Born in Denmark and now based in Scotland, Karie Westermann is an inspirational designer and writer who has won many fans thanks to her elegant, thoughtful lace and colourwork patterns. She has recently published her first book, This Thing of Paper.
Who inspired you to take up knitting?
I was taught to knit and sew by my formidable great-grandmother Lilly who brought up 18 children during the 1930s and 1940s in a cottage with no running water and no central heating system. She taught me that having the ability to make clothes gives you confidence in your ability to do many other things.
I picked up knitting again when I fell very ill. I was stuck in bed for months – I could not read, watch TV or listen to the radio – and so we hit upon the idea of me knitting. I realised very quickly that I had a knack for it, and before I knew what had happened, I was working for a yarn company!
Do you have a favourite artist, writer, poet or musician who inspires you?
I used to say that I would love to design a jumper for David Bowie. Sadly that is no longer possible, but Bowie has really influenced me for as long as I can remember. He kept pushing against boundaries, innovating, and asking questions. I look at Bowie and I know that creativity is boundless. It is possible to keep things fresh and you can draw inspiration from all sorts of things. He taught me (and everybody else!) that.
Which knitwear designer has most inspired you, and why?
I've been very lucky to work with so many inspiring people over the years, and I've learned so much from everyone.
Working with Susan Crawford was especially inspiring because what Susan does is incredibly difficult. Susan understands dress history and textiles in a way that very few other knitting designers do, and she uses this detailed knowledge in her work in a seemingly effortless way. Yet when you work with her, you learn just how much time and effort she puts into everything she does. Susan has an incredible eye for editing a design or lining up a shoot – it is astounding. I learned so much just by observing her at work.
Tell us about the colours, landscapes or architecture that inspires your design work.
As a Scandinavian, I'm a big fan of clean lines and I can spend a lot of time thinking about the right shade of off-white! But there is also the whole Scandinavian love of storytelling and using craft to tell those stories. I looked at an old photo album the other day and I had to laugh when I saw all the amazing jumpers kids were wearing to school when I was young. There is a lot of continuity to Scandinavian knitting: it is traditional but it is a living and breathing tradition. It's on the high street as much as it's in a textile museum.
But I just try to keep my eyes open, really, as it's possible to find inspiration in the most unlikely places. For instance I really love a specific pedestrian footpath over the motorway here in Glasgow, Scotland – its combination of colour and form is fantastic.
What is your favourite knitting book of all time?
That's a tough question! I keep going back to Montse Stanley's The Knitter's Handbook because whenever I have a technical problem, I know I will find the answer in there.
What fibres do you love to work with?
I like my yarns to tell a story – whether this story is about where they are from or who the dyer might be. My favourite yarns tend to be quite rustic – where you can still sense that the fibres come from a sheep and the yarn hasn't been processed beyond recognition. I have worked a lot with yarns from The Island Wool Company and Blacker Yarns for that very reason. However, I also love yarns like Rowan Kidsilk Haze (so versatile and makes even the simplest pattern shine) and hand-dyed silk blends from dyers like DyeNinja and Travelknitter. I think I just love yarn!
Which design from your portfolio are you most proud of, or is most special to you?
The Incunabula cardigan from my book, This Thing of Paper. I had a clear idea of what I wanted it to be like: a classic, everyday cardigan with small, clever details. We worked very hard on making the pattern accessible to people despite the many different details involved in the pattern. It turned out even better than I had imagined and I'm very proud of it.
Are there any techniques, traditions or styles of knitting you'd like to explore further?
My biggest love is lace knitting and while I have been working with other styles of knitting, I have definitely not closed the door on that! I haven't done much with Estonian lace and I know I want to play in that particular sandbox. The way they think about stitches and fabric is just so amazing.