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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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We are so very proud to welcome Gudrun Johnston to our design team! Gudrun has been an inspiring presence in the independent knitwear design community for many years and we are thrilled to be collaborating with her.

Gudrun was born in Shetland, where her mother ran a successful knitwear design company called The Shetland Trader. Gudrun revived the name to publish two collections kindled by love of her homeland. She now lives in the United States with her family, but returns frequently to Shetland to visit and lead knitting tours.

Gudrun’s heritage is prominent in her design work, whether she is creating lace-edged haps or Fair Isle-inspired colorwork. Her contemporary aesthetic and love of experimenting with new techniques make her designs both modern and timeless. She loves seamless construction and yoke patterning, whether in textured stitches or colorwork, and her designs are always eminently wearable and enduring.

We celebrate Gudrun’s arrival at BT with a special pattern release to launch our Summer of Lace knitalong. Brora is a distinctive shawl, printed all over with triangles of garter stitch and rimmed in an arrowhead lace motif that combines garter  and eyelets to achieve a flintknapped texture. The pattern includes directions for two weights: a breezy complement to summer dresses in Vale or a slightly larger triangle with comforting weight and warmth in Arbor. Brora uses a traditional Shetland construction, beginning at the base point of the main fabric with a single stitch and growing by means of yarnovers at each edge. These linked loops simplify the task of picking up stitches to begin the lace edging. The pattern teaches the Icelandic Bind Off technique to yield an elastic edge that partners effectively with garter stitch.

 

Brora is available as a limited-edition kit in our webstore. Choose any color of Vale or Arbor and we’ll wind the yarn for you so you can cast on right away or be ready to gift the kit to your favorite knitter (we can even ship the kit directly to him or her). Your handsomely packaged kit will include a coupon code for digital download of the Brora pattern.

For domestic orders, place your kit order by Friday, June 30 in order to receive your yarn and pattern in time to cast on for our Summer of Lace KAL beginning July 7. Read more about the KAL here.

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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’re celebrating independence and collaboration with the release of Wool People 11 today! We always enjoy the chance our Wool People project offers to work alongside independent designers, both new and established — there’s a sense of fresh energy and perspective in combing through the hundreds of submissions we receive for these collections and in bringing the selected designs to life.

This issue feels extra special because it incorporates our two newest yarns, Arbor and Vale. Next week we’ll do a feature on the Vale accessories and share the designers’ thoughts about working with our new laceweight. But before we delve into the wonderful world of lace and kick off our Summer of Lace KAL, we want to talk about the Wool People 11 garments. There are eight gorgeous sweaters in three different yarns, and what really stands out to us is the diversity of fabrics the designers have achieved in these wearable, flattering pieces.

For cozy bundling in the light but warm stockinette that Shelter creates, Ann Klimpert and Andrea Mowry present Rivet and Ronan. Both of these long-length cardigans rely on Shelter’s airy, woolen-spun nature to stay versatile and hold their shape despite their large swathes of fabric. Rivet has a vintage feel, while Ronan’s is a totally modern silhouette with a collar in fluffy brioche.

For those who like a trim and classic pullover, Mossbank and Bell give a twist to timeless layering pieces by using mostly reverse stockinette fabric. The pebbly texture of the purl side is a great way to set off softly rounded cables in a woolen-spun yarn, as Ann McCauley chose to do with Bell. Kerry Robb was inspired by the back side of her swatch in our Newsprint marl, realizing that the bumps blend the contrasting colors into an inviting heathery haze.

Loft in garter stitch is total comfort fabric, and triangular shawls like Nancy Whitman’s Level are comfort wear. For cool summer evenings when you want to linger outdoors, this graphic layer is the remedy. Level’s inventive construction and a dab of intarsia make the knitting sprightlier than usual for a garter triangle. If you’ve got a summer road trip planned, we think light and packable Loft shawls make good travel companions as knitting projects and as finished pieces.

One reason we’ve been so excited to add Arbor to our core yarn line is that it’s entirely different from our woolen-spun yarns. Besides being stronger, denser, and smoother, Arbor is rounder. Its third ply makes the yarn cylindrical rather than helical, and its tighter twist keeps those three plies completely engaged in a happy ménage. Arbor’s stitches don’t blend in amongst their neighbors; they stand proud and individual. And that means we can knit fabrics with more dimension and more vivid texture.

Four of our Wool People designers put Arbor through its paces with very different approaches. Melissa Wehrle uses a simple all-over texture of knits and purls to create a waffly fabric for Harlowe, and a relaxed gauge allows the sweater to drape beautifully. Yoko Hatta’s sculptural Akiko cardigan shows the yarn’s affinity for cables and contrasts moss stitch fronts with a clean plane of fluid stockinette on the back. Olga Buraya-Kefelian opts for a modern, high-impact ribbing treatment to elevate her Boundary mock turtleneck. And Emily Greene pulls out all the stops with panels of directional half-twisted rib in her Divide pullover.

Are you ready to swatch some new fabrics to add to your closet? We hope you find inspiration in the talent and vision of the Wool People designers. Take some time with the new lookbook and let us know what’s calling your name!

 

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Today we’re excited to announce a new addition to Brooklyn Tweed’s permanent stable of yarns: an airy Rambouillet laceweight from the softest fleece we’ve ever offered. Vale has been in development since last year and it’s been hard to keep it under our hats! Like all its BT cousins, this breed-specific yarn is 100% American made, from sheep to dyepot. Vale will be available for purchase on May 17. Ready for a sneak peek?

The Fiber

Rambouillet sheep are also known as French Merinos; two hundred years of careful breeding developed a fleece with even more crimp and bounce than the merino that’s widely available today. In the United States, Rambouillets are a favorite finewool breed on the western plains. The growers we work with in Wyoming achieve wool with a micron count of 21.5, the softest fiber we’ve used to date.

The Process

The same partners who help us produce Arbor bring our Rambouillet bales from raw fleece to finished skein. Chargeurs, based in South Carolina, scours it clean and combs it into the smooth and consistent top that’s required for worsted spinning. The fiber is shipped on to Maine for worsted spinning at the Jagger Brothers mill, and then travels a short distance to the Saco River Dyehouse for eco-friendly skein dyeing.

The Colors

Vale’s 14 custom shades augment some touchstone colors from the Arbor line with sophisticated softer tones. Dusty rose shades, glacial blues, and lichen yellows form a focused palette that offers both neutrals and brights.

The Knitting

We’ve handpicked a selection of favorite lace pieces designed by Jared Flood from the BT archives to re-knit in Vale. (Any guesses which they are?) We love the polished, even spin of this yarn, which shows off stitch motifs to maximum effect.

Mull over the palette and the pattern options and get ready to join us for a summer of lace! We’ll be hosting our first-ever knitalong starting in early July and posting our favorite tips and tricks for lace success. If you’re lace-curious but haven’t tried this beautiful form of knitting yet, it will be the perfect opportunity to get your feet wet.

Join us this week while we discuss Vale and all of its project possibilities on the BT Ravelry forum.

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Our latest collection, BT Yokes, offers even the most seasoned colorwork knitter lots of opportunity for experimentation. We had fun playing with color options for Schulz, a unisex pullover designed by Michele Wang. Try Cinnabar or Thistle for a bright pop of vintage nostalgia, or a neutral like Cast Iron or Pumpernickel for a slightly more subdued effect. These are just a few ideas — we can’t wait to see what you come up with!

The colorways as shown in the photo above:

1 — Almanac (C1), Fossil (C2) & Cast Iron (C3)

2 — Tent (C1), Fossil (C2) & Cast Iron (C3)

3 — Thistle (C1), Fossil (C2) & Cast Iron (C3)

4 — Cast Iron (C1 & C3), Fossil (C2)

5 — Pumpernickel (C1), Fossil (C2) & Cast Iron (C3)

6 — Embers (C1), Fossil (C2) & Cast Iron (C3)

7 — Hayloft (C1), Fossil (C2) & Cast Iron (C3)

8 — Cinnabar (C1), Fossil (C2) & Cast Iron (C3)

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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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Winter is lingering long in Portland this year, but we’re choosing to see these days of near-freezing drizzle as a prompt to make the most of our knitwear. Warm weather still feels so far away that we’re more than happy to contemplate casting on another sweater, especially with the lure of a just-right portion of decorative stitchwork. That’s what we love about yoke designs: their perfect balance of carefree stockinette seasoned with a dash of colorwork or textural patterning. They’re fun to knit, easy to integrate into any wardrobe, and endlessly inviting when we want to experiment with color or cables. To share our enthusiasm, we’re releasing our themed collection for 2017 today: BT Yokes.

We drew inspiration from the sweaters of Iceland, Shetland, and Scandinavia — a history we enjoyed researching for a feature in our lookbook. Jared Flood’s Atlas (now sized for the whole family) nods to the lopapeysa; Véronik Avery elevates her Frostpeak colorwork with cunningly placed purl stitches, an idea pioneered by the Bohus Stickning designers of Sweden; Michele Wang’s Morse cowl stacks bands of small geometric motifs common to Shetland and Norway.

The beauty of yokes has always been their versatility as a canvas for anything a designer can dream up, so we haven’t been too faithful in our interpretations of the form. Some garments apply inventive shaping principles (wait till you see Julie Hoover’s newest take on raglan decreases) and motifs that owe more to Charlie Brown than to anything ever knit in the North Atlantic regions. Norah Gaughan’s flights of cabled fancy are iconic in and of themselves, and her full powers are on display in Tundra and Pyry.

A surprise storm system meant we had to be creative about staging our photoshoot for BT Yokes, but is there a more perfect backdrop for a collection of cozy woolens than a fresh blanket of snow? We hope you’ll enjoy browsing the new lookbook and making the most of the knitting weather.

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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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