Yarn Forward Profiles: Lou

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Lou Butt became involved with Yarn Forward in December last year, when Kerrie invited her on board the nascent magazine. As it happened, the timing was perfect. Lou had left Simply Knitting earlier that year, anticipating a relaxing life as a “yummy mummy” with the occasional book project to break things up – but after a few months, she found herself missing the busy schedules and creative activity of publishing. And with Yarn Forward about to go ten issues a year, Lou expects to be very busy indeed: “The best times have to be when we get such fantastic feedback. Going 10 issues a year was a very scary concept, but all our readers and advertisers are 100% behind us. The worst times have to be the deadline when I’m up late designing pages and trying to do the 101 other things that come with running a business too. We’ll have an art editor soon, so at least that pressure is reduced.”

Step into a UK newsagent, and you’re likely to see several home-grown knitting magazines. Lou thinks that YF is more than able to stand up to the competition. “There is so much that makes us different”, she says. For a start, there’s the approach to advertising, limited to just 10% of the magazine each issue: “We don’t feel it’s right to make our readers pay for 20+ pages of adverts.” Lou adds, “We’ll have no book extracts or designs from yarn companies. Because we’re independent we don’t feel pressurized into reproducing designs for the sake of advertising.”

Instead the emphasis is on providing original designs, put together with a real love for the crafts of knitting and crochet – and because restricting the advertising makes more room for editorial, Lou says “we can be gluttonous with our space and have lots of large charts on the patterns.” There are also at least five in-depth features in every issue: “There is so much out there in the knitting world, that 2 pages just isn’t enough room to really do something justice.”

After the jump… “battleship grey acrylic chunky”, Uri Gellar, minuscule slippers, a “scary block of flats”, and the projects that Lou loves best of all.

Lou\'s mumLou’s passion for knitting goes back to childhood, when her parents owned a joint hardware and wool shop. “We had one of those old fashioned shops where customers could ‘lay away’ yarn and would buy a ball a week. It was my job to sort all the lay away yarn. Mum used to design and sell knitwear for the shop, one day a jumper that she’d marked up for £20 was snapped up by two ladies, who after paying informed mum that they were going to sell it in their London boutique for £200! That was back in the eighties.”

Lou took to knitting straight away, mastered crochet a little later, and was soon making bags, bedspreads and gloves for sale in the shop. Not everything she made was a success, though. Her first jumper was worked in plain st st with chunky yarn, decorated with half stripes across the front: “Mum still wasn’t convinced that I’d finish it so chose some awful shades of yarn. Battleship grey acrylic chunky, with the half stripes alternating in white or cerise chunky mohair! I finished it in a week though. I hardly wore it as the colours were so bad.”

Young LouHowever, by the time Lou reached her mid-teens, the knitting boom had faded. As sales fell, the yarn side of the shop was wound down (although they continued to design and knit original garments for sale, some of which were so popular they went on back-order). Lou found that knitting was occupying less and less of her time: “it wasn’t very trendy to knit and I got into other hobbies like painting, drawing, cardmaking and crossstitch – and boys!.” At university, she says, “I’d pick up my needles to make the occasional garment, but study and partying took up much of my time.”

Her early career in publishing had nothing to do with fibre-crafts: she started out on Uri Geller’s Encounters magazine, and moved onto videogame journalism. But when she heard that a knitting magazine was in development, Lou says, “nothing was going to stop me working on it. I got the job as Operations Editor in 2003 and really embraced the craft again. I couldn’t stop knitting and designing, and my husband was in shock at how much stash I managed to acquire. We became the odd couple. He would sit there reviewing the latest playstation games, while I sat and knitted all night. The perfect jobs for both of us!”

Uri GWorking on the Simply Knitting revived Lou’s interest in designing. Her book, Knitted Sock Sensations (with Kirstie McLeod) was published by David and Charles in April this year, and she has at least three patterns destined for upcoming issues of YF. “Sometimes I can pick up a ball and picture exactly how I feel it should be knitted up. Sometimes I’m given yarn and told to ‘make something’ which is harder to do. There’s no set way that I go about my designing. I have been known to follow a person wearing knitwear to work out how it’s constructed, then stop and write notes in my pad that I take everywhere with me. I currently have an idea for a cabled sweater that’s inspired by fence that I pass on my way into town, among many others. I like to make practical things that people will wear or use.”

Even when following a pattern, Lou finds that she has to do her own thing. “I can never follow a pattern to the word. I may start off with all good intentions, but then I’ll ‘ad lib’ and put my own little touches to it, like leaving out a line of pattern for a few rows, or putting a cable in the rib. Or even adding something completely new.” She likes a mixture of challenging work and satisfying results: “A st st jumper would bore me rigid. I like to work with 4 ply – though saying that I do like to knit with chunky and super chunky. I also like knitting socks, especially in variegated yarns, I like to see the colours pass through the needles – watching them is quite addictive. Accessories are a good, quick knit and great for presents.” Knitting has taken precedence over crochet lately, but, she says, “At some point soon, I’d like to get back into it. I like the way that crochet grows really quickly.”

Knitted Sock Sensations“I hate frogging! As does everyone. I just can’t contemplate knitting something to rip it all out again. Time is precious. So before I embark on a project I make sure it’s exactly right on paper and in my head. So far I’ve only had problems with one garment. On the fifth attempt I really felt like burning the yarn. It just wouldn’t do what I wanted!” So Lou is a diligent – though reluctant – swatcher. “Swatching is also that necessary evil. I just want to get straight on and knit. It’s so important though. When I was designing the fulled slippers for Knitted Sock Sensations I did a swatch and fulled it at 40 degrees to work out the shrinkage. For some inexplicable reason when I’d finished the knitting of the socks I decided to put the machine dial to 50. When I took out the miniscule slippers I could have cried!”

However, there are some disasters which even swatching can’t prevent. “My biggest knitting nightmare was when a certain delivery service delivered my parcel of 8 new designs to the wrong address. I was so upset, that my wonderful husband drove all the way from Wiltshire to London at 10pm at night to get it back. He’d never driven in a city before and the route we’d planned was blocked off when he reached London. Somehow he found the ‘scary block of flats’ after midnight and woke up the poor bemused chap to retrieve the parcel. You can’t imagine how elated I was when he called me to say he had it in hands.”

Lou’s favourite projects are the ones with personal significance. “I love the wedding socks that I made for my best friend that are featured in the current issue. It was such a special day, and that design holds so many memories. I was knitting them in the limo on the hen night, though had to give up when I dropped stitches after the third glass of bubbly!” And Lou’s close relationship with her mother is commemorated in the project of which she is most proud – the Sudoku blanket in Weekend Knitting. “I designed it and my mum knitted all 81 squares in record time. Then we spent 8 hours sewing them all together. It was a real labour of love. I lost my mum last year, and every time I look at that blanket it reminds me of her and the work we did together on it.”

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