Today we have the pleasure of getting to know Anna Maltz, the author behind Penguin: A Knit Collection and her latest book Marlisle: A New Direction in Knitting as well as a quarterly column in Pom Pom Magazine. Her innovative mind, unique knitwear designs and welcoming attitude make her a one of kind lady and a huge asset to the knitting community.
We are beyond lucky to have this innovative designer joining us this weekend! She will be teaching three classes from her new book, Marlisle, including a Kraai Mitts Workshop which is the perfect small project to master her extraordinary Marlisle technique, the Hozkwoz Hat where you will learn how to accomplish a pinhole cast-on, and the Tiny Ess Workshop where you will make a mini version of the Ess Shawl to use as a swatch for a full-size version including a steeking tutorial. Additionally, Anna will be teaching a Top Down Sweater Workshop where you will focus on fitting a yoked sweater without a pattern.
How did you get started working in the craft/knit community?
That’s such a long story! To cut it short, I sort of grew up in it. The majority of my grandparents were crafters and my mum certainly is. I’ve taught craft classes since I was 19. A couple of years on, I was frustrated at the lack of making skills being taught during my undergraduate fine art degree. I started knitting as part of my art practice, as a way of readdressing the balance: to show that having skills allows you to break a different set of rules than the ones you break out of ignorance. From there I got a masters in Fine Art and showed my work in galleries.
By the time being in the art world stopped feeling rewarding, I had a lot of knowledge about how to knit whatever I wanted: invisible rabbits, nude suits, superheroes, straight jackets... Those aren’t things you can walk into a yarn store and find patterns for (and Ravelry wasn’t around at the time). I worked for a while consulting for small, ethical fashion labels, helping them convert their ideas into patterns that could be handknitted. With friends, I started Ricefield Collective, which lives on as Knitting Expedition. It was after I came back from 5 months in the Philippines, teaching the collective how to knit, that I looked at what I could do more locally and as an individual. I started publishing my own patterns and writing my column in PomPom Quarterly. I’ve been doing that for almost 5 years now.
Where did the inspiration for your unique marled pattern technique utilized in Marlisle: A New Direction in Knitting come from?
The Humboldt sweater in Penguin: A Knit Collection was the first pattern I used Marlisle for and immediately became excited by the possibilities of using the technique for other patterns. The Humboldt sweater was inspired by the Humboldt penguin, which has speckles on its front and lines running along its sides. I wanted to create something similar in knit, worked in the round, but without the use of really long floats, intarsia or consistent patterning across rounds.
I played around a little and thought things through, before working out that, if I used both strands held double, I could use one singly whenever I wanted. It really isn’t complicated. It is stranded colourwork with a marled and textured twist. You simply work some stitches with a single yarn and others with two held together to create the patterns. By holding two noticeably different colours of yarn double in some areas, and in others separated out and worked singly or as standard stranded colourwork, you are constantly using both yarns in one way or the other – you always have whichever colour you want available to work with singly (while the other floats briefly behind). This allows patches of stranded colourwork or single-colour motifs to be scattered around a garment against a consistent background, rather than necessarily worked regularly across a round. Weirdly, there’s almost no trace of patterns using similar approaches to using colours – and I’ve been searching for them. It feels as though it must exist because it’s so intuitive and easy to slot into existing knitting practices.
Marlisle is a word I made up for this technique of knitting. It mushes together ‘marl’, the term for two yarns being worked together and the ‘isle’ from fairlisle for the stranded colourwork aspect of it. I’ve done a lot of research and haven’t come across this technique being used. The few bits out there haven’t been under a united banner (as in, there hasn’t been a name for it), so I added Marlisle to the mix to help to identify it in the future.
What does a typical day look like for you?
The unromantic way to look at it is that I spend a huge amount of time behind a computer, ostensibly project managing, with a teeny bit of dreaming up new designs and maybe some sneaky knitting thrown in. Sometimes I think my days might benefit from a set routine, but there really isn’t any and I work with so many people who need different things at different times, I just sort of have to be open to that and roll with it.
A typical day involves a lot of emailing to arrange teaching classes, organizing yarn, corresponding with test knitters, collaborating with photographers, graphic designers, tech editors, editors and models. I spend way more time than I ever imagined doing maths and using spreadsheets. I use excel for mapping out my patterns because it’s a useful way to keep track of all the numbers and to work on grading, which I prefer to do myself. I do my charting using StitchMastery. All that happens at the kitchen table, because that’s where the best WiFi is. Wherever I am, I try to check in on Instagram.
Often I’ll pop to the studio to pack books to send out to stockists. If it’s a small enough parcel, I can wheel it to a drop-off point to be shipped. Otherwise, I wait in for the courier to come.
I go to Wild & Woolly a couple of times a week, once I’ve packed up individual book orders. I share the franking machine with Anna. She also helps post my books out when I’m traveling, which has gotten to be quite often. It beats having to queue at the post office and we get to chat chat chat, solving our business problems, knitting problems and some of the world problems. It’s one of the ways we support each other as small businesses, which for many can be a very solo pursuit. I work with a lot of people, but not in proximity, so it’s great to have real conversations with a person I can give an actual hug to, not just a virtual one.
I try to make time for some knitting, but that’s been quite hard to puzzle in. I’ve started working with some sample knitters. I was starting to feel like a knitting machine. I do like to knit each of my projects myself, as I think it helps me write better patterns. And sample knitting is just one of the things in our community that has a really iffy pay situation for the time, skill and responsibility involved.
What is your favorite ’sweaterspotter’ sighting?
Now that’s a hard one! I’ve been Sweaterspotter on Instagram for the last 6 or 7 years, snapping pictures of inspiring knits I see being worn on the street. I post them using the hashtag #sweaterspotting. There’s been about 800 of them. I love the ones where there’s time to make introductions and chat about the knitwear. These things have to be done gently. I’m often approaching people who aren’t expecting someone to approach them with compliments about their attire. On the other hand, there was a funny time I asked a young guy if I could photograph his lovely sweater (and him wearing it) and he said “omg, you’re sweaterspotter, of course you can”. He then explained who I was to the two young women with him. I don’t think any of them were knitters. In all the hundreds of people I’ve asked. Only one person has said no (though a lot of women, especially older ones, have declined to have their faces shown, citing not liking how they look - that bit makes me sad and frustrated when it happens). Most people love to talk about their sweaters and have real emotional attachments to them.
At what moment did it feel like you ‘Made it’?
I’m constantly making it. That’s one of the joys of making things.
Do you remember the first thing you ever knit?
Yes, a scarf, using handspun from my mum or Oma, when I was five. A lot of it was knitted while sitting on my oma’s lap. Then I decided I should try to do it with my eyes closed.
What is next for Anna Maltz as a Brand?
Such a funny idea to think of myself as a brand, but then, pretty much everyone with an online presence can nowadays. I’m working on a lot of single patterns at the moment. I’ll start thinking seriously about another book next year. The birthing pains of Marlisle: A New Direction in Knitting are still too close. It’s an absolute dream that it has been received so well. It’s been really full-on for a while now, because there have been so many fun things to say yes to and roll with the successes – seeing Marlisle inspire others, opportunities to teach knitters all over the world, work with meaningful yarns and contribute to others people’s publications. And I do find it hard to juggle the more logistical end of things and the creative side of my business. It’s the logistics that shout the loudest to be attended to, but creativity is the backbone. Experimentation takes time, especially when it’s involved with a slow process like knitting. I feel like I’ve been running to catch up for a while now. My plan for next year is to factor in more downtime.
What is your favorite thing about the London knitting scene?
London is home. I love that I have a little corner of the knit world right here in east London that is really vibrant and supports each other. London is a place inhabited by people from all over the world and many others pass through it for visits, which makes it pretty perfect in my mind.