Interview with Donna Druchunas

Sunday, April 05, 2009
I'm pleased to be one of the bloggers on Donna Druchunas (of the Sheep to Shawl site and several books) latest blog tour. She suggested several ways we could "interview" her in relation to her new book, Ethnic Knitting Exploration. I chose to ask her a bunch of questions that are either my favorite questions to ask of knitters and designers, or that are about the book itself. I'm hoping to get a review of the book up this week as well. Here's the list of others on the tour, with links to their interviews/reviews/etc.

I think my favorite part of interviewing (or just talking to) famous designers is the discovery that they are very much like those of us who are not famous and never will be - Donna hates to weave in ends too!

My questions are in purple; her responses in black.

1: Who taught you to knit, and why?
My grandmother taught me to knit. I guess because I asked her to but I don't remember! I don't even remember not knowing how to knit. Knitting is just part of who I am. Even when I didn't knit for many years, I still was very aware of knitting all the time because my grandmother knit so much. I still have more things that she made in my wardrobe than I have of things I've made myself!

2: What was the first thing you designed?
A felted bag. I saw one at the local handweaver's show and it was being sold for over $80. I was shopping with my mom and I sad "I could make that!" so we left the show and went to the yarn store where I bought some wool yarn and size 11 circular and double-pointed needles. That was also my first published design, which I sold to Family Circle Easy Knitting. I think that was around 2002 or 2003. I have a copy of that magazine somewhere in my files and I still have the bag. It's so simple, but still one of my favorite pieces.

3: What does "ethnic knitting" mean to you?
To me, ethnic knitting is any knitting that is inspired by cultural traditions around the world, and more specifically knitting that uses traditional techniques for garment construction.

4: What was your inspiration to write Ethnic Knitting Exploration?
It was actually my editor's idea to do a book about ethnic knitting for younger and newer knitters. It was supposed to be one short book, but it grew and we decided to break it up into a series. Each book in the series focuses on different sweater shapes. Ethnic Knitting Discovery had all drop shoulder and modified drop shoulder sweater. Exploration has raglan, yoke, and saddle-shoulder sweaters. The third book, Ethnic Knitting Adventure, will feature fitted garments. Of course, it's not entirely written yet so I can't tell you much more.

5: What is your favorite section of the book?
I really like the introductions to each chapter, where I got to write about the history and culture of each region. These are very short pieces, so it was challenging to decide what to talk about when each country actually deserved a book of it's own. But doing the research and learning about different people and places is my favorite part of the process. [Note: This is my favorite thing about the book too - who knew wedding gloves were so important in Lithuania?]

6: Who is your target audience for the book?
Anyone who wants to design their own sweaters or to learn about traditional garment construction but who is intimidated by the other books that are available. I tried to break this down into baby steps so that anyone can follow the process, even if they've only recently learned how to knit.

7: Why did you decide to offer some of these "patterns" independently on Ravelry? Have you seen any results of that decision?
I'm really into making things available in many different formats. A couple of my books are on their way to having Kindle editions, and I'll be recording an audio book edition of Arctic Lace this summer. I like the idea of having things available in the formats that people want, not forcing people to buy things in my favorite format (paper books). I haven't done much to market the PDFs yet and the free downloads are doing the best, which is fine with me. I wanted to have the individual projects available so people could get an idea of what is inside the books before forking out over 20 bucks. Right now I'm working on getting model garments knitted for all of the projects in both books, and we'll be adding color photos to the PDF pattern versions soon. [Note: Here's a link to Donna's Ravelry patterns]

8: What is the most challenging part of knitting, for you? The easiest?
I procrastinate a lot about finishing and I really have to force myself to weave in ends. In one project in The Knitted Rug, a quilted log-cabin rug, I just tied all of the ends in knots and left them loose because I was backing the rug with quilt batting and fabric anyway.
I love planning and starting new projects.

9: Why do you write knitting books?
Because it's fun. I used to write computer manuals and I hated my job. One day a friend asked me, "If you can write how to install a hard drive, why can't you write about how to make a sweater?" and a light came on in my head. I don't know if I ever would have figured it out on my own! I often think that I don't want to spend the rest of my life writing about knitting, there are so many other topics out there. But I am still enjoying writing about knitting, and I keep getting ideas for new books, so I don't think I'll be stopping any time soon.

10: What is your favorite book that you've ever written?
Arctic Lace, because I got to spend so much time on research and travel and writing about the background of the people of Alaska, in addition to exploring an interesting knitting tradition. I plan to write more books like this in the future.

11: What's your next project or projects?
I'm just finishing a second lace book. It's about Dorothy Reade, one of the women who was influential in the development of the Oomingmak Co-op in Alaska. She did so many other interesting things in knitting and spinning. She belongs in the ranks of famous knitters like Elizabeth Zimmermann and Barbara Walker, yet she is much less well known. I hope to change that.

12: What other words of wisdom do you have for knitters and designers?
Have fun. It's a hobby, after all. Knitting should make you happy and relaxed and at peace. Allow yourself to knit what you love to knit, and don't let anyone else's expectations make you knit things you don't enjoy knitting. If you like garter stitch scarves and other knitting makes you feel stressed, don't feel guilty making scarves for the rest of your life. If you hate colorwork, don't feel like you have to make a Norwegian ski sweater just because it's popular in all the magazines. Don't be afraid to learn more and stretch your skills, but don't feel obligated to knit things that you don't find enjoyable, either. I LOVE intarsia sweaters but I hate knitting intarsia. So, I don't do it! I stick to lace and cables and the types of knitting that I find relaxing.

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All content in this blog, including patterns and photos, is the intellectual property of Katherine Vaughan. All rights under US Copyright Law are reserved. Teachers, please direct your students to download/print out their own copies of patterns used in class. You are, of course, welcome to use items knit from any pattern for charity or sale, with the statement "design by Katherine Vaughan" appreciated.