"The design is not separate from the pattern": Q&A with Madeleine Windsor

I'm kicking off the GAL blog festivities with my friend and neighbour (in the loose sense… she's about 20 minutes away!) Madeleine Windsor. Madeleine is a British scientist now working at the University of Zurich – she also has two small kids, so that's another thing we have in common. It feels like a great luxury to have a designer friend nearby, and very convenient that our kids can play together while we talk shop!

Madeleine started designing not much more than a year ago but has already built a good portfolio and formed relationships with wonderful dyers such as Sweet Georgia, Norah George and local star Treliz. She specialises in textured wraps and accessories, having made a splash with Patronus, and in simple dropped-stitch or openwork patterns that make the most of hand-dyed yarn. You can follow her on Instagram, join in her Rav group Kingfisher Knits or watch her video podcast.

1. What motivates you as a designer?
I absolutely love to knit and my highest priority is to knit something that I will enjoy making and want to use at the end of the process. I wouldn’t say this is original but it is my main driving force. Furthermore I have a passion for well-written patterns (probably why I am a tech editor), so producing clear patterns, which are enjoyable to knit from, gives me a deep sense of satisfaction. 

2. What’s your favourite thing to knit? And to design?
I feel I am still new to designing and I could not say that I have settled on a favourite yet. My design profile would say shawls, and I do love to knit them, but I also like a challenge and to explore new things. I am on a garment kick right now and that is where I am getting the most knitting pleasure personally.

3. You haven’t been designing long, but have already been very productive! What did you expect to achieve when you first started designing? Have your goals changed since then?
My initial hopes were to take a few of things that were in my brain and to be able to first translate that into a knitted item, and then produce a pattern which people would love to knit from. I remember thinking that, for me, the design was not separate from the pattern and I wanted people to enjoy the whole process of knitting one of my designs. I don’t know if I really expected to achieve something, but I hoped for whoever started to knit my designs to be satisfied. I would honestly say that that primary goal still hasn’t changed. I have added other goals, such as wanting to design certain types of things and to try to design in certain yarns, but the main focus is still the same.

4. Where do you see your designs in five years’ time?
I very much hope to have some more designs which are published in yarn company collections and/or in magazines, just in order to reach some people that it may be hard to by just publishing on Ravelry. I also have a dream to come up with a collection of designs, and potentially to collaborate with other independent designers – I think that would be a real thrill!

5. What’s your favourite of your own designs? Which is the most unfairly neglected?
My favourite is Stracciatella. It is one of my more recent shawl patterns and I have pretty much been in love with it from the first rows of my sample. I found it very interesting to knit, it has a non-classical shape which I chose to term a “semi-swirl” and uses a lot of texture (just knit and purl). Add in the fact it is knit in the softest 100% merino yarn in two beautiful colours from Norah George Yarns, that it culminates in a dropped-stitch border (I love dropped stitches!), and that I wear it all the time – it's definitely my favourite design so far!

I feel my most neglected design would be White Arum, which is very satisfying to knit and very wearable. It is fairly classic, but it is also knit from tip to tip, which avoids very long rows, and it features some lace and some cabling. The design was made in a mohair blend, giving it a lovely halo and almost ethereal look, but it would work in other heavy fingering weight yarns and still be sublime.

6. Do you find social media important for your marketing? What does it mean to you to have a “personal brand”?
I certainly do – I mostly make use of Instagram and Ravelry for promoting my designs and collaboration partners, and aside from the pure marketing I also really enjoy connecting and interacting with other knitters. In the spring I started a YouTube channel so that I could join in with all the podcasting/vlog fun and it has been even better than I had imagined. 

I am not really a marketing person, so the idea of having a “personal brand” is not something that I have ever given much time to; perhaps that will develop. I mostly focus on putting out the best designs I can, supporting them, and representing them and myself in an honest and approachable way. This is probably naïve, but it is what has worked for me so far. 

7. This is your first GAL as a designer. What are you most looking forward to?
I am really looking forward to seeing what it will be like, as a designer and a participant. I do love a KAL, chatting with other knitters, encouraging others and seeing what others are up to.And if someone were to pick one of my designs to knit as a gift for someone, that would feel like high praise indeed!

8. What GAL patterns have caught your eye? Are you making anything?
Where do I begin – I could spend hours happily browsing all the bundles and the beautiful designs which are included in this year’s GAL! I always loved designs by Lyrical Knits (Mary Annarella), so I have been browsing her bundle, and Ruth Brasch has some lovely looking cowls in particular. While Faye Kennington has some really fun colourwork hats. [RW: Agreed – and I have an interview with Faye coming soon!] But this is really just a tiny selection! 

With regards to what I would actually like to make in the GAL, I will still have a good amount of design knitting to be done so I am sticking to smaller projects and knitting from stash. I am keen to make a start on the Drumashie hat by Emily K Williams (I have the Lost in the Woods collection) [RW: Of course you do, it's brilliant. Ahem ahem], and I also love the look of her Hap Cardigan [RW: still one of my own favourite garments!] so may have to pick that up for future knitting! The Aureate Hat by Triona Murphy also caught my eye.

9. What’s your favourite part of designing – and least favourite? Do you find patterns tend to get held up at one particular point of the process?
My favourite part… I would be torn between the moment that the initial idea/sketch and swatching come together and I know where I am going and really what the design will be, AND the moment when the item is blocked and I can really see what it has become, wear it, drape it, style it and feel that sense of accomplishment.

The worst part is definitely going from notes to pattern draft – this is where I am still developing my process. I am a maths lover and plan out designs mostly in Excel, then knit the sample from the Excel sheet (taking notes as I go) and then write the pattern. I have decided to now write pattern drafts before knitting the sample so that pattern writing is smoother once the time comes, and I think that will be a great help.

10. What haven’t you done yet (in craft, in business or in life) that you really, really want to?
I really want to design a garment and knit a sweater for my husband – I think I may just kill two birds with one stone. That would be great!