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Editorial blog

5 minutes with Susie Johns

06 May 2018

Tell me a little about your background?

I’m from Swansea, South Wales, but have lived all my adult life in London. I studied acting, then switched to Fine Art, studying at Croydon College, Newcastleupon- Tyne, then Ravensbourne. I then went on do do a MA in Printmaking at The Slade School, University College London. I’ve also got a PGCE from Greenwich University, so I am qualified to teach. After college, I went straight into publishing.

How did you get into knitting?

Both of my grandmothers were brilliant at sewing, knitting and crochet, and so were my mum and my aunt. Between them, they taught me. Crochet came later, when I was at university and needed to save money by making my own clothes.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I am constantly thinking of ideas. I carry a sketchbook wherever I go, and I write notes and make sketches all the time: even at a bus stop or on the Tube. Everything I make begins with a drawing. The next stage is to source yarns and make swatches to test out colours, stitches and measurements. The thing I like best about knitting is that it starts with such simple ingredients: a ball of yarn and a pair of needles. Once I get started on making up the design, I often have to measure, re-measure, unpick, and start again. There is a certain amount of trial and error involved. As I work on a design, I make notes, then when the item is finished, I type up the notes on my Apple Mac. Publishers supply their authors with ‘style sheets’ and it is important to adhere to this as closely as possible. Having been an editor myself, it’s something I understand and respect.

You have written a number of books. Why did you start writing and how much do you enjoy it?

I have been a freelance since 1994. Before that, after university, I worked in-house on magazines and partworks, working my way up through the ranks from editorial assistant, sub-editor and deputy editor to senior editor, on a range of needlecraft, cookery, gardening and childcare titles, until I decided to go it alone. After a lot of perseverance, and using contacts that I had built up over the years, I began to get commissions from various craft and general interest magazines. Once I had established myself, I put together a portfolio of my published work and got my first book commission. By the time that knitting started to enjoy a big revival, I was an established author, ready and eager to write my own knitting patterns, for both books and magazines.

If you could offer your younger self some advice what would it be?

Listen to advice, especially from those with plenty of experience, and be generous enough to pass on your skills to others. Above all, believe in yourself.

What’s your earliest memory of crafting?

Making dolls’ clothes and little rugs and pictures for my dolls’ house, which was hand-made by my mum and dad as their dream home, and included a darkroom (my dad was a photographer), a stylish open-plan living room, and a Jeep in the garage.

What is the one craft tool you would save in a house fire?

All the craft tools I use could be replaced – but I would try to save my sketch books.

If you had to pick just one craft above all others what would it be?

I would love to give you a straightforward answer but I couldn’t choose just one. Knitting is probably best for garments, especially jumpers, while crochet is very versatile; but I also love hand embroidery. Is drawing a craft? If so, I’ll pick drawing!

Which other crafters do you admire?

Kaffe Fasset: he’s a knitter and a painter, which I can completely relate to, and he is such an inspiration. I am also a big fan of Kate Jenkins’ work. Her sequinned fish and shellfish are glorious.

What do you do to relax?

As a freelance, I work every day, including weekends, to meet deadlines and to earn a decent living. As well as designing for magazines and books, I teach part-time at a local Adult Education College – The Learning and Enterprise Centre, Bexley – mostly Knitting, Crochet, Drawing and Painting. This means my working life has plenty of variety. But it’s not all work and no play: I do take a break from time to time. I love visiting art galleries and museums. From where I live I can travel to Tate Modern by boat. I also love The National Portrait Gallery, the V&A, The Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea, The Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagan’s, near Cardiff, and The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. I also like to visit markets – such as Greenwich Market, Brick Lane, Columbia Road and Portobello – and to browse in junk shops in London, Brighton, Hastings and St Leonards, and car boot sales when the weather is nice.

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