As long as she can remember, Diana Troldahl has always loved otters, and she explains why the name of her design company cites these beautiful creatures. “Otter-wise, meaning, in the way of the otter,” she says, but also: “A pun on “Otherwise,” as I am known in my family for doing things in a slightly different way than most. It just happens, my brain seems to work in a slightly different track than the people I know.”
“I used to not like it (during my conforming teens and early 20s), now I celebrate it.”
For an equally long time, Diana worked with fiber, mainly in crochet, which she learned from her grandmothers. “I learned to knit, but I kept forgetting how to bind off! I would often ‘design on the hook’ creating dragons and unicorns and dolls with crochet.”
While living in Japan and teaching English as a second language, she re-taught herself knitting. “I made a “boyfriend sweater”. If his arms had only been a few feet longer, it would have fit him perfectly.” Her main focus, however, was quilting, working with both practical quilts for bedcovers and art quilts, specializing in mythic themes.
“Medical issues related to poorly healed surgeries mean I can no longer sit upright for long periods. When I gave up quilting, I took up knitting again, unknowingly knitting Asian style with half-twisted loops.”
Marriage to Oscar yielded an unexpected opportunity. “My sister-in-law is Lynn of Colorjoy. Not long after I married her brother, she asked me to test knit a pattern for her as a beginning knitter. That’s when I discovered I had been knitting Asian-style,” Diana says. “I have a background as an editor, so I began to help in that way on several of her designs. From that I learned the standards of pattern writing and began to design myself. I began to read all I could about knitting and several years later am still learning something almost every day.”
“Without Lynn, my life would be very different now.”
For Diana, designing is an intensely interpersonal experience. “First and foremost, the process of knitting a pattern has to give me contentment or happiness on some level, and I hope to convey that in some way to the people who knit my designs.”
“I get my biggest thrill from seeing the finished items people knit from my designs. Reading their stories about why and for whom they knit something I designed is incredibly moving for me,” she says. “It gives me a wonderful sense that my work has meaning. I doubt that thrill will ever go away, no matter how long I design.”
“There are so many things I want my patterns to accomplish! In a very real way, they represent me. They are a way for me to touch someone else’s life.”
A North American customer knit Diana’s ‘Cloud On Her Shoulders‘ (designed to be light but comfortingly warm on the shoulders for those in pain) for her mother, who lived in France. A few months later, her mother passed on and the shawl returned to her.
“I can’t remember her exact words, but I got the impression knowing her mother had something tangibly soft, made with her own hands and wrapped around her mother’s shoulders meant a great deal to them both.”
One of Diana’s goals is to create patterns clear enough for any knitter of any experience to understand. A customer with dyslexia wrote Diana with great excitement that because she had used micro-steps to explain the cabling process in the pattern for her Elijah hat, her customer was able to knit it without frustration, and gained enough confidence to try other patterns she would not have attempted before.
“On really bad days when I can’t think clearly and am limited to knitting rows of garter stitch, I hug those stories close until my brain comes back from vacation.”
Diana has fibromyalgia, which demands certain scheduling priorities. “I can never count on having a good day at any specific future time so I do my best to meet any commitments early to avoid disappointing anyone,” she explains. “Much of the published knitting world is structured to send in an idea, get approval, and only then begin to knit a sample with yarn the magazine provides.”
“I can’t work that way. Should something occur and I be allowed only two weeks to produce a sample, there is no way I can be certain of meeting that deadline. As a consequence, I tend to create a pattern start to finish, then submit it. If it is not accepted, I can always add it to the patterns I publish under Otterwise Designs.”
With the wry sense of humor that anyone who has read Diana’s blog will quickly come to recognize, she adds, “On the plus side, I have time to knit.”
Her inspirations come from everywhere. “Ideas for designs come from all over the place, but I am perhaps more susceptible to a line or pattern that comes from nature. The best of my designs (at least in my opinion) start with a simple idea that snuggles into my mind and just won’t let go.”
Diana is our first guest designer to offer not just one, but two designs for squares for our KAL for Knit A Square! They are drop-dead gorgeous, and I can hardly wait to start my first squares with her patterns. (Almost directly after Diana posted the patterns on Ravelry, people began to queue and favorite them!) The samples are knitted with yarn generously donated by Kirsty Clarke of Wharfedale Woolworks.
Diana offers us (and any knitter and crocheter wanting to knit squares for KAS) two different designs. You can download the patterns here to knit Woven Seeds and to crochet Ocean Waves (PDFs), or if you’d prefer to download the PDFs to your Ravelry library, Woven Seeds is here, and Ocean Waves is here.
About Woven Seeds:
This reversible block is an adaptation of a stitch pattern chronicled by Barbara G. Walker. I chose this particular stitch because the seeded pattern reminds me that each small thing we do can bear fruit beyond our imagination. The love and care we put into our work for Knit a Square may be the seed of self-belief in one of the recipients, and knowing that strangers cared enough to create just for them may be the beginning of them caring for others.
About Ocean Waves:
The beautiful yarn Kirsty Clarke donated for this block is called “Oceanic.” This wavy shell stitch reminded me of the oceans our blocks travel to get to their destination. The deep waters separate our continents, but also connect us across the world. This is a fairly standard shell stitch pattern I adapted from one of the Harmony guides to make an eight-inch block. The slight wave at the top will disappear when it is joined to the other blocks using the final single-crochet row.