Indie Designer of the Week: Louise Zass-Bangham
Louise Zass-Bangham is the latest wonderful independent designer to take a turn as our indie designer of the week! Her beautiful designs have set many hearts a flutter at LoveKnitting and beyond, so we were very excited to catch up with her on what it really takes to be a knitwear designer and her top pattern picks for the beginner to advanced knitter.
To browse Louise Zass-Bangham’s full range of knitting patterns on LoveKnitting, click here.
Hi Louise! Thank you for taking the time to speak to LoveKnitting today!
When and why did you start knitting?
Aged 8, I was taught to knit at school by a terrifying home economics teacher. We started with a garter stitch teddy bear. I remember spending the entire first lesson being entirely baffled by how to make a slip-knot, hoping she wouldn’t notice me repeatedly failing to make one. The yarn just kept dropping back out; I wasn’t making a knot at all. Luckily, after that, I learned really quickly, and loved it. I was allowed to make a one-piece ball after I raced through the bear. The ball was striped with white and yellow V’s running around the centre – the shaping affected the stripes. I was intrigued by how it worked and proud of what I had made. The classmates who continued to struggle their way through the bear had a less enjoyable year!
Tell us the story of your first knitting pattern…
I studied textile design and pattern cutting (pattern making) at college, so I have a design background but I wasn’t using any of it because I’d stopped work to have kids. However, the fact that I never could knit a pattern without modifying it was becoming a running joke at my knitting group. It got to the point that one of my friends used to ask me; “What are you not knitting today?” The answer would be; “Well, it’s this baby jumper…except I’ve taken the pocket off, changed it into a cardigan with the body knit in one piece, and I’ve modified it so I can use Aran instead of DK. Oh, and I’m doing contrast trims to pick up one of the colours in the hand-dyed yarn.” Her laughing reply would be; “Oh, so not that jumper at all then?!”
I’d designed a few simple things myself, but with scribbled notes, nothing professional. Then there were 3 babies due to arrive for 3 members of our knitting group. I got sucked into designing baby blankets for each of them, which was fun though slightly stressful due to the clear deadlines! One of these blankets is Inspiration Blanket, so I guess that’s the first “proper” pattern I wrote, but not the first thing to be published because a baby blanket is a Big Thing. However, now I was really being prodded by my knitting friends to design more.
By now my youngest was 18 months, so I cracked. I had to do something creative again or I’d go crazy. I did a lot of sketching and swatching and decided to test the water with the smallest project I could devise: a headband. It took me hours to get everything setup on Ravelry because I didn’t even have a paypal account! Luckily, someone bought a copy it on the first evening it was published, for which I am ever-grateful. It made me feel like this could work for me.
Above: Louise Zass-Bangham’s first pattern, Inspiration Blanket
Talk us through a day in the life of a knitwear designer!
I fit in work around the kids, so a work-day usually starts with taking the kids to school. My favourite days are when I can clear the decks and design. Although I have a studio-space at home, the desk gets full of papers, samples, swatches, needles…so I retreat to the kitchen table and spread out there. I’m usually shocked as to how much stuff I’ve managed to spread across it in a few concentrated hours! Things will be dug out of stash, skeins wound, swatches knitted, sketches scribbled.
I’ll usually spend a couple of hours in front of the computer. I read everything that’s posted in the Inspiration Knits Ravelry group, even though I can’t reply to it all any more. I’ll do some email, Pinterest, Twitter, a bit of writing.
I tend to Instagram most when I’m out and about. I’ll share things that excite me visually, or just make me laugh. I like to try to sneak-preview tantalising glimpses of samples, but that’s not always easy to do without giving too much away. I like to share what I can.
At least once a week I’ll have a meeting with friends who are knitting samples or people who are helping me in my business in other ways. I know I can’t knit all my samples, even though that’s what I’d love to do. I knit as many as I can. I love to go to a couple of regular knitting groups so I can share swatches and see how people react to what I’m designing…but mainly for the enjoyment of being with knitterly friends.
I stop to collect the kids from school, spending time with them and doing household things until they go to bed. Often I go back to the computer in the evening, especially if I’ve just published a new pattern, need to meet deadlines or catch up with people in American time-zones. The down-side of an internet-based business is that it feels like I’m always on, but I have to stop and relax! I do still love to knit to relax (that hasn’t changed) but it’s usually samples so it’s work too. It’s not so relaxing if the sample isn’t going the way I’d hoped, but that’s the same with any knitting project really, whether it’s your own pattern or someone else’s. I often knit in front of a thriller or comedy on TV in the evening, but I’ll knit any time I can.
What is your most popular pattern?
Song of the Sea. I don’t design lace very often, so it’s easy lace. However, I think that’s part of its popularity – it looks gorgeous (IMHO) but isn’t that complicated. That’s a big thing for me, design-wise: knitting should be fun, not torture!
Where do you find your inspiration when sitting down to design?
I find inspiration from lots of places, and it tends to be an iterative process. Most often I start with a yarn and a colour I love. That’s usually the spark. I’ll think about what kind of accessory or stitch pattern would suit it. I’ll swatch, try out a few things, see what works. The swatch might make me think of something I’ve seen elsewhere, like tree-bark or a river, or it might make me think of a vintage stitch pattern I’ve spotted. I might stir all that into the idea and see where it goes. Or maybe the original idea is nice but it needs to be in a different yarn, so what starts off as me playing with a 4ply yarn for mitts turns into a stash-dive for DK for a cowl. I have a running joke with my husband for when I’ve had a bad day swatching; “I’ve discovered three ways in which this yarn doesn’t work!”
Sometimes an idea might start from something I’ve seen, and then I try out different yarns. And then it can go in several different directions. For example, Painted scarf (available from late March) and Slipstream Mitts both came from researching vintage stitch patterns for a bouncy, variegated 4ply yarn, but they’ve ended up as completely different projects.
I know that in theory a design process goes research>development>finished piece, but my process isn’t linear. It can make things difficult when I want to design something specific since things go off at a tangent so easily. There’s always somewhere to look for inspiration if I hit a dead-end with an idea. I’m happy to save things for another day if they’re not working on that one project. There are things I find along the way I just have to park, and try to focus on the one project.
Which of your patterns would you recommend for a beginner? And for an experienced knitter looking for a challenge?
A beginner can make Knit Night without beads and with the simplest border. It’s just knitting, casting-on and casting-off. It means a beginner can use a beautiful skein of hand-dyed 4ply, but on 4mm needles. They get a whole (beautiful) project from one skein and it’s not too slow. I do like patterns that look great although they’re not complicated.
For an experienced knitter who loves cables, I recommend Ironbridge. I was persuaded to design that by my friend who loves complicated cables…she knit the sample! If you’re a keen lace knitter, Siren Song is a good first project to try if you’ve never knit lace on both RS and WS rows before. It’s easy lace, so it’s a good project to start learning to read the WS patterning.
And if you think you’ve seen it all, try Foolproof. It’s worked flat but comes out in the round without any sewing or grafting. It’s a real mystery, and a fun project!
What would your advice be to someone looking to start designing his/ her own patterns?
On the design front, you need a certain amount of self-belief and resilience. Don’t be put off if someone doesn’t like a design or if it doesn’t do as well as you hoped when it’s published. A magazine turned down Song of the Sea when I submitted it as a sketch & swatch, and it’s my bestseller (no I’m not saying who turned it down)! I published it on Ravelry anyway. You have to not let disappointment over one design put you off. Sure, you might feel sad for a little while that other people don’t love it as much as you do, and it’s OK to acknowledge that disappointment, but then you have to bounce back and get behind the next idea. All designers have their hits and misses. You have to let the hits pay for the misses, and learn from both.
If you’re serious about design being your business, you need to treat it like any other small business. Seriously. The general rule-of-thumb for a start-up is that you’ll work all hours available for at least the first couple of years and you won’t earn enough to live on during that period either. It’s true of knitwear design, the same as anything else. I’ve pretty-much stopped working at the weekends, but it used to be a regular thing. I still work a lot of evenings. Unfortunately this is normal for a start-up. This isn’t my first self-employed business. It’s hard work, but rewarding. My desk is elbow-deep in every kind and colour of yarn…I love it!
What is your absolute must-have knitting accessory?
I know I should say something practical, like a tape measure, pencil, notebook, needles in all sizes, needle gauge…I do need all those things. I have got a penchant for tiny scissors that look good and actually work properly, but I’m just as likely to saw at the yarn with my kids’ craft scissors if they’re nearer my hand, so I can’t say they’re critical.
When I can, I knit with vintage aluminium needles in candy-colours. They make me smile, but they’re only right for the occasional small project. Vintage mock-tortoiseshell needles are just for admiring. “Serious” knitting needs my Chiao Goos – pointy tips, high-speed metal, smooth joins and cables that behave. They don’t make me angry in a way that other needle brands have done in the past! I like things to do what they claim, and these deliver. I have been known to just shove needles and yarn straight into my handbag when I know I’ll have time to knit but no project started. I’ll swatch. I really do just need the needles.
However, I must mention that the accessory I love most for boosting morale is gorgeous stitch markers. I love all sorts, from kitsch to beautiful. I love it when friends make them for me, because that means a lot. I bought some really fabulous ones from Vintage Rose last month. I especially love the one shaped like an espresso maker! I love it when I get the best stitch marker for the job; I’m currently loving the star-shaped ones from Fripperies & Bibelots because they can’t slip under a yarnover. They’re a revelation.
If you were a yarn , what would you be and why?
Hmm….tricky. I do gravitate to luxury yarns because knitting projects take too long to use rubbish yarn. My favourite fibres are silk, cashmere, Blue-Faced Leicester wool and alpaca. I’ve not seen a blend with all those in it yet, but I’ll be first in line when that happens!
I love silk for the way it takes colour. Colour is a really big thing for me, whether it’s a deeply variegated rainbow, semi-solid tones, heathered naturals or flat solids. All these things just need the right project.
I love cashmere because, let’s face it, we are lucky to have the leisure time to knit. I appreciate that luxury.
Blue-faced Leicester gives a bit of balance. Knitting is a practical thing, and wool is slightly less of a luxury. I love the sheen and softness of BFL, plus it’s a British Breed and low-impact on the environment is important to me.
I feel the cold and alpaca is the best for keeping me warm. I can wax lyrical here about alpaca being symbolic of the warmth of being part of a wonderful community of knitters, and the warmth of giving our time in hand-knits!
To shop Louise Zass-Bangham’s full collection of downloadable PDF patterns, click here. In addition to individual patterns, Louise also has a selection of pattern sets and ebooks available.
Inspired to sell your own knitting patterns? Visit LoveKnitting Designers to find out more.
Last updated: February 4th, 2015.