Modeled after the famous TV program called Inside the Actor's Studio, The Designer's Studio is the place where you will meet a well-known designer and read about her/his designing style, philosophy, most favorite techniques, publications, and many other interesting details of the creative world of knitwear designers. Our guests will be answering a set of 15 questions (the same for every guest) and you will have the opportunity to leave the comment or your question after the interview is posted. We will try to keep up with your questions. This is a very exciting project and I hope you will visit here often and will not miss any of the interviews posted here.

Faina Goberstein.

September 10, 2011


Marnie MacLean is one of the behind-the-scene people of Twist Collective online magazine. She has been designing since 2003. By day, Marnie works for a newspaper as a business analyst. In the knitting circles of Ravelry Marnie is known for her generous sharing of her knowledge with aspiring designers either in a conversation about the process of designing and publishing or by her wonderful tutorials on how to use Excel, Microsoft Word, and Adobe Illustrator for design work. On the personal note, I love these tutorials and admire how much Marnie knows about these programs. She helped me out with some questions I had and I really appreciated that. It is not a big surprise that Marnie knows these programs in and out since her education is in a desktop publishing and she continues to use Adobe and Microsoft products at work. Marnie's designs appear in books and print magazines but primarily she self published until the launch of Twist Collective in the fall of 2008.  I love her fresh, youthful, feminine, and classic-chic designs. It was no big surprise that she became an official member of the Twist Collective team since the Spring 2010 edition. She says: "I’ve been knitting since I was about 6, though I preferred crocheting through college and didn’t take up knitting in earnest until the early 2000s." Well, we are very glad she did pick it up again. There are many beautiful designs that Marnie authored and there is no doubt that we will see many more from her. Below are Marnie's answers that describe her work and her life. This is Astoria, one of her masterful designs.

1. When did you start knitting (crocheting) and who taught you?
I started knitting when I was about 6. My mom had tried to teach me but I wanted to know the hows and whys of every little thing and I wanted to make it “just right.” My mom knew that the only way to get there was to just keep doing it but that wasn’t enough for me. She didn’t have time to help me pick apart every little stitch so she gave up and so did I. My acrylic yarn and Susan Bates needles, languished in my closet for a while until late one night, I sneaked down to my parents stash cabinet and found a Mon Tricot knit and crochet stitch dictionary and I began to teach myself. I didn’t really read that well, I mostly worked from the diagrams so I hadn’t realized that the work needed to be turned at the end of each row. I also wrapped my purls “backwards” so that my stitches were oriented in the combined/eastern uncrossed orientation. This really only gave me problems when I tried to understand decreases. Interestingly, I think that one advantage to learning on your own, without the internet or other people to help, is that you don’t know what is supposed to be “hard” or “easy.” In the Mon Tricot book, you had knit and purl stitches, then lace stitches. So I learned to do knit and purl stitches and then lace stitches without realizing that I should have considered lace complicated or scary. It wasn’t until I started hearing other people talk about how intimidating or complicated lace was that I realized how much we underestimate ourselves when it comes to knitting.

2. When did you begin publishing your designs?
In the loosest sense of the word, I started publishing sorry excuses for patterns back around 2003. I never really worked from patterns so I didn’t have a sense of what the conventions were. I had done a bit of sewing over the years so I understood the basics of garment shapes but I had assumed that offering patterns in S-M-L would cover most people and I assumed that people would know what abbreviations would mean or would be happy to work from charts of garments instead of written out instructions. I learned a lot by trying to reinvent the wheel over and over but I wouldn’t recommend that route if you don’t also like spending hours and hours doing support for free patterns. You can still see my early attempts at designing such as Gothic Lace, Happy Hat, and Bella Paquita.

3. What is your most favorite knitting (crocheting) technique?
I love them all. It’s like asking what my favorite spice is or my favorite paint brush. Different techniques shine at different times.

4. When you are thinking about some new design, what inspires you the most? Is it different every time? Could you give us some examples on inspiration for some of your designs?
There are really two different ways I design, there’s the design I do that comes from sudden inspiration and then there’s the design that comes from needing to come up with a design, whether I’m inspired or not. For the former, I’m inspired by things that seem to make the wearer (sometimes me) feel great about themselves. I’ll see a shape or a neckline or a hem treatment on someone or in my own wardrobe and try to imagine how I would incorporate it into my own designs. I’m not necessarily someone who thinks about texture or color, at the outset. For instance, with Bijou  I knew the shape of the garment I wanted, I knew I wanted lace at the top and solid stockinette at the bottom. I had these ideas about how I wanted the garment to look overall, but I didn’t really sort out the details until after the design sketch had been accepted for publication. I guess I’m more of a big picture thinker than I am a details person. The same is true of Jamison Square.  I wanted a big slouch cowl pullover with a cable detail, but I didn’t really care what the cable was, it just had to fit the proportions of the garment. On the other hand, now that I publish most seasons with Twist Collective, I really have to come up with 2-4 concepts even if I’m not feeling particularly inspired. In those cases, I have a few techniques I use to come up with new ideas: 1. I keep a few books around with illustrations and photos of historic fashion trends. I’ll flip through the books and see if anything catches my eye. As fashion trends change, year by year, different items catch my eye and trigger new ideas. Dietrich was a good example of this  I was looking at hats of the 20s and I there was an interesting cloche with an asymmetrical brim that I thought was really charming. I decided to see if I could use that asymmetrical hem on a hat of my own design.
           ©Caroline Bergeron

2. Flipping through stitch dictionaries can be pretty inspiring for me. I think it’s the part of me that loves problem solving that responds so strongly to this method. When I designed Tolovana
and Raina
they both started as a single stitch, found in a stitch dictionary and sparked a whole design. Tolovana started as a single leaf motif which I scaled down, up and into a border pattern, with transitions between each. The result is really 7 different stitch patterns that all work together. For Raina, I found the delicate little leaf motif that runs along a reverse stockinette background but what caught my eye were the vertical knit welts spaced evenly along the stitch pattern. Lace can be a challenge to work allover in a garment, both because it is less modest than most people like and because it is a challenge to work shaping while maintaining the lace pattern. But when a lace pattern can transition to a simpler allover pattern, it keeps the feminine detailing but becomes much easier to work up. That’s what I saw in the stitch and that’s how the pattern came to be. 3. My last method, when all else fails, is to just sit down and make it happens. As the saying goes, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Projects like Tidewater  and Astoria (see above) were really just a matter of my deciding I want to design a shawl or colorwork garment, respectively.

The same is true of the baby gifts I’ve made like Alsace Le Monstre   and Dweezil.

I dive into these projects without much clue where they will go, but with the idea that I’m going to do it.

5. What does your studio look like?
We bought our house about two years ago and I’ve been slowly morphing one of the extra bedrooms into my craft room. I do basically none of my knitting there. I use it mostly for weaving, sewing and as an occasional guest room. However, it remains my primary storage for all my crafting supplies, except for those that overflow into the rest of the house or those that are being used for some project currently in work.



 I love my little craft room but since there are always needles and pins on the floor, I have to keep the dogs out of there and they really don’t like it when I spend too long away from them.

6. What is your most favorite place to knit (crochet)?
I very much have a goldilocks complex when it comes to knitting. I don’t particularly like doing it when I’m not in “my space”. When I am knitting my own designs (which is basically always) I generally need my laptop nearby, with all my calculations and charts, which I can adjust as needed if I catch a problem. I may have a stitch dictionary or two near me, scissors for cutting out knots in the yarn, various stitch markers, stitch holders, waste yarn and all the other stuff that I am forever forgetting to pack and finding I need when I’m hard at work. On top of that, I like to be comfortable, able to put my feet up or down, preferably with a puppy on my toes when it’s a little chillier. I don’t like having a breeze (as happens when I’m outdoors) or contending with a moving vehicle (cars, busses, trains, etc). So for me, the perfect place to knit is on my couch, next to my dogs, while watching something that isn’t so engrossing that I have to choose between following along or knitting my project correctly.

7. Do you spin your own yarn?
I spin, but not necessarily to knit. I do each for the pleasure of doing them. I enjoy spinning yarns that I don’t really like knitting, such as vibrantly variegated yarns or thick yarns with lots of plies. Occasionally, I do knit or crochet my own handspun, but that’s the exception not the rule.

8. Do you belong to a knitting group?
No, as I said, I really prefer to knit in my own space, on top of that, since most of my work is for publication, I try to avoid knitting my projects in public. For the past few years, I’ve done a Twist Collective trunk show at the Tigard Knitting Guild  and if I had the time to attend regularly, that would be a group I’d join, but working my day job and working for Twist, keeps me pretty busy most of the year.

9. Are you in touch with other designers and how do you communicate with the knitters who knit your designs?
Oh I definitely have a circle of designer friends, some of whom I know in real life and some of whom I’ve only interacted with online but who still feel like friends to me. I’m also active in the Ravelry Designers group  and have had lots of good conversations there. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ as well as Flickr and even post a few videos on YouTube, along with maintaining my blog, so I am constantly in touch with people online. On top of that, my work at Twist Collective has me interacting with designers all the time. I feel really fortunate to have such a wide circle of friends and acquaintances with so much talent. As for customers, they all have access to me via my site or through Ravelry and other social media. I get contacted pretty regularly, whether it’s a kind word from a happy customer or a frazzled knitter needing help with a pattern. Overwhelmingly, I find the knitting community incredibly encouraging and kind, which makes designing so rewarding.

10. Where can we see your published designs?
The most comprehensive list of my patterns is available on my Ravelry page though to be honest, there are a few patterns that are not available anymore because of disappearing publishers and my lack of organization. Most of my patterns are also listed on my personal site  and you’ll find plenty of my patterns over at Twist Collective as well.

11. Do you teach classes? If yes, where do you teach?
I’ve taught before and I enjoy it, but I just don’t have the time to teach. I do offer tutorials on my site, and I hope to offer more in the future. For the sorts of topics I am most interested in, online tutorials and demos are a great way to reach designers all over the world instead of hoping that the people who want the information will be within a reasonable proximity to the location of the class. At some point, it might be fun to offer online classes but, like most things, time is a factor and I don’t have as much of it as I’d like.

12. What would you like to tell knitters who are timid and do not believe they are skillful enough to knit some of your designs?
I’ve been knitting for so long that I sometimes forget what it’s like to be a novice, but for the past few months, I’ve been immersing myself in sewing, something I’ve never done particularly well and by no means have I mastered. It’s given me some real empathy towards people who are overwhelmed or intimidated by any sort of craft. Firstly, you should know the type of person you are. If you are someone who is discouraged by anything less than perfection, if you are more of a product knitter than a process knitter and will consider your time wasted if your end product isn’t magnificent, then you may want to pick your project carefully. There’s no point in leaping into a big, expensive project beyond your current ability if you won’t be able to cut yourself some slack for any imperfections. Start off small and build your skills up before diving into something more challenging. Cowls, dishcloths, scarves and mitts are good starter projects for a new skill or technique. On the other hand, if you are a process knitter, someone who loves knitting for it’s own enjoyment, more than you care about the finished project, if you are someone who can be proud of doing something new, hard, different or unusual simply because you did it, then you are the perfect candidate to try something that really pushes your limits. Neither of these ways is better or worse. The former will tend to master a skill more fully while the latter will tend to learn more techniques in the same amount of time but take longer to really master them. The key is setting yourself up for the sort of success that matters to you.
13. What are your plans in the near future?
No plans in particular, more designing as time and publication opportunities permit and of course, making time to spend with my puppies and husband.

14. Can you share with us some of your latest designs?
My latest design is Doppler a his and hers pattern with an asymmetrical ribbed pattern and two neck treatments.

While I admit to loving a complicated pattern, I wanted to create something simple and flattering that could be a real wardrobe staple. I originally thought of this as just a men’s design, wanting something that was interesting enough for the knitter to want to knit it but simple enough that the more finicky men out there would be comfortable wearing it. I added the women’s version because I’ve always loved a ribbed turtleneck and I figured if I would wear it, someone else would want to, as well. On the other end of the spectrum is my Tidewater shawl and cowl. The shawl, in particular, has a fairly complicated transition between stitch patterns and is a more involved knit than some of my simpler
shawl patterns.

It was great fun and a challenge to design and I hope it’s just as fun to knit. And of course, wearing a beautiful lacy shawl is a treat. I’m always looking forward to occasions when I can justify pulling out something so elegant.

15. Would you like to add anything else about yourself?
I would be remiss if I didn’t say a little about my three rescued mutts. They are my comic relief each and every day and they keep me sane (or maybe it’s more of a charming insane) while I work from home. Panda, who turns 11 at the end of the year, happened to be born about 3 weeks after my husband and I met (not that we knew of her at the time). We adopted her when we moved to California, she was about 9 months old by then. We adapted our second puppy girl when she was only 12 weeks old, from a local rescue organization, here in Oregon. We changed her name from Pearl (Purl?) to Theano. She was born in February of 2007. Our most recent addition, Darwin, is a real fixer upper, he was surrendered to a shelter by a homeless couple and he definitely has some work to do before he’s the confident, well adjusted boy we know he’ll be.

He’s just about a year old now, and shows huge progress, already, from where he was when we brought him home. All three pups are border collie mixes and all three are the best thing ever :). I strongly encourage any of you thinking about getting a dog or cat to consider checking your local shelters and rescue

  FG: Marnie, wow! This is a wonderful story.   Thank you for your generosity for a knitting community and your wonderful designs. I wish you much inspiration for new designs and thank you for your work at Twist Collective. I know I am talking for many people.
 I know you online for a few years now and hope to meet you soon at one of the events.