Melanie Berg’s highly acclaimed patterns combine texture and colour for modern knitwear that is both playful and beautiful. She loves to design with the intention to surprise – whether that’s pairing cool stripes with elegant lace or creating unexpected colour combinations.
Even though she is mostly known for her shawls, Melanie also creates stunning accessories and garments. Her patterns have been published by yarn companies and knitting magazines large and small, as well as in her own two books Colorwork Shawls and Shawls: Knit In Style. We caught up with Melanie from her home in Bonn, Germany, to find out more.
Photo credit: Pam Allen
When did your love affair with knitting start?
My mom taught me knits and purls when I was a child, but I didn’t really get into it back then. I only discovered my passion for this craft when my first child was born – I wanted to create something for her that would keep her warm and protected. Knitting felt like the natural thing for me to do! Since then, I’ve been very passionate about it, and what started as a hobby has now become my job.
Your shawls have a huge visual impact, how do you go about creating them from that initial spark of an idea?
For me, it usually begins with the yarn. I take a good look at it, hold it in my hands and I’ll make some swatches to find out what kind of stitch pattern would best work with it. Not every pattern works with every yarn.
I know most people don’t fancy swatching, but, for me, swatching is a gift. It reveals so much information about a yarn, you can discover how it knits up, what a certain colourway looks like in a certain pattern, what needle sizes you need for a certain drape, etc. It’s so much more convenient to knit up a small swatch, then find out your idea doesn’t work, compared to knitting up an entire garment for the same information!
Geometry, tessellation and texture all feature heavily in your designs, where do you draw your inspiration from?
Inspiration is all around us – everything we see, everything we experience, leaves little traces in our minds. Coming up with new ideas means using these traces, combining them, transforming them into something new. We all are products of the world we live in, and so are our ideas – and that’s why I draw inspiration from pretty much everything that surrounds me, like fashion, architecture, things I see on the streets.
You have two published collections of shawls. Can you tell us a little about the stories behind the books and do you have any plans for a third?
Writing the books was such a wonderful experience for me! Before, my projects used to be small ones, like writing a single pattern. This time, I was part of a team together with my publisher, and I learned tons of new things. So much goes into writing a book! It’s not only the actual writing – there’s also many background processes most people aren’t aware of. It was very interesting for me to get that glimpse behind the scenes. I do plan to publish a third book, but not a knitting-related one. Let’s see what time brings!
Who are your favourite designers and whose patterns are you currently knitting?
For me, there are only a few downsides to being a knitwear designer, but one I constantly come across is there’s no time for knitting other designers’ patterns. At least I don’t manage this – there’s probably designers who find the time, but I’m not one of them. That’s a little sad! If I had more time, I would love to knit patterns by my friend Åsa Tricosa. She’s such a talented designer and there’s so many things to learn from her.
We loved seeing the progress of your Rainy Day mitts on Instagram. How easy is it for you to create under pressure, when followers can’t wait to get their mitts on a pattern (no pun intended…)?
I think when you have a job in the creative industry, you can train your mind to be creative all the time. You learn to develop a good workflow, you train yourself to make fewer mistakes, and you get used to developing new ideas all the time. Sharing my progress on a certain project doesn’t create pressure for me – I’m very used to working that way.
You have a talent for bringing together really stunning colour combinations – when pairing shades do you work intuitively or use colour theory?
I mostly work intuitively – a lot of what I do is based on gut-feeling. And playing with colour is something I enjoy immensely! It’s so much fun to pick shades and see how they combine with each other. It feels a bit like being a child in a candy store, with all the freedom of choice.
Also, it’s super-interesting to see how heavily colour choice impacts on the appearance of a project. The very same pattern can look totally different based on colours picked – that’s fascinating!
How has knitting impacted your life? Do you turn to the craft at particular times, such as when you’re stressed or need time out?
Knitting has had a huge impact on my life! Ten years ago, I was stuck in a day job I didn’t love – a lot of things have changed since then.
I’m always knitting – in good times, and also in not-so-good ones. Do you know about the blanket I designed a few years ago after my mother-in-law passed away? The blanket is called From Grandma With Love, and I’m so happy I made this project. It helped me through a sad time, and a lot of knitters reached out to me to let me know the pattern helped them, too. This makes me very happy!
Are there any techniques you are not so keen on?
I’ll admit it: I have a hard time with two-colour brioche. I admire all the beautiful patterns out there, and I definitely notice there’s big love for them. But I don’t enjoy knitting them, or even writing a pattern. It feels too complicated.
What is your favourite type of yarn to work with and why?
I love working with fingering-weight yarn. Garments in lightweight yarns are usually more flattering than in heavier weights, and I love the way a lighter weight flows through your fingers while knitting.
What’s the best bit of creative advice you’ve ever received and what advice would you give to any knitters who are thinking about creating their own designs?
The best bit of advice I’ve received is don’t be afraid of mistakes! Mistakes are necessary, as they show and teach you new things. One simply cannot avoid them, so better embrace the experience and use them to learn something new.
Advice I would give is be passionate, be serious about it, and invest a lot of time. Messing up a project because you’ve worked from a bad knitting pattern is such a disappointing thing – you definitely want to save your customers from that experience. Make sure they enjoy the project!