One of the very best things about owning a yarn shop are the amazing people that I get to meet. Sometimes there's a chance to collaborate too, as with our next guest to the blog, Helen Stewart. Helen is the prolific designer and podcaster behind Curious Handmade, a creative brand that brings together her love of knitting, travel, craft and community. Following Helen's busy time in May with the Curious Handmade Bath Retreat, I got her to give me the scoop on her own Yarn Story.
Q. What is currently on your needles?
A. At the moment I have many swatches for new designs on the needles. I’m also working on a larger size of Little Meg Shawl- I designed a small size for the Curious Handmade Country House retreat in March: since I’ve had so many requests for a larger version I’ve decided to create one. The yarn for this shawl is Canopy Fingering by TFC and is so drape-y and lovely to knit.
Q. Who taught you how to knit? Knitting only or crochet too?
A. My Mum taught me to knit so I could get my Girl Guides (Brownies) knitting badge! My great aunt was a prolific crocheter and taught me how to crochet too.
Q. What influences and inspires you as a designer? Where do your ideas come from?
A. I’m often very inspired by the yarn I'm working with: a specific skein will send my mind off in some direction and I just follow it wherever it goes.
Other times I might get an idea for a collection, like The Secret Garden for Season 3 of The Shawl Society, and that just sets off a flow of more ideas and image. I’m also interested in what's going on in fashion and am occasionally inspired to design something that I want to wear myself.
Q. I love that your collections centre around a particular theme or idea. How do you create that story?
A. I love to get carried away by a theme. The Secret Garden was a book that I loved very much when I was a child. Back then it really sparked my imagination, so it was amazing to experience that again as an adult. I recently rewatched the movie and was grabbed by some of the scenes. That’s where the ideas came from for this particular theme.
Q. Do you have a "yarn crush"? What's your favourite yarn to work with?
A. It’s very hard to name a favourite. I adore The Fibre Co. for their luxury and incredible attention to detail and thoughtfulness. I really love using merino singles for shawls and am having lots of fun at the moment with mohair silk lace: knitting Joji Locateli’s Like a Cloud recently has reignited my love for Shibui Silk Cloud.
Q. What is your design aesthetic?
A. Romantic, modern, romantic and just a little bit boho. I play with different influences and references to create the right balance of each element. It’s a lot of fun.
Q. You're also the host of a wildly popular podcast, Curious Handmade. How did you get into podcasting and how does it connect to your knitting story?
A. I was listening to audio podcasts a lot to keep me company while I was on maternity leave and not able to get out and socialise as much. When I decided to get serious about Curious Handmade as a business I thought it would be a fabulous way to connect with my knitters and that has been the case.
Q. How has knitting affected your life? What role does it play and how does it keep you coming back?
A. It affects my life in every way! It’s gone from being a hobby and social outlet to being my business. Sometimes you hear that it’s tough to make that transition without losing any of your passion. I didn’t find that to be the case. I still love it and knit almost every day. I LOVE the feeling of yarn and fabric. That’s been true for as long as I can remember, so it is amazing that I get to spend so much time doing something that lights me up.
Q. You're often traveling to yarn shows or knitting retreats or further afield like back home to your native Australia. How do you plan your travel knitting? What are your top tips?
A. I usually take way too much, and I’m still working on it! My top tip would be to just take a simple sock project or an easy shawl - but I never actually follow that advice and instead pack about 6 different projects for a weekend. Total overkill but it is nice to have the choice. I’ve never had a problem bringing knitting needles on a plane. I always take circulars which may help. I also recommend to always bring roll up vacuum pack bags, especially if you’re going to a yarn festival. You can fit so much more in your suitcase!
Huge thanks to Helen for taking the time to answer my questions and wishing her safe travels on her summer holidays!