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Made by Mama: Elizabeth from Sweet Paprika

Andrea Sanchez

I'm so happy to have Elizabeth with us this month for our Made by Mama feature. She's half of the team behind Sweet Paprika, yarn dyers and knitwear design. She also designed and provided the yarn for the Autumn Hike Hoodie from the Knittin' Little Fall/Winter 2016 collection. 

Through February 5th, Elizabeth is offering 15% off Sweet Paprika Designs Stacatto Organic yarn. This is the same yarn used in her Autumn Hike Hoodie design from our Fall/Winter collection. Use code KNITTINLITTLE15 at checkout!

sweet paprika 1

So tell us how it all began. How and when did you start knitting?

I tried to learn to knit on my own from a book when I was 8 or 9, buy my tension was way too tight and I was using horrible plastic kid's needles and I just couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. Luckily my grandmother came for a visit and taught me to knit when I was 11 and I haven't stopped since! I was always a crafty kid and learned crochet, sewing, and basic weaving and embroidery before knitting. Knitting and crochet have stuck with me the most over the years, but I've been getting back into the sewing and weaving lately.

So, I've been knitting and crocheting since I was a kid, but it was while I was unemployed for a couple of months while living in England that I first thought about starting my own knitting business. I began by doing some sample knitting for another designer, which led to a freelance tech editing career and once I got back to Canada in 2007, my sister Debbie and I launched Sweet Paprika Designs. 

Could you explain what Sweet Paprika Designs is?

Sweet Paprika is a hand-dyed yarn business and we also design knitting and crochet patterns and kits. When we started out Debbie and I both did a bit of everything, but as Sweet Paprika has grown we realized we needed to each take responsibility for an aspect of the business. With her background in costume design and fine arts, it seemed natural for Debbie to take charge of the yarn and dyeing, and my tech editing experience has been invaluable in heading up the pattern side of things. 

What makes Sweet Paprika unique?

Because we started out both dyeing yarn and designing with our own hand-dyed, from the beginning it’s been very important to us that our yarn looks good in any project. For this reason we specialize in semi-solids and subtle variations that give a depth to your projects without competing with the design. 

We’re very picky about our base yarns and will often try many, many options before adding a new yarn to our line. We want to offer high-quality unique yarns that we know our customers will love as much as we do. 

We’ve also been experimenting over the past few years with working with local producers to create custom yarns that are 100% Canadian. It’s truly inspiring to visit the farms where the sheep or alpaca are raised, and to be involved in the entire process from washing the fleeces to dying the finished yarn. It’s very important to us to support local industry when we can, so this is an area of the business we hope to gradually expand over the coming years.

When designing our knitting and crochet patterns, our goal is to create patterns that are both fun to make and easy to wear. We have a variety of patterns for all skill levels from basic to adventurous and we try to include a large range of sizes when appropriate. We enjoy experimenting with interesting techniques and finding the perfect finishing details to make a project look just right.

I love the rich and saturated colors in your palette. Where do you come up with the inspiration for these?

Often from nature, sometimes from customer requests, sometimes just from playing with dyes, experimenting and seeing what happens! When working with a new yarn we’ll usually dye a whole bunch of very small skeins in different colours to try out possibilities and then pick which ones to develop further. That way can we make sure each yarn line is cohesive, I like designing patterns with more than one colour, so enjoy having a palette of colours that work well together.

I love hearing about how people juggle their business and their family - I guess it makes me feel normal! haha! What does a typical day look like for you?

On a typical weekday I’m home with my 3-year old son during the day so I’ll try to get an hour or two of work time in during his nap and then another couple of hours in the evening when my husband is home from work. I often work a longer stretch on Saturdays but try to reserve Sundays for family time. My sister Debbie and I usually have a weekly check-in to make sure we each know our goals and priorities for the week and we talk almost daily on the phone to keep each other up to date.

Balancing parenting and a business is certainly a challenge at times, but I do appreciate that it gives me the flexibility to be at home full-time with my son – something that was always important to my husband and me. My husband is very supportive and although he’s not involved in the day-to-day running of the business, he’s great at offering suggestions and helping me brainstorm. He’s my go-to person when I get stuck on naming a pattern!

What have been the best and worst parts of running your own business?

The best part has been creating something, watching it grow, and learning a ton of skills I wouldn’t have otherwise (web design, bookkeeping, photography…). I also love connecting with the wider knitting community both online and in person.

The worst part is balancing the business with the rest of my life. It often feels like there’s so much to do and never enough time, so it can be hard to turn off and feel like your work is done for the day.

I really love how the Autumn Hike Hoodie turned out using your Stacatto yarn. Which yarn base do you think is the best for knitting for children and why?

This depends on who the parents are! I really love the Staccato Organic worsted merino for kids. It’s soft and knits up quickly, BUT, it will felt if not washed properly so I only use it if I know the parents are well-versed in washing hand-knits. If I’m not sure, my go-to kids’ yarn is Minuet which is a DK superwash merino and comes in lots of fun colours.

How do you share your love of yarn with your little one? Do you have any fiber related books you read with them? 

My son has been surrounded by yarn since he was born. So far he loves helping me use my ball winder and swift to wind yarn. He occasionally gets to visit Aunt Debbie at the yarn studio and has “helped” with fleece washing, labeling, and telling us his colour preferences. He seems to like buttons as much as I do, so he always gets to pick out a few of his own when I go button shopping. He’s started making requests for me to knit him things and it’s always gratifying when he picks out his clothes in the morning and chooses something I knit him. So far we haven’t read any fibre related books, but that’s a good idea!

Feeding the Sheep (this month's book club pick) was my favorite to share with my son the summer before he turned three and he might relate to the activities in it as well! At the end of the story, we find that the mother has been processing all this wool to knit a sweater for her daughter. What has been your favorite thing you’ve knit for your little one? Or any children’s pieces you’re looking to try?

It’s so hard to choose one! My current favourite is the Little Leif hat I just knit this fall because my son asked for me to knit him a hat, chose the colours himself and I get to see him wear it every day this winter.

I’d like to try making more kids socks. So far I’ve only made my son one pair (which he’s now grown out of), but I have Clare Devine’s Sock Anatomy ebook that I’ve been meaning to work my way through.

Where can knitters/crocheters find you (online, shows, websites, etc.). 

Online I spend most of my time on Ravelry, Instagram and the Sweet Paprika blog. You can also find some of my patterns on Craftsy and Patternfish

I’ll be at the Knitter’s Frolic in Toronto in April and the Prince Edward County Fibre Fest in May. We also host a monthly knitting tea and the occasional knitting picnic in Montreal if you’re ever in the area! You can check the events page of our website for up-to-date information. 


Thank you again Elizabeth for sharing your story! I am loving that Zippity Raglan pattern. I'm always on the lookout for cute and easy sweaters for the kids. Elizabeth will be giving away TWO copies of her pattern to two commenters. Just leave a comment below and the winner could be you! Winners will be announced next Monday and contacted via email or Ravelry message so be sure to leave some contact info! Happy knitting!

Book Review: Sherlock Knits by Joanna Johnson

Andrea Sanchez

I'm happy to share with you today a new book, Sherlock Knits by Joanna Johnson! You might know her from Phoebe Knits or Henry's Hat. This newest book of Joanna's is not a picture book, but a complete book of patterns inspired by Sherlock Holmes!

I want to start by saying I think the best thing about this book is that there is something for everyone. This 10 piece collection includes garments, accessories, and home items. I love that these pieces are inspired by Sherlock Holmes (I earned an English degree in my previous collegiate life so I have a strong and proud nerdy side) but yet they are still so attainable for a knitter who might not be as big a fan. 

Socks for Mary is probably my favorite piece from this collection and the one that I want to cast on for as soon as I can! These socks are knit from the cuff down and feature and relatively easy lace and texture pattern. They are available to knit in two sizes and have both written and charted instructions (that's just the best). I am super taken with the lace pattern and think these socks are just the right amount of lacy, understated glamour. 

Scotland Yard Vest is another favorite and has me seriously considering doing the math to size this to fit my kiddo! The herringbone colorwork thrills me. Can you imagine all the color combinations?! This vest comes in adult sizes 36" chest circumference to 48". While it is intended for men, I believe, I follow Joanna on Instagram and she has been knitting on for herself. She's modified it for a woman by adding some waist shaping and I have to say, it's looking pretty smart. 

Copper Beeches Cowl is one of the pieces that will appeal to all knitters. How beautiful is this cowl?? So simple and elegant. If you can only knit one accessory this season, let it be this. It's also knit in one of my favorite yarns, TECHNO from Blue Sky Alpacas. This yarn is a bulky weight but light as a feather. 

There are still more great patterns from this collection. You like shawls? Check out Speckled Band Shawl. It is just the sweetest shawl (shawlette?). Are you looking for a more classic men's sweater? What about a Sweater for John? I've come to really love some great garter stitch placement. 

Take a few minutes to check out these patterns on Ravelry and tell me which is your favorite! I'd love to hear what you'll be making first. 

New Pattern: Morning Chores

Andrea Sanchez

When I first read this month's Book Club pick, Feeding the Sheep, I knew it had to have a sweater to go with it. It warms my heart to no end that at the end of this story we find the mother has been processing all that wool to make a sweater for her daughter. I wanted a mostly simple sweater using a rustic but really special yarn. Morning Chores is it!

Morning Chores is a basic, bottom-up pullover. It is knit entirely in the round with the sleeves first, then body, then joining everything at the yoke. I love this method because once you get to the yoke you are done almost right away! It feels so gratifying to me.

What makes Morning Chores so special is the pop of color and texture in the yoke. This is accomplished by the garter stitch shoulders and two-color brioche on the front and back. Add in a couple of short rows at the collar and there you go!

The yarn for this project is one of my favorite farm-friendly DK yarns, Jill Draper Makes Stuff Rockwell. Rockwell is a great Cormo/Merino cross grown on domestic sheep in nearby New England. I love how lofty and full the yarn is (which is why I can knit it at a larger gauge than most DKs with no problem) and it has an amazing sheepy texture; not too rustic, with just the right amount of lanolin feel. It is not superwash, but D has gotten toothpaste on another sweater made from Rockwell before and it stood up well to a bit of scrubbing. 

I hope that you love this sweater as much as I do. It made me think of a morning outside, taking care of daily chores. Basic and comfortable with a pinch of awesome. I also know some children are opposed to a bit of a rustic yarn (trust me, I get the "it's too itchy" comment too) so I knit a second sample using a smoother, superwash wool. I'll share that in a couple days, but you'll see that it turned out just as awesome!

Morning Chores is available for purchase from my Ravelry store!

January Book Club: Feeding the Sheep

Andrea Sanchez

This post contains affiliate links.

It's been a while but I'm back with a new book club pick for January: Feeding the Sheep by Leda Schubert.

I picked up this gem at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in 2015 and have been waiting for the right time to share it with you and it's finally here! 

Feeding the Sheep is what you would consider a circular plot. This means that the story begins and ends in the same place (think, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie). In this case, that place is feeding the sheep. 

The story follows a mother and daughter team through the seasons as mom tends to her sheep from feeding them, to shearing, to washing the fleece, carding and spinning, dyeing, and finally knitting a sweater for the little one. The language is simple and repetitive while bringing in some great new vocabulary related to the fiber arts. I love how with only a few simple lines on each page, the text has a wonderful sing song quality to it (What are you doing, the little girl asks. Feeding the sheep, her mother says. Snowy day. Corn and hay.). 

What makes texts like Feeding the Sheep really special is its ability to capture the attention of our littlest readers. When I purchased this book for D, he was just a bit over 2 and a half and this quickly made its way to our #1 regular bedtime story. Because of the predictable text, after several readings he was able to help me "read" the story by reciting the "What are you doing?" line on each page.  

My favorite thing about Feeding the Sheep is the ton of fiber related vocabulary I was able to teach D. Each time we read a new page I'd ask, what is the mama doing? And he would reply with knitting, or spinning the yarn on her spinning wheel, etc. I also loved that we were able to relate a lot of the process of shearing and wool prep with things we had seen at Maryland Sheep and Wool. I know I keep saying love, but this book really is one of my favorites. We have read it over and over and over again. 

Repeated readings are one of those things that you love, and also drive you completely nuts. Raise your hand if you've ever read the bedtime story with your eyes closed mumbling "How do dinosaurs say goodnight..." while turning the pages at all the right parts! Yea, me too. But repeated readings are so very important for early literacy development. They encourage vocabulary growth related to the text as well as greater text-related comprehension. This is the reason you can read Kitten's First Full Moon about 50 times and your child still has something different to say about it. Books that also have that special sing song quality (I'm looking at you Goodnight Moon) are enjoyable to listen to. Children like hearing your voice reading that rhyming story. Here is a short study that gives some tips for making the most out of those repeated readings. 

Feeding the Sheep by Leda Schubert

I hope you have a chance to get a copy of this book. Right now it's less than $4 for the hardcover on Amazon! SO totally worth it! Grab a copy and get ready because I have a new pattern coming for you and some fun fiber related activities! If you join us this month please share on Instagram using #klbookclub. Happy reading (and rereading)!

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