Behind the scenes: What makes a good sample knitter?

At UK Hand Knitting we are often asked about sample knitting for designers ad yarn companies. So in our latest look behind the scenes we talked to David MacLeod, Design Manager at Rowan about working with sample knitters and what the job entails.

How important are good quality sample knitters?

It’s very important to have good quality knitters because their work represents us in our brochures and pictures, also it costs time and money if garments are not knitted correctly as we may have to have them reknitted.

sample knits

It is essential that sample garments are well knitted or crocheted for photography as well as to test that the patterns work. Patterns: Felbrigg, Mie and Hiyama from Rowan Knitting and Crochet Magazine 59

What skills are important in a sample knitter  – being able to knit to tension, following instructions precisely, etc?

The skills are exactly as you’ve said – being precise and working to tension – and also it’s nice to have someone who  takes pride in what they’re knitting.

We do have a regular group of knitters and some ladies who like to knit more than others. It’s very hard to find good knitters who are experienced enough to knit our garments and knitters that are prepared to do any project.

One of the most important skills is feedback which may include feedback on the yarn itself or on the pattern or design, so our knitters need to be good communicators.

How do you find your sample knitters? Do you work with a regular group of them?

We sometimes get emails from people asking if they can knit for us, or we send out an email to ask for applicants. All knitters have to pass a knitting skills test.

We do have bank of sample knitters that we use on a regular basis.




Behind the scenes – entering the pattern archive

In our latest look behind the scenes of the yarn industry, we asked Emma Mychajlowskyj, sales director of Sirdar, about what sort of archive a large yarn company keeps.

How big is the Sirdar archive?

We have thousands and thousands of patterns in our archive – they date back to the 1930s, soon after the Harrap Bros decided that they wanted to branch out into hand knitting and created the Sirdar brand

How is the archive used today?

The archive is used in many ways.  Our design team constantly use it for reference and inspiration.  Having so many designs from so many decades at our fingertips is wonderful – the current love of vintage styles allows us to look back at what people were actually wearing at those times, and re-invent the designs to accommodate today’s needs.

sirdar archive 1

We are often asked by guilds and magazines if they can visit the archive.  The archive isn’t open as such but we review each request and allow people to visit sometimes.  For the knitters amongst us, it is like being a kid in a candy shop.

Can you use it to help knitters with old patterns?

We are the only UK hand knit company with a dedicated knitting helpline, and the archive is a wonderful support for this.

As you know, knitters love to reknit their old patterns and we can receive calls from people who are struggling with a 50 year old pattern that they have knitted so many times that they can’t read the writing – our wonderful helpline ladies will hunt out the pattern and assist them with their queries.

Do you ever reissue vintage patterns because particular looks or styles return?

On the odd occasion we will reissue a pattern due to popular request – such as a Santa Claus pattern that we had in the range some time ago, which became very popular recently due to the surge in toy knitting. We didn’t reissue the pattern as it was, we re-knitted and re-photographed it to modernise it.

sirdar archive 2

It is often difficult re reissue patterns as they are as sizes and fit do change with the times – garments in the 80s would have had much more give than patterns we produce today, so we need to take into account the knitter’s expectations, and of course going back so far, the yarns are generally discontinued so we cannot guarantee the fit, shape and look of a pattern knitted in a substituted yarn.  That said, we do still have yarns in the range that have been around for almost 50 years.

We are constantly being asked to make our archive available for purchase, as the trend for vintage thrives, but have no plans to do this as yet.


Behind the scenes: Introducing a new yarn

In our occasional peak behind the scenes in the yarn industry, we had the chance to talk to Debbie Bliss about introducing a new yarn to her range.

How do you decide to introduce a new yarn? Is it driven by trends or fashion or does customer feedback come into it?

First of all I have to fall in love with the yarn and feel excited about it! I think trends are important because we all influenced by what is around in ready to wear even if only subliminally. I go to the trade fair Pitti Filatti in Florence twice a year to see the new yarns that have been developed for the following year and will pick the ones that interest me and have them sent to me.

When they arrive I will swatch them because sometimes yarns that feel fabulous in the ball do not feel as good in the knitted fabric and it may be that I can work with the manufacturer to change the blend to improve it.

You’ve just added a sock yarn to the Debbie Bliss range, why did you decide on that?

I have been asked for a sock yarn over the years but hadn’t found one that I really loved until now. I love the fact that Rialto Luxury Sock has beautifully shaded colour combined with bands of a tweed look.

rialot sock collage

Rialto luxury sock yarn

How do you decide on the colours?

When it is a new yarn the feel of it will inform the palette I think it should be launched in. For example a soft cotton may make think of ice cream, sorbet shades. On the other hand a silk blend is more likely to point me towards intense brights.

When I am choosing new shades to introduce to existing yarns I will look at the colour predictions and if they fit in with the existing shades to make a harmonious range take them on board. It is important to be aware of colour predictions as those shades will be appearing in ready to wear.

When you launch a new yarn what else need to happen?

After choosing the yarn and colour range we think of names. This isn’t  always easy because often after a search has been done the ones I like are already in use.

Then it is researching and swatching for a pattern collection for the yarn. The I pull the ideas  together so that the pattern compiler can write the patterns, which then go to the sample knitters.

When the work is ready to come back, I work  with the team to set up photos photoshoots so that we have images ready for Handarbeite or reps meetings.

There are a lot of stages before the yarn and the patterns are on the shelves of your local yarn shop.


Behind the scenes: Creating a pattern collection

In the first of our occasional looks behinds the scenes of the yarn industry, we talk to Annabelle Hill, sales and marketing director at Stylecraft about putting together pattern collections.

Why do yarn companies produce pattern collections alongside their yarns?

It is important to have the right yarn at the right price, in the right colour range, then add some lovely designs and photography and styling that appeals to a wide audience. I’m always working towards a finished product that is inspiring and approachable. Our knitters need to be able to say I can see myself wearing that.

At the beginning of a year we make a plan for yarns to launch and designs to go with, but most importantly we keep the end user in mind and make all our plans thinking what would she (or he) like to make or create? How can we engage and excite the knitting and crocheting community we are so glad to be a part of? I just keep asking those questions every time I’m making a plan or looking at something new.

How important is finding the right designers to make yarn ranges successful?

I’d say this is a critical part of a yarn’s success. You need designers that understand what knitters and crocheters are looking for in a project. Designers who can add a touch of flair to a design without making it a terribly complicated knit.

How many designers do you work with a Stylecraft?

We have two in house designers and usually work with four or five freelancers at any one time as well. I am always keeping an eye out for new talent.

Do you choose designers to work with particular yarns or to you introduce them to a selection of yarns where they can take inspiration?

This really varies. When introducing new yarns into our range we’ll often pick a designer to do a collection for that yarn in its first season.

In later seasons it can be more led by the designer – this often happens with our crochet designer who we invite in for a visit to see all our yarns. Then we work together to choose projects in yarns that say something to her. I think that this approach gives the most exciting results.

stylecraft pattern Collage

Women’s sweaters in Malabar Aran and Ombre, men’s sweater in Life chunky, wrap in Swift Knit and bag in Senses Lace

Do you set themes for the designers and the new patterns you want?

Yes we do. We like to have a fashion conscious style so when we brief our designers we will talk to them about what trends we have seen in the shops and how those may relate to the hand-knit or crochet designs that they are about to do.

How does the process work?

Well the process is sometimes more and sometimes less formal, but basically the first step is that the designer is given a brief. They then do sketches and knit swatches which are submitted for approval.

What happens once you have an approved design?

Once a design has been signed off, a full pattern with at least five sizes has to be written (the grading of a pattern to different sizes is quite a skilled job). The first written pattern is then sent out to a knitter who makes the garment in time for the photographic shoot.

The team then need to find a location, book photographers, models and so on so that we end up with some lovely images for our pattern fronts.

Meantime, patterns are checked for errors and laid out by a designer before the whole thing is sent off to be printed.  All in all the process takes about 16 weeks from beginning to end, and has passed through at least a dozen hands before we have the finished pattern.