I am so excited to share an interview today with Alicia Plummer and Melissa Schaschwary - the two incredibly talented and hard working mamas behind Plum Dandi Knits - Simple Designs for Luxury Yarns! (Interweave Press, $24.99, 2017)
Let's jump in!
How did you get started as a designer?
Alicia: I jumped right into knitting, but after a little while I just found that the things I was making didn't quite suit my personality or my lifestyle up here in Maine! I realized that I had the tools to make things that were truly "me", and Melissa encouraged me so much. Right from the beginning of our friendship she encouraged me and supported me, sending me my first stitch book and telling me I should go for it. We were talking so much on Ravelry that we moved it over to facebook...then, we decided to collaborate on a submission for Petite Purls-- I ended up having to call her on the phone for the first time about a piece of math. I was nervous to talk to her--but we spent 5 minutes talking math, and then 45 minutes chatting after that. From there we have talked daily since then! Soon we were bouncing all our ideas off each other, so in a way all of our designs have been very collaborative. Even though they're fully our own, they have a piece of each other in all of them.
Melissa: I started designing not long after learning to knit in 2009. While I loved working from other published patterns, there was something so exciting about trying my own thing. I had a LOT of failed attempts at projects (sometimes they seem so easy in my head lol), but I also successes too and those things kept me going. Putting my first written pattern out there in the world was really nerve wracking and that initial experience of dealing with constructive (and sometimes not so constructive) criticism was something that really helped me to grow as a person.
You are both prolific designers with gorgeous patterns! Where do you find your inspiration?
Alicia: My inspiration comes mostly from life--memories, feelings. I'm a very emotional person and I want to feel something when I'm making. Even if it's grief (like in the Campside Shawl), it's a good way to pour out emotions. Other times it's that certain colors will bring back memories or fleeting moments that I treasure. The Thunderstorm MKAL clues follow the cycle of an actual thunderstorm, with each clue relating to a different phase. It really helps me pause in the moment and soak up the beauty that life has to offer.
Melissa: For inspiration, I get this question so often and never really now how to properly answer it, mostly because there are SO many things that inspire me. Sometimes it’s a song, or a movie, the color of the sky, or the way a campfire smells. Other times it’s simply wanting something… an actual knitted piece or a piece with a certain feature….
What do you feel has been the most important factor in pushing your design career forward?
Alicia: That’s a tough one! I think my unfortunate night-owl personality has been a big contributor. I try to make myself sleep earlier at night but most nights I am wired until around midnight. So I make use of that. The other huge factor has definitely been my friendship with Melissa. From consulting on this cable or that, shooting in this scenario or that one, her input, encouragement, and friendship has kept this job fun for me! I don't think I would be anywhere close to where I am without her.
Melissa: Hands down the most important factor in pushing my design career forward has been having a best friend to tackle things with. As the saying goes, 2 heads is better than one.
You both have children. I'd love to ask you one of the main questions I get asked: How do you balance work and family?
Alicia: Hmmm…I honestly don't think I do! haha. My house is often messy because when I'm homeschooling and we're doing activities and extracurriculars, that's what gets left to the wayside! Sometimes I feel defeated, like I can't do it all. Striking a balance is a hard thing, but I think one of the most important things we can do is give ourselves what God gives us--grace! Not everything is going to be in balance all the time, not all the shoes will be lined up in the entry, not all the paper scraps from when your kids make "snow" will always get sucked into the vacuum. Sometimes their dirty socks are lying in the middle of the kitchen. But being gentle with ourselves and realizing we are doing the best we can is important. And I'm not perfect, nowhere near it. So I don't balance it all always. Sometimes I run to the farmstand and buy a pre-made chicken pot pie so my family can still have a warm, homecooked meal without the extra effort. And that's okay. :)
Melissa: This is something that has changed throughout the last 7 years, since my youngest was born. At the that time 7 years ago, my oldest was 5 and still taking nice long naps. lol I had a lot of time available during the day to research things, crunch numbers and be involved online making friendships and growing my brand. But as the girls have grown, I’m finding that I have less and less time for designing and all of the wonderful things that come along with it. At the moment my oldest is in 6th grade and my youngest is in 1st. We homeschool and both girls are heavily involved in music as well as competitive dance. Any time I had for designing is now spent teaching and then driving 4-5 days a week into the city for dance and, or music. It’s an exhausting, crazy fun time of life and I know that if I don’t enjoy every second of it I’ll regret it because it’ll be gone too soon. The knitting, however, will be here for me, like an old friend, when they are grown and have lives of their own. On days when I get a little down that I might not be doing all I used to, I remind myself of that.
The book is stunning! Can you tell us about your inspiration for it's focus?
Alicia: The biggest inspiration for us both I think was those little moments of rest, moments of finding beauty in the life around you. The times that you take pause to admire the way the golden late winter sun streams in through the windows, or the coffee (tea, in my case, decaf black with milk!) steaming from a warm mug as the daybreaks and the house is silent... (again, I often miss those moments because I'm not a morning person!), a solitary walk through the woods as the smell of fallen leaves and rich earth rises on a balmy autumn day. We wanted to capture those feelings and put them into a book the best we could!
Melissa: Thank you so much! Our primary focus for the book was creating beautiful knits that worked up easily; low stress, comfort kinds of projects that you end up living in and loving. We wanted the overall mood to feel relaxed and luxurious and we incorporated gorgeous yarns that we love and believe in.
What is your spirit animal?
Alicia: Hmmm! Wild or tame? (we're studying both in first grade science right now!) I can identify with a yellow lab. Not the most exciting animal, but loyal, warm, trusting to a fault and always ready to have fun. Can be a lazy bum in the right circumstances! For a wild animal, I'd love to say a deer but I'm really not graceful. Maybe a fox?
Melissa: A coffee bean.
What is your favorite noise?
Alicia: That’s a tough one! The sound of my girls belly laughing, the sound of a strong midsummer rainstorm on the roof of our little camp, the sound of peepers (frogs) in early spring heralding the arrival of warmer weather!
Melissa: Big belly laughs from my kids, and also crazy wind whipping around outside when I’m super cozy under all of my blankets.
What is your dream yarn to work with?
Alicia: That is always changing! Right now it's rustic, airy and light, but also chunky. Sticky enough to do colorwork easily and so reminiscent of life straight off a farm, straight from the source.
Melissa: I LOVE bulky/chunky weight yarns. If it’s super soft, knits up quickly….I’m there.
What advice would you give to people out there wanting to follow their creative dreams?
Alicia: Don’t be afraid of your mistakes. Not everything has to be perfect all the time! Let your creativity take you where it will, and enjoy that process. When you focus too much on perfect stitches or designing something everyone will love, you lose the one thing that makes your work so special—you!
Melissa: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to fail! Some of my biggest failures have given way to my greatest accomplishments. Following dreams always has some scary parts,…some “what ifs” but knowing you did what you dreamed is worth the risk.
Thank you so much Alicia and Melissa!! It is always so great to hear about other people's creative process and how they have achieved their dreams!
Do you want to win a copy of Plum Dandi??? Leave a comment below! I will pick a winner on Friday, 2/16/18!
ETA: Congratulations to Kim W!! I've emailed you :)