Interview with Judith Durant


Judith with yarn

Judith Durant

Today we’re welcoming Judith Durant to Lattes and Llamas to talk about her newest book, Lace One-Skein Wonders.

Judith Durant is the editor of the best-selling One-Skein Wonders series, which includes six volumes to date with more on the way. After earning a degree in theater with a specialty in costume design, Judith found her way into publishing and to a position at Interweave Press. That’s where all the knitting madness started. Twenty years later, she’s still at it and she spends her freelance days knitting or writing and/or editing books about knitting. You can find Judith on her website.

Thank you for joining us, Judith! To get us started, when did you first fall in love with knitting?
My mother taught me to knit when I was eight years old, and I took to it immediately. I like to remember that the first thing I knit was a washcloth and the second an elaborate fisherman sweater to go with the kilt I’d sewn for myself. I knitted through high school, and then put it down for a bit while I pursued a degree in costume design for the theater at Emerson College. For five years I worked in New York costume shops and designed some off-off-off Broadway shows; there was very little call for knitting, but I did knit some leg warmers for a soap opera character who was supposed to be a cast member of Cats.

I then went on to work for Drama Book Publishers, a publisher of technical theater books. I soon came to love making books as much as making costumes and clothes, so I stayed on that career path, eventually landing a job as the book editor for Interweave Press. Within a year of my tenure, we decided to launch Interweave Knits magazine, and I acted as co-editor with Marilyn Murphy. It was then that I realized how much I did not know about knitting. Given my costume design background, I can’t explain why I’d not done more designing with yarn; I mostly followed other people’s patterns, sometimes making subtle alterations to my taste. But now I found myself in the hub of the knitting world and this is when I learned that there are more ways to increase besides knitting into the front and back of the same stitch and that k2tog has a mirror-image partner in ssk. I continue to explore knitting techniques and my current motto is, “The more one knows about knitting, the more there is to learn.”

Every designer we’ve spoken to has had a different take on designing patterns, what is your process like?
I go through technique phases. Becoming familiar with mitered or domino knitting led to a baby play mat, a purse, a silk and cashmere pillow, and what I’m calling our 96 x 96” retirement blanket, which I hope to finish before we retire! With double knitting I’ve thus far designed a baby blanket, four scarves, and a pair of mittens, and I look forward to challenging myself with a jacket of some sort. At the moment I’m exploring cables, and it remains to be seen what will come of that.

I know I’m not alone in being influenced by everything I see and touch. Shapes, patterns, textures—they all find a place in the brain and come out to influence a design while staying on an unconscious level.

I’m also a yarn junkie, and I rarely know what the yarn will become when I purchase it. Some yarn tells me right away what it wants to be, other yarn languishes in my stash for years waiting to become something.

Domino Knitting

Judith Durant’s domino knitting

One of our favorite patterns from Lace One-Skein Wonders is the Vine Lace Fingerless Gloves designed by Ohmay Designs. What is your favorite pattern from the book?
With 101 patterns to choose from, narrowing it down to one favorite is next to impossible for me, so I’ll name two. Tonia Barry’s Coral Reef Hat makes great use of multicolored yarn and is a unique way to use lace—the stitch pattern is delicate and airy, but the crest takes the hat into the funky and fun category. And for intricacy and complex patterning, it’s the Isobel Shawl by Rae Blackledge—with lace, cables, and cluster stitches, this shawl has it all.

As the editor of six pattern books, do you have any advice for budding designers?
Most importantly, knit stuff you like. Seriously. I’ve known designers who try to create projects that they think will appeal to a large audience but don’t necessarily appeal to themselves. This will be apparent in the end result. Not that I or anyone else could say, “Gee, this looks like something the designer didn’t enjoy making,” but the more you love what you’re making, the more it will show, and the more others will love it too.

The second most important thing is to pay attention to details and finishing. I’ve seen many almost-wonderful projects that could have been the real deal with a little more care. Take the time to pick up the stitches around an armhole and work some type of finishing, be it a rib or an I-cord or something else. Carefully plan how to use increases and decreases to shape your piece. Look at knitting technique books and choose the perfect cast-on for your project rather than using the one you first learned. This extra effort will go a long way to making your work tidier and therefore more appealing.

I think one of the hardest things to do is design and write instructions for publication. I’m usually much happier just working with my yarn and needles, and sometimes beads, to create something for someone specific or for myself without worrying about writing it all down. And that’s because I do some of my designing on the needles; if something doesn’t work out exactly right, I rip it out and try something else. So if you are going to write a pattern, be sure and keep copious notes as you knit. Write down exactly what you do as you do it and don’t rely on your memory to write the pattern once the garment is finished. I spend a lot of time crossing out and rewriting as I rip and reknit.

We have a weakness for listening to trashy television while we knit/crochet. What is your favorite thing to listen to while knitting?
Oh, I didn’t realize we were playing True Confessions here, but why not. I believe that over the years I have seen every episode of the original Law & Order series at least once. But just to make sure, I’m going through them from beginning to end on Netflix. I have recently binge-watched the entire House of Cards series (the one with Kevin Spacey), all of Breaking Bad, and in the past eight days I saw all thirteen episodes of Orange is the New Black. And of course I watched all of Downton Abbey, which I would not have characterized as trashy television until this last season. I really wish I could read books while knitting, but I’ve yet to master that skill.

christening gown

A sneak peak at the lace Christening gown that Judith just finished for “Little One-Skein Wonders.”

Even though Lace One-Skein Wonders just came out in September of 2013, everyone is dying to know when the next One-Skein Wonder book will come out and what it will cover. Can you give us any hints?
Little One-Skein Wonders is in the works and it will feature 101 projects for babies and kids. And perhaps one or two things for the new mom. From toys to clothing to blankets, the perfect solution to the baby shower gift dilemma will be there. I found a ball of 100% silk from Habu Textiles in my stash that had been there for several years, and it finally became the christening dress shown here that will be featured in the book. Little One-Skein Wonders will be published in October 2015. I wish we could work faster!

Do you have any other hobbies besides knitting?
I enjoy doing beadwork, but since I’ve downsized my workroom space, I don’t do so much of that. Same goes for sewing. I go through phases of loving to cook, experimenting with different cuisines. Other than that, in the good weather I ride both my bicycle and my motorcycle.

Here at Lattes and Llamas, we have a particular fondness for coffee. What’s your favorite caffeinated beverage?
Would you think less of me if I said Bailey’s Irish Cream? It has a little bit of chocolate, which has a little bit of caffeine.

Last, but certainly not least, if you could have any superpower, what would it be?
The ability to look at a garment and automatically and flawlessly write the pattern. In at least five sizes.

Thank you for joining us, Judith!

If you don’t have them already, your library won’t be complete without Judith’s books.  How many times have you been given a single skein of yarn, which then sits in your stash, lonely and unused because they are always at least 50 yards less than the requirements for every pattern you’ve got?  I have a fantastic collection of single skeins that were gifted to me, and Lace One-Skein Wonders gives me the opportunity to actually use them. You can expect a full review of the book in May.

If you’ve done any of the projects from the books, link to the pics in the comments so we can all ooh and ah over them together! And don’t forget to swing by Judith’s website. Until next time Caffenistas, knit fast, die warm, and stay caffeinated!

~ Megan-Anne and Jac
I think MORE of you for that.

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