cardigan there’s just as much purling as there’s knitting.
10. What haven’t you done yet (in craft, in business or in life) that you really, really want to?
It’d be amazing to move to the countryside and live in a little cottage with some sheep in the back yard. Gosh, I don’t know. Travel more. In business, I’d love to publish more niche books exploring interesting techniques and maybe writing with a specific skill set in mind.