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Learn to Design Lace Shawls with Miriam Felton

Here’s something a little different on the Mercedes Knits blog today! I want to introduce you to my friend Miriam Felton, a talented lace designer who has just filmed a wonderful class all about Lace Shawl Design with Craftsy.com. I interviewed Miriam about her love of lace, design, and the details of her new class.

First, a little more about Miriam, in her own words:

My name is Miriam Felton, and I live in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. I began knitting in high school because, although I crocheted very well, I was rather bored with the limits of crochet (i.e. bulk and massive yarn usage). So I had my sister cast on for me and then off I went. I learned most everything else from books, and I was designing from the start.

I began blogging in October 2004 (and moved my blog in July 2006 to my own domain, and in June 2011 to this new domain. All older blog posts can be viewed here). In late 2005 I began designing patterns to offer for sale. Since then I have had patterns published by Interweave Press in magazines and books, Sensual Knits, and in the online magazines Knitty and Twist Collective, and I have self published many patterns both in print and electronic formats. In July 2010 I self-published my first book, Twist & Knit, that’s a compendium of technique and patterns with variable gauge so that one can knit until one runs out of yarn.

OK, some background first. In your class, you tell us about learning to knit from your sister, and quickly progressing on to bigger projects and designing your own lace pieces. What drew you to lace initially, as opposed to say, cables or colorwork?

I’ve always been much more interested in texture than color. Cables are great and all, but they tend to be very linear which I find restrictive. Lace gives me an infinitely creative palette in which to work. I still love all other forms of knitting (because I’m a junkie), but lace just seems endless with possibility.

I am amazed by the depth of your Craftsy class! Each lesson breaks things down into such easily absorbed pieces, which seems like it would be difficult to do with such a complex subject. How did you decide to layout the lessons?

I started with a list of the basic charting stuff, like charting into a rectangular shape, dealing with repeats, then charting a stitch pattern into a triangular shape, and then all the variations like adding a center panel etc … but I realized that if you didn’t have a basic understanding of how the lace was structured, you’d just be plugging yarnovers and decreases into a chart willy nilly without knowing how they interact to make the pattern. So I took some stuff I had worked out for other classes (like the progressive swatches) and started putting them together with the charting how-to and I just couldn’t stop. There was so much info that I found myself referring to when I was writing talking points for the lessons that I felt the class needed to include. So I just kept including stuff, which made the class so much more than just a lace shawl design class. It really made it about understanding lace in general, whether you’re designing it, knitting it, charting it, or just thinking about it.

I feel like when I watched your class videos, what initially seemed like an advanced level class was much more accessible than I would have thought. What skills should a knitter be familiar with before they branch out into designing lovely lace pieces using your class?

I really wanted the class to be useful for understanding lace whether you ever intended to design something or not. My only requirement for people in the class is that they know how to read a chart because I didn’t want to spend the time in-class going over it. I figured that even if the designing aspects go over your head (or you just don’t care about them) the class could still be helpful and interesting because it would leave you with a deeper knowledge of why a yarnover is where it is, and why your knitting got messed up when you missed a decrease 3 rows back. And really, the key to fearless knitting is a deeper understanding of why it behaves the way it does.

One skill you aren’t shy about recommending is “swatch, swatch, swatch!” I love this advice! Swatches are so full of possibility! How many swatches do you usually go through for a given design? Do you save all of your old swatches and revisit them later?

If it’s a one-size lace piece, I usually only do one or two swatches (to test needle size or to see how a pattern is looking in a particular yarn. Charts are usually my swatches, but that’s because I often use my whole piece as a swatch. I’m a fearless ripper. If something isn’t working out, I will take a hard look at it, figure out what I need to change, and rip it out and start over. So quite often what I start out as a finished piece ends up a really big swatch and that’s OK with me. But I’ve got a pretty good experience level to know what a fabric is going to look like with a given yarn and needle size. Having said that, when I do a sweater, or a garment that needs to be a particular finished size, I swatch a lot.  I swatch in each stitch pattern and I swatch in stockinette and I take detailed notes about the finished gauges during and after blocking. That’s kind of the wonderful thing about a lace piece. Since it’s not sized, if you like the fabric, you can run with it, whether it’s the given gauge or not.

The video production and presentation of the videos on Craftsy is amazing, but what I was even more impressed with is the community that Craftsy provides as part of the classroom experience. Your class has only been up a short time, but I’ve already noticed questions and comments from students that you’ve answered about the class. Students aren’t just buying a basic video on the subject of lace design, are they? What other parts of the class community can the students participate in?

Students can ask a question at any point in a lesson and it gets timestamped to the video tutorial when they ask it, so I can rewatch the video around when they asked the question and know without any misunderstanding, to what a student is referring.  Students can also participate with discussion questions — we’ve got a really great discussion going about favorite stitch dictionaries going. And the thing that I love most is that students can rewatch whenever they want, forever, which is something that just isn’t possible in a live teaching environment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to move a live teaching situation along because we just didn’t have time to go over a topic again, or delve into a deeper discussion about it. I had previously been teaching a version of this class (thought not as in-depth) in a live class situation, and it was, quite frankly, a bit of a frantic 6-hour experience. So I’m really pleased that students can now get that information (plus so much more!) in an environment where they can skip around, stop and rewatch parts that didn’t make any sense, and then ask questions if they’re still unclear.

Your class is based on building a broad skill base that students can use later. As they grow and evolve as lace designers, can they revisit the videos to refresh and rebuild their skills?

Yup, they definitely can. For new and budding lace knitters, I think the first few lessons would be a great place to start and if they wanted to come back after they’re more comfortable and learn a bit more about designing, they totally can.

What was your favorite part of making the video? A certain scene or skill? The travel? 

The filming team I worked with at Craftsy was amazing. Joe Baran, the Director/Producer, and the whole production team was really great and they put me at ease and convinced me that it was all gonna be OK (which is a pretty hard thing to do, considering I’m a champion worrier).  They also didn’t seem to mind my constant cursing.  There are a couple of scene intros where you can kind of tell that I’ve just been laughing before we rolled the camera. It was really a fun experience, and I’d love to do it again, even though I was pretty stressed before I left for Denver.

I always look forward to seeing your new patterns. What project are you working on next?

Right now I’m finishing up a couple of things that need to be done for TNNA.  One I’m knitting right now is a reversible lace and cable scarf/shoulder shawl hybrid in Anzula Oasis, which is a lovely crepey textured camel and silk blend yarn! YUM! After TNNA though, I’m not sure what I’m going to work on. I’m hoping to get some collaborative projects going after talking to other designers at the trade show.

Miriam’s Lace Shawl Design class is now available on Craftsy for an introductory price of $29.99 ($10 off of the regular price of $39.99), or if it’s the first time you’ve signed up for a Craftsy class, for just $19.99!

Discover more of Miriam’s beautiful shawl designs on her Ravelry designer page, or on her website.