I’ve been looking forward to releasing this latest blog post.
Just a few months ago, I had the very good fortune of meeting Maggie Menzel when she joined our Wednesday Knit Night. She is so much fun to talk to and one of those people with whom I can go on and on and ON about all things knitting because she shares this passion.
Imagine my delight to discover that not only is she a knitwear designer, but one of her patterns was selected to be released in the most recent edition of the online knitting magazine Knitty.
This was a unique opportunity to pick the brain of a designer. So Maggie and I met up to talk about her knitting journey, her process and her designs. I hope you enjoy.
INTERVIEW WITH MAGGIE MENZEL
I’m Maggie Menzel, I’m originally from Bloomington, IN which is a college town. My parents are both professors, my Father, Kent, is a Professor of Mathematics and my Mom, Suzanne, is a professor of Computer Science, so a super snotty background, haha. I’m a midwestern girl. I always loved being creative. I give a lot of credit to my sister Cassie for this. She would draw and so then I would have to draw. But the real credit for my knitting comes from my Gran, my Mother’s mother. My Gran is an amazing knitter. When I was 10 years old, at Christmas, she gave me a beginning knitter’s book and 2 inches of scarf already made so I wouldn’t have to learn how to cast on and I could just go straight into the knit stitch and (laughing) it was with this terrible yarn, it was brown, variegated and scratchy..
Me: Why does everyone start off with terrible yarn?!
Maggie: I don’t know!! Part of it is that my Gran, bless her heart, has skin like leather, she doesn’t feel it! I love her to death, she has amazing color sense most of the time, except with this yarn. But she herself knits with the scratchiest wool because she doesn’t feel it. Also because I was 10 she bought some cheap yarn. So I started knitting this on US size 13 needles, which was smart, since I was a kid and had no dexterity. She taught me to knit that afternoon and off I went. It took me a year to knit that scarf, starting and stopping. I gave it to my Mother the next Christmas. And it was awful! It had these sections that were super tight and then other sections that were super loose. The edges were all wavy where I had accidentally increased and decreased; and my mother promptly lost it (chuckles) Which I cannot blame her for, because it was hideous. The yarn was hideous, it was scratchy and I was not a very good knitter yet.
Then I took a break for about a year. But after that, all through middle school and through most of high school I went through this period where I just knit a lot of garter stitch scarves all the time. Finally I met some other people who knit. And meeting other knitters I thought “Whoa, I thought only old ladies did this! And me!” They were like “Oh, let’s try knitting a hat!” or “We’re going to try knitting these fingerless gloves” And I was like “Well, if you’re doing it, I have to do it too.”
The first pattern I ever followed was a sweater. That was a dumb idea, let me tell you. And I picked the worst yarn for it. I picked a bamboo yarn, which was really pretty but it was heavy so the sweater just weighed a ton, but I loved it and I’ve been hooked ever since, all because of my Gran.
Me: I’ll bet she’s been a great resource when you’ve hit walls with your knitting.
Maggie: All through my youth, she was the first one to teach me how to knit a sock, for instance. Unfortunately she’s always lived up in Maine. But for years she would come and spend 2 or 3 weeks at Christmas.
Me: What are your most favorite and least favorite thins to knit?
Maggie: Right now I’m on kind of a sock binge. Which, for anyone who is familiar with my patterns started with Stripe Strides, which is a series of patterns made specifically for self striping yarns that I created. There’s actually two series, Stripe Strides and Stripe Strides 2. Altogether it’s 10 patterns and ever since starting that, all I want to knit are socks, especially socks with self striping yarn. I’ve finished that project for now. I don’t know if there’ll be a part 3, 10 patterns is a lot.
Me: You’ve released these on Ravelry?
Maggie: Yes, I’ve considered putting out a part 3. I have two more ideas in mind, but I don’t know if I have 5 more in me. Sooooo maybe someday. Not soon, though.
Me: Well, artists have their blue period and you had your sock period, lol, that’s ok.
Maggie: I’ve been doing other socks recently. Right now I’m doing colorwork socks. Colorwork used to be my least favorite thing to knit, but it’s growing on me a little bit in this project. Least favorite? There are certainly things I knit less. But I don’t know if I have a least favorite. Really, if I’m knitting, I’m happy. There’s a couple of techniques I haven’t tried yet. I haven’t tried Enterlac yet, but I have to try because it looks so cool. There’s nothing I’ve hated.
Me: Are you a monogamous knitter?
Maggie: No….but I don’t have 20 projects going at once either. I could never keep track of that. I have one project that is very long term and has been going on for 5 or 6 years. It’s a scrap blanket so I only work on it when I have scraps.
I like to have one big and one little project. So I usually have one quick, satisfying, easily finished project that I’m working on.
Me: You said “As long as I’m knitting I’m happy”. What moved you from just knitting to taking the next step up and start designing your own patterns?
Maggie: (Pausing thoughtfully) Well, when I went to college I had this period of high [knitting] productivity. Probably because I was so stressed. Whenever I’m stressed I knit more.
At the time I was crocheting a lot. I was crocheting the dolls that have heads bigger than their bodies. I had a boyfriend at that time who wanted me to make one that had a head proportional to the body. So I kind of looked for a pattern, I didn’t look that hard, but I thought, “I could probably do this myself”. And I did! And that became the crochet version for my basic doll body pattern. That wasn’t actually the first pattern I published.
At the same time I had made a simple scarf pattern, the Color Changing Scarf, and someone asked me to publish it. It is such a simple pattern I wrote that one up in an afternoon. I knew nothing. I didn’t even know about test knitting, I just published it. Someone said, “you should get this tested” I said, “how do I do that?” and they pointed me over to some of the great testing groups on Ravelry.
It all just sort of snowballed on me and I became obsessed with pattern designing very quickly. All of a sudden I had all these ideas for things. Once I had done it one time I wanted to do it again. It took me a long time to want to do it, but once I did, I was hooked.
Me: There’s a lot of Math involved in writing a pattern. Did you have certain books or resources that you went to when you started designing, or did you just do it yourself?
Maggie: No, I didn’t know anything back then. There are resources that I use now. There are all these designers that I so admire that are able to figure out all the Math beforehand and then knit it or having someone else knit it. I have never been able to do that. I’ve always figured out the math as I went. Once I get one size (for a garment), I’m able to do the math to get the other sizes. But for the first size I always have to knit it myself. I’ve knit ever single pattern I’ve ever published.
Me: So you’ve been your own test knitter until recently.
Maggie: Well, I’m my first test knitter. But I’ve been really fortunate to have some very good test knitters to test my work. I go to some excellent test knitting groups on Ravelry and get these amazing volunteers who are willing to sift through my errors, because I am not perfect enough to make a pattern without errors. I give them a lot of credit, they’re fantastic.
Me: Tell me about your process, the ups and downs of your designing.
Maggie: One thing that was intimidating for me was after I had done a couple of patterns I started looking into how other people design and I started reading about how there was a “right way”. The “Right Way” was to figure out ALL of the math and write everything down and THEN start knitting. I was never going to be able to do that. That was never going to be my process. If that works for you, great! go, have fun, I applaud you. But that was never going to work for me. Because the minute I have an idea I start knitting and then everything falls apart. So I rip everything out and start again with a way to fix it. That usually goes on about 3 or 4 times before I get something that I’m happy with. My design process is not the most efficient at all, it’s incredibly inefficient. People talk about how they swatch a bunch and figure out all the math. That is the more efficient route, but I could never do that. There’s always something I didn’t anticipate. There’s things about the construction or stitch pattern that I just didn’t think of.
Me: It sounds like you are a very tactile learner
Maggie: I am a VERY tactile learner. I have to do it to figure it out. What I’m trying to say is, if that’s the way you are too, that’s ok. Do it in whatever way works for you. If the way I just described sounds awful, don’t do it that way! But if what I described sounds like the way that works for you, it’s the only way that works for me, so go ahead and do it that way.”
Me: So, THIS is the exciting news. You’ve recently had a pattern selected to be released through Knitty, the online knitting magazine, in their just released Fall patterns issue.
First of all, what pattern was selected?
Maggie: It is called Vinculum and it is a cabled sock. It’s really cool because I used a different kind of heel called the Strong Heel, which is not a particularly common one. I found it on the Internet. I spend a lot of time searching the Internet, searching for different types of heels and toes, because I’m a Nerd!! (laughing). I first used this heel in Stroll which is part of Striped Strides 2 and I loved it because you get to go in continuous rounds almost the whole way. Which means you don’t break your pattern when you reach the heel. In Vinculum I used the Strong Heel so that I could keep the cable pattern going without having to cable on the wrong side of the work.
I was also able to add this really nifty little cabled gusset, which I’m quite fond of. It makes me very happy to have all those cables everywhere. So it’s just a very, very, very cable-y sock. I submitted it to Knitty and was amazed and shocked when it got in! I submitted it because “Why not?!” There’s no harm.
Me: How long did they keep you waiting before letting you know it had been chosen?
Maggie: Maybe a month or two? It wasn’t a very long time.
Me: What was your reaction when you found out you had been selected?
Maggie: I called my Mom immediately!! I freaked out! How could this have happened to me?! I was shocked and a little starstruck because Knitty always has these incredible designs and to be a part of that was really exciting for me.
Me: Future Tense. What are your knitting and designing goals from here?
Maggie: That’s a good question. Right now I’m working on another pattern that involves colorwork. It’s another sock pattern because I’m obsessed with socks!
In terms of future goals I just want to keep getting better. I want to be better at forming my patterns, better at making them clearer. and I want to continue to improve.
I look back and I started designing during my Freshman year of college, about 7 or 8 years ago and I’ve improved so much. I want to continue to improve so I can be in things like Knitty. It’s very satisfying to look back and see the improvement.
Me: Before we actually started recording you said that knitting is “the fun” and you wouldn’t want it as a primary job because it would become “work” then.
Maggie: That’s true for me. Knitting has never been my primary source of income, which has always made it ok that I don’t make a lot of money off of my patterns. If I were to make designing patterns my career it would become a job. It would become work. I’ve never wanted that for knitting. I love knitting, I’m obsessed with it. I don’t want it to be my job. I will continue doing it. There’s no sign of it stopping. But I’ve been known to go 6 months without releasing a pattern because there are other things happening in my life and the inspiration isn’t there at that moment. That’s kind of sad for me, because I don’t really want those breaks, but at the same time, that’s the way that works best for me.
Me: If it’s not your primary source of income, then the pressure is off and there’s no one hovering with a deadline and it can just stay fun.
Maggie: That’s very true. At the same time I do want to be professional. If someone pays for my pattern they should get a professional product. The people who DO choose to be professional designers are amazing to me, but it’s not right for me.
Me: What is your go-to color palette when choosing colors for designs?
Maggie: I have a terrible, terrible weakness for brightly saturated colors, which make all of my patterns look like a kaleidoscope. It’s not always the best choice, but I have such a weakness for bright colors, jewel tones. Sometimes I start working on a pattern and I think, “Oh my goodness, I need to bring this back a little. it is just blindingly bright. “ But I have so much fun with it.
Me: This might be like asking to choose who is your favorite child, but do you have a favorite pattern?
Maggie: I have favorites for sure. Cirque is a favorite of mine, it just came together so nicely. Scamper is a favorite of mine because although Strut was what started Stripe Strides, Scamper showed me it could be more than one pattern. I love that series so much. Stroll is another favorite from it. Stroll took forever to get right. I knit seven different socks before I finally got Stroll to be what it is today. When it worked it was so satisfying. It felt so good to get it right.
In terms of non-sock patterns Moiety is a favorite. I used that pattern to raise funds for the ACLU. I raised over $150 by selling that pattern for $1.
Me: You said that’s not a sock pattern?
Maggie: It’s a shawl pattern. It’s free now, but throughout February I did that as a fundraiser. I have such good feelings about that. So many people came together and they donated just a little, but over a hundred people came together to donate to that cause. It wasn’t a ton, but it felt really good to be a part of coordinating something that brought support to something we believed in. I felt so flattered by the people who messaged me thanking me and telling me how much this cause meant to them. How happy it made them that I was raising awareness for it. The whole thing was such a wonderful experience. I have a real soft spot for that pattern now. But I have a soft spot for all of them, they’re all my babies.
Me: Process knitter or product knitter?
Maggie: (thinking) I’m a product knitter, for sure. I want the thing. Which means, of course, I have a lot of “the things”. I have an overflowing drawer that has hats and scarves and shawls and things in my apartment. I can’t bear to part with any of them. And my sock drawer is also overflowing. But I can’t bear to part with them either. I keep fixing them when they get holes.
Me: (laughing) Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Me: What has knitting meant for you personally?
Maggie: I’ve always felt that when I am the most stressed is when I knit the most. When I’m the busiest I knit more. Which seems counterintuitive. It seems like you should knit when you have free time. When I have free time I don’t knit at all. I knit when I’m stressed and it’s such a fantastic stress reliever. When I pick up the needles my heart rate goes down and I just feel better. Unless it’s a particularly stubborn project, in which case it does the opposite!
It’s also been a wonderful way for me to make friends. Wherever I go, there’s always other knitters. It’s a way for me to connect with people who I would not normally hang out with. They aren’t my age or they aren’t from my school or job. They are people I might not meet otherwise. I love how knitting broadens my social circle.
Another thing is that I can look back at my life and remember where I was when I was working on a certain project. I can look through My Ravelry Page and it’s like my personal history from when I was 10.
Me: How old were you when you released your very first pattern?
Maggie: I was a freshmen in college, so I was probably 18, about 8 years ago.
Me: Anything you want to say to any other budding knitters or designers out there?
Maggie: I think that it always looks harder than it is. Which is not to say it isn’t hard. But all of knitting is just a combination of knits and purls. If you can do that, you really can do anything. It might take some practice and it might take ripping it out 10 times, but you really can.
Me: I’ve definitely been there.
Maggie: Right. It takes some patience and it takes some effort but it’s not as hard as you think it is, I promise. It is but you can do it.
Me: If you love it, do it.
Maggie: Yeah. If something looks hard or intimidating, a lot of times it’s really a lot simpler than it looks. The first time I tried cables, it looked so hard and it wasn’t. Then I tried cabling without a cable needle. I thought, “Take your stitches off your needle?! That’s impossible they’re all going to fall out!!” But it wasn’t that hard once I actually did it.
So. “You can do it” is really the main message. I believe anyone can do it.
Me: I’ve seen that myself. Things used to intimidate me. I’d read a pattern and I’d encounter something I was very unfamiliar with and for the longest time I’d let that deter me and I would just find a different pattern. But I finally decided I really wanted to learn some of these techniques and once I sat down with them I often found they were less difficult than I had anticipated
Maggie: I mentioned earlier, I started knitting when I was in 5th grade and i didn’t even learn to do the purl stitch till I was in High School. I didn’t do anything other than garter stitch scarves. First of all, there was no one to teach me. It didn’t occur to me to search on the Internet. But once I was around people who were trying things then I had to try them too. Once you do, it’s not as hard as you think it will be. The things that were intimidating become easy once you try them. (End)
Please do go and look up Maggie’s patterns. Especially if you are enjoy a fun sock pattern. Maggie has at least 46 patterns on Ravelry and I’m sure we will see more added before long. Maggie has no shortage of the creative talents. In case you are curious, her day job is that of a professional filmmaker and animator.
Next weeks post: Living and Dyeing