Q&A with Holli Yeoh
Approximately a year and a half ago, I posted a designer call on Ravelry for a book that is now just weeks away from bookstore shelves. The idea was to put together a collection of knitwear patterns that took the humble garter stitch and brought it to the forefront of design. We wanted to show off ways garter stitch could be the perfect accent to a project, how it mixed well with other techniques (lace, cables, and colorwork, oh my!), and how it could sing as the star of your project. That designer call resulted in more submissions than the book department has ever received before!
Designer Holli Yeoh put together a phenomenal proposal with several potential designs. I remember wishing I could accept every single one of her projects—they were that good. However, with a collection limited to 20 designs, I had to narrow it down, I chose two projects to feature from her proposal and called on Holli to write the foreword for Garter Stitch Revival: 20 Creative Knitting Patterns Featuring the Simplest Stitch.
I recently had the pleasure of asking Holli a bit about her history as a knitter, evolution into a designer, and even a bit about her yarn stash. Grab your favorite beverage and join us for this look inside Holli’s knitting world.
Kerry: Holli!! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. I’m so thrilled to have had you as a contributor to Garter Stitch Revival. You’re a designer that I’ve admired for quite some time and I’m excited to get to know more about you. Tell us, when did you learn to knit? And do you remember your first project?
Holli: My mum taught me to knit and crochet when I was five. I remember working on potholders for both sets of my grandparents for Christmas that year. My ’dad’s parents received a crocheted potholder in orange and brown stripes (it was the 1970s!). For my ’mum’s parents, I knit an olive green square in garter stitch and my mum sewed on a piece of flower-printed fabric. I also remember knitting a baby-pink scarf, which might have actually been my first knitting project. I carried it around with me all over the neighborhood as I played with my friends. At the end of each row, if my stitch count was wrong, I ran home to have my mum fix my mistake. I remember that some of the rows were rather grey from knitting with grubby hands.
Kerry: HA! Childhood travel knitting around the neighborhood, that’s fantastic! My mom taught me to crochet around the same age, but I can’t remember ever actually finishing a project and it wasn’t until adulthood that I learned to read a real pattern. How did you evolve from knitter to designer?
Holli: I’ve always been creative and always made things with my hands. I have a Fine Arts degree with a major in jewelry, although I also explored textiles and ceramics while at school. Several years after graduating, I was working at a public art gallery during the day and designing, making, and teaching jewelry on the weekends, but to relax I was knitting in the evenings. Knitting was giving me the most satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment. Friends would say that I should design my own knits, to which I would respond that there were so many great patterns out there, I didn’t feel the need to create my own. But the seed of an idea was sown. I was no longer getting much enjoyment out of my jewelry making and was thinking ahead to when I might want to have a child so would not want to be exposed to the toxins associated with metalworking. Knitting and designing seemed the perfect solution since knitting was already a passion. I had heard about other knitwear designers who had done the same thing so I made that my goal.
While I was pregnant, I taught at a knitting retreat where a knitter showed me socks she was knitting with the “new” Regia self-patterning yarn. I was immediately fascinated, but not particularly interested in knitting socks. But babies . . . babies were on my brain and it occurred to me that a baby sleeve was about the same circumference as a sock. After Devan, my baby boy, was born, I began designing baby sweaters using self-patterning yarn. After a couple of my patterns appeared in Knitty, editor Amy Singer asked me to submit something to the new book she was working on with Interweave Press. “Drunken Argyle” appeared in No Sheep For You and was the first of my designs included in a book.
Kerry: Oh what an interesting idea!! I’d never have thought to use self-striping yarns for children’s sweater sleeves, very clever. You’ve seen the collection in Garter Stitch Revival; do you see any designs in particular you’ll be casting on? (Besides your own of course! Which are some of my favorites.)
Holli: It was so exciting to get my hands on Garter Stitch Revival and pore over the book. The whole collection is really wonderful and I’m thrilled to be part of it. I love the concept, photo locations, models, and especially the styling. So many of the projects jump out at me with details that make them special. Annie Rowden’s “Venice Beach Wrap” looks so wonderfully cozy and versatile— I can imagine wrapping myself up in it year round. The hem shaping Sachiko Burgin created with short rows on the “Festival Halter Top” strikes me as such a subtle yet flattering detail. I love the L construction of the “Crosswalk Scarf” by Emily Ross; the shape turns a simple piece into something dynamic, especially with the slip-stitch lines that intersect the garter stitch ridges. The braided detail on Heather Zoppetti’s ”Beachcomber Braided Poncho” appeals to me for its technical genius. The subtly undulating stripes along the lower edge of Courtney Kelley’s “Ocean Waves Shawl” really evoke for me little wavelets lapping up on the shore. The generous sizing and simple elegance of Courtney Spainhower’s “Arrowhead Stole” is just lovely punctuated by those tassels.
The subtly undulating stripes along the lower edge of Courtney Kelley’s “Ocean Waves Shawl” really evoke for me little wavelets lapping up on the shore. The generous sizing and simple elegance of Courtney Spainhower’s “Arrowhead Stole” is just lovely punctuated by those tassels.
Kerry: You sound like me when I start talking about the designs in this book. There are just so many beautiful options and every design has something unique to offer. It’s so hard to call out just one favorite. Now, I must say, I’ve heard some grumblings about garter stitch in my knitting circle. It’s sometimes not our favorite stitch to work. Any tips you can share with knitters for working up beautiful garter stitch fabric?
Holli: There are so many benefits to garter stitch as a stitch pattern. It’s so simple to work, since there’s no purling and it lies flat. Gauge is a little different than stockinette stitch though. Most knitters tend to get fewer stitches per inch and of course the row gauge is substantially condensed resulting in working more rows per inch than stockinette stitch. Because of all those extra rows, garter stitch is very stretchy lengthwise, unlike stockinette stitch, and garter can even be used in place of ribbing. When working a full garment in garter stitch, this is an important consideration since gravity and the weight of the yarn affect the row gauge, stretching it out. For instance, the ”Santa Monica Cardigan” grows by about 10% when worn , so I took that into account when I wrote the pattern.
Kerry: That’s great advice. Taking into account the ways in which gauge is different in garter stitch will yield much better results. Okay, on to another topic I could talk about for ages: Yarn! Tell us a bit about your yarn stash. Are you a curator/collector of copious skeins or are you more selective, adding just what you need for a particular project?
Holli: My stashing habits have changed substantially since I began designing. I’ve curtailed my spending to buy only yarn that’s earmarked for a specific project or design, so generally sale bins hold no interest for me these days; it usually means the yarn is discontinued and some knitters aren’t happy when they can’t use the same yarn for my patterns. I also have a rule: if I don’t have time to knit it, I don’t buy it. I get to try all sorts of yarn when I’m working on my freelance jobs, but unfortunately, often I don’t get to keep the finished piece or even the remnants. Sometimes I buy yarn so I can knit a second sample for myself, but usually I don’t have time due to other pressing deadlines. Last summer, I ruthlessly purged my stash of all sorts of great yarn. It just wasn’t great for me any longer. It even felt good to let go of it!
Kerry: Oh my, I wish I’d known about that de-stash at the time! I’m sure I would have found a few skeins I couldn’t live without. Thanks again for taking the time to share a peek inside your knitting world, Holli, and for your gorgeous contributions to Garter Stitch Revival.
Editorial Directory, Craft Books
About the Designer
HOLLI YEOH is a Vancouver knitwear designer who has been self-publishing knitting patterns and teaching knitting techniques for well over a decade. In 2014, Holli collaborated with SweetGeorgia Yarns to publish Tempest, a sophisticated collection of knitting patterns for women. Her designs appear regularly in books and magazines. You can find all of Holli Yeoh’s designs (self-published, in print, and in online magazines, on her website, holliyeoh.com and follow her as holliyeoh on Ravelry, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.