Spilly Jane is known for her whimsical, surprising and super fun fair isle knitting! A mitten and sock designer, Spilly Jane hails from Ontario, Canada and she and I have worked together many times (check out her two gorgeous pairs of mittens in my Knitting Architecture book). What I like most about her work is that she keeps it fun – I found myself smiling as I knit her Gnome Mittens, and as I looked through her new book, I found many cute things I want to knit. Knitting should be fun and Spilly Jane clearly got that memo.
I was delighted to see she has a new book out, Spilly Jane Knits Mittens (Cooperative Press, 2015), with 13 wonderful mitten designs, all knit in the stranded colorwork technique. Fish, cupcakes, penguins, stripes and geometric designs round out this lovely collection, but tucked in between those are extensive tutorials, tips, tricks and blank templates in the back to help you create your own exciting mitten design.
Jane kindly sat down to answer a few questions for us about her new book…
Tanis Gray (TG): Whenever I think of you I think “whimsical!” You have wonderful, fun, well-executed designs. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Silly Jane (SJ): My inspiration comes from all over the place, both external and internal. I always have my eyes open for new ideas and things are always floating to the top of my brain. I never know where a pattern is going to come from, but once it does it seems like it never could have been any other way. Then it bugs me until I get it out on a mitten.
TG: You and I clearly are addicted to Fair Isle knitting. Is it your favorite technique and why?
SJ: It’s the only technique that allows me to get the patterns that occur to me out. More than that, I love the way colours come together in Fair Isle knitting. I am addicted to colour; I love how colours change and take on new tones when you put them together. Playing with colour is the most fun you can have in knitting as far as I’m concerned. Single colour knitting is great too, but colourwork brings in a whole other layer to the process.
TG: Which design in this book are you most proud of and why (I love Midtown and the Penguins)?
SJ: I’m happy you said you like Midtown, because it’s one of my favourites as well. It shows how inspiration can come from something as simple and potentially dull as a ventilation grill or a drain cover. Beauty, pattern, and rhythm are everywhere in the urban landscape. I love cities and have always lived in an urban environment, and infrastructure in my own city has inspired me as well; my Willistead mittens are based on a park gate near where I live. But in travelling to a different city these everyday pieces of the urban landscape take on a newness that they don’t have at home. I really enjoy engaging with places to which I have travelled through knitting. Abney Park, based on a chapel in a London cemetery, is another of my favourite patterns in the book for the same reasons.
TG: Are you a DPN knitter, a magic looper or a 2 circs kind of gal?
SJ: I first learned to knit in the round on DPNs. When I got into mittens, mostly through Elizabeth Upitis’ book Latvian Mittens, I realized DPN knitting was an ancient technique, and I feel like I am part of a great knitting tradition when I use it.
TG: What is your favorite part of mitten knitting? The design phase, the knitting phase, the pattern writing phase?
SJ: My favourite part of mitten knitting? Each part of the process is obviously crucial to the end result, but it’s really exciting for me when the chart first comes together on my computer screen. I get excited to knit it, and then it’s always really satisfying to finish the first few repeats and see the pattern emerge in physical fabric.
TG: In a battle between gusset and afterthought thumbs, who would win and why?
SJ: My money’s on the Gusset thumbs. They are sneaky and they fight dirty.
TG: Gnomes and fish are a recurring theme for you… Are they close to your heart?
SJ: I have always loved fish and birds. But aside from my love of the animals themselves, I appreciate them as instantly recognizable, basic geometric forms. They are fun shapes to play with, and knitting them makes me happy.
TG: Do you have a favorite kind of color palette?
SJ: I like a folky, natural, traditional colour palette. You can do a lot with bright red, mustard yellow, olive green and natural white.
TG: What are your favorite fibers to work with?
SJ: Wool, wool, and wool. No contest. I particularly like Shetland wool, as it is especially characterful, and just delightful to work with.
TG: Any tips for knitters just starting out on their Fair Isle journey? What did you find helpful when you first started knitting with more then one color?
SJ: Don’t overcomplicate; don’t use more than two colours per round. If you aren’t already, get comfortable knitting with both hands so you can hold two different yarns; your work will go more quickly and will look nicer in the end. Most importantly, it will keep you sane as it prevents prevents irritating tangles.
TG: What’s on your Fair Isle knitting bucket list?
SJ: My husband wants a traditional Fair Isle sweater.
TG: I like that you provide blank templates in the back of the book for those thinking of designing their own mittens. What advice can you offer to people looking to get into designing?
SJ: Keep it simple and logical, and avoid the temptation to overcomplicate things. Simplicity is important when working within the confines of a knitted grid. Keep your eyes open for inspiration and knit what makes you happy.