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Renée Callahan – Elderberry

Elderberry is the first pattern to launch for the Spring Summer instalment of The Almanac Series, where we explore the seasons through yarn, colour and design. The Almanac Series is based on the original farmer’s Almanac guide to the seasons, this collection acts as a seasonal guide to knitting with The Fibre Co. and celebrates each month of the year with an ascribed Yarn of the Month, February is the month of Cirro. This year’s series has a theme of herbalism. 

Renée Callahan

Long term friend of The Fibre Co. Renée Callahan has created an intriguing top-down jumper that is more than meets the eye with its clever use of slipped stitches. We couldn’t wait to find out more about Renée and how she came to design such stunning garments.

Her first knitting memory is of her great grandmother: “She was a prolific knitter of slippers—chunky, acrylic ones, occasionally with a pompom on the toe. No one else in my family knitted, and so she made these slippers for everyone.”

I became a knitter, and then a knitwear designer quite by accident. After studying history of art, I failed to get funding for my PhD and, in a fit of pique, decided to run away and become an artist,” she explains. “Being academically minded, however, the only way I could imagine doing that was to go to art college. I was obliged to do a ‘Foundation’ year as preparation for art college and the programme required every student take a module in each general area: ‘craft,’ ‘fashion and textiles,’ ‘drawing’ etc, and then choose their speciality. There was a really wonderful instructor for the fashion and textiles, and she absolutely convinced me it was for me, in spite of the fact that I had no previous experience of (or interest in) fashion before that moment. After the foundation, I was accepted to a BA degree in Fashion design with knitwear, although I didn’t know how to knit (are you seeing a pattern here too?). I did want to learn however and found a tutor in our department who could show me.” Such determination!

One day I was in the library at college and found an old VHS tape of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s original PBS programme.  It was a completely different understanding of knitting from what I was learning at college, and I was hooked! After I graduated, I opened a studio, full of hundreds of cones of yarn and several industrial knitting machines. I worked creating samples for fashion designers, helping students with their final collections, and making swatches for industry.” 

Elderberry as a work in progress.

But Renée was keen to explore the world of handknitting, which she felt was so much more about pleasure, and enjoying a process and that lead to her designing her own patterns.

Where did the inspiration for Elderberry come from? “Like many of my designs, it is just a sweater I really wanted to wear. I was particularly inspired by the yarn—I used Cirro in garter stitch, and it is the most delightful yarn to knit and wear. The fluffiness of the yarn is made slightly more substantial with garter stitch, and I wanted to add an unusual twist with the almost sporty graphic lines of slipped stitches that create long contour lines down the body and sleeves.” The combination of the construction together with the stitch patterns create a cleverly engineered design, which are part of Renée’s creative signature.

The yarn itself also plays a very important part in her process: “Very often the yarns I use inspire and shape the final design. There is nothing quite like the promise inherent in a pile of skeins of yarn! Every hank contains infinite possibilities and I still think knitting is a kind of magic after all these years.” Renée’s enthusiasm is quite infectious, don’t you think? It certainly has us reaching for the yarn basket.

If Renée were to be cast away to that famous desert island it would give her the perfect opportunity to explore and indulge her love of sweater knitting: “There is always something new to learn with sweater knitting. There is no limit to the ingenious ways knitters have developed to make sweaters, and I am always keen to learn more! Also, I wear sweaters for most of the year, and would probably even wear them on a desert island, so it would be useful to have every type of sweater many times over!”

If you have been inspired to knit an Elderberry, why not do it with the designer, Renée. We are running our first Knit Along and Natter for Elderberry. This will be an informal hour of knitting and chatting via Zoom so turn your cameras on, grab a beverage and your knitting and join us!

You can join us for one session, all the sessions or anything in between. Follow the links below to register for each date.

5 pm GMT | 12 noon EST | 9 am PST on these Tuesdays:
1st March
15th March
5th April
19th April
3rd May

If you are knitting Elderberry, please do share it with us! We would love to see it. If you are sharing on social media, please use the hashtags #MadeWithTheFibreCo and tag us @thefibrecompany.

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