Our first featured artist for Fiber College 2017 is Linda Courtney. As I read through her responses to this year’s interview questions, I couldn’t help but think, “This is a woman I’d love to get to know better!” Her voice is fresh and clear and her passion for her fiber work is palpable. Linda will be teaching Conquer Your Fear of Knitting Charts on Friday afternoon, September 8th from 2-5 PM. This will be Linda’s first year teaching at Fiber College and she is pumped! So are we! Let’s meet Linda Courtney. And then you can sign up for her class here.
Fiber College chooses a new theme each year. For 2017, it’s Re-Use, Re-Design, Re-Create. How do you incorporate any part of this theme into an important part of your life?
“Re-Use, Re-Design, Re-Create” could be the tag line for my life! One of my personal philosophies is that you have the power to design the life you want, wherever you find yourself at the moment. I’ve worked in healthcare, been a full-time mother and homeschool teacher, been a life-long knitter, had a hand weaving business, taught high school science, and now I design knitwear for hand knitters – drafting, grading, writing, and self-publishing my patterns under the name Knitwise Design. These may all seem like very different vocations, but I have been able to take skills from each and to re-use them, in a new way each time, designing the life I want. Most recently I‘ve re-used some skills from my knitting and designing life and my various teaching experiences, re-designed what could be done with those skills, and added fiber arts teacher to my list of life endeavors.
Tell us how you entered into the world of fiber and the fiber arts.
I learned to knit at age six and knit my first full sweater when eleven. I started sewing my own clothes at eleven as well, and eventually learned to weave, spin, felt, dye – well, I’m sure the mix of things I’ve played with over the years is not uncommon among fiber lovers! Knitting has remained my first and and most enduring love. I also had a real connection with the art/math aspect of weaving, and wove professionally for many years, selling my original
handwovens. I eventually realized that the design process was what excited me the most, and though I loved to weave, re-weaving the same best-selling designs over and over was not what I wanted to do. As a handknit designer, I now can have the fun of creating a design and knitting it up just once or twice before moving on to a new inspiration. And like weaving, I get to engage my left brain and play with math as well! Once the design is drafted and graded I get to use my creativity again to design the pattern itself – the look, the photos, the (hopefully) irresistible description that lets knitters know what is special about this newest design. Can you tell I love what I do? You can find my designs on my website: knitwisedesign.com as well as here (my design page) on Ravelry.
Reusing materials can be great fun, exciting, or perhaps frustrating. How/What have you reused as an artist?
I have certainly re-used yarn. Designing based on small amounts of left over yarn from other projects has inspired several of my favorite designs, such as Fun With Triangles Hat, and Patchwork Mittens. I also have re-used creative elements in my designs. I love the original motif I designed for Cam’s Camping Socks, and used it again in Hunting Season Hat, and most recently in my newest cardigan sweater pattern that will come out in August or September this year. I have several more design ideas in my notebook based on re-designing with that little motif – I haven’t finished playing with it yet!
What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has ever given to you?
Sometimes it is hard for me to let go of perfecting a design and to move it forward to the next stage. My husband (who is a composer and knows exactly what this feels like) shared this piece of advice: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” This is so helpful to me and keeps me from getting overly wound up in the analytical as opposed to the creative part of my work.
Tell us about a time that you developed an exciting idea for your fiber art; where did the idea come from? What inspired you?
I am constantly inspired by the beauty of the natural world around me in rural Downeast Maine. Sometimes I am also inspired by my love of problem solving and the challenge of asking “Is that possible?” A perfect example of the two types of inspiration coming together is my design Tidal Cove Scarf. The shape and form of undulating waves in one of the many tidal coves near my home inspired me as I asked the question “Is it possible to make knitting truly three-dimensional, yet knit in one continuous piece?” I had a sense of what I wanted – parts of the knitting that would separate and flow like a wave, coming off the main body of the piece, yet remaining integrated. Another constraint on the design was that, like all my designs, it must be “knitterly” and make sense while the knitter works it. Solving the “Is that possible?” question by developing a technique I’d not seen before took a bit of experimenting. Each experiment led in a different direction and eventually to the perfect fit for the design. The whole process was so exciting! Interestingly, while most of my designs are geared towards intermediate level knitters, this scarf, which was one of the most challenging to figure out how to design, is actually one of my easiest patterns to knit!
If you could re-design your life as a fiber artist, what would that look like?
I would have a larger work space! I am so happy with what I do, but at times feel limited with my tiny (but cozy!) home studio. The space was actually a walk-in closet – the only closet in the house unfortunately – but yarn has priority over clothes! I have my perfect knitting chair, my favorite yarn cabinet, file cabinet, a bookshelf that my son made, a small desk, and a sunny window all tucked under an eave in a 7 X 7 space. In my perfect re-design I would have my own separate studio away from the house (it is so easy to get distracted when working at home!). It would have lots of yarn storage space, a large table to spread out on, sunny windows with a view of the water – and a mannequin! Oh – and a cleaning service! (Why not?)
What or who has had the greatest impact on your work as an artist?
Without question, Elizabeth Zimmermann! I discovered her first book, “Knitting Without Tears” in 1981 and I can say without exaggeration that it changed my life! Elizabeth Zimmermann has led countless knitters away from being “blind followers” to knitting their own creations without relying on a pattern. My excitement was so instantaneous that I immediately designed a sweater for my infant son with the yarn I had at hand – rug weaving yarn – not the most thoughtful design! Obviously her influence started me on the road to knitting design, though I limited that to myself and family for many years (and learned to choose appropriate yarn!) But her impact on me was more wide reaching than that. Her ideas came to me at a critical time in my life and helped me make a major life decision – to not blindly follow the pattern in life as well as knitting – to do what fit me, not what others felt was “correct” – to design my own life. It may sound a little like hyperbole, but truly I would have had a different life if I had not found Elizabeth Zimmermann.
What’s the most important thing that you want potential students to know about you?
I love to knit, I love to design, and I love to teach. I love to share my enthusiasm with others. When I was teaching high school science, one of my students wrote about me in an essay. He said: “Then along came Mrs. Courtney, a motivationalist.” That was the most wonderful compliment I have ever gotten, and I strive to live up to that. I love my students to come away from one of my classes or workshops energetic and inspired – motivated to try something new, with the confidence that they can do it!
Now it’s time for you to go sign up for Linda’s class here!