Claire Montgomerie is a textile designer and teacher specialising in knitting and crochet. Her book, Knitting for Children, came out first in 2011 and we have just re-published it because the projects are so good for children learning to knit! We caught up with Claire to hear all about her knitting story and the book writing process, plus her top tips for teaching children to knit!
What is your knitting story?
I learned to knit and crochet as a child, but only began to do both in earnest on my textiles degree course.
My mum tried to teach me lots as a child, but I didn’t do it that often and like a lot of children would forget how to in between each time, as it was so long in between each practice. Then, when I was on my constructed textiles degree course, I specialised in knit, so we were taught to knit on domestic and industrial machines and one of our tutors re-taught me to handknit, showing us all how to design for knitwear at the same time. After I graduated I re-taught myself how to crochet, too.
I fell into the textiles industry after studying constructed textiles at Middlesex University, then doing a Masters degree in knitted textiles at the Royal College of Art (RCA).
I’d been searching for the perfect job for many months after graduating from the RCA and I tried to build a portfolio that would take me into fashion, either in designing or buying, but I came away from interviews feeling disheartened. This was because I was beginning to realise that I really needed to still use my hands and be fully involved in the practical side of textiles. It was always the tactile, experimental side of working with yarn and fabric that I loved and, while I searched for a ‘real’ job, I’d begun making little creatures from old jumpers, decorating them with handknit, crochet and sewn embellishments. I realised that this was what I loved to do and wondered if I could make a career out of it.
Knitting for Children is a complete beginner’s guide to knitting for children aged 7 years and up. As an experienced and regular knitter, did you find it challenging to keep the instructions and patterns simple? How did you approach the writing process?
I didn’t find this too challenging as I love simple knitting and I teach beginners, both adults and children, all the time. Therefore, I am practiced at writing simple patterns and exercises to teach each new technique and understand the problems beginners face when learning to knit – most people always make the same mistakes! I knew what techniques I wanted to teach the children and that I wanted them to enjoy learning, so I designed the projects with two important elements in mind – ensure each project is really fun, yet helps the maker practice a new skill. Children love to have a finished product at the end of a spell of knitting, they can’t be persuaded as easily as adults to just swatch to practice a new technique, so I made sure that each technique I wanted to show in the book had a project that was great for teaching it. For example, the zig zag rainbow cushions are great for practicing shaping skills.
What was your inspiration for the fun children’s knits?
At the time, I had no children of my own, but I had lots of nephews who loved it when I made them things. So I tried to design for them, I knew they loved toys and dressing up, so decided to begin there.
Do you have a favourite pattern in the book and why?
This is a really hard one as I love all of them!
I saved some of the projects from the book, hopeful that one day I would be able to give them to my own children. Now, my daughter, who is now five, wears the balaclava and the hat/snake scarves all the time – she loves them and I love seeing her wearing them, it is so rewarding. But my absolute favourite has probably always been the mouse mittens. This project has everything – it is very cute, simple enough for a child to tackle, the mitts are incredibly warm to wear and as a bonus, every time you wear them, it is like you have a set of toys to keep you entertained! My daughter wears them now and adores them, too – she treats them like hand puppets as well as practical mittens and you can often see her little mouse hands ‘chatting’ away to each other while she is wearing them!
And finally, what would be your top tips for kids and adults who are looking to try knitting for the first time?
I am currently teaching my daughter to knit and we have been using Knitting for Children, too, so this is quite topical. I would definitely say practice makes perfect – the more you can knit, the better you will become. However, especially when teaching children, don’t over do it. Little and often is best for your fingers and your concentration. I am very careful that I don’t want my daughter to get bored of knitting as I want her to love it as much as I do, so we sit quietly for very short bursts at first, perhaps working only one or two rows. We will eventually build it up and hopefully she will learn to love knitting as much as her mother!