Designer Spotlight: Alan Dart


I’m so delighted to have Alan Dart in our Designer Spotlight today. Years ago when I first started back to knitting, I found his wonderful patterns in Simply Knitting Magazine and would buy the publication just for his design. Alan lives in Cumbria, which is the English Lake District. I know you’ll enjoy learning more about him today! (All patterns link to Alan’s website, all yarn links to The Loopy Ewe.)

A photo of knitted toy designer, Alan Dart.
Alan Dart © Alan Dart

Loopy: Hi Alan! How fun to have you here today, especially since I’ve been such a long time fan of your work. Tell us, how long have you been a knitter and who taught you to knit?

Alan: Hi Loopy! Thank you so much for including me in your Designer Spotlight. I was taught by my mother, and first started on her old knitting machine at 4 years old, progressing to hand knitting when I was 6, so I have been knitting in some manner for nearly 65 years.

A photo of a knitted mouse named Beattie.
Beattie Herdvyck © Alan Dart

Loopy: That is an early start! And a lot of years of experience. What is your favorite item to knit?

Alan: I like to knit toys because I can put a lot of shaping into them, as I find it very boring to knit without something interesting happening every few rows. I don’t think I could bear to go back to knitting sweaters that have so many rows without a single bit of shaping.

A photo of five knitted Garden Birds by Alan Dart
Garden Birds © Alan Dart

Loopy: There certainly are a lot of things going on in your patterns, which make them interesting to knit. I can see how sweater knitting must seem a bit boring by comparison! What is the most challenging thing you have knit to date?

Alan: I suppose the licensed character toys were the most challenging and I designed over 100 of these in the 1990’s. My job was to make sure the knitted toy looked exactly like the cartoon or storybook character, otherwise it wouldn’t have been approved by the licensing company, so it was quite tricky because the characters had obviously not been created with the view that they would later be interpreted into knitting. Luckily I never had to alter any of the toys I sent in. All of these patterns are now unavailable because the licenses that allowed them to be sold were for a fixed period, so when used originals are offered for sale on eBay they tend to fetch quite a high price.

A photo of a knitted lumberjack beaver
Lumberjack Beaver © Alan Dart

Loopy: What a testimony to your talent that your licensed characters were never rejected! Those licensing companies expect perfection to protect the image and trademark. I’m sure it was a fun challenge for you to get everything perfect. I think I still have the Wallace and Grommit tucked away for safe-keeping. When did you start designing, and what spurred that interest? (You can find more information on Alan’s licensed – out of print – patterns here.)

Alan: Ever since I was a child I have been interested in making things, and I studied fashion at art college, because at the time that was the only course available that involved handicraft. When I left college I started my career by designing and making one-off sweaters to order on a knitting machine, and someone who worked on a magazine saw one and asked me to design something for their publication. Because hand knitting is more popular and accessible than machine knitting, I designed hand knitted sweaters for that and several other magazines, and this developed into writing and designing all manner of craft features for magazines and several partworks too. Eventually my work narrowed down to designing fabric and knitted toys, and I was under contract to Woman’s Weekly as their resident toy designer for 18 years. After that I went on to work for Simply Knitting magazine and had a design in every issue for 11 years, before making the decision to stop working for magazines and to concentrate on designing exclusively for my website www.alandart.co.uk, where I sell PDF files of toy knitting patterns for people to download and print out themselves.

A photo of a knitted Queen of Hearts by Alan Dart
Queen of Hearts © Alan Dart

Loopy: I have fun just looking through all of the creatures in your catalog of designs. There is truly something for everyone in there, all full of personality. Do you have a favorite pattern that you’ve designed?

Alan: I suppose I would have to say the Jultomtar (Swedish Yuletide Gnomes) pattern, which was the first design I did for Simply Knitting, as this has proven to be my most popular pattern ever, and barely a day goes by without someone buying a copy, no matter what time of the year. I love Sweden, especially at Christmastime, so I’m pleased this design has become so popular.

A photo of knitted Jultomtar trio by Alan Dart
Jultomtar & Teeny Tomte © Alan Dart

Loopy: I have one of those! Such a great pattern, and gnomes seem to be more popular than ever now, decked out for all the different seasons. What is your favorite part of designing? And your not so favorite part?

Alan: My favourite bit is writing the pattern, closely followed by making-up the toy and finishing it off, which is usually most people’s least favourite part! I do find the knitting a bit tedious, especially if I need to knit a few rows with no shaping, because I know in my mind what the toy is going to look like and am eager to get on with assembling it.

A photo of knitted Green Fingers the garden gnome
Green Fingers © Alan Dart

Loopy: You must have a good mental image of what it should look like as you contemplate the pattern. What is your design process like?

Alan: I don’t write my patterns by experimenting – knitting, unravelling, re-knitting and writing the instructions as I go along. My patterns are all written mathematically, and what I do first is to draw the toy full size on a layout pad then use a tape measure to take lots of 3D measurements at crucial points. Following the knitted tension square gauge, I then convert the measurements into stitches or rows by calculator, adding a one-stitch seam turning where necessary, and use the numbers to write the pattern. Since I increase and decrease within rows to achieve the correct shaping I sometimes alter the stitch numbers very slightly so this can be done evenly within a row. Luckily I am able to imagine things in 3D, so a mixture of that and years of experience enable me to know where to shape, and it’s a method I have developed myself. It’s only after I have written the main components of the pattern that I start to knit., and fortunately I hardly ever need to alter the instructions. I then assemble the toy, and if additional pieces that aren’t structural, such as a jacket or a skirt, are needed I wait until this point and measure the stuffed toy to get measurements for these and write those pattern instructions before knitting them and adding to the toy.

A photo of the knitted Tortoise and Hare by Alan Dart
Tortoise and Hare © Alan Dart

Loopy: I find your design process so interesting. In all of our Designer Spotlight interviews, I don’t think I have come across anyone else who writes the pattern first! And the fact that you rarely have to go back and change anything confirms my theory – you do have great visualization skills! Do you do this business full time or part time? And is that hard?

Alan: This is my full-time job, and I don’t find it hard at all. The only other job I have apart from designing is keeping an eye on my website and answering all the emails I receive each day, as I like to reply to people as quickly as possible.

A photo of knitted Romeo and Juliet
Romeo & Juliet © Alan Dart

Loopy: I can attest to that! The couple of times I have emailed you for permission to share a pattern photo in our blog, you have responded immediately. That’s so appreciated. Does anyone else in your family knit?

Alan: My mother and aunt knitted, and apparently my paternal grandmother did too (always on much larger needles than stated because she thought that would get a quicker result!)

Loopy: That’s funny! 🙂 Are there other hobbies you enjoy?

Alan: My main hobby is gardening, and I do this whenever I can possibly find a spare moment. I’m always thinking about plants and where I can squeeze in another one, as I have an image of every part of the garden in my head, and I often set myself a goal with my knitting so when I reach that point I reward myself with some time in the garden.

Loopy: That sounds like a good way to motivate yourself! I think my father-in-law must have been related to you. He also liked to make use of every square inch of their gardens and yard for “just one more plant”! What would be your favorite way to spend a day off?

Alan: Either gardening or visiting a lovely garden – especially if it has a plant sales area and a splendid cafe!

A photo of knitted Hansel and Gretel by Alan Dart
Hansel & Gretel © Alan Dart

Loopy: Ok – last set of questions: Morning or night person? Coffee or tea? English or Continental? Solids or multicolors?

Alan: I’m definitely a morning person and don’t enjoy the evening. I have coffee in the morning, herbal tea with lunch, Early Grey or almond tea in the afternoon, and herbal tea in the evening. English knitting, and I don’t like circular knitting due to the ‘step’ it creates (especially when knitting stripes), although lots of people seem to prefer this because it eliminates seaming, which I enjoy doing as it adds structure to my toys. I use a lot of colours in my toys, but most parts are knitting in one colour, unless I include stripes or, very occasionally, a bit of two-colour fair isle.

Loopy: I like your coffee and tea schedule. And now I need to try Almond Tea – that sounds delicious. Thank you again for your time today!

You can find Alan’s patterns for sale on his website. They are so reasonably priced – most of them are under $5.00, and you can also try a free Alan Dart Pattern by downloading his Chick & Egg! I hope you have as much fun checking them out as I did. Which one is your favorite? I really want to make that adorable Jack O’Lantern first!

Sheri

P. S. Camp Loopy announcements will come at the end of next week. I think Alan has patterns that fit almost every one of our previous Camp Loopy themes, as well as this new 2021 theme!

Designer Spotlight: Nancy Marchant

Today we have Nancy Marchant in our Designer Spotlight. I first tried Brioche because my knitting friends kept showing me their beautiful projects and it just feels so wonderful and squishy. You can’t go too far into brioche patterns without bumping right into Nancy and her amazing designs. She is definitely the Brioche Guru.

Nancy was born and raised in the USA between Evansville and Darmstadt, Indiana. When she finished her graduate studies in Berkeley, California, she traveled to the Netherlands thinking that she would stay one month, then one year and now she has lived in Amsterdam for more than 40 years! Read on to learn more about her.

Nancy Marchant
© Nancy Marchant

Loopy: Hi Nancy! How long have you been a knitter and who taught you to knit?

Nancy: Hi Loopy – my mother taught me to knit when I was 7 or 8 years old and I really haven’t stopped knitting since then, really never. 

Damask Cowl Nancy Marchant
Damask Cowl © Nancy Marchant (try it in Stonehedge Shepherd’s Wool)


Loopy: You knew you liked it from the very beginning! What is your favorite type of item to knit?

Nancy: Scarves and shawls. And since I love to design new stitches, I also like to make samples. For me, a scarf is just a big sample. I like to make sweaters as well.

Carmine and Rocko
Carmine and Rocko © Nancy Marchant (try it in Knerd String Sport)


Loopy: That’s true about scarves – they can be a big swatch for trying out yarn and stitches. What is the most challenging thing that you have knit to date?

Nancy: The most challenging? Writing knitting patterns is difficult and because some patterns are very difficult to write, they can be difficult to understand. Once you understand the construction of a pattern, it becomes intuitive and easier. When I first started developing brioche knitting, I needed to invent knitting symbols and abbreviations that would best represent how brioche works. This was quite a task but now those symbols and abbreviations are accepted as the norm.

Hegg Braid Brioche Scarf Nancy Marchant
Hegg Braid Brioche Scarf © Nancy Marchant (try it in Magpie Swanky DK)

Loopy: You really brought brioche knitting into more modern times, and we’re all happy about that! When did you start designing, and what spurred that interest?

Nancy: As a child living in rural Indiana, I was forced to rewrite patterns. The only yarn available to me, when I was growing up, was a wool yarn from Woolworths in 7 different colors. So in order to make something interesting, I needed to rethink and redesign from a picture of a sweater that I liked. Things like that are easy when you are a child.

Goldwork
Goldwork © Nancy Marchant (try it in Uncommon Thread Posh Fingering)

Loopy: I think as a child, you don’t know that something should be intimidating to you. You just jump in and do it! Do you have a favorite pattern that you’ve designed?

Nancy: I am very proud of my two-color Under Dutch Skies Shawl because it was the beginning of my two-color brioche development.

BEBEB Nancy Marchant
BEBEB © Nancy Marchant (A great pattern to try Brioche! Try it in Cascade 220)

Loopy: I love two color brioche. I find that it’s easier to keep track of your stitching with two colors. What is your favorite part of your designing? And your not-so-favorite part?

Nancy: I am a process knitter so the entire process is my favorite part. Choosing the yarn, colors, swatching the stitch pattern, creating the shape, and finally knitting the piece, all of this is interesting. I HATE writing the pattern. I keep careful notes but even then, I doubt myself so I write and rewrite and rewrite.

Paris's Brioche Scarf
Paris’s Brioche Scarf © Nancy Marchant (try it in Cascade Superwash Sport)

Loopy: I can understand that. The tech part vs. the more creative part. Do you do this business full-time, or on the side?  And is that hard?

Nancy: I am a retired graphic designer. I used to work full time but now have all the time in the world. 

Whorl Shawl Nancy Marchant
Whorl Shawl © Nancy Marchant (try it in Walcot Opus)

Loopy: That sounds pretty perfect! Does anyone else in your family knit? Would you like to tell us about your family?

Nancy: I have 2 daughters who are not interested in knitting at all. Funny enough, they both have jobs as graphic designers though. My mother knit but her main interest was quilting.

Stitch Trio Shawl
Stitch Trio Shawl © Nancy Marchant (try it in CaMaRose Yaku 4/16)


Loopy: It swounds like your daughters channel their creativity into their work role. Are there other hobbies that you enjoy?

Nancy: I like to bake and try out new recipes all the time.

Feo's Crossover Nancy Marchant
Feo’s Crossover © Nancy Marchant (try it in Uncommon Thread Everyday Singles)


Loopy: Ok – last questions: Morning or Night person? Coffee or Tea? English or Continental? Solids or Multicolors? 🙂

Nancy: Night person, coffee, English, I like semi-solids, tweeds, yarn that are a blend of white with grey fibers and then dyed.

Pecan Pie Beret
Pecan Pie Beret © Nancy Marchant (try it in Dream in Color City)

Loopy: Thanks again for being with us today, Nancy!

Nancy is offering you 20% off any pattern or ebook from her Ravelry Pattern Shop. The code is: LoopyEweBrioche and is valid April 30 – May 7, 2021.

Did you check out our new website? We’re still fine-tuning (also still doing a bit of big-tuning too – is that a word?). But we hope you like it! And you might have some credit to spend. Check it out. 🙂

Happy Weekend, all

Sheri

P.S. To leave a blog comment, click on the “Leave a comment” icon up at the top of the post, to the right of the blog title!

Casapinka Noncho Kits for You

Bronwyn (Casapinka) has done it again – another fun pattern for celebrating Local Yarn Shop Day (but this year, celebrating National Bubble Tea Day!) The Noncho is a fun, cozy knit to wear out on cooler spring days, to pull on in the evenings when you’re feeling a bit chilly, or to cozy up in bed when you’re reading and your shoulders are cold! We have some beautiful Casapinka Noncho Kits ready for you, because you know how we love to play with color combinations around here.

This pattern is free with the purchase of yarn to make it from your local (or online local) yarn shop. The offer is good on yarn purchased today, April 28th, through Saturday evening, May 1, 2021. We will process your order and then will email you a coupon code to get the pattern free on Ravelry.

Casapinka Noncho Kits
Noncho © Casapinka

THE FREE COUPON CODE EXPIRES ON SUNDAY, MAY 2nd, so be sure to redeem it right away. Starting Monday, May 3rd, the pattern will be available for you to purchase on Ravelry for $7.00.

Click here for our kit options

Of course you’re welcome to pick your own yarn choices in your order to make the Noncho as well. Just leave us an order note that you’re buying the yarn for the Noncho and we’ll make sure to send you a free pattern code. Elf Sarah is planning to make hers out of Magpie Swanky DK. You might also check out The Fibre Co Lore, Sandnes Garn Peer Gynt or Smart, or Cascade Ultra Pima.

Here is the sizing (and yardage) info:

Sizing: 
1 (2, 3, 4) 5, 6, 7 
Measurements (circumference at full bust, plus add 4-6″ for positive ease to get your size number): 
39.25 (44.5, 50.75, 56.75) 62, 66.75, 72.75
Yardage needed: 
Color A (collar and hem accent): 62 (72, 80, 90) 100, 105, 115
Color B (main color): 337 (380, 431, 485) 531, 569, 625
Color C (stripes): 225 (253, 289, 322) 355, 380, 416

We hope you have fun picking your Casapinka Noncho kits and knitting this beautiful pattern up!

Sheri

Designer Spotlight: Romi Hill

In today’s Designer Spotlight, we have Romi Hill. Romi lives in northern Nevada on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range in the high desert. (What a beautiful place, full of inspiration!) I first met Romi at one of our trade show markets many many years ago, and have loved her beautiful designs ever since. I hope you have fun getting to know more about her! (Pattern links go to Ravelry.)

Romi Hill
Waikoloa Beach Shawl © Romi Hill

Loopy: Hi Romi! Thanks for being in our Spotlight today. How long have you been a knitter, and who taught you to knit?

Romi: Hi Loopy – thanks for having me! I’ve been a knitter for OMG 46 years! I was born into a crocheting family and I finally convinced my mother to teach me how to knit when I was 9. She taught me to cast on, knit, purl, and bind off. I was completely in love with the look of stockinette stitch.

Harmonize Romi Hill
Harmonize © Romi Hill


Loopy: It’s fun that your family was already into yarn and crocheting. Those pretty yarn colors are probably what caught your eye early on. What is your favorite type of item to knit?

Romi: Hmmmmm. That’s a difficult one, because whatever I’m about to knit is my favorite thing! I think I have to go with my least favorite instead. Is that okay? I’m not a sock knitter. Not at all.

Happenstance Romi Hill
Happenstance © Romi Hill


Loopy: No socks?? Out of all of your pages of designs, I just see just a handful of sock patterns (plus leg warmers and boot toppers.) So that makes sense. 🙂 What is the most challenging thing that you have knit to date?

Romi: I’d have to say it was the first shawl I knit. I jumped into the deep end for sure! It was my first time using laceweight yarn and also the first time I’d actually done lace. I had only done a few eyelets before. I fell in love with a Shetland style square shawl, so I decided to do it. It had a lace center and then needed stitches picked up all the way around. It included lace patterning both sides, and also a knitted on edging that I needed to graft together. I must have ripped out the center of that shawl about 20 times because I kept getting lost and could NOT read my knitting! But by the time I was finished, I was a lace knitter.

Artesian Romi Hill
Artesian © Romi Hill


Loopy: Good grief – you did not make it easy on yourself! But it sounds like just jumping in and figuring it out was the best teacher for learning lace. When did you start designing, and what spurred that interest?

Romi: I unofficially started designing when I was in college, because I loved nice yarn but could only afford whatever was in the bargain basket! I used to stalk sale yarns and then figure something out for that amount of yarn. It’s one of those things where I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to, so I did it. Somehow, I got some great wearable sweaters out of it. My best one, I think, was a crew neck where I had only 2 inches of remaining yarn left. But I officially started designing in 2006 when my first pattern appeared on knitty.com. At first, I was designing to support the shawl pins I made, but now designing has almost completely taken over!

Taygete Romi Hill
Taygete © Romi Hill


Loopy: That’s the perfect game of yarn chicken – 2″ left over! And 2006 is when we started Loopy. I knew we had met a long time ago! Do you have a favorite pattern that you’ve designed?

Romi: That’s a tough one! Like asking which kid is my favorite. Can I give three? I love the number three. Ponte di Rialto, Seismic, and Leaves in a Stream.

High Desert
High Desert © Romi Hill


Loopy: Those are all beautiful. The Leaves in a Stream looks like it would be really fun to knit! What is your favorite part of your designing? And your not-so-favorite part?

Romi: I love the possibilities and I love engineering it in my head and choosing my yarn. I do find it difficult to sit still, though, so sometimes making myself sit there and actually do the knitting is beyond me. If I’m on a deadline, I sit on my exercise ball and bounce while I knit, and that helps. My all-time least favorite thing, though, is paperwork. I used to just wing everything without a pattern, but now I stop in the middle and take copious notes to make sure I don’t forget anything. 

Fairy SnowCap
Fairy SnowCap © Romi Hill


Loopy: I have never tried knitting on an exercise ball. That seems like great multi-tasking (as well as a good way to keep you on track.) Do you do this business full-time, or on the side?  And is that hard? Do you have other jobs outside of pattern designing?

Romi: I do my business full time. It’s both wonderful and difficult, but I love all the different hats I wear. I get to do photography, graphic design, website work, teaching, audiovisual, and marketing as well as my pattern designing. Once in awhile I also make some shawl pins too!

Reciprocate Romi Hill
Reciprocate © Romi Hill


Loopy: Beautiful shawl pins, and also yarn ball earrings back in the day. I have a pair of those! Does anyone else in your family knit? (Would you like to tell us about your family?)

Romi: Both my sons know how to knit, but neither of them is all that into it at the moment. My kids are 21 and 18 right now, and they pretty much grew up thinking that being in the fiber business is normal. My older son is in the Army, and my younger son is a musician about to graduate from a fine arts boarding high school. When he’s home, he models for me and he is SO good at it now! So my partner and I are all alone in our home now, which took some getting used to, for sure! 

Red Freckles
Red Freckles © Romi Hill


Loopy: I wondered if that was one of your sons in some of your patterns. He does a great job. Are there other hobbies that you enjoy?

Romi: I love reading, and I love music. I play French horn, some piano, and some classical guitar. I just got an electric bass and I’ve been playing with that. I’m also something of an audio nerd, so I have a board and some mics. I’ve recorded my son a lot, and – in the before times – volunteered at the local high school coaching and giving lessons to brass players.

Ellipses Romi Hill
Ellipses © Romi Hill


Loopy: Sounds like volunteering at the local high school is a great way to participate in your musical hobbies, while also encouraging those music students. (We will get back to all of that one day, right?) What would be your favorite way to spend a day off?

Romi: A day off? What’s that? lol Wandering around outside, I think. I live in a really gorgeous area! Also, I haven’t gone kayaking for awhile, and I’d love to get back on the water.

I Shawl Wear Purple © Romi Hill


Loopy: You really do live in a beautiful area! Ok – last questions: Morning or Night person? Coffee or Tea? English or Continental? Solids or Multicolors? 🙂

Romi: I am such a night owl! Though not quite as bad as I used to be when younger. I love both coffee and tea. My partner roasts coffee and makes the absolute most incredible oat milk latte in the world. But when he’s not making the coffee, I drink tea. I am so spoiled! I’m a continental knitter, although my mother taught me to knit English style. I love hand dyed solids and tonals, and I adore speckles. I like to look at variegated yarn in the skein, but I don’t love knitting with it.

Loopy: Thanks again for being with us today, Romi!

Leaves in a Stream
Leaves in a Stream © Romi Hill

Romi is offering a 20% discount on her Leaves in a Stream pattern, using the code Leaves20. This code is valid 4/23-30, 2021.

Happy Weekend!

Sheri