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Welcome to BT Backstage, a series of posts introducing some of the folks who bring our patterns and designs to the knitting public. Once the concept for a new design is sketched and swatched, the work begins to translate the designer’s vision into a knittable pattern. Robin Melanson, our Senior Tech Editor, has been the linchpin in this process since we began producing design collections in 2011. We talked with Robin about the demands of her job and the skill set that allows her to bring to life more than 60 patterns for Brooklyn Tweed each year.

BT: Let’s start with a bit about your background… how did you become a tech editor?

Robin: I started working in the knitting industry as a freelance designer way back in 2003. I have had many patterns published with magazines and yarn companies over the years, I published a book with STC Craft in 2008, and I’ve made knitted costumes for several stage musicals (including a Broadway show). Nearly all of my work as a technical editor has arisen from relationships I made as a designer with technical or creative editors working in the industry. People who were familiar with my work as a designer would ask if I was interested in editing, or when they found out I was editing, they would be happy to add me to their team. What they liked about my work was that I was submitting well-written, logical patterns with excellent math and very few errors. At the time I thought that all designers had those skills, but as it turns out that is not always the case. I enjoy the imaginative aspect of designing, but I also take a lot of pleasure in solving the technical puzzle of an unexpected detail. Basically, I’m a Velma — the nerd who figures stuff out — and it suits me to edit pretty much full-time. My clients include yarn companies, magazines, book publishers, yarn shops, and independent designers. I think my path is a fairly common one among tech editors.

BT: What do you think are the most important skills for a tech editor?

Robin: In addition to having a great amount of knitting knowledge, a tech editor must be skilled in language, math (including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and occasionally trigonometry), design, grading, spatial reasoning, logic… it’s a long list. Most tech editors must also use Adobe Illustrator, so some graphic design skills are required. We must be able to cut to the gist of a document, figure out what is really intended and how to say it in the most logical way, and be able to do so in a timely fashion because we don’t have unlimited budgets or flexible schedules in this industry. My educational background is academic and language focused; I earned an Honours BA from the University of Toronto with a double major in English and Celtic Studies. I am also an avid sewer (as an English major I can’t use the word “sewist”), which gives depth to my understanding of garment construction. Tech editors are inventive problem-solvers; accumulated experience is a valuable asset when someone comes up with something you’ve never seen before and you need to use your previous experience creatively. We also occasionally need to be the voice of reason.

BT: At what point in a pattern’s development do you get involved? What’s the route a pattern has to travel before it’s ready for publication?

Robin: For Brooklyn Tweed Design Team collections, after the designers have created their concepts and the layout of their sample sizes, I write and grade the patterns for them from the charts and swatches they have provided. I communicate with the sample knitters to resolve any problems that come up (although the designers also work with the same knitters frequently and discuss the sample amongst themselves as the work progresses). I re-edit the patterns after receiving feedback from the sample knitters and any finishing notes from the designer. Our counter editors work with me to identify problems not discovered earlier; this is an important step because if it’s me who is doing the initial work on the patterns, then we also need additional eyes to check my work. (It would be nice if I were 100% perfect 100% of the time, but alas I am not Borg!) The process is many months long from start to finish for any given collection.

BT: What’s your favorite part of the job?

Robin: Quality alone-time with my spreadsheets.

BT: Thanks for taking the time to introduce your work, Robin! We’ll let you get back to those spreadsheets for the Winter 18 collection!

Robin has also designed for Wool People — her Themis cardigan in Loft is ideal for transitional weather.

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The designers we selected to contribute to Wool People 11 were among the first knitters to sample our new Rambouillet laceweight, Vale. Today we share their impressions of the yarn as we feature their beautiful stoles.

Natalie Servant contributed Prism to this collection. Printed with diamonds and rhombuses, this geometric design can be a lace stole or a cowl. The charted shapes are filled with shifting textures — knit, purl, garter — so there’s more solid fabric than in many lace accessories, which puts Vale’s smooth and balanced preparation on display.

Natalie wrote, “I really enjoyed knitting with Vale. I found it easy to produce even stockinette and reverse stockinette. The surprise for me was when I washed and blocked the swatch: the drape was fantastic. The hardest part about working with Vale was having to send back the unused skeins!”

Sandhya Shadangi’s Ravine is patterned with rivulets of branching, shifting, straightening eyelets. A good stretch on blocking wires evens the long sides and opens the organic motifs to stand out against the stockinette background. Despite Vale’s elasticity, it’s a biddable yarn that accepts blocking to become fluid and drapey.

Sandhya’s impression of Vale was that it’s crisp, soft, and springy. Her fabric blocked beautifully to yield clean and even stitches with good definition, and it retained the crisp softness that had first struck her when handling it in the skein. “Overall, I think it’s perfect for lace. And I can imagine it being great for super-light garments that would also hold their shape nicely,” she concluded.

Amy van de Laar had this to say after creating Leadlight, a stole with a pattern of geometric tracery radiating from a pinhole cast-on:

“Vale is springy, light and soft, but substantial and full of personality. It’s next-to-the-skin soft, and it blocks easily and drapes beautifully — just perfect for lace knitting. The colour Heron is a calm, neutral, mid-toned grey with a subtle sheen to it.”

Fans of Plains, a limited edition yarn that we produced in collaboration with Mountain Meadow Mill in Wyoming, have been asking how Vale compares. Our customer service specialist, Jamie Maccarthy, describes the distinction between them this way:

“In spite of their commonalities (Vale and Plains are both two-ply, worsted spun, breed-specific laceweight yarns made from Rambouillet fleece grown on the plains of Wyoming), they do differ. Plains is a slightly rustic yarn, spun a bit thick-and-thin with a lot of spring in its step. While Vale maintains some of the bounce that Plains has, it is a polished yarn with an even weight and twist, which would be lovely knit up into a light top or sweater.” Read more about the development and characteristics of both Vale and Plains here.

What are you making with Vale? We’d love to know your impressions of it! Don’t forget to tag your project photos with #ValeYarn so we can follow your progress. We’ll be reposting some of our favorites on our Instagram account in the coming weeks.

@jess_schreibstein, @looplondonloves, @softsweater, @knitgraffiti, @minib, @jen_beeman

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We were delighted to release Michele Wang’s Capsule last week. This book represents a tremendous amount of labor and love, and we think Michele’s beautiful aesthetic truly shines in this focused collection. We chatted with her about this project for today’s blog post.

 

 

You’ve been designing for Brooklyn Tweed for six years, preparing an amazing 59 pieces for the seasonal collections. Did planning your Capsule book feel different from your usual design process?

It definitely felt different because there was the pressure of being the only designer. For the seasonal collections, the planning is collaborative and what we end up designing depends greatly on what the other designers are contributing. For the Capsule, it was nice to be able to design all the pieces I wanted to for the collection, but it’s also a lot of pressure — more pressure than I like or am used to! After this solo effort, I appreciated working with a team so much more.

You’ve created a lot of iconic garments that have helped to define the house style at BT; you’re especially known for your cables, and they figure prominently in this collection. What do you love about cabled texture and where do you find ideas for new motifs?

There are so many things I love about cables! I think I always come back to cables because they transcend time and trend. The same cable used in one way feels traditional, but in another setting can yield an updated, trendy look. I also love cables because they’re so much easier to knit than they look! They’re visually impressive, yet all you’re doing is working stitches out of order. To design new motifs, I depend greatly on stitch dictionaries. They’re an endless source of inspiration for me. I love flipping through them as you’d peruse a catalog, imagining where I would use a certain cable or what it would look like in a particular yarn. From there, I’ll usually play off of one motif and grow some supporting cables, changing the scale or introducing a mirroring effect.

The theme of your Capsule is loungewear. Did you know that would be the focus from the outset, and can you tell us what inspired that choice?

I did know that would be the focus and theme. I presented a mood board to Jared way in the beginning and he liked it, so we went from there. For me, hand knits are all about loungewear. Like Mr. Rogers, I love coming home and throwing on a big cardigan. There’s something about it that feels like a hug, and it grounds me. There’s nothing better than putting on a handknit (or many), some fuzzy slippers, making yourself a hot beverage and settling in for the evening. Handknits are a necessity for lounging!

Do you have a favorite piece from this collection? How do you imagine wearing it?

Wow, that’s a tough question. I guess the obvious answer would be Aspen. It’s everything a piece of loungewear should be: cabled, robe-like, with a shawl collar and waist tie. I envisioned a knitter reaching for this cardigan when she plans on staying in her jammies all day!

We confess we may have done a bit of working from home in jammies during Portland’s successive snowstorms of late, and Aspen (or Radmere, her masculine counterpart) would have made the experience so much more glamorous!

How about you, knitters? Do you have an early favorite from Michele’s new collection? How would you wear it?

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One of our favorite aspects of curating Wool People collections is the chance to collaborate with designers we haven’t worked with before. Our submissions call is open to everyone and we love seeing fresh ideas. Stacey Gerbman, Nadia Crétin-Léchenne, Rebecca Blair, Christine de Castelbajac, and Kerry Robb contributed designs to Wool People 10 for the first time, and we were smitten by their beautiful work. We wanted to feature these newly minted Wool People on the blog today and hope you’ll enjoy following them as their design careers unfold.160604_NEWS__Header

What’s your favorite detail about your WP10 design contribution?

Stacey: I am attracted to patterns that can be easily memorized because it’s meditative for me to truly relax while my hands move through the process of creating a garment. I fell in love with the simplicity and rich texture of cables, knits, and purls from the moment I finished the first swatch for the Migration cardigan.

Nadia: The fabric. I’m very fond of garter stitch. Knitted with Plains, the Scalene shawl has such a nice drape. It’s soft and springy — all that I like in a spring garment.

Rebecca: Kierson’s braided cable panels come in mirror-image pairs for a subtle touch of symmetry.

Christine: My favorite detail of Loess is the different sizes of pattern strips. They create a modern effect so people will never be bored of knitting this elegant shawl.

Kerry: Aquinnah has many little details I love, though I’m partial to the long lines of twisted rib. I think they separate the cabled elements nicely and draw the eye along the length of each piece.

 

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Any interesting techniques in the design you’d like to tell knitters about?

Stacey: Migration was the first time I used a sloped bind-off, and I am so happy with the result. This technique gives a perfectly angled shoulder seam, avoiding the stair- step effect that can happen when binding off stitches traditionally at the shoulder and underarm.

Nadia: Scalene is “beginner friendly” — all the techniques I used are really simple.

Rebecca: Substituting garter stitch as the background for a cable design is a simple but effective way to change up the look — it lends a lightness to the finished appearance, as the cables appear to float above the furrows.

Christine: You will love Indian Cross Stitch. It’s an unusual technique, but you will have a lot of fun knitting it and the subtle effect of transparency is stunning.

Kerry: I’m especially happy with the selvedges that run along the long sizes of Aquinnah. I swatched (and swatched!) and eventually landed on a version of an I-cord selvedge that suits the design very well, and it’s also fun to knit.

 

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What’s your favorite place to knit?

Stacey: I wish I could say a special corner of my studio or on my porch swing. The honest truth is most of my knitting gets done on my couch in front of my TV after my 3-year-old son is in bed. Lots of late nights watching Netflix seems to be where the majority of the work gets done!

Nadia: I’m not a “knit everywhere” person. I like to knit on the couch, in the garden or even in my bed, but I don’t knit much outside my house. I’m a homebody.

Rebecca: At my kitchen table, in the morning, with a fresh pot of coffee to hand.

Christine: My favorite place to knit is in my living room near my fireplace when the leaves are red outside.

Kerry: I do most of my knitting at home after my kids go to bed in the evening. But I think my favorite place to knit is in my studio, curled up in a wrap, and sitting in front of my sturdy little space heater. I have some nice Christmas lights draped over my workspace, and it feels like winter even in the middle of summer, thanks to the building’s always being cold.

 

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Who inspired you to start designing knitwear?

Stacey: My mother taught me how to crochet at age 8 after much begging and pleading. Once she saw how much I enjoyed the craft she fully supported me — we went on many after-work shopping trips to the local craft store so I could buy yarn to make my dolls new clothes. That never-ending belief in my creativity led me pursue a career in textile and knitwear design.

Nadia: I could name many designers, but I have a sort of “golden triangle:” three ladies that I’m admiring for their work, their creativity, sensibility and experience: Veera Välimaki, Gudrun Johnston and Ysolda Teague. I wish to be as good as they are, one day.

Rebecca: It did not occur to me until I read Sharon Miller’s magnificent reference book Heirloom Knitting that it is totally possible to rearrange and recombine different stitch patterns into any configuration, to fit into a given space or create a particular effect.

Christine: My mother. She was a wonderful woman and taught me most of my knowledge. She disappeared too early and I miss her. She would be proud of me.

Kerry: Honestly, it was yarn that inspired me to start. I taught myself to knit a couple of years ago, and everyone was talking about how much they loved superwash, so that’s what I used. But as I learned more about fiber and different breeds, I began to appreciate wool and other fibers in a new way. I’m a very tactile person, and as I began to fall in love with certain fibers and yarns, I yearned to create something new in homage to the people and animals whose work had gone into each yarn. I’m particularly passionate about yarns produced in the US, and I’m so proud to have designed something for Brooklyn Tweed.

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We are so gratified by your warm response to Olga Buraya-Kefelian’s Capsule Collection for Brooklyn Tweed. Last week Jared shared the story of developing the Capsule idea and inviting Olga to participate; now it’s Olga’s turn to tell you about her journey into knitting design and her work on this special project.

 

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Your body of work speaks for itself, but can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you come to knitting design?

Growing up in Belarus, I learned a set of crafting skills — knitting among them — from my mother and grandmother. Those skills were necessities of our daily life during that period. During my teens my grandmother taught me how to crochet, and it seemed much easier than knitting at the time. My mother taught me some fundamentals about knitwear design, but mostly how to calculate knitwear based on gauge, as we didn’t have access to many knitting patterns. She is a professional seamstress, so you could say an interest in fashion was passed with the milk. I remember earning my pocket money by tracing patterns for her in different sizes, and that also helped develop my knowledge and understanding of basic clothing construction. But it wasn’t until my early twenties that I turned to knitting as a hobby and a distraction to cope with the hardships of military life. Living overseas and not having an opportunity to work can be quite challenging; knitting has really been therapeutic. As my nomadic lifestyle provided me with inspirations, knitwear design became a way to channel those artistic urges. During the past decade, my passion outgrew hobby status and became a full-time job, my profession.

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We’d love to know more about your time in Japan. How did the environment and culture influence your development as a designer?

We had a choice for my husband’s last tour overseas prior to returning to civilian life, and Japan was in the cards. We decided upon it with excitement — at that time I was working on a self-published title with my friend and co-author Vanessa Yap-Einbund featuring all Japanese yarns. I’d been dreaming of having a chance to live there and experience the unique culture. Japan seemed so different to my European/Westernized mind and mentality, but I credit those differences with helping me absorb and appreciate even more. Being naturally very curious and observant, I found myself elated that every mundane thing there was full of thought and detail. I filled my notebooks with ideas and numerous designs, which I love perusing now when I am working on something new. Inspiration is everywhere and to me Japan provided a lot of it; it also taught me to notice even the tiniest details now that I am back in the States. Our four-year post allowed me to concentrate on establishing my pattern brand olgajazzy, sold via my website and Ravelry. And now I have moved on to wholesaling my printed patterns directly to yarn stores worldwide.

You’re known for your ability to create fabric with sculptural qualities and to make unexpected shapes wearable. When you design a piece like the Tatara armwarmers, what’s your thought process? 

My design process may sound a bit backwards to many people, since I prefer to begin with designing or customizing a stitch pattern rather than setting out to create a new hat or a new sweater. Oftentimes, it’s a matter of desiring a certain movement of stitches and fabric and then testing the idea in a swatch. The natural next step is picking the right yarn to highlight the features of the stitch pattern, and that does take much longer than one might think. Swatching and blocking numerous choices allows me to anticipate the effect in a finished garment. Once I’m satisfied with this stage, I try to imagine the best possible way to display the stitch pattern — as a collar on a sweater or a hat or an all-over fabric on a cardigan. It’s a very long and tedious vetting process, but I’ve found this is what works best for me. The Tatara armwarmers were a marriage of technique and a goal for a finished look — I wanted a scrunched-up style that wouldn’t produce an awkward volume of fabric. And I personally love the geometric shape the Tataras acquired as a result. When laid out flat, they almost become objets d’art.

 

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Do you have a favorite garment from the Capsule collection? 

That is such a hard question; I love all of them! I have devoted a significant amount of time to develop each one with a lot of precision and attention to detail. But if I have to name one that I am most proud of, it would be Tetrapods — my first original lace stitch pattern. And the Nobu pullover has quite an elaborate construction that I admire; it’s just full of architectural texture.

 

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What’s inspiring you nowadays?

I’m always looking back through my notebooks. Throughout the years I have disciplined myself to record ideas and stitch patterns and even color pairings. And I tend to go back to my earlier work as well, trying to catch a train of thought that moved me toward a certain design and looking for other ideas I can attach to make something new.

Thanks so much for sitting down with us today Olga! We feel so grateful to have gotten the chance to collaborate with you on this project, and wish you all the best in your next design adventure(s). 

Thank you!

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What’s your favorite detail about your WP9 design contribution?
Decreasing and increasing give Imago an interesting hemline that scoops down over the hips.

Any interesting techniques in the design you’d like to tell knitters about?
It may not be obvious, but the increasing stitch is an eyelet stitch. Those tiny eyelets give a crisp edge that sets off the geometric shapes in this sweater.

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What’s the most beloved (and well-worn) hand knit in your closet?
My most well-worn knit is a navy blue chunky cardigan. I designed this garment 15 to 20 years ago for one of the knitting pattern books. It’s in simple stockinette stitch with long rib finishing.

Three things that are inspiring you right now?
Walking early in the morning. Taking a trip to London, New York & Hong Kong. Swimming as much as I can.

 


 

This interview is part of our Take 5 series—a collection of bite-sized interviews with designers about the inspirations behind our newest collection—Wool People 9 .

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What’s your favorite detail about your WP9 design contribution? 
When working on something relatively simple in silhouette, I try to pay special attention to details; they become key attractions against the canvas and help to balance the entire look. In Koto‘s case the overall patterning is rather minimal, but I am particularly pleased by how the hem and neckline arches correlate without interrupting the general flow of the patterning.

Any interesting techniques in the design you’d like to tell knitters about? 
This design utilizes short rows, but since there are so many techniques for working them, I have chosen a relatively new-to-me method of shadow short rows. This curious method allows the short rows to become invisible, as the wraps are hidden within the stitches and then integrated into the canvas of knitting afterwards—which also renders this fabric completely reversible. So if you are ever planning to wear your knit with both sides as public, this technique is perfect to learn.

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What’s the most beloved (and well-worn) hand knit in your closet?
Ever since I got my Shadow pullover from Wool People 1 back I have worn it religiously every winter. With jeans or skirts, even wool shorts. The cabled texture on that sweater is just so balanced with the lightness of Shelter—it just can’t be beat, whether layered or worn on its own. Plus it’s in my go-to color: grey.

Three things that are inspiring you right now? 
Just three? Architecture, urban and industrial design, kirigami—to name a few that I turn towards of late while researching for my designs.

 


 

This interview is part of our Take 5 series—a collection of bite-sized interviews with designers about the inspirations behind our newest collection—Wool People 9 .

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What’s your favorite detail about your WP9 design contribution?
I like the construction and the shape of Anisos, which was something new for me as a designer. I love the dramatic look when you wear it and how easy it is to wear.

Any interesting techniques in the design you’d like to tell knitters about?
The border patterning happens on both right-side and wrong-side rows. There’s no resting!

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What’s the most beloved (and well-worn) hand knit in your closet?
It’s my Fox and Grapes shawl. The foxes keep me warm and the grapes quench my thirst 🙂

Three things that are inspiring you right now?
The books I read, my two girls, and the yarns my husband dyed for me.

 


 

This interview is part of our Take 5 series—a collection of bite-sized interviews with designers about the inspirations behind our newest collection—Wool People 9 .

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What’s your favorite detail about your WP9 design contribution?
I think Gehry has understated elegance, which has always been among my favorite design qualities. Arabella, my WP7 design, brought my focus to the lower sides of a sweater and made me want to explore that area further. Gehry’s side vents are the result.

Any interesting techniques in the design you’d like to tell knitters about?
It’s subtle, but I really love the single purl row that occurs between every change from rib to stockinette stitch.

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What’s the most beloved (and well-worn) hand knit in your closet?
The current most beloved and well-worn hand knit acknowledgement goes to Arabella. Yes, after completing Arabella and sending it to BT for photos, editing and trunk shows, I had to knit a second one because I knew I could not wait to wear it again.

Three things that are inspiring you right now?
Being alone in the dance studio, dancing and improvising with great music just for myself. Lots of movement, lots of random expression and a lot of ideas seem to be shaken loose in that process.

Yarn. When I’m designing I love to have the yarn sitting very close to my laptop where my eyes can visit it regularly.

I find inspiration manifests in highly variable ways. Quite often there’s an initial visual spark that leads to multiple possibilities.

 


 

This interview is part of our Take 5 series—a collection of bite-sized interviews with designers about the inspirations behind our newest collection—Wool People 9 .

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What’s your favorite detail about your WP9 design contribution? 
Historically, the delicate Estonian motifs I’ve used for Rakke have been worked in white lace-weight yarns, but the thicker, rustic Brooklyn Tweed yarns in brilliant colors give this traditional lace a modern sensibility, which I love.

Any interesting techniques in the design you’d like to tell knitters about? 
Both Rakke designs, the shawl and the scarf, are shaped with garter stitch short rows. The texture of garter stitch allows the knitter to skip the step of concealing the short row wraps, which hide themselves amid the garter bumps.

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What’s the most beloved (and well-worn) hand knit in your closet?
I have a confession to make: I have never made even a single sock! My local knitting friends know this about me and over the years they’ve made me some beautiful pairs. I don’t walk around in these special socks; I wear them only when I sit and knit at home. And since I’m always knitting at home, these are the most well-worn knits in my closet.

Three things that are inspiring you right now? 
Changing nature is a great source of inspiration to me; as seasons shift there are always new details, colors, and textures to inspire ideas.

 


 

This interview is part of our Take 5 series—a collection of bite-sized interviews with designers about the inspirations behind our newest collection—Wool People 9 .

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