In today’s Designer Spotlight we have Natasja Hornby of Moonstruck Knits. Natasja was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and her parents moved to Texel (a beautiful little island in the north-west of the Netherlands) when she was 4 years old. When she was 17, she moved to Amsterdam to go to college to study textiles and design, where she has been living ever since. I know you’ll enjoy learning more about her and her beautiful designs, today.
Loopy: Hi Natasja – thanks for being in our Designer Spotlight today. How long have you been a knitter and who taught you to knit?
Natasja: Hi Loopy! Great to have this conversation with you. Even as a very young child I was always making things, and my mom and dad are both avid makers as well. My mom taught me how to knit when I was five years old, and I’d knitted my first sweater by the age of eight. I’m 52 now, so I’ve known how to knit for 47 years now. That does not mean that I’ve been an active knitter all that time. I stopped knitting when I went to high school, since it was a totally uncool thing to do, especially for a teenager with green hair and a preference for punk rock music. I picked it up again in my mid-forties, and since then, there haven’t been many days without.
Loopy: I think maybe you could have knit up some really cool things to go with your green hair! But I do understand that maybe knitting wasn’t the in thing at that time. What is your favorite type of item to knit?
Natasja: Garments and shawls. I do not particularly enjoy knitting small circumferences in the round, so I have never knitted a sock in my life. But that may also be due to the fact that I like to show off my knits, and since I wear boots a lot, socks just feel like a waste of beautiful knitting.
When I started designing I saw myself as a sweater knitter first and foremost. Lacking all natural elegance to drape a piece of flat, knitted fabric around myself in a remotely attractive manner, I really didn’t see the appeal of shawls.
When I started thinking about designing, I thought about sweaters. But, after a few super challenging and immensely satisfying sweater designs, I was yearning for all kinds of crazy stuff like big scale colorwork and giant over the top stitch patterns. Being quite a minimalist in my approach when designing a sweater, a lot of these ideas would not transfer to that. So I gave the shawl a go.
And I must say, the process of designing a shawl, writing a pattern and knitting it, brings me just as much joy as a sweater does. For me the shawls are a super creative outlet, a canvas for my more adventurous knitting ideas. I don’t have to think about fit so much, but can concentrate on merging textures and colors in a way that appeals to me. I still don’t like fussy or precious or dainty, so all my shawls are almost like a garment; big and bold and present.
Loopy: That’s a good way to look at shawls – as a canvas for trying some of the more adventurous design and color ideas. I like that. What is the most challenging thing that you have knit to date?
Natasja: In 2017 Prada had a few sweaters in their catwalk collection in a colorful shell-like stitch pattern that fascinated quite a large group of knitters. I was one of the knitters that tried to reverse engineer this stitch pattern and when I succeeded, I could not leave it like that, so I knitted a hat and a sweater using that pattern. Especially the sweater was an epic challenge, but also very satisfying. It never became a pattern, because to me, it felt too much like a blatant Prada copy. I did revisit that stitch pattern for the design of my Miu sweater, using it in in a way that made it more accessible (and gradable!) and more of a Natasja Hornby then a Muccia Prada.
Loopy: I like that you took the texture of that stitch and then made it your own in your own design. Inspiration comes from all places! When did you start designing, and what spurred that interest?
Natasja: When I picked up knitting again, about 8 years ago, I started out as I was used to, since I had never knit from a pattern before. That means I knitted 4 pieces of fabric, sewed them together and called it a sweater. When that was finished, I thought it would be fun to browse the interwebs for knitting, to see if I could find something. Well, then I discovered Ravelry, which was a true revelation. Knitters! Designers! Patterns! I almost couldn’t believe my eyes.
So, I bought a pattern, and taught myself the English knitting lingo (to this day, I cannot write a pattern in Dutch to save my life!). Already with my first pattern, I started heavy modifications. Because I’m formally educated in the textiles and design field, I knew a thing or two about developing patterns for clothes, which of course helped tremendously.
After I knitted a few sweaters from patterns, I thought ‘Well, I think I would be able to do this myself’, so I designed and knitted a sweater which I proposed to Knitty, the online knitting magazine. To my astonishment, they accepted the design and published it. And after that, I just couldn’t stop. It’s just too much fun!
Loopy: Your background is perfect for your designing career and I can easily understand how you transitioned from knitting patterns by other people into designing your own. Do you have a favorite pattern that you’ve designed?
Natasja: Well, that would be my last one. My skills and outlook on things develop and change, and to me it is always the last design that reflects that development best. So at the moment it is my Yara shawl and my Fenne sweater.
Loopy: I like that with each pattern you challenge yourself to learn and grow, which means you’re always evolving. What is your favorite part of your designing? And your not-so-favorite part?
Natasja: My very favorite part is when it all comes together.
Designing can be a challenging and sometimes excruciating process, for me at least. I sketch, and I swatch. Rewind and repeat, again, and again, and again. Sometimes it’s easy, most of the time the magic only happens when you fight for it. Hard.
And even if you think you’ve got it, knitting the piece at true scale can prove you wrong. Too much, not enough, not what you’ve imagined or waned.
And you just start over. But when the magic does happen though, it’s like unicorns dancing in your brain.
My not so favorite part is not really related to designing, but comes with the fact that designing has grown from a (passionate) hobby into a business, with business related things to take care of, like taxes and bookkeeping. I would gladly swap 1 hour of bookkeeping for a whole day of fighting (or playing) with an idea for a design.
Loopy: There are definitely downsides to making a hobby a career. (And I agree about the bookkeeping!) Also, I’m totally going to come up with a yarn color called “Unicorns Dancing in Your Brain”. That’s awesome! Do you do this business full-time, or on the side? And is that hard? Do you have other jobs outside of pattern designing?
Natasja: At the moment I have a full time job as a researcher and teacher at a college and a university. I am also working on my PhD. I’m a MSc in psychology and my field is social science, with a focus on multi-problem families. And yes, it is a challenge to combine, especially the last two years, when my working week averaged 70 hours or so. That is why I decided to cut back on the day job in September, when the new academic year starts. Hopefully that will help to balance work and play in a more healthy and sustainable manner.
Loopy: It sounds like the designing is a good creative outlet for your brain, after all of the academic work. I’m glad you’ll be able to work on a balance that suits you better this fall (and that means more patterns for us knitters, right?) Does anyone else in your family knit?
Natasja: Only my mom and she is a far better and more skilled knitter then I am. I’m quite an erratic (or, if you value the truth, sloppy) knitter by nature, and I never thought I would think about perfect left leaning decreases. I was far more interested in form, texture and fit to spend time practicing getting better at the craft.
But because I knit all my samples myself, I’ve learned that it does matter if your stitches are uneven, your short rows holey and your finishing quick & dirty. So I’m getting there, but I’m quite certain I will never reach mom’s perfection.
Loopy: I’m sure she is so proud of your design work, and as a knitter, she can truly appreciate all that you do. Are there other hobbies that you enjoy?
Natasja: Art, architecture, photography, eating great food and drinking a good glass of wine.
Loopy: Knowing that, what would be your favorite way to spend a day off?
Natasja: Sleep in late, hop on my bike to visit an art exhibition or two, have a late, copious lunch in the best of company on a sunny terrace of a restaurant that works with fresh, organic produce, followed by a stroll (or, to make it even more perfect, a boat ride) through my beautiful city.
Loopy: I think I want to come over and spend a day off with you. That sounds wonderful! Last question: Morning or Night person? Coffee or Tea? English or Continental? Solids or Multicolors?
Natasja: My brain is definitely at its best in the morning, so mornings are for tasks that need a lot of focus and concentration, like grading, pattern writing or working on my theses, all fueled by strong coffee. Afternoons are reserved for more repetitive tasks or things that do not need as much focus, like lecturing, or swatching and sketching, accompanied by big glasses of herb tea. Evenings are for relaxing and manual tasks like sample knitting and yarn winding. So, I don’t think I’m a typical morning or night person, to me every part of the day has its own charms and challenges.
And I do love me a good, unprocessed solid 😉
Loopy: I like that you know best just how to fill your day most productively. Thanks again for joining us today, Natasja!
Natasja is offering 20% off one of her patterns through her Ravelry Pattern shop. The code is: NATASJA&LOOPY20 and is valid July 30 – August 6, 2021.
Have a great weekend!