"I try to learn something new with everything I make": Q&A with Sonya Newstead

Sonya Newstead, aka Stringherder, is another designer friend formed through the magic of the interwebs. We've been emailing for some time, chatting about the challenges of designing while parenting. Sonya very recently had a third child, so I was pretty impressed to see her participating in the Gift-A-Long this year! Let's get to know more about her. 

1. How did you get into design?
I am an insatiable tinkerer with an eye for detail. I get an idea of what I want and look for it - and then figure that if I can't find anything perfect then I am better off trying to work it out myself than adapting something that already exists. I also love the challenge of taking something from my head and turning it into an actual item.

2. What motivates you?
I love the challenge of working out how to do something. I try to learn something new with everything I make. (Except kids' stuff, because sometimes they just need clothes that I don't need to think about.)

3. You have three kids under 5, one of whom is pretty high maintenance, and I know you struggle as I do with finding time for design. Are you ever tempted to just not bother?
I just missed out on 3 under 5, actually! My oldest turned 5 in September, just before the baby was born. I think I will always be doing the designing part, because I can't not do it, but I am sometimes tempted to give up on the pattern writing step. One of the reasons I push myself to do it is that I feel like the designing is easier to justify if I sell patterns too. There is definitely a sense of accomplishment from pushing through the not-so-fun bits and publishing.

4. 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 any expectations at the start – I wrote up my first pattern to see if I could.  I could wish to have been more productive, but over the last five years or so I've (mostly) learnt to not beat myself up when I can't knit/design/write as much as I'd like to. In the past I've tried setting a goal for how many patterns I'd like to finish for the year, and I've never met those goals, for one reason or another. [Ed: Me too...

5. Where do you see your designs in five years’ time?
I hope that in five years I will have a bit more time and energy for designing, and will have a solid pattern collection. It has taken me fvie years to get up to 10 patterns, but I hope that as the kids get older (and I get more practised) then I can work faster. Honestly, I'm mostly just taking things as they come. Life is too unpredictable right now to set goals that I will then fail to meet!

6. You’ve lived in Prague, as well as New Zealand. How did living there affect your knitting habits?
We lived in an apartment in Prague, so I fully embraced playground knitting! I also have a collection of ideas based on our time in Prague. The only one that I've actually finished so far is Vitus, inspired by the cathedral in Prague castle (which was very close to where my oldest went to preschool). I don't know if my knitting habits changed much otherwise, I always like to throw a small project in my bag when I go out just in case.

7. What’s your favourite thing to design? What would you like to explore next?
My first love is lace shawls, with socks a close second. I have an ongoing mission to improve my lace design skills – I think I'm relatively proficient at charting up a basic stitch pattern and having it do the right thing now, although my most recent design (not yet published) took a few rounds of swatching to get both the lace and the shaping of the piece to be exactly what I wanted. I would love to get to the point where I could design something as complex as a Herbert Niebling design on paper.
I keep thinking I should try garments at some point, but I have a bit of a mental block about knitting them. I've done the maths, and worked out how many socks/shawls a me-sized pullover equates to, but it still feels like a much bigger project than it should. I'm slowly chipping away at it by knitting kid stuff, which is making it seem slightly less daunting to make a garment for myself – particularly as the kids get bigger. 

8. What do you most look forward to in the GAL, as a knitter and as a designer?
I love seeing what everyone makes! The best encouragement for knitting and designing is being involved with other people who are also doing it.

9. What GAL patterns have caught your eye? Are you making anything?
At the moment I'm working on a My Little Blowfish (by Knotty Turtles). I fell in love with them a few years ago and made my first one when my second child was a baby. They're cute and whimsical, and the spikes are good for chewing! 
I am also thinking of making some Solstices (by tinylovely) for the boys. They seem to fit all the requirements for a kid pullover – hood, buttons, pockets. (Okay, Mr 3 also wants bats, but I think I can embroider one on if I need to.)
There are a lot of pretty shawl patterns too, I'm still trying to narrow down my list. The four I'm most tempted by are Interview With the Vampire, Renaissance Fan, Sea Fog and Helios.
I also like to try out a crochet pattern every now and then, and I'm being very tempted by these dragons. I think they would make an adorable mobile – or just be a cute little something to give to dragon lovers.

10. What haven’t you done yet (in craft, in business or in life) that you really, really want to? 
I can't make up my mind. When I was at school I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I still haven't worked it out! A few of years ago then I would have said that I'd love to live overseas for a while, but I've done that now (and loved it).
As far as designing goes, I'd love to do some collaborative work. It is easy to feel quite isolated designing from home, and working with other people occasionally can be really helpful. My life is too unpredictable at the moment for me to feel comfortable committing to something where pulling out would affect another designer, though.