The Hygge of Knitting: How a Designer Got Cozy with Wool
Morgane Mathieu is a Paris-based designer who studied and has worked in fashion, textile design, and leather making. But more and more, knitting is taking up the bulk of her creative time. As wool gets increasingly cool, Morgane explains how she got into knitting and recommends a few books to get cozy with the subject for amateur and more advanced knitters:
You have been creating patterns for a Madrid-based company called We Are Knitters for five years now and you have just finished writing a book about knitting. Can you explain how knitting came into your life?
I’ve knitted since I was child. When I studied textile design I used knitting for my projects. Then a friend introduced me to “We Are Knitters.” I design knitting patterns for them, and have created about 90 models including sweaters, hats, ponchos, scarves, headbands, and blankets, for beginners to advanced knitters. I also teach knitting classes.
Knitting went from being a hobby to a main part of my activity—I’d say it’s 90% of it now. I just spent five months writing a book about knitting. A French publisher saw my Instagram account and blog, and contacted me.
Why do you think that knitting has become so hip?
For a start, it’s very addictive; and it’s relaxing and exhilarating to see what you’re knitting coming along. Then there’s the fashion trend. There has been a huge change in the way knitting is marketed. Wool is very photogenic, so Instagram has helped and so has packaging. There’s also an ecological and DIY aspect to it. Knitting your own sweater is unique; my students are so happy, they love their sweaters more than any sweater they buy at H&M even if it’s much more work. It’s interesting, before the 1960s a lot of women who didn’t work, knitted. Did we stop knitting because of feminism? Now it has lost the homemaker/wife aspect to it, even if it’s the same activity, instead it’s empowering, it’s more “I can do this!”
Knitting hasn’t become as popular with men although this is changing. Guys who knit who are on Instagram still feel the need to affirm that they are men.
There’s a whole community of people that wants to exchange around knitting, it’s like a global knitting club; it totally fits into the concept of hygge.
It’s also an accessible way to be creative. Even someone who isn’t particularly inventive with colors or shapes can easily make something unique and be really proud of it.
How do you make a business out of knitting?
Besides making a percentage on the patterns I design with “We Are Knitters,” I also organize knitting parties partnered with the company once a month. There are four to eight people in the group and so far they’ve all been women between the ages of 25 and 45. Often it’s women before they become mothers so that they’ll know how to knit. When my book comes out I’m going to organize knitting workshops with the Phildar brand of wool, which was also a partner with the book project.
I also sell my hats on an e-commerce site.
Instagram is important for me. I have a professional account, and in two and a half years have grown my followers to 14,600. For both Instagram and my blog, I model my own designs or have my cousin or friends model. The blog is in French and English for better exposure. The reality is that it’s lots of work.
What can you tell us about your book?
It’s coming out in March 2018 in French and it’s called Nous on se pelote, (a play on words with pelote—a ball of wool, and peloter—to fondle). There are 160 photographs that I shot; I also modeled my designs. I’ve worked in catering and laying out a knitting pattern is a lot like a recipe, you have a photograph, your material and then the how-to steps. There are 30 patterns for beginners, from clothing to home accessories, preceded by a tutorial on the techniques used in the patterns. It's a step-by-step book and the goal is to learn to knit as a complete beginner, starting out with a simple scarf and evolving towards a striped sweater.
What tips would you recommend for a first time knitter?
It would be a scarf made with the Garter stitch, which is an obligatory rite of passage. Then you need to learn the Stockinette stitch that alternates a knit row with a purl row. You can learn to make a seam and make a snood.
Then you can go on to making a hat in a seed stitch, that way you learn to knit decreases. If you can do these three things, that’s pretty good. You can go on to the next level.
What are the traps to avoid as a novice?
You should never take the needle out of the row or take all the stitches off the needle. If you need to start again, you need to take each stitch off individually.
I still make this mistake sometimes.
Then, don’t be impatient. Try to be relaxed. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t yank on what you’re knitting. Take your time. I wouldn’t recommend having more than one glass of wine when you knit but you can watch movies. I watch a ton of series while I knit.
What excites you about knitting?
Having an idea and starting a project—I always have 15 projects going at the same time! Seeing how a certain stitch goes with a certain type of wool and the color combination. Learning new techniques and designing a pattern using the technique. I recently discovered a technique that is quite unknown and very complicated, I’m on my fourth try to make a sleeve and it’s not working; it’s called a Brioche stitch. The problem is that it creates uneven seams. But it’s super interesting and I like the design. It’s also exciting to find old books with patterns and rare stitches in them.
What are some of your favorite knitting books?
For everything that is technical, there is Claire Compton's The Knitter's Bible which is good for beginners. (My very favorite is Katharina Buss' Big Book of Knitting but it's out of print.)
For knitting for babies there's a very cool book but it's only in French for the moment. It's called In the Wool for Love by Bernie Torres. And I love work by Keiko Okamoto, she makes very original motifs compared to what we're used to seeing, but her books are very hard to find.