If you've been on Ravelry, chances are you've seen designs by Angela Hahn. I'm worked with Angela a few times for some of my books and am always impressed by her ability to offer garments with a flattering fit and unique construction.
Angela has her first book coming out in April called Knitted Tanks and Tunic (Stackpole, 2018) available here - something long overdue for such a wonderful designer! Angela was kind enough to sit down with me and answer some questions and offer a giveaway for her new book...
Tanis Gray (TG): You have been designing for years, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with you. What pushed you to work on your first book?
Angela Hahn (AH): Tanis, you emailed me to accept my first submission to Vogue Knitting, back in October 2007-- I still remember how thrilled I was! I've contributed to several of your books over the years (Knitting Architecture, Cozy Knits, Wanderlust), and always thought it would be fun to do a book of all my own designs. But the idea for this book actually came from an editor working with Stackpole Books, Pam Hoenig, who contacted me in June of 2015. She had just completed a book of crochet patterns with Sandi Rosner, wanted to do a follow up with knitted patterns, saw my designer page on Ravelry, and liked my designs.
TG: What is it about tanks and tunics that made you dedicate a book to them?
AH: I loved Pam's idea of doing a book of sleeveless tops for several reasons. Because they work up so much faster than a sweater with sleeves. Because a simple top can be no more complicated to shape than a hat, and less work than a scarf or shawl. Also, because a tank is less knitting than a whole sweater, it's a great way to try out/showcase a complicated stitch pattern, colorwork, or an expensive yarn. And finally, tanks and tunics are versatile to wear-- they can be dressed up or down, layered, and even worked in a wool or wool-blend yarn for an office outfit, or a dressy holiday party.
TG: Tell us about your publishing process - do you sketch first, swatch first, decide on yarns first?
AH: I love to find interesting and unusual stitch patterns, so I usually go to my collection of stitch dictionaries first, and flip through those looking for inspiration. Then I'll do a few swatches, and if I like them, I'll do a few sketches to try to determine how I might use that stitch in a garment.
TG: What did you like most about the publishing process? What was the most challenging?
AH: I really liked the steady work and being able to plan my schedule out months in advance. It was very different from doing magazine work, which as you know has much tighter deadlines! Another difference from magazine work was that I had creative control: I was able to choose all of the designs and all of the yarns, which was so much fun. For me the most challenging part is the publicity- I wouldn't exactly say that the prospect of book signings and trunk shows fills me with dread, but I'm not really looking forward to them either!
TG: Do you have a favorite technique? Your book has a little bit of everything with over 20 garments!
AH: Honestly, my favorite technique tends to be the one that I'm using at any particular moment.
TG: What design are you most proud of in this book and why? My favorite is Haddonfield.
AH: I'm also very fond of Haddonfield, because the cabled lace stitch pattern is so beautiful, and because of the way the cabled bands follow and accent the curves of the body. But the most challenging and unusual design was probably Bellingham. My goal was to create a top that could be worn with the crossed pieces on the front or the back, so I made templates out of old T-shirts, and spent a lot of time draping them on a mannequin, pinning and trimming the pieces to get the look and the coverage I wanted. Then I tried several ways of knitting the pieces to get the proper shapes, at the same time trying to figure out how to make them somewhat adjustable, for different body types. All in all, very different from the way I usually develop a design!
TG: Do you prefer plant or animal fibers and why?
AH: I actually prefer to knit with wool and wool blends, because a nice wool yarn is such a tactile pleasure to work with, but I don't like to wear wool against my skin, so I often end up using cotton or cotton blend yarns for my own personal projects. Luckily there are a lot of combination yarns, blends of cotton, linen or silk with synthetic or a small percentage of animal fibers, which are also a pleasure to work with. There are also some lovely ribbon yarns now, such as Kestrel by Quince & Co., where the yarn construction really helps to soften the texture and drape of linen or cotton. And sometimes you just have to suck it up and work with a cotton or linen yarn that's a little rough on the hands, but yields a really wonderful finished garment!
TG: I really appreciate how you wrote about the importance of a gauge swatch, something many knitters think is optional when it comes to a fitted garment. Tell us why swatching is so important.
AH: Years ago, I started knitting a sweater and got about halfway up the body before I realized that my gauge was way off, and it was going to be enormous. I stuck the thing in a closet and actually stopped knitting for about 10 years. I think it's probably not unusual that knitters only come around to the importance of doing gauge swatches after they have a disaster like that, and waste a lot of time working on something that then has to be ripped out. By the way, I have also found that even a blocked gauge swatch is still just a small sample, and that the dimensions of finished garments that have been able to "rest" for a few weeks or months can shift, compared to just after they were blocked. For this book, I actually was able to re-measure all of the samples months after I had completed them (after they had been returned to me following the photography) and re-check all of their gauges. So I can say that the gauges are as accurate as I could make them!
TG: All the designs in this book are named after places. Are these places near and dear?
AH: Haha, no. Not to me, anyway! It was really after I had seen the photography for the book that I decided to name all of the patterns after American towns. Even though all of the photos were taken in and around a small town on the Hudson River in New York, there is an amazing variety of settings, from park to beach to urban, so I tried to choose town names that both sounded nice, AND covered a variety of sizes and locations. I do have personal ties to some of the towns (or regions they represent), for instance Beverly, Tequesta, Saranac and Sayre. But I thought it would be fun for knitters if their region of the country was represented, so I tried to pick towns from all over the U.S. Not that I wanted to exclude knitters from other countries! In fact, originally I thought I would name the designs after seaside locations worldwide, but after I saw the photographs, I changed my mind.
TG: You used to be a vet. How did you transition from veterinarian to knitwear designer?
AH: It turns out that I am very allergic to cats, and in spite of taking anti-histamines every day for years, and trying different types of desensitization treatments, my allergy just got worse. So I gave up my veterinary practice around the time that my second child was born, and shortly after that I started knitting again, and then I started designing.
TG: What advice would you offer to someone who is interested in designing?
AH: It has become easier in the last 10 years to self-publish knitting patterns, with websites like Ravelry and Loveknitting, among others. But that means that it has become harder for your designs to stand out from the crowd. So I would recommend that someone interested in designing take the time and effort to submit ideas to established publications; your designs will reach a much wider audience, and to be accepted over other design submissions, you will have to come up with more original concepts. And then of course you can self-publish, either after you have started to make a name for yourself, or concurrently with publishing in magazines or on established websites.
TG: What’s coming up next for you?
AH: I finished the patterns for this book over a year ago, so in the last year I've had designs appear in Interweave, Knitscene and Twist Collective, and self-published some as well. I have more designs coming up in Twist Collective, and one in the First Fall edition of Knitty. I'm trying to complete the second video for my Next-Level Knitting series, on Skillshare.com, which will take novice knitters through the steps to knit a sleeveless A-line top with cabled accents. And who knows? if this book does well, I'd be open to writing a sequel!
Thanks, Angela! Check out all of Angela's designs for her new book, Knitted Tanks and Tunics here.
Let's giveaway a copy, shall we? Answer the below trivia question in the comments correctly, and be automatically entered for a chance to win a copy of Angela's new book. A winner will be chosen at random on Friday, March 30th. Open to US residents only! Good luck!
How many staircases does Hogwarts have?