I’m happy to introduce you to Alla Saenko from Canada, and her beautiful Island Knit Design patterns today. (Or maybe you already know all about her patterns, in which case, I hope you learn something new about her in today’s post!) All pattern links go to Ravelry.
Loopy: Hi Alla! Thanks for being in our Spotlight today. How long have you been a knitter and who taught you to knit?
Alla: Hi Loopy! Thank you for interviewing me. It’s fun to share little bits of information about me and my knitting adventures with you and your readers.
When I was about seven years old, I asked my mom to teach me knitting. She had a pair of needles and she knitted occasionally simple things like scarves and hats. At that moment she didn’t even have any project in work or yarn leftovers, and it is still puzzling me what sparked my interest in knitting. She brought a tiny ball of yarn from a colleague at work for me to start playing with. I was over the moon happy! I still remember the colour. It was neither brown nor grey nor any other colour you can name, but it didn’t matter, it was beautiful, it was “Yarn!”. I have been able to carry that first time excitement through the years. I don’t remember if I ever struggled learning my first stitches, all I remember is I wanted to be practicing stitches again and again. I didn’t become obsessed though, but I developed a skill. My first serious knit project was a sweater of my own design for my little brother while I was in high school. One project a year since then was enough for me to satisfy my craving for knitting. I never used the patterns, it was boring for me to follow the instructions, and I would alter them anyway.
Loopy: Well that sounds like you were designing from the very beginning of your knitting hobby. What is your favorite type of item to knit?
Alla: It is easier to name the least favourite. I would say it’s socks. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know myself. I have probably knitted three socks in my life, and none of them had a pair. I feel sorry about this fact, and I even bought a book Around the World in Knitted Socks and numerous sock patterns to start knitting them one day. Home decor items do not attract me either. I like something I can wear. When my daughters were little, I enjoyed knitting different things for them like dresses and sweaters and even woolly pants and diaper covers. When I decided to try myself at pattern writing, I started with shawls and eventually found myself addicted to knitting the two-colour asymmetrical shawls.
Loopy: I always think it’s a little magical that we can take yarn and sticks and make something to wear. What is the most challenging thing that you have knit to date?
Alla: Challenging myself at anything is the main element to stay motivated and feel happy about what I am doing. Since I raised my personal bar by moving from a knitter to a designer, every new project is a challenge. Knitting itself is simple and natural for me, the challenge begins when it comes to delivering ideas from my head to a knitter of any skill level in a form of comprehensive instructions. When I choose to knit for myself using someone else’s pattern, I try to avoid too much challenge. If a piece requires lots of finishing work like seaming, weaving numerous yarn ends, etc., I skip it. But when a family member asks me to knit something I don’t usually knit, I am ready for a challenge. Maybe it’s time to learn a new skill, after all! This happened to me just recently. My daughter asked for a sweater with a stranded colorwork pattern she sketched herself. That sweater was the most challenging knit I made to date because I had to learn how to use two hands holding one colour in each and knit at a decent speed. If I wouldn’t have tried, I would never believe myself that stranded colorwork knitting can be so addictive once you master it.
Loopy: It sounds like your daughter might be a designer-in-training, if she is making her own colorwork designs for you to knit for her! When did you start designing, and what spurred that interest?
Alla: I do not remember the exact time when I started designing. I can say it short: I’ve been designing since childhood when making doll clothes and giving them away generously to my friends if they asked. The only thing I asked in exchange is fabric scraps to sew more doll clothes. Making something with my hands excited me the most. It didn’t take me much time to realize the advantages of knitting over sewing. With the fabric you cannot fix mistakes once the fabric is cut, with knitting you can unravel unsuccessful pieces and start over.
Loopy: It’s interesting to me that so many designers can recall making doll clothes in their early years. That must be a good sign. Do you have a favorite pattern that you’ve designed?
Alla: Every new one is my new favourite. Working on a design requires a creative approach, some skills, time and patience put into the process. Then, after you finish and look at it, in your own eyes it’s the best design you have ever created (how can you not love your child?). You feel accomplished, you enjoy the victory. And then you start over, with another yarn and idea, and things repeat. From time to time I take a break from complex things and create something simple and approachable for knitters of any levels. And I love those designs in their simplicity no less than the advanced ones.
Loopy: That’s interesting that you switch between simple and complex in your design work. I find I do that with my knitting as well. Sometimes my brain wants to think as I knit, and sometimes not! What is your favorite part of your designing? And your not-so-favorite part?
Alla: I might say, my favourite part of the designing is swatching. I like exploring the possibilities the yarn and colour, or a colour combo, can hold. Will this stitch pattern look good in a shawl? Or maybe it is more suitable for a sweater? Those questions I typically ask myself. I like playing with yarn and stitch patterns. The least favourite one is finishing and tidying things up, weaving in yarn tails, blocking, basically everything that is not related to the actual knitting process. That list would include sewing the parts together, but I avoid designing knits that require sewing.
Loopy: I’m with you – I don’t like sewing parts together, either. Do you do this business full-time, or on the side? And is that hard?
Alla: I rather do it on the side. I avoid pushing myself to the point it becomes hard to keep up with promises or deadlines. For me in order to let my creativity flow the whole process should be enjoyable.
Loopy: Do you have other jobs outside of pattern designing?
Alla: If taking care of a family and doing everyday household chores can be considered as a job, that’s the only job I have besides the pattern designing.
Loopy: That is definitely a job! Does anyone else in your family knit?
Alla: My daughters didn’t take the love of knitting after me. They have other talents and enjoy other arts and crafts, including fibre related crafts, but not knitting. My grandmas on both sides and my aunts did embroidery and cross-stitching (traditional crafts in the area they lived, mainly used in home decor), my grandma also sewed clothes for her big family. My mom is probably the first one who picked up knitting over other crafts in her family. She believed in knitting as a modern and useful craft that is worth learning. She is an intuitive designer and a skillful knitter, I have learned a big deal from her during the young years.
Loopy: I’m sure your mom enjoys your designs and seeing you succeed, too. Are there other hobbies that you enjoy?
Alla: I am very much obsessed with knitting, always have something on my needles and new ideas in my head. The pattern writing takes up a big chunk of my time. In the knitting world there is such a broad array of possibilities to explore that it sure will keep me busy and entertained for years.
Loopy: Those of us who enjoy your designs are happy to hear that! What would be your favorite way to spend a day off?
Alla: On my day off I would go for a stroll along the beach or go window shopping in tourist quarters (I do not like actual shopping) or meet with a friend for a coffee with pastry in the downtown cafe.
Loopy: Last question – Morning or Night person? Coffee or Tea? English or Continental? Solids or Multicolors?
Alla: I am a Night person. It takes me a few cups of coffee in the morning to “warm up”. If I have a mindless knit or a household chore to do that day, I would start with them (a knit is preferable, of course). I enjoy a good green tea to get me off coffee in the afternoon. I used to knit Continental combined knitting style only. For lace knitting I switch to classic (western) Continental style. And, as I mentioned before, I just learned English knitting style. Combining Continental and English styles is the most comfortable way of knitting for me when it comes to stranded colorwork. Solids or Multicolors? Both! Especially if combined in one project.
Loopy: Thank you again for being in our Designer Spotlight today, Alla!
Alla is offering all of you 35% off one pattern of your choice from her Ravelry pattern site. The code: THELOOPYEWE is valid from October 30 through November 6, 2020. Need yarn for your new pattern? Pop over to the shop!
Have a great weekend!