Sunday, 31 March 2013

Project 365: Week 12

Week 12 wasn't particularly memorable for any one aspect in particular. I had a full teaching load for the week but the classes seemed to be productive. I'm pretty satisfied that in most cases what I was trying to teach was getting through. It was also the week of meetings and public forums with massive consultation sessions going on at work for the proposed merger between our campus and another university. It's the second last week of school before the end of term for the Year 12 and everything seems to be coming up in an enormous rush with massive assessment tasks due for all his subjects either this week or next (and some of them are highly unusual).
Day 78: This is what happens in my place if you forget to close the back door at my place. The chickens come inside seeking love and affection. They do a very good job of cleaning up under the table and are happy to pose for photos but can be inclined to leave little unpleasant presents for you to clean up.
Day 79: This sign is on the inside of the toilet doors at work. It makes me laugh. And yes, all the laminate surfaces in the entire toilet block are that fetching shade of green. It should be immortalised as a shrine to late 70's architecture. I suspect that it is also rugged enough to survive a nuclear blast given that is still in serviceable condition approx 35 years after it was built. Apologies for the dodgy flash glare.
Day 80: OK this is getting ridiculous. Today they pulled to poles out (with great difficulty I may add). They are concrete capped top and bottom and filled with sand and therefore weigh a tonne. I think we can no longer refer to this space as the garden outside my window. It shall now be known as the construction site formerly known as a garden. I await further developments with interest.
Day 81: Pumpkin! Our veggie garden is almost at the end of its productive life this season. Apart from a few late tomatoes, there is only this massive pumpkin which is almost ready to pick. The only problem is: We didn't plant pumpkins! Why pumpkins grow in out veggie garden is one of life's great mysteries.
Day 82: Board breaking rig. The boy getting organised for his Year 12 Physics EPI (Extended Practical Investigation). He is investigating the amount of force required to break from one to four boards similar to the ones we use in taekwondo. All of this has to fit in the back of my car to go to school on Monday!
Day 83: Giant Mr Potato Head! We went to Farmworld, our local farm field day. It had over 700 stalls with everything from farm equipment to cows and alpacas and gourmet food, farm clothing and boots and information stalls for the posh boarding schools. We looked at how the government departments were interacting effectively with the public and new small cars with the middle daughter. I suspect the giant green machine Mr Potato Head is sitting on top of is a potato harvester.
Day 84: My car at the end of the day with the wreckage of a physics prac. Paving stones, a box a of broken boards, the level... Wait, that's where my bathroom scales got too!


Friday, 29 March 2013

What's on my needles!

OK. I have a confession to make... I'm having awful trouble being faithful to just one piece of knitting at the moment. This is not like me. I'm by nature a monogamous knitter, tending in general to have a fairly linear approach to projects. I start a project, knit on just it fairly exclusively (the odd dabble with a small bit of crochet doesn't count) till I finish it up in a reasonable time frame before I begin the next thing. That is, unless irreconcilable differences arise between the knitted object and me the knitter and we can no longer bear to spend time in each other's company and it goes and spends time in the naughty corner till I decide exactly how to deal with its recalcitrance.  And we shouldn't really mention the small issue I have with sewing things up... But now, I'm cheating on the cardigan I started making in October for future Doctor daughter with a pair of gloves, a couple of cowls, some beanies and knitted help with a homework project for one of my young taekwondo students. I feel vaguely like that skanky girl at high school who picked up the entire football team at a party but couldn't settle on just one of them.

So how much exactly is on my needles (or just off them) at the moment:

1. Garter stitch gloves from Interweave Knits Winter 2013.
I started these in late January but have stalled. There are three main reasons why:
One: I went and played in a Cowl KAL for Feburary and knitted most of two cowls instead,
Two: there is a massive knot in my yarn and it's going to end up in a lace bit and probably be on the right side of the garter stitch, and
Three: I don't like how the lace is coming up around the arm area of the glove. It's all bunchy with a weirdly large number of decreases being made in the last row of the pattern.
In fact, I'm not sure I like them at all. They even didn't want to photograph very nicely....
Bunchy Lace
Now the dilemma is do I finish them and give them away / sell them? I'm leaning towards frogging!

2. The BFF Cowl: which for ever after shall be known as The Misbehaving Cowl.
If ever a project deserves severe punishment for intransigent behaviour it is this one. I am currently on Mark III version of the cocoon stitch loop of this cowl. It's partially my fault that it is my third go at this link. It's mainly because I chose to use unlabelled and unweighed seconds from a spinning mill that I had in my stash because I was so enamoured with the colour combination of bright blue and green given in the original pattern (even though I know I can't and shouldn't ever wear green as I makes me look like a walking corpse). Oh and I didn't feel like knitting a tension square. And didn't really check that the pattern called for worsted weight (not the DK I was using).....
This is where I started. I had to frog this as the tension was too tight with the needles suggested in the pattern. So then I knitted the tension square I should have started with. Then I began again.With bigger needles.
I got to 11 repeats before I ran out of yarn... I needed 13 to make it long enough. I sat and contemplated it for a few days and then decided to frog the lot. Then I raided the stash and started again...I was still feeling the blue and green combination from the initial pattern so I dug out this (worsted weight this time) pure wool in bright blue with white flecks.
But now I don't like it. I've decided I wouldn't wear it. It doesn't go with anything in my wardrobe. (And I got distracted for a little while by a birthday beanie). When I came back to it I frogged it again and, don't tell anyone, but I went and bought some more wool - a rich rusty red.
And here's Mark III - Gorgeous colour that I'd actually wear. Interesting pattern to knit. (And I'm still loving it even though this is essentially the third time I've done it).
Moral of the story - preparation and care and planning and thorough reading of the pattern instructions at the beginning of a project leads to satisfactory results. And beware of using stash yarn without checking weight or yardage! Have I learned my lesson? Probably not!

3. Laptop cozy
I got a new work toy in late February - a tablet computer. It has a screen I can write on with an electronic pen. This is the world's most wonderful invention when you lecture maths and stats. I can write on my PowerPoint slides whilst I'm projecting them! Normally typesetting mathematical equations is a tediously slow process. I've had a loan one for most of the last two years and wouldn't want to be without one. So when the loan program shut down and they were gifting the just out of warranty tablets to previous users of the program I jumped at the chance. As it came without a bag, I decided it needed it's own knitted sleeve to protect it as it's carried it around to its various classes.

The yarn is one of those printed acrylic self patterning yarns and it only cost $4. And with 8ply (DK) and 4mm needles it was a fun, mindless and quick knit. The laptop loves its laptop cozy. The cat clearly likes it too.
4. Homework help: (pouch for baby kangaroos). Abby, one of my taekwondo students, knows I knit. (Her mum knits too). As part of a school project she is recruiting people to help make things for Wildlife Victoria: a wildlife rescue service. She and her Dad made some possum boxes and she recruited some knitters to help make Joey Pouches. These are knitted drawstring bags used to house orphaned joeys (baby kangaroos). How could I refuse such a request? It wasn't going to take very long and it's for a good cause.
The only stipulation was that the yarn used had to be wool not acrylic. I had this yarn I found in a moving sale for my local favourite op shop (thrift store) for a while. It's a homespun fairly greasy wool with some flecks of other fibre. Perfect! And yesterday at training I delivered it to the excited recipient.

5. The birthday beanie
My nephew seems to have had a beanie stapled to his head for the last few years. The beanie has a twofold purpose. It hides his ears and keeps his incredibly curly hair under control.
The current beanie may now be qualifying as a health hazard as he never washes it, so I made him a new one for his 21st. It’s made from a ball of what appears to be handspun wool from my stash. This is one of those mystery balls. I have no idea how it found its way into my stash but I know I didn’t actually pay money for it. It’s a gorgeous blue grey and matches his eyes.
So I did it in less than a week and it cost nothing! Ultimate pressie. And then I got a very sincere compliment from the birthday boy: “I thought it was a bought one!”
Thanks to my boy for modelling this! It matches his eyes too and now I have to make him one too. He enjoyed modelling it so much. There's now another one on the needles using the leftover yarn from the homework knitting project...
Pattern: Wurm by Katharina Nopp
Needles: 4mm dpns (actually they are still labelled as size 8 - antique jumper length Aero dpns)

5. Arundel: Clinical Clothes for a Future Doctor
This is the story of the cardigan that started it all.
That moment of opening a new knitting magazine is like a throw back to that childish gleeful anticipation of ripping into a pile of Christmas presents. You never know what you're going to get but you know that there will be at least one thing you like and something you love.

I got my hands on a copy of the Autumn 2012 issue of The Knitter magazine late last year. (I went Newsagent browsing whilst waiting for the local Noodle shop to cook my lunch. This was actually an exercise in semi productive procrastination. I was supposed to be marking an endless pile of scintillating essays and exams). The Knitter is a UK publication that is written for experienced knitters. It's not the easiest to get all year round around here in regional Australia and we're always at least a season or so behind.

And here's the pattern I absolutely loved - a short sleeved cardigan based on a vintage blazer design. My eldest daughter is moving into the clinical phase of her Doctor training. This means appropriate clinical clothing. She has an extensive, quite sophisticated uni student wardrobe after three years of uni in the big city with a retail part time job. But clinical clothing is different. No overly bright colours. Nothing see through and no cleavage to distract the patients. Minimalist jewellery and pared down accessories. Skirts should be knee length or longer. And the biggest indignity of all, no heels. She also has the added issue of being a smallish person both in stature and overall size. And anything made to fit an Australian size 6 (American 0 to 2) tends to be aimed at 16 year old girls who like to flaunt as much of their bodies as possible. Her current way around this dilemma is a wardrobe based on a series of professional looking patterned 1950's and 60's style full skirted or A-line dresses topped with a blazer or cardigan. This should fit right in. It got the seal of approval for both style and colour and so I began.
Pattern: Arundel by Kyoko Nakayoshi
Source: The Knitter, Issue 49 (Autumn 2012)
And here's the problem, I once again decided to use yarn from my stash. There are five balls here and I have part of another ball. The pattern called for five balls (no six balls now I look at it again). They are DK as required and the right weight... The wool is from the 1970's and discontinued... Can't you just see the potential for a massive problem looming?
So I cast on (no translate that, jumped blindly in). I dug out the right sized circular needle (4mm) as this is knitted in one piece to the arm holes. I knitted to the end of the lace section and about half of the stocking stitch section and then measured it against the required pattern dimensions and it wasn't matching the row gauge and there were major issues with getting the shaping for the bands and the collar to match up with the required length to the armhole. So I ended up frogging it all and begin again with a 4.5 mm circular needle (after I purchased one this size).
So I knit up the whole body section and sewed up the shoulder seams. Future Doctor daughter and I went shopping and purchased black yarn for the collar and cuffs and chose some gorgeous metal buttons. I went to start on the sleeves.
Then there was this little problem.... This is how much yarn there was left! I was absolutely sure there was another ball. I pulled the wool storage to pieces but couldn't find any more. I then checked the number of ends I had sewed in on the body bit and realised that this was it. There's a a little bit of it in some squares of the Granny Wants a Latte Macchiato granny rug which I could steal but realistically it's not enough for two sleeves even if I unravelled the squares. So now I have the bulk of a cardigan I love but not enough yarn to finish the sleeves. The daughter and I discussed options - reversing the sleeves, black with a tan cuff (resounding no), different coloured sleeves (maybe - the jury's still out on this one, I like it in a close shade of tan - she's yet to be convinced), trying to find more yarn of the same type (deemed impossible due to the extreme vintage nature of the yarn - none of this colour listed in the Ravelry yarn database) or turn it into a vest (this is the daughter's preferred option - I'm still emotionally attached to the cardigan idea).

Is it any wonder, I'm an unfaithful knitter?

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Project 365: Week 11

Week 11: It was my birthday on Wednesday the 13th March. As luck would have it I was also born on a Wednesday. I guess that makes me Wednesday's Child. I try not to be full of woe though on a regular basis. I'm sure you remember the nursery rhyme:

Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.
(Unfortunate connotations for the last line today but it does date back to 1838).

Wednesday this week was also the day the heatwave  finally broke after 10 continuous days of over 30 degrees. So Wednesday was a joyful day on many levels.
Day 71: Random Skeleton in the window.... (No, I don't work in a haunted house!)
Day 72: It's my birthday and I got flowers and chocolates. I think this is the about the fifth time in my entire relationship with my husband that he has given me flowers and I got not one but two lots of flowers. I promptly took a photo of this extremely rare occurrence, printed it out at A4 size and hung it on my pin-board in my office at work! Now I have a permanent reminder and it makes me smile.
Day 73: It's Pi Day. In American date notation it's 3.14 today. We had a pi-ku competition (Like haiku but the form is three syllables, one syllable and then four). There were 120 digits of pi running around the corridor. My pi-ku was statistics tops mathematics. Pi day makes mathematicians strangely giggly. There was unfortunately no pie involved in pi-day.
Day 74: Hey someone stole my garden outside my office window while I wasn't looking today. I'm sure there were plants in there this morning!
Day 75: Family trip to the theatre (including future doctor daughter who was home for the weekend). You know the kids are growing up when we all can go happily go to a show billed as Adults Only comedy. Avenue Q is nothing like Sesame Street. There was lots of singing, yes, and educational material but there was also semi-nudity and hilarious full frontal puppet sex. A great night out was had by most of the family. However, I'm increasingly worried by some of the things my cousin the amateur theatre nut is prepared to do in the name of cheap laughs.
Day 76: What else are Sundays for? This is my third go at the BFF cowl. This time I have enough yarn and I'm sure I like the colour!
Day  77: I love libraries. This is the small selection of knitting reference books I have at home at the moment to help me learn some new techniques - brioche and double knitting. Now I just need the time to play. Bring on the Easter break.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Project 365: Week 10

Someone forgot to tell Mother Nature that is is now Autumn. We are currently on day 9 of a heatwave - 9 days in row of over 30 degrees Celsius (that's about 88 degrees Fahrenheit) and there's still at least a day to go. So this week is about heat, energy sapping and sweat inducing.

It's also the week of a beanie. My nephew who seems to have had a beanie permanently stapled to his head for at least the last few years turned 21 this weekend. So I made him a new beanie for his 21st in slightly less than a week (in a heatwave no less). Air-conditioning means knitting is a year round endeavour.

And I finally got my car back after the nasty incident with the kangaroo on Valentine's Day!
Day 64: Walking into town to pay some bills at lunchtime. It's only about a 10 to 15 minute nice stroll but I forgot to factor in the intense heat. Probably more exercise that I anticipated.
Day 65: Beanie under construction. I have no idea where the wool for this came from originally except that I didn't buy it. The pattern is Wurm by Katharina Nopp (a free pattern).
Day 66: Walking again to finally collect my car from the panel beaters. These horsies are in the all access playground in the park down the road. They make me smile whenever I go past them but I'm a bit too big to sit on them.
Day 67: The birthday beanie ready for packaging. It's a really slouchy beanie. I gave it a wash last night to block it into shape and you should have seen the colour of the water that came off it! Wherever that wool came from, it still had half the dirt off the farm rolled up in the ball.
Day 68: Jumping castle at the 21st! Drunk people and jumping castles is a match made in heaven. And when they get too drunk after first using the jumping castle as an impromptu wrestling ring you can use it as a wonderful tent to sleep it all off.
Day 69: Visiting the eldest daughter is like a cheap trip to China. We attempted a progressive lunch - Dumplings at Food Republik followed by mains at Indochine. Tried Taiwanese street food and was blown away. The Tawainese KFC popcorn chicken look alike was amazing!
Day 70: Watching my students receive the fruits of their hard work after grading last weekend. This is a double grading = two belt levels at one go and well deserved. Giggling at my fellow instructor tying this belt. This is one of those skills they don't warn you'll need in instructor training.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Project 365: Week 9

Week 9 has been The Week of Free Lunches. Now this doesn't happen all that often in my work environment so it was particularly notable this week, that I had lunch provided on Monday, Tuesday and Friday. It has been O-week (Orientation to University) for all our new beginning students. On Monday we had a campus welcome with sandwiches and Tim Tams for lunch. (Got to introduce the new international cohort straight away to that peculiar Aussie biscuit delight - the Tim Tam). Tuesday was Faculty welcome with the new Science and Engineering students. Pizza, Hot roast chicken and salad for lunch seasoned with a million questions from students. Friday was orientation for new Honours students - sandwiches and hot asian nibbles with lots of nice tea, coffee and fresh orange juice. I love this time of year with the promise of a new group of enthusiastic students. The world is full of possibilities and reality is yet to hit.

It has a also been a week of fairly steady rain (which we badly needed). After nearly a month and a half of continuously burning the bushfires in our region are finally officially out and maybe the middle fire-fighter daughter may get to sleep in her own bed at home for longer than a few days at a time.

Oh and summer officially ended on Thursday of this week!
Day 57: Re-finishing the pew. The head of the household's current DIY project coming up beautifully.
Day 58: My peg bucket doubles as a rain gauge. Who knew pegs could swim? This is one day's worth of rain.
Day 59: Sleeping Beauty. Clearly year 12 is too hard if this is what happens when you attempt to do some homework before tea. When asked how he could possible be comfortable sleeping on the keyboard of his computer, the boy replied "It's warm!"
Day 60: The circus is in town. This is a half an hour to midnight on the way home from picking the boy up from an 18th birthday party.
Day 61: The washing mountain. This is a common phenomenon in my house by the weekend. Clean washing tends to accumulate in baskets and piles till someone has enough time to fold it and put it away. It's worse that usual this week as the middle daughter came home from a week's deployment up bush with about 3 loads of dirty clothes. It has been conquered now though!
Day 62: A not so scary wolf. My cuddly couch companion. We hung out together on a quiet Sunday afternoon knitting a 21st birthday beanie, blogging about Alan Dart and watching V8 Super Car racing.
Day 63: Year 12 Chemistry homework under sufferance. It says "Exterminate Chemistry". There are Daleks drawn on all the blackboards in my house (yes - there is more than one!). The boy is a giant Dr Who and Dalek fan (but clearly not a fan of Chemistry or homework for that matter).

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Interview with a designer: Alan Dart

This month's interview was amazing. I got to interview my toy knitting hero, the legendary Alan Dart. (I'm not already gushing too much am I? I'll try very hard to be cool, calm and collected here on the blog but just know that inside I'm secretly babbling like a fangirl).
Image Credit: Alan Dart, Simply Knitting
In many of the places I inhabit in cyber space, I go somewhat incognito. I hate having my photo taken except for family purposes at the best of times and once nearly strangled an uncle who tried to videotape my wedding against my express order (that's a story for another day though). This little guy, The Party Penguin has been known to bravely stand in for me and preserve my "air of mystique" (thanks to Alan for the lovely phrase). The photo above is one of the few photos of Alan existing on the internet as he admits to a similar aversion to being photographed. He told me he keeps well away from cameras.
Party Penguin: Pattern available for purchase here.
Party Penguin is one of the first Alan Dart Patterns I can remember owning. He's also one of the first Alan Dart patterns I knitted. This is actually Party Penguin Mark II as I had previously made one as a gift for my daughter's ballet teacher. This little guy kicked off a life long fascination with Alan's knitted toys and an abiding appreciation for Alan's design and pattern writing skills.

So here's my conversation with Alan. My questions are in bold with Alan's answers after them.

It's somewhat unusual to find a male knitter firstly; male knitwear designers are even more unusual and male knitting designers who make toys are an even rarer breed. What's your background in knitting like and how to you come to design toys specifically? 
(Note: this is a compilation of lots of answers Alan gave to questions about his childhood crafting habits, his time at Art college and his early work for various magazines and on children's TV in the UK).
I can't think of any specific thing that started my interest in handicrafts, but I've always made things and my mother was very willing to pass on her skills and to encourage me. As a child I made glove puppets and string puppets; knitted clothes for my teddy bear; Christmas decorations (starting in the school Summer holidays!); cellophane stained glass windows; paper sculpture (I had an exhibition entitled 'London' for open day at school, which included Eros, Buckingham Palace and a Beefeater).

I first learnt to knit on a machine when I was four years old. My mother had a very basic Passap machine, and I asked her to teach me how to use it. Later on I learnt to knit by hand (probably when I was about six years old), and I can't really remember a time when I couldn't knit. When I was a teenager I bought a Knitmaster knitting machine from a catalogue, on which you could knit fair-isle patterns, and I started to make sweaters for myself, so I suppose that was the point I realised I had a talent for it. I didn't particularly want to design clothes, but the choice of courses at art colleges was very limited when I was young, so I opted for fashion because this involved working with fabric and yarn. I also designed shoes and studied textile printing at college.

One of the tutors at college was a freelance designer who had worked at the BBC, so when I left college he asked me to help him. I worked for him for a year, and then started up my own one-off machine-knitted sweater business. During my first job, some of the people who came for fittings noticed the sweaters I was wearing and asked me if I would make knitwear for them. The toys came later. I can't exactly remember what my first toy was, but I think it was when I contributed to partwork magazines (published by Marshall Cavendish and Eaglemoss), as their titles covered a wide range of handicrafts and I was willing to give anything a try. Apart from fabric and knitted toys I designed features on patchwork, fabric painting, papercraft, appliqué, embroidery, salt-dough modelling, you name it.

My first job for a magazine was to design 'his and hers' machine-knitted outfits for Danny la Rue for a feature that appeared in the now defunct Reveille! Much later, the editor of Mother magazine introduced me to Anne Wood, who was then the children's editor on TV AM, and she asked me to demonstrate crafts for children on the Rub-a-Dub-Tub programme that she produced. After that she started Ragdoll Productions and I designed more crafts for Pob's Programme, which she produced for Channel 4. 

When I first discovered your work it was when you were resident knitted toy designer for the English Women’s Weekly (which we get here in Australia).
I was under contract as the resident toy designer for Woman's Weekly for 18 years, but when the current editor took over about 4 years ago she decided that she didn't want to feature so many toys and terminated my contract. That is what prompted me to start my website, although I'd been thinking about it for quite a while. 
(and an aside from me: I wonder if the editor ever regrets this decision? I'm sure that people at Simply knitting where Alan is now the resident toy designer are glad to have him on their staff!)
Part of my treasured collection of Alan Dart character patterns from old English Women's Weeklys. Kipper the Dog, Thomas the Tank Engine, Shaun the Sheep and Gromit and the two Beatrix Potter Collections. And no, I will not photocopy them and send them to you. I respect Alan's copyright of these (See our also our discussion of copyright issues  below).
At this stage, a lot of your work was produced knitted versions of licensed characters where you had to reproduce a known design.
This was because I designed these toys for two companies. Initially Intarsia UK, and then TDB, both of whom bought the very expensive licenses that allowed them to sell licensed character toy leaflets, and they often gave Woman's Weekly one character from a collection to publicise the other leaflets. The licenses were for a fixed period, so they have all now expired, which is why the patterns can no longer be sold. I still own the copyright to the patterns (as I do to all my designs), but would need to buy a license for each character collection before being allowed to offer them for sale, and this isn't something I could afford to do.
Batch two of my precious Alan Dart Patterns, Three Little Kittens, The Bridal Bunnies, Angelica and Tommy from Rugrats, Noddy and Paddington Bear. I swear these are among the first things I'd save if my house was on fire!
These days I subscribe to Simply Knitting mainly for a new Alan Dart pattern each month,
Thank you!

But you seem now mainly to create your own characters.
I prefer to do this because I can then offer the patterns for sale on my website without having a licensing company involved.

What triggers a new design for you?
I love Swedish and American folk art, but I'm not consciously inspired by anything specific.

I work out a whole year's features at a time, and tend to use the seasons to dictate the subjects. Of course, having been designing for so many years it's getting harder each year to think up something for Christmas, Easter and Halloween that I haven't already done in the past.
Jultomar and Teeny Tomte. The Jultomar are one Alan's most popular Christmas patterns. I haven't made one of these yet but have all the yarn sitting there to make one for next Christmas. Image credit: Alan Dart
Is it easier to design a toy based on an existing character or on a new idea?
I suppose it's easier to write a pattern for one of my own designs because the licensed characters weren't originally designed with the intention that they were to be knitted, so some of the details are tricky to represent in yarn.
Doctor and Nurse. I'm going to make one of these for my future Doctor Daughter - sort of a hybrid of the Doctor and the nurse seeing as her usual Doctor uniform is a cute little dress along with her stethoscope. Image credit: Alan Dart

Is copyright a bigger issue now than it was 20 years ago?
I've always retained copyright to my designs, and this is how I can sell them (apart from the licensed character patterns) via my website. The vast majority of people are very honest and respectful of my work, but there are still quite a few people who think that they have the right to copy a designer's work and sell it to make a profit for themselves. They use the excuse that it's 'out of print' or 'vintage', but copyright exists until 70 years after the holder's death, and I'm still very much alive (albeit verging on vintage)! Copyright infringement is the same as theft, and now home computers are more common than they were 20 years ago the instances of illegal duplication have multiplied greatly. Most hosting companies are covered by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, so I am able to file a report and have any offending listings removed, but it takes a great deal of time to keep on top of the infringements and protect my property.
Dickensian Mice, Party Penguins, The magic Roundabout characters and Fred Flinstone. I really love Alan's little bite sized toys, mice, hamsters, bunnies and of course Party Penguins
The beauty of knitted toys for me is the three dimensional sculptural element (not to mention the squishy cuddly element and the sheer cuteness factor). Unlike a lot of other toy designers who create toys to be knitted in the round, you design your toys as a series of pieces to be knitted flat and later sewn up. Is there a particular reason you design this way?
I actually don't like knitting in the round, and quite a few people write to me to check that my patterns are knitted flat before buying because they feel the same way. A lot of the pieces in my designs are very tiny, and wouldn't be suitable to knit on a circular needle, and I find that seams add structure to the toys. In addition, because some of the openings are quite small, I often stop sewing a seam a little way from the opening, then stuff the piece, before joining the remainder of the seam. It wouldn't be possible to do this if the piece had been knitted in the round. I also really like sewing up and finishing off, and find the knitting bit quite boring unless there is some interesting shaping occurring every few rows. That's why I always hated making sweaters ..... having to knit 80 rows over the same old stitches! Give me a break!

What's the actual process you following when creating a new design?
I draw the toy actual size and then use a tape measure to take 3D measurements from this drawing, which I then convert to stitches and rows and write the pattern. I can't easily describe exactly how I devise the pattern, but I'm able to imagine the toy in 3D and can turn it around in my head, and the rest is down to years of experience. I don't experiment and jot down notes as I go along, but write the complete pattern for each piece of a toy first and then knit it. I was never taught how to write a pattern for a figure but just worked out my own method, so I don't know if this is how other people do it. I just like the challenge of creating complex shapes by simply increasing, decreasing and knitting darts, and I find writing the pattern the most interesting part of my job.

Do have any particular tricks to help you visualise how to create a 3D object from flat knitted pieces?
I don't have any trick, but I've always been able to visualise items in 3D and turn them round in my mind. I don't make lots of sketches ..... just one, full size, that I use to take measurements before working out the pattern.
The Unobjectionable Cat made for my friend Louise from Alan's three Little Kittens Pattern

What’s a typical day in your working life like?
There isn't really a typical day. I'm either working out a pattern, or knitting, or sewing up, or typing out a finished pattern, or checking the proof pages for the next Simply Knitting feature. Whilst doing any of these I need to answer the many emails that come in via the contact page of my website, and I try to do this as quickly as possible, so always break off from whatever I'm working on when I hear a message come in. At the end of each month I also need to prepare one of my patterns as a PDF file to add to the website, together with new text for the monthly site update. If I manage to get a bit ahead with my work I may even take a day or afternoon off to do a bit of gardening ..... so it's very varied.
Mr Clever hanging around at my work

And where do you work? I imagine your job lets you work from home rather than in an office.
(Alan lives in Cumbria in England) ...in a tiny hamlet, in farming country. Most of the properties are farms, with just a few houses, and there are no shops and no bus service. There is a tiny ghyll running along the side of the property, and we have red squirrels and lots of birds, with the occasional visit from a hare, pheasant or hedgehog. The house was built in the mid 1700s, and was originally surrounded by an orchard, which has now been turned into a garden. A stone-built double garage, attached to the house, has been converted into a studio.

And finally, do you knit in public and what reactions do you get from people if you do?
I don't have any reason to take my work outside, and always knit at my desk in my studio. I'm not knitting-obsessed, and it's my profession rather than a pastime.

I'd like to thank Alan for his enthusiasm and willingness to answer questions. It has been wonderful getting to know what makes him tick, so to speak. All photos are taken from Alan's website or are of my own work unless otherwise acknowledged. A complete list of all Alan's published patterns is available from his website and is updated monthly by the cool people who run the Alan Dart Group on Ravelry. If you want to read a bit more about Alan have a look at this interview with him on the Simply Knitting site.
Maybe I should finish sewing up this mouse?