Monday, December 15, 2014

Indie Gift-a-Long Designer Interview - Cassie Castillo

As part of this year's Indie Gift-a-Long, I have been lucky enough to get a chance to interview a designer whose work I love - Cassie Castillo! I first became aware of Cassie's work when I found the Aster Vest on Ravelry. The construction is so intriguing... The next design to catch my eye was the Morrison Cardigan from the Fall 2011 Knitscene. This one design encapsulates one of the things I love throughout Cassie's designs: interesting construction and the juxtaposition of lace panels with stripes. I highly recommend Cassie's website Azalea & Rosebud Knits for a full look at Cassie's biography, patterns and blog. Her Ravelry designer page with complete portfolio of patterns is here. Cassie is shown above modeling her latest design, Sunshine & Rain Henley. Personally, if I still had time to knit a gift before the holidays, it would be Cassie's Esna Cowl, which came out while I was writing this.

At just 210 yards for the project, you can get one for you and one for a friend out of a single skein of many sock yarns... While you're dreaming about which project to make first, here's my interview with Cassie:

Jennifer Chase-Rappaport: We both had patterns in the same issue of Knitscene that involved pictures of animals that seem to be anomalies in both our portfolios. Mine (Huntress Shawl) involved a funny story of Lisa Shroyer asking me to step WAY outside my comfort zone. Does your Nocturnal Pullover have an interesting story that might be worth telling here?
Cassie Castillo: I am frequently asked about that owl design, so I’m happy to share the backstory. I remember one of the themes for that particular issue was about animals. At that time I was still working in the fashion industry, so I was seeing owls on pretty much a daily basis, and thought it would be fun to make some sort of knitted motif with an owl. I had been reading the book “Creating Original Hand-knitted Lace” by Margaret Stove, and felt brave enough to try designing my own lace design. I found a photo of an owl on Google and opened it up on Photoshop, then laid over it a grid based on how many stitches and rows I wanted the motif to be. Then I filled in an outline with little circles to represent the yarnovers and added in the decreases. I made my best guesses in a few places, then knitted up a sample to see how it looked. My first owl was really long and skinny! There was lots of trial and error involved, and it was really a lot of work for a design that might not have even been published, but I am really glad that Lisa liked it enough to include it in the magazine.

JC-R: After reading your blog, I am really impressed with the amount of adventurous (by my standards) sewing that you do. Do your sewing and knitting influence each other or stay completely separate?
CC: I wish that they did! My wardrobe would be much more cohesive if I had some sort of method to my crafting madness. Mostly I just sew whatever I can’t find in the store, and about 90% of it is dresses. I prefer to wear vintage-style dresses and have my hem fall just above my knees. I bought a coverstitch machine a few months ago and I’m still learning how to use it. Once I feel comfortable with it, I plan on making all my t-shirts. I suppose t-shirts will match fabulously with all the sweaters I knit!

JC-R: You have a pretty full schedule of designing for both publications and your own line of patterns. Do you have any “recreational”(i.e. designed by someone else) projects on the needles right now? If so, what and/or what types of projects do you like best?
CC: I typically only knit for my work, so using someone else’s pattern would be a really guilty pleasure. Every time I get a new knitting magazine in the mail I drool over all the beautiful designs and add them to my queue anyway. Maybe when I’m old and gray I’ll get to knit some of them! Since I can’t seem to really separate ‘work knitting’ and ‘fun knitting’ I usually use my fun crafting time for sewing.

JC-R: Do you have a favorite type of yarn to work with? (either generally in fiber or texture, etc. or in specific)
CC: I’m so boring, I tend to gravitate towards smooth wool yarns. After using the amazingly soft and squishy Malabrigo Rios, I think I want to live the rest of my life in merino wool. But by using the same type of worsted weight wools over and over, I have quite a collection of leftovers that allow me to create my colorful stash-buster designs. I can tell you that the kind of yarns I usually dread working with is pure cotton. I find it is really hard on my wrists, and I’ve had a few experiences where several of my fingers went numb. Switching to bamboo needles has helped quite a bit, but if anyone has any more advice, I’d love to hear it! Whenever I work on a warm weather design for a magazine, I keep my fingers crossed and hope that if they send me a cotton yarn it will be blended with another fiber.

JC-R: Are there any books and/or tools that you can’t live without? There are a few books I always refer back to for my designing:
CC: “The Principles of Knitting” by June Hemmons Hiatt. This is a massive textbook-sized encyclopedia of knitting techniques. If it’s not in this book, it probably doesn’t exist. “Knitwear Design Workshop” by Shirley Paden. Some of the math calculations in this book still boggle my brain, but for me there is still a lot of good information on styling. I usually refer back to the information about shaping sleeve caps. “Knitting Patterns Book 250” by Hitomi Shida. Although I can’t read Japanese, this is my most favorite stitch dictionary for really unusual and unique stitch patterns. They are all charted clearly, and it isn’t too difficult to figure out most of the symbols.

JC-R: Do you have some current sources of inspiration or influence you think will be informing your upcoming designs?
CC: I’m always inspired by vintage clothes. Most of my Pinterest feed and pins involve vintage clothing. It is usually the small details that jump out at me, like pockets and collars that you don’t see anymore in mass-produced clothing. “I Love Lucy” is my favorite TV show, and quite often I study all the beautiful clothes Lucille Ball got to wear.

JC-R: Any plans or projects for the near future that you’re able to share?
CC: I wish I could say I was really organized and had all my designs planned out for 2015, but I mostly design as I go. I guess I have a hard time scheduling months in advance because publishing with magazines is so unpredictable. You know as well as I do how hard it is to send your proposals and wait, wait, wait to see if it is accepted or rejected. Then if it is accepted, you make your sample and pattern and wait another six months before it is published. I have a corkboard with little pencil sketches of all the design ideas that I really love, and whenever I am not working on a project for a magazine I try to work on one of those. But there are far more sketches than I will ever get to make, and I’m constantly coming up with new ideas.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

That time of year...

Yes, that time of year is upon us again. For a long time, I have jokingly referred to football season as "knitting season". The Super Bowl? The "Knitting Bowl", of course. For the last 15 years or so, Sunday afternoons and/or Monday nights have been a time when I knew I could get some serious knitting done. But somewhere along the way I find I've been starting to understand the game by osmosis. The best thing of all was to watch my adopted hometown pull together in a new way as the Seattle Seahawks made their amazing run to the Super Bowl last year. I've never seen anything like it here, and I hope we can keep the spirit going regardless of how the Hawks do this year. My new pattern, 12th Mitts is inspired by both the hometown team and the community. Now...LOUDER!!!!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Cowls and Comics

Catching feels like the Olympics were just yesterday, and I'm not sure where March went!

This cowl was my Ravellenics design challenge for myself, gathering a medal for Team Hazelknuts. It's knit in Hazel Knits DK Lively, in Portobello and Frost. It's currently in testing, please join us in the RocketBoy Knits Ravelry group if you'd like to hear when the pattern is ready:  Part of what made this cowl satisfying was the way it brought together two different phases of my life. Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a serious student of Russian with plans to be either a translator or high-school Russian teacher. Ironically, it was one of my Russian professors who helped put me on the path I'm on now. She was a former physicist, who admitted to having knit through all of her university lectures. After teaching me a way to cast on that finally stuck with me, she happily allowed me to knit my way through all of her classes. The pattern is still looking for a name - maybe it should be named for her. Eventually, I figured out that I was on the wrong career path, which conveniently coincided with the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of high-school Russian language programs. One thing that really has stuck with me from all those years, however, is an abiding love of Russian folk art, especially in textiles. The stitch pattern here is based on a Russian embroidery pattern that caught my eye. The geometry of it produces a pleasantly rhythmic knitting experience, and the lining gives it enough warmth to keep the Polar Vortex or the legendary Russian winter at bay.

On a totally different note, I saw something fantastic at Emerald City ComiCon! A knitting superhero! Check her out at  A second issue is to be released soon...

Monday, January 6, 2014

So this is the New Year...

I hope everyone's 2014 is off to a good start, and that we all get a little selfish knitting done this month. Now that the RocketBoys have gone back to school and Mission Control is quiet, I'm starting to organize for the early part of the year. In addition to another secret project, there are some mittens on deck for test-knitting, some neckwear in early development, and maybe even a summer top... And, of course, I'll do my best to keep it all updated here and in my group on Ravelry:

In the last few weeks of 2013, I was so busy releasing a new pattern that I entirely forgot to write about it here. My technical and social media advisor (RocketBoy 1) has scolded me about this repeatedly, so I guess I'd better get on with it! After being just a bit obsessed with the idea of boot cuffs or toppers for a while now, I finally settled on the stitch patterns I wanted and the range of sizing that I thought was needed to make this a truly accessible pattern. The Trio of Boot Cuffs pattern includes all three styles shown below, in a wide range of sizes and advice for how to really make them your own. I enjoyed wearing the leaf one so much for the photos that I now have to make a set just for me... My next blog post will be more suggestions for how the pattern can be used as a stashbuster - stay tuned!

A final thought on the turning of the year: of all the advice, exhortations and pondering of the new year, the image below is my favorite by far. The only thing missing is "Happy Knitting!"