Hey everyone, please let me introduce the wonderful and talented Ann Kingstone, author of the newly released Novel Knits.  Make yourself at home and join in our conversation!

Hi Ann,
I’m so happy to be a part of your blog tour! I think I first “met” you when we both had designs included in The Joy of Socks. Stranded naturally!! Your “Snowbunny” socks are sensational and incidentally perfect for Valentine’s day!
I finally had the pleasure of meeting you in Scotland in 2010. A meeting I will never forget – you were the cutest most stylish woman there! All modern-scandinavian. Plus, you designed a fabulous vest just for the occasion, A Great British Knit. I instantly wanted to be you!

Haha!! Interestingly, when we met I instantly wanted to be you! So sparkly and vivacious…

You always refer to yourself as a Yorkshire Lass which to me is the most romantic thing. In fact, the old music hall tune describes you to a T

“Her eyes are like the little stars that shine so bright above,
Her cheeks are like the red rose bush, with her I fell in love;
Her pearly teeth and golden hair, a lass I wouldn’t pass,
The pride of all the country is me bonny Yorkshire lass.”

Blushing furiously now…

Yorkshire seems like a very big place, rich in history, with exotic sounding locations, to an American anyway, like East Riding of Yorkshire, and of course…the hallowed knitting lands of The Yorkshire Dales.
So tell me about your childhood, and where you grew up.

Yorkshire is indeed a very big place; the biggest county in England! The ‘Ridings’ are the old geographical sub-divisions, of which there were three – North, West, and East ridings. Alas, in the 1970s the government saw fit to strip away our historical identities (the Ridings date back to the Vikings!), and carved Yorkshire up into rather different administrative areas, dispensing altogether with the ancient name ‘Riding’. Some of us are rather sore about this! ;o)

The West Riding, where I live, is situated in the South Pennine hills. This is the land of the Bronte sisters. Indeed the Bronte parsonage, home to the Bronte sisters, is only a few miles from my home in one direction, and their school a few miles away in the other. The area comprises lots of old mill towns and villages surrounded by beautiful moorland hills. The mills produced the wonderful woollen Yorkshire cloths. Alas most of them have closed now, and the industry is almost dead here.

My childhood home was in Huddersfield, a large mill town. We lived in a very small Victorian mill-worker’s cottage next to a railway, a canal, and the River Colne. Although it was situated in a town, our house was in fact surrounded by woods and fields, and much of my childhood was spent playing in them with my twin-sister and children from neighbouring cottages. We loved climbing trees, acorn fights, wading in the stream, playing on rope swings, sliding down grassy banks, making woodland dens, fishing for ‘tiddlers’, building bonfires, picking blackberries, sledging…

How dreamy, the perfect childhood! I think we all wished we had a twin to play with…and just imagine…living down the street from the Bronte’s!

In the old days of Yorkshire, entire families were involved in the industry of handknitting. A child was just as likely to be taught to knit by their father as by their mother. Who taught you to knit?

Because I am left-handed, I was taught to knit by my left-handed mother. My right-handed sister was instead taught by our grandmother. Like my mother, I knit in the ‘true lefthanded’ style, moving stitches from the right to the left needle. I recently found out that Mum is actually a combination method knitter, like Annie Modesitt but mirrored. I think she must have taught me this way, but somehow I converted to standard style (albeit lefty), probably during my teens when I started knitting a lot from books.

So lucky your mom is left handed too! While your gran could help your sister.

On your website and with your Ravelry group you are carrying on the Yorkshire tradition of Knitting School, tell us a little bit about that history and then what your plans are for your own Knitting School this coming year.

Of course, I am very proud of the knitting heritage we have in Yorkshire! In fact one of the most prized books in my knitting library is ‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’, written in 1951 by Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby. It is a very scholastic book, including lots of excerpts from old documents, and transcribed interviews with dalesfolk who were very old at the time the book was written.

Lucky  you– I covet that book!

The wool trade was for many hundreds of years England’s main industry, and was especially important for rural families, who could supplement their meager farming income through knitting for clothing merchants. Knitting was so appreciated as an antidote to poverty that in the late 16th Century knitting schools were founded up and down the country, where children from poor familes were taught knitting. These included one in York, which struggled to take on apprentices. By comparison, knitting schools thrived in rural communities, where there were less trades to compete with. The very isolated valley of Dentdale had four knitting schools!

I founded my own (online) knitting school because I so often come across knitters saying they are scared to take on more advanced knits. While there is much tutorial content on the internet for knitters, it tends to be aimed at the beginner to intermediate level knitter; knit and purl tutorials abound. By comparison comprehensive tutorials for techniques such as wrapping floats in stranded knitting, for example, are extremely difficult if not impossible to find. So my knitting school aims to teach advanced skills to intermediate level knitters, and to extend the skills of those who are already advanced.

At the moment I am concentrating on teaching stranded knitting techniques, having produced a few lessons already to support the KAL for my stranded and steeked slipper design Tess, which I published in November. This year I plan to add tutorials for double-knitting, twisted stitch cables, and various i-cord techniques. I’m also intending to add mirrored versions of all the videos for ‘true lefthanded’ knitters, for whom there is a complete dearth of advanced knitting tutorials online.

Your fabulous new book Novel Knits is inspired by all the reading you did as a child, and your whole life really. I just love the description you give of your childhood household, a Yorkshire cottage stuffed with books. It just sounds so cozy and inviting. Your grandfather’s children’s encyclopedias struck a chord with me,  I grew up with The Book of Knowledge, a series from 1890, which included a memorable illustration of a train going to the moon!

That does sound like a wonderful series of books. Do you still have them? I’ve got our old Children’s Encyclopaedias all neatly arranged on their own shelf on the top landing. It brings back so many lovely memories to look through them.

I think my mom must have them somewhere… I need to find them…

Tell me how Novel Knits, which is arranged in 3 “chapters” Jane Austen, JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling, evolved.

‘Evolved’ is a good word to summarize the process that led to Novel Knits. It feels like the book is the natural consequence of how my design career began and progressed:

I started publishing my own patterns when participating in a series of Harry Potter themed swaps, so most of my early designs were Potter-related. My first was Durmstrang, followed by the four House Pride sock patterns, Luna’s Moonlight socks, and the Fleur Tote.

Then I had the idea for a Jane Austen themed knitting book, and started working up some designs for that (I had outline ideas for 30 projects!). This book was going to present designs relating to the characters and content of Jane’s books, with an introduction to each examining the literary and historical context for the project. Sound familiar?

..Oh dear…

Having decided this I should have been working exclusively on Jane projects. Nevertheless, I was inspired to design some Tolkien-themed knits (Lórien, Lissuin, Lady of the Wood). Consequently I wasn’t making significant progress with the Jane Austen book, and the project began to feel altogether too ambitious. I knew that I wanted to publish a knitting book of some kind though, and preferably one with a literary theme. Casting around for solutions, I wondered if a book featuring some of my existing patterns supplemented with new ones relating to the same authors might be workable. When I mooted this idea with my sister she instantly came up with the title ‘Novel Knits’, and that decided it!

Brilliant!

Later, when Interweave put out a call for submissions for ‘Jane Austen Knits’, I felt an enormous sense of providence! Instead of being in competition with a market leader, I was able to submit to them some of the design ideas that I had abandoned.

Phew…Happy ending!


Left: Lissun @Ann Kingstone Right: Pemberly @Ann Kingstone

I’m of course especially taken with your Fair Isle garments which are just delightful – fresh and modern. There is a bit of traditional two color stranded knitting in Yorkshire isn’t there? Gloves somewhat similar to the more well known Sanquhar gloves of Scotland.

That’s correct! There are some lovely examples in the heritage museums in Hawes and Dent. It seems that they were particular to these northern districts of Yorkshire; Dentdale in particular, as well as Swaledale and Wensleydale. Sadly there are only a very few surviving. The oldest examples have a fringed cuff; they all feature the owners name knitted into a band above the cuff; and several also feature a date in this band. The fingers and palm are in a simple single-stitch chequerboard pattern (changing colour every stitch). Some have this chequerboard dotted with spots where neighbouring stitches are in the same colour. All feature larger stranded patterns on the back of the hand, mostly vertical stripes of diamond or wave patterns.

Charming…I never heard about the fringed cuffs before!

Lady of the Wood Wimple @Ann Kingstone

What I really want for myself from Novel Knits is your Lady of the Wood Wimple, which harks back to a much earlier fashion item! I love how it can be worn with the point in front, or my favorite, the somewhat unusual squared shoulder.

I was determined to design a wimple! It seemed such an obvious accessory for a knitter to have, combining a shawlette, cowl and hood in one garment. Whenever I wear mine I get lots of compliments about it, including comments from knitting doyennes Amy Singer and Debbie Bliss!

You deserve the praise!

I love to travel as much as I love to knit. I think we should have a knitting and walking tour of the Yorkshire Dales, maybe a few train journeys thrown in for knitting time…You can be our hostess? Sounds like a plan?

Let’s talk dates! I think early summer is the best time to enjoy the moors and the dales of Yorkshire. Can you make it anytime then? I live in a fairly spacious late Victorian townhouse with spare rooms…

I’m there! How about 2013?

Now everyone, skip on over to Ann’s website and checkout Novel Knits and her Knitting School!

On Thursday, be sure and stop by Scrumptious Carol Feller’s blog for the next stop on the Novel Knits Blog Tour!