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Friday, 19 September 2014

DESIGN FEATURE - swatching

Swatching is a designers best friend
I know you will have seen the dreaded word 'swatch' in the title, so I want to reassure you that we are going to look at this essential part of the creative process from the side - a sort of  glimpse in the direction of, rather than head on, to make it all a little more palatable . . .

Instead of going into the many virtues and advantages of swatching for whatever knitting project you are ever likely to embark on, I thought it would be useful and interesting to take a look behind the scenes of the creative process - how and where the swatches begin to appear, and the function they provide.

For Helena, Creative Director at MillaMia designing a collection and realising the individual garments within that collection moves from the sketching stage to definite design decisions regarding knitted fabric, drape, texture and colour choices incredibly quickly. A garment will require specific attributes from the knitted fabric and at this early stage the best and quickest way to see if a particular stitch pattern, colour combination or gauge will work is to swatch it.

A garter slip stitch pattern and a swatch mixing fairisle and moss stitch

And so, we introduce Tanya, our Design Assistant who has the (some may say) unenviable job of producing stack upon stack of 4 inch squares in a myriad of different colours and patterns. Tanya and Helena are very often found with heads bent over a couple of swatches, discussing how a particular texture will look when replicated over a whole garment, whether another has the required amount of drape or if a specific combination of colours works for them.

Swatching the new Aran for gauge

A great example of this sometimes lengthy, but essential process is for one of our latest patterns, the Annette Scarf from Finishing Touch. After the initial design had been sketched out, they began to look at all sorts of cable patterns to see which they liked and which would work best for this oversized accessory.

As with all designs, the Annette underwent quite a journey before the final choices were made about the size and type of cable, and you can clearly see the evolution of this design through the swatches below:

Giant Ribbed Cable

Giant Braid Cable

20-stitch Twisted Candle

The end result is a simple arrangement of 2 different cables patterns running the length of the scarf to make the most of the new Naturally Soft Aran colours - particularly the melange (shown below in Stone) which adds subtle nuances in individual stitches while still highlighting the beauty of the cable motifs. Scarf
Annette Scarf in Stone

I'm told that designers actually come to love the swatching process and even utilise them in decorative displays once their technical function is long past. A pretty glass jar stuffed with all sorts of colour, texture and cataloguing a history of design development can be a object as beautiful and relevant as the finished garments themselves. And for me at least, the thought of these small scraps of knitting having some sort of purpose or function after their vocational work is done, gives me a sense of satisfaction. Maybe, just maybe I will embark on my next knitting project the way I know I should . . . with a swatch.
(posted by Max)

Friday, 12 September 2014

KNITTED ART and 'Yarn' in Nottingham

Alison and Sarah, owners of Yarn
Alison and Sarah are the knitter owners behind the fabulous ‘Yarn’ in Nottingham – a local yarn store that stocks an exciting and eclectic range of contemporary yarns (including MillaMia of course!), all sorts of patterns and books as well as a wonderful range of crafty notions, needles and accessories. They offer a great choice of Sunday workshops too and a Knit and Natter morning every Wednesday 10am – 12 and Thursday 5pm – 7pm which is always very well attended. If you’re in the area, the girls would love to see you too!

Alison and Sarah count themselves incredibly fortunate to have some extraordinarily talented knitters among their loyal customers, and one of these - Mariana Bowley has created a blanket that is nothing short of a work of art. Her blanket is knitted entirely in MillaMia Naturally Soft Merino using a very interesting technique to create some colours that have never been seen in our palette before!

Mariana's incredible blanket

Mariana very kindly agreed to share her wonderful blanket with the MillaMia blog and answered a few questions too.

1) Firstly, a huge ‘well done’ to you on making such an amazing blanket – it truly is a work of art. What initially inspired your design?
I have always been fascinated by the interaction of yarns of different colours. In 1988 I saw a picture in a museum that inspired me to knit a jumper with yarns the colours of the rainbow. I wanted to reproduce this effect for a blanket to brighten our all white bedding. But the way I worked the original jumper, short lengths of wool, did not seem appropriate for the blanket – too many ends at the back.
The original piece that inspired her 'rainbow' sweater

And the finished piece, front . . .

. . . and back

2) I’m intrigued with the technique you used to create more shades. Can you tell us a bit more about how you blended the colours?
I worked it out that the Millamia yarn was made of 5 strands. I separated 1 strand of a length of Peacock and knitted into a circle with 4 strands of Daisy; in the next circle I used 1 strand of Daisy with 4 strands of Peacock and so on.

3) Why did you choose to use MillaMia yarn for this project? And dare I ask how many balls of yarn you used?
Millamia was ideal with its wonderful range of colours and knitting with its yarns was a pleasure. I first bought seven colours of the rainbow, knitted the corner piece and with that I was off and knitting! I used 13 different colours in all and it took me about 5 months to complete using more than one ball of each colour. I am using the leftovers to make two cushion covers.

I thank the encouragement and advice of Alison and Sarah at ‘Yarn’ and my weaving friends.

Tel: 0115 9253606 Opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday 9.30am - 5pm, (late night Thursdays till 7pm)

(posted by Max)

Friday, 22 August 2014

PREVIEW - brand new Naturally Soft Aran

The new Aran 'brights' (top clockwise) - Cherry Red, Magenta,
Teal, Cobalt, Emerald and Ochre
After exciting months in design and development, our Naturally Soft Aran is almost ready to hit the shelves in a yarn shop near you! By now, there will be plump bags filled with seriously soft merino in a myriad new shades sitting in our warehouse, eager to go out into the world and grow up into something scrumptious for Autumn/Winter.

It sometimes seems like it's been a long time coming - and maybe it has. But the MillaMia team have always been utterly committed to producing something uniquely desirable - yarn that is as pleasurable to knit with, as it is to see, wear, touch. This dedication to excellence takes time, but the results are tremendous! Our Naturally Soft Aran is a worthy big brother to Naturally Soft Merino, which was in itself a tough act to follow.

We took inspiration from the highly sought after qualities of our Naturally Soft Merino, and aimed to include the soft handle, fabulous stitch definition and washability that has become synonymous with our sportweight yarn. These qualities are all wrapped up in our new Aran along with a twist that is a little lighter to provide loft without too much weight, but the initial point of difference has to be a dramatic change in the colour palette. In the 16 new shades you will find 4 subtle melanges that add depth and tonal interest to the knitted fabric, more complex colours such as dusk and powder blue, not forgetting the key brights such as cobalt, emerald green and a saturated, richly toned ochre.

The new 'melanges' (top left to right) - Cinder, Slate, Stone and Latte

This exciting palette offers scope for sophisticated adult accessories as well as a new opportunity to cosset sweet babies and cute kids in stylish and fun colour combinations, which you'll see in 'Tiny Treasures'. There is nothing quite like seeing a newborn swaddled in a softly textured handknit, or a small child warm, comfortable and stylish, is there?

Naturally Soft Aran - 16 stunning new shades to knit up a warm and colourful winter wardrobe

We revelled too, in the opportunity to fully exploit the joys of knitting with a heavier weight yarn in oversized accessories and richly textured knits. In Finishing Touch, there are snoods, mitts, scarves, bags and pouches all showcasing the soft subtle beauty of the new yarn and the 16 brand new colours. The melanges have a particular appeal in these adult pieces with the delicate tonal differences in the yarn really working to add depth and interest to large cables and stitch patterns.

Our beautiful new Aran is almost here . . . what will you knit?
(posted by Max)

Friday, 15 August 2014

PREVIEW - NEW adult collection

Having a new yarn weight to design with has produced some amazing results. There have been endless possibilities for creating soft, beautifully draping knitwear in our original Naturally Soft Merino, but the new Aran brings a different dynamic. It opens another realm of exciting opportunities which have enabled Helena - Creative Director at MillaMia - to rediscover the many merits of a great quality merino and realise it in a new wave of contemporary knitwear.

As often as we were initially asked for adult garments, we have now had a myriad requests for a collection of sumptuous accessories. Which is lucky really, as the new Aran has proven to be the perfect yarn to create some simply stunning scarves, snoods, mitts, hats and bags. Finishing Touch showcases the new Aran's lovely twist and clean, sophisticated palette in wonderful texture, cables and oversized knits. The interesting stitch patterns, chunky cables and cleverly constructed bags are as always beautifully photographed making a browse through this new collection a guilty pleasure in itself!

Take a first look through the images here - a peep at the stylish, cosy knits that could be accessorising your winter wardrobe for 2014!

(posted by Max)

Friday, 1 August 2014

DESIGNER INTERVIEW - Kirsten Johnstone

Kirsten Johnstone in her Asamoya
We have long been admirers of Kirsten Johnstone's cool, clean sense of style - it is something that fits in well with our Scandinavian aesthetic. Her ability to design garments that are inherently stylish, with gentle drape and fluidity in the knitted fabric make her one of Ravelry's stars. You would instantly recognise her work - so often does it appear on the Hot Right Now board, and in collaboration with the likes of Brooklyn Tweed, Amirisu, Shibu Knits and Quince & Co.

If you aren't familiar with Kirsten's work, then treat yourself to a leisurely browse through her Ravelry pattern store. Her sev[en]circle has an incredible 1385 projects to date, and other stunning designs include (featured in the images below) Amime, Aisance, Gake, Sankai Man Woman and Boy, Go Hat and Tekko.

We count ourselves very fortunate to have been able to catch up with Kirsten on a beautiful sunny winters' afternoon in Manly, Sydney. We met at the very cool Hugo's amidst the to and fro of ferrys, tourists milling, beautiful food and of course, a table covered in swatches!

Kirsten is very well known in the US these days. More even than in her home country it would seem, but every day that recognition is growing as she is in demand to speak to different audiences and even to use her architectural skills to redesign iconic haberdashery stores. She is an incredibly talented designer who is constantly on the look out for inspiration. As we sit eating and chatting over lunch she notices the folds on the back of a waitresses apron and it's apparent that she has stored that particular image safely in her memory as for fodder for a future pattern.

I took the opportunity to ask Kirsten a few questions . . .

What do you look for in a yarn in order to achieve the elements that run through all your designs (ease, fluency and fluidity)?
I suppose it depends on what I’m planning to design but I prefer yarns that are solid or semi-solid in colour. I seek yarns with excellent stitch definition and because I want longevity of the knitted garment, I want the yarn to wear well without pilling, if possible. That said, I am always pleased to discover new yarns and explore their particular tactility and inherent properties. 

What can we expect to see from you for the rest of this year and into next?
Unusually, I have a number of new pieces lined up to ready for release. These include 2 cardigans, a new sweater, 2 new colorwork cowls, two fabulous new scarves and super slouchy hat. I am gearing up for my classes at The Craft Sessions, a craft retreat held in the Yarra Valley near where I live in Victoria.

Tekko mittens and the Go Hat

What tips do you have for a young/new designer trying to launch on Ravelry?
Wow. It’s a steep learning curve and I have definitely learnt a lot since my first pattern release! I primarily focus on integrity and excellence, to stay true to my own aesthetic and professional ethics. I don’t especially look at trends or other designers. I know what I like and I continually seek to refine that style with ingenuity and originality rather than compromise. So, on that note, I recommend making a commitment to integrity and excellence – in your original knitwear designs, in your pattern writing/editing/testing, in your photography. Don’t make do with second best; integrity and excellence always stands the test of time.

The Sankai Boy, Man and Woman

We know how you got into knitting… but does anyone else in your family knit? Have you tried to teach your children and has it been successful? Do you see knitting being passed down to the next generation quite like it was to this one?
I am having a quiet laugh on the inside as I know you know who else knits in my family! Yes, it is true - my husband can knit. I didn’t teach him but he can knit a row or two in a pinch! In answer to the second part of your question, yes, I have taught both my children to knit. My daughter is very keen and my son not so much. I have also taught friends’ girls how to knit and I have discovered that 9 or 10 year olds have developed the dexterity to wrangle the yarn and those needles much more successfully!

I believe the next generation with continue with knitting. I see so many people out there on instagram and the like knitting things for their kids and a natural interest and curiosity is then piqued in their children. It is definitely something I am attempting to nurture in my own children, whether it be knitting or sewing or drawing or some other form of making. I want them to appreciate and understand the joy of creating and, thankfully, both my children love it.

 sev[en]circle - Kirsten's hugely popular free pattern available on Ravelry

Tell us something that most people don't know about you???!!!
I am a distant relative of William Wordsworth - how’s that for random? My paternal grandmother’s mother was a Wordsworth though sadly, none of his poetic sensibilities appear to have been passed on down!

It was funny, as we were chatting I asked her how she knew about MillaMia and she said, one minute she had just heard of the name and the next she was seeing it everywhere. We are lucky to have had her attention and are hopeful you will see collaborations in the not too distant future . . . fingers crossed, we should be so lucky!

OUT AND ABOUT - Fibre East

How lucky we have been with glorious warm weather (and not too much rain) here in the UK! Of course, it's especially welcome at this time of year as there seems to be a fibre event every weekend, and these days out are always SO much more fun if the sun is shining.

There are always buttons treasures to seek out and the prettiest yarn to stroke!

A mere two weeks after a fabulous weekend at Unwind Brighton, Fibre East beckoned knitters, spinners, crocheters and crafters along to Redbourne Community College in Bedfordshire. Fibre East, by its own admission seeks to 'celebrate the Best of British' - a term that loosely covers anything from UK based dyers and vendors to specialists in homegrown or British breeds.

We arrived early so there was time for some crocheting in the queue!

I love the variety and choice that this engenders - there are always favourites indie dyers, talented crafts people, small local shops and designers who often won't exhibit at the larger national shows due to the huge costs of the stands. It's a chance to go and see (and more importantly feel) the yarns that are mostly only available to view in an Etsy store, to meet the passionate people behind these small brands and to support them. I can happily say that I NEVER come away from one of these local shows without a few skeins of something I hadn't planned to purchase - and consider it a very welcome accident!

Shearing demonstrations were on all weekend - you have to feel sorry for the very hot sheep that were last to relinquish their fleeces!

There were a couple of MillaMia stockists exhibiting including Sue Stratford and The Knitting Hut, The Knitting Gift Shop and Knit One - all stands looked busy with excited customers throughout the day. The Natural Dye Studio, Easyknits, Yarn Garden and Purl Alpaca almost seem like regulars now, and I was excited also to see Rachel CoopeySweet Clement, Kettle Yarn Co and Five Moons.

Sue Stratford with her menagerie of animal kits and the lovely folk from Five Moons

I was perhaps a little surprised that the show wasn't busier. In previous years there has barely been enough room to wrestle your purse out of a handbag - even at the 2012 show that we all affectionately call 'worm armaggedon' due to the horribly wet conditions the footfall seemed higher. This year there was certainly room enough to stroll and browse without an elbow in your ribs, there was space to see what was on offer and time to chat with the vendors. Don't get me wrong, I am all for a more relaxed marketplace where I have more time and choice to make my purchases, but that has a huge impact on the vendors of course.

Time for a picnic with friends in the grounds of the college

I wondered to myself on the way home if we are now experiencing too much of a good thing. It feels like the knitting/crafting community has been craving some really good quality shows for a good long time, and now we almost have a glut! Perhaps a shuffle of the calendar for 2015 will help to ensure that all the shows receive an equal share of the (yarn) cake.
(posted by Max)

Friday, 25 July 2014

BRAND NEW - yarn and collection preview

New yarn.

New collections.

We are so excited about our new yarn weight and collections that we can't wait to share at least a few pictures with you . . . enjoy these cuties all wrapped up in stunning, unique designs using our brand new Naturally Soft Aran . . . coming soon!


(posted by Max)