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The magic of turning an idea into reality with Clare Mountain-Manipon

Clare is a knitting pattern designer and design mentor. She learned to knit as a teenager and studied knitwear design but after working in the commercial fashion industry has found her niche designing patterns and helping other people learn to make their designs into reality.

It was great to hear the perspective of a pattern designer, Clare speaks about her design process and how this has helped her to refine her own style and how designing and knitting allow her to create the exact clothes that she feels comfortable in. As well as being a way of expressing her identity, Clare also loves being able to turn her ideas into tangible objects, and the sense of progress and calm that knitting gives her.

If you'd rather listen to the episode, just press play below, or the full transcript is available at the bottom of the page.

Full Transcript


Clare Mountain-Manipon, Mia Hobbs

Mia Hobbs 00:03

Hello and welcome back to series two of the Why I Knit podcast. My name is Dr Mia Hobbs and I'm a clinical psychologist who's passionate about knitting and its benefits for our mental wellbeing. Each episode I interview a different knitter about why they knit and how it benefits their mental health. This week on the podcast, I'm joined by Clare Mountain-Manipon, also known as Sister Mountain. Clare is a pattern designer who has developed her own Sweater Design School where she is a mentor for other people embarking on their journey as knitting pattern designers. Hi Clare, welcome to the podcast.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 00:43

Hello! Thank you for having me.

Mia Hobbs 00:46

You're very welcome. It's really nice to see you again! Because we met... I was trying to think how many years ago we met at the Loop Knit Night.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 00:53

I would say maybe four... five years ago. It was a while ago, I think!

Mia Hobbs 00:57

It was a while ago. Yeah, I think my kids were quite small.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 01:01

I know. And now I have my own kid! [Laughs]

Mia Hobbs 01:03

Yes! How many months is he?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 01:06

He is nearly nine months. He'll be nine months next week. He's growing at an alarming rate.

Mia Hobbs 01:13

And how has he affected your ability to do any knitting?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 01:17

I would say it is significantly reduced, sadly. But obviously worth it. I would say I'm lucky if I get half an hour in the evening, if that. There are some days when I am so absolutely exhausted and all I have energy for is just to flop on the couch. But I do try, because I know how much it makes me feel good when I knit. I do try to make time for it every evening.

Mia Hobbs 01:45

Yeah, okay. So I usually start with asking where your story with knitting began. So where did yours start, Clare?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 01:53

Well, I learnt to knit when I was a really young child. It was kind of that typical story. My grandma knits. She taught me to knit. I knit little teddy bear scarves and things like that. And then there was one Christmas or New Year that my family was going on a hiking holiday, and I was at that age where I was like, "I don't want to go on a hiking holiday. I'm going to go stay with my grandma." I was in my early teens, probably like 13 at the time or something. And I went to stay with her for about a week, and she knit a jumper with me. So I chose the yarn, and it was like a chunky yarn, and it had intarsia on the front. Now, I had absolutely no idea how to do intarsia. I'm one of those knitters (I've always been that type, I think) where I'm just like, "Yeah, I'll just figure it out." I've never been afraid of skill levels. I decided to knit this intarsia jumper. It was absolutely not intarsia, in that I did it completely incorrectly. I think I kind of did standard colourwork in a very strange fashion on there. Not even like traditional. I think I was wrapping it behind every stitch. I don't even know. But either way, I ended up with a jumper, and then the love affair just blossomed and I was knitting every day all throughout my teens. I ended up studying fashion knitwear design at university and went to work in the professional knitwear industry. And now I work entirely in the handknitting industry, as an indie designer but also as a knitting pattern design teacher. So it's been a long journey.

Mia Hobbs 03:24

Yeah! And you kept going basically from when you were 13 and you made that amazing jumper?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 03:30

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I just couldn't stop once I started. So I think was about 13 when I knitted that jumper, and I remember even in my English class, we had to do a sort of presentation about any topic of our choice, and I decided I was going to do a presentation about knitting to all of my class members. I'm not sure entirely whether they enjoyed it or not, but yeah, I just loved knitting. And I've knitted almost daily ever since.

Mia Hobbs 04:02

Can you remember what your classmates thought of you? Because I was always the only person knitting, for example, during my doctorate, but by that point I was 25 and over so I was kind of okay with it. But I don't know whether I would have had the confidence at the age of 15, for example.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 04:18

I think I was a bit of a strange kid anyway. I didn't have a great time in school. I was bullied quite badly. And so I think it got to the point where I was just a bit like, "Meh". So I think there were some people who were interested in it, and some people who just thought it was a little bit lame, maybe, or a bit stupid. But I don't know... I didn't get any more trouble than I normally would from it, to be honest. And I think, as well, there were some people who I was friends with who were very creative, and I think they quite liked the idea that I made my own clothes, even if it was maybe through a format... I think perhaps if I was like really into sewing, maybe it would have been a bit cooler in their eyes. I think just generally, the fact that I could make my own clothes was considered quite interesting to those people who were creative.

Mia Hobbs 05:12

And I'm interested in the idea that the first thing you made was an intarsia jumper, which is quite high-level!

Clare Mountain-Manipon 05:19

Yeah! I quite like this for other knitters as well. It depends on your personality type, but when you're learning to knit it can be very tempting to just do a very plain scarf, because it's just simple. You don't have to deal with any shaping. But people often get bored because they don't necessarily love how it looks. It's quite a long project. I suppose a jumper is as well, but I really loved how it looked. So that was kind of the motivation for me, that I really wanted to wear it and therefore I was going to do whatever it took to do the project, not necessarily expertly! [Laughs] It was definitely a bit rough around the edges, but I was so proud of it and I wore it a ton. I think that can be a really lovely way to approach knitting, in a way, choosing what you want to wear and then learning the skills involved to do it.

Mia Hobbs 06:17

Yeah, I think your motivation will be greater, won't it?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 06:20

Yeah, exactly.

Mia Hobbs 06:21

I think a lot of people give up because they start knitting a scarf, and actually a scarf is just too big. I would struggle to knit a whole scarf because I'd lose my mojo halfway through. It'd have to be a really interesting scarf for me.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 06:34

There's no differing instructions to keep you going. It's all just "Do the same thing for a..."

Mia Hobbs 06:38

Or a milestone, like a sleeve separation or something.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 06:42

Yeah, exactly. I kind of need those milestones to keep me, you know, "Just one more row, just one more row."

Mia Hobbs 06:50

Yeah, and I think sometimes, I've certainly heard about and I think this is true for me, that people at the beginning, because they didn't quite know the scale of the challenge they were taking on, just kind of thought, "Oh, yeah, I'll do that" where they needed something without a pattern. That's something I've heard about. Or knitted quite a challenging pattern because they didn't quite realise how challenging it was, and maybe now as a more experienced knitter wouldn't dive in, in the same way, which in a way is a shame!

Clare Mountain-Manipon 07:15

Yeah, I completely agree. I think you're totally right. Often as a beginner, you don't necessarily realise quite how complex things can be. I was doing loads of cables and fully charted lace stuff, just because I didn't realise that it was considered complex. And as well, this was before Ravelry, even. I think Ravelry was like 2007. This was, you know, years before Ravelry, so I'd had nothing to compare it to. I didn't know any knitters other than my Nana who was a great knitter and she didn't ever discourage me from doing things that were complex.

Mia Hobbs 07:51

Yeah, she must have done a good job by saying, "Yeah, go for it with your intarsia sweater!"

Clare Mountain-Manipon 07:56

Yeah, it's so funny to think about really, in hindsight. She never made me feel like it wasn't doable. I just sat on the couch with her and knitted! [Laughs]. It was lovely. Yeah, very nice.

Mia Hobbs 08:09

So that was a good choice to miss that hiking holiday, as it turns out!

Clare Mountain-Manipon 08:13

It totally was! I mean, even to this day, I think I'd rather sit in a cosy pub and knit than go on a hike. Is that bad?

Mia Hobbs 08:21

No. It's fine. You found your zone. [Laughs] I suppose I'm interested in why you knit now and how you feel it benefits your mental well being.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 08:35

Okay, so I think the primary reason why I knit in general is I love clothes. I love having an idea of what I want to wear and coming up with an outfit. And then also, I'm very particular about what I like to wear, hence why I like making my own clothes because you have so much more control over the materials that you use, the colours, the shape, all of that. And I think design obviously plays into that because I do get so much control over it. But I get a lot of joy, I suppose, from expressing myself through clothes. And even looking back to when I was in my late teens, I remember that when I finished school I moved on to college, and like I said, school was not a great chapter for me. But moving on to college, I felt like it was a fresh start, and I remember when I went there I felt like I could dress however I wanted because I didn't feel like I had to fit into this idea of what the people at school thought about me. I could just be this new person. I could dress the way I wanted. And even to this day, it feels good to express myself through clothing. I definitely am a product knitter as well as a process knitter. Even simply the process of knitting is just so satisfying to me. I think I can be a bit of an anxious person and worry about, like, "Am I doing enough?", feeling like I've got this endless to do list and feeling like I never quite feel finished or never feel like I'm making progress. And with knitting, you can knit and you can see your progress. You're spending time and you get something out of it. Even with long projects, you still see that you're making progress all the time, and for me that's just a lovely feeling. It's reassuring, in a way.

Mia Hobbs 10:35

So in a way, it isn't so much about the action. It's about the feeling of, like, "This is a tangible, visible way of seeing what I did today, or in the last half an hour."

Clare Mountain-Manipon 10:50

Yeah, I think that's exactly it. I love the process of knitting anyway. I really enjoy making things. There's something lovely about having an idea, grabbing the yarn, and then being able to knit it and create something beautiful. I have always been into things that are kind of repetitive, meditative. I don't mind, for example, folding clothes, just having a pile of stuff and just sitting there and folding it. I kind of like the rhythm of something repetitive like that. And I think knitting plays into that. I really am quite happy to do these repetitive tasks. I find it quite calming. But no, I think for me the primary joy that I get out of it, and the primary way that it helps, perhaps, with my mental health, is just seeing this tangible example of what I'm able to do.

Mia Hobbs 11:46

So the sense of achievement of having made it yourself, and also a demonstration of "This happened today". And it sounds like the self-expression thing is also important with the finished object, that it's wearable.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 12:00

Yeah, that's exactly it. I've tried knitting other things. I like making things maybe for the home, or I've tried doing socks, and I like the practical side of it, but I must admit I'm really drawn to sweaters and jumpers because I feel like it's a greater canvas to fit my taste and my personal style into.

Mia Hobbs 12:30

Is that different to it being art, like a wearable art? Is it more about you showing "This is who I am" or is it both, maybe?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 12:41

I think my pieces never feel like wearable art to me, because I suppose I tend to err on the side of practicality as well as something being beautiful. And sometimes it doesn't feel practical to me if it's too elaborate, or a lot of design details in there. It can be very beautiful, but it doesn't feel like me because it doesn't feel functional in my daily life. I'm trying to think of how I'd describe it... I am very much into that kind of functional, beautiful knit, and so I suppose it is more just who I am. It's about who I am. And so it may even look quite mundane to someone else, but for me it's something that I've put a lot of intention into, and thought about how do I want it to look on me, how do I want it to feel, how comfortable do I want it to be. I'm not someone who enjoys wearing form-fitting stuff. I don't like feeling restricted when I'm moving around. I like kind of oversized billowy stuff. And so that's the kind of thing that I would knit because it feels like me.

Mia Hobbs 13:57

Yeah. So it is very much self-expression.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 14:00


Mia Hobbs 14:01

And you must get an even enhanced layer of that, being a designer, and not just a knitter where you're looking at other people's patterns and that's the pool you get to choose from to knit.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 14:11

Yeah, it's just wonderful because you're thinking about every element of the design. And I must admit, I do tend to design with myself in mind. There are occasions where I'll design to a brief, like for a publication, and I'll design something that I wouldn't necessarily wear but I do like. A lot of the time I am thinking about what I want for my own wardrobe. It's just lovely having control over all of those different elements, your likes and dislikes, where you want it to fit. Even selfishly, I'm thinking about my wardrobe, you know. Yeah, it's so lovely to be able to essentially dream up whatever I want/desire and be able to turn it into a reality.

Mia Hobbs 14:58

And how much of it is to do with things like the materials or, for example, things like colour or texture? Does that fit into that process?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 15:06

Yes. So in terms of texture and colour, yes, they totally play a part, but I tend to find that most of the time my primary inspiration tends to come from silhouette, the shape of the garment, but also design detail. So for example, if you've ever bought something ready-to-wear, and you see something that maybe not everyone would see when you're wearing it, like a beautiful lining or a cuff or trim detail, those are the things that really inspire me when I'm designing. I'm just looking at my design board now and I can see I've got very simple silhouettes for most of them, but every single one of them have got maybe two to three smaller design details in there that are very unexpected and just feel elegant and intentional. Sometimes I think as a designer it can be very tempting to maybe select an all-over stitch and then pop it on a classic silhouette, and then maybe use a 2x2 rib trim, because you want to use that particular stitch, maybe you have a yarn in mind. For me, I like to approach it slightly differently and think about every single little element. And sometimes that means that I don't use a very busy stitch on the garment, because I want to focus on other things. Or if I were to use a busy stitch, then I would choose a more simple option. But I do find that it is the shape of the garment and the design details that really get me excited, and then the texture and the colour tend to come in afterwards, and I think about "Okay, what texture of yarn or colour of yarn can I use that will bring out the beauty in these primary elements that I want to emphasise?"

Mia Hobbs 16:53

Okay, so the joy is in the details and the little surprises, and that's the bit that makes your heart sing.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 17:03

Yeah. Honestly, I could talk about it for ages. I teach a pullover design course and I often talk about this with my students. And I think it really plays back into the work that I did as a swatch designer when I worked in the commercial knitwear industry. We would be coming up with new designs every day, and knitting up little prototypes of them, and my boss would always talk about how... you know, choose maybe two to three design elements and focus on those, on making them really beautiful, rather than trying to chuck everything at this one design. And I think the way that I've always interpreted that is it might even be that you put a functional element in your design, such as shaping, that has to be there, and so you might as well make that beautiful and turn it into a feature that you can then kind of celebrate as opposed to hide away.

Mia Hobbs 17:58

To me that sounds like that's harder to achieve as a designer than, for example, putting a stitch pattern or a colourwork motif all over something, and then using a more standard design where the shaping... I guess you can use a book that can tell you the maths. But turning the shaping into a particular design feature probably is harder.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 18:23

Yeah, it can be harder but it's very satisfying at the end. And I tend to find, as well, that people who've gone through the process of really thinking through every single element of their design, rather than just prioritising maybe the stitch or the pattern and then putting it on almost like a template, there tends to be more satisfaction with the design because they really have chosen everything rather than going into automatic pilot and just choosing their defaults.

Mia Hobbs 18:51

That's amazing. In terms of you as a knitter, it sounds like a lot of your design process is about the end product rather than the process of knitting it. How about you as a knitter? Are there particular things you gravitate towards? Do you prefer the more rhythmical stitch patterns that are more simple (if that's not a rude term to use)?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 19:17

No, that is absolutely what I gravitate towards. I love a beautiful-feeling yarn. I am very tactile. I love working with patterns where I get to use a lovely yarn. I'm not too worried about patterns and variegated yarns, that kind of thing. It's not necessarily my vibe. But a really beautiful texture yarn or something in a really special colour, I'm totally drawn to that. And then in terms of the actual stitch patterns, I'm much more of a knit-purl kind of texture person. I do enjoy knitting cables but it's not my favourite. I really am very basic. I can do colourwork, I can do cables, but I've realised that what I enjoy knitting the most, what I find most relaxing, and in the end what I find more wearable at the end, is the simple stuff.

Mia Hobbs 20:16

Yeah. That's good that they all match together though. It'd be tricky if you were someone who wanted to spend time knitting colourwork, but actually it wasn't what you wanted to wear.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 20:25

Yeah, that's so true.

Mia Hobbs 20:28

And I think the main thing is that we all figure out what we need, isn't it? I was writing something about how do you make knitting more therapeutic for you, and I think that's the ideal thing, isn't it? That you find that those rhythmical stitch patterns of knits and purls, that's what floats your boat and you do that. And maybe I need some colourwork to engage my brain to stop it freelancing and thinking about other things. But it's perfect that knitting can give both of us those things, even though they're different.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 20:56

Yeah, that's absolutely the beauty of knitting is there are so many routes you can take it, so many options. You can go super, super complex and really just intricate stuff that is, to be honest, very fun to knit actually, if you're in the right mood. And for some people that is their thing. They love doing that. Or you can spend still get hours of enjoyment from knitting a stockinette sweater. It can still be equally as enjoyable and therapeutic.

Mia Hobbs 21:30

Yeah, and I think a lot of people I've talked to and certainly something I found for myself is I need a number of projects on the go. I do need a complicated one, I think, for my brain, and also actually because I think if I knit something very easy, I can knit too quickly and get pain, like RSI. I think I need something that slows me down so that I can engage my brain in it but not hurt my shoulder. basically. But I also need (like for yesterday supervising two children homeschooling!) a plain sock on the go, so that I can see I may not have had access to my laptop or ticked anything off my to do list, but I did knit an inch of a sock. A mitten, actually, it was.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 22:14

Exactly. I think that's so true. I never used to be someone who had multiple projects on the go. I think possibly budget reasons as well, like I'd buy a yarn, I would knit the project intended for that yarn, and then once I'd finished that project, I'd buy a new yarn, new project. Now, as an adult, I have a bit more expendable income and I'm able to have maybe two/three projects on the go. I do find though that, interestingly, I tend to favour one project, and the other two tend to be at the bottom of the pile and I really almost have to force myself to work on them. So I wonder if I'm possibly a monogamous knitter that is attempting to branch out into having multiple projects on the go. But yeah, I do like that single-tasking thing because, again, perhaps it's the sign of progress for me. Sometimes I feel like when I'm working on so many things at once, I don't get as much done on a single project. I have to wait longer for the final result.

Mia Hobbs 23:15

It dilutes it, doesn't it, I suppose.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 23:16

Yeah, exactly. So I wonder if that's maybe why, actually, thinking about it.

Mia Hobbs 23:20

Are there times your work forces you into polygamy with a knitting project?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 23:25

Yeah. [Laughs] Totally. Yeah, I'll have multiple things on the go, and then normally I'll have maybe a personal project as well, and then now with Nico I tend to have a little something on the go for him as well. I think I do find it more relaxing, actually, to just have a single thing. I think I'm like that in daily life. I like just doing one single thing. I'm not a big fan of multi-tasking. I feel a bit overwhelmed by it. And there is a bit of that that can creep in if I have too many things in my knitting basket. I do like having a bit more focus.

Mia Hobbs 24:00

Do you think you've learnt more about what you need as a knitter over time, and how you work best?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 24:07

Yeah, I definitely do. Probably in the last five years, I would say, I've really started being very, very... what's the word... I think through my... I'd be more impulsive in the past about what I was going to knit. So I'd be more impulsive with yarn purchasing, but also with projects that I was casting on. I'd always find a project that I liked and a yarn that I liked and cast on, which sounds fantastic, right? But my experience is that sometimes with the end project, I feel disappointed because it's maybe not something that I'm going to regularly use. I'm not going to wear it as much. And I've realised that for myself, I need to consider all of that. And so it's really only in the last five years that I've kind of discovered that about myself, and I find that these days I have much less situations where I knitted something and I realised, "Oh, this isn't quite what I wanted it to be." In the past, there'd be a few more where I'd knit a sweater and I'm like, "Oh, I like it, but it's not..." I don't use it very often.

Mia Hobbs 25:15

So it's more intentional now.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 25:17

Yeah, it's more intentional now for sure.

Mia Hobbs 25:23

I was just going to ask about colour - about whether colour makes a difference in terms of... it sounds like you're very much a tactile, texture person in terms of the knitting feeling. I don't know if that's a comfort thing? That's probably my word, not yours.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 25:40

I think it could be a comfort thing, yeah. When I'm saying it has to feel great, I don't necessarily mean that it has to be soft as well. I really love a woolly one as well.

Mia Hobbs 25:53

But it's a texture experience for you?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 25:57

A texture experience, yeah.

Mia Hobbs 26:00

And how about the colour? Does it matter what colour you're knitting with?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 26:02

Yes. I have... I call it my internal colour palette, because I find that I'm drawn to the same colours all the time. I went through a stage... So the time I was talking about when I was in college, and I was exploring what I wanted to wear, was very colourful and I really enjoyed playing with colour. And then when I went to fashion school, I actually found that I pushed that down because I wanted to be cool [laughs] and I wanted to wear black like all the other fashion students. And I think I didn't allow myself to have fun with colour in the way that I should have at the time. And so it took a little bit of undoing after fashion school, and leaving the commercial knitwear industry, because again you do feel maybe that peer pressure to look a certain way or wear what is considered fashionable. Now, I've tapped into what colours I really enjoy wearing. I'm just drawn to them. I can literally just like picture them in front of me, the colours I'm drawn to. And I suppose I don't tend to veer away from them too much, because there are times when I've done that: I like a colour, but then I find that I don't tend to wear it. So I think colour for me is something I love playing with. I love exploring it in the home. I love exploring it in art, things like that. When it comes to my knitwear, whether I'm designing or whether I'm knitting for myself, it's a bit more boxed in just because I suppose I'm thinking about that functionality myself. And also, when you're designing, colour is a little bit limited by photography as well. You can't go too dark, because it could be hard to photograph the details and things like that, so it can be a bit more limited. But no, certainly with knitwear, I get excited by it but it's within limits, to a certain extent. It's within these boundaries of my mind where I'm like, "Okay, this has got to be functional too. How's it going to fit a certain wardrobe?"

Mia Hobbs 28:14

And how would you describe your kind of comfort palette, your internal palette?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 28:18

It is neutrals with pops of more earthy pinks and clays and turquoise and olives, that kind of things. I've got plenty of navy and camel and grey, charcoal, cream, that kind of thing, in my wardrobe. But in terms of pops of colour, they tend to be more accents, and it will be blush pinks, clays, turquoises, olives, that kind of thing. It feels feminine but quite natural.

Mia Hobbs 28:52

And it sounds like it feels like it's not a fashion school hangover. It's you.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 28:57

No. It feels very true to myself. And what's really interesting is now, Nico is nonverbal at the moment, and I must admit I find myself buying him clothes in my internal colour palette because it's just what I'm drawn to. But it's hilarious because often we'll go out and people will say, "Oh, you're matching today!" I really have such a formed colour palette.

Mia Hobbs 29:25

I wondered whether you're knitting for Nico, actually thinking, "Oh, I'm going to knit in a bright yellow because it's not for me and it's different and it's fun." But it sounds like he's been assimilated into your palette currently.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 29:38

I know, he has. It's quite bad. [Laughs] I do have certain colours though that I knit for him that I love, that don't look good on me. I'm very, very pale. Mustard yellow is not the best colour on me. It can make me look a bit sallow. But I really love mustard yellow and he looks amazing in it, so I do knit things or buy him things in mustard yellow because he just looks great in it. But I put him in loads of pinks and people are just like, "Oh, it's a girl!" But I'm a strong believer that colour is colour, and anyone can wear colour. And yeah, he does tend to wear my internal colour palette.

Mia Hobbs 30:12

I'd love for you to tell me about a significant knitting project, Clare, if you've got one in mind.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 30:18

A significant knitting project... I suppose it would be a design project that I did knit, and I believe it was my first published project. And it was on the cover of Laine Magazine. It was years ago, I think 2017. It was one of the early issues. And I remember the magazine coming out and I thought, "Oh, I'd like to design something in this style." It felt quite connected to my own personal style. I designed in The Fibre Co's Road to China Light. It's actually a yarn that I picked up just a sample of, to knit my sister something, not that long beforehand at a little Christmas market. And I thought it was a beautiful yarn. And when I came up with this design idea (it's a drop shoulder sweater) it had this kind of gridded lace pattern that went up the side panels of the sweater and then kind of draped over the shoulder. I just wanted something really light but cosy to knit it in, that would have good drape, because it had a bit of positive ease in there, and I'd had a feeling that this Road to China Light would be beautiful for it. And yeah, I was just shocked, to be honest, that they would even include me in the magazine as a new designer, but also the fact that it was eventually on the cover, which just blew my mind. And I can remember calling my sister saying, "You won't believe this!" You know, I never would have imagined it because I still felt very new in the handknitting industry. Yes, I've got this experience working in the commercial industry, but no-one knew me. I'm still not a fully-fledged established designer in the way that a lot of designers are. But to me that just felt like a huge milestone, and it made me think, "Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can design things that people will want to knit."

Mia Hobbs 32:14

Did that change things for you, that kind of belief? Or did being on the cover open doors?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 32:19

I think I started taking myself more seriously. I think I gave myself a bit more trust that I was capable. In terms of whether other people maybe took me more seriously, a little bit of that maybe as well. I did get published again by other people, and maybe they saw that as a bit of proof that I could do it. But I think the biggest thing that changed really, from having knitted that... and it was a lovely knitting experience, and I went on to work for the Fibre Co as well. So in a way, even just yarn choice was so significant. They were a lovely company. I no longer work for them, but they were a lovely company to work for and a really important part of who I am now, as a person working in the knitting industry. It just felt significant on a lot of different levels. I still have that sample under my bed. It's one of those kind of sweaters that I'll often pull out if I go to a knitting festival or something, because I have a happy feeling related to it.

Mia Hobbs 33:26

So it sounds like that design was really important for you in terms of your mindset as well.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 33:33

Yeah, 100%. It created self-belief, really. In the beginning, I was very much figuring out things as I went along and feeling an amateur, in a way. Even though it's funny because obviously I had a lot of training. I'm trained as a knitwear designer, I've done pattern cutting, I can work with machine-knitting, handknitting. I have this history of skills that I've learnt over the years, not to mention the hand-knitting that I'd done for years and years beforehand. But I still went into it very much feeling unsure of myself and my capabilities. And I think for me, being able to go through that process... and it really was so different to anything I'd done before, because I'd only ever self-published previous to that, and I wasn't working to deadlines in the same way. I wasn't working within someone else's process. I had my own ways of doing things that I had to adapt. But having come out of it, I realised that I was more than capable of doing it, and it gave me that self belief to continue.

Mia Hobbs 34:40

And now you have your own design school where you're teaching other people to design?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 34:45

Yeah, I do. So I have a school called Sweater Design School. In the past, it's opened up once a year; now I'm doing it twice a year, now that Nico is in part-time childcare, so I have a bit more bandwidth to offer to it. I teach beginner designers how to design their first pullover. And I suppose for me, it echoes back to that experience with that pullover that I designed for Laine. It was that thing of learning that I'm capable, and that confidence that comes from having done it and gone through the process. What I find with my students is that that first jumper that they design, there's so much umming and ahhing, feeling uncertain. It's a very complex process, especially when you're grading into multiple sizes. There can be a lot of anxiety around whether you're going to be able to achieve it. But once they come through the end, and they get to the end of the process and they've got that final pattern designed, there's so much confidence that comes from it. And then they go on to do another one and another one, and it just builds confidence more and more as they go through it. So I absolutely love doing that with them.

Mia Hobbs 36:00

So it sounds like you get a lot of joy from taking other people through that process, that you remember was pivotal for you.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 36:06

Yeah. It's so exciting because I'm there with them from the very beginning. So we are coming up with mood boards, then turning them into sketches, and then swatches, and grading it out in a spreadsheet, so you really do see every part of the process and you can see your students transform this early idea into a fully fledged garment that they publish, and then other people knit it! It's such a rewarding experience, not only for the student, but also for me to observe it. I feel so delighted for them, because I know how proud they must feel.

Mia Hobbs 36:42

Yeah. I don't think you mentioned the name of your pullover.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 36:47

Oh! The name of my pullover is the Hay sweater.

Mia Hobbs 36:51

Hay sweater. Oh yeah, I do remember seeing it on the front cover, because I think that was around the time we met each other.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 36:57

Yes, I think it probably was.

Mia Hobbs 36:59

But I'll obviously put a link to it in the show notes. I always end by asking: what's the greatest gift that knitting has given you for the rest of your life?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 37:09

Oh my goodness. I would say the greatest gift that it has given me is that feeling of being able to turn my ideas into reality. That is the most wonderful thing. I love being able to dream something up and then execute on it. And it's this tangible thing.

Mia Hobbs 37:32

So there's a certain magic in that process from idea to a creation.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 37:36

Magical. Yeah.

Mia Hobbs 37:39

That's amazing! That's a really interesting and different answer than I've heard before. Thank you so much for joining me on the podcast. It's been an absolute pleasure to hear about all your ideas. And I think you're the first designer actually, so it's really interesting to hear your designer perspective.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 37:58


Mia Hobbs 38:03

If people want to find out more about you and your sweater school, how would they do that?

Clare Mountain-Manipon 38:08

So all they need to do is head to and there you'll find my blog. I update it regularly with tips on knitting pattern design and resources. And also there is a section all about Sweater Design School. So if you are interested in hearing more about it when it opens up again, which should be sort of late August time, then you can sign up to be notified in that area.

Mia Hobbs 38:32

Super. Clare, thank you so much.

Clare Mountain-Manipon 38:35

That was wonderful! Thank you.

Mia Hobbs 38:42

Thank you so much for listening to the Why I Knit podcast. If you'd like to find out more about therapeutic knitting, you can follow me on Instagram @knittingistherapeutic or at my website If you're enjoying the podcast, I would really appreciate it if you could leave a rating and a review on your podcast app. This will help grow the podcast and let more people know about the therapeutic benefits of knitting. And don't forget to subscribe too. Thank you!

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