Indie Designer of the week – Gudrun Johnston
Hi Gudrun, tell us a little bit about yourself – who’s the woman behind the designer?
Hi! Well a wee bit of background about me starts with the fact that I’m originally from the Shetland Islands where my mother ran her own knitwear business in the 70’s. I mostly grew up on mainland Scotland and then moved to the US after meeting my American husband in Edinburgh. We’ve moved around a fair amount including spending time in Scotland and are about to return to live in Edinburgh this summer. We’re very excited! I’ve been working as a freelance knitwear designer for approx eight years now and also get to travel to all sorts of amazing places for teaching. Most recently I have started running my own trips to the Shetland Islands where I get to share my love of the place, it’s people and the wool!
When did you start knitting? What inspired you to pick up your needles?
I learned as a kid, probably around the age of 10 or 11. I believe it was a primary school teacher who taught me. My interaction with it then was fairly brief however. It wasn’t until we were returning to live in the US about 11 years ago that I picked it up again. The inspiration was that my fiver year old daughter had lost a much loved blanket that had been knit my someone else and given to her as a baby. While wandering past a yarn shop here in Massachusetts I saw a poncho in the window and decided I would make it for my daughter. I bought the pattern and the yarn and despite not knowing what half the terms were in the pattern I dove right in! My daughter who is now almost 16 still sleep with that poncho!
Tell us about how you got into knitwear design. What influenced you to travel down this yarny path?
It was very accidental to be honest! As soon as I had knit that poncho I was obsessed and churned out numerous projects. I then found myself starting to adapt patterns and experiment. One of these experiments led to my first publication which was with Knitty. I had no idea that it would get picked and was over the moon when it made the cover. They advised me to establish a blog when the issue launched and that blog became The Shetland Trader (the name of my mum’s knitwear business). The timing was great as Ravelry started right around then and suddenly there was this perfect platform from which to launch myself. I had a ready made audience of people discussing knitting and looking for new patterns online. That has been a big factor in the success I’ve had.As I went deeper into the designing side of things lots of doors seemed to open for me, contacts were forged and friendships made that continue to this day. Looking to my Shetland roots was the next natural step to take and that is an ongoing process too. Every time I return to Shetland I feel more and more connected to my heritage and I learn something new about the textile history and techniques that are unique to that location.
Which is your favorite of your own designs?
This is always a hard question for me to answer as it is always changing as new things come off my needles! I think right now my favourite is my Northdale sweater from my most recent collection, The Shetland Trader Book Two. I haven’t done as much Fair Isle as I have Shetland Lace so Northdale was my first allover colourwork garment. Although it doesn’t have the complexity of colours that you would see in a traditional Fair Isle sweater I was really pleased with the effect created by only using 3 colours.
Of all your designs, which are the most popular?
My first shawl pattern, Aestlight, which uses a traditional Shetland construction still continues to be my most popular pattern. My most popular garment pattern is Levenwick which I designed for the first Brooklyn Tweed Wool People series. I love them both but had no notion of how much love they would receive from the knitting world!
Do you have a favorite technique to use?
I don’t have a favourite technique but I would say that I have been most often drawn to using lace in my designs. I especially love to see how a lace pattern opens up once it’s been blocked.
Is there anything you haven’t designed yet, that you’d like to try your hand at in future?
Mmmm that’s an interesting question! Not a specific thing but I do know that I want to explore Fair Isle knitting a lot more.
Can you give us a clue about what you’re working on at the moment?
I have several small projects on the go right now which is perfect as we are in the midst of making a big move from the US to Scotland! Of course there are always secret things in the works too, one of which will be revealed relatively soon! Bigger projects will come later in the year and I’m planning on another Shetland Trader collection that will feature some re-inventing of my mother’s designs.
Do you ever find time to knit for yourself? If you do, what do you have on your needles?
Not very often. I usually try to churn out a hat here and there as that is really the only thing I have time to knit! However right now I am taking part in a KAL for one of my recently released sweater patterns, Veronique. It might take me a while to finish it but that will be for me!
That’s pretty easy for me to answer, I’d be a jumper weight Shetland yarn through and through!
To purchase the designs featured here: click on the image of the design you wish to purchase; this will take you to the page where you can add the downloadable pattern to your basket. You can then continue shopping or check out using the normal checkout process. Happy knitting!
Last updated: May 14th, 2015.