Friday January 18th 2019

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Diana Troldahl/Otterwise Designs: ‘A way for me to touch someone else’s life.’

bothshiny_mediumAs 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.”

allsmMarriage 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.”

021_mediumA 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.”

cactiHer 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.

knitcu_mediumAbout 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.

shortshellcu_mediumAbout 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.

Reader Feedback

6 Responses to “Diana Troldahl/Otterwise Designs: ‘A way for me to touch someone else’s life.’”

  1. Wow! I am still honored you thought of me, and blown away by your writing. I feel proud of myself right now, and I like it!
    Seriously though, KAS is a fantastic organization and I am happy and touched I could be part of your Knit A Long.

    • Zina says:

      Diana, you’re fabulous! And the squares — ESPECIALLY the crochet one — are gorgeous! I can hardly wait to get started on them!

  2. Dawne says:

    Thank you Diana for such lovely designs. I’m going to buy some ink so I can print them!!

    Lovely article Zina, made for great reading.

  3. Maggie Pringlemeir says:

    My late husband and I were at Diana’s and Oscar’s wedding over a river in a special park. We brought our little dog, Ruby Carnelian,along. That was a day filled with sunshine and laughter, well remembered.

    But lives don’t stay the same.. and my husband died about 5 years ago. Diana spearheaded within an email group we’re both on.. the making of a Comfort Quilt, to remind me that even though I’d suffered a loss, I was still loved and cared about. This woman even had the heart to make a small quilt for Ruby C to lie on .. she told me she knew he missed his Daddy. She was right.

    My quilt covers the headboard of my bed and every night it reminds me of those loving women and especially the woman who assembled and brought it tome. Ruby C died this summer..and I buried him with his little quilted pad, so that he was wrapped in that sort of love for his journey to the Rainbow Bridge.

    I tell you these stories..because Diana won’t. She’s the kind of woman who does things that need to be done and doesn’t ask for any credit, doesn’t even usually want anybody to know where the blessing came from. I am so proud to call Diana and Oscar my friends. They’re just GOOD PEOPLE.

  4. Diana, I am deeply touched that these beautiful designs have been done for knit-a-square and that many of them will soon be flying across the world to warm a lonely, ill or desperate child.

    The names you have given the squares are poignant and move one to reflection and that is what these children need, a great deal of the world thinking about them and ways we can help.

    Thank you greatly for your beautiful designs and Kirsty for your scrumptious yarns. I know that the folk of the knit-a-square community will be very excited to have a go at knitting these squares. I hope very soon we will recognise them on blankets for many children.

    Maggie your story is very moving too and confirms the kindness of Diana.

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