"It was much more fun to come up with my own creations": Q&A with Christiane Burkhard

I met Christiane Burkhard, also known as Lismi, briefly at the Swiss Wulle Festival this year. I enjoyed chatting with her about the dislocating experience of living abroad (for her, moving to America and then back to Germany; for me, leaving South Africa for first London and now Switzerland) and was pleased to get to know her better with this interview. Her entertainingly constructed Return shawl is high on my wish list!

Find Christiane on Twitter and on her blog.

1. What’s your career background, and how did you get into design?

I learned how to knit as a child and didn’t like it very much. My aunt had to finish my school projects so I wouldn’t get bad grades. Later, in high school, knitting became very hip and we secretly knitted underneath the desk during class. Almost all of the time I didn’t use a knitting pattern. It was much more fun to come up with my own creations. I remember one sweater I called the English Sweater, since I made it during English lessons. At our graduation party we even had a catwalk showing off all our creations. I guess this could be called a start in designing. Due to my work as a PT, family and a busy life, knitting and fibre arts were on the back burner for quite a while. After moving to the US this changed completely. In my local yarn shop I started to teach work shops, learned a lot about the industry and was able to spread my designer wings basically through learning by doing. In this great community I have found a lot of good friends who encourage me to keep going and I am very thankful for their support!

2. What motivates you?

… that there are endless possibilities in creativity. Also to see someone wearing something I designed makes my heart jump.

3. You write that your designs are influenced by the places you’ve travelled – what are your favourite places? Where would you live if you had totally free choice?

Special people, events or memories make a favourite place for me. One of them is Roxbury Pond in Maine, where we were able to spend wonderful times as a family in summer.  One of my shawl patterns is named after this place. After a trip to Russia in the early nineties I have always been impressed by the architecture there. The hat pattern Basil is named after St. Basil Cathedral in Moscow. These are only two examples.  

4. What differences did you experience in knitting culture, or in your own knitting habits, in the US compared with Germany?

Since we have only lived here for a little more than a year and are just settling down, I don’t have that much insight into the current knitting culture in Germany/Europe. One thing is for sure, most of the German knitters I have met so far don’t beat around the bush. They are very direct in sharing their opinion about a yarn, design or project. I have met great knitters so far, and even got to know my new neighbour through Ravelry as we were still planning our move from America. One thing I miss are the great yarn festivals in the US and hope that there will be more emerging in Europe too. I found some differences in pattern writing too: Germans tend to love short-worded patterns with charts and the US market looks more for the ones which are written out line by line and have some technical explanations. There is something to learn from each knitting culture and I am excited to be able to explore that.

5. A lot of your designs make bold use of colour. Is that often the starting point for you? Are there certain design themes or ideas you keep returning to?

I love playing with colour. I like colour to emphasize a design theme but most of the time it is not the starting point. Some of things I keep returning to are modular knitting, and using colour work in an unexpected way. 

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

The first time I went public was to submit a design to contest held by a yarn company. My friend and owner of my LYS was very persistent in encouraging me to do it. I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence at this point, but also nothing to lose. It was almost like, “give it a try and see where it leads”. After coming in second, I started to dare thinking about designing more professionally. My goal was to start  to self-publish designs and be able to run a booth at a yarn festival. A few years later I reached this goal. I was able to have a booth at several shows the last two years before I left the US, I published quite a few designs and I am happy to have a collaboration with RYN yarns.   

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

After a one-year hiatus due to our move back to Europe, I started to design again this fall. There seems to never be enough time in the day to get everything done, especially now that I am also working as a PT again. My Christmas wish is a few extra hours each day. Despite this, I would love to continue designing patterns that show my artistic style.  

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

For me it is just pure excitement to see the creative juices flow in an event like this. In a world of competition, greed and conformity I consider it a privilege to be part of a community event of indie designers and crafters where supporting each other, generosity and creativity are core values.

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

Are you serious ;-). There are so many gorgeous patterns there! Just a few of my favourites: Timber by Shannon Cook, Hel by Linda Marveng, Spanish Mandala Pillow Overlay Crochet by Tatiana Kupryiachyk, Persian Dreams Worsted by Jenise Hope and Fleur Bleue by Christelle Nihoul. I’d love to make your newest design Pravigan. [Note: Not in the GAL sale bundle unfortunately!] I saw it in Zürich when you were still working on it and I am in love...

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

Oh, there are many things!!! A water colour painting and singing class, traveling to New Zealand, visiting my friends in Cebu (I named a design after them: Flower of Cebu), have a booth at Rhinebeck, and horseback riding on a beach are just a few of them.