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A Chat With Meg Swansen

KBTH: You have mentioned that you sent your children to Waldorf schools. Part of the Waldorf curriculum is to teach the students to knit at a young age. What do you think that knitting has to teach us? What has knitting taught you?

MEG: The founder of the Waldorf system, Rudolph Steiner, believed handknitting could be responsible for teaching positive, useful and even essential skills: manual dexterity, math, hand/eye co-ordination and intellectual development in general - not to mention artistic creativity. I would list all of the above for myself, plus the additional benefits of personal satisfaction and enormous comfort.

KBTH: In the introduction to your book Meg Swansen's Knitting: 30 Designs for Hand Knitting you wrote that "one of the best parts is that knitting is a living, breathing thing - exciting, regenerating, and continuously evolving." How do you push yourself to continue to grow as a knitter? How do you overcome any knitting slumps?

MEG: Recently we decided to convert the Knitting Glossary video, that my mother and I taped in the 1980s, onto DVD. I thought it would be nice to update it a bit for the new format, but was quite stunned to realize that, to the 100 separate techniques on the existing tapes, I could add over 30 "new" things I had learned in the intervening years. It is those continuing discoveries that keep me inspired. For instance ... apparently Armenian Knitting has been around forever, but I came across it relatively recently and it has opened up an enormous range of new possibilities for me. Knitting slumps are an inevitable part of most obsessive- knitter's lives... fortunately they are rare and I just wait, impatiently, for them to pass.

KBTH: What is your favorite type of knitting?

MEG: Color-pattern knitting. Why? Mainly because of the rhythm that quickly establishes itself with each round and the excitement of finding the specific song hidden therein. Once found, one need not look at the chart again until the next round. Here I should specify large, sweater rounds, as opposed to socks - whose rounds are generally too short to sing. The same pleasure may be ascribed to long lace rounds we well.

KBTH: What is your favorite knitting trick?

MEG: A plethora of tricks leap to mind: knitting-back-backward, jogless stripes, blipless Entrelac, blipless Applied I-Cord, purl- when-you-can, shaping in color-pattern, square I-Cord on 3 stitches, etc. Forced to choose only one, I would say grafting (or weaving, or Kitchener Stitch)... it was one of the first bits of Knitting Magic I learned as a kid and, after all these decades, even though I can practically weave in my sleep, it still knocks me out!

KBTH: What is your design process like? Do you begin with a mental image of the finished project?

MEG: About 96% of my ideas occur to me as I am knitting. For this reason, I am unable to draw a sketch, make a swatch and have another knitter work up a new design for me. I usually have a rough idea of what I want and start knitting to see what will happen. Because of this, I do a great deal of ripping. But I'd rather rip 8" of a 300- stitch body than knit an 8" swatch ... foolish and illogical, yes -- but there it is; Knitter's Choice.

KBTH: If you had to take one project (one pattern, one type of needle, one fiber) to a desert island, what would you take?

MEG: I'd take a fistful of circular needles, a tablet of graph paper, a box of pencils-with-erasers and, because of its enormous versatility, a large stash of Unspun Icelandic wool. Using a single- strand, one can knit at 8 sts to the inch, or at 2 sts to the inch for lace. Since it comes in roving "wheels", it is easy to work 2-, 3-, or 4-ply. Being mainly natural sheep-shades, blending the colors for a 2-ply garment is smoothly accomplished by working several transition rounds using one strand each of the old and the new shades together. Nearly limitless possibilities ...

KBTH: What advice would you give to a new knitter? What about an experienced knitter?

MEG: New knitters: right off the bat, learn to Read your knitting --- and rely on that even more than the printed instructions. Do not hesitate to rip when necessary and do not let Knitting Bullies discourage you by saying you are doing something "wrong". Although there is always room for improvement, there is no "wrong" in knitting ... if you like the results, you are doing it right. Experienced knitters need no advice from me; let us all continue to Knit On...

KBTH: Do you enjoy knitting patterns written by other designers or is your knitting time consumed with your own projects? Do you have a particular pattern by a fellow designer that you loved knitting or would love to knit?

MEG: The only patterns I have ever followed, specifically, are those of Elizabeth Zimmermann's. A few of the many designers I particularly admire include, Norah Gaughan, Joyce Williams, Marianne Isager, Debbie New, Alice Starmore, Kaffe, plus the extraordinary lace designer Bridget Rorem, Vivian Hoxbro and the nameless designers at Dale.

KBTH: What prompted you to put together A gathering of LACE ?

MEG: I was into an intense lace-knitting period at the time and, thus, became aware of all the splendid lace designers around me who deserved a wider audience.

KBTH: What prompted your intense lace knitting period?

MEG: One day I began to knit lace and found it difficult to stop. Spurred on by the advent of the Faroese Shawl book, I became intrigued by different shawl-shapes.

KBTH: In the introduction to A gathering of LACE you state: "As our appetite to acquire new techniques and knowledge becomes keener, it is nearly inevitable that the True Knitter will eventually turn to Knitted Lace." Can you elaborate on this idea?

MEG: A few years ago, Scarf-Knitting swept across the country as a perfect vehicle for scores people who were new to our craft. In recent years, our annual Knitting Camps have attracted dozens of "scarf-knitters" who want to move forward and are hungry for more technique. They may become sweater knitters, who become color- pattern knitters, who become texture or Aran knitters, who become lace knitters. There is a certain logic to that progression, don't you think? - with lace knitting as a pinnacle? My own knitting- journey took a similar path.

KBTH: Do you have a favorite fiber for lace? Shetland wool? Icelandic wool? Something else?

MEG: It's hard to beat Shetland Laceweight wool, but in recent years, most of my lace knitting has been done with Icelandic Laceweight or Icelandic Unspun wools, which "full" beautifully upon first washing. The slightly heavier Finnish Satakieli, or Shetland Jumper-weight wools are my choice for more utilitarian shawls.

KBTH: What does the serious knitter do after lace knitting?

MEG: Is there an After-Lace-Knitting? If so, the answer may be: design.

Please be sure to visit Meg Swansen's website Schoolhouse Press