JF's Notebook
Photo of Jared Flood

Notebook

Penned by Jared Flood

Hello and welcome! I'm a knitter, photographer, designer and the creative director at Brooklyn Tweed. I use this notebook as a space to record inspiration and write about my creative work both inside and outside of BT. Thanks for reading, and don't be a stranger—I love hearing from you!

 

It’s been a few years since I’ve done the holiday gift knitting thing. At some point it started to feel more like a burden than a joy, so I made the decision to take deadline pressure out of the equation, which helped me to enjoy the holidays much more in recent years. This year though, I had a strong urge to spend the month of December doing some “vacation” knitting (i.e. not writing a pattern, taking measurements, planning shaping details, or any of the other technicalities that so often accompany my knitting time) with a low-commitment, pre-existing design. Hats are one of my favorite things to knit, so I picked a pattern and started stitching. I figured I’d  see how many I could complete within the month of December without setting any sort of “achievement metric” — if it turned out I was only able to finish a single hat in the month, I’d still consider it a win.

 

 

The irony about time-pressure is that when you release yourself from it, you often produce more than you may have if kept on a strict output schedule. (This is at least true for the way my brain works.) In the end, I got so into the swing of hat knitting that I finished seven of them in four weeks. Definitely a personal record!

 

 

I chose to work with my Burnaby hat pattern, which coincidentally gave me the opportunity to knit with several shades of Arbor that I hadn’t yet gotten to try out (at least on anything more substantial than a swatch).

 

 

Repeating a project over and over again has a meditative appeal for me. Along with the satisfaction of committing a pattern to memory (a fun party trick…depending on the party), I also enjoyed making subtle tweaks to each version: varying hat length and adjusting fit and fabric density through the use of different needle sizes (sometimes 3-4 different sizes in a single hat). Small details, to be sure, but seriously satisfying.

 

 

Another thing I forgot: how rewarding it is to watch friends and family open up a wrapped handknit gift.

 

 

I’ve listed the colors of Arbor that I used for each hat above. Though I picked colors based on my best prediction for each recipient’s tastes, the hats actually came together to make a nice little color story of their own! I’ve included links to the pattern and yarn below in case you get the Burnaby bug too.

 

Wishing you all a very happy new year — I’m looking forward to what 2017 has in store!

 

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I’m excited to announce today’s release of a new book of my work that we’ve published here at Brooklyn Tweed! Woolens is a project that I’ve been knocking around in my head for quite a while, but it wasn’t until I visited Japan last year that I was inspired to get the project off the ground. Looking back now, I can definitely see the influence of that trip in both the projects and the imagery inside these pages!

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The book is dedicated to the humble knitted accessory – small, portable projects that are meditative to knit and accessible to adventurous beginners. Inside you’ll find a mix of all of my favorite knitting traditions: colorwork, cables, lace, and textured stitches.

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We’ve put together a book preview (see below) if you’d like a sneak peek at what you’ll find inside — and if you’d like to check out each individual project more in depth, you can find them all here. The book is available in print, as well as a print + e-book combo, and I’ve signed the first 250 copies that will be shipping from our Portland HQ today!

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 I look forward to seeing what unique creations you’ll make with these designs, and I hope you like the book!

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I love books. I love the way they feel and smell. I love the tactile properties of different kinds of paper between my fingers. I’ve daydreamed about bringing printing into our offerings at BT for quite a long time, so I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to be holding a printed copy of Olga Buraya-Kefelian’s CAPSULE Collection for Brooklyn Tweed in my hands today.


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Working with designers has become one of my favorite parts of my job over the last few years, both with our Wool People collections, as well as our in-house design team. As we’ve continued to produce design collections, however, I’ve often found myself wishing we could provide a designer with a broader platform to share more than just a single design at a time. Within my own design process I know that a single idea never exists in a vaccuum — it’s almost always accompanied by related concepts and variations which are often left unexplored.

The CAPSULE idea was born from my desire to facilitate a deeper collaboration with a single designer and to see what one person might do when given an opportunity to realize their own vision for an 8-10 piece “wardrobe” of knits. The name CAPSULE, of course, references the idea of a capsule wardrobe, a small collection of essential, timeless pieces that are versatile and interchangeable, giving the wearer options to create several outfits from a modest, well-edited collection of garments. This idea has always resonated with me — doing more with less — especially in this unprecedented era of fast fashion.

 

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When I started thinking about designers who might be the perfect fit for the Capsule idea, Olga was the first to come to mind. To me, she is truly a unique voice in the world of knitting and someone whose dedication and creative conviction I deeply respect. I remember being very excited to see what kind of beautiful knitted objects she would create as the first designer to be featured in this new series, and she did not disappoint!

Collaborating with others and incorporating a dialog into the creative process has become one of my favorite ways of working. As much as I require and adore solitary creative work, I’ve learned that opening yourself up to different perspectives and ideas throughout your process can be equally important, and almost always helps you make that extra creative leap when you find yourself stuck in your own head.

 

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In 2012, Olga and I started our conversations about what this collection might look and feel like. The work evolved slowly and organically through creative dialogue and spanned a couple major geographical moves for both of us (Olga from Japan back to the states in mid-2013, me from East to West Coast this year), getting pushed down the calendar further and further as we figured out how to make this new print format come together. New ideas always take time, and we both agreed to give this one as much time as it needed until it was right.

 

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Olga and I both love street fashion and thought it would be fun to highlight the funky flair of her pieces in this type of setting for the collections photoshoot. We were still in Brooklyn at the time, so on shoot day we set up camp at a friend’s home in an historic architectural district of Cobble Hill (the same location we used to shoot our BT Kids collection), and rambled around the neighborhood using the beautiful pre-war architecture, brick facades, and ornate details of the neighborhood as a backdrop. My love of the iconic NYC stoop is very much in evidence, as you’ll notice!

 

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It’s been such a new and fun challenge to design a book for print, making a beautiful object that can function as a source of inspiration in its own right as well as displaying Olga’s beautiful work. I worked closely with book designer Jenny Trygg on the print edition and we spent many happy hours geeking out over paper and cover finishes, typefaces and layouts.

As for the garments themselves, I think they’re so clever and unique. Apex has really stolen my heart. It’s one of those perfect sweaters that will turn heads while remaining super wearable. Dress it up, dress it down, throw it on over just about anything and run out the door looking fabulous. (I think it’s the type of garment that will elicit many “Where did you buy that?!” comments from strangers.)

 

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I’m looking forward to seeing what you all think about our first experiment with print. Here at BT HQ we’re definitely excited to be working on this new publication. And as ever, I’m looking forward to seeing how some of you will make Olga’s garments and accessories your own.

A very special thanks to my talented friend and colleague Olga Buraya-Kefelian for making this experience so memorable and rewarding. I know I speak for both of us when I say that we really hope you enjoy it!

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Thank you for your kind words about my Agnes post last week! I thought I’d keep the design-inspiration train going today and share some backstory on my second Met-inspired garment from Winter 15, Carpeaux.

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I spent a lot of time photographing sculptures on our day at the Met—especially those located in the beautiful Petrie European Sculpture Court (pictured above). One piece that especially caught my eye was a bronze monument to the great 19th-century French sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. Modeled by a younger sculptor named Émile-Antoine Bourdelle in 1908-09, Carpeaux is shown wearing a voluminous coat with dramatic drapes and folds. I loved how the sculpture had a feeling of being simultaneously very solid and very soft, with the rough-hewn garment frozen in motion. The combination of structure and drape got my gears turning. I particularly loved the idea of translating inspiration from fabric to metal and back to fabric again.

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After seeing the piece and doing some freeform sketching, an idea for a blanket-front cardigan began to emerge. I like a garment that has an element of drama but can still maintain a sense of shape and contour. The bronze coat got me thinking about both drape and structure, and ways in which I might be able to play with these two themes in the same garment. I liked the idea of pairing voluminous fronts with a more tailored back. When casting on the garment at the hem edge, the width of the “back” piece is quite narrow. As the body is knit, the back increases rapidly to its full width. Shaping the garment in this way results in a pair of graceful arches (illustrated in the right photo below) that angle the drape-fronts forward for a more flattering, figure-friendly line. Since the garment has such a generous amount of fabric in the front, trimming out some bulk in the back would keep the silhouette from becoming overwhelming.

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Brioche is one of my favorite stitch patterns, and I often turn to it when I want to accentuate the shaping elements of a piece. When working in brioche all your shaping is worked in pairs (double increases and decreases) to maintain the ribbed appearance of the fabric. Traveling lines are quite apparent when working larger shaped passages within the fabric (Oshima’s yoke explores this idea as well). In the case of Carpeaux, the stitch pattern highlights the unusual back shaping (as well as adding Brioche’s characteristic plushness and squish for coziness!)

I was also thinking about stitch patterns that could be reversible, since the fronts of this sweater hang open to reveal both sides of the fabric. Brioche already looks identical front and back, but I had hoped to add a decorative element to the cardigan front and landed on  a few simple (and reversible) cables worked in the brioche pattern that would be as attractive on the wrong side as they were on the right.

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The body of the garment is worked in a single piece from hem to shoulder—illustrated in the above diagram. Note that the schematic is shown in exploded view, with dashed lines representing “seamless” areas. In the end I opted to forego closures on a garment like this, allowing the fronts to be treated more like a blanket or shawl when worn. It would easily be suitable for a single pin closure—or even belting—to give additional styling options. The sleeves are worked in Stockinette to balance out the bulkier nature of the brioche body and to give a little visual contrast to the garment as a whole.

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In the end, the goal was for something of a statement piece that didn’t swallow up the wearer—a bit of drama without feeling too over the top. And as always… something fun to make.

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Today I’m visiting with Bonnie Sennott from Amherst, Massachusetts about her work as an artist, knitter and designer. This wraps up our second week of Designer Conversations, with two more interviews slated for next week. Enjoy! –Jared

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Hello Bonnie, and welcome! So glad to chat with you this morning.

Hi Jared. Thanks for having me.

You have a fine arts degree and work in several media other than wool. Can you tell us about your other art forms?

I’d love to! I’ve been drawing ever since I was a child and usually have several sketchbooks in progress at any given time. In one (called “Lost & Found”), I draw small found objects like seeds, buttons, or leaves. Clouds and hills are also favorite subjects. I’ve done lots of collages, too, as well as paintings. A few years ago, I became hooked on embroidery—a medium I hadn’t touched since high school—after taking a class with Rebecca Ringquist at Squam Art Workshops. Now I do quite a lot of abstract embroidery and stitch at least a little every day.

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Did you go to art school? Grow up in a creative family? Or are you self taught in your various creative pursuits?

I received my M.F.A. from the University of Chicago. As a knitter, I’m mostly self-taught, though I’ve taken classes on particular subjects here and there, such as finishing techniques, sock knitting, and crochet.

Yes, I did grow up in a creative family. Though my mother doesn’t knit, she sewed a lot when I was growing up, making clothes for herself and for me and my sisters. She’s an amazing problem solver, which is a big part of creativity. All of my three sisters have multiple creative pursuits: weaving, knitting, crochet, dyeing, spinning, felting, collage, jewelry making, punch needle embroidery, and rug hooking. I’m probably forgetting something! Though my brother, the youngest, isn’t involved in any fiber arts, he’s creative too—mainly woodworking, also photography.

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How did you specifically come into knitting and designing garments?

I taught myself to knit in my twenties using The Sweater Workshop by Jacqueline Fee. You learn all the techniques you’ll need for a sweater by making this funny-looking sampler knit in the round. Then you can plan out your own raglan, based on your gauge and the measurements you want. It was a great way to learn to knit—very empowering—but that was years before I actually learned how to follow knitting patterns.

I got into knitwear design with accessories at first (no grading involved!), then later sweaters. Mostly I’ve learned by reading books by people like Shirley Paden, Barbara Walker, Maggie Righetti, Deborah Newton, Sally Melville, Ann Budd … as well as studying individual patterns by many other designers.

Did you start by making original designs for yourself before self-publishing your work? Or did you jump right in?

In the beginning, they were either for myself or gifts for others. One of my first published designs, a lace scarf, was originally a gift for my brother-in-law’s mother. I liked it well enough to publish the pattern. Things sort of snowballed from there.

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How do you balance your time amongst the arts and how does one form influence the others?

Balance can be elusive, don’t you think?

Yes, I guess that was a bit of a trick question!

Oh, I think it’s a great question! Finding balance is a challenge everybody faces. Sometimes I achieve it and other times not so much. I think the key is to have reasonable expectations.

Wise advice.

Some days I put my artwork on the back burner to focus on finishing up a new pattern. Other times, I need to back away from the knitting needles and spend more time on my embroidery or drawing projects—or else I start to feel “out of alignment” as an artist.

Knitting generally requires a lot of patience—not to mention ripping back and starting over. So I’d say it’s influenced my artwork by helping me to be less self-critical and more easygoing—to enjoy the process more and accept the ups and downs.

Those are pretty great lessons for any creative, and I agree, knitting helps teach them – whether we like it or not.

That’s so true. I was about to say, wouldn’t it be fantastic if we never had to rip back and could envision perfectly right from the start how all the parts of a design will work together? But on second thought, I wouldn’t want the creative process to be too easy—that would be boring. And I would miss that 4 AM insomnia where my mind keeps trying to solve a particular problem!

You live in a beautiful part of the world (the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts) that’s inspired artists for centuries. How is that landscape important in your work?

I feel very lucky to live here! I’m surrounded by distant mountains and hills and there are so many woods, hiking trails, conservation areas, streams, and rivers. It’s really a nature lover’s paradise.

These seem like natural inspiration points for your new design in Wool People 8, the Sawmill River hats. Can you talk a little more about the process for how this design came about?

When I was swatching for Sawmill River, I really liked the look of the large cable motif. It reminded me of streams of water. But I felt something was missing, so I added similar but much smaller cables on each side. And then I felt everything clicked—the design had a visual and conceptual unity.

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One thing I love about your work is how subtly original your stitch patterns and motif combinations are. At first glance, they don’t scream that they are unique, but as you look closer, you realize they aren’t often things we have seen before. Can you explain the importance of a stitch pattern in your design work, or describe the way you develop your own?

I have a fairly robust collection of stitch dictionaries, and whenever I look at them I can’t stop adding more Post-It notes. I love to swatch without any aim in mind—just for the sheer fun of seeing how a stitch pattern knits up and what kind of yarn it seems best suited to.

One thing I’ve come to learn is that stitch dictionaries are only a starting point.

Absolutely—I couldn’t agree more.

Often, modifications are needed to get the effect I want or to make two stitch patterns work well together. By altering a motif to make it wider or longer or shorter, or by adding some contrasting stitches or yarn overs, I can take it from just OK to just perfect.

Bonnie, this has been great. Thank you for joining me today and I wish you all the best in your continued creative endeavors!

I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you, Jared. It’s an honor to be part of Wool People 8.

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Curious to read more about this design or get your hands on the pattern? Visit Sawmill River’s pattern page for details.

This has been the Part 3 of a 6-part Designer Conversations series with selected creatives from our new Wool People 8 collection. Stay tuned here for more; two interviews will be posted each week!

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Good morning, Irina! Thanks for joining me today to talk about your work—I’m such a fan.

Thanks Jared! I’m very pleased to be a part of these wonderful Wool People collections, thank you for the opportunity!

Rambler is your third hat for Wool People—you contributed Scrollwork for WP4 (with a matching cowl) and Gentian for WP6. We’re so glad to have you back again for WP8. I know Rambler is an idea you’ve been playing with for a very long time. Can you tell us about the process for your new design?

When I was working on Scrollwork  Wool People 4 in the “Wool Socks” colorway, I started thinking how wonderful this color would work for a design with an autumn leaf motif. I started drawing sketches at that time, but nothing solid came from it. Over the next few months, I returned to the sketches again and again, knowing there was something there that I hadn’t locked in on yet. After time, I was able to work up something that I felt ws interesting, which is the resulting Rambler – even though I’ve never worked on one design for so long!

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What kept you coming back to this idea? What made it finally click?

It was the sheer number of sketches I drew in my notebook—which I always keep by my side—that kept the idea percolating at the front of my mind. I find returning to my own sketches again and again for inspiration keeps ideas moving along over time.

I do the same—you never know when you’ve accidentally found the solution to an aging design conundrum.

Yes! I often spend a long time drawing a single sketch, which ends up unresolved in some way. More often then not, when I return to it later the moment of “enlightenment” comes, and what seemed so difficult receives a simple solution in the end. This was the case with Rambler.

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Your cable work is so distinctive; you clearly don’t just browse stitch dictionaries and amalgamate motifs. What makes a design come alive for you?

Most often I get inspiration in drawing curls and knotwork. Often I find ideas for woven motifs in objects around me. It can be anything from nature, architecture, interior design objects, etc. I draw a lot. Sometimes I come up with different variations of the same pattern, sometimes trying different ways to combine several patterns. Sometimes I start to draw one pattern, and in the end it turns out to be quite different from my original idea. Sometimes a beautiful idea comes right away, and other times it’s a much longer search. But in the end, tangling cables together is always the most exciting type of knitting for me.

Can you tell us about your background? How did you get started with knitting and design?

I learned to knit at age 12. When I was 15 I made my first sweater. Since then, knitting has been my favorite pastime. In the past I have always chosen to work from knitting patterns with interesting stitch patterns – ones that particularly piqued my interest in design. In the early 2000s, however, I felt I was having a harder time finding interesting patterns to work with. The publications that I had access to in Ukraine published mainly knitting patterns worked in stockinette stitch and fancier yarns. While I like wearing simpler patterns, I tend to get bored knitting them. So in 2003—the year I was on maternity leave and had more free time—I began to invent my own stitch patterns and design accessories with them. Ever since I’ve been sketching and knitting my own stitch patterns, and amassing a nice collection of them to draw from. I would love to someday produce a stitch dictionary with my original motifs.

You should! I’d be first in line for that…

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The more I grow as a creative, I realize that my passion is inventing and knitting unique or complex stitch patterns. I like to watch as a pattern emerges in the process of knitting, particularly with intricately woven cables. As I mentioned before, the result is almost always different from the initial sketch, so the element of intrigue remains until the end. My favorite accessory to incorporate my motifs is obviously hats. To me the brim, body and crown of a hat represent a single unit, and I love finding ways to make each flow into the other without breaking the motif, but instead enhancing its interest.

I think this all certainly shows in your work, and it’s really inspiring to hear you talk through your design process. Thank you so much for spending some time with me today, and I really look forward to watching your work evolve.

Thank you, Jared! It’s really a pleasure to work with you and your team.

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Curious to read more about this design or get your hands on the pattern? Visit Rambler’s pattern page for details.

This has been the Part 2 of a 6-part Designer Conversations series with selected creatives from our new Wool People 8 collection. Stay tuned here for more; two interviews will be posted each week!

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I wanted to take some time today to share a bit about Hawser – one of my new designs in BT Fall 14. When I first started working on this garment, I hoped to adapt some of the qualities found in traditional fisherman sweaters into a more modern and flattering wardrobe item for women.

Sometimes design ideas behave really well – doing exactly what you think they’ll do from concept to execution – while other times, it’s more like a wrestling match. Hawser was one of those, and went through a few different iterations on its journey. Perhaps sharing some info about the design’s evolution will give you some modification ideas of your own!

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An A-line silhouette is one of my favorite sweater shapes, especially for cozy, knock-around, fall and winter garments, so that’s where I began. The super-sized rope cables are quite large (A “hawser” is a thick rope or cable used for mooring or towing a ship, and is derived from the French word haucier – “to hoist”) and needed to be handled carefully to avoid overwhelming the wearer. I started with 4 – which immediately looked like too much, so took one out and went for a 3-cable arrangement. I originally drafted the garment with a traditional set-in sleeve yoke placing the two outer cables flush against the armholes. It turned out to be an unflattering, bulky fit at the shoulder, and looked to me like an awkward meeting of sleeve and body. So that idea was out. I wasn’t necessarily feeling like a raglan or round yoke would work here either, so took some time to chew on other ideas for a few days (giving an idea time to marinate is essential for me to find solutions to design problems, I’ve learned).

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To leave some extra room for the allover double moss stitch at the shoulder (rather than having the cable fall right on the seam line) – a drop shoulder seemed like a viable option, though I wanted to avoid the bulk of extra fabric at the underarm that a traditional drop shoulder provides. To make the upper yoke more fitted, I gave the shoulder line a more dramatic slope and added an outward-leaning slope on the armhole edge; with this new shape, the sleeve would join the body well below the shoulder, all the while avoiding an excess fabric problem of a standard drop shoulder. Things started feeling better at this point!

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The change for a (modified) drop-shoulder combined with the A-line shape threatened to created an overly boxy garment, so adding a slim sleeve that fits directly into the armhole seemed like an appropriate final touch for the fit. A bonus of having a sloped armhole opening also meant that no sleeve cap shaping would be required – the sleeve couldn’t be simpler! The results still hint at that boxy look, but with a more anatomically friendly silhouette. The final shape also allows the double moss stitch to go over the shoulder (see the photo #2 above), which kept that area of the garment from becoming a visual eyesore like it was in the original. The schematic below shows the final shape (and knitting direction) of the garment – which is worked circularly from hem to underarm with the front and back of the yoke worked flat; sleeves are worked circularly in their entirety.

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Aside from shape and fit (the foundation of every garment) – you know I love the subtle details! There are a few little things stashed away in this design that I thought I’d highlight, as they’re sometimes less apparent in photographs. There is continuation of the 1×1 hem ribbing running up along the sweater’s side “seams” in a band, creating a visual detail that also hide the garment’s A-Line shaping (double moss stitch can start looking a little messy when shaping is worked directly into the stitch pattern). You can get a little peek of that in photo #1 above – look just below the the lower portion of the left arm. The large cable crosses – occurring over a total of 17 stitches – utilize a special yarn over technique on crossing rounds to provide a little extra slack for the working yarn as it carries across the wide cable; this keeps the finished cable from distorting or buckling. Finally, a doubled collar (knit to twice the desired depth then folded in and tacked down to the inside of the garment) gives a sturdy finish to the wide crew neck and balances out some of the bolder effects of the deep hem and large vertical motifs.

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Hawser Design Swatch

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Here is a photo of one of my first swatches for the design, hanging out under another design swatch (this one didn’t make it into the final collection, but I have plans for her still!).

All in all, it was a fun process from start to finish. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this sweater’s journey, and I can’t wait to see what sort of variations start popping up out in the world!

Thanks for reading and all my best,

Jared

 

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Dear Knitters,

September! It’s always been one of my favorite months. While summer may be psychologically over when the school bells ring, the season just seems all the more golden as the fair weather lingers, mellows, and starts to offer that refreshing autumn crispness in the mornings. While the lazy liberty of vacation may be over, falling back into the year’s routine has its own productive pleasures, too. (There’s still the possibility of weekend camping trips, after all!)

Fisherman-inspired knits for Autumn

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Most importantly, as we well know, Knitting Season is officially open. It’s no longer too hot to contemplate taking up that big cardigan you didn’t finish last winter. Or even if it is, you start to think how good that pile of pieces in your workbasket is going to look at your favorite autumn wool festival (if you can just knit a second sleeve and a collar and sew them all together…). Motivation kicks in.

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BT Fall 14

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I can never resist the call to cast on new projects in September, and that’s why I’m excited to share our BT Fall 14 collection today: a whole fleet of garments and accessories inspired by the rich traditions of nautical knitwear. Our design team set out to reinterpret fishermen’s sweaters in ways we hope will surprise and delight you. From cables to geometric textural patterns to brioche, you’ll see classic elements enlivening completely modern shapes. Whether you like your sweaters generous or fitted, A-line or fashionably oversized, you’re likely to find something in the lookbook that will make your needles sing.

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BT Fall 14

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Construction details and design features for each garment are highlighted directly within the new lookbook and give a great at-a-glance summary of what kind of knitting is in store for any given pattern. We’ve also included a new kind of written feature in this lookbook. Shooting the collection in Red Hook, Brooklyn got me thinking about our roots and mission as a company. Rather than just using Red Hook as an evocative backdrop, we felt compelled to share with you something of its history and its present. Feeling the energy that’s being generated there as community leaders try creative solutions to put their town’s unique resources and people back to work inspired all of us. It affirmed my own resolve to grow Brooklyn Tweed in a way that fuels local industry and helps keep American manufacturing traditions alive. I hope you’ll enjoy thinking about that aspect of our craft as you read our Red Hook essay and share your own reactions and ideas with us!

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BT Fall 14

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I’m also looking forward to showing some of our Red Hook footage in a new BT Vignette video next week, and to turning the spotlight on some of the designs in BT Fall 14, so stay tuned for more to come. If there’s a garment you particularly want to see featured, please let us know!

For the moment, I hope you’ve got a few moments to settle in with the lookbook, enjoy the new collection, and dream up possibilities for your own wardrobe.

.Happy fall!

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JF: Hi Olga! Thanks for joining me today – glad to have you!

OBK: Hi Jared! I am really excited to join you and thank you so much for having me!

JF: You are well revered in our industry as an innovative designer with a signature style. Everyone knows when they are looking at “an Olga”, which I think is a great testament to both your vision and your skill. Can you tell us a little bit about your regular sources of inspiration?

OBK: First of all, thank you! These kind of statements always baffle me when I hear them from others, especially from well-established designers like yourself. I truly admire your meticulous work and your genius behind the BT brand.

Throughout the years I think I have found better ways of collecting and recording the inspiration sources via various means of modern technology, but I think a lot of my inspiration has to deal with my thought process. Being a highly observant person I see inspiration all around me, from the most mundane objects of every day life – tile patterning on the floor or the texture of a paper napkin – to other design cross-disciplines like architecture and industrial design.

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Travel is also hugely inspirational. I like to think when we travel away from our regular environment our minds are more receptive to new information and new inspiration. This was the case for me when I moved to Japan over 4 years ago. Though every city is different, Japan filled me with so much inspiration, almost to the point of oversaturation. Their different “non-western” way of thinking had a profound impact on me and gave my mind a staggering wealth of ideas, which is proving well for filling my notebooks, even years later.

JF: As a designer, I often think about the balance between concept and utility – the purity of the idea and how it will translate into everyday use as clothing. Your work plays with geometry, architecture and form – how do you approach the conceptual side of your work in reference to the end user, or in our case, the finished pattern? 

OBK: That is a really great question! I know we all have our own methods, but the way this process works for me is a bit backwards. Since a lot of my inspiration comes not from clothing or knitwear related areas, I usually start with the (often seemingly unrelated) source. The first step is to attempt to find or design from scratch a stitch pattern that resembles the actual inspiration in the most accurate and interesting way. This process probably takes the longest, at times even years and at least a dozen swatches. Some ideas work out, some don’t, some need more time to sit in my ideas bank or binder until I can look at it with a different set of mind.

JF: This all sounds so similar to my own process. Sometimes the best ideas have been sitting on your side table for months (or even years) and they all of a sudden seem new and exciting again.

OBK: You never know when you will get the right one. Call this the puzzle game I love solving (when I can). Once I am happy with the swatch, I think of the yarn and what fibers it needs to contain and what color and dye technique used for the pattern to complement each other. Only then do I start thinking of what this newly created fabric is going to be – an accessory or a garment or something else.

The planning for the actual item is the second biggest and time-consuming stage because there is a list of pro and cons for a certain design to veto. Maybe I take this part a bit too seriously, but the blueprint is such an important element. And the closer I get to finalizing the construction is when I start getting ideas for perfecting finishing details.

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JF: What are you general thoughts about finishing?

OBK: I don’t like to over-complicate construction; if there is a certain technique I use here or there, it always has a list of reasons backing it up. I also love using techniques that can educate knitters; if you can learn a new technique from a pattern that is such an added value.

It turns out that, within the entire design process, knitting takes me the least time!

JF: I think that says so much about you as a designer, and is one of the reasons your work really stands out!

After the design is formed – then comes the pattern writing. How do you approach that?

OBK: The pattern writing is an entirely different dimension. I think every knitwear designer should be commended on their pattern-writing skills as it’s another facet to the job, as it is a mixture of creative and technical writing that needs to stay laconic yet clear.

JF: I completely agree – talk about double duty!

OBK: It has taken me years and yet still my patterning process is evolving as I learn new ways to perfect my writing (English is my second language, so that is a factor as well).

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JF: Coda” is such a cool pullover. I love that it looks like a classic raglan when seen from the front, and the arched yoke at the back gives you such a surprise when it is revealed. How and when was the seed for this design planted?

OBK: Ever since I saw the emerging trend for convertible clothing items several years back, it has been my goal to create more knitwear transformable garments when possible, or, as I call them, transforms. Versatility is the drive behind all of those for me. It covers a lot of present-day aspects – from downsizing one’s wardrobe to fewer but functional pieces, helping to reduce the need for more clothing, thus becoming environmentally conscious. And, since living in the Internet age we have less time to spend crafting, I think when you can style your finished knitted garment more than one way is a bonus. Same way “Coda” has emerged. The idea for front and back being interchangeable is what started this “Coda” puzzle. I love using Shelter, for it gives great stitch definition for cables. I was aiming for a minimalistic-style pullover with delicate cabled trim, the purpose of which was to accentuate the actual lines of the construction. Since this time it was a construction puzzle, I spent days agonizing about the best possible way of making it work. I believe I have gone through three possibilities, but the one that was actually used came to me almost in a dream. You know how they speak of the cusp of almost falling asleep but not dreaming yet? Afraid of sounding a bit like a cliche, but upon releasing the grip on my mind it sprung back with this idea of literal puzzle. So relinquishing control worked out great in this case. “Coda” consists of only two pieces that merge just like two pieces of a puzzle and connect with one continuous seam.

JF: The sweater is reversible, too! Do you have a preference for which direction it is worn? 

OBK: I really love how you photographed Coda in a way that it is actually a surprise when she turns the back. I like seeing cable-accentuated raglan lines flanked by a tiny bit of the eyelet working almost as vents – it adds texture to the overall look. But having come across so many body types and knowing that some people just can’t wear raglan shaped sweaters and some do, Coda’s reversibility or interchangeability will work just great for that purpose. For example, from personal experience for those of us who are a bit chesty will benefit by wearing raglan as front, but others who have wide shoulders know that raglan only brings attention to that part of their figure, so wearing arched as front will not only take away the unwanted attention from the shoulders, but will visually soften the squareness of the shoulders, as well.

To me, this sweater gives the wearer options that can be chosen on both their needs and likes. That’s my hope, anyway!

JF: It’s always an inspiration working with you – thanks for your time this morning, Olga!

OBK: And it’s always exciting to be part of Wool People and work with such talented people as yourself! Thank you so much for having me over and giving me a chance to share my work and inspiration with your readers.

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JF: Welcome back, Kyoko! Thanks for agreeing to chat with me today.

KN: Hello Jared! It’s always a pleasure and thank you for inviting me back!

JF: We had you on the blog last November to talk about your WP6 design “Rook”. Your newest piece for Wool People 7 has such interesting construction that I felt we had to have you back to talk about this one, too!

Seine is a beautiful cardigan with draping fronts and a bold zigzag cable cutting horizontally across the entire body of the piece. Where did the idea for this cardigan spring from?

KN: Thank you! The main theme for the new ‘Seine’ design is modern simplicity with a fresh twist on cables. The name of the garment is perfect for reflecting the touch of French chic. The structure of the garment is very fun and knits into a versatile, modern-classic cardigan with beautiful drape. (After all, the excellent cut and drape of Frenchwomen’s clothes are what make them so classically stylish in my mind.)

Usually, cables are worked vertically, but during the design stage I thought it would be fun to have horizontal cables, which give a different look and feel to the garment. I’m quite keen on creating cardigans with a cleverly draped front for an appealing silhouette, possibly because I’ve just spent nine months with a baby bump! I wanted to design a versatile garment, which would be figure-flattering for all ages, shapes and sizes.

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JF: Come to think of it, it is a great maternity sweater too, isn’t it?

KN: Yes, absolutely. The width of each front section of the cardigan is the same width as the body, which means the cardigan would easily cover a bump during the cold season! It also makes for a discreet garment for breastfeeding, too, with the baby wrapped snugly inside the soft, bouncy wool!

JF: Although the cardigan is intended to be worn open – it seems to me that a nice shawl pin, vintage brooch or decorative fastener could easily be worn to add another styling method.

KN: Yes – you can wear Seine in a lot of different ways! It’s intended to be worn open to show the waterfall pleats, as pictured, but can also be worn with a leather belt to emphasise your waist (knitted belt loops could easily be added if a knitted belt was preferred,too), or with a shawl pin or pretty brooch to wrap the garment around the front. A knitter could further customize the look by adding a looped ‘buttonhole’ and a medium-large button in a matching or contrasting color at the front. There really are so many possibilities!

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JF: Aside from the garment’s obvious versatility, my favorite thing about it is the knitting process and construction. It’s an intriguing puzzle of a garment and seems like it would be very fun to work on. Can you explain the sequence of knitting that occurs throughout the pattern?

KN: Yes, the construction sequence of this garment is unique because different parts of the garment are knitted at 90 degree angles, allowing the zig-zag cable motif to extend around the entire body.

You start by working the sleeves from cuff to underarm, then placing them aside (leaving stitches live). The lower half of the Body is begun at center-back with a provisional cast on; the back is worked sideways from center out in two halves until the underarm gussets are reached.

At that point, the sleeves and lower back are joined onto a single circular needle to be worked concurrently to shape the upper body/yoke by way of a seamless raglan technique.

After the front raglan lines are shaped, stitches are picked up from the front raglan slopes and worked outward (together with the remaining live stitches from lower body) to create the draping fronts.

Finishing involves grafting the underarm gussets and working a garter stitch band around the entire cardigan opening.

JF: So, no seaming is required during finishing? Nice bonus!

KN: Except for the underarm gusset, no, you don’t need to seam during finishing at all.

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JF: In our last interview, you referred to yourself as a “creative puzzle-maker” and I think that is even more evident here with Seine. Do you have other garment “puzzles” that you are whittling away on behind the scenes? What is next for you?

KN: I am always drawing ideas in my little notebook from ordinary to completely unconventional garments and accessories. I always have a lot of weird-looking swatches building up in my studio that are still waiting to find their “home” in a new design.

My current project is a colorful baby collection of unisex projects for boys and girls. Im looking to break away from more expected pastel colors.  Since I’ve recently had my first baby, I wanted to make a very special collection that other mothers will enjoy seeing their ‘pride and joy’ wearing!  The designs are simple to knit and will give moms some stylish baby options with a contemporary twist.

JF: That’s great! No better time to be designing for babies than when you are living with one, right? I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

KN: Yes, living with my new baby is giving me so many ideas for better shapes and practical designs that are attractive and comfortable for everyday wear. I’m having a blast turning my ideas into real things to dress my little one…

JF: Thanks so much for spending some time with me today and sharing a bit about what you are working on, Kyoko! Best of luck in your upcoming endeavors (and congrats on your new status as mother!)

KN: It’s been a real pleasure. It will definitely be an exciting few years for me as a first-time mom! (I’m planning to knit the Seine cardigan again for myself in time for next winter). Thank you!

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