Photo of Shannon Okey by Kyle Lanzer for Sun News
Each week throughout the summer we’ll hear from a designer about a pattern or book that caused them to head in a new direction and helped form their career. It’s the pattern that changed their life.
One of my goals at the start of 2015 was to learn more about the yarn industry. Through this exploration I met Shannon Okey. Shannon is a knitwear designer, writer, editor, and all around hilarious and interesting person. She’s also the founder of Cooperative Press, a small independent craft publisher that partners with authors to create and market craft books.
Shannon’s written many sewing and knitting books the most recent of which is The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design.
I’m excited to have Shannon visiting the blog today to share the pattern that changed her life. I love this story so much and I think you will, too!
I’m a knitting designer and book publisher…now. The pattern that changed my life so thoroughly altered what I was doing, and planning to do, that I not only changed creatively, I actually completely swapped out life plans and ended up on an entirely different path.
Before I tell you about the pattern, though, let me give you a bit of backstory that explains how I got to that turning point. My parents — indeed, many of my immediate family — are artists, so I grew up in a home surrounded by people who spent their free time making music and art. Me, though? At a very early age, I decided I was going to work for the State Department (I know, I know. It’s hilarious to me now). I took multiple foreign languages in school, I had internships, and fellowships, and all the other -ships you can imagine overseas. I was on it. I even passed the foreign service exam. I was waiting. I was ready.
During the time I’d worked on getting into the foreign service (which generally takes years), I wound up in some very strange jobs, one of which was as one of only three women stockbrokers in the whole office. During my training, I ended up trapped for three weeks in a hotel with all the other fledgling stockbrokers in a bad neighborhood in Connecticut. So bad that the hotel concierge insisted on driving us two blocks to the pharmacy if we needed anything. My aunt had shown me the basics of knitting, and so I contrived a plan to order some yarn and needles over the phone for delivery to the hotel. I tried to knit a scarf. (Emphasis here on “tried,” by the way).
I tried to knit that damn scarf for two years. Turns out I’m not a big scarf knitter. Here’s where the story gets interesting… I left my job at the brokerage firm. You can imagine why. I followed my then-boyfriend and kinda-fiance (a story all by itself) to Boston, where he’d landed a fancy job. I had no job lined up, I just needed to escape. And thanks to a mini-recession, I didn’t find a job for a long time. So in the course of exploring my new neighborhood, on the border of Somerville and Cambridge, I happened upon Mind’s Eye Yarns.
Browsing the patterns, I met the owner, Lucy and gave her my “no job, bored, want to knit, but this scarf is making me crazy” spiel.
“Ok, so what do you want to knit?”
“Eh, how about grey? It’ll be easier for you to see the stitches as you’re learning.”
The pattern I ended up buying? Diane Soucy’s roll neck sweater.
It looked like one of the very-popular J. Crew roll neck sweaters of the time, and seemed basic enough. After getting a short lesson on how to do increases, and how to use circular needles for the first time, I was off.
I knit that sweater in under a month. The scarf? It’s half knit, still, and lives in my stash somewhere.
This sweater, which is a top-down raglan construction, showed me a lot of things. Knitting was fun and not frustrating if you choose the right project. Top down raglans are awesome because you can try them on as you go along (I’m wide-yet-flat chested, relatively speaking, it can be tough to pick the correct size to knit in other pattern types). You can even make changes to the pattern and adjust, without having to rip out multiple pieces. My wrists didn’t hurt anymore, and the only good use for straight needles, in my opinion, is as an impromptu substitution for a stake (should you happen to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
You can guess what happened next. I got obsessive with the knitting, I started a blog about it, I wouldn’t shut up about knitting knitting knitting. From there, a blog-friend introduced me to her editor, I ended up writing a dozen books about knitting and related topics, and then started my own publishing company, Cooperative Press. I still won’t shut up about knitting, most days. And I’m still knitting top-down raglans whenever I get a chance, as my personal knitting.
The roll neck sweater by Diane Soucy was the pattern that changed Shannon Okey’s life.