Cecelia Campochiaro may be a name you have not heard of, but I think this is about to change. She has written what I believe will become a future classic in the knitting repertoire: Sequence Knitting. I first clapped my eyes on some of her designs on Ravelry, completely by chance. I was intrigued enough to take a gamble and placed a pre-order of this book with Schoolhouse Press. When it finally arrived I was bowled over by Cecelia’s book, and I’m very pleased that she agreed to an interview.
Warning: get yourself a cup of tea before proceeding, there was much to talk about!
Cecelia Campochiaro, author of Sequence Knitting
Tom: first of all, could you give us an introduction to the concept of sequence knitting for those readers of my blog who are not familiar with it?
Cecelia: Sequence Knitting is simply about taking a sequence of stitches like “K3, P1” and repeating that sequence again and again to create a fabric. Any kind of sequence is possible, but it should be of a fixed length or the knitting will grow or shrink dramatically. The sequence and the way the sequence is repeated can both be varied to create an endless number of fabrics.
Moss stitch (or seed stitch, depending on which side of the pond you live) is an example of sequence knitting we are all familiar with: repeat K1, P1 over an odd number of stitches, end with K1.
Tom: your attention to detail is self-evident throughout the book, from the lay-out through to the text and the knitted items presented. You frequently refer to other books that make a point about details and choosing just the right technique for the job at hand, such as June Hemmons Hiatt‘s The Principles of Knitting, and Catherine Lowe‘s The Ravell’d Sleeve; both among my personal favourites for this very reason. How have they (and perhaps others) influenced your work?
Cecelia: We knitters are so fortunate to have wonderful people like June, Catherine, and of course Elizabeth Zimmermann willing to put their thoughts to paper. I devoured Elizabeth’s books in the 1990s, then I took a workshop from Catherine in the early 2000s in Menlo Park. She introduced me to the idea that knitters create the fabric, unlike sewers, and she also introduced me to June’s book. It was out of print, but I invested $350 to get a used copy. It was the most expensive book I had ever bought and I read it from cover to cover. Other influences were Kaffe Fassett, Barbara Walker, Montse Stanley, Setsuko Torii, Britt-Marie Christoffersson, and The Mason-Dixon ladies Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne.
Tom: in a previous email you mentioned you have a 60+h job and that this can make creative thinking difficult. As somebody who also has a full-time office job alongside my creative practice I have developed my own strategies and I’d be curious to know how you managed to ensure time for being creative, and write a whole book?
Cecelia: in my high-tech life I developed complex machines used in computer chip factories. These machines are created by many engineers working over a period of years. This taught me that with a good plan and continuous effort, big things can happen. When I was I writing, I would wake up early and spend an hour in the morning before going to work, and perhaps another hour or two each evening. I also traveled with a personal laptop on business trips – long flights are great for getting things done. As the book got closer to completion I had to start creating my own deadlines, and I spent many weekends working straight through to meet them. I also had a lot of help from two amazing and talented women: Vanessa Yap-Einbund, who did the book design, and Renée Lorion, who did the editing. I loved doing this project so much it really never felt like work.
Sequence Knitting, with a whole raft of tasty scarves on the cover
Tom: your book is a beautifully produced hardback (as a bibliophile I particularly appreciate the sewn binding.) Kate Davies has recently blogged about independent publishing in the world of knitting (link to the first of three consecutive blog posts on the subject) and she discusses the different ways of independent publishing and some of their pros and cons. What has been your motivation for independent publishing and how did you settle on the format?
Cecelia: thank you. Kate’s books and her blog are terrific. I read her articles on self-publishing with great interest.
My mother was a librarian and I was raised to value and love books. I never thought I would write a knitting book, but the concept of sequence knitting seemed so fundamental and important that I decided I had to share it in the best way I could. Once the scale of the book became clear, I wanted it to be comfortable to hold, to lay flat, and be durable. It also had to be beautiful as an object by itself. Knitting books from Japan and photography books published by Steidl were my aesthetic inspirations. I was so glad to work with Vanessa Yap-Einbund. She has a great eye.
I did not approach a traditional publisher for many reasons: I was a complete unknown in the knitting world, and I did not think anyone would take me seriously, but the bigger reason was that I was figuring out how sequence knitting worked as I developed the book. I used InDesign to write the book in spreads, and would rewrite some pages as many as 10 times as I clarified my thinking. I don’t know how I could have shared the process with anyone else given my personal learning curve and the constraints of my career in technology. Working in technology also enabled me to pay upfront for the printing.
Before I embarked on the writing, I also found out that I could have Unicorn Books and Crafts be the distributor. One of the barriers to self-publishing is distribution. There was no way I could take on the storage and shipping of books, so I really appreciate having a resource like Unicorn Books.
This also touches on the subject of how we value and pay for books. In a small communities like knitting, books are crucial for sharing information. However, several yarn shop owners have told me that they are no longer carrying books because they cannot compete with discount prices and free shipping from big companies. For now, Sequence Knitting is not available through any discount-sellers to encourage yarn shops and small on-line businesses to carry it.
A swatch in tweed knitting I made last year; this turns out to be a form of sequence knitting
Tom: last year I have been exploring something I called “tweed-knitting” after a 1953 Dutch knitting book; I now realise this is a flavour of sequence knitting. And although most of the swatches in the book are in a plain grey yarn, you clearly love using colour. What’s the connection between sequence knitting and colour?
Cecelia: I saw that post and would love to see that book!
Some sequence knitting stitch patterns create a framework within which color can easily be explored, like broken garter. The Mason-Dixon ladies have written about improvisational color work and I share their love for starting something where the journey to make it will have color surprises, as in the version of Colormill shown further down. I spent a year just working broken garter patterns and playing with colors. Using Eisaku Noro’s yarns with sequence knitting is another way to create and enjoy amazing colors.
The swatches are all in neutral grays because I want the reader to impose their own color ideas on the stitch patterns. To me, having the swatches in a strong color predisposes the reader to think about the pattern in a biased way, and I hope people will explore many colors of their choosing. In addition to color, the fiber is important and provides another level of variety in terms of gauge and texture.
Cecelia knitted this version of the Andrus Scarf by holding a strand of ombré fingering with a strand of a silk-mohair blend
Tom: you have approached the sequence knitting concept very methodically, and as somebody who has attempted to study maths many moons ago, I can really appreciate this. I imagine I would have a lot of fun putting together the tables with all the possible variations. Could you tell a bit more about the maths behind sequence knitting?
Cecelia: as long as one stays with knits and purls, the math is all binary just like computers. Think of a knit as a “0″ and a purl as a “1.” So a 2-digit binary number can be 00, 10, 01, and 11– and a 2-stitch sequence can be K2, KP, PK, or P2. However, many of these different combinations are redundant, which may or may not be important depending on the situation. I figured a lot of this out empirically and I’m sure I still don’t understand it all. A friend who is a statistician, Karen Biagini, helped me, and I hope some knitter-mathematicians will really do it justice in the future.
Bach Scarf detail: this shows that using a plain colour yarn doesn’t mean the end result is plain, too
Tom: I find your concept very inspiring; it’s beautiful in its simplicity and got my mind racing about all the possibilities. I think it would translate easily into stranded colourwork substituting knits and purls with two different colours, but I have tried a few swatches with lace. As we’ve discussed by email, this turns out to have its own problems, and for your book you’ve made the choice of playing with knits and purls only. How come? And what other possiblities have you tried that haven’t made it into the book?
Cecelia: lace, colorwork, bobbles…the possibilities are endless! Once I decided to write a book, I had to decide how broad the scope could be. If I included lace and other ideas either the book would be longer or the descriptions would have to be shorter and it just seemed like keeping to knits and purls (with a few slip stitches) was a logical place to constrain the content. I have a lovely team of sample knitters and ideas keep coming, so we have been busily working on what I hope will be book 2. My guiding principles are first that the process must be simple, and second that the end product must be lovely. The balance between these two criteria is a fascinating puzzle. So far book 2 has some colorwork and new ways to repeat sequences. I am still pondering whether to include any lace…
Colormill Scarf detail; knitted in a broken garter stitch sequence, which enabled Cecelia to explore improvisational colourwork
Tom: last but not least, where is the book available from?
Cecelia: in the US it is available from many sources including local yarn shops, Schoolhouse Press, Imagiknit, Jimmy Beans Wool and others. I do not yet have a UK distributor, but Loop in London just started carrying it.
Thank you so much for asking me to be a part of your blog. I’m thrilled with the ways you are expanding on sequence knitting!!
Tom: thank you Cecelia, it was a pleasure to feature you, and I’m already looking forward to the next book!