Monday, 13 July 2015

A chat with designer Karie Westermann

Many of you will be familiar with Karie Westermann's designs including Byatt and of course the Scollay cardigan.  Karie very kindly took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with BritYarn about herself, her work and the inspiration behind Scollay.      

Hello Karie
Many thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for BritYarn.  If you are sitting comfortably with a beverage to hand lets begin!
Could you tell BritYarn a little bit about yourself? 
I'm Karie Westermann. I work as a freelance knitting designer, tutor and editor. I've worn  a lot of hats in the knitting industry but they all boil down to my love of craft and passion for story-telling. 

I was taught to knit by my great-grandmother when I was five or six years old. I grew up in rural Denmark – mine was the local arty family. Everybody was creative in one way or another. We never had much money, but there was a steady supply of handmade garments, knitted jumpers and interesting paintings. Of course my family still obsessed over football results and pop music, but there was a definite sense of self-expression and creative exploration. I learned to knit, crochet and sew as a very young girl and I have never really stopped wanting to make stuff.

What inspired you to start designing?
I got into designing when I worked for Rowan Yarns and a local store needed a quick project to sell some leftover beads. My pattern did really, really well - which really floored me! Then in 2011 Lilith of Old Maiden Aunt Yarns (who's a good friend of mine) was launching a new yarn line at the KnitNation event in London and she pressured me into doing my first self-published design. And that pattern did really well too. I began thinking that maybe I should look at doing more design work and now I'm a full-time self-employed knitting designer. It's amazing. 

Is there one thing you couldn't live without when designing a pattern and why?
Swatching. I know so many knitters hate swatching but i could not do my job without swatching. A swatch not only tells me how my design idea is going to look in the given yarn (and how the yarn behaves!) but it also gives me all the information I need in terms of numbers etc. 
Apart from knitting do you enjoy any other crafts / hobbies?
I don't think there's a craft I haven't tried - I made most of my own clothes as a teenager (I especially remember the flared trousers I made out of 1950s curtains!) and I've always loved crochet. I am spectacularly awful at free-hand embroidery, but I still enjoy it! I am a huge Eurovision Song Contest geek which always tends to surprise people! I am also a bit of a trivia nerd which makes me fiercely competitive at Trivial Pursuit and pub quizzing. 

If you were only allowed to knit / design with one British grown base what would it be and why? ( e.g. BFL, Jacob, Shetland or a blend)  
I cannot choose just one because every yarn has its right time and place (apart from fun fur!). As long as I'm working with natural fibres, I am happy. I don't have a favourite fibre because it really depends upon the project I'm working on - sometimes Shetland is the perfect base, other times I'd be looking to work with something softer.  I have a soft spot in my heart for yarns that look really non-descript in the ball but which spring to life once I start handling them. There is no substitute for that feeling! I do think people should try to shop more local and try out more local yarns / bases.

The Scollay Cardigan was named after Louise of the Knit British podcast.  How did this come about?
I designed the Scollay cardigan for Knit Now magazine. Louise and I are good friends - we live quite far apart at the moment (Louise lives in Shetland; I live in Glasgow) but we have great Skype/email conversations. She is one of the most inspiring people I know. When I came up with the idea for the cardigan, I knew I wanted to knit it in local yarn and the name was a logical conclusion! Louise loves a good go-to cardigan as much as me - and she's obviously a big fan of Knit Local!

What was your inspiration for the design?   
It is a bottom-up, seamless cardigan with a detailed yoke. I wanted to design a real wardrobe staple – a “go-to” cardigan – because I have a lot of knitted garments in my wardrobe that only work with one or two outfits (which is very frustrating). 
I tend to wear cardigans in my everyday life, but I also gravitate towards the same two cardigans despite having a lot of cardigans on the shelf! So, I sat down and thought about what I love wearing: long sleeves, a cardigan that skims the body, a good yarn that'll age like fine wine, and buttons. And so Scollay was born. 

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wanted to knit their first garment what would it be?
Don't be scared! When i knitted my first garment I spent so much time researching an easy jumper pattern - while I was knitting complicated lace shawls! I was so surprised when I then knitted my first jumper - it was far less involved than shawl knitting - and I really regret that I believed all the hype about garments being super-complicated. If you can knit socks and hats, you can knit a garment. 
Are there any future exciting plans / projects you can share with BritYarn? 
I'm working on a mini-collection due out later this year. I'm really passionate about the yarns and the designs. I'm also continuing to work on my Authors & Artists series (it's a series of loosely connected patterns where I get to play with various yarns and styles). And, finally, I'm working on the follow-up to the Doggerland collection. I always have my fingers in a lot of pies!  
Byatt as part of the Authors & Artists series
Many thanks Karie for chatting to BritYarn. I know I am not alone when I say I can't wait to cast on my Scollay on Friday 17th July for the Scollayalong KAL.

Karie has a really interesting and informative blog where Karie writes about her designs, future plans and topics which interest her.   

Images used with kind permission from Karie Westermann.


  1. Great interview. You may have convinced me to actually make a cardigan for myself. It seems everything I make ends up gifted or sold. I think a little me-time is in order.

    1. Oh I hope so. I love wearing things I have made. Me time is certainly the order of the day!