The Wendy Johnson Interview from 2003

Back in 2003, I interviewed Wendy Johnson of Wendy Knits for a yahoogroup I run called Productive Spinners.  Recently, someone asked me how long it would take Wendy to knit an Alice Starmore sweater which reminded me of the interview.  Since I am sure that there are Wendy fanatics out there who might need more of Wendy’s pearls of wisdom, I am posting the interview again here.

Please remember that this is a snapshot in time.  This is an old interview and a lot has changed since then. Wendy has completed a lot more projects, written books, teaches, etc.  Some of her answers might be different now as would some of the questions I asked but I still find it super helpful and interesting. I hope you find it helpful too.

(Please note that the bold questions are from me and the regular text are from Wendy. We conducted this interview by email. It is also available in the Productive Spinners database files and for a time, I believe Wendy put it on her site though I do not know if it is still there.)


1. Knitting History
When did you start knitting?

I started knitting at the age of four. My mom gave me yarn and
needles and cast on some stitches. She gave me a magazine that
had pictures that showed how to form stitches and I figured it
out from the pictures, being too young to read. I didn’t learn
how to purl, cast on, or cast off until several years later.

Were you always as successful at your knitting as you are now?

Hmmmm, am I successful? Well, I completed everything I start
99.9% of the time, and I always have. I’ve completed very few
projects that I consider disasters.

Has there been any changes in the choices you make around your
projects or knitting styles?

I have always chosen projects that strike my fancy or catch my
eye. I tend to go through phases of what I knit ? cables, lace,
colorwork, etc. This has always been true. Like Picasso had his
blue period, I had my gansey period. That’s not to say that the
periods don’t repeat ? I’ve gone through several cable periods,
fair isle periods, and lace periods. Because I have a somewhat
compulsive personality, I will immerse myself in something completely
before I get bored with it and move on to something else.

Did you have a quantitative progression in your types of projects?

I’m not sure what this question means. Do I become a more prolific
knitter the longer I knit? I don’t think so. Once I achieved
the level at which I am now, I haven’t varied much.

Do you find knitting therapeutic?

Absolutely! I derive a lot of pleasure from feeling the yarn
in my hands as I knit. That’s why I’m very picky about the yarn
that I use ? a fber snob. I also find the repetition of the knitting
motion very soothing and a great way to unwind after a day at

What inspires you to continue to make such beautiful works of

I consider knitting an art form. I love creating the end result,
whether it’s texture or colorwork. There’s nothing that inspires
me more than seeing the design emerge from my needles as I knit.

When did you design your first garment?

When I was in my mid-20s ? I designed and knitted an aran vest.

Do you enjoy designing?

I enjoy it, but enjoy the actual knitting far more.

Do you teach knitting?

I have taught knitting informally, one-on-one, and to groups
containing at the most seven people. I haven’t done any teaching
in several years, though.

2. Cataloging
When/why did you start cataloging your knitting?

I started cataloging my knitting when I first built a website
in 1996. I’m not really sure why I started ? I guess to have
a theme to build a website around.

What do you catalogue of each project?

All the information I keep about my project is listed on my website.
Pattern source, yarn source, yarn used, needle size, and date

Why did you decide to keep the start/finish dates of your projects?

So that I’d remember when it was that I made a particular project!
I used to keep track of both start and finish dates of my projects,
but recently started keeping track of just the date of completion.
I thought that putting the start date up could be construed as
bragging about how quickly I knit, and that’s not my intention.

What have you learned from keeping a catalogue?

That I have a poor memory for such things and if I didn’t document
the details, I’d have forgotten then long ago.

How has this helped you and your knitting?

It hasn’t really had any affect on my knitting, other than providing
me a nice trip down memory lane.

3. Web Site
Why did you decide to display her finished projects so publically
and beautifully?

As mentioned above, I started putting my knitting up on my website
just to have something to display there. My purpose was to learn
how to build a website.

What do you hope to achieve through your web site?

Nothing, really. It’s a way to share my progress with knitting
buddies and a nice record of what I’ve completed, but I have
no specific goals here.

4. Knitting Specifics
Do you knit continental?

Yes I do, and I’m lefthanded.

Is there one type of knitting you prefer out of the lace, aran,
fair isle, Starmore, types?

Tough question, as I tend to go through phases of what I like.
If I had to choose, I’d have to pick two: arans and Norwegian
colorwork (a la Dale of Norway).

Do you prefer knitting from charted designs?

Absolutely. If a pattern doesn’t have a chart, I’ll most likely
not knit it.

Do you like to use written directions?

I prefer a chart.

Do you have any hints to help people who struggle with reading
charted designs?

Photocopy the chart and put it on one of those metal boards with
a magnetic row-finder. Or you can use a highlighter to cross
out each round as you complete it. It the chart symbols are too
small, enlarge them on the photocopier.

A. Lace
There are many people who would love to knit lace. You do wonderful,
beautiful work with lace. Is there any specific time savers
or any advice specifically for lace knitters or even someone
who is just knitting their first lace item?

For your first project, start with something easy and small,
like a scarf. with a simple lace repeat. When you’re finished,
block it according to directions ? blocking makes all the difference
in lace.

Is there a particular pattern that you would recommend to a
beginner or a particular shape of an
item that you would recommend as being easier than another?

In my opinion, a rectangle is the easiest shape to start with.
A pattern that I think would be great for a beginning lace knitter
is Cheryl Oberle’s Kimono Shawl, from her “Folk Shawls” book.
It’s a rectangular shaped shawl with garter stitch borders that
are knitted as you go along. The lace pattern itself is fairly
easy and repeats over and over. And it’s fun to knit!

What size needles are most of your lace items knitted?

I think the shawls are mostly knit on US4 ? 6 needles. The shetland
lace handkerchief I made was on size 0000 and that was my first
lace project. So obviously I don’t follow my own advice to start
with something easy.

Is there a specific lace yarn that you think is great to work

I’ve knit using a wide variety of yarns ? no one in particular
stands out, but I vastly prefer to use wool than any other fiber.

B. Starmore
Wow! You really have a lot of Starmore sweaters on your site!
They are all so beautiful! What is it about the Starmore collections that you feel make
them so successful?

The designs are artistic and asthetically pleasing. I think they
are very well-designed and the patterns are virtually error-free.

What is it about their designs that you find particularly attractive?

The color combinations in the fair isles are gorgeous and the
aran designs incorporate all the cable elements I love.

What Starmore patterns would you recommend as being the most
fun to knit?

My very favorite Starmore design and the one I think is most
fun to knit is Inishmore ? big meaty cables and lots of twisted

C. Fair Isle
You have a lot of fair isle garments (and not all by Starmore)
on your site. I love the items that you designed yourself! When did you first start making fair isles?

Hmmmm, my first fair isle was in the late 1980s I think.

What keeps your interest in knitting them?

Watching the patterns and colors emerge. I find it hard to put
down a fair isle because seeing the pattern grow is fascinating!

Is there any motif, designer, or specific pattern you would
recommend as being particularly fantastic? Same question but
now for a beginner?

I prefer traditional fair isle patterns, like XO patterns. The
Debbie Bliss book “Traditional Knitting from the Scottish and
Irish Isles” which is now out of print has my favorite fair isle
pattern ? a pullover vest done in shades of brown.

For a beginner, I’d say start with a smaller project, like a
hat, to get the feel of it, then jump right in.

Is there any book about this technique that you found useful?

Alice Starmore’s fair isle book has lots of good information
on technique.

D. Aran Cables
The cabled sweaters you have made are simply amazing! Do you remember your first cabling experience?

The first cabled sweater I ever did was when I was 18 years old.
It was a fairly complicated aran ? I’ve never been know to start
with something easy.

If you could give any advice to yourself during that first cable
experience, what would it be?
Have faith in the pattern ? the cables will turn out looking
like they are supposed to!

What are the wildest cables you have done?
I don’t think I’ve done any particularly “wild” cables ? I’m
a traditionalist at heart.

Is there one specific cable pattern that you love and redo?

I love braided cables and Celtic knots.

What is your favorite cable needle and what is your favorite
aran type yarn?

I don’t use a cable needle. My very favorite aran-type yarn was
some handspun I bought at the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival
a few years ago. Natural cream colored, it was a merino rambouillet
blend and heaven to work with. I knitted an Inishmore out of
it this past summer. My favorite other than that is Bovidae Farm’s
fisherman weight wool.

Do you think color makes a huge difference in the visibility
of the pattern?

Absolutely ? you don’t want to knit an aran in a dark color that
hides the pattern or in a variegated or too heathered yarn that
detracts from the pattern.

Do you prefer the more traditional aran designs?


E. Norwegian
Obviously, you love Dale of Norway designs! What was your favorite
design of theirs that you worked on?

I think my favorite is still Lillehammer, the first adult Dale
that I knit.

I think many people love these sweaters but are always losing
their place in the chart or have trouble concentrating on the
designs. Is there any advice you could give them?

Same advice as above, for reading charts:
Photocopy the chart and put it on one of those metal boards with
a magnetic row-finder. Or you can use a highlighter to cross
out each round as you complete it. It the chart symbols are too
small, enlarge them on the photocopier.

Many people have trouble carrying two colors. Is there any
advice you could give about this?

The best thing you can do is have someone demonstrate two-color
knitting to you. There’s nothing like seeing it. If you can take
a class in two-color knitting, that’s a great start.

I noticed that you have a replica of 1800’s Yorkshire Dale gloves
on your site. How did you come about to make these gloves?

It was a kit I bought from Schoolhouse Press about ten years
ago. Great fun to knit!

Is there anything specific that you love and look forward to
in these designs?

I love the yoke patterns that have non-repeating motifs. Like

What Norwegian design was your favorite?

Again, Lillehammer.

5. Time Aspects
Do you consider yourself a fast knitter?

Yes, fairly fast.

Did you do anything to develop speed?

No, just years of practice.

You have 62 completed items listed on your web-site. How many
years worth of items are there listed?

Maybe three or four years? A few of the items are older than
that, but there are also a number of projects I didn’t post.

I’ve noticed that a lot of your projects are finished within
a months time. This is a very impressive feat! Do you have any
insight into how you are so successful at completing your projects
in such a timely manner?

I’m a results-oriented knitter. I love seeing the completed item.
Also, I tend to knit things one at a time which really speeds
things up. Only this year I stopped taking my main project to
knit during my commute to the office because carrying a whole
sweater’s worth around was too much trouble. I’ve started knitting
socks on my commute. So I’ve always got a sweater and a sock

Is time an issue you contend with?

Well, I only have a few hours a day in which to knit. This working
for a living nonsense really cuts into my knitting time!

Do you have a specific amount of knitting that you plan to get
done during a section of time?

No, I almost never set deadlines for myself. I find it very difficult
to motivate myself to knit to a deadline.

6. Choosing Projects
Is there anything you look for when picking out a new project?

I like projects that are fairly complex so they’ll hold my interest.

Do you usually work on one project at a time?

As mentioned above, I now have a sweater (or other large) project
plus a sock project going at the same time. I almost never work
on two sweaters at the same time.

Do you ever think about time issues when considering a project?

Very rarely. I try to get my Christmas knitting completed before
summer so I don’t feel pressure to complete it in time. And I
sometimes think I’d like to finish a particular project so I
could wear it to a specific event. But other than that, I don’t
really think about time.

Are most of your projects for yourself?

A little more than half of them, I’d say. The rest are for family
and close friends.

Do you do many small projects that are not listed on your site?

Yes ? mittens, gloves, hats. I’ve just started knitting socks
again and plan to post them on my website.

Do you have UFO’s? If yes, what aspect of a project makes you
stop working on something?

Almost never. A few years ago I started working on an aran tunic
that for whatever reason I abhored. It was a perfectly nice looking
pattern but I took an intense dislike to it and quit work on
it. So it languishes as my sole UFO.

Do you have a stash?

Um . . . yeah. I never used to have a stash but planned my projects
one or two ahead of what I was working on. Then in about 1997
I joined the knitlist. After reading about people’s stashes I
started collecting yarn and now have a fairly large stash. And
of course I keep buying more yarn.

7. Successes and Failures
What do you consider is your most successful moment in knitting?

Completing the Elizabethan Jacket (from Jade Starmore’s A Collector’s
Item). A fair isle with a peplum, inverted pleats, and a shaped
body. Yikes!

What project did you learn the most from?

Probably the Wave Cardigan (from Alice Starmore’s Fair Isle Knitting
book) ? I learned steeks from that. My first Dale of Norway
project was also a good learning experience, as Dale steeks are
done differently from Scottish steeks.

What was your favorite project?

That’s a hard choice, but I think it’s Inishmore (from Alice
Starmore’s Aran Knitting book).

What was the longest time you worked on a project?

Not sure ? maybe 6 – 8 weeks?

Is there any project that you consider a failure?

A recent project ? Graceknot. I purchased the kit from
and knitted it in December 2001/January 2002. The knitting was
somewhat boring and I dislike the end result ? not a flattering
design for me. I should have known better!

Do you rip out (frog) a lot?

Almost never ? if I make an error, I generally catch it right

Is there a part of knitting that you dread?

I hate to cast on, particularly when I’m knitting in the round
and 300-odd stitches to cast on.

What project, if any, did you did you find hard to work on?

Anything that has a long expanse of plain knitting. I have hard
time sticking to something that bores me. Also, when I knitted
the Pi R Round shawl I thought I’d go mad before I finished what
seemed like miles of edging!

8. Knitting Environment
Is there a specific time of day that you knit?

I knit on the train into work in the morning, I knit during lunch
break, I knit on the train going home at night, and in the evening
in front of television.

You do a lot of items that require concentration. Do you find
that you need absolute silence or a big chunk of time to focus
on knitting these complicated designs?

I can knit the complicated stuff in front of the television with
no problem, either alone or with another person. I can carry
on a conversation and/or pay attention to television or a movie
while doing fairly complicated work.

Are there times when you can not work on a project due to life
issues or do you continue to knit on?

The only time I don’t knit is when I’m away on vacation. I just
got back from a Carribean cruise ? I knitted exactly one inch
on a sock the entire ten days of the cruise.

How do you set up chart you are working on?

Folr colorwork I xerox the chart and if it’s reproduced over
two pages tape it together. I put it on a metal craft board and
use magnetic row markers. For cables and texture, I can memorize
the chart on the first pattern repeat so I don’t need to refer
to it again.

This is a list for people who are trying to be productive in
their craft. Do you have any advice for them?

Work on a project that you love. If you have something that you
only have lukewarm interest in, you’ll have a much harder time


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