Knitting designer series: I invited a few of my favourite knitwear designers to discuss their design process and inspiration and to share some tips and ideas too.
Thelma Egberts is a Dutch aspiring knitwear designer, free-lance editor and happy mother. She is most known for the Fish hat published in Knitty. Fishy has his own website and Thelma has got one too. And of course she’s on Ravelry.
The day Thelma decided to knit her son a fish hat, she became a knitwear designer. Before that, she already made up patterns for her own use. Yet she never thought of writing them down and sharing them. Fishy was the big turnaround. People started laughing when they saw it, and asked for a pattern. So Thelma wrote one and sent it to Knitty. She has written a few more since then, but she still feels reluctant to call herself knitwear designer, she says: “I still have to learn a lot about pattern writing, sizing and even about knitting techniques! But I love every step of the way!”
I asked Thelma a few questions about her hats and her knitting designs.
Can you tell us about your inspiration for the Fish Hat?
I always loved to knit my four children unusual hats. The fish hat was designed for Jonas, who wanted to become a sea biologist. I decided to knit him a fish that ‘ate’ his head but couldn’t find a pattern that came close. So I started to puzzle my own hat together. Without question a stocking cap should form the basic shape. Ribbed fins were no big deal either. The fish should have big lips, to emphasize it’s comical character. A roll brim soon came to mind. But how to shape the mouth? Earflaps seemed a good solution, but they should not be too flappy and had to be combined with a roll brim. How to do so? I looked at all kind of ear flaps and when I found the short row type I knew I had a catch.
It sounds so easy when I write it like this. In reality it took a lot of knitting, frogging and hibernating before Jonas finally got his hat. I did not take notes. So to write the pattern, I had to knit it again. Since then, I take notes all the time.
Can you tell us a little about your love of weird and funny hats? What are some of your other fun hat designs?
First I have to admit I never wear weird hats myself. I don’t like to attract the attention. Still I do love anything unusual and I love children and grownups who don’t shy away from it. Happily I could place almost anything on my children’s heads before they became teenagers. The Half Fish Beanie was a logical follow up of the original Fish hat. To have the fish followed by a cat seemed natural too. The comical TV series CatScratch inspired me to knit a hat based on cat Waffle.
And a cat hat of course should be followed by a bird hat: Twitter [pictured above]. Earflaps figure as ‘wings’ this time, making Twitter a very comfortable hat to wear. But the real fun part is the beak, shaped by a double brim. I studied a lot of brim types, till I found the right technique to shape mine. Not hats, but still funny are Scarfish, the scarf to go with Fishy, and Funny Feet [pictured above], socks with outstanding ears, noses and hair.
Can you tell us a little about your interest in South American knitting traditions?
I don’t stick to weird and funny. I also love to dive into knitting history and get inspired by it. Most of all South American knitting attracts me, because so much still seems undiscovered. I have always loved chullo’s, Peruvian ear flap hats, and the wonderful story behind them. But I almost became obsessed when I bought a very peculiar baby hat that was handknit in South America. It had two sweet little ears and it really took me years to find out how they were shaped. And just when I found out, Berrocco published Cisco, a hat that looks just like ‘my’ Llama hat! [pictured above]. I was very disappointed at first. Still I published my version because it’s worked totally differently. I am convinced that it is closest to the way the South Americans would knit it.
My internet search for South American knitting traditions also resulted in a Knitty-pattern. I found a picture of a Peruvian child, wearing yet another uncommon hat. I reverse engineered the pattern and published it as Tortora Child. Its bobbly stitch pattern formed the inspiration for my Tortora hat in Knitty.
You love to use left-over yarn, stash yarn, improvising patterns and techniques. Can you tell us a little about this and your process.
I love to knit with other people’s leftovers, like yarns I buy in thrift stores. That way I have the yarn speak to me. That’s very different from me telling the yarn what it has to become. Stitch patterns also are an endless source of inspiration. It starts with wanting to know how that particular stitch is done. Then it grows into a design of my own. Besides Tortora also Caprifoglio and Snelle Annabelle [pictured above] are examples. Snelle Annabelle shows what very bulky yarn does to a delicate lace pattern. Besides that, I like to juggle around with techniques. Especially short rows keep coming back into my designs. It’s amazing how you can shape anything with this technique, without increasing, decreasing or binding of. Stroller [pictured below], a cowl hood pattern is an example.
These are the ‘success stories’ of designs that have worked out somehow. But the most educational (and funny!) stories are those about designs that never saw daylight. The ones I hide under my sofa. Maybe one day I tell you how I flunked at designing a Human Ear Earflap Hat, or an Almost Real Apple Peel hat…