"I like knitting, I like engineering, therefore I design": Q&A with Emily

Emily K Williams is an old friend. She was one of the very first Purlescence customers (literally one of the first two, I think, the other one being another Emily!); we've chatted for years in the Posh Yarn forum, bonded through despairing emails over how much babies suck (just at first), even met in person a few times, and of course worked on Lost in the Woods together. Of course I couldn't resist interviewing her for the GAL.

Emily's designs are always thoughtfully constructed and carefully communicated – her engineering background no doubt helps to ensure this attention to detail! My version of her Hap Cardigan is still one of my most worn knits (and was among the most fun to make).

Find Emily on Ravelry as flutterby (also in our shared group!) or as @flutterbyknits on Instagram and Twitter. Her blog is sitbackandknit.co.uk.

1. What motivates you?

You know, this is a really hard question. I think what motivates me to design is that I do really enjoy it (at least retrospectively!) and there is nothing more satisfying that having someone knit from one of my patterns and say that they love the finished object. I am also pathologically incapable of following a pattern without modifying it, often beyond all recognition, so figured that I might as well dive right in and design the thing in the first place.

2. What makes you want to stick needles in your eyes?

My biggest personal "argghhh" moments in pattern writing are when I’m trying to figure out which is left and which is right. Honestly, I have never been able to tell the difference in any context without serious thought, so I do spend some time trying to decide (and convincing myself backwards and forwards) whether I’m writing a pattern for a left glove or a right glove. That and realising that my "comprehensive" notes miss something important, and that my super-clever spreadsheet makes no sense three weeks later.

3. Besides designing and tech editing, you have a 7yo and a part-time job. Be honest. How heavily does Minecraft feature in your time management strategy? How heavily does gin feature in your parenting strategy?

Well, having a 7yo is a whole world different to having a 7yo and a 3yo! I try not to let the iPad be used too much – mostly because he turns foul after too long playing games or watching things, so in the long run it’s not worth it. I try to do things that require proper concentration either when he’s at school, or in the evenings after he’s in bed. But he does have a very active social life; most afternoons he plays with someone either here or at their house, which means that I get longer days at home on my own a couple of times a week. I also have a pretty understanding husband, though in getting this collection out I may have pushed him as far as he can stand!

4. What did you expect to achieve when you first started designing? Do you think you’ve met those goals, or perhaps surpassed them?

If I’m totally honest, I’ve not done nearly as much designing as I envisaged a couple of years ago. While I believe that my designs are good, I do wish I’d done more of them. I am doing far more engineering work than originally planned though (and that career has taken off in an unexpectedly pleasing direction, where I have become an expert in a little niche), which inevitably means less knitting, and also that I’ve not made any effort to grow the tech editing business from its current level.

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

I’d like to do more designs. My list of clever ideas is massive, and I’m looking forward to exploring them! There will be more garments, because I need more jumpers, and all the samples are mine as soon as I’ve done the photoshoot. I would like to manage a slightly more regular pattern output though – the collection is all that I’ve managed this year.

6. Our big Lost in the Woods project has been such a huge (and rewarding!) challenge over the past 18 months. Was there any aspect of how it worked out that surprised you? Other than my complete inability to keep things simple.

There were lots of surprises. I honestly never could have imagined just how differently three people could write the same thing, even given a style sheet to work from. I’d also underestimated the value of early input from other people on a design – I’m thinking in particular of your comments on my first sketch for Braevall, and us convincing you that Pravigan should be massive and made of lace-weight yarn.

7. What’s the most memorable lesson you’ve learned from this collection? Other than never to trust me to understand what simple means.

Well, your ability to complicate things is almost as legendary. But I think in that respect we are a very good team in that your strengths (words and clarity of a design vision) are totally opposite to mine (numbers and systematic logic)! I have really enjoyed working collaboratively, and love not having to write a romance text, or do layouts, and I think that the end product is so much better than any of us could have managed on our own. But next time, much much more detailed style sheet, including standard phrases that crop up all the time.

8. What do you most look forward to in the GAL, as a knitter and as a designer?

I love the crazy fast-paced action of the GAL. I’ll be honest, in last year’s event my sales were really good and I’m hoping that my patterns will do well again this year, and that my designs will be seen and knit by lots of new people.

9. What GAL patterns have caught your eye? Are you making anything?

I’ve yet to have a chance to properly look through all the patterns yet, but I am waiting on your next release! I honestly can’t make more than one large non-design project at a time, and I want that jumper. But that said I did learn to crochet this summer, so I intend to spend a while looking for something to practise on. Maybe a hat?

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

Life-wise – well, I’d love to go to Iceland for a holiday, there’s just so much to see there both related to knitting and otherwise. My mission this winter is to get more comfortable on steeper ground when I’m skiing, so that I can maybe relax a bit on red runs rather than just surviving.

Knitting-wise, I think I’d just like to do more of it. The last year has been fantastic in terms of a couple of projects with other people, and I’ve really enjoyed that. Now that I have a bit more time again, I have another couple of jumper concepts that I want to try out!

11. Tell me about your fibre journey. [ducks]

[swipes, and misses……..]

Honestly? I’ve never been on one. I like knitting, I like engineering things, therefore I design as well as knit, and have found that I really enjoy it, so I’ve carried on doing it.

[Emily consented to this interview on the express condition that I not ask her about her "fibre journey". Obviously I had to take the bait, although frankly I feel the same way she does about that phrase. Thanks for being a good sport, Emily – good answer!]