As my inaugural post with other business owners and designers, I have recruited Karen Robinson / KarenDawn Designs. Karen is also the chief dyer at Round Table Yarns. She has just released her first pattern collection so that’s what she’s really thinking about as we talk.
Gawain’s Shield by Karen Robinson of KarenDawn Designs
Photo courtesy of JS Webb Photography for Stitch Definition. Graphic Design by Stitch Defininition
Q: I know you recently published your first pattern collection and that you took a new approach to financing it, tell us about that:
A: I’ve spent the past few months working on my first pattern collection. I was originally inspired to work on it because I learned the German short row method and fell in love with it, wanting to knit a gazillion things using it. So I decided to work a series of shawls that use German short rows to shape the body and then are finished with a knitted-on border.
Because I’ve been using stories from medieval literature (which is what my PhD is in) as the inspiration behind my other patterns and names, I started thinking about which story might work to go along with this developing collection. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has been my favorite medieval story for ages, and teaching it was always a wonderful experience. Frankly, I miss that sometimes (but I don’t miss grading papers!). So I was reminiscing about the discussions in the classroom and realized I had been thinking about five different shawl patterns, which would align quite nicely with the five-pointed star on Gawain’s shield. And thus the collection also got its title: Gawain’s Shield.
Once I figured out the inspiration, everything just came together. I had started professionally dyeing yarn at the beginning of this year, so I worked with the yarn I had been dyeing, choosing specific bases and colors that went with my vision of each shawl. Before I knew it, I had all five shawls planned out and then the knitting just flew by.
I wanted the presentation of this collection to be as wonderful in actuality as it was in my head, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it alone. I had worked with Elizabeth Green Musselman from Stitch Definition on creating my Round Table Yarns logo and decided to work with her and Anne Podlesak to create this pattern collection: Anne organized the photo shoot (and did such an amazing job bringing this vision to life), Maureen Hannon provided tech editing (and really helped solidify the patterns), and Elizabeth did the layout. I can’t even begin to say how much I love the layout. I knew Elizabeth would make it look good, but it looks so good that I sometimes look at it and can’t believe that it’s mine. Is that really my name on the cover?
I also ran a crowd-funding campaign to help cover the expenses of Stitch Definition and printing copies of the book. Considering the support of the contributors to the campaign as well as the encouragement from my local knitting group (and the work done by the Stitch Definition team), I realized that although my name might be on the front cover, I couldn’t have done all of this without the support of everyone around me. Although I have an acknowledgments page in the book, I don’t think words there (or here) can fully express just how grateful I am to the community that I am part of. And that’s also what drives me to knit and create—being part of this amazing fiber community is such an incredible gift.
Whew. That is all exciting (and read to the bottom to see how you can get that pattern collection!).
Who? What? Where?
Q: I am asking everyone I interview to share with us about a very important person to their becoming the business-owner or designer they are today. So Who?
A: If I think back to the beginning of designing knitting patterns, I think the most influential person would have to be Amanda Gill, who taught (and still teaches!) classes at the LYS where I was living at the time (River Knits in Lafayette, IN). One of the classes she taught was about designing your own scarf pattern. I had wanted to put together a pattern for a while but hadn’t yet done it. Her class—and her encouragement—gave me the push to do it. Although it took another two years after designing and releasing that scarf pattern (my Criseyde Scarf) before I truly started designing regularly, I don’t know that I would have gotten over that initial “just do it” if it hadn’t been for Amanda.
Oh, we can’t thank our local yarn shops enough, can we!
Q: Let’s move on to What drives you to create or defines you.
A: I started knitting while I was in graduate school as a stress reliever. Reading had always been my pastime before, but since I was doing a lot of reading for school, I wanted something else to do. I taught myself to knit using books and videos online and eventually found a wonderful LYS in town. Gradually, knitting became just as important to me and my identity as my teaching and coursework. Heck, I used knitting as my “carrot” to help me grade papers: if I grade five more papers, I can knit for 20 minutes.
The past ten years since I started knitting have seen a lot of change: I earned my PhD, I started my new academic job, I had a baby, we moved across the country, I left academia, etc. But the one thing that has remained constant during that time is my ability to pick up knitting needles and yarn and create something. Knitting is an activity that is both soothing and comforting but also exciting and exhilarating with so many possibilities and things still to learn. And that’s what drives me to create—I want to try out new techniques and learn new things yet at the same time I don’t want to lose that comforting feeling of knitting something simple and just feeling the yarn running through my hands. This is one of my very recent patterns, Clairvaux Baby Blanket.
I love the duality of knitting too. It can be the simplest and the most difficult thing I do in a single day.
Q: Finally, describe a Where that is meaningful to your work or how you work?
A: One of the things I most wanted when we bought our house two years ago was a space of my own for all my yarn and fiber-related stuff. And I have that. Now, the room does double as our guest room (we have a futon rather than a bed, though, so it doesn’t feel like a bedroom), but most of the time it is my space. After some trips to Ikea, I have some nice storage spaces, and my yarn and supplies are all easy to get to (rather than in plastic storage tubs stuffed in a closet like they used to be). And my spinning wheels are also out in the room rather than shoved in a closet, which makes it a lot easier to grab one to do a little bit of spinning here and there. I love being surrounded by all my crafty goodness and never want to have to shove everything into a closet out of the way again.
I’m a little surprised you didn’t say the Middle Ages or King Arthur’s Court!
So now we know a little bit more about who Karen Robinson and KarenDawn Designs are. I think we’ll have to talk about Round Table Yarns another time because I really want to focus on the Gawain’s Shield shawl collection.
Gawain’s Shield by Karen Robinson
This is 52 pages of wonderful visuals, informative background text, and five garter-based narrow shawls with wonderful edges, all knitted onto the shawl (one of my favorite techniques!). Three are shown in a body color and a border color, and two in a single color, although all could be done either way. There are charts and written instructions for the borders, written instructions (and a video of the German short-row technique) for the shawls.
I love that you gave us background about the stories along with these beautiful pieces. The scale of the shawls is really nice too–and I’m sure this is going to be a very appealing collection. For anyone wanting the print version of Gawain’s Shield, please use this link.
Thanks for sharing!
If you want to be in the drawing for a pdf of the Gawain’s Shield patterns, you should leave a comment below before September 18. Tell Karen and me which is your favorite shawl–and a brief why, or what colors you would choose. You can see all the photos here.