Designer Interview: Mindy Wilkes

Baya Shawl by Mindy Wilkes

Baya Shawl by Mindy Wilkes

It seems like we’ve all gone crazy for the Baya Shawl around the SweetGeorgia studio! Following on Felicia’s blog post from last week about the gorgeous Baya Shawl, I was lucky enough to chat with Baya designer Mindy Wilkes about the inspiration behind her design process.

First of all, please tell us a bit about yourself!
I live in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, with my husband, our two kids, and our cat. We have a 7 year-old son and a 5 year-old daughter. I’ve lived in the Cincinnati area for about 15 years now, but I’m originally from the Huntington, West Virginia area, and I still consider that to be my home. Before I had kids, I was a microbiologist for a consumer product testing laboratory; I made sure the product you bought at the store, including food, were safe for you to use. I stay at home with the kids now except for the days when I work at my LYS (which carries SweetGeorgia!).

Besides caring for the kids and designing, I do a fair amount of volunteer work for the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati (DSAGC). I lead a group for the northern counties of the metro Cincinnati area and plan social events and educational opportunities for people with Down syndrome and their families. I became involved with the DSAGC after the birth of our son, who happens to have Down syndrome.

Who taught you how to knit?
I taught myself! I learned from the original Stitch n’ Bitch book by Debbie Stoller. For about the first three months after learning to knit, I knit nothing but swatches. I thought I had to practice and be completely competent before I could knit an actual project, which is such a silly idea, but I’m glad I did because I was able to learn a lot from those swatches.

Redbud Shawl by Mindy Wilkes

Redbud Shawl by Mindy Wilkes in Knit Now magazine

How did you get into designing knits?
It all started when I wanted to knit a shawl that had a certain look along the edge. I wanted a shawl that had a wavy edge and had found a stitch pattern that looked like what I wanted, but I didn’t want to design it. I searched high and low for a pattern that resembled what I had in my head but couldn’t find one that I liked. I ended up taking a shawl design class from Stefanie Japel, and the product of the class became my first self-published pattern. I ended up falling in love with designing.

Do you have a favourite weight of yarn or fibre base for designing or knitting?
I prefer wool or wool blend yarns. A lot of my designs are in fingering and lace weights, but I will happily use any weight as long as it works for the design. I’ve done shawls in almost every weight of yarn, and I’d love to do something lacy in a bulky or super bulky weight. It just hasn’t happened yet.

Where does your inspiration come from when working on a new design?
My inspiration comes from everywhere. It might come from a call for submissions that a publisher puts out. In the case of my first design, the inspiration was a combination of a recent vacation to the beach and a particular stitch pattern. I did a whole collection of shawls inspired by the name of each month’s full moon. I draw a lot of inspiration from where I grew up. As I mentioned above, I grew up near Huntington, West Virginia, which is in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. There is so much natural beauty there that it’s hard not to be inspired by the surroundings.

Your shawl and cowl designs are beautiful. How did you decide to use two different yarns, and yarn weights, for the Baya Shawl?
I have a few shawls that have a similar construction method to Baya (worked from the bottom up with short row shaping) and was thinking about a way to do something a little different. I wondered if two different weights would work so I started swatching and liked what I saw. My original swatches were monochromatic though, not the two colours seen in the final shawl. The lovely editors at Pom Pom made that decision, and it was a phenomenal choice.

What doe you like to knit when you’re not designing?
I design what I like to knit so small projects – shawls, cowls, hats, mittens. I usually have a project designing by someone else on my needles. When the LYS where I work is slow, I can sit and knit, so I like to have a relatively simple project that I can pick up and put down with ease whenever a customer needs help.

Do you practice any other fibre crafts or crafts in general?
I don’t do any other fiber crafts, and I don’t do much crafting other than little craft projects that I might do with my daughter. If I’m not knitting or doing other design work, I’m usually reading. I love to read and always have. I do quite a bit of cooking and baking too.

What is the best piece of knitting advice you’ve ever been given?
“There is no wrong way to knit! If you’re getting a fabric you like and your gauge is right for the project, then whatever you’re doing is correct.”

This is something I learned right when I first learned to knit and it’s something I tell my students whenever I teach a knitting class.

Any tips for aspiring knitting designers?
Keep learning about your craft. Take classes. Read books about design. Read the Designers’ Ravelry board. Read other people’s patterns. I buy a lot of patterns just to read them. Always have your work tech edited. A good tech editor is worth her or his weight in gold.

Many thanks Mindy for taking the time to answer my questions! And if you’re going to be visiting Unwind Brighton, make sure you pop by to say “Hello!” to us on the SweetGeorgia stand. We’ll have kits made up for the Baya shawl with some beautiful colour options – just in time for casting on as holiday knitting!

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