Think of these as FAQs for MARLISLE: A NEW DIRECTION IN KNITTING or think of it like I interviewed myself, so that you can pretend you did – though of course, I’d be happy to answer any questions you have). You are welcome to use any and all of the text. If you decide to edit anything, please check with me before publishing.
What have you been up to?
I’ve just published my second book, Marlisle: A New Direction in Knitting. It is a beautiful, 160 full-colour, litho-print book packed with photographs, knowledge, anecdotes and opinion to introduce you to the technique of Marlisle which I have been working on and teaching for the last few years.
What is this ‘Marlisle’?
Marlisle is a word I made up for this technique of knitting. It mushes together ‘marl’, the term for two yarns being worked together and the ‘isle’ from fairlisle for the stranded colourwork aspect of it. I’ve done a lot of research and haven’t come across this technique being used. The few bits out there haven’t been under a united banner (as in, there hasn’t been a name for it), so I added Marlisle to the mix to help to identify it in the future.
Hang on, a new technique? Is that possible?
It feels as though it must exist, because it’s so intuitive and easy to slot into existing knitting practices, but I’ve not found many things that even looks like it. There’s an odd pattern or reference here and there, but these are one-off projects from knitters and designers who have experimented with similar things. I’ve not found anything extensive written or published on anything distinctly similar.
Did you come up with it?
From my point of view, yes, because it wasn’t something I learnt or observed, but instead came up with as a solution to a problem. It’s highly likely that there are others who have found the same solution – I’d love to meet them!
So, it’s a totally new invention?
Of course not! It’s knitting. Basically, it uses only the standard stitches of the knitting canon with minimal call for new terminology: knit and purl are used in combination with the increases and decreases needed to shape the garment. There is a handy increase you may not have encountered elsewhere that works specifically when you use two yarns held together and is, conveniently, easier to understand and work than most increases I’ve tried. And there’s a stitch combo worthy of its own abbreviation that makes working bobbles a lot neater. The rest is so standard that it feels odd that Marlisle has not been used more extensively — it opens up so many interesting avenues for creating unusual, decorative texture and colour shifts in handknitted fabric with a focus on seamless knitting in the round.
How does it work?
Marlisle isn’t complicated. It is stranded colourwork with a marled and textured twist. You simply work some stitches with a single yarn and others with two held together to create the patterns. By holding two noticeably different colours of yarn double in some areas, and in others separated out and worked singly or as standard stranded colourwork, you are constantly using both yarns in one way or the other – you always have whichever colour you want available to work with singly (while the other floats briefly behind). This allows patches of stranded colourwork or single-colour motifs to be scattered around a garment against a consistent background, rather than necessarily worked regularly across a round.
Who’s it for?
It’s for those who enjoy using at least a couple of different colours in one project and knitting in the round. If you aren’t a fan of sewing things together, these patterns will appeal to you too. I like to think they are patterns for curious and adventurous knitters. I’m going to be brave and guarantee that you’ll learn something new whatever level you’re at. Whether you are accomplished or just starting to gain confidence, this book embraces the joy that, in knitting, there is always something new to learn and try. Marlisle lets you reevaluate rules, your yarn and what you thought were the limits of knitting.
Does that mean it’s suitable for beginners?
Well, not in general, but it really depends what sort of beginner you are! We all approach knitting so differently. Some people jump straight into making sweaters and others will knit the same thing their whole life, either because they are perfectly happy and satisfied by that or because their confidence or curiosity doesn’t drive them to look beyond. This one is for the Beyond Lookers.
How many patterns are in the book?
There are 11 new patterns in Marlisle: A New Direction in Knitting. To break that down, there are a pair of fingerless mitts, mittens, two cowls, two hats, a scarf, shawl, cardigan and two sweaters. There’s also a sneaky little extra pattern in there that isn’t pictured, but will hopefully be inspiring to think about how you can apply the stitch patterns to other projects. In that sense, it is also a mini stitch dictionary.
Are there just patterns in the book?
The 11 patterns are sandwiched between an in depth look at Marlisle, offering extensive insight in how to adapt and add to your existing knowledge to successfully create stunning projects using this exciting, unexplored technique. Step-by-step instructions are interspersed with tips, tricks and opinion to educate, elevate and entertain. You’ll find a whole lot of advice on choosing yarns, what type of fabric you are after, a double-page spread on finishing and a chapter on how to avoid frustrations. You could also think of it as a technique book, a how-to, with bonus patterns. I like the idea that it could inspire people to create their own Marlisle projects and all the guidance in the book will be useful for that.
What was the design inspiration for this book?
All the patterns are inspired by Marlisle: how it looks and what it can do. There are so many possibilities with Marlisle, but I wanted to start with simple geometrics, such as rectangles, stripes, diamonds, chevrons and zigzags, to get folks on board. I tried to look at the basics of it – combining simple shapes and forms with interesting construction so they are both interesting to knit and very wearable. Marlisle combines well with other techniques like cabling and double knitting, but I’ve resisted getting too carried away for now. I think of this as the intro, the primer – all the foundations you need to go off on an adventure. I can already see where I will take it from here and I am excited to see where other knitters will take it too. The yarns I used were also a huge part of the inspiration for the book, especially who makes them, dyes them, the breeds of sheep and where they come from.
I noticed a steek in there – that scares the bejeezus out of me.
Steeks are amazing – so fun and useful, and totally safe if practiced correctly. I recommend complete silence when you do them, so you can enjoy the sound of the stitches being cut. There’s something thrilling about it, probably because it feels naughty. On a practical note, they let you knit round and round, so you can always work on the front of your project and not do colourwork from the back side. I’ve used one in an obvious place, to open the front of the Shantay Cardigan, but also in less expected places like the Ruperto Scarf and Ess Shawl. The steek allows you to knit them in the round and when you cut them, the extra yarn you unravel creates the fringing.
You have used 22 different yarns in this one book. That’s a lot. Why so many?
Each pattern is knitted in two different yarns, an undyed, natural and a rainbow hand-dyed shade. Having so many helps celebrate the vibrancy of our community, while also reflecting the places and possibilities of where they come from. A design origin story and yarn pairing notes introduce each of the 22 yarns used and the small-producers behind them. I really wanted to show the breadth of all the amazing yarns out there and the dedicated individuals who make them. I think they all represent interesting approaches and they all have so much passion behind them. To me that’s really inspiring to work with, more so than a large company.
How did you chose the yarns you worked with?
Mostly I’ve used yarn from folks I know, but some I got to know through the process of making this book. They were all chosen to be relevant to the design inspiration and form of the pattern and to represent ideas of origin. There’s a lot of focus on single country and breed yarns at the moment. That language would be really bad if we translated it to humans – racist, xenophobic and nationalistic. While I can appreciate what that is being used as shorthand for in a woolly context, I prefer to look at the yarns and sheep as being local to a specific place. I’m very much invested in local, sustainable and transparent production, and discussing that stuff in the book is also a way to look at a rise in nationalism and FOMO – the joys and complications of that.
What if you want to substitute yarn?
I wanted to really highlight that you can slot in yarns that have meaning to you, wherever you come from and that you can combine different weights and brands to good effect to suit your tastes and pocket. Your local yarn shop is always a good port of call. Or Marlisle is a lovely way to reevaluate your stash, shedding new light on a yarn you had tucked away because it was finer than you wanted to tackle – in combo with the second yarn you’ll need for Marlisle, it adds up to a heavier weight. Or maybe the colour felt like it represented a former version of yourself — Marlisle lets you combine it with something new to bring it right up to scratch.
Do you sell yarn or kits?
No. I like the idea that we’re all part of this great continuum together and hope that you’ll go straight to the small-producers featured in the book to get to know and support them or pop into to your local yarn shop (they need our support too) – or dive into your stash!
Are there Community Pages – they were a lovely part of Penguin: A Knit Collection?
Indeed! There were two for Penguin and now there are six. I really like this format as a way to say thank you, but also to help communicate all the roles in our community that go into making a book like this possible. It’s well over a hundred people, even if looking only at the people I’ve had direct contact with.
Who else was involved in the patterns?
There are almost too many people to mention! I don’t believe in the idea of a solo creative genius – it always takes a village! Drawing on her years of experience, Rosee Woodland was lovely and generous to work with as a tech editor. I then passed the patterns over to 43 different knitters in at least 10 different countries who made sure the patterns were put through their paces before going out into the world. This included more than half who do not speak (or read) English as a first language and a handful of dyslexic friends. I really wanted the patterns to be enjoyable to follow as well as well correct in the numbers and construction advice. Daphne Ruben, Rachel Rawlins and Saskia Maltz all helped my writing take shape by giving good feedback and then I handed it all over to Amelia Hodsdon for a critical eye on the more prose parts of the book (rather than the patterns themselves).
You put out an emergency call for sample knitters. Did that work out?
Yes! It was such an interesting process. I knitted at least one of everything myself. Then I decided I wanted two samples of each pattern and I couldn’t do it all myself. I’d never worked with sample knitters before. I’ve tried to avoid it, because I get a bit stuck on the way that role is both financially undervalued and very often not even mentioned, even in our knitting community. I hadn’t been sure how to address that. Now, in each pattern, alongside size, measurements, yarn, needles and gauge, you’ll find details of who’s wearing what and who made it. There are also clothes sewn by and from Marilla Walker patterns, which you could sew for yourself, if you wanted to.
Who are the models?
Almost all the patterns are shown in two different colourways and worn by two different people. You might recognise me modelling a good portion of them. I know my own body best and I design knits I like to wear. It feels like it makes sense to show them on me. Variety is good and I spend so much time editing, that I’d go crazy if I had to look at my own face only, so you’ll see four different faces in the book. If you’re an Instagram regular, you might also recognise Marilla Walker, she sewed the majority of the clothes we are wearing from her own patterns. Vonnie is a new friend (originally a friend of a non-knitting friend). She’s a fellow Londoner who helped with knitting a few of the samples. And Adam, aka Mr Sweaterspotter also appears. We’re all in our 30s or 40s. Only Vonnie has some modelling experience and Marilla and I are both getting used to it doing it for our self-published patterns. It feels important to me to show the patterns on people I know.
You mean real models?
That’s such a tricky term. I know what it means, but it’s a complicated euphemism. It ends up being a back-handed compliment to someone. Everyone is real. But yeah, you’re unlikely to see the four of us turn up in the next issue of Vogue or on a tube station billboard for boohoo, Prada or Topshop. Being in pictures really makes you appreciate that being a model is a job and a skill – a profession. None of us are professionals, but we’re all invested in the project, in what I do. And I want to see more diversity in who is pictured in the world. I believe that it’s important to put my money where my mouth is. I can contribute by adding myself and my friends to that. It helps that we worked with Elle Benton, who’s a great photographer and made us all feel really comfortable. It’s hard to look at pictures of yourself and appreciate them, but I think it’s important to try and a good camera woman helps. And I mean a woman. The role of male photographer is so loaded.
Are the patterns for women or men?
Yes. Though the patterns are based on standard women’s sizing, the idea is that they will look good on many different types of body. The patterns are often accompanied by notes on adapting the patterns for fit preference and gauge. It’s not always possible, because of the stitch structure playing a big role in dictating the proportions, but I tend to mention where that’s the case or flag up where issues might occur. There are always at least 5 sizes for the sweaters and cardigans and generally at least two for the smaller projects. This means there’s already guidance how to size up or down. Plus, the joy of knitting is that it is wonderfully stretchy – it can fit all types of bodies.
How did the book take shape once all the knitting was done?
We shot it in London. Elle Benton added her photographic skills to provide beautiful, fresh and playful images that don’t forget to show useful details like underarms and floats. I love working with her. She has an amazing eye for seeing stuff and capturing it in a way I just don’t, but that works really well with the way I see the world. She shoots a lot of weddings, so she’s used to people who aren’t professional at being in front of a camera. It was an intense, but really fun couple of days. On the first morning, Helen Reed of The Wool Kitchen came over and did our make-up. It turns out that’s one of her hidden talents. She’s full of surprises. The next day I had to do it myself, which was an education. It’s not that we have a ton on, but it just makes it easier for the photographer if you have a bit of powder on to even things out and not have shiny bits for the light to bounce off. We took our glasses off, as they’re tricky to photograph without reflections.
The clothes that aren’t knitted are really nice too. Where do come from?
Marilla Walker! I approached Marilla to see if she would be up for collaborating. I love her patterns and approach to making. It’s also as a way of extending the creative, handmade possibilities of the book for those who buy it. It’s an entirely handmade and local vision. It means if someone likes the whole outfit, they can make the lot. The sewing patterns don’t come with the book, you have to go to Marilla for those. She sewed them all and we used them for the shoot. I got to keep a few of the things, which is an extra lovely memory of the collaboration. Last week when I was at the supermarket, the woman at the checkout complimented me on my coat and I got to beam and say, ‘my friend made it’. Then we had an ace conversation about the importance of making things and feminism.
Where are those gorgeous murals?
The whole book was shot in London within a 30 minute walk from where I live in Hackney and around Brixton Market, which is a tube ride away. The mosaic murals are in a park playground (the animals) and on the side of a school (the flowers). The painted one (tumbling blocks) is in an old church yard. I’ve been scouting them out whenever I go for a walk or bike ride. I really like the idea of using places close to home as a way of celebrating what’s on my doorstep. It’s easy to think that elsewhere is better.
I saw on Instagram that you went to see the printers?
Yeah, they’re great. And I can get there by public transport. It’s another way of supporting a bit of local economy and skilled people. Plus it meant I could be there to check all the colours were coming out OK. It turned into quite a little outing. Adam and my parents came along, as well as 4 knitting friends who have been instrumental in making samples and supporting me. It was really nice to be able to share that exciting day with them and funny to see how much we amused the printers. They’re not used to 6 people knitting while drinking champers in their hospitality suite.
What was it like working with a publisher?
I have no idea. I decided to do it myself again. After learning the ropes with Penguin: A Knit Collection, I wanted to put all that knowledge to repeat use. Many things were a lot easier this time around. I knew so much more, but of course new things came up. It took a lot longer than I thought. I beat myself up about that until I realized Marlisle: A New Direction in Knitting is double the size: Penguin was 80 pages and this one is 160. Kristin has warned me that if I double it again, she’s off.
The two folks most involved in making this possible have been Adam Rompel (aka Mr. Sweaterspotter) and Kristin Blom. You’ll see Adam modelling, but generally, he’s there as all round life and tech support – we’re a good team. Kristin has provided the smart, satisfying and knitterly design layout of the book adding fun, geometric illustrations to the pages, as well as all sorts of moral and intellectual support behind the scenes. I couldn’t do what I do without each of them.
How long did it take to make Marlisle: A New Direction in Knitting?
Door-to-door, over two years. The Humboldt sweater in Penguin: A Knit Collection was the first pattern I used Marlisle for and immediately became excited by the possibilities of using the technique for other patterns. I suppose I collected them in my head and brewed on the whole thing for a while. I’ve been teaching it as a technique for a few years now. Everything I cover in class and have learnt alongside the students as well as their questions fed into this book. The teaching both helped and hindered though. I’ve been invited to teach in so many lovely places – Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, California and with The Craft Sessions along the south-east coast of Australia, that it sort of got in the way of getting other things accomplished. At first, I set off thinking I’d get lots done while I was travelling, but the reality is, I much rather sit and chat with knitters and see where I am (be a tourist), rather than sequester myself in a room to write and do calculations for patterns. Last year I scaled back on the teaching, so I could get some focused time on finishing the book. It felt like I worked on it about 12 hours every day. It feels quite momentous that it’s done.
Would you make another book?
I’ve noticed friends with kids swear they will never have another one when their baby is freshly laid. Then a few months or years later, they get all driven to do it again. I think I feel like that now – very aware of the work, commitment and late-nights involved, but I can already start to feel the broodiness coming on for another.
Why make a book in the first place?
Books are wonderful things. They are such a comforting way to experience images and ideas. It’s a really nice way for me to be able to guide how you experience my patterns. Something about the tactility of a book goes well with knitting. You can scribble on them too – I made sure the paper I used was write-on-able. I love finding old knitting patterns in charity shops with someone’s notations on them (about how they tweaked the pattern or just kept track of their progress). And it’s lovely to get a nice package through the post, even if you did order it for yourself.
Isn’t it more eco-friendly to do it digitally?
The day every office in the world recycles or is purely digital, then I think we should start worrying about our footprint as knitters. It’s also easy to forget about the impact of rapidly changing technology and the materials and situations they are made from and how accessible they are. I suppose I’m making excuses, but at the same time, all this stuff is so complicated – we drive, travel, buy food, clothing, consume media and all sorts else. These things impact the earth negatively in so many ways. How we prioritise things has to be seen as a whole. I really do like to think that knitting is a force for good. For now, I think as knitters we do more good than bad and are part of the solution, rather than the problem.
Will the patterns be available to purchase individually as downloads?
Maybe one day. I didn’t make any of the Penguin patterns available individually until their second anniversary. Making a book is a huge gamble and investment, both in regards to the time and work put in, but also the finances of doing a print-run big enough to makes sense. I suppose I’m a little scared that I’d be left with a studio full of books if I had both options. Mostly though, it’s because I’d like it to be experienced in book form, because that’s what we’ve worked so hard to make. Seeing and feeling a real book IS a different experience. Kristin and I did a lot of thinking about how to make this a really joyous book to hold and use. Of course, if we’d had a bigger budget to play with, it would be a hardback and come with a secret gin compartment.
Where is the book available?
You can get a signed copy straight from me via www.annamaltz.com. I’ve made the decision to only stock my books through independent yarn and book shops, as well as a couple of knitting-specific online businesses with a distinct human-presence behind them. I am both grateful, honored and proud that this list now includes friendly local yarn shops in 14 different countries around the world. I do this because it is my firm belief that we support knitters (and each other) in a way that chains and large online businesses are unable to (or just don’t bother). Small is beautiful.
You’ve suggested hashtags to use for each pattern in the book. Isn’t knitting too old fashioned for something as zippy as hashtags?
A big portion of the knit community has been really quick to adopt all manner of new technology. I think we’re inherently a social lot and digital technology is just another way to communicate. A good portion of my knitting community has its hub on Instagram and the hashtags make it easy for us to find and celebrate each other’s projects. Plus I’m really curious to see what people make from my patterns and this will help me find them. I wouldn’t write patterns if I wasn’t!
How do people find you?
I’m doing a bit of a book tour. You can find the latest details under ‘Upcoming Events’ at www.annamaltz.com. I’m excited to be teaching at a few festivals this year too – they’re always a lovely place to cross paths with other knitters. And on a daily basis, you can find me on instagram as @sweaterspotter.
Celebrating! I’m excited to see Marlisle and the book go out into the world. I am so curious to see whether people will connect to the technique as much as I have. I find it so inspiring. Marlisle is simple and visually guided, yet creates so many possibilities.