Say hello to Karie Westermann. Born in Denmark and currently residing in Scotland, Karie is a creative and multi-talented knitwear designer, tutor, translator and technical editor. Within her multiple roles in the knitting industry, Karie explores her craft with a passion for tradition and authenticity.
I asked Karie to answer a few questions and share some of her crafting experiences with us...
What was your first knitting/spinning/crochet project?
I cannot actually remember when I learned to knit and crochet – I must have been very young. My great-grandmother taught me to knit and an aunt taught me to crochet, I do remember that. I spent my childhood making clothes for my dolls and I vividly remember making a fair-isle jumper for my Barbie doll! When you are a child, you never realise things are supposed to be too difficult for you. You just do things. Something worth keeping in mind as an adult!
My very first garment was a crochet jumper I made out of my mum's cotton scraps. It was yellow, orange, pink and lime green. A hideous thing, really, with granny squares stretching across my bosom and strips of colours down the bottom. I was 17 or thereabouts. I was really proud of it and wore it around town. I am very thankful that no photos exist.
What’s your favourite thing to knit?
That is a really difficult question. I have recently discovered how much I absolutely love colourwork – it's like painting with stitches and I absolutely love watching how colours combine. On the other hand, if I were on a desert island and all I had were 4mm circs and a huge stash of hand-dyed yarn, I'd be equally happy as I love designing and knitting lace shawlettes. Then again, there is something special about garments you've made yourself…
... it is possibly easier to say I don't enjoy so much. I'm not a huge fan of knitting sleeves, but I live in Scotland, so you do need sleeves to keep warm!
Would you say you are a process or product knitter?
My least favourite part of knitting is the casting-on part. I really like being in the middle of a project – that stage where things flow and I can see where I am going. I don't have that much time to knit for myself but if I do, I make sure the project is fun to knit and has some sort of interesting process to it. I've become much better at looking at the end result though – I don't have time to knit anything that I cannot see myself wear.
As a designer, I am all about the process. I love sketching ideas, doing research and pulling everything together. I tend to get these big, conceptual ideas and I have to chip away at my ideas to get them into workable forms.
I really got sucked into the research process for my Doggerland collection:
it's a collection of knit accessories inspired by Mesolithic archaeology and psychogeography. I ended up trawling through German treatises on 3D mapping of marine landscapes – it was at that point I had to remind myself that I am a knitwear designer, not a geologist!
What are you working on right now?
At the time of writing I am putting the final touches to the penultimate pattern in the Doggerland collection. I am also working on a pattern (and a related article) for a well-known UK knitting magazine. I am tech-editing a handful of patterns for a super-talented UK designer and I am overseeing an administrative project for a commercial yarn company. I like sticking my fingers in a lot of pies! It's a bit “the calm
before the storm”, though.
Knitting-wise, I have a couple of non-work projects lingering: I am one sleeve(!) away from completing a fair-isle cardigan and one front away from completing another. I am quietly working on a Woolly Wormhead hat as well. It's important to me that I have some non-work knitting at hand for when my head is tired and I just need some comfort knitting.
If you had to pick just one kind of yarn to knit with for the rest of your life what would it be?
I apologise in advance for the long answer, but this is the best question ever.I like working with all sorts of different fibres but I love wool above all else. I have been working a lot with rustic yarns recently - yarns where you can still sense that the wool's come from a sheep and it hasn't been processed beyond recognition.
Snældan 1ply (available in the UK from the Island Wool Company) is quite possibly my favourite lace yarn for that reason – it is a Faroese yarn which is so beautiful to work with. There's an obscure Danish yarn - Hjeltholts Håndværksgarn – which mixes Gotland fibre with Falkland merino. I discovered it a few years ago and I am really excited by it.
On the other hand, Rowan Kidsilk Haze is as far from rustic as you can get. It is such a versatile yarn that makes even the simplest design shine. I also love how many colours you can get with KSH – you can either knit it on its own or combine shades to get new combinations. I have been working a lot with Rowan Felted Tweed DK recently and it's amazingly versatile as well.
For hand-dyed indie yarn, I think we are so incredibly lucky in the UK to have some of the world's best dyers. I absolutely love Old Maiden Aunt yarns – Lilith's sense of colour is so unique and I am dying to knit a cardigan out of her Merino/Silk Sport. I also recently worked with Juno Fibre Arts Belle which has this amazing handle, Eden Cottage Yarn does some of the richest palettes around, and I'm currently working with Triskelion Yarn Amaethon 4ply – unbelievably rich, gorgeous colour and feel.
So, in short, I cannot choose just one because every yarn has its right time and place (apart from fun fur). As long as I'm working with natural fibres, I am happy. I do think people should try to shop more local and try out more local yarns. I'd love to see people really support their local knitting communities and vendors.
Where do you get your knitting inspiration? And whose work do you most admire and why?
I am not someone who goes “There's a tree! I'll make a scarf!” - instead I notice things like the bark having a specific structure or how ice crystals form patterns on leaves. I basically try to keep my eyes open as you can see the most marvellous things if you really look. For instance I really love a specific pedestrian footpath over the motorway here in Glasgow – its combination of colour and form is fantastic. I also tend to use knitting design as a way to explore my own heritage.
Designing is tricky and I am full of admiration for people who keep coming up with classic, wearable designs that have a certain quirky sensibility or a very well-defined aesthetic. Personally I want to knit everything Amy Christoffers and Heidi Kirrmaier design – both nail contemporary and classic at the same time.
I also like designers who are not afraid of pushing boundaries within tradition: Susan Crawford and Hélène Magnússon spring to mind. I do like thoughtful design and I especially like designers who understand the tradition within which we all operate.
Finally, people like Andi Satterlund, Ann Weaver, and Annie Watts are just fantastic. I always get excited when I see they've released a new pattern – very individual styles and great ideas.
What are you most looking forward to about Unwind / Or visiting Brighton?
I have never been to Brighton before, so I am super-excited about that! I am a bit of a Regency nerd... and it is going to be great to see everybody. Knitting events are often the only time I see far-flung friends and I always love seeing new faces, great new yarnies, and finding out about exciting designers. The line-up of classes, talks, and vendor is truly exceptional – it is going to be amazing.
A big thank you to Karie for taking the time to share some insight into her knitting world. To keep up to date with her latest designs and inspirations, visit her blog or keep an eye on her Twitter feed where she’s often engaged in a lively conversation.