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Heidi Kirrmaier talks about knitting and design

Hi Heidi,

How long have you been knitting?

My mother taught my sisters and me to knit when we were very young, maybe around 5 years old.

What was your first design? What prompted it?

A sleeping bag for my Oookpik.   I feared he might get cold, and since he had no arms or legs, a jacket was out of the question.  The sleeping bag featured color blocking in red and black (prompted by running out of red yarn part way), a stuffed pillow, and an “unusual” body shape.

Beyond that, it’s a little harder to pinpoint, as it sort of depends on your definition of “design”.  I knit off and on throughout my teens and twenties, when knitting wasn’t popular.  I was making sweaters for myself and my friends and rarely used a pattern, so I suppose those were my first designs (for humans). In the mid 90’s, I found myself in Australia over Christmas and discovered a shop that carried every color imaginable of Jo Sharp DK wool, which compelled me to design a multi-colored cardigan for my sister.  I sent her a Christmas gift consisting of a box of yarn and a very basic handwritten pattern.  This was the first pattern I wrote for someone other than myself to execute.  Not only did she make it, but it actually worked out really well! No doubt it helped that she’s a very patient and skilled knitter.

Around 2004, I discovered a whole new world of knitting resources online and realized that my local yarn shops were carrying some really great stuff.  This led to my knitting a lot of things from published patterns in addition to continuing to create my own, and for my sister as well.  About four years ago, I started posting my projects on Ravelry (I know, me and everyone else!), including a summer top I had designed. I was asked by others if I would publish the pattern.  So I did. That was Buttercup, and it was the first pattern I ever shared publicly. There was admittedly some trial and error involved, but very soon I was astonished and excited to see people I didn’t know making my design by following my instructions!  I still enjoy that so much and am incredibly grateful to the creators of Ravelry for the opportunities it has afforded me.

Tell me a little about your process—where do your ideas come from? Pictures/Stitches/swatching/ color?  Other?

I generally begin with a shape or an idea of how I want the lines of a garment to come together.  These ideas are generated from a variety of sources, often from clothes I see people wearing or in photos. But sometimes the ideas come from things around me that are completely unrelated to clothing.  Then I think of the best way to construct that shape or create those lines through knitting.  I don’t personally like a lot of decoration on the clothes I wear, so this tends to be reflected in my designs as well.

I do my best to translate it all as clearly as possible into a set of instructions across a range of sizes, in hopes that knitters will have a positive knitting experience as well as a stylish and properly-fitting garment in the end.  And while I often approach the construction in an unusual way, I don’t typically use overly complicated techniques as I believe you can do a lot with the basics.

What do you wish you had time to knit?

Where do I begin?

Typical day re:knitting?

I knit a little bit most days, and I always take at least 2 projects with me when I travel.  (In case one doesn’t inspire me the way I thought it would, I need to have backup!) I think about new designs almost constantly. While I knit, I am usually thinking about my next designs.

What’s your favorite thing you ever made?

I’m afraid I can’t pick just one. Snowbird has certainly been worn the most, and I’ve received many compliments on it from complete strangers, which is so nice.  I wear Rocky Road and Goose a lot as well, and I adore my Agnes’s (by Melissa LeBarre), Warriston (by Kate Davies), Kaari (by Norah Gaughan), my Shellseekers, both Tea with Jam and Bread sweaters, and Pipit. It just occurred to me that I have made 2 versions of several of these (and of the ones I haven’t, I have plans to), so that must be a true indication of how much I like them!

Favorite thing to make?

It may be evident from the previous answer that I love long cardigans and simple pullovers, to wear – and therefore also to make. I have learned that what I enjoy most is making things I believe are likely to be used, whether by me or someone else.

Most important thing you ever learned from a project?

If I am having doubts about how my knitting is looking, sizewise or otherwise, or if I have made a mistake that I know will bug me forever, I go back and correct it.  Even if it takes several hours, it’s a tiny price to pay in consideration of the overall investment in time and yarn. Note that I did not learn this overnight or from one project alone!

Words of wisdom for new knitters or any knitter, really.

When knitting a garment, review all of the measurements (not only the bust / chest size) provided in the pattern and compare them to the measurements of items of clothing you own and like the fit of.  Understand and accept the differences, or be prepared to make adjustments so you will be happy to wear the finished garment.  Also, rather than “blindly” following the instructions, look at your work regularly to get a feel for how the instructions are translating into your knitting.  I think this really helps build the understanding and confidence required to make modifications and just generally enriches the creative process.

Oh, and don’t let your knitting make you mad or sad.  It’s just knitting, after all.  That said, it’s perfectly fine if it makes you really happy and excited.

What knitting notion can’t you live without?

A measuring tape.

Favorite needles?

I use Addi Turbos almost exclusively. I also really like Addi Natura (bamboo) needles, especially for knitting with non-wool yarns.

Favorite antidote to knitting? What do you like to do when you’re NOT knitting?

I love the outdoors.  My favorite outdoor pastimes include Nordic skiing and gardening.  On the other end of the spectrum – but equally energizing – are visits to big cities to explore what they have to offer with respect to fashion, food, art and science.  The ingenuity behind these never fails to inspire me!

9 Responses to “Heidi Kirrmaier talks about knitting and design”

  1. Mary says:

    love this peek into heidi’s knitting (and other “stuff”) – thank you!!

  2. Patricia says:

    Great article thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. Caterine says:

    Nice to meet Heidi this way!

  4. Ann says:

    I love your designs, Heidi! I hope to make many of them. My Vitamin D never fails to garner compliments.

  5. Cynthia says:

    Ookpik! omigosh… I had one of these and while i didn’t design anything for him, it was lovely to be reminded!

  6. Rae says:

    Heidi’s design philosophy and garment fitting perfectly fit my style. I would love to see a published collection.

  7. [...] Great interview with designer Heidi Kirrmaier on the Quince blog.  Plus back-to-back interviews with Gudrun Johnson and Ysolda Teague at [...]

  8. Suzanne says:

    Heidi has certainly made a name for herself in the knitting world and definitely has a flair for designing. Thanks for the interview.

  9. Hilde Kirrmaier says:

    Surprise, Heidi!
    I just stumbled over this interview page; well done!
    And I love the photo of you!
    Happy knitting and happy designing always!
    I am proud of you,
    your Mother.

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