Q & A with Leigh Radford, author of AlterKnits Felt
How did you learn to felt?
I had a Fiber Trends pattern for a small pouch that was felted and thought I'd give it a try. I felted it by hand in the kitchen sink. It took forever.
Which project in AlterKnits Felt was the most fun to work on and why?
I’d have to say the Christmas Ornaments. In preparing the projects for this book I learned how sculptural felted fabric is. I love that I was able to create a tiered shape by knitting a round ball, felting it, and then simply wrapping it with a rubber band and setting it aside to dry. The end result looks like it took a lot of work—yet it’s actually a quick and easy project.
Which project in AlterKnits Felt was the most challenging to work on and
Probably the Ottoman Upholstery. There was a lot of knitting and a lot of swatching to figure out how the piece would felt. I found that when felting cable work, if you work with a tighter gauge, you have less shrinkage. This helps prevent overfelting, which can cause the details of the cabling to disappear into the fabric. Also, the seams at the top of the upholstery constrict the top panel, so it shrinks more proportionally than if it were a flat piece of felted fabric. My prep work and swatching really paid off on this project. My reward was having my first sample felt exactly the way I had intended.
What was the most challenging part of working on AlterKnits Felt?
My goal was to create great-looking projects that were fun to make and incorporated felting techniques that people could easily duplicate. I often created five or six samples before settling on the final shape and refining the felting process. My perfectionist nature got the best of me on more than one project—often creating just one more variation in order to get it "just right."
If you could only use one adjective to describe your book, what would it be?
Which was the quickest project to make in the book?
The felted rings—one ring takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
Which one took you the longest?
It’s a toss up between the Ottoman Upholstery and the Tree Skirt—the last two projects I finished before we started the photo shoot.
First you wrote AlterKnits, then One Skein, and now AlterKnits Felt. How
has your approach to writing books developed over time?
I had the good fortune to work with Melanie Falick and Ann Budd while I was art director for Interweave Knits magazine.I saw how Melanie developed the framework for each issue of the magazine, beginning by selecting a theme and palette. I worked on the book design for Ann's book The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns and saw how carefully she organized her manuscript. Those experiences instilled in me the importance of staying organized through what at times can be a very disorganized design process.
I had a pretty clear idea of the projects I wanted to create for both AlterKnits and One Skein. With AlterKnits Felt, I began with a short project list and then as I experimented with the techniques, I developed additional projects based on the results I was getting.
With each book, I’ve done more and more of the knitting myself (instead of hiring others to help me get it all done). I like being able to see what's happening on my needles or in the felting process and then have the chance to react to that. This gives me more control over my work and creative process.
When you were a child, what did you imagine you would be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be an artist, but thought I would become a teacher. I've turned out to be both.
If you could spend an afternoon knitting and felting with one person in
history, who would it be?
I'm going to pick someone contemporary—artist Andy Goldsworthy. I’m inspired by his use of nature both in creating his work and choosing environments for his work. He successfully combines being an artist/sculptor, naturalist, and environmentalist.
What are you making now?
I am working on a new pattern for a felted intarsia tote that will have leather handles and I'm also knitting some linen yardage to use as canvas for some oil paintings I'm about to begin.