I thought it would be nice to do a series of interviews on the blog with people I admire in the craft business. One of the first people who came to mind was Rachel Vowles. Rachel is one of the most respected pattern checkers in the knitting and crochet world. She works for many of you favourite magazines and some of the great designers like Debbie Bliss. Pattern checkers are really the un-sung heroes of the design world. Like make-up artists, they smooth out all the blemishes and faults and ensure that the patterns you enjoy, make sense. I know that when I meet knitters and crocheters face to face, they say that mistakes in patterns drive them crazy. Well you have someone like Rachel to thank for making our designs look perfect in the pattern.
Rachel, can you tell us a little bit of how you started in the textile business and how you became one of the eminent pattern technicians?
By chance really! My background is in theatre and performance. I had a friend who was a pattern editor and she was very poorly and needed someone to help her out. She taught me the ropes and it took off from there!
Rachel the work of a pattern checker and technician is like being the un-sung hero of the yarn world. What does the job entail?
Bless you Emma that is so kind. It involves liking maths and being a total pedant. We go through the entire pattern and start by checking that the yarn is available, the shade numbers are correct, the needle size and tension are correct. Then we have to go through all the maths with a fine tooth comb and make sure the pattern is clear and there can be no room for misunderstanding in the instructions.
You check both knitting and crochet patterns, which is more enjoyable for you?
I genuinely like both! I find knitting patterns easier to visualise in my head. Crochet patterns can be a bit more complicated especially if they are using complicated motifs or patterns, its more difficult to ‘see’ the build up of stitches in my head!
I know myself that once I have written a pattern, I aim to get it perfect, but frequently miss something and sometimes make huge mistakes. How do you go through the process to find those mistakes?
I have a strong visual picture of the item in my head and I see it being constructed line by line, row by row. I don’t move on to the next line or row until I am absolutely sure that it works. Sometimes I have to put stitches on the needle or hook to be doubly sure.
Are there any tips or tricks which make pattern checking easier?
I tend to go through the pattern once to ‘house style’ it (I also like to work in either Arial or Tahoma font as I find these really crisp and clear to read), basically standardising the pattern. I then find it much easier to go through and check it for the errors.
Do all designers write their own patterns or do you write some for them?
I personally don’t write patterns – I don’t have the time lol! Although some patterns do need pretty much a total rewrite – not yours obviously!! Patterns from overseas designers often need a complete rewrite as European patterns are written in a completely different way to British ones – they can take me an age to interpret!
Can you tell us about some of the great and the good you work for?
Oh yes, I edit for Knitting Magazine, Inside Crochet, Artesano, Quarto Publishing, David and Charles and have edited patterns for Debbie Bliss, Erika Knight, Libby Summers,Jo Storey, Belinda Harris Reid, Sarah Hazell and of course Emma Varnam! Through the magazines I’ve edited the patterns of lots of fabulous designers like Martin Storey, Tina Barrett, Anniken Allis, Nicky Trench..…Lots!
Are there patterns you particularly like working on, are there some that you dread?
I dread the translated patterns as I am always nervous of misinterpreting them! There are some designers (who shall remain nameless of course) who tend to write patterns in a quite a patchy way which makes my job really tricky. I do like drawing cable and Fair Isle charts – they always make me smile
When you get time away from the desk, what do you like to make? How do you relax?
I tend to relax with really simple pieces that don’t take much brain power so I can REALLY relax whilst doing it! I’ve got two young children and my life is fairly hectic so there isn’t a lot of down time!
If you could make a wish come true, what would you like all designers to do?
Ohhh, that’s a good question! I would really like all designers to always put stitch counts – it makes it much easier to work out if there are any errors and if there are, where they might have occurred. Without stitch counts I can never be quite sure what they were intending!
What gives you most satisfaction in your job?
So many things….Working with so many lovely people from the comfort of my own home, drawing a really lovely chart, making a pattern look lovely and ‘clean’, seeing all the new designs before anyone else does!
Like so many people who work in the textile and craft industry, this is just one section of your working life. What other things keep you busy?
My other life is in theatre and education! I work a lot in role play and communication skills training, mostly with medics but also with other groups and industries. I co-run a small theatre company that does interactive off the wall crazy things. I also co-run a murder mystery company and I do a lot of theatre education work in schools – musicals in a day, interactive workshops on issue based drama, and recently I worked on a big education project around the national tour of War Horse. When I get the time I direct community productions too. I am so lucky that my working life involves my three great passions… yarn craft, theatre and education! Its never a dull day and no week ever looks the same. This week I am in London spending all week teaching 400 children to knit and crochet – next week I’ll be in Bristol helping young doctors with their communication skills and the week after that I’m in a school performing in a show about drug awareness. Then of course there’s Christmas and my annual appointment with a pre school as their Christmas Fairy…. never a dull day!
You have something really exciting happening next year, tell us about P-Lush and how we might get involved.
Next year, 27 and 28 March, I will be with designer, Belinda Harris Reid, hosting the brand new show P-Lush at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. In the same venue and at the same time as the British Alpaca Futurity (basically Crufst for alpacas!) fabulous designers, makers, sellers and workshop leaders will be there with their gorgeous and luxurious products for anyone interested in fibre and fibre arts. We have some fantastic workshops lined up and are currently selling specially designed redwood needles and hooks in aid of our chosen charity Target Ovarian Cancer. It’s going to be an amazing event and we hope that everyone will come! Our website is www.p-lush.co.uk please check us out!
Rachel with Chas Brooke from Alpaca UK, at Ally Pally this year.