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Interview with Janel Laidman

Today’s visitor is Janel Laidman, author and designer extraordinaire. Janel, I’m so excited to hear about your new book, The Enchanted Sole, and delighted to welcome you to Knitting Scholar.

I understand that this collection of patterns is inspired by myths and legends—there are so many to choose from, how did you pick?

Mostly I picked legends or stories that I had a particular fondness for, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or Tristan and Isolde. Some patterns were based more on concepts that are common to many stories, like The Tree of Life, Tinker and Talking Fish. Sometimes I chose the story first, like with the Snow Queen sock, sometimes the design came first, like with the Traveler sock. With that one I knew I wanted a secret pocket, but then I had to figure out who would be wearing that sock.

I haven’t seen the book yet, but I’ve seen photos of some of the designs—they look so creative and fun—is that what you were going for when you designed them?

Well, yes. I think that socks are a fun place to try out new ideas and new techniques. They’re small and can be unobtrusive if you wish, so you can really get creative with them. Something that might be a little overwhelming on a sweater, can look really interesting on a sock. I also was really determined to make sure that all of the socks were wearable and not too over the top. I think this collection is a good balance between whimsical and wearable.

How is this book different from your first, The Eclectic Sole? (Other than the obvious fact of different patterns, of course. Or so I assume.)

This book is a more cohesive collection. The first book, was, well… eclectic! This time around I had the thematic approach of course, and I feel the designs are a bit more integrated with each other, and the book as a whole.

What’s your favorite part about designing socks? For that matter, why socks? (I mean, why NOT?)

I love designing socks because they’re a nice portable project, and they make a great canvas for trying out ideas. They’re also extremely useful, even when you live in Southern California (as I used to) your feet can get cold! You may not need a sweater, but socks are always welcome. I really enjoy thinking about how the overall sock will look, and I am interested in the topology of the foot and the design challenges it presents. Plus, even if you have to dress in the most conservative button down manner for work, you can always hide a pair of fancy socks under your trousers to remind yourself that you’re secretly a prince or princess!

What other types of things do you like to knit? I see that you’ve been doing mittens on your blog, so—what else?

Yes, I am currently smitten by mittens and gloves. I predict that might turn into a book one of these days. But I’m also fascinated by lace, textures and sweaters (now that I live in Oregon I can actually wear sweaters!). I like to knit pretty much everything!

(Editor’s Note: “Smitten with Mittens and Gloves” sounds like great title–or subtitle–potential!)

All other things being equal, colorwork? Or cables? You seem to enjoy both, but do you prefer one over the other?

I do love them both. How can you decide a favorite amongst your children? I love colorwork because, first of all, I love color. And colorwork is such fun to knit because you never want to put it down, you just want to see the pattern emerge! Colorwork makes such a nice fabric too, sturdy, warm, and crisp. Cables, on the other hand, are delicious too… how can you not love cables!? I love the complexity of cables and how you can make them go anywhere you want them to go. They are so sculptural and physical and lyrical. I can’t choose one over the other, I foresee a lot of color and cables in my future.

Rumor has it that you not only wrote your book, but self-published it, too. My hat’s off—tell us a little about that process while we bow at your feet!

Yes, I have a publishing company, Rustling Leaf Press that publishes my titles. Publishing yourself is a lot of work and takes a lot of discipline. There is no one giving you deadlines or guidance. You just have to put your rump in the chair and sit at the keyboard and get it done and figure it out along the way, and then you have to take a big leap of faith and plunk down your hard earned dollars and take a risk. It’s not for everyone, but if you have a stubborn personality, some good computer skills and a lump of cash you can publish yourself! I owe a lot of my publishing knowledge to Cat Bordhi and Deb Robson, both of whom are independent publishers. I learned the basic skills at Cat Bordhi’s Visionary Self-Publishing Retreat, and I had faith that Cat knew what she was talking about and set about getting my first book out there. Deb Robson has a wonderful blog, The Independent Stitch, that talks a lot about her experiences as an independent publisher and I have been an avid follower from the beginning. Both of these lovely women continue to mentor me from afar.

Would you rather be published by a more traditional publisher? Or do you prefer having total control over the process? (This is me, mind still boggling at the prodigious amount of work.)

Well, it depends on which day in the process you are asking this question… hahaha. There are certainly parts of the process I don’t relish as much as others. But I am a curious person and I really enjoy being involved in all parts of the process. Having said that, I would not rule out another publisher for certain projects, but I definitely see a lot more independent publishing in my future.

(Editor’s Note: It’s days later, and as a writer, I’m still extraordinarily impressed!)

I saw in one of your other blog tour stops that you’ve had a varied career history. What’s one thing in life that you’d like to do that you haven’t yet? Or would do if you could?

Oh, I think I’ve tried it all… [chuckle]. If I were younger I think I might have pursued my MFA or perhaps continued my biochemistry career. Or maybe I would have continued my dream to be a translator for the U.N…. nah… I think I still would have chosen knitwear designer! If we’re talking pure fantasy here – I would have liked to be an Olympic athlete!

Are there any other crafts that pique your interest? Or are you pretty much devoted to knitting at this point?

I’ve dabbled in a lot of crafts and had some pretty torrid affairs with some. I had a long stint as a quilter, and my first fiber craft was crochet. I am also a very avid spinner, and I’ve tried my hand at weaving too. I admire the paper crafts – when I was in art school I did a lot of prints and collages and photography, but right now I am pretty much in love with textiles of all types. Even the types of textiles I don’t do myself, I love to see and feel and collect them.

My dog is delighted that you have a dog appear on your blog from time to time. Tell us more! (Is it possible to talk too much about your dog?)

I actually have two dogs. Annabelle is my old girl. She’s about 16 years old which is really old for a big dog. She came to me through a co-worker who rescued her from a dog-fighting pit bull ring. They used her to let the pit bulls bite her. When I first got her she was so happy to be with me she didn’t leave my side for about a year. But she grew up to be happy and healthy and the sweetest dog on the face of the earth. My other dog, Gwen, was also a rescue. I found her wandering in a parking lot at the college I was attending. Every rib was showing and she’d been there for days. She’s my big goofball, she loves to loll around on the floor making me laugh.

(Editor’s Note: That’s two wonderful dog stories! On behalf of dogs everywhere, Chappy salutes you.)

f you had an extra two hours in the day, what would you do with them?

If I had an extra two hours I would cook more, or maybe I’d garden more. I just moved into a new house and I have a dishwasher and a garden for the first time. It’s opened up whole new vistas for me!

Name one yarn you’ve never tried but would love to knit with.

Well, there are so many I’ve never knit with. I think I’d love something that isn’t sock yarn! I’d like to try knitting with Jamieson’s Shetland or Solveig Gustaffson’s bohus yarns.

What is the one thing you would want to say to a new knitter?

There is a lifetime of interesting things to do in knitting! Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t be afraid to fail. My first knitted item was a sweater that was an epic failure, but I frogged it and re-knit it and got twice the enjoyment out of the very expensive yarn I had purchased. I learned so much along the way and felt a great sense of accomplishment. And I still learn and feel that accomplishment with every item I knit!

If you could have a superpower (knitting or otherwise), what would it be?

I’d like to have 8 hands! So that I could knit 3 projects and cook or do laundry at the same time!

Since this IS a site for book reviews–two questions: What do you look for in a book review?

I’m always looking to be introduced to something I haven’t heard of before.

And, since I’m slowly working my way through my knitting book collection, are there any particular books–other than your own, of course–that you’d like to see reviewed? Maybe I could bump something up the list for you?

Are we talking new books or greatest hits? I’d like to see Double Knitting: Reversible Two-Color Designs by M’Lou Baber, Iris Schreier’s Reversible Knits: Creative Techniques for Knitting Both Sides Right by Iris Schreier, and Reversible Knitting: 50 Brand-New, Groundbreaking Stitch Patterns by Lynne Barr and Thayer Allyson Gowdy

(Editor’s Note: I sense a theme, there. Pity I don’t have any of these!)

Thanks so much,

Books (so far):

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