"When I knit, I tap into the well of traditions": Q&A with Kristina Vilimaite

In the thousands of wonderful GAL patterns, the graceful, beautifully photographed shawls by Kristina Vilimaite really caught my eye. Her portfolio isn't large, but she seems to have emerged as a designer fully formed: every single design is at the same high level (and I want to knit most of them myself). That's something to inspire me!

How did you get into design?

When I started knitting as a teenager, I didn't use patterns, just stitch dictionaries. So I always trusted myself that I can make things from scratch. When my daughter was born, I came across Ravelry and started knitting again. Some months later a LYS owner in Budapest issued a call for designs from their yarns and I gave it a try. Cannot stop since then. However, I learned that designing is much more than just creating a nice-looking thing. Most of my energy goes into writing patterns that are clear and easy to use – and for that I gained experience during years of working with publishing in the environmental field. I love both parts of the process, the creativity of invention and preciseness of description.

What motivates you?

What I really love about designing is that I have a final tangible product: a knitted shawl, lovely photos, a finalised pattern. I'm also moved when I see that somebody made a beautiful thing using my pattern, I have this sense of being useful then. Hm, I am also crazy about just working with yarn – about the textures, colours and smell of wool or linen. And (that's the fourth thing already!) I love meeting people on Ravelry – during the test knitting or KALs or just on forums – friendliness and common interests inspire me.

You have a small daughter, which is a pretty demanding job but doesn’t seem to have gotten in the way of producing a good number of really beautiful patterns. How do you manage your time?

To tell the truth, I don't always manage to find the balance between designing, family and having enough rest. Since a couple of months I only focus on designing as my job. And being with my daughter is a pleasure (OK, not always). I work from home, which means I can have an afternoon free if I decide so and spend it with my daughter in a park, but it also means that I often work at night and on the weekends. My partner, who also works from home, helps a lot.

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 really have goals then, I just loved designing. I am not a goal person, I just like doing things that I do and creating patterns was great play to me. However, I quit my job in the environmental field a couple of months ago, with the decision that I want to sustain my living from designing. I am there already, as I have a simple lifestyle, I just have to keep creating patterns. What I would really like is to remain being excited about designing, to continue playing. If it is not fun any more, I will start to do something else.

Where do you see your designs in five years’ time?

I will continue developing collections (issued as e-books on Ravelry, e.g. my Knit Light or Lace Mittens for Snow Battle). I love when there is a story, or a concept that binds some patterns together. Also, I want to design something simple, just with garter stitch and stockinette. I tried a couple of times, but somehow some lace flowers sprouted there as well. But in five years I think I will have a collection of simple yet extraordinary things to knit.

Lithuania has a strong knitting tradition. Is that tradition important to you, or are you more influenced by online trends?

I do not know how it is for other knitters, but when I knit – and it does not matter if I knit a modern or a traditional thing, it is simply about just making stitches with a pair of needles – I sometimes feel very strong satisfaction that is related to being close to some roots. I am close to my family roots when knitting (throughout my childhood I saw my great-grandmother, grandmother and mother always knitting and I wore a lot of hand-knitted clothes), to the culture of the region I was born (I think most of Lithuanians have a pair of hand-knitted thick woollen socks, and Estonia is so close with its traditional lace), and even different world cultures (I once learned knitting in the Andean style, with the yarn over my neck). To say it in a poetic way: when I knit, I tap into the well of traditions. However, when I design, I like using modern shapes and techniques. I once designed a pair of very traditional looking Indo-European mittens, and I would like to finalise this pattern next summer.

What do you like best about the GAL, as a knitter and as a designer?

So many designers are working together for the success of the event, I am so moved by the sense of community this creates. GAL is a lot of fun, it is a possibility to knit together with so many people from around the world.

What GAL patterns have caught your eye? Is there anything you are making?

The last time I was outside I noticed that my ears were freezing off, so I will be making Directrix by Lee Meredith – I love the construction of it and I'm very curious about using more colours. Also, my daughter just asked for a cardigan. I would go for Wallaby by Georgie Hallam, as I want something fast, simple and elegant. But my daughter is a difficult customer – she would like flowers, bees and dragonflies on her cardi. If I have to design that, she will have her cardigan for the next autumn at best.

Which is your favourite of your own designs? Which is the most underappreciated? 

My favourite: Right now I like to wear my Aglow Mittens together with the Aglow shawl. I feel so extraordinary in them. Ice Queen could wear them. I love everything about that duo – colour, softness of the yarn, beads, and both the shawl and mittens are very convenient to wear.
My design I think is the most underappreciated: Icy Rivulet. It was my favourite shawl for a couple of seasons, so versatile and cozy to wear. So I was disappointed that not so many people knit it. (Though now I see that it has quite a few likes on Ravelry, so maybe it is picking up.)

What haven’t you done yet (in craft, in business or in life) that you really, really want to? 

Photography was something that I was very attracted to since I was a teenager, but I never had enough patience and good equipment to make photos I was aspiring to. I took some good shots, but I always thought I could take better ones, or more of the good ones. I am so excited right now, as I am just getting ready to buy a pretty good camera with a couple of lenses and give it a try again.