Designer interview: Michelle May

Next up in the GAL2014 event, another interview! This time I am pleased to share an interview with knit and crochet designer Michelle May. Michelle can be found around the web: Shellbot on Ravelry (designs here), and her website. She can also be found on Etsy, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Michelle lives in Guisborough, Cleveland, United Kingdom, and has a wonderfully adorable ravatar. Please read on to meet Michelle.

Michelle May

Michelle May, a self portrait

How did you get started designing?

Michelle: I picked up knitting as a hobby in February 2012, and got it into my head that I wanted to design probably about 2 weeks later. That’s just the sort of person I am, always tinkering with things and making up my own ways of doing things, and my background in graphic design made it an obvious leap to make. After a couple of months I also learned to crochet, and knew that one day I’d like to design for both crafts.

A few design sketches started to appear, but I quickly realised that I had no idea how to actually construct half the things in my head. So my new priority became knitting from various other patterns, studying how they worked, picking things apart, making modifications to every pattern I used.

Finally this May, with my 30th birthday rapidly approaching, the idea for Tessellate hit and I decided to try and publish while still in my 20s. Just so I could say I’d done it!

Tessellate

Tessellate

Tessellate was published on May 29th, two days before my birthday. It was immediately popular and sold far far more copies than I’d ever have expected. Admittedly it was on birthday sale, but still, it made turning 30 a lot less traumatic than it otherwise might have been.

Summer this year was hard. A friend since college (and keen knitter herself) lost her battle with cancer at only 31 and my heart just wasn’t in a crafting place for a while. When my first crochet pattern was published in a magazine in June, it was one of the most exciting things that had ever happened to me and kicked me back into gear designing-wise. Now I’m obsessed, and talk about design ideas far too much to anyone who will listen.

What is your usual process on a fiber project, for instance, do you start with a yarn, a cute pattern, a need you’ve noticed, something exciting you saw in a movie you want to copy, or a technique you want to learn — then what do you do next and then what?

Michelle: Since money and time are both in short supply, I made the probably common decision to design things that I can wear and use myself. So usually a pattern idea will occur because I’m lying in a bubble bath thinking about what to wear to something and think “wouldn’t it be great if I had a nice skinny scarf to go with that outfit?,” or “we’re going on holiday to Iceland, I really need a warm hat,” or similar. This results in a huge list of potential design ideas, and from those I can choose the things that might appeal to other people too. So far, I have to say, that stage of the process has been pretty hit and miss.

Next up, because I am still relatively new to this, comes the “is this physically possible?” stage. So far the answer has been no on two occasions, but those pattern ideas are stockpiled against the day a solution occurs to me. Then comes swatching, settling on/modifying stitch patterns, and attempting (operative word there “attempting”) to write at least most of the pattern without knitting it up. Since I can usually only afford yarn for one sample, I can then knit along with the draft pattern and make any changes as I go rather than knitting it up twice.

What are some of your favorite materials, including yarns, knitting tools, books…?

Michelle: Being in the UK can often mean limited access to nice yarns, as most LYSes here stock nothing but endless pastel acrylics, so along with a lot of UK knitters I’m forced to buy my yarn online without seeing or squidging it beforehand. As a result, yarn purchases have varied in their success!

Thankfully Wool Warehouse (which I highly recommend to any other UK knitters) now stocks a nice range of Cascade yarns, which I’ve been using on a number of designs. As a frugal-by-necessity knitter, my favourite materials are those that don’t cost a ton and provide good quality and I’m happy to say that so far all the Cascade yarns I’ve tried have been great. They even have a handy guide to match their colorways to NFL teams, which I will take advantage of just as soon as personal knitting time becomes available. Go Pack go!

I’m not much of a knitting book collector, to be honest. Not even stitch dictionaries. Instead I prefer to put together my own resources with Pinterest, for example you can see my “lace stitches” board. So I’d vote Pinterest as one of my favourite “knitting tools”, along with the blanket that I’m always curled up in while knitting and also a nice glass of Baileys. Those count, right?

Does anything intimidate you in knitting?

Michelle: No! I made a conscious decision early on in my knitting career not to be intimidated, not to stick to “beginner” patterns, and not to skip knitting pretty things just because they used a new-to-me technique. It’s worked well so far, a month after initially learning to knit I’d already jumped into knitting a lace shawl, Florelei, and while it has a few mistakes, I love it anyway and had a lot of fun knitting it, and isn’t that the whole point?

This “I can do that!” attitude is something I’m keen to share with others, so you’ll often see me pushing people out of their comfort zones and reassuring newbies that yes, they really can knit cables, in my work as moderator of the New Knitters group over on Ravelry.

Actually that emphatic “no!” might not be entirely true. I find people creating project pages from my Ravelry patterns to be extremely intimidating and frankly terrifying. Hopefully this is something that gets easier with time.

As a new designer, what do you find the most challenging aspect of designing?

Michelle: As mentioned above, sometimes I have ideas that are just downright impossible to create (whether in general or just at my current skill level). I’m working on that. There’s also the inevitable feeling of being a phoney whenever I see the other beautiful designs being released, but that’s apparently very common.

Otherwise the most difficult parts for me tend to be more social as I’m a very shy person. Like, lock myself in the bathroom at a birthday party and freak out in tears until they have to call my grandma to come pick me up, that level of shyness. Simply posting about a new pattern on Ravelry, Pinterest etc. usually takes a bit of mental preparation and a few deep breaths. I’ve had no issues with pattern customers so far, but am aware from my other online ventures that dealing with bad feedback can cause me to burst into tears and avoid working on anything else for the rest of the week.

Oh and photography. Everyone hates doing pattern photography, I promise mine will get better with time.

Do you get to do any “selfish knitting”?

Michelle: Hah, I wish! Well technically at least some of my pattern samples count as “selfish knitting”. Today is a chilly one so I’m sat here at my laptop wearing the sample pair for my Inversion Gloves pattern, for example.

Inversion Gloves

Inversion Gloves

I did manage to knit a couple of tops for myself over the summer, but of course holiday season is a little more frantic and I’m currently in the middle of trying to finish off four, yes FOUR, Christmas jumpers for friends.

A couple of patterns magically jumped into my Ravelry cart during the GAL sale so I guess there’s that to look forward to in the new year too.

Will you have any new releases during the GAL 2014 period? If so, please tell us about them.

Michelle: Yes! Well, a re-release at least. My first ever crochet pattern was my Celluloid Beret, the exclusive period with the magazine is now over and I’m working on pulling everything together as a Ravelry download. I’m very excited because it was such a scary experience working with a magazine for the first time, but somehow I made it and seeing my name in print really helped to get me through this summer. Release date is yet to be confirmed, as we need some actual daylight to happen to take new photos!

Celluloid Beret

Celluloid Beret

A new cowl design was also slated for release in late Nov/early Dec. Unfortunately the Christmas knitting is currently taking over my entire life so to avoid piling even more stress on myself I’ll answer that part of the question with a definite “maybe.”

If anyone would like to keep an eye on my new releases, you can get new pattern announcements by signing up to the newsletter in the sidebar of my blog, The Giddy Knitter.