The Case of the Mystery KAL…An Interview with Romi Hill

IMG_4435A couple of months ago I was scrolling through Instagram and happened upon a post from Rosemary “Romi” Hill about her upcoming Mystery Knit A Long, “It’s a Mystery” shawl and decided to give mystery-knitting-along a whirl. With that, I entered into what was a fun, interesting and challenging knitting endeavor and dragged several of my compadres at the shop along!

For starters, Mystery Knit Alongs ( KAL’s) were all over the place on Ravelry and I was curious to see how they worked and what people liked about participating in them. The formula is pretty simple: a designer makes a knitting project available in clues and those clues are doled out one at a time over the course of several weeks. Participants are told what supplies and skills are needed, and what the object is they are knitting, but not much else. After an initial pattern purchase (which many times is the pre-release price for a new pattern), a clue is delivered to your Ravelry Library and you are notified via email. You pick up your needles, the first clue, and start knitting.

Designers establish a Ravelry discussion board around the KAL and moderators administer the discussion threads, answering questions, commenting on progress and encouraging participants. Participants can comment, ask questions, post pictures of their progress and socialize with others. There are even SPOILER threads on which pictures are allowed for those who want to see what others are doing.

As Romi’s “It’s A Mystery” shawl KAL progressed, both the shop participants and knitters on Ravelry formed an ongoing conversation about the techniques, colors and accessibility of the project. It was fun to see what people chose for their color combinations and see their progress, week by week. Romi even stalked the Ravelry thread occasionally to get a peek at how things were going.

At the conclusion of “It’s A Mystery”, the project/pattern was renamed “Red Rock Canyon” which aptly describes the effect of the lace and color work sections of the beautiful finished shawl. I wrote to Romi and asked her if she’d mind answering a few questions for me that I could share with our readers and she most generously agreed!

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Amy: When were you first aware of Mystery KAL’s?

Romi: I knew that there were people doing mystery shawls back in 2005 and it intrigued me, so I finally tried one in 2007: Melanie Gibbons’ Swan Lake Mystery Shawl. I’m kind of a control freak, so it was a giant leap of faith for me.

Amy: As a designer, does a KAL help roll out a new pattern/design? Are they good sales tools for designers?

Romi: That’s difficult to answer for everyone, so I’ll just comment on my own case. I personally love to do KALs because my Ravelry forum enjoys knitting together. There’s a fantastic community there, and I know they like to have all my pattern releases spread out so they can hang out, chat, and share stories while they work.

Amy: Do you design a piece as a KAL, or design a piece and figure out how to break it down into a KAL?

Romi: For my non-mystery KALs, I just design pieces without thinking about how people with end up knitting them – whether alone or in a group. For a mystery KAL (this was my second one), I definitely design the pattern with the mystery in mind rather than breaking it down into clues later. I try to break it into 5 fairly equal pieces that have something interesting about them. My favorite thing is to begin with a clue that gives the impression of heading in a different direction from where the piece will ultimately end up. Maybe I will end a clue with the top of a motif that looks completely different broken up, or in the case of the Red Rock Canyon shawl, the first clue used shaping reminiscent of a circular shawl before getting triangular in the next clue.

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Amy: How do you decide who your moderators will be on Ravelry?

Romi: It’s super important to me that my forum is a welcoming, friendly and supportive place. My moderators are all helpful and kind, and love to chat with people. We share a common goal in wanting everyone to feel comfortable and relaxed, like knitting together in a friendly living room.

Amy: When you read the Ravelry threads related to each clue, what gets you the most excited?

Romi: I love, love, LOVE seeing all the different color combinations people choose. Some I never would think of to try and they look amazing! Watching it all come together is an incredible feeling.

Amy: What do you feel makes a great/successful Mystery KAL?

Romi: Being moderate, I think. In other words: it needs some element of surprise, but not too terribly much, and it needs to look similar to my other work so knitters can decide whether or not they want to participate. I try not to do anything off-the-wall for mysteries. And above all, it needs to be FUN! My wonderful moderators and Ravelry group members made the KAL a really friendly and encouraging place to be, and I think – in the end – a positive experience and a beautiful product are the most important things.

We are most grateful to Romi for sharing her process with us. To view Red Rock Canyon on Ravelry, please visit the link below:

 http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/red-rock-canyon

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