It is my pleasure to introduce Melanie Rice, principal and designer extraordinaire for Melanie Rice Handworks who designs both knitting and crochet patterns. Foremost, Melanie Rice is well-known for women's shawls with biased construction. While her most recent work focuses on women's accessories, she also has a sizable collection of crocheted homegoods for the kitchen and den including felted baskets & bowls, kitchen accessories, and blankets, rugs & pillows. Melanie focuses on "producing practical, adaptable, classic designs for knitting and crochet."
I am especially excited to show off this wonderful designer since she is a fellow Texan. Melanie resides in Dallas, a thriving metropolis in north Texas where the trees are tall, the weather reflects each season, and there is a thriving crafting community, too.
Melanie Rice was kind enough to give me her undivided attention for a little interview that has since morphed into a very specific dialogue of designer and avid fan. Her work shows a wonderful combination of texture, shape, and patterning. While she may not have a singularly-defined repertoire, her broad interests and understanding of shape and pattern have created some outstanding projects.
It is always interesting to see where designers get their influences, and Melanie Rice is a bit of a math wiz with a background in accounting & mathematics. She labels herself as an "Excel guru" which may explain why she is exceptional with patterns and charts, the beating heart of her designs. Most of her work displays graphic motifs ranging from lacework flowers and vines to Grecian fretwork with bold contrasts. While Melanie does not have any formal design training and is a self-taught knitter, she is a trained musician who plays piano and violin and has attributed several designs to her favorite music teachers. I believe it is this constant immersion in music and harmony that gives her designs such balance and delight.
Ravendale (above, coming soon) "is designed for well-deserved relaxation. It is a shallow crescent shawl shaped without short rows ~ simple garter stitch and a lace edging." This piece happens to be Melanie's favorite design to date, and "it was dedicated to my violin teacher, who is still a special friend to me." Please click the link to read a beautiful tribute to this inspiring teacher.
Melanie's earlier designs show a bit more whimsy in household goods such as felted baskets and bags as well as small projects like penguin-adorned mitts. Children are always a great influence on crafting projects, and her first real knitting project was "a sweater with a schoolhouse on it for my first-grader". A mother can find so much joy in their offspring, but at the same time realize that they are also a great constraint on her crafting time. Melanie states that "While raising children and working, my knitting time was limited." Most of her earlier projects are small, quick projects that can be completed with minimal time that are generally crocheted because "it is faster!"
The Simply Elegant Placemat pattern, below left, includes placemats and coasters for any number of dinner settings. This small project of individual pieces looks beautiful at a grand dining room feast and equally at home on the daily breakfast table. Each piece is easy and very quick to make with a little bit of detailing along the edges to provide visual interest. And since they are made on washable yarns, the set can be easily cleaned and used for many years.
She also has designs of many other homegoods, all perfectly adapted for daily living such as the Round Cotton Storage Baskets. This pattern includes excellent stitch tutorials for these nesting thick baskets.
Melanie also has a collection of felted homegoods. Felting is the process of creating the object from regular (not superwash) wool and then washing it. The combination of water and agitation makes the woolen fibers stick together, forming a dense fabric.
Since I have recently learned the joy of felting, I am curious to know what draws Melanie to this form of crafting. "Felting is absolutely fun. I started doing it when I made the Stained Glass Fan Bag by Madeline Langan. Not an easy one to begin on, but really stunning! At first I was bothered by the idea of making something big in order to get something small, but once I saw the result, it got really fun." Melanie speaks the truth because most projects shrink about 20% when felted due to the way the fibers grab and pull on their neighbors. She continues by saying, "I made my own bowl patterns [like the Oval Felted Bowl or the Felted Petal Bowls (above)], and then I did felted projects by Tiny Owl Knits, and I was hooked!"
Rice has always liked the work of Kim Miller, a fantastic crochet designer who creates everything from homegoods to baby and adult clothing. While Rice's work is in a league of its own, it is easy to correlate the work of these two women, especially in their love of feltwork and the playful nature captured in the crochet pieces.
Melanie created the playful Sunny to Hunny Bowl Set, complete with felted bowls of the sun, sunflowers, a honey bowl, as well as crocheted, hexagonal coasters and a little honey bee for the hive. All of the pieces nest together so that they can be easily stored. This complete ensemble is a wonderful addition to a child's play time, adding a beautiful pop of color to any Sun Room or lanai, too. Just watch out because your cat or dog may decide that the little bee is his!
Melanie Rice rediscovered knitting when she found Ravelry about 10 years ago. With such a large volume of work and yarns at her fingertips, her creativity awakened, and since her children were now older, she had time to invent anything her heart desired. She began making small women's accessories like cowls, mitts and bags.
My favorite women's accessory is the Perfect Felted Bag seen above. This crocheted project only takes a handful of hours, and stands flat on its oval base, making a perfect project bag with thick handles that fold completely out of the way. The thick felted fabric helps the bag stand "open" for easy access to all of your crafting goods and yarns.
Melanie now focuses her time on larger knitting projects like women's shawls. Rice combines the perfect balance of asymmetrical, modern shaping and classical design motifs to create fresh designs with beautiful feminine details. She says, "I [create] shawls for a couple of reasons. They appeal to a broad cross-section of knitters. They are usually a quicker project than a garment, and may go with many outfits. There is normally no need for either an exact gauge, yarn, or fit, which lends them to versatility when choosing materials." Rice is one of the few designers who tests her shawls in many different yarn weights so that the maker can create a larger or thicker shawl as needed.
Erasure, seen above, is one of many shawls that can be made in lace weight to bulky weight yarn. It is a beginning level shawl knit on the bias with a lovely YO edging that looks like 2 lines of stitches have been erased from the hem.
Melanie loves to create shawls on the bias especially. "Bias is essentially the diagonal of a fabric. The increases and decreases are made on that diagonal, and the result is a fabric that will drape differently that an item knitted in a rectangle or top down method." As with sewing, the bias creates a more fluid garment with much more drape.
Melanie's first biased shawl design, the Minimalist Shawl, above, has a leaning triangular construction with one leg extending further than the other. The Minimalist Shawl was most likely inspired by the famous Sylvia McFadden, who is known for her beautiful shawl designs. Rice states, "I am inspired by simplicity, organization and of course, other talented designers." Kim Hargreaves, Pam Allen, Sylvia McFadden, & Christopher Salas are some of Melanie's favorite designers, who also tend to have similar style and aesthetics. The Minimalist Shawl is rich with textured stripes and really stands out in a solid, tonal yarn such as Rice's favorite yarn, Sock Yarn by Malabrigo which "has excellent drape, shows stitches well, and it is excellent for colorwork. Also, the colors are very rich."
Rice never shies away from referencing a source when making beautiful designs. In Highline, the beautiful Greek Key patterning by Barbara Walker is the highlight of the piece but is rendered into something completely new in Rice's undeniably modern application, taking a border pattern and bending it down the middle of the shawl (above left). Melanie mentioned Ms. Walker again with Arena, a simple garter stitch shawl with a delicate jogging lace border (above right).
Rice also acknowledges Mary Webb in the elements of the lacework pattern found on Rosegate (above). Rosegate is also influenced by the vintage 1940's look, including a large swath of lacework reminiscent of the ultra feminine vine and flower patterns of the era. Rice adds a modern touch by knitting on the bias and adding garter stitch sections of varying sizes.
I am especially impressed with her lacework pieces such as Presentation and Black Frost. Black Frost reminds me of days long ago, strolling the Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain, where Spanish Dancers swirl beautiful shawls with delicate lacework and bold floral details. Since seeing the beautiful handmade shawls of Spain, I have always had an affinity to lacy shawls in intricate patterns like Black Frost. Black Frost is equally at home at the opera or while draped over shoulders at a wedding ceremony. The tiny picot trim is the final, perfect touch to this delicate & exceptional shawl.
Presentation is a unique lace design because it is built on linen yarn (above). While it may seem strange to use linen for a shawl, especially for those living in colder climates, the hot summers of Texas necessitate light accessories that are functional and beautiful. Melanie says linen is a wonderful deviation from wool, "so long as it is not too rough. Anyone who wants a light or decorative accessory could use linen. It really is not going to provide much warmth, but could go from something to wear with jeans to something to wear to a summer wedding." As with anything linen, washing makes the fibers softer, so some people wash the skeins before using the yarn so that the knitting process more pleasing.
Rice's work also shows an outstanding aptitude in texture. Rice occasionally reuses patterns & textures but always reinvents a new combination with each piece so that it is entirely unique. The texture captures little pockets of warmth as well as highlighting the nuances of a yarn while adding detail and interest to the garment. Some highlights in texture include the following shawls, imaged below. (left to right: Hayfield, Come Pisa, Suede)
The Strand (above left) and Wheat Grass (above right) are perfect examples of garter stitch shawls with intricate lace borders. The Strand is named after a famous beach community in Galveston, Texas, with design elements mimicking etched ripples in the sand. Wheat Grass features "feathery curves that are quite gratifying to complete." This beautiful border makes an otherwise ordinary shawl so much more appealing to see and to knit. Most knitters and designers like a combination of mindless knitting and intricacy to keep the mind engaged throughout the entire project.
Three weeks ago, Melanie Rice released Nautilo, a modern piece that took my breath away. I instantly fell in love, and decided that Nautilo will make a wonderful KAL (knit along) with her newest design. This design looks rather simple but has clever short rows throughout to make the curved, nautilus shape. Join me on Instagram as I show you through the "thinking" sections, too. I encourage you to learn short rows as they are actually quite easy and provide amazing shaping to garments and are constantly used in shoulder shaping on sweaters and cardigans.
The KAL starts December 1st, so make sure to purchase your kits as soon as possible so that you can knit along with me. All kits purchased between now and Cyber Monday will receive 25% off by using code NAUTILO at checkout.
www.yarnloop.com hopes that you have enjoyed yet another Designer Spotlight with a fantastic Texas designer. Melanie Rice is always available for questions through Ravelry & Facebook and is a very approachable and helpful person, too. Explore texture, shape, simplicity and classical motifs with each Melanie Rice Handworks original. Remember to share this article with your friends so that they can experience the fresh, original designs from Melanie, too. After all, there is nothing better than knitting the same pattern with your best friend!
Please contact us for any projects not currently listed. We will gladly help you create the project of your dreams, including choosing bulkier or finer yarn weights for Rice's shawls. Thank you for taking the time to view another fabulous designer with www.yarnloop.com
Photos by Melanie Rice & Yarn Loop
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