Today we welcome Alasdair Post-Quinn to our Designer Spotlight. Alasdair lives in Cambridge, MA and is a double knitting expert. Check out his story, and his gorgeous designs! (Pattern links lead to Ravelry, yarn links to The Loopy Ewe.)
Loopy: Hi Alasdair – thanks for being in our Spotlight today! How long have you been a knitter and who taught you to knit?
Alasdair: Hi Loopy – I am a little ashamed that I don’t remember the name of the person who taught me to knit. I learned to knit at a craft-sharing event in college almost 20 years ago. I was there to teach origami, which I’d been doing since a very young age, but nobody came to my origami session and I sat in on a knitting session instead, led by a fellow student. I got hooked and my life has never been the same since.
Loopy: It sounds like that was a very fortunate turn of events! (And who could’ve known that evening, how much this would affect your future?) What is your favorite type of item to knit?
Alasdair: Looking at my catalog, I’d have to say hats are my favorite item to knit. They’re small-ish projects, great for practicing a new technique or two, and it’s always fun to play with crown decreases. Ironically, I don’t wear a lot of hats, despite living in a cold climate, because I tend to wear large headphones. One of these days I’ll design a hat that has room for headphones!
Loopy: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a headphones hat – sounds like a good idea! And you’re so right about hats being a perfect way to try out different techniques (and also different yarns). What is the most challenging thing that you have knit to date?
Alasdair: That’s hard to answer because part of my design aesthetic involves pushing boundaries and stretching what’s possible to do in double-knitting. Many of my patterns are challenging, and doubly so for me while designing them. Looking back at the finished patterns, it all just seems to fall into place so cleanly that it’s sometimes hard to remember how many hours and prototypes and swatches I went through to get there. For this reason, I guess my most challenging knit would have to be the Spinneret hat I just finished, which incorporates my signature “off-the-grid” style, textures, marling, and color-changing cables.
Loopy: Your designs certainly look technically challenging and impressive. I can’t imagine the designing ending of all of that. When did you start designing, and what spurred that interest?
Alasdair: To be honest, after learning to knit, I taught myself most of the rest of what I know in knitting. Sure, I got help here and there, and researched in books and the internet (although YouTube was not a thing when I was just beginning). So after the requisite garter stitch scarf, I was designing my own patterns from almost the very beginning. However, my first pattern, the Corvus scarf, didn’t come out until the end of 2006 as a free download from my website (it remains a free download, but now on Ravelry). I have always been a creative person, and I majored in Studio Art in college, so it simply never occurred to me _not_ to design my own things.
Loopy: Creative people are like that – always seeing a different way to do things! Do you have a favorite pattern that you’ve designed?
Alasdair: I love all my designs, and I have many favorites for different reasons just as I have different favorite foods in various cuisines and different favorite songs in various genres. I think my answer for this is going to be unpopular because it’s a pattern that isn’t published, and which I currently don’t plan to publish (and still hold out hope that I’ll be able to dedicate more time to creating more patterns in the same vein: to be presented as art rather than being designed for reproducibility and released as patterns). A while ago, I produced the Parallax collection, a series of (mostly) scarves based on the op-art “warped checkerboard” design concept. After designing Parallax v3.0 (in three-color double-knitting), I worked up a significantly more complex chart and created Parallax v3.5. The final piece is about 10 feet long because I just didn’t want to stop working on it, and kept knitting until I ran out of one of the three yarns.
Loopy: That’s really interesting, and I totally understand you wanting to create art instead of just patterns. There is a lot of freedom in just going where the needles and yarn take you on a project. I’d like to see that exhibit someday! What is your favorite part of your designing? And your not-so-favorite part?
Alasdair: I suppose my favorite part is the problem-solving – or perhaps not the process but the solution, which makes the process worth it. I love the “a-ha” moment when a bunch of pieces of a design I’ve been struggling with finally click into place in my mind, and I can move forward. When I’m working on a complex piece, I’ll often turn out a bunch of little samples which focus on problem areas, so that I can solve those problems before I cast on for the final piece. I am always looking for the most elegant solution, and sometimes I get a big grin on my face thinking about how much fun people are going to have when they get to that part in their projects. I hope they actually do. My least favorite part of designing is putting a lot of time, heart, and soul into a pattern that just doesn’t get any love, like the “Rats Live on no Evil Star” scarf. I guess the subject matter is just a little too niche?
Loopy: I think the fact that you could figure that palindrome out and design a double-knit scarf out of it is pretty amazing. It needs more love!! I’m glad you shared it. Do you do this business full-time, or on the side? And is that hard? Do you have other jobs outside of pattern designing?
Alasdair: I do have a day job in computer repair for a university, although I went part-time at that job some years ago explicitly to give myself more time to design, work on my books, and travel for teaching. I keep the day job for stable income, although I have recently started a Patreon to explore the possibility of getting a regular paycheck through other means which might eventually allow me to consider leaving my day job. It has been hard to balance everything in my life, not merely the jobs, and it’s a constant struggle to make sure I’m giving everything the time it deserves. One blessing (if there are any) of the pandemic has been that I’ve had a lot more time off work to dedicate to knitting design and virtual teaching.
Loopy: That’s the toughest part of having multiple things you like to do (and are good at) – figuring out how to balance it all. I’m glad you’ve been able to find more time for designing and teaching during Covid – one bright side. Does anyone else in your family knit?
Alasdair: If we’re talking extended family, yes – my mother and grandmother both used to knit while I was growing up. I still have fond memories of the smell of rustic New England yarns like Bartlett, which was a favorite of my mother’s. For my grandmother’s 80th birthday, all of the knitters in her extended family (my mother is one of four sisters, who have all knitted and several have children who also knit) got together and made a sampler afghan. I was charged with coordinating the assembly (and also knitted two squares of my own, plus a redo of one more that someone knitted way off gauge). If we’re talking current family, my wife and I actually met at a knitting group almost 20 years ago, when I was first learning to knit. She worked at a yarn shop at the time, but she rarely knits nowadays. Sometimes she and I bounce ideas off each other; actually, the 52 Pickup scarf was a slightly tipsy dare from her which I took and ran with.
Loopy: Ha – I love the dare story! And what a cool gift for your grandmother, from all of the knitters in her family. I bet she treasured that. Are there other hobbies that you enjoy?
Alasdair: Few that I’ve dedicated nearly as much time to as knitting. I love cooking, bicycling, camping, some flow arts (think juggling, but more esoteric), folk singing, dancing … but time is short, and my creative impulse is strong, so knitting really takes the most time.
Loopy: I’ve never heard of flow arts and had to google it. It looks very mesmerizing and relaxing. But I do understand that creative impulse calling for most of your time. What would be your favorite way to spend a day off?
Alasdair: Just a day? Assuming I really have no other work or responsibilities (a rare occurrence), I like to spend some time with my wife (and maybe our cat, if he’s feeling cooperative) relaxing in our camping hammock by the river. If we had more time, I’d pack a picnic lunch, and my wife and I could bike out to some forest-y swimming area, hang the hammock, go swimming, have some lunch, maybe a little walkabout, and have a nap in the hammock. I get too few real days off to do this very often, but it’s wonderful when it can happen. If I’ve got a whole weekend off, I like to spend it at a music festival or burner event. Nothing spurs creativity like spending a weekend in the woods surrounded by art, music, and other creative/weird people.
Loopy: Weekends off are always full of more potential than the occasional day here and there. But your day off sounds great! Ok, last question: Morning or Night person? Coffee or Tea? English or Continental? Solids or Multicolors? 🙂
Alasdair: Both – I wake up with the cat at around 7am, and generally don’t get to bed until 11 or later. Caffeine doesn’t really work for me but I like a good hibiscus or other herbal tea. Neither – as a self-taught knitter I have my own style which uses a left-hand wrap with no tension to speak of. Solids work best for colorwork but I have been known to combine solids and multis (or better, gradients) to good effect.
Loopy: No tension? Hmmm. I will need to see you knit sometime to see that in action! Anything else you’d like to add?
Alasdair: Goodness, I think this has been pretty complete. I guess you could show a picture of my cat. His name is Avery Longfellow, because he is a very long fellow, and he’s a Siberian Forest cat. He’s been leash-trained since he was a kitten, so he likes to take walks with us. We hope at some point he’ll be chill enough to take on hikes, but he’s barely more than a kitten now. You can follow him on Instagram at @averylongfellow And here is my latest blog post for information on some of the upcoming classes I have going on.
Loopy: Oh, I am always happy to add in cat pictures. And your Avery Longfellow is a handsome one indeed. Thanks again for joining us today, Alasdair!
Alasdair has set up a discount code for 20% off anything in his Ravelry shop. The code is “doubleloop” and is valid May 28 – June 4, 2021.
Have a lovely weekend!