Friday, November 29, 2013

Meet the Designers: Barbara Benson — Lace One-Skein Wonders

In a new blog series, we’re getting to know the contributors behind books like those in the One-Skein Wonders series — people who aren’t necessarily authors or full-time designers, but whose creative vision helps make this collection of knit and crochet books favorites among fiber arts enthusiasts. 

In this second installment, we chat with Atlanta-based knitter, mom, photographer, and Lace One-Skein Wonders contributor, Barbara Benson.
Barbara models the prototype for her Lace One-Skein Wonders design, Drooping Elm Headband.
Photograph by Roger Benson.

Tell us a little bit about you: where you live, and how long youve been a knitter and designer.

I am from Atlanta, Georgia (really Tucker, Georgia, but who knows where Tucker is?). I have been knitting for less time than one might think, but not long enough, because there is just so much more to learn. The design bug bit me a little over two years ago and shows no sign of abatement.

How did you learn your craft?

I have a good friend who showed me some basics, but I am predominantly self-taught. And by “self-taught,” I mean I used a combination of books, YouTube, and other online sources to learn anything beyond basic knit/purl. For me, learning is an ongoing process and I jump on the opportunity to take classes whenever they pop up. I am drawn towards the more complex classes because I always learn multiple things I didn’t expect to learn in addition to what was advertised.

Curiosity (Designed by Barbara Benson)

How would you describe your style? Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

I do not know that I have an established style quite yet. Both the art deco and art nouveau design movements have been highly influential in forming what I find appealing. One person described my work as “swoopy,” and I think that is fairly accurate. I am drawn to long, gentle curves and intricate stitch work. My designs are often inspired by the yarn itself, but I also find art, literature, and nature to be hugely influential. Outside of visual inspiration, the very act of knitting is often the base of my designs. Trying something new, different, or unconventional makes me the happiest camper you will meet, and so I have designs that are created to showcase a new technique.

Golden Lion Throne (Designed by Barbara Benson)

The fiber arts community is a vibrant one. How do you connect with fellow fiber arts folks? What does being part of such a community offer?

For a knitter, being in Atlanta is quite the lucky break because we have a large, active knitting guild. The Atlanta Knitting Guild has put me in contact with a depth of experience, talent, and knowledge that is truly staggering. Within this large community, I have a smaller weekly knitting group that keeps me going. We have fun and they provide me with a support system that makes me feel like I can achieve anything.

But the fiber arts community doesn’t just exist in “real life”  the Internet-based community is a daily part of my life and indispensable to my career. Through Ravelry, I have made friends and business contacts that I would have never been able to make on my own. There is a thriving designer forum from which I have learned the ins and outs of the industry and there are multiple other forums where I interact with knitters from around the world. Such an international point of view creates an environment of constant learning that keeps me stimulated and challenged. I even have my own little Ravelry group where knitters can ask me questions directly and I can try my best to help them out or simply support them as they knit my designs.

Roller Coaster Cowl (Designed by Barbara Benson)

What projects are you working on right now that you’re particularly excited about? Any goals for your knitting/designing in the coming year?

You know how you meet knitters and they tell you that they have been knitting since they were eight years old, when their mom or grandma or female relative put a pair of needles in their hands? Well, that isn’t me. When I was eight years old, my father gave me a camera. Photography has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I am working on marrying that old love with my more recently discovered passion for knitting. 

I recently finished shooting all of the photographs for another designer’s new sock book and I cannot wait for it to hit the shelves. Hopefully I can continue to develop my designing and knit-ware photography simultaneously. At least I can try to ensure that I always have something interesting to photograph.

Apart from knitting and designing, what keeps you busy and fulfilled these days?

My number one job is my family. I have an elementary-aged son who keeps me on my toes with never-ending adventures. I love cooking and am as experimental with food as I am with yarn. We have a small flock of chickens that keep us in delicious eggs and provide hilarious entertainment. There is a part of me that wants to be a gardener, but to do that right takes a level of time and commitment that I would rather spend on knitting, so I dabble with plants.

Code Breaker (Designed by Barbara Benson)

A word of advice for beginners?

It’s just yarn. If something isn’t working, you can always try something else. It is easy to frog a piece and use the yarn for another project. Your knitting time is valuable and it should be spent enjoying what you are doing. If you start a project and begin to feel like it is a chore, just stop. Time you pour into an unsatisfying project is time that you could be spending knitting the most fun thing ever. You just haven’t found that thing because you are too busy slogging away at something you feel you must do. The knitting police will not show up and fine you for not finishing a project.

Now, this is not to say that a piece you really want to own might not be tedious or time consuming. Sometimes you have to have discipline to get what you want. And I do not want to give the impression that you should play things safe. Internalizing the idea that frogging is a viable and acceptable option can empower knitters to try something that might seem outside their skill set. If it turns out to be a little too ambitious, you can always come back after you have had some experience.

Where can we find you and your designs?

If you are ever in the Atlanta area, you can find me on Saturdays working (and possibly teaching) at Lovin’ Knit Yarn Shop & Studio.

I have a blog where I mostly chatter about knitting and new designs, but occasionally inflict on people pictures of my son and chickens.

My independently published designs are available through Ravelry, Craftsy, and Patternfish (search for "Barbara Benson" under "designer").

You can also find Barbara on:

Photos courtesy of Barbara Benson.
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Want more? Read the first installment of Meet the Designers, a profile of Jean Clement.
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Are you a knitter and designer like Barbara? Have a unique knitting pattern of your own? The One-Skein Wonders series is growing! Find out more about submitting your designs for 101 Little One-Skein Wonders, with single-skein projects for babies and new moms.
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For the ebook enthusiast, Lace One-Skein Wonders is a Fresh Picks title for the month of November! Purchase the ebook for just $2.99 through tomorrow, November 30.


Doreen said...

What a great interview. I have knitted several of Barbara's designs and they are challenging in a good way. Her patterns are well written and Barbara is always willing to help. I have plans to knit 2 more of her shawls after the holidays.

Emily Spiegelman said...

So glad you enjoyed the post, Doreen -- and that you've gotten to know Barbara through her designs. Happy knitting!