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There is often a sense in our knitting community that each of us fits neatly in one of two boxes — the process-oriented or the product-oriented. While there are indeed knitters who knit for tactile joy and those who knit to fulfill a certain vision for a finished product, there are also many knitters who fall somewhere else on the spectrum. One of these knitters is Korina Yoo, the Marketing Coordinator here at Brooklyn Tweed. Korina sees value in both process- and product-oriented perspectives and applies a balanced approach of both to her making practices. In this balancing act, Korina has created her own internal creative space wherein she works toward honing her skills through process, while enjoying the curatorial powers afforded by the production of a slow fashion wardrobe.

Korina happened upon knitting quite by accident during her first winter here in Portland, Oregon. At the time, the crafty renaissance was well underway, with online knitting resources, patterns, and yarns easily within a beginner’s reach. Having come from a family of generational makers, it was only a matter of time before the world of fiber arts would draw her in. “I find a lot of strength in making with my hands,” Korina says after reflecting on her introduction to the world of handmaking as a child — which comes as no surprise considering the legacy of talent that exists in her family.

After years of exploring a range of hobbies, Korina really didn’t expect much when she first took up knitting. The first few things she made after watching instructional videos on YouTube were scarves and cowls for other people, usually close friends. But this craft suddenly became so much more than a transitory activity when Korina realized that she could, like her grandmother, make nice clothes by hand. After having finished her first, actual garment, Korina thought, “Hey! I made a top and it actually looks pretty all right.” It was in this moment that she found the confidence to really dive into her knitting and begin making more garments for herself.

Korina’s go-to basics, from left to right: two of Julie Hoover’s Cline Pullover (Shelter in Cast Iron and Newsprint) and Junko Okamoto’s Yuri Pullover (Loft in Soot, Fossil, Fauna, and Sap).

Product by Process

When considering process- and product-oriented making habits, Korina is swift to point out that there is not any inherent value in prioritizing one or the other. “It depends on the kind of experience you want out of it,” Korina notes, acknowledging that some knit to soothe, some knit to fill holes in their wardrobes, and some knit for reasons that fall somewhere in between. At one point in Korina’s making process she was making to make, which is why many of her first projects were gifts for other people.

In the short few years Korina has continued on with her knitting practice, this focus on process-only knitting shifted to product-focused as her skillset grew. The things she enjoys making now are often garments that have clever details requiring a more thoughtful and skilled approach.

But this growth didn’t happen overnight, nor did it happen in isolation. The shared knowledge that circulates through our making community are ever present and ever valuable to new and veteran makers alike. Korina explains that “hearing other people’s stories was so influential to [her] growth,” since she “learns best by example.” Makers like Melody HoffmanEva of The Charm of It, and her fellow members of the BT Team introduced her to quality materials and a deeper understanding of how process- and product-oriented practices dovetail into the creation of a single handmade garment.

Korina sporting Jared Flood’s Mawson Hat (Shelter in Newsprint) and Sonobe Cardigan (Arbor in Porter), which she affectionately calls her Geiger!

There are many reasons why we make our own clothes. For Korina, the inherent value of making and the opportunities presented to hone her skills through practicing her craft are ever present when she sits down with a project. While external factors, like ethical and environmental reasons, ring true for Korina, the majority of her drive to make comes from the empowering internal knowledge that she can.

Skill-Building Wardrobes

Korina’s focus on both process (developing quality craftsmanship) and product (working towards quality garments) has naturally developed into a curatorial, slow fashion approach to her making and wardrobe. She has learned exactly how much time and work handmaking requires and often has clear ideas on what kinds of educational challenges she wants to take on next, and so, carefully plans how a project will fit into her life well before casting on. When asked about her feelings on the current state of her slow fashion wardrobe, after a little over a year of focused making and refining her tastes and preferences, she is happy to state, “I’ve reached a point where I’m really good with what I have and where I am.”

When thinking of newly-finished makes and future projects, now that “the basics are covered,” Korina finds herself wanting to incorporate projects that are still utilitarian, but more fun, with interesting stitch patterns, shapes, and clever construction that keeps her mind engaged — like Jared Flood’s Sonobe Cardigan and Scott Rohr’s Ellsworth Wrap. As a very recent convert to stranded colorwork, she’s also eagerly diving back into the world of colorful yokes.

Korina’s current project: a mash-up of Marie Wallin’s Raven Fairisle Yoke Pullover and Tin Can Knits’s Strange Brew Round Yoke Recipe, knit using six colors of Loft (Cast Iron, Soot, Pumice, Yellowstone, Sap, and Cinnabar).

Thanks to a clever ratio, Korina feels confident moving forward with her plans to incorporate these quirky items from project basket to closet. For Korina, the trick is to pick a neutral color to form the foundation of your wardrobe, and then select two or three other “pop” colors for variety: black, rust, and ochre are her choices. The same idea can be applied to garment types for outfit-building as well. For example, Korina has a profound love for clothes, but what she enjoys most are pants with interesting construction details like asymmetrical tie waistbands, voluminous pleats, or clever pin tucks (“I’m a pant connoisseur!”). So, her favorite recipe is “to pair an outlandish pant with a basic top and coat.” Regardless of how minimalist or adventurous the individual pieces in her closet may be, following a ratio of 2 neutral colors to 1 pop color, or 2 basic pieces to 1 adventurous piece keeps an outfit looking balanced and cohesive.

This summer, Korina refocused her efforts into sewing as well, and has enjoyed exploring ways to incorporate bold patchwork — which she loves (“It’s like knitting; you’re making your own fabric as you go!”) — into unassuming utilitarian garments. She put her 2:1 ratio to good use in the above project, a black-and-red patchwork kimono jacket.

All shades, except Newsprint, found in both Shelter (Korina’s favorite) and Loft; Newsprint available only in Shelter.

Solenn Pullover in Loft (Cast Iron), Ellsworth Wrap in Loft (Fossil, Cast Iron, and Soot), and Naos Hat in Shelter (Yellowstone)

Follow Korina’s making journey on Instagram and Ravelry!

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What began as Jared Flood’s personal blog has evolved over the years into Brooklyn Tweed, a company guided by its core team members’ collective passion for wool, knitting, and design. This passion continues to be nurtured, shaped, and made more nuanced by the unique perspectives that these team members — we — each bring to the table. Staying true to our voices has always been the hallmark of our strength as a company, and as we grow forward together, we always keep in mind that magic happens during the journey, not just upon arriving at a final destination.

Each day at Brooklyn Tweed is filled with the beautifully mundane and the ordinarily amazing. To shed some light on how we work behind the scenes, how we think about the products we make, and how we approach the craft of making clothing as a whole, Jamie Maccarthy, our Customer and Community Relations Specialist, will be sitting down with members of our team, sharing with you why we deeply care about the work that we do, as well as more about our quirks, our humanness, where we are now, and where we’re heading.

Say hello to Christina Rondepierre, the Marketing Manager here at Brooklyn Tweed.

Christina — whose thoughts are never far from slow fashion conversations taking place in our making community at large — began building her slow fashion wardrobe nearly a decade ago. What started as a bubbling urge to knit and knit and make and make has, with time, simmered to a steady focus on sourcing, sustainability, and cohesion in her craft. 

Sourcing

Of paramount importance in Christina’s slow fashion wardrobe is sourcing, both in where a garment is sourced and where the materials to make that garment are sourced. If a slow fashion wardrobe means making a conscious decision about what enters one’s closet based on the ethics of its production, it would follow that the choices around what is included should take into account where those things are coming from.

During her first few years as a knitter, Christina didn’t have the context to question the roots of the materials she was working with. Instead, the desire to fill her closet with me-made garments drove her parallel desire to accumulate yarn.

Christina’s exposure to Brooklyn Tweed early on in her knitting journey played a large role in her realization of the importance of known-sources wool. Each skein of Brooklyn Tweed’s woolen-spun yarn passing through her fingers encouraged a new thoughtfulness — where are the sheep who made the fiber that would become this yarn? Who are the ranchers, the millworkers, the dyers? As she learned about “new techniques, fibers, and tools, [there came] a natural response to want to dive deeper, to elevate [her] craft and to learn as much as [she could].”

Given the pervasiveness of mass production, to be able to point a finger at a map and name the ranch, mill, or dyehouse where a yarn is made is truly something special. Knowing the where of a garment and its materials affords a unique ability to support the communities that continue to keep our domestic textile supply chain alive. As many of us wool lovers know, “it’s really difficult to keep a sheep’s fleece clean, and the quality of the wool is dependent on the living conditions of these majestic animals. Purchasing quality fine-wool ensures a market share for the ranchers who spend their time and effort and pour their hearts into tending to their flocks.” Christina consciously, and actively, seeks out yarns that contribute to the growth of the deeper economies inhabited by ranchers and other domestic supply chain partners.

Christina sporting Carol Feller’s Carpino Pullover from Wool People 6 (left; Loft in Wool Socks) and Jared Flood’s Skiff Hat (right; Shelter in Soot). Cameo role: her lovely pup, Riley!

Sustainability

In looking at the where and how of a garment or material, inevitably the question of resources comes into play. If we can point to the location of production, as well as to the people and animals producing, we also need to consider how often the production is happening and at what costs. Succinctly put, “the goal of sustainability is to make sure that the resources you’re using are able to be replenished instead of being depleted.”

Brooklyn Tweed’s ranch-specific yarn line opened up a new space for exploration in Christina’s personal making practice. In speaking with Rebecca Burgess of Fibershed, the realization that yarn can be the end product of a larger, sustainable practice was eye-opening and connected many threads that Christina had come across in her academic experience studying agriculture, permaculture, and globalization. She says, “When you start incorporating other ways that sheep can help increase the health of the land on which they are grown, those sheep add a whole new level to the sustained productivity of their landscape.”

There’s an additional layer that often goes without acknowledgement in larger conversations about sustainability — whether or not something is sustainable for an individual maker to produce. When considering sustainability in her own wardrobe, in addition to considering the environmental costs of the materials being used, Christina asks herself: “Do I have the ability and am I willing to care for this item for 5 years (or more)? How much do I need?” If she were to knit 12 sweaters each year for the next 5 years, that would be 60 sweaters to wash, mend, and wear — with a full time job, a family, and other obligations, it wouldn’t be sustainable to keep producing and tending to handmade garments at that rapid of a rate.

Now that Christina is at the point where she’s content with the foundations of her slow fashion wardrobe, she finds herself exploring ready-to-wear garments produced by companies and artisans that share her values. We live in a moment where many ready-to-wear garments are produced in the slow fashion spirit with varying degrees of success. These companies make rounding out a wardrobe that balances the handmade and the readymade possible, and something that Christina is happy and excited to be constantly working towards.

Christina in Joji Locatelli’s Manzanilla Pullover (Arbor in Dorado).

Cohesion

With the right ingredients, a capsule wardrobe hits all the right notes for Christina and invites a cohesion into her closet that would otherwise be wanting.

Instead of focusing on a seasonal capsule wardrobes, Christina incorporates a few different mini capsules into her rotation throughout the year. This approach to season-less capsules not only maintains Christina’s consistent aesthetic, but also increases the affordability of a slow fashion wardrobe. With fewer pieces of high quality that mix and match well, Christina can feel good about the slow fashion wardrobe that she is creating and nurturing. Before she begins a new project, she always asks herself how she can wear it with existing items in her wardrobe, and what color choices will allow her to wear the new-to-be item throughout the year.

“What I’m excited about most right now are designer specific capsules,” she says, as knitwear designers with strong points of view create garments that blend together harmoniously through the years. With a Jared Flood capsule wardrobe already in heavy rotation, Christina’s next focus is on Emily Greene‘s designs. In addition to her wardrobe picks below, she’s currently knitting the Kaare Cardigan in Quarry (Obsidian) and the Prism Hat in Shelter (Yellowstone)!

While many of us makers share common goals in regards to our making practices, Christina’s perspective welcomes us all to ponder more on sourcing, sustainability, and cohesion as we curate our own slow fashion wardrobes. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on slow fashion throughout the month of October, and can’t wait to share more perspectives from the BT team with you.

Freja Cardigan in Quarry (Moonstone), Fretwork Cowl in Quarry (Alabaster; discontinued color, but Sandstone is a lovely substitute!), and Skiff Hat in Shelter (Soot)

Tensile Pullover in Loft (Artifact), Divide Pullover in Arbor (Fleet), and Hatch Hat in Arbor (Humpback)

Follow Christina’s making journey on Instagram and Ravelry!

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In the wool world, there is perhaps no other fiber more ubiquitous than merino. From our fiber and making community to the ready-to-wear industry, merino has become interchangeable with wool, regardless of the specific fiber content of the wool. However, beyond fabric, yarn and other textiles, Merino itself is its own breed of sheep, with a rich history dating back to 12th century Spain and distinct fleece characteristics that make our breed-specific-loving hearts sing. How is it that this one word — merino — can refer to two quite different things?

As we discussed in our Foundations installment on Breed Specificity, most commercial wool yarn manufacturers who produce yarns for both handknitting and ready-to-wear garments, focus on blending wool from different breeds of sheep into a homogenous fiber with the aim of amplifying softness.

This quality of softness is often expressed via micron count. A micron is a unit of measurement used for the diameter, and therefore fineness, of a fiber — the lower the micron count, the finer the fiber; the higher the micron count, the hardier or “coarser” the fiber.

For a finewool, commercial wool yarn manufacturers aim for an average micron range of 19–21.5 microns. In the process of blending wool from various breeds of sheep, only fibers that fall within this range are added to the blend. The resulting fiber is then a carefully calculated amalgamation of finewools from various breeds. Over time, the term merino, associated with unrivaled softness, has become an epithet for this blended (though not necessarily Merino) wool. In other words, merino used in this way references the micron count of the (blended) wool and not the breed.

What, then, sets apart Merino the breed?

Merino sheep, after having undergone centuries of breed refinement, are known for producing fleeces of remarkable fineness. However, as shown above, Merino fleeces come in a wider micron range (11–25 microns) that extends far beyond the typical commercial finewool range (19–21.5 microns). In other words, even within the Merino family, there is notable variation in softness levels from fleece to fleece, depending on the sub-breed. There are ultrafine Merino fibers at one end of the spectrum and strong, more durable Merino fibers at the other end.

There are other qualities special to Merino the breed that may be dampened in a blend that only focuses on softness. Our passion for breed-specific wool invites us to highlight all of those qualities equally and so it was exciting for us to find Merino ranchers in Nevada and Utah able to produce enough fleece to support our new core yarn — Peerie.

The fleeces we sourced average at 20.5 microns — still within the typical finewool range, but retaining the Merino-specific quirks of supreme density, high tensile strength, high crimp, and delightful springiness. Worsted-spun into a smooth, 4-ply fingering-weight yarn, Peerie hits the sweet spot of being both next-to-skin soft and durable.

Peerie arrives on May 30th — we hope you’ll join us in welcoming and getting to know this newest companion on our breed-specific journey.

In writing this piece, we consulted Clara Parkes’s The Knitter’s Book of Wool and Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius’s The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. We highly recommend these titles to those of you interested in further reading!

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Every October we pause and ponder on slow fashion: what it is and what it means to us as a company and as individuals. Though you may be hard-pressed to find a concrete definition of what this movement is all about as it moves in and out of our collective consciousness, Karen Templer of the Fringe Association blog writes that the intention behind starting the slow fashion conversation in our modern maker community was to celebrate “the small-batch, handmade, second-hand, well-loved, long-worn, known-origins wardrobe.”

Our vocation to continue supporting domestic textile production and empowering knitters with patterns that can become staples in their wardrobes feeds directly into the goals and outcomes of the slow fashion movement. Needless to say, all of us here at Brooklyn Tweed have a deep investment in slow fashion and thought we’d first share some thoughts on the subject from our staff and then invite you to join the conversation by commenting below.

Making one’s own clothing meant garments with higher quality fabric and craftsmanship, while exercising creativity and individuality. I continued to sew through high school and college and beyond. When my children were young, I made clothes, toys, and costumes.  The family was given matching pajama bottoms every year for Christmas. Eventually, I had less time due to family life, and then full-time work, to pursue sewing with the same passion and commitment. Quilting replaced sewing, then knitting replaced quilting. I still consider myself a sewer and a quilter but those activities require equipment and knitting is so very portable.

I feel that the pendulum is swinging and I’m interested in garment sewing again. It is like many activities in life — the more you do, the better you get, with the converse being true as well. Time away from the sewing machine has meant reacquainting myself with techniques and construction methods — not a bad way to spend one’s time.

The current Slow Fashion October trend doesn’t really speak to me because I was participating in slow fashion long before it was a thing. I wore hand-me-downs, bought used clothing, and made my own clothes as a way of life. While it’s interesting to see what people are doing for Slow Fashion October, I’m more inclined to keep doing my own thing which isn’t limited to a certain time period or social movement.

– Stephanie Engle, Production Coordinator

 

Slow fashion to me means being mindful of what I am choosing to wear, from considering who is making my clothes to the source of the materials to the working conditions of the maker. If I’m the maker, it also means taking time to pay attention to the design and being proud of creating something by my own hands that will be enjoyed by either myself or my loved ones.

– Jen Hurley, Office Manager

 

Fashion isn’t everything. But we all have to clothe ourselves, and I think how you choose to do that says a huge amount about your character. Many people don’t know the stories behind the clothes I wear: the hours it took to knit a sweater or charity shop in which I found my favorite woolly cardigan. And they don’t have to — but I do. 

– Anna Moore, Art Production Coordinator

 

To be honest, I’m still working on wrapping my head around the “slow” of slow fashion, specifically in the context of my making. I deeply respect its ethos, and after impulsively — and soullessly — dancing with fast fashion in my high school and early college years, I’ve learned the hard way exactly how crucial it is to tangibly exercise consciousness in the seemingly superficial act of clothing oneself. Thankfully, asking myself such questions as, “What is this? Where did this come from? How was this made? Will I wear it? Will I love it?” is every day becoming more and more an instinct. At some point in this learning process it just suddenly made a lot of sense to invest more in making my own garments, too.

And here lies the challenge for me. I do love knitting as a process, but I may actually be a 100% product knitter. Since I spend a lot of time thinking about how a project will fit in my rotation, as a matter of principle, the vision of the finished piece becomes the sole focus of my making, which quickly — defiantly — turns impatient. In other words, I value the slow of handmade, but still expect myself to work like a machine, to churn out pieces like a factory — hence the debilitating guilt when projects languish and incapacitating fear of failure or “wasted” time when planning a custom piece.

I don’t believe we should take garments at face value. Rather, I believe we should be constantly working to uncover the stories they tell about how they came to be and what those, in turn, say about their makers and their wearers. Yet for some reason I find it difficult to do this uncovering when it comes to my making. I find it difficult to accept my own processes as useful and illuminative in their own right.

Thankfully, I’ve recently found myself surrounded by amazing people who are actively pushing me to realize the value of the process in all of its unhurried, yet frighteningly spontaneous (to me), yet infinitely creative glory. So my work this month is to meet them halfway in this quest to understand “slow” by being kinder to myself, allowing mistakes, allowing room for “distractions” (sometimes a movie just begs to be watched without the stress to multitask!), accepting my limitations, and really, not worrying about failing too much.

– Korina Yoo, Creative Coordinator

“There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.” –  Mahatma Gandhi

There are so many elements of the fashion industry that are broken and harmful nowadays and I have always loved this quote for really stating this feeling so simply and strikingly. For me slow fashion means making my own clothes through sewing or knitting, buying from ethical producers, extending the life of a garment through mending, and resurrecting treasures from charity and thrift shops. It is not a frivolous privilege but a necessity.

– Lis Smith, Wholesale Specialist

 

Growing up in a family of crafters, sewing, thrifting, and embellishing clothes were just part of daily life. With three kids at home, figuring out how things were made and then making them ourselves was a necessity as well as useful entertainment. That early interest in craft led me to a degree in theatre with a focus in costume design and historical fashion — really digging into the process of how and why textiles and garments were created in the past and using that knowledge to create something new. I discovered the community aspect of crafting later, after ending up working in IT (like a lot of art majors). Finding a group of people to learn from, create with, and pass on skills to was hugely beneficial — and eventually allowed me to make a career jump to the knitting industry. So my introduction to slow fashion began in a communal, creative, knowledge-sharing environment.

From there, it was a natural progression from simply making things to learning about the real-world impact of the materials I was making things out of. How was this fabric or yarn made? Who is making it? Where is the fiber sourced from? Are the land and animals being managed ethically? Are workers receiving fair wages and working in safe conditions? What is the environmental consequence of commercial production? What materials can I use that support sustainability and ecologically sound practices? And realistically, how can I implement these considerations into daily life as a consumer and crafter, as well as encourage and enable others to do so?

The last, in particular, is a balancing act. Of course I want to make every new pattern I see, and to buy all the beautiful yarn and fabric I can get my hands on, but then I’m just back to fast fashioning my slow fashion — and how many of those projects will I actually finish? My goals for Slow Fashion October this year are to look before I leap (and purchase), to complete and use the things I make, and, I think most importantly, to explore how I can better share slow fashion with others who may not enjoy the same access to knowledge, materials, or simply time to craft that I am privileged to have.

– Kel Moore, Wholesale Specialist

 

I grew up wearing a uniform to school every day, so when it came time to dress myself in high school, and more importantly as an adult, I was at a bit of a loss. It’s taken me many, many years to realize that in making my own clothing, I’m able to identify how I want to dress and present myself to the world in a way that simply can’t be done with ready to wear clothing. Initially, I liked the challenge of making my own clothing, but what has become more meaningful to me is to be able to find my personal style through my creativity and handwork. 

— Christina Rondepierre, Marketing Coordinator

 

I have a lot of fraught feelings about Slow Fashion, mostly to do with how accessible it is. So often the rhetoric is about the individual: “This is what I am doing…” “My intentions are…” “These things matter to me…” While focusing on our individual actions is one step in the process of effecting change, it’s absolutely necessary to move beyond that at some point to consider “we,” “us,” and “our.”

More than anything else, Slow Fashion is about creating community and sharing knowledge. As makers, what are we doing to empower other makers and non-makers in our communities? When will we start hosting workshops on making, thrifting, and mending? When will we begin sharing our stashes and knowledge with those who don’t have the privilege to shop small or learn on their own?

It’s not enough to tell folks to not judge themselves if they are unable to legitimate their standing in this moment through the purchasing of known materials or garments, nor is it enough to linger on the sidelines cheering folks on. Let’s take to the streets arm in arm and work to inspire and share our knowledge with makers and non-makers alike. When we work together, we can make an impact on more closets than just our own.

– Jamie Maccarthy, Customer Service

Join us next week for Part 2 of this series, when we’ll share more about how Brooklyn Tweed’s story and business model reflects similar values as the slow fashion principles. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your own thoughts and responses to the above ideas and considerations.

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“There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Knitting, like painting or sculpture, is a source of self-expression. What’s more, the fruits of knitting provide us beautiful and practical means to warm ourselves and those we love. It’s completely portable, ready to travel with us to our favorite solitary places in nature, and is just at home in social situations, being shared with those who understand the joy of it.

Knitting also supplies an antidote to the vexing velocity of our time. A few rows of friendly garter stitch can erase a day’s decision fatigue, calming our system and gently transitioning us into quiet time at home. The scent of wool, the bounce of each stitch as its woolen crimp responds to our touch, the sense of mastery as we make sense of new techniques and store them forever in our mental toolbox, are visceral satisfactions. Perhaps we are responding to something deep in our human wiring, a common memory for a different rhythm of life.

If thinking about all this makes your heart flutter a little, we’re right there with you. Our Outpost letter — traditionally an introduction to each of our collection lookbooks — is expanding into a monthly newsletter that allows us to share more stories and thoughts on knitting. Our journey in developing yarns from scratch has introduced us to unexpected and thought-provoking people, places and ideas — we want to share more of them with you.

We’ve also reimagined Outpost to serve as a resource for techniques we’ve learned along the way — details that elevate hand knit garments to timeless items you can fold into a classic, well-considered wardrobe. For this inaugural Outpost, we offer helpful advice on selecting a sweater size and calculating ease.

We support slow fashion and want to explore this inspiring movement with you in coming issues. We look forward to having an ongoing conversation about ideas of quality over quantity, of reclaiming calm from the sometimes frantic pace of daily life.

Select Outposts will include a new pattern that is designed for meditative, beginner-friendly knitting. The joy of knitting need not be complicated, and these patterns will allow for a reprieve from busy days and bigger projects throughout the month. (October’s Outpost will feature a new pattern from Emily Greene.)

We are excited to be kicking off our Outpost series — with every successive newsletter arriving the first Wednesday of each month (click here to sign-up if you’re not yet a subscriber) — and hope you’ll warm your favorite mug and sit with us a bit. We’re glad you’re here.

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Sunbursts, trees and stars, reindeer and snowflakes, mutable landscapes of blended color. In vivid hues or in natural sheep shades, figural or geometric in design, the yoke sweaters of the North Atlantic are distinctive and enduring. The story of their creation in the 20th century is one of enterprise and canny marketing as knitters leveraged traditional skills to make ends meet in a rapidly changing and newly global economy.

The Icelandic lopapeysa, the Scandinavian and Shetland yokes, and the sweaters of the Bohus Stickning cooperative in Sweden may all have their roots in a Greenlandic ornamental accessory called the nuilarmiut that has nothing to do with knitting — it’s an element of traditional formalwear made of glass beads that cover the shoulders and bust in a large collar of brightly patterned geometric designs. The nuilarmiut’s appearance in a 1930 Danish film and, later, on members of the Danish royal family seems to have inspired several Scandinavian knitwear designers to imitate the effect in wool. Three of the earliest known circular yoke patterns bore the name “Eskimo,” suggesting their common inspiration. In the 1940s, the Bohus Stickning company in Sweden made the yoke sweater a mid-century status symbol. The designers’ innovative and masterful color play broke entirely with traditional motifs and methods to create subtly shifting forms and juxtaposed hues, all rendered at extremely fine gauge in luxurious angora-blend yarns. Bohus sweaters were worn by royalty and cultural icons — and commanded prices to match. The knitters’ earnings supported many families during an economically difficult time. Cottage industries in Shetland and Iceland were also quick to capitalize on the international taste for yokes, channeling their potent knitting histories to create garments that became lucrative exports more accessible to the average pocket book.

The strategic position of the patterning on a circular yoke serves two purposes. The designs ring the throat and shoulders like jewelry, drawing attention to the face. The plain body and sleeves heighten this effect while slyly achieving a second end: all that unadorned fabric is easy and relatively speedy knitting. In the case of the famous Shetland yokes, many of which featured tree and star designs borrowed from neighboring Norway, the jumper bodies and sleeves were knit by machine and then passed to the handknitters for the colorwork portion. The sweaters could then be completed at a cracking pace to achieve a successful commercial scale, and the knitters could develop one beautiful variation after another by skillfully shading both the background and foreground colors. The Bohus sweaters were always knit entirely by hand, but even at 8 or 9 stitches to the inch, the plain bodies allowed the most accomplished knitters to complete a couture garment in just a few weeks. Icelandic production knitters still work by hand, but take advantage of their native sheep’s long-stapled fleeces to work at a loose large gauge that supports strong geometric motifs and rapid sweater completion.

Yokes have climbed to the height of fashion, plunged into outmoded fustiness, and ascended once again in recent decades. Across the North Atlantic, a resurgence of admiration for these powerful symbols of national identity has led younger generations to embrace them. Knitters around the world have been quick to appreciate the joy of crafting yokes; a basic circular yoke is one of the most foolproof sweaters to knit, and the possibilities for elaboration are endless.

Brooklyn Tweed pays homage to the bold beauty and variety of yoke designs in five sweaters and two accessories that tip the cap to history, but hew to modern fit principles and allow each designer to explore original ideas. In these pages you’ll find seamless construction (both bottom up and top down), stranded colorwork, cabled texture, and even a wink at classic cartoons. Welcome to BT Yokes.

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HDR_wool_against_the_sea_WEB

 

Ganseys. Guernseys. Jerseys. Whatever name they’re given, the seaman’s sweaters of the British Isles are iconic. Knit to wear like iron and to shield their wearers from bitter onslaughts of wind and seawater, cleverly engineered with innovative features that maximized their durability and comfort, and patterned to sing proudly of love and skill, these garments number among the great achievements of knitting history.

 

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Myths about ganseys abound — photographic evidence doesn’t support the romantic notion that towns and families had their own exclusive patterns, for instance. Fishermen were among the most mobile people in Europe, always in and out of ports all over the North Sea, which gave knitters plenty of opportunity to admire and copy distinctive patterns. And it wasn’t just men who followed the herring migrations. Girls who gutted and packed the fish wore ganseys, too, with short sleeves to bare their arms for the messy work. The lasses often skipped the familiar navy and black yarn in favor of macaron hues of peach, raspberry, lemon, and pistachio. Knitters didn’t just make ganseys for themselves or for family members, either. A cottage industry that endured until the 1930s sprang up, and women could earn much-needed supplemental income by hand-knitting ganseys for sale.

 

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Most ganseys shared a set of common features. They were knit in the round to the underarms, and then the squared-off fronts and backs were completed working flat to create a drop shoulder. They were made of sturdy 5-ply wool and knit at a gauge of 8 stitches per inch to achieve the densest possible fabric. Ganseys seem to have begun as plain warm underwear, but they were often exposed to view as hardworking wearers stripped off outergarments, and by the mid-19th century knitters were beginning to add texture and design by incorporating purl stitches. Diamonds, stars, welts, and other geometric forms often embellished the upper torso and sometimes the upper sleeves. Simple rope cables and pictorial anchors, hearts, crosses, and Tree of Life motifs imbued the ganseys with symbolism. The most beautiful sweaters were worn for Sunday best.

 

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Ganseys were also marked by novel construction that maximized their lifespan as working garments. Diamond-shaped underarm gussets allowed greater freedom of movement and reduced stress on the fabric. Many ganseys had shoulder straps worked in ribbing for further elasticity. A variety of inventive cast-ons reinforced wear-prone hems and cuffs. This attention to quality and lasting sturdiness has allowed a great many historical ganseys to survive in excellent condition. Although few knitters today are willing to invest the time and effort required to produce an authentic gansey, we are all fortunate to be able to learn from the innovations and high standards established in these garments.

Our recent collection — Brooklyn Tweed Ganseys — pays homage to the gansey tradition in five sweaters and three accessories that may not take you to sea, but will inject trim nautical style into your wardrobe. We took them to a lonely stretch of Oregon coast for a photoshoot to hark back to their origins, but their clean, contemporary shapes will make them equally at home in the city if your working environment is a desk rather than a dock. Like the originals, these new designs bespeak knitterly pride in a smart detail or a well-chosen technique. We hope you’ll enjoy the challenge of shaping an unusual neckline or trying a new cable as you make these garments your own.

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Our shoot for BT Fall 14 took place in Red Hook, Brooklyn – the perfect backdrop for our fisherman-inspired knitwear. We wrote a bit about the neighborhood in our lookbook feature, and shot a companion video piece to go along with the article which we’re sharing today! The footage serves as a sort of visual journal of our own experience there – and sought to capture the character of Red Hook today. We’ve reposted the article below, too– hope you enjoy!

Nineteenth-century engravings show Red Hook, Brooklyn as a blunt spade of land bristling with steeples and smokestacks, a lively, hardworking neighborhood south of the Brooklyn Bridge pulsing with human energy and industry. A hundred years ago, Red Hook was the busiest freight port in the world, handling all the goods being shipped down the Erie Canal and then beyond.

Today many of its handsome brick factory buildings and warehouses stand empty; the local shipping industry withered on the vine in the 1960s, bypassed by new patterns of global trade. The subway doesn’t run here, eighty percent of the residents don’t own cars, and the only ferry service to Manhattan belongs to the new and controversial IKEA. The point of land once prized for its strategic location at the gates of one of the world’s great cities became so isolated that few visitors or even residents of more affluent parts of Brooklyn ever set foot here. Underserved by city government, burdened with environmental waste from elsewhere, wracked by decades of poverty and its attendant scourges, half-drowned by Hurricane Sandy, Red Hook is now muscling back up toward the sun.

Red Hook Circa 1875

 

Wanting a nautical backdrop for this collection of fishermen’s sweaters, the Brooklyn Tweed team headed for Red Hook’s wharves and tiny beachfront. We couldn’t stop shooting photos of picturesque brickwork and peeling paint, faded advertisements and weatherworn doorways, maritime relics, fresh flowers pertly adorning a few windowboxes, street art and bright graffiti replacing decay. The mood of this place, its admixture of struggle and pride, hard times and hope, moved us deeply.

Lines that once secured great oceangoing ships lie rotting in the sun and salt air, neatly coiled by longshoremen who honored their work even on the last day of the job. That haunting sense of dignity pervades this corner of Brooklyn, and it spoke to our ideals as a company. America is full of Red Hooks. All across this land are towns that boomed on manufacturing, places where people invented and made useful things, forges of change that drew people from all over the world to work and live and invent anew.

Brooklyn Docks 1916

Too many of those towns have fallen into decline, their industries gutted by cheaper competition. Brooklyn Tweed went into the business of making 100% American yarn because we wanted to participate in the revitalization of proud manufacturing traditions as well as contribute to a crafting renaissance. Working alongside other young businesses and in partnership with a remaining few that have survived for centuries, we hope to lift and energize local industries. Small as our impact might be in the face of colossal challenges, we can be part of a rising tide to reinvest in local resources and skills. The grit and passion of Red Hook’s community leaders inspires us and reminds us what’s possible when we commit to doing business in a way that creates work and boosts artistry in our country.

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Today, guest author Sarah Pope shares some special tips on making the most of knitting for little ones – we hope you enjoy!

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Reveling in the delights of the new BT Kids’ collection, my mind went right to casting on—Berenice for my daughter in Blanket Fort or Postcard! Arlo in Hayloft or Button Jar for my son!—I expect many of us dove straight into fantasies of seeing our own little ones at play in those beautiful garments. Some of us may even have experienced an alarming itch to produce or “borrow” a child just for the pleasure of knitting these designs. But even though I have a pair of recipients at the ready, I’m going to take a moment for some savvy planning, because knitting for kids is an investment of time and capital and also something of a gamble.

Saavy Knitting for Kids

 

Children are notoriously fickle giftees. The garment may be too hot. It may be too scratchy. It may be the wrong color—some kids let their favorites box the compass, while others remain faithful to purple or green for years at a time. The older they get, the more many children tend to fall in line with trends amongst peer groups. A child’s willingness to wear handknits may be utterly squelched for a few years if popular fashions have strayed in another direction.

The fact is, gifting a handmade item always means letting it go. It may be cherished or abandoned to the thrift shop. You’ve had the pleasure of the crafting it; this must be enough. But there are some clever moves you can make to position your handknits for a happy ending.

The best tactic I know is to involve the child herself in the planning and execution of the knitting. Let her hold the hank of yarn to her neck and judge the itch factor. A worsted-weight sweater may simply prove too warm for an active child in a temperate climate, so talk with her about the garments she likes to wear and make notes on their properties. She’ll probably be frank about style preferences.

Savvy Knitting for Kids

You’ll need to accept that a kid may not want to wear what you’d most like to knit. If your youngster lives in hooded sweatshirts, you’ll probably have to make him a plain zippered cardigan with a hood. It may bore you to tears, and your reward will be to see it dropped at the muddy sideline of the soccer pitch. But if your sweater receives this shockingly offhand treatment, you can pat yourself on the back. It has passed muster; the child has adopted it into his wardrobe and made it his own.

If the child is close by and old enough to learn, why not let him actually knit on his sweater during a plain stockinette section? Most children become deeply invested in things they’ve had a hand in making and will be proud to point to their wool-clad tummies and announce, “I knitted this part right here.” If they’re too young to knit, let them help wind the yarn, or give them a none-too-precious ball from your stash and some blunt needles to stab at it as they make believe they’re knitting alongside you.

Knitting for children—like pretty much every other aspect of life with them—involves ceding a certain amount of creative control. That can be hard for those of us with strong creative visions. (If I can’t sell my almost-four-year-old on the idea of Berenice, I’m just going to quietly cast it on for myself, in Shelter rather than Loft.) But seeing what strikes her in the collection, watching her form her own taste, is part of the fun of knitting for her. If I can produce something she really loves, my happy ending will be to listen to her bragging at preschool, “My mama made this for me!”

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Amirisu released their fourth issue last week, which highlights Brooklyn Tweed as the magazine’s featured brand. We had a lot of fun working with Amirisu, contributing both design and written content throughout the issue. If you aren’t familiar with this online publication, it is the passion project of a Tokyo-based knitting/editing duo whose shared goal is furthering the online knitting culture in Japan. The magazine’s content is presented in both Japanese and English.

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Last Fall, editor Meri Tanaka interviewed me about US-yarn production and my history as a designer. Within the article I talk a bit about how I got my start developing  and manufacturing yarns, as well as my start as a knitter. See pages 50-57 for the full article (excerpts shown below).

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I also contributed a short written piece for the magazine entitled “Elizabeth For Beginners”. Though Elizabeth Zimmermann is a national icon to us American knitters, Amirisu informed me that her work is not well-known in Japan and requested I contribute a piece that would act as a sort of gateway to EZ’s work. Within the article I give a very brief version of Elizabeth’s story and suggest some of her most beloved patterns for folks who are just discovering her work (pages 68-71).

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Last but not least – patterns and yarn! Brooklyn Tweed’s own Michele Wang and Leila Raabe contributed designs to the collection using BT yarns. Michele’s Tsubasa Top is a fun, spring-ready pullover worked in Shelter (color Blanket Fort) with arrowhead lace panels and dolman-style cap sleeves. Leila’s Preble Hat is worked in Shelter (color Snowbound) and features a woven texture pattern and twisted-stitch cable insertion. Both patterns can be downloaded directly from Amirisu (pattern info is also available on Ravelry).

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Tsubasa by Michele Wang | Preble by Leila Raabe.

A big thank you to the editors of Amirisu for featuring our work throughout the issue!

– Jared

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