Knitters You Should Know: elf518

 Folkloric imagery side-by-side with beeping robots, neon colors juxtaposed in the most perfectly garish way, and  fair-isle on the smallest possible gauge.  Add two parts clever, one part cozy, and three parts whimsical, and you’ll be at the project page of elf518.  Quick to remind knitters that the ‘elf’ in her ravelry name simply happens to be her initials, Betsy Farquhar inspires with her innovative, beautiful masterpieces which manage to wow both knitters and non-knitters alike.  After seeing some of her amazing creations (LED cowl!) I was eager to discover the driving force behind this colorwork champion.  Make sure to check out her Ravelry page and her Etsy account for a chance to get your hands on some of her amazing pattern prototypes!

How did you get into knitting? 
I got into knitting with a lot of starts and stops. Under my mother’s guidance I knit a sad and ugly scarf for my Cabbage Patch Doll sometime in 1985, but I didn’t pick up needles again till I was in my 20’s. I originally started by crocheting- I was really into all the great retro doily and potholder patterns out there.. except- I don’t really care for doilies or potholders. I just loved the graphics and copy that went with the patterns! After everyone I knew had gotten doilies as gifts, I was pretty much forced to move on.

Where are you from? Do you have one or two interesting insider tips or observations about your home or hometown?

I’m from a small town in central new york, but right now I live in Schenectady, New York. It’s one of those crumbling, small, rusty industrial cities- like Utica. I really like this city- amidst all the decay are pockets of greatness- a lovely restaurant or an excellent deli that’s been in business for two generations. Young people growing up often complain about their home towns, but there is beauty everywhere.

You knit some unbelievably amazing colorwork pieces. Tell me about how you create these canvas-like wearable pieces of art. Do you chart them out/write up patterns?

I chart out most of my designs. I’ve developed a whole system using free tools to create the charts- I start with a drawing, which I photograph with my digital camera (I used to use my scanner at work, but then I changed jobs..! the scanner worked a little better). After that I use a combination of free image editing software and websites- mostly “Gimp” and “pixlr.com.” I manipulate the colors, contrast,proportions, and pixelation, and place the image on a grid. Once I’ve got the basic framework of the image, I spend a lot of time just filling in individual squares… all the small details are basically freehand. I’m curious about some of the commercially available knitting software, but I’m too cheap to try them.. I’m unconvinced by the demos I’ve seen, and I don’t know if they can provide the level of detail I like.

I have to admit, the last question was a little selfish. I see so many beautiful FO’s in your ravelry that I would love to make. Can I look forward to published patterns for these items, or are they one-of-a-kind?

Most of the single items that don’t already have patterns are one-of-a-kind. I get a lot of questions about the robots… those are essentially freehand. Freehand knitting is fun! It’s freeing. Not staring at a chart and counting stitches means that you work much faster than you otherwise would.. so it’s satisfying, too. A geometric design like a robot is perfect for it, too. I encourage everyone to try it!

Tell me about your decision to sell your knits on etsy.
Most of my business comes from patterns- I do sell a few finished objects (mostly pattern prototypes), but when I first started trying to sell on etsy, knitters were contacting me, asking over and over for the patterns- so I started trying to make some.

I usually ask knitters and designers about their photographic process, and I also was impressed by your photos. I was, however, surprised by your description[*] of your precarious photographic routine! How do you pull off that balance-and-shoot stunt and still get awesome shots?!

I take lots and lots of horrible, horrible shots and in there are a few that work. Practice has taught me a lot about light, time of day, and things like.. how to stand. I’ve also learned to ignore the neighbors… I live in this kinda suburban neighborhood… and I know that the neighbors can see me wandering around the yard in a winter hat and coat, toting a tripod, in the middle of july.

Do you have any advice for new knitters trying to refine their craft, or trying to design professionally? Any tips about self-publication? 
There is definitely a learning curve. I started knitting many times before I really connected with it. You have to figure out what kind of knitter you are- for me it was color that brought knitting to life- for some people it’s texture, or construction, or beautiful yarn. My personal advice is “fudge it.” Not enough stitches, fine. Add some. Too many? Decrease a little. Wrong number of stitches in colorwork? Voila! A flower. I can be one of the most imprecise knitters on the planet.. and it’s really helped me grow. Sometimes you just can’t figure out the pattern.. and then you learn that you don’t even really need it. I know that is weird advice from someone who writes patterns. But it’s true- once you develop a repertoire of skills, you’ll discover you can knit anything on your own.

Do you think the internet is changing knitwear design? If so, how? 
Totally! It’s just given people such wide access to each other and an arena to share ideas. I rely on the internet not only for business but just to share- I wouldn’t be the knitter I am without it- I love knitting for the world to see and respond to. it’s really fun. The internet has changed everything! I’m 33… old enough to have done most of my growing up before the internet was a force in the world. The flow of information was so, so different.

If you could have one splurge knitting purchase and project, what would it be? 
I kinda want one of those super huge knitting machines… I feel like I could take graphic knitting to a whole other level.

Who is your favorite knitwear designer and why? 
You know who is incredibly awesome and really inspired me? Lisa Anne Auerbach. Check her out, if you aren’t familiar. I saw her work in an issue of KnitKnit (an awesome old-style zine- hello, pre-internet 90’s of my youth.. anyway..)and it really excited me. You can definitely see her influence in my work- she was the first person I saw who mixed traditional elements and the radically modern in knitting.

[*] Quoted from here, “please excuse all dorky fashion poses. i don’t do well with cameras. ask anyone who knows me. ( i also take all photos by balancing my camera on the back of a chair, setting the 10 second timer, and running to get in front of it on time.. )”

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