Today we have Yamagara designs in our Designer Spotlight. Her designs are beautiful, classic, and timeless. Bernice lives in Singapore in Southeast Asia, and I hope you enjoy getting to know more about her! (Pattern links go to Ravelry, yarn links go to The Loopy Ewe.)
Loopy: Hello and thank you for being with us today! How long have you been a knitter and who taught you to knit?
Yamagara: I was a crocheter before I became a knitter. My journey with yarns began when I taught myself crochet at the age of 6. I spent a big part of my carefree childhood in my maternal grandmother’s multi-generation house surrounded by farms and greenery. One day I discovered a Japanese doily crochet pattern book, a ball of yarn and a crochet hook in the house. It looked like an abandoned hobby by someone in the house. Being a curious and self-entertaining child, I figured out that there were diagrams that matched the photographs of doilies featured in the book, and that by following the symbols in the diagrams, I would be able to create the doilies. The beauty of Japanese crochet books is that diagrams speak a thousand words. Without knowing a word of Japanese I was making one doily after another.
I did not get to find out who owned the crochet book. No one else in the family did crochet and knitting was unheard of, but the early fascination with crochet was etched on my heart and continued to shape me as I grew up. I was always drawing, making with my hands, sewing something or designing fashion items for my paper dolls.
When I became a teenager, I was fascinated by a knitting book in the public library showing beautiful mohair pullovers. The idea of using two sticks to create fabric was too mysterious to me. I thought I needed lessons but I could not afford lessons nor yarns. It was only 12 years ago, with Youtube as a game changer, that I finally came across a knitting demo. Out of excitement after watching it, I made my first swatch — garter stitches with the back of 2 paint brushes and some acrylic yarn in my art studio (I was then already an art teacher working from my home studio). Quickly I went on to make my first project, a garter stitch scarf with mohair, the most unsuitable yarn, both for a beginner as well as the climate here. Besides Youtube, I relied heavily on Purlbee, before Purl Soho came about, for its beautifully photographed knitting instructions. After I learned the techniques, I moved on to Japanese knitting books and rediscovered the joy I had when I was 6. The books opened a world of knitting for me as I understood it in terms of geometry, construction and aesthetic sensibilities.
Loopy: Isn’t it interesting that you had a connection with yarn and making things at such an early age? And then went on to find ways to teach yourself crochet, and later knitting. It seems like a natural and lifelong attraction that you have realized in your work. When did you start designing, and what spurred that interest?
Yamagara: Many of the designs that I came across in the books, especially those by designer Michiyo, had interesting ways of construction. Reading the diagrams and knitting from them, I learned much about garment construction. Often I substituted yarns because I did not have the yarns specified for the designs. Instructions were usually created for one size, so sometimes I found it necessary to adjust some dimensions. In doing these, I had to calculate stitches and rows and make modifications, which essentially was the beginning of designing. Ravelry did not influence my knitting as much as for some knitters, because I could not find many designs that I liked. Some of the sizes were not suitable for my petite body, and the yarns specified were not practical for my climate. I had in my stash mostly lace weight and summer yarns from Japan. One day as I was swatching with one of the yarns, an idea struck for a design I wished to wear. Having enough understanding of gauge and garment construction for my purpose, I did not have much problem knitting the idea in my mind. I shared some pictures of the layering garment on Instagram and was encouraged by comments to create a pattern for it. The pattern, Tokonatsu, became one of my best selling designs. Call it beginner’s luck, if you will. The support I got spurred me on to create more designs with yarns that I love, in the style that I like, and with attention to details in ways that I think make good designs.
Loopy: That is such a beautiful pattern with a soft drape. I can see knitting that up in many colors as a wardrobe staple. What is your favorite type of item to knit?
Yamagara: I love knitting garments. It has not ceased to amaze me with endless possibilities from casting on to binding off.
Loopy: Yes, so true! It’s amazing how many different sizes and shapes can be made with two sticks and a string. What is the most challenging thing that you have knit to date?
Yamagara: It has to be my first knitting project– the mohair garter stitch scarf! It was a disaster. I didn’t know what I was doing, I couldn’t unravel and it was too warm and itchy for me to keep it around my neck.
Loopy: That’s a tough yarn for a first knit – so sticky. Good for you for seeing it through, though! Do you have a favorite pattern that you’ve designed?
Yamagara: It’s hard to pick one. I created each one with different design goals and there are things that I like about each of them.
Loopy: What is your favorite part of your designing? And your not-so-favorite part?
Yamagara: There isn’t one particular part that I like the most. I enjoy the whole process. I love it from when the yarns reach my hands and I touch and admire them. Swatching and getting to know yarns, dreaming of ideas for them, working on construction and fit, and getting excited when design details and numbers work in harmony are addictive. I enjoy writing patterns. I like to work on layouts and organise clear and logical flows. I get feedback that my patterns are easy to understand and follow. My not-so-favourite part of designing is coming to know, after all my enthusiasm, time and hard work, that my designs are being sold in pirate markets or distributed without my permission. It is hard enough to create an income with knitwear designs.
Loopy: I can’t imagine how disappointing and frustrating that must be – to see your work taken by others. It does seem like there is an army of knitters and crocheters who find and report such things, to that’s good. Do you do this business full-time, or on the side? And is that hard? Do you have other jobs outside of pattern designing?
Yamagara: Besides knitwear designing since 2017, I’ve been running an art studio at home since 2004, teaching art mainly to children and teenagers. As I remember how much I enjoyed working with yarns and thread when I was a child, I include crochet, sewing and embroidery in the curriculum for students who are excited to learn. I’m also a slow-producing potter. You can follow my pottery work @mossypotssy on Instagram. I’m always busy with one or another. I find that these 3 jobs balance one another well and fulfill different creative needs.
Loopy: I love your pottery pieces! I wish you lived closer so I could see them in person. So beautiful. I imagine this all keeps you very busy, but are there other hobbies that you enjoy as well?
Yamagara: I’m always drawing and painting as part of my job so I hardly do it as a hobby anymore. I still consider knitting and pottery my hobbies. At times I’m drawn to crochet, my first love. Besides these, I enjoy taking care of my houseplants. I am quite obsessed with hoyas. I like cooking and presenting food on my handmade tableware for my family to enjoy. I love (and miss) traveling.
Loopy: Oh my goodness – same. I am so looking forward to traveling again. And your comment about Hoya plants reminded me of my favorite plant from my college days – a Rope Hoya. Now I’m on the lookout to buy one for my office, so thank you for that fun memory! With all that you do, what would be your favorite way to spend a day off?
Yamagara: Cycling or walking with my husband, visiting cafes and art exhibitions with my daughter, bringing my mum out for food and coffee, and taking an afternoon nap that feels like I’ve rested for hours.
Loopy: That sounds pretty perfect. 🙂 Last questions: Morning or Night person? Coffee or Tea? English or Continental? Solids or Multicolors?
Yamagara: I’m the happiest in the morning but the most at peace and productive at night. I like stretching myself late into the night and going to bed exhausted and satisfied with a day of hard work. I usually keep to one coffee in the morning, and tea, my homemade kombucha or water for the rest of the day. English. With this style, my tension is consistent on the right side and the wrong side. I learned continental knitting to be able to do colourwork with two hands. Undyed, solids and solids of the indie-dyer’s world. I don’t use them much in my designs but I have a soft spot for pretty speckled yarns.
Loopy: Thank you again for being with us today! Anything else you’d like to add?
Yamagara: Knitting can be enjoyable in the tropics and in summer if you use the right yarn and pattern. It is true that the warm and humid climate in Singapore is not the most conducive for wearing wool. People are surprised that I knit so much. Over the years I have discovered good summer yarns and light-weight yarns that are comfortable to wear. If you want ideas, have a look at my designs and check out some of the yarns that I used. If you have come across any yarns for warm weather that you enjoy wearing, please leave a comment or send me a message in Ravelry to let me know.
Yamagara is offering 20% off the pattern of your choice from her Ravelry Patterns. The code is: loopyewe-20-yamagara and is valid August 27 – 9/3, 2021.