Chatting with Stephen West!
Stephen West is perhaps one of the knitting world's iconic designers! I know he's one of my favourites so I was thrilled when he agreed to answer a few of my knitty questions!
I guess it’s a busy time for you with TNNA and promoting your new book Westknits Book 5, Midgard. I see this time you did a collaboration with designer Cirilia Rose, the Creative Director at Skacel Collection Inc. Looks like you had a lot of fun can you tell us more about the new collection?
Westknits Book 5 contains 10 new designs from Cirilia and I. All of them use a variety yarns distributed by Skacel. The designs range from scarves, mitts, and hats to a poncho, dolman sleeved sweater, and a versatile vest. We had a blast taking photos of the designs in Reykjavik last summer and I'm finally going to release a print version of the book later this summer.
Pre-order a copy of Midgard.
I also have another book called Westknits At Home coming out this fall with Quince & Co. yarns. It's going to be a larger book full of fun photos taken in my Amsterdam apartment. I'm particularly excited about this fall book because it contains mostly larger garments like sweaters, pants, a giant circular blanket, and short shorts.
Have you worked on many design collaborations? And is there a designer you’d like to work with but haven’t yet?
I love working collaboratively because it splits the workload and stretches my creativity more. I find myself making different color and shaping choices when I work with someone else. It's fun to allow someone else's style and presence influence the work. I have a friend in Amsterdam that appliqués antique Indian textiles onto sweaters, dresses, jackets, and shirts. The patterns and colors are very complex and I'd love to collaborate with her someday by creating some knitted pieces for her to embellish.
You started knitting at college, I understand a friend taught you the basics, did you get bitten by the knitting bug straight away or was it a gradual thing?
The knitting bug bit me strongly and I immediately started several projects. I asked all my friends for gift certificates to the local craft store and built a little collection of yarn that has since grown into a giant stash.
I see you favour the continental style of knitting do you think it’s easy to move from English to continental? And why did you learn to knit continental?
It was difficult to switch at first, but practice eventually led to continental style feeling more comfortable. I switched because I used to purl quicker than I knit so I would purl all hats and sweaters inside out. I was making a lace cowl for my mom three days before Christmas and I knew that if I purled it inside out, I would have to reverse all the lace patterning so I forced myself to knit continental instead so I could finish the cowl in time for Christmas. It worked!
What started you off designing? What was your first pattern to be published and where was it published?
I made a simple triangle shawl and posted it to Ravelry and saw several people responding to it. that was the Boneyard Shawl. Knitters kept messaging me with requests for other things I posted to my Ravelry project page so I finally made a few designs and they quickly became quite popular. Seeing everyone's color choices was gratifying so I continued to make more patterns and the response them kept growing. Making patterns is a lot of work, but it's very addicting because I get several more ideas during the process of making each new design.
Boneyard is available to download free from Ravelry
You very much known for you ground breaking shawl designs but I understand that you’ve been working on a sweater collection can you tell us more about it?(will the collection be in a book and can you give us an idea when we can expect to see it).
My book with Quince & Co. yarns will have sweaters in it and that's due to be released around October time. I have A LOT of shawls. I'll keep making them, but now I want just as many sweaters as shawls. I love working with color and fun shaping techniques in my shawls. It's fun to apply those same interests to garments. One design I made in the Quince & Co. book started as a shawl, but I didn't like it so I kept adding shapes to the shawl until it turned into a jacket.
Out of all your designs do you have an all-time favourite?
I'm fond of designs that took a lot of time to create like Daybreak and Rockefeller. I made several prototypes of each before arriving to the final version.
Daybreak & Rockefeller are just two of Stephen's patterns we stock.
It’s been an incredibly busy year for you so far with quite a few new designs and a couple of books due out soon so I guess with designing, knitting and teaching there’s much time for anything else but what do you do in your spare time?
When I'm home in Amsterdam I love riding my bike everywhere and jump roping. I like dancing too, but apparently I can't knit enough because I'm doing knitting and dancing performances. The first performance was in Copenhagen in May and I'm doing another knitting and dance performance this July in Edinburgh. It's exactly what it sounds like, my friend and I knit and then dance, we dance and knit at the same time, and the audience knits so we include them in the performance as well.
Are you a one project at a time sort of guy or do you have several projects on the go and what are you working on right now?
I work on several projects at once, but I usually have one main project that attracts my attention. Right now, I'm working on the next Mystery Shawl KAL.
If you fancy joining in with the Westknits Mystery Shawl KAL, Color Craving then stop by the knit-a-longs Ravelry group.
Buy any of Stephen West's patterns or books before the end of September from Tangled Yarn and get 10% off at the checkout with discount code "westknits".
A huge thank you to Stephen for taking time out of his busy schedule to ask my questions.
Credit photographs: Alexandra Feo