It is an absolute pleasure to welcome friend and colleague Anna Maltz to the blog today. You may know Anna through her fab Instagram account sweaterspotter, or you might have read her quarterly column for Pom Pom, or maybe through her work with The Ricefield Collective or possibly even from ‘those’ mohair suits!
However you know her, and even if you don’t, I have no doubt that over the past few weeks you will have seen many many penguins appearing across social media as Anna publishes her first collection of knitting patterns, ‘Penguin – A Knit Collection’ which I had the pleasure of working on as the lead tech editor.
Between packing orders, I grabbed five minutes with Anna to find out more about the book…
RA: Hello! It’s lovely to finally welcome you to the blog. So, first up, why Penguins and how did they inspire and influence the collection?
AM: Penguins are amazing creatures. I love how community spirited they are. There’s a lot of gender equality amongst penguins that isn’t common in other species, humans included. Male and female penguins share the work of hatching and raising chicks, gathering food and nest building. There’s also a lot of communal childcare and they can withstand crazy cold temperatures, not even a woolly jumper can protect you from. The fact they are black and white with these amazing pops of yellow, pink, grey and brown means they provided a nice consistent palette to design with. I think it’s basic enough that people can feel free to make what they want from it. It’s a good starting point. Like watching a black and white film, it allows you to imagine the colours for yourself.
RA: The patterns feature a whole plethora of knitting techniques – lace, loops, shaping, colourwork and your newly-invented Marlisle as seen in the Humboldt sweater. How did you take your initial ideas, and all the details garnered from your research and develop them into the designs, combining technique with functionality and elements garnered from your research?
AM: I watched a lot of videos about penguins and researched each different breed. I would look at different elements of penguin and wonder how I could translate them into knitting. This would then prompt rounds of drawing and cutting up little pieces of paper to fold. I find that really helps work out how to make the stitches bend the way I want them to. In this way I could combine techniques for functionality I knew worked, with unusual constructions that came about in response to looking closely at penguins.
In general, I find it safest to assume I’m not special enough to be the only one who likes something a certain way. Knitting a whole sweater in one colour and one texture just feels like a slog to me, so I like to sprinkle in different elements to keep things interesting. I try to make patterns that, while not requiring your constant undivided attention or crazy ninja knitting skillz, will entertain and stretch us, calling into action the techniques we know and while sometimes prompting us to learn new ones. I think the Teenguin cardigan is a good example, it uses a combo or lace and loop stitch. Loops are such a fun stitch to do, but aren’t practical for a whole garment, so I used it to make an inbuilt ‘fur’ collar. I think that by mixing things up, it’s a way of keeping our engagement with a project. I mean, if you want a plain, fully fashioned single colour and texture cardigan, you might as well get it from M&S, cause that’s just S&M to knit.
RA: The list of credits in the book is amazing and you have collaborated with many different people from all strands of the creative world – photographers, illustrators, designers and many others. Can you tell us more about the collaborations and how they came about?
AM: I know so many people who do amazing things it seemed like a no-brainer to involve some of them. Self-publishing the book meant I could decide to work with whoever I wanted to, so I compiled my Dream Team and was lucky everyone said yes. It was important to me to have a community page, both as a way of acknowledging and thanking everyone, but also to share with those who weren’t involved what goes into making a book like this.
RA: And how about the yarns you have used – I believe they are all from The Island Wool Company. What made their yarns the one for you to bring your penguins to life?
AM: I’ve looked for it, but there’s not much of a conceptual link to be made between the Faroe Islands and penguins, though Snældan is a blend of Faroese and Falkland wool – North and South Atlantic and there are definitely a number of different kinds of penguins to be found around the Falklands. I used those yarns because I like them and Fiona who imports them to the UK. They are interesting, woolly yarns from a small place that is lucky enough to have three top-notch yarn companies. These can survive because they are supported by their local community that knits and wears knitting A LOT. I really like that. I also like that they are small companies, rather than one-man bands. As much as one-person businesses are admirable and I am one myself, there’s something else that happens when you make a commitment to being able to involve others and bind your livelihoods together.
RA: I immediately fell in love with the Fledgling mittens when I first saw you wearing them and the Teenguin cardigan is a joy to behold, but next on my ‘must knit list’ is the Rockhopper Shawl. Are you able to choose a favourite pattern or one that you will return to time and time again?
AM: Oh, you can’t ask me to chose between my babies! I’m slowly knitting my way back through all the patterns to make at least one of each to wear myself, as I can’t wear the samples from the book. Out of curiosity, I want to try each one in a different yarn than I used for the book, to see how it works. I’ve just finished a pair of Fledglings in Uilenstadt, an organic, Dutch Shetland wool. They are ready to be blocked. And I’ve just started wearing a Rockhopper in a combo of Madeline Tosh DK Light, A Verb for Keeping Warm’s Annapurna and Tuku Wool. Colour-wise it’s different from the one in the book. I’ve been knitting a Aptenodytes cardigan using Old Maiden Aunt and Orkney Angora. I’ve made a couple of Flower Kings – the first in A Verb for Keeping Warm Clover, Snaeldan 3-Ply and Jamieson DK and another in Quince and Co. Owl. And I’ve made a ton of Adélie hats (they fit perfectly under my cycle helmet), also in Quince and Co. Owl and John Arbon Knit by Numbers. It’s so nice to revisit all the patterns now they are done. I have to say it feels a little crazy to be knitting them from a real live book!
RA: And what’s next? Have you even had time to think about that?
AM: I didn’t want to start thinking about new patterns too hard till I had finished the book. I suppose I was a little nervous to keep those patterns as fresh as possible in my mind and not replace them with a new batch until I had them all present and correct. I tend to be most excited about what I am currently knitting or planning on knitting. I’m going to take a little pause to knit without making patterns while I plot what’s next. I’m mulling over a selection of ideas, but one hasn’t quite risen to the top yet. There will certainly be Marlisle involved.
Thanks so much Anna for taking time to tell us about your Penguin adventures!
Penguin – A Knit Collection is available in print with a complimentary download code from Anna’s online store as well as many local yarn stores across the globe. You can see the full range of patterns over on Ravelry where you will also find Anna’s group and keep up to date with her adventures over on Instagram.
All images © Anna Maltz with Elle Benton/Yellow Bird Photography (fashion shots) and Thijs groot Wassink (Pinglewin image) and used here with permission.
Disclaimer: I have not received any form of payment for this post but did work on Penguin as lead Tech Editor.