colorworKAL: Interview with Anne Berk

Anne Berk
Passionate about intarsia and Argyle, Anne is a veritable expert in colorwork techniques.  Her booklet, Shibui Argyle, is devoted to restoring a traditional technique by adapting the design to appeal to modern knitters.
Anne’s designs and articles have also been featured in Interweave Knits and Piecework Magazine.  Knitting Daily TV recently released a Workshop DVD entitled Inside Intarsia with Anne Berk.  

How did you start knitting?

I learned to knit in the 6th grade, in 4-H, but didn’t keep it up. I started again when studying in Ireland during my junior year in college. I knit sporadically until my kids started school and I decided to study knitting seriously, and began the TKGA Master Knitting program in 1993.

How did you discover intarsia and Argyle?

Knitting an Argyle sock is a requirement for Level II in the Master knitting program. I knit several socks, as practice, and enjoyed the technique.

What drew you to Argyle, in particular?

I feel a connection to knitters of the past, and Argyle was actually a huge fad after WWII. Legions of people learned to knit for the sole purpose of making something fun and fashionable for a loved one. Argyle patterns are still hugely popular, but they are mainly machine-knit, now. I think that is a shame.
Vest from Shibui Argyle
Do you have a favorite fiber or yarn for intarsia & Argyle?
I like to work with wool, as I can use short lengths and spit-splice them together, reducing the amount of ends to weave in. Any fiber works well, actually. I have knit with cotton, linen, synthetics…they all knit up just fine.

How do you choose yarn weight, fiber, and colors for intarsia & Argyle?

The colors are really important. I look for clear, strong colors with the largest amount of contrast possible, so that the design really “pops”. The weight and fiber used will be dictated by the design and type of garment, not the intarsia technique.

Would you recommend a specific needle type for intarsia & Argyle (i.e. circular vs straight vs dpns)?

I used to use straight needles, so that I could see all of the strands easily, and keep them untangled. As I got better with the technique this became less important, and I would use whatever needles were at hand. Now I am knitting intarsia mostly in the round, so I am moving to circulars almost exclusively. A beginner to the technique will probably find it easiest to get proficient using straight needles.

Do you have any tips & tricks you’d like to share?

Embrace the mess! There are lots of strands, lots of ends – it’s OK. The ends are woven in easily, and they are used to smooth gauge, duplicate stitch over the occasional error, the ends are our friends! Learn to manage the colors and ends with efficiency, and you will have a great time with intarsia.

Do you have any essential advice for new intarsia & Argyle knitters?

Really evaluate the chart you are going to use. Argyle is terrific for beginners because the chart is so easy to follow, and produces a wonderful, recognizable result. Beware of complicated intarsia charts that call for many colors in small amounts in random places. One of the things I teach in class is “Chart critique”, and how to modify a chart to make it easier and efficient to knit. This is supposed to be fun, after all!
Pillow from Shibui Argyle
Are there any essential (or strongly recommended) tools and references for intarsia & Argyle?
“Inside Intarsia” DVD, by Anne Berk, “Intarsia Untangled” DVD, by Lucy Neatby, or take a class on the technique. Intarsia is something that is best learned by being shown, doing it with someone who can help you refine your technique, and practice, practice, practice.

A big bag of yarn in many colors, to play with, is also helpful. I have an enormous paper bag filled with oddball leftovers, that I use when designing – to see what colors work well together, do gauge swatches, etc. It’s my “paintbox” – and is mostly Cascade 220 and Shibui Sock.

Any tips in regards to following an intarsia or Argyle chart?

I am a fan of Post-its. I have lots of other gadgets involving magnets, etc, but the Post-its are always around, and work really well. Put the post-it ABOVE the row you are working on, so that you can see that the stitches are lining up properly over the rows below them.

Don’t forget to count your sts, every few rows. Argyle, in particular, is very rhythmic. You won’t need the chart much, but you will need to make sure that the diamonds are all growing or reducing at the same rate. Problems are easy to fix in the first or 2nd row after you make them, but after that it gets tough.

Do you have a favorite time and/or place to knit?

I knit absolutely everywhere that it is possible, without distracting other people. Intarsia/Argyle is no more difficult that any other type of knitting, and is actually easier to carry around because of the small amounts of yarn involved. I have knit argyle in the movies, it isn’t a problem. My favorite place, though, is on my sofa watching TV. I have my scissors and sewing needles, and lots of yarn right there and handy.

Do you carry ongoing projects with you? 

Of course!

Do you carry intarsia & Argyle projects, too? 

Of course!
Shibui Argyle cover

Any tips or tricks for keeping them untangled?

I knit with strands of yarn about an arms length long, pulling them out every few rows to untangle. Sometimes I will want a longer length, and will wind it into a yarn butterfly, which is lightweight and doesn’t tangle easily. Intarsia really travels easily.

Do you knit Continental or English? Or Combined?

I knit with either method. I use both for stranded knitting, prefer Continental for needle sizes over size 9 US, and English method for everything else.

Do you have a least favorite technique?

Oh, this is a good question. I’m not crazy about knitting lace. I love having it, though, so I do knit a lot of lace – and it is usually the most complicated chart possible that I fall in love with. I also love lace yarns, so there you go. I do find lace to require more of my attention, this would NOT be carry-around knitting for me. And that would make it my least favorite.

What is a good starter project for intarsia or Argyle?

I have to say the classic Argyle sock. However, the project that I usually recommend for beginner’s is the child’s vest in “Shibui Argyle”. Knit in bouncy Shibui Sock, the stitches look great in intarsia, and the Argyle chart is quite short. The rest of the vest is solid-color stockinette. You get a lot of Argyle impact for very little actual intarsia knitting.

How did you start designing?

Designing was part of Level III of the Master Knitting program, so I got a good foundation. But really, it came out of playing with techniques and coming up with projects for my students to use for practice. I love patterns, and knitting books, and if you read and analyze enough of them, writing your own is the obvious next step.
Socks from Shibui Argyle

What drew you to designing with intarsia & Argyle?

There were none available! When I developed a class on the subject for Sock Summit 2009, I did some research and there was not a modern Argyle pattern – and certainly no charts – to be found, anywhere. Even the vintage patterns from the 1940’s were written poorly by today’s standards and require a lot of assumptions on the part of the knitter. There was obviously a niche to be filled, and I jumped in to fill it.

Do you have a favorite intarsia or Argyle pattern you’ve designed?

The pink cardigan in Shibui Argyle was actually supposed to be a personal sweater for me. I wanted something soft and pretty and Argyle to wear to Sock Summit for my class. By the time I finished the sweater I was planning to do the booklet, and had to keep the projects for it under wraps – so I didn’t wear the sweater, after all! But I really love the sweater, and everyone who sees it, loves it, too. It is “soft like a bunny”, feminine and modern, and a quick knit. (I knit it over a weekend!)

Anything else you’d like to share or mention?

Intarsia takes practice, but once you master the technique the results are truly impressive.

Any added encouragement for our blog readers?

Don’t ever be discouraged by someone else’s “bad” knitting experience. If you can knit and purl, you are a knitter, and you can do anything. Search and explore for the easiest ways to do things, and allow yourself to make mistakes. Before you rip them out, take a really good look at what you did, and why. There is a lot to be learned from mistakes. I played with “Intarsia in the round” for five months before the light bulb went on and I figured out how to do it without any seams. I made lots and lots of mistakes along the way. The reason that I figured it out is that I didn’t give up.

Hopefully Anne’s enthusiasm and designs will encourage a new generation of knitters to make Argyle popular. If you’d like to try out this handsome technique, or Argyle in particular, there are many patterns available.

In fact, a search on ravelry revealed 142 pattern matches!  So, I hope you will follow Anne’s lead and expand your skill set.  For knitters looking to learn from Anne in person, Anne will be teaching at Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat in February, 2011.

Check back next week for another interview (with whom will be a surprise) and further updates about our colorworKAL.  Until then, happy knitting!

– Sara M.

The post colorworKAL: Interview with Anne Berk appeared first on Knit Purl Blog.

November 23, 2010 by Sara M
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