Meet the Author: Marna Gilligan, Author of Cat Knits

Tell us a bit about your new book?

It’s Cat Knits! I love cats, and I love knitting – and apparently I am not alone in this. The book contains lots of cat-themed knits – both garments and accessories – for the cat-obsessed knitter.

I’ve tried to structure the book to make it easy for knitters to pick up new skills – each chapter has a project that’s perfect for learning the techniques they showcase, so knitters can try something out and build their confidence before tackling the bigger knits. And each chapter has both long (sometimes epic) knits as well as quick weekend projects.

What is your favourite project/technique featured?

My favourite project is the Big Cat Cardigan. I was delighted with it when I finished knitting it. I had a vision in my head, when I was designing it and knitting it up, and the reality surpassed that. And I love a big, cosy slouchy cardigan. Also – this detail still delights me – there are pockets behind the heads of the cats. Cat! Pockets!

It wasn’t my favourite project to knit, I have to admit. There were a lot of strands of yarn to look after, and a lot of ends to weave in once I was done with the knitting (and I hate weaving in ends) but it’s totally worth it for those big cat faces.

My favourite technique to work on is still – always – colourwork. I love the rhythm of the stitches, and the magic of seeing the little pictures emerge from the stitches. I love designing colourwork – there’s a lot of satisfaction in getting the perfect combination of tiny stitch pixels – but I also really enjoy knitting it. The Cropped Catsweater is a perfect relaxing project for me – just knitting around and around, making little cats as you go – but if you’re new to colourwork the Covered in Cats Cowl is the perfect place to start. It’s a quick project, and very forgiving.

What was your route into craft?

I was one of those children who always wanted to be reading, drawing or making, and I guess I just never grew out of that. I’m always making something, and I love learning new crafts, and figuring out how to put things together.

I learned to knit when I was seven, but I got properly, deeply into knitting about fifteen years ago. I went through a very bad patch of anxiety and knitting was the one thing that really helped to calm my jangly mind and give me a little mental space. These days I do still have anxiety problems, but I’m very practised at managing it, and knitting is an essential part of that. I always have what I call a comfort-knit on the needles. Sometimes that’s the excitement-free body of a sweater, sometimes a simple shawl or cowl, but it’s always there for me to

Where do you look for inspiration: travel, other designers, Pinterest?

It comes from all over, and often from the strangest of places. (I have a design in progress – slow progress – that’s based on a multi-storey car park that I saw in Stockholm a few years ago.)

I always have a little sketchbook with me, and I squirrel away my ideas and sketches in that. A lot of them never make it out of the sketchbook. Sometimes I’ll see two colours that NEED to go together so I’ll start thinking up a way to combine them. Sometimes a doodle will evolve into a pattern. And sometimes I think up a terrible pun and them need to make it a reality.

What is the most challenging thing about being a designer/maker?

I do this as my full time job. That’s amazing, and I know how lucky I am, but it is a very precarious way to earn a living. I spend a lot of time worrying that I’ll not be able to feed the cats and pay the vet bills (or feed myself, and pay the rent). That can be tough. But I do have other skills I could fall back on – I used to develop websites – so I know that’s always there as a safety net.

What makes up for the challenges?

Everything else! I get to do what I love all day, and I get a huge satisfaction from knowing that I’m making a living with what I make with my hands. And I get to be my own boss and can call my cats my colleagues….

One thing I really love about being a knitwear designer is watching what happens to a pattern when I’ve sent it out into the world. It’s amazing and inspiring to see people bringing their own creativity to the pattern to create something unique, whether that be by using colour, or making little – or large, sometimes – tweaks to the pattern. Way back when the Sinister Catdigan was being test-knit one of the test-knitters played around with the design to have a few of the cats appearing in a different colour – those different cats represented her cats. And this has evolved, so that now there are remembrance-cats, also, popping up on peoples’ knits. I sometimes get a bit weepy when I see them.

There’s also the community. I have – mostly through Instagram – a whole new network of lovely people who celebrate knitting and cats – and sometimes even dogs! I’ve also discovered a whole new community of designers and yarn dyers; we help each other out, and support each others’ businesses.

What do you think the Next Big Thing in your craft will be?

I hope it’s a move further towards careful making; creating things that we’re going to be wearing for years to come, and learning how to look after and repair those makes.

How big a part, if any, does sustainability play in your work?

It’s very important to me – in both my work and in my life more generally. I really believe that making can be an act of glorious rebellion against the mass-consumerist culture that’s smothering our planet.

There’s a huge value in knowing how much work and skill it takes to make something. And I think us knitters do know that better than most – think of all the hours that go into making a sweater or a shawl. The world of fast, throwaway fashion is still dominant, but I believe that we can fix that. And making – whether it be knitting or crochet or sewing – is a huge part of that battle.

Who (dead or alive) would you invite to the perfect craft retreat?

Ooh, good (hard) question! I would like all the cats I have ever known to attend with me. Actually, no – that would be a yarn nightmare, wouldn’t it? I think I’d like to invite all of the cat (and dog) loving knitters in my instagram feed. Is that cheating?

What advice would you give to your beginner self?

Have a bit of confidence in yourself – you CAN do this, and people will really like the things you make. Actually, this is advice I would also like to give to my current self a lot of the time.

Find Marna on Instagram and Facebook or visit her website.

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