Knitterview: designer Robin Ulrich
It isn’t very often these days that I see a new pattern and immediately rush to buy it. I’m becoming much more selective about what I add to my queue, which is very small, with only a single page of projects I truly love.
Amethiste was one of those rare patterns I bought immediately and wanted to cast on right away. Today I’m talking to Robin Ulrich, the designer of that shawl, and many other gorgeous patterns. In addition to self-publishing her patterns, Robin’s designs have been featured in both Knitscene and Interweave Knits magazines.
What is your knitting story?
I learned to crochet from my mom as a child. I learned to knit originally from a family friend when I was in my late teens. This lady was a lovely person, a very free spirit/artist type who handed me two balls of acrylic yarn in blue and white, a pair of plastic circular needles, and showed me how to knit and purl. She never discussed the idea of patterns, but I was enamored of vintage Fair Isle style yoked sweaters and set out to figure out how to knit a Norwegian star and lice patterned scarf. It turned out fairly well and I continued to dabble in knitting on and off after that.
I worked in other art forms for some time and didn’t really get serious about knitting until about 6 years or so ago when my friends Lynn and Cheryl decided to learn to knit and crochet and I remembered how much fun it was to do both and picked up my needles again and off I went!
On a typical day how much time to do you spend knitting and spinning?
Gosh, I wish I could spin and knit as much as I used to before I began designing! The truth is that designing requires more time at the computer for me than on the sofa knitting, although I still try to spend a few hours every day knitting when I can. I love to spin yarn but don’t get to do it as much either. I adore gorgeous handspun yarn and spinning has been a wonderful way to become more familiar with various fibers and their qualities however, I’m lucky to spend a few hours a month at my Majacraft Rose wheel. My husband probably spins more yarn than I do lately, and he’s working on developing a new spinning wheel for production.
How big is your stash? What yarn do you have the most of?
Haha, ‘big’ is a relative term! I admit my stash is probably on the large-ish side, and has been greatly enhanced by my visits to yarn stores on travels as well as some terrific LYS sales. I may have less flexibility these days as magazines want designers to use yarn they are featuring in advertisements, and independent yarn companies will sponsor you mainly if you use a particular yarn they want you to feature in one of your designs.
I love all sorts of natural fibers from cashmere to silk, mohair, and linen and I have a lot of really gorgeous natural alpaca yarn from local people since Ohio, where I live, has the largest number of alpacas in the country. Overall though, I am a wool girl through and through.
Where do you do most of your knitting?
I knit everywhere, all the time, including in lines and while waiting for appointments. Most of my knitting is done in my chair in my studio while watching television and movies, or as a passenger in the car while my husband is driving on long trips. I also like to knit during meetings or when hanging out with family and friends.
What is your comfort knitting?
My shawl pattern Sothia is a perfect example of something I designed for comfort knitting. When I worked out that design I was going through a lot of stressful things and needed something that would provide knitting for an extended period of time without using too much mental energy at the end of a taxing day. I think shawls are always good comfort knitting.
For me, when the weather starts getting cooler I immediately want to start knitting hats, and springtime is when I get the urge to knit sweaters. What affect do to seasons have on your knitting?
I like to knit everything all year around even in the hottest weather, but I admit that I prefer to knit things that I can wear during a current season, like a lace camisole for summer or a hat and scarf for cold weather.
Do you do any other crafts?
Oh gosh yes, my problem is that I just love to make things! For a while I worked for a florist shop, which I absolutely loved, and I’ve also loved designing dance costumes and custom bridal veils. My studio is crammed full of embroidery thread, sewing machines, fabrics, beads, vintage buttons and silk ribbons.
What colors are you most drawn to?
I really love many colors and find myself wanting to work with new ones all the time. With my coloring I tend to favor gray, purples, red, blue, black and rich neutrals like moss green or antique gold, but I love earthy and natural colors as well and try to fit those in too when I can. I find that for publication some colors work out better than others and will often choose something different when it will require photography.
When I was looking through your designs in preparation for this interview I noticed they are all quite different from one another. They range from cables to simple stripes to lace. Is this a conscience decision – to try new design elements – or have you always enjoyed working with different techniques?
My designs reflect that fact that I love working with all kinds of knit techniques and pretty much just choose a style for a pattern based on what I am inspired by at the moment. I’ve learned many of the major knitting genres including cables, lace, intarsia, and stranded as well as many ethnic and regional types of stitches.One of my favorite things about knitting is that there is always something new to try!
For instance, I’m fascinated by the beauty and intricacy of Japanese-style knit stitches and have experimented with dozens of stitch combinations. I knew I wanted to provide a pattern for knitters that had a flavor of Japanese stitch-work presented in an approachable way, and when I was inspired by the beauty of ripe Bosc pears last fall, I knew the time was right to put the concepts together, ultimately resulting in my Bosc Hat and Scarf.
How does inspiration work for you?
Inspiration for me is everywhere. I believe everyone was made with a vast well of creativity inside them, just waiting for us to discover what the unique ‘faucets’ are that will release the flow. I love nature, history, city and street fashion, literature, art, architecture, and runway couture for ideas.
Your designs are all accessories. Are you drawn more to small knits or is there a secret sweater knitter inside you, waiting to come out?
I’ve actually designed and knit many sweaters and other garments, but haven’t put them together for publication, however, look for those types of patterns from me in the future!
Is your focus completely on designing or do you still knit for yourself, using patterns you didn’t write?
Mainly I design what I want to wear myself at the time, although at least once or twice a year I like to knit from other designers’ patterns for a ‘break’ from always working while I’m knitting. Plus there are just so many gorgeous patterns out there!
What is on your needles right now?
I’m currently updating some older patterns and working out ideas for a pullover and a cardigan. I recently picked up some gorgeous wool at the Taos Wool Festival and I’ve been swatching with that. I’d love to experiment with knitting a dress one of these days too.
Any knitting disasters you’d like to share?
The first project I practiced on when I picked my needles back up was a scarf in a gosh-awful, fluffy green yarn. I can hardly stand to look at it but keep it stored away in a box just to have a good laugh now and then.
What is the best piece of knitting advice you’ve ever gotten?
Never stop learning and trying new things. Just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t mean that’s the only way it can be done!