Interview with Helen Firing- Designer Extraordinaire

Many of you are likely familiar with our free knitting patterns that are offered on our website (if not, what are you waiting for!?!?!? Click here!) If you are familiar with our patterns, then you are familiar with Helen Firing- the brilliant woman behind so many of these patterns! 

Since it’s that time of year when we start releasing our latest block of free patterns, we thought it might be fun to introduce you knitters/crocheters/blog readers to Helen!

So without further ado… Hello to Helen!

•Tell us about how/when you started knitting.

I started knitting as a teenager. I was very confused for a while since I learned from my left-handed mum, sitting in front of her. This somehow left me knitting back to front and inside out. Since I couldn’t decipher knitting patterns I made up my own – knitting sweaters that had the same dimensions as my favourite sweaters, just winging it really. My biggest problem was when I decided I wanted to knit a sweater with a giant peace symbol on the front. Since I didn’t understand the relationship between stitch height and width and I was using regular graph paper to chart my design, I ended up with a “stop sign”-shaped peace symbol! I didn’t care. I wore it around anyway, though I couldn’t tell you where it is now.

How/when did you start designing?

I started designing “for real” in the nineties. I was working for Lewiscraft and I discovered Debbie Bliss, specifically her knitted stuffed animal patterns. Those inspired me to try designing my own and I did. I actually got to meet her in person at a talk she was giving in Toronto and she was absolutely lovely.

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                                    Linen Stitch Capelet by Helen Firing, knit using Borgo de Pazzi Nature

Do you crochet at all?

Sadly, no, though the rise of amigurumi has made me really want to try again. Something in my brain just can’t seem to get a handle on the stitches.

What is your favourite type of project to design? (ie: accessories, baby, garments)

I like accessories the best (which is handy since that’s mostly what I do for Estelle!).

Tell us a little bit about your design process. (ie- Where do you find your inspiration?)

Sometimes I see someone on the street wearing something interesting, or I’m looking at a pattern and think “what would happen if I did that instead, or threw in a little..?”. There are many little bits of paper scattered around my house covered in indecipherable scrawlings and sketches. Everyone is very afraid to throw anything away. With any luck, the papers all make it into my design workbook.

Who is your favourite designer?

Right now I love Martina Behm. Like me, she loves garter stitch and she does some really fascinating construction techniques with it. I often look at her stuff and think “Oh man, I wish I’d thought of that!”

Describe your signature style.

I try to keep things fairly simple but throw in something unexpected. I want the knitter to launch into one of my patterns and say “Cool! So that’s how she did that!” I love playing with colour and texture. If you turn me loose in a yarn shop (like Soper Creek Yarn in Bowmanville, where I work) you’ll find me leaving little inspirational piles of yarn all over the place, putting together different types of yarns that play nicely together in terms of colours or textures.

Do you have a particular knitting technique that you find yourself incorporating into a lot of your designs more than other?

I love single moss/seed stitch. It makes for a great non-curling edge and it is a great way to let a yarn show off texture.

Grosso Tests

Swatch, swatch, swatch

When designing, where do you begin? With the yarn? Or the design?

Many times, a yarn “tells” me what it wants to be. If it’s not being terribly forthcoming I have a look at my stitch dictionaries. I also have one of those “stitch a day” calendars and I have my favourite “dates” marked down in my design workbook. I also jot down random design ideas and sketches in this workbook and I often flip through it to see if any of them fit with the yarn I am designing with. Although I will look on the internet at accessories (knitted or otherwise) being offered for sale by retailers to see what people are buying, I try to avoid Ravelry for inspiration. I feel like I could be influenced by existing designs and end up stepping on another designer’s toes by inadvertently poaching one of their designs.

You have worked with a lot of Estelle Yarns. Which one is your favourite? (Not limited to “Estelle Yarns”, simply anything that we stock).

That’s an easy one – I am madly in love with Estelle’s Eco Andean DK. It was one of the first yarns I “test drove” last year and I loved it from the start. The natural colour palette is awesome and the yarn is an absolute joy to knit with. The yardage is insane and it’s a great value for your knitting dollar. The fabric you get with plain old stocking stitch is so soft and the drape is so nice. I love how the wrap I designed with it turned out. I love it so much I have another project on my needles right now – using three balls!

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Update- Since this interview, Helen has finished her epic wrap called “The Chase Is On” knit with Estelle Eco Andean DK, and the pattern is now available for sale on Ravelry!

What attracts you to a particular yarn? Colour? Fibre? Texture?

All of the above, really, though texture and colour in the same yarn can be tricky to design around. You have to keep things pretty simple or else the design gets lost in the yarn. I have evolved into a real fibre snob, though, so my favourites are usually natural fibres.

rib and cable swatch

Colour and texture

•Do you have a particular project that you find yourself knitting more frequently than other projects? (ie- socks, shawls, sweaters)

I always have a pair of socks on the go (who among us doesn’t, really?). Since a lot of my knitting time is spent designing lately (no complaints, I assure you!) the projects on my needles personally tend to be very simple. I love garter stitch and love making lap blankets in this stitch. The other thing I succumb to (usually because of my yarn store job and those little piles I spoke of earlier) are what I call “3 by 40” wraps. I choose three yarns that work well together – one with texture, one with sparkle or fuzz and one plain “anchor” yarn, and I cast on a multiple of 40 stitches on larger than normal needles. I work garter stitch for a while, switching between the three yarns, then cast off and add fringe. These garments usually end up back in the store as samples and I have worked up a pattern for the store that outlines the method to my madness!

Which design are you most proud of?

I always kind of pat myself on the back when I come up with a good design for a crazy thick yarn with almost zero yardage. The Borgo de Pazzi yarns (Nature, Naturalia and Grosso) I have worked with have been notorious for this trait, but I’ve pulled off a few designs that I think are pretty neat! I did a design for Manos del Uruguay’s “Clara” yarn called “Chevrons on the Side Cowl” which turned out great – the swapping off of knit and purl chevrons happens in a clever way and the yarn shows the texture very well. Be on the lookout for my “Union Racing Stripes Poncho and Cowl” (just finished for Fall/Winter 2015). I think it’s pretty cool too.

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                                                                           Chevrons On The Side Cowl by Helen Firing

Can you give us any hints about what designs you might have ‘in the works’ currently?

Everyone is still really hot on cowls/infinity scarves, and I love them too. They’re not too big, don’t use up too much yarn and you can really play with stitch motifs. Ponchos seem to be coming back too, and everyone needs a new hat now and again (maybe with a pom pom?)

Do you have any advice for people thinking of getting into designing knitwear?

You have to be prepared to embrace your inner math geek, but if you have ever tweaked a pattern to make it fit you better then guess what? You already are a designer! Ravelry makes it easy to get involved in sharing your work. I think that people who knit appreciate are well-written and easy to follow patterns. When I started writing my own, I chose a format used by a knitting magazine to help me lay out my patterns and made sure to use conventional language, symbols and abbreviations. If you’re doing something complicated or a garment with multiple sizing, consider finding someone to test-knit and/or tech edit the pattern for you (those guys exist on Ravelry too).

Please tell us anything else that you think we should know!

I use Facebook as Sweet Pea Cottage Fibres, where I post about all fibre related things. As well as knitting, I spin and I have a very small side project that involves sourcing fleeces and fibres in a somewhat “100-mile diet” way and offering them for sale in various stages of preparation to spinners/felters/whoever!

I recently started blogging at sweetpeacottagefibres.blogspot.com and share more involved fibre tales there (including the tale of the epic three-ball Eco Andean DK project in the works)

My Ravelry user name is squishymumbles and knitters can find all my current designs (Estelle and others) under Helen Firing.

I can also be found as Instagram as sweet_pea_cottage_fibres.

I was very fortunate to land a job running the consumer division of Fur Yarn by Paula Lishman from 2008 – 2011. It was there that I got to see behind the scenes of the knitting world, attending trade shows and consumer shows in Canada and the U.S.. I also had the opportunity to design a lot of the hand-knitted patterns offered as kits to knitters around the world (Lishman’s makes most of their large garments on knitting machines). My designs for them appeared in Vogue Knitting, Knit Simple and Knit N Style magazines. I also have a super-cute baby blanket in the Cascade 220 Sport book “60 More Quick Baby Knits”.

So there you have it dear knitters! An introduction to the lovely Helen Firing. Be sure to stay tuned into her social media pages, (as well as ours!) for all of the latest updates on all of her design work.

Thanks again Helen for taking the time to chat with us!

Happy knitting everyone!

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One thought on “Interview with Helen Firing- Designer Extraordinaire

  1. Pingback: Free Pattern- Honeycomb Slip Stitch Slouch Hat by Helen Firing | Estelle Yarns

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