Linda Courtney is the designer behind Knitwise Design. She lives in Lubec, Maine—the easternmost town in the United States, near the Bay of Fundy. She’s been a maker since childhood and recalls “desperately” wanting a baby doll in a cradle that was advertised on TV. It wasn’t in the family budget, so Linda used her mom’s fabric scraps and an oatmeal box and soon had a cradle and matching blanket for her doll. That was an early lesson in “how much more rewarding it was to make things yourself.”
Linda’s grandmother taught her to knit when Linda was six. It didn’t take hold at first. She recalls a red and blue acrylic scarf that sat unfinished for “a few years.” At 11, spurred on by wanting to make something special for a friend, she knit her first finished object: a sweater. After that, Linda was a sweater-making machine. She knit sweaters for friends and for family. She explains she “was hooked.”
Elizabeth Zimmerman was Linda’s knitting mentor and, in fact, her life mentor. Linda was 26 and “joyously knitting baby sweaters out of anything at hand, even rug wool.” She read EZ’s “Knitting Without Tears” and credits that book with forever changing her knitting and her life.
“Reading Elizabeth Zimmermann opened my eyes to the possibility of not following the pattern – the expected path in life. With that influence, I made some very unconventional decisions, and just like in knitting – I got a life that was custom designed for me!”
EZ is who “first empowered” Linda to make her own pattern for her life “instead of following the directions.”
Today, Linda credits her various knitting communities with providing her with inspiration and support. She meets with a knitting group in Lubec and “looks forward to every meeting.” She is also part of the larger community of knitters on Ravelry, where she and I met, in a digital sense. With the launch of Knitwise Design, the community of independent designers active on Ravelry has been an influence and a help.
So has living in Lubec. Several of Linda’s patterns are “directly inspired by the amazing natural surroundings.” Her Creek Bottom Cardigan, below, is knit of a bulky weight yarn and a worsted weight yarn. It’s an easy-to-do imitation of the almost-impossible-to-knit bramble stitch. The result represents the “pebbly bottom of a cold creek in the mountains.”
Tidal Cove, modeled here by one of Linda’s daughters, was “inspired by the tidal cove across from my home. Three-dimensional folds give it an almost organic form, while also representing the rhythmic movement of the sea as the tide comes and goes.”
The pace of life in Lubec is “so removed from the standard American city or suburb” that it’s “very conducive to creative pursuits.” Linda explains that the closest shopping mall to Lubec is a two-hour drive and the nearest stoplight is more than 50 miles away. “Less distractions,” the influence of Lubec’s artist community (including Linda’s musician-composer husband), and the natural beauty all “stimulate the creative energy.” Linda finds that the long winters are especially inspirational.
Since August of 2011, Linda has released 12 designs, including a sweater, vests, hats, scarves and socks. She’s designed for men, women, children and babies. She plans on keeping her designing eclectic. She’s “having way too much fun to narrow down my ideas to any special niche.” Linda thinks it might make sense to focus on a particular niche “from a business point of view,” but her approach to designing “hasn’t changed much since I was making things as a child.” She is still usually motivated “by needing something specific” for herself or to give as a gift. Bumpa’s Vest was a birthday design for her father (“Bumpa” to his grandchildren.)
Jo-Jo’s Vest, with Linda modeling the prototype below, was designed as a gift for Linda’s mother.
And the original Castle Hat, shown below, was designed as a gift for her son’s long distance hiking friend whose trail name is Castle.
Even Linda’s two newer sock patterns began life as gifts for friends. Check out Cam’s Camping Socks and Linda’s newest design, Sock Lover’s Socks. (You won’t have any trouble figuring out which is which.)
Linda explains that she “likes variety” and “challenging myself with new things, so I guess I am not going to be easily categorized as a designer.” So we’ll continue to see a variety of cool patterns from Knitwise Design.
And in addition to being committed to a mix of the sensible, the classic, the whimsical, and the stylish, Linda is committed to investing in her patterns. Every pattern is both test knit and tech edited. This kind of attention means that her patterns are “clear and easy to follow…without errors.” It takes “a lot of effort and time—and money for the tech editing” but Linda wants “to feel confident that the patterns I am offering for sale are the best they can be.”
Linda is planning a number of new designs in 2014. She’s working on some scarf patterns in the new Briggs & Little yarn “Lite ‘n Fancy.” She’s also received yarn support from Maine’s String Theory. We can expect a small shawl pattern this year and likely another sock pattern. And you saw it first here, methinks a cowl pattern in a wonderfully textured wavy stitch is soon to be released.
Editor’s note: Thanks so much, Linda, for allowing me to use your photos and for making time for this interview.