Jen caught up with Ella Austin (BomBella Designs), colourwork toy designer extraordinaire, recently to find out all about her inspiration and process of design.
JAC: I had a browse through your designs on Ravelry, and you really have created some crazily cute toys. Your Intrepid Fox was one of your very early patterns - how did you come up with the idea for him?
EA: Thank you, I love designing toys! Intrepid Fox was inspired by a fabric toy that I bought my daughter from a local fair trade shop. I loved the folk style of the simple shaping and patterned woven fabric. It stood out among her other toys with it's unique character! At this time I was also exposed to a lot of CBeebies and one of the cartoon characters had a fox toy, which I thought was very cool! So these things came together with my recently acquired love of knitting stranded colourwork and Intrepid Fox was born!
JAC: Everyone seems to be really enjoying the process of knitting Alex the Mouse, as well as being inspired by how adorable he is. I have been put off knitting toys in the past by the number of pieces and the intricate finishing they require. How do you go about keeping the balance between the knitting process, and achieving an attractive finished toy?
EA: This is such a good question! I fully appreciate that toys can have a bit of a negative reputation in the knitting world, and I can understand why! Toys can be quite fiddly to knit and it can be hard to finish them well - so the combination of wrestling with a project that feels like a faff and not being that pleased with the result is far from ideal!
I try my best to keep my toys from being fiddly but they often do require some intricate work - some more than others. Usually for me, the end result is the important thing. I try to think of ways to get the result I want with maximum simplicity. I also try to keep the finishing as simple to follow as possible and provide detailed finishing instructions as well as tips - such as knitting the colourwork sections inside out. It also pays to take the finishing really slow by taking your time stuffing the toy evenly, and taking care to keep sewn-on adornments, such as arms and eyes, symmetrical.
I hope that toys become more popular as knitters have more positive experiences of knitting them. Personally I'm absolutely in love with toy knitting, it feels like sculpting little 3D artworks!
JAC: Looking at your colourwork designs, you seem to go for a graphic look in your patterns. Where do you get inspiration from? And is that intentional? :)
EA: I do love a graphic look! It is somewhat intentional! ;-) I like using stranded colourwork to create pattern repeats from a range of inspiration sources. Often I look at existing patterns that are found in other contexts such as ceramics and printed fabrics or printed paper and try to apply a similar look to a knitted fabric.
JAC: Finally, if people have enjoyed knitting Alex the Mouse, can you recommend which of your other patterns they should try next?
EA: I think that this depends on the knitter's favourite aspects of knitting Alex. Two of my more simple toy knits are Dashing Dachshund and Tawny Owl. If you're not put off by intricate finishing then Intrepid Fox is lots of fun! If you've really caught the toy knitting bug then the Dovestone Smallholding has a whole range of characters to make!
On the other hand if you've enjoyed the colourwork knitting but not so much the toy aspects then I have lots of colourwork accessories! Bunty Mitts (left) and Leighton House Handwarmers (centre) are two favourites or my Colour and Line collection (right) offers more of the graphic style of colourwork.
Our thanks to Ella for taking time to answer questions. Ella has patterns for sale through her Ravelry pattern shop and has kits for her more popular projects through her Etsy store. If you are inspired to try out Alex the Mouse and the other 11 techniques, A Year of Techniques is still for sale in our shop.
All photos ©Ella Austin