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!

Today I’m posting the final interview in my “Designer Conversations” series with Wool People 8 contributors. Alexis Winslow is an artist, textile designer and knitter based in Brooklyn, New York. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of interviews—thanks for reading! 

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Good morning Alexis! Thanks for joining me today as we wrap up our Designer Conversations from Wool People 8.

Thanks for having me! I’ve loved reading your designer chats in the past so it’s fun to be on the other side.

Escher is your fourth Wool People contribution—we’ve worked with you on Vega (WP1), the Arrowhead mittens (WP2), and the very popular Reine (WP3)—and we’re so glad to have you back in this collection. Can you tell us about how you got started as a knitter and designer?

I started knitting when I was about 16 years old. I had dreams of being a fashion designer at that time, and was already designing and sewing most of my own clothes. I thought knitting could be another great way to express myself through fashion. I typed “how to knit” into a search engine, and life was never the same after that! I just couldn’t get enough. I designed my very first sweater, a gauzy floor-length duster to go with my prom dress–also my own design of course. The ensemble was inspired by Cher, and was absurdly ambitious, but I pulled it off somehow. Even now, ridiculous self-created challenges are my idea of fun. I think that’s why I love being an independent designer so much.

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You have such a distinctive, graphic sensibility—in fact your latest collection is called Graphic Knits. Can you tell us a bit about what inspires your designs?

That graphic sensibility comes from a love of color and modern design. I probably I have my parents to thank for that. I’m the daughter of an architect who collected Navajo rugs and Pueblo pottery. (If you’ve never seen this kind of pottery, I strongly recommend you do a quick search because they are insanely beautiful.) I grew up in a fairly stark modern house that my father designed and built himself. I think this early exposure to life as a maker, high craft and beautiful decorative design had a big impact on my current design sensibilities.

You’re also a painter and you have a career as a printed textile designer, too. Does that work affect your knitwear design, or vice versa? How is your process different when the “canvas” is a wearable garment?

My art background definitely informs my current design work. All my paintings are figural, which might seem unexpected considering my graphic approach to knitwear design, but portrait painting has given me a really strong sense for color relationships. In art school, I studied painting which actually involved a great deal of drawing. Just like when I plan a painting, when I design knitwear, I rely heavily on my drawing skills. One of my favorite parts in my design process is creating the initial design sketch. Each one is like a little work of art for me.

(Your sketches are beautiful – I’m sharing one here so our readers can see!)

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I got into textile design to sort of combine my love for sewing and graphic design. Currently, my work as a textile designer is pretty different from my knitwear design–I design printed textiles for children’s bedding. I love this work because it really lets me explore the whimsical side of my aesthetic. All of that work is for commercial brands which is very disparate from my work as an independent designer. It’s interesting to experience the design industry from both sides. I think it gives me a different, more consumer centered perspective on my independent  work. I’m constantly thinking about the knitter’s experience as I write patterns, because I know that without the people who buy my patterns, I wouldn’t be able to do this wonderful thing that I love so much. Also, part of my job as a textile designer is to research fashion trends, which of course influences all my design work.

Escher has an unusual construction—the back shaping is so striking. How did you hit upon this shape, and what was it like figuring out how to bring the idea to life on your needles?

Escher was definitely a challenge for me. My original design concept didn’t have that beautiful V-shape–it was straight up and down like a stripe. I knitted the sample, and realized that I could achieve a much better fit if the armholes angled downward a bit. I went back to my sketchpad to work out solutions. There were a lot of different ways I could do this, but I decided the central triangle would be the most elegant way to solve this problem. As I continued to work on the design, I saw an opportunity to use angled ribbing texture in the shoulder to mirror the graphic V-shape in the main body. I really love it when things work out that way.

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Having played so much with geometric forms and unexpected lines and colorblocking for your recent book and your WP8 design, do you feel as though you’ve found a métier you want to keep exploring, or do you have new directions you’re excited about now? What’s inspiring you lately?

I think my past design work has been a reflection of my interests and curiosities as I continue to develop my craft, so I expect my future designs will continue in that vein. There’s still much for me to learn, but since the beginning my two great loves in knitting have always been color and construction. I love figuring out interesting new ways to put garments together, and incorporating color is a great way to accentuate those unconventional shapes. I think these things come together to create my “graphic” aesthetic. Lately I’ve been exploring steeks in my design work, so you can expect to see some interesting new work that utilizes color work and scissors (scary, I know!).

Sounds good to me! I’m a big fan of cutting the knitting if it makes for a better making experience overall.

Alexis, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today, it’s been fascinating to hear more about what makes you tick as a creative! I look forward to seeing where you are headed.

I always love to discuss design, so thank you, Jared! It’s been a pleasure.

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

This has been Part 6 of a 6-part Designer Conversations series with selected creatives from our new Wool People 8 collection

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Happy Sunday! Today I’m conducting our penultimate Designer Interview for Wool People 8 with Hannah Fettig from Portland, Maine. Read on for more about Hannah’s design process for Gable, and news about her new app for knitters.

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Hi Hannah! It’s great to have you back in Wool People with your Gable pullover—we worked with you for Wool People 3, and your Walpole cardigan was one of the most popular garments in that collection. What are your favorite elements of your new design and how did it come into being?

I’m not just saying this – Walpole is one of my favorite designs.  I wear it all the time!  When I first put together my submission for Wool People 8, I said to Bristol “Can I just design Walpole again?!”  I was concerned if I stuck with a cardigan I would in fact have a hard time breaking away from that original design, so a pullover seemed like a good idea.  I do love the stitch definition of the twisted rib in Walpole, so I thought it would be interesting to use that as a recurring design element here.  Also, I wanted the sweater to read like a sweatshirt: comfortable.  At first, with sporty in mind, I considered sticking with my go-to raglan yoke, but once the twisted rib design and the short-row-shaped hemline were in place, a round yoke made more sense to me.

(No complaints there – round yokes are one of my favorite things to knit!)

In the end, I think all the elements complement one another rather than fighting for attention.  (A funny side note, at the time I designed Gable I was sharing an office with Pam Allen.  I think we were sharing at least part of a brain; without knowing it we were both designing short row shaped hemline pieces.  Her finished design is Togue Pond, which I love.)

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I really like your clean aesthetic. Your designs are simple and wearable; you never overdo it with too much texture or fussy detail, and the result is always a garment knitters know they’ll be able to for many seasons to come. Can you tell us about your design process?

Starting with the Whisper Cardigan, which is the design that got me on the map, my foremost consideration has always been wearability.  I’m the same way with ready-to-wear. When I shop for my own closet it needs to be a piece that fits in with other things I have and that can be worn comfortably on a regular basis. As a result, most of my designs are fields of Stockinette Stitch.  Rocky Coast Cardigan is the only exception, but since that cable pattern is worked at quite a loose gauge it has a calming effect, it almost reads flat to me.  I’m always editing myself. Early on in my design work I’d second guess myself on this front, like, can I really get away with designing something so basic?  I’ve learned to trust my instincts, basics are what I’m all about and my audience seems to be okay with that.  I will still follow trends, for instance my most recent design for Knitbot is a Moto Jacket.  But I tried to execute it in a way that it could fit into a knitters closet for years to come; it’s not too trendy.

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How did you get started as a knitter and designer?

I’ve knit on and off since I was a teenager.  My grandmother was a huge crafter and of all the crafts she did knitting was the one that rubbed off on me.  When knitting started getting really popular again 10 years ago, I totally jumped on the wave.  I started working at our local yarn shop and was knitting everything I could get my hands on.  Somewhere in there I started designing my own sweaters, in fact I did a design for The Fibre Company in their early days.  Their original warehouse was on the waterfront here in Portland, Maine.  The turning point was when—last minute—they asked me to attend TNNA with them to assist in their booth.  I went, and they had my sweater on display.  A book editor saw it and asked if I had considered writing a book which I laughed off.  I had never considered that, and did not feel qualified!  She followed up with me several times after that, and just like that I had a book contract and was designing 30 pieces for it.  That seems like another lifetime; I’ve come a long was as a designer since Closely Knit was published, but it did serve as a major stepping stone in my career.  When Eunny Jang, then editor of Interweave Knits, reached out to me to design for the magazine, I had been playing with knitting lace weight yarn at a loose gauge in Stockinette Stitch, trying to mimic jersey. And so came Whisper, and then Featherweight which remains my most popular pattern to date.  I was fortunate enough to be launching my career in the early days of Ravelry, I do feel that it would be different if I were trying to do so now, with so many great designers self publishing.

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You’ve got an interesting knitting-related but non-woolly project on the front burner now, too: your new StashBot app. It’s been fascinating to see how technology has sparked such rapid change in the knitting world, and how savvy knitters have been about embracing it. What inspired you to build this tool for knitters, and what’s exciting about seeing it out in the wild now?

In a market so saturated with knitting patterns I wanted to try something new.  Pam (Allen) and I talked about focusing more on education, but neither of us are in a position to travel.  So we started the  knit.fm podcast.  The overwhelming response from knitters to our humble podcast verified that people are hungry for help!  That gave me the idea to create a “stash buying” guide.  You’re in a yarn store and find a yarn you can’t live without, but you don’t have a pattern in front of you.  How much should you buy?  I wanted the guide to be as specific as possible and then provide a general yardage and meter estimate.  And I wanted the estimates to be based on something real, not made up or overestimated.  So taking actual body measurements plus 2” of ease for sweaters, and a 10% pad for all garment types we came up with yardage and meter estimates for a wide range of sizes.  I created charts and made a print booklet (this was something within my realm of skills since I self publish patterns for print regularly).  But the question was then, what is the best way to present this data digitally?  An interactive app seemed like a fantastic idea!  My husband, Abe, is a software developer.  We were able to collaborate on this project together which was a lot of fun.  It took us 9 months from start to finish to get it just right, and we’re both really proud of the results.  When you’re publishing digital goods, you never know what’s going to happen in terms of sales.  Within the first week we sold as many apps as we had hoped to maybe sell ever!  Knitters sent messages like: ‘StashBot fills a real need’, ‘This is a game changer’, and so on.  So we are certainly on to something here.  The next steps are to develop StashBot for Android, and to work on future updates.  Knitters have sent many suggestions for things the app could also do, and some of them are really good, like, why didn’t we think of that?  It’s all very exciting, and really what I had dreamed about.  While I love designing patterns, and I always will do it, I was ready to work on something new and here I have it!

That’s wonderful—I look forward to giving the app a more in-depth try myself, aside from the preliminary trial I got from you last summer before the app went live. Thanks so much for dropping by today Hannah and I wish you all the best as you continue with your work!

Thank you, Jared, for the opportunity to be part of Wool People again!  It’s an honor.

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

This has been Part 5 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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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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Today I’m talking shop with New York City-based designer Melissa Wehrle as we continue our Designer Conversations series with creatives from the Wool People 8 collection. Read on for more! –Jared

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Hi Melissa—thanks for popping by today for a quick chat. It’s great to have you. 

Hi Jared! It’s a pleasure to be here.

You came to knitting with a background in fashion, and now you have a foot in both worlds, designing sweaters for commercial manufacture as well as for handknitting. Can you tell us how the design experience is different? What do you like about each industry?

Well, on the commercial side, designing is a lot less hands-on and moves a lot quicker than in the hand knitting world. We begin for each market by gathering together inspiration, yarns, and information about trends. Once our themes are set, we begin sketching. Once we get down enough bodies on paper, we meet as a team to narrow down the designs that work best for our customer. Once the designs are organized, we sketch them up in Illustrator, put together detailed tech packs (includes measurements and how each piece is made) and send everything over to a factory in China. It usually takes about 3-6 weeks to receive our prototype samples back here in New York. If the design happens to be for a large order, we can expect sample turnaround to be about one week. The samples are then organized in the showroom and shown to our store buyers during market week. There are 10 markets per year and we show anywhere from 50-100 new styles each market.

Wow, that’s some crazy output! Definitely a different pace and style from our handknitting industry, eh?

Yes! The amount of sweaters we can bring to market each month is staggering. I certainly appreciate the slow aspect of the hand knitting world! Even though it’s nice to be able to produce every good idea that pops into my head without having to prioritize due to time constraints, it’s hard to feel passionate about what you’re producing sometimes. Hand knitting gives me the time and space to reconnect with making. I don’t have to worry about how long it will take to knit, how much the yarn costs or if adding a particular stitch will make the cost soar. (Deadlines, however, are a different story!)

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That touches on something I think about a lot—how handknitting (and home sewing, by the same token) is such a dramatic departure from the “fast fashion” of our consumer culture. I think once you slow down and start making garments with care, you really start to see some of the benefits of creating your own wardrobe pieces. And also, being more invested and passionate about them as a result.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as well. I embarked on a little experiment in which I was not allowed to purchase new clothing for one year. (The irony isn’t lost on me, since people buying clothing is what allows me to keep my job and pay the bills!) If I wanted a new piece of clothing, it was up to me to knit or sew it. Taking the time to make my own garments for an entire year really forced me to sit down and analyze my style and plan my projects carefully. Having a solid plan has not only kept me on track, but has provided me with some great original pieces that I feel proud to wear. Now that I’m coming to the end of the year, I feel it’s been a great success. Not once have I said, “I have nothing to wear.” Feeling more connected to what I wear everyday has made a huge difference in my world.

How do you decide which ideas to develop for handknitters and which to channel toward your fashion work?

I have a loose set of requirements that help me sort designs into each place. For fashion, it’s a little easier since, sad to say, it’s a throw away culture in the Junior world. The design has to be cost effective, work with our limited range of affordable yarns, and be on trend for our customer. Longevity is not a concern. For handknits, I ask myself two questions: will the styling hold up over multiple years and is it interesting to knit?

Yes! That’s one of my favorite parts about designing for handknitting too—you are designing an experience that an individual will have, and you must think about how intuitive and enjoyable that process can or should be for the knitter. 

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Tell us a little bit about your process for designing Eaves for Wool People 8. At first glance it looks like a basic striped pullover with a really comfortable silhouette, but it has some clever details that I just love.

Typically, I begin each design with a simple silhouette which acts as my canvas. I then look for interesting details, textures, or colors to bring it to life which will make the piece interesting for me (and hopefully others) to knit. When I was designing Eaves, I was particularly interested in shoulder details and thin stripes. I experimented with a few shoulder yoke treatments, the first being some sort of crazy textured nonsense that would not have been very flattering at all to wear! Once that was out of my system, I let the stripes and short rows do all the talking for a simple, but much more pleasing effect. In this case, the short rows do double duty. In addition to adding an interesting design element, they also help shape the curve of the front armhole.

The design is also a mixed-gauge garment—you use both Shelter and Loft to create the piece. Can you explain more about that to our readers, since this is a wonderful detail that isn’t conveyed as easily in photo as it is when you feel the garment in hand?

The mixed yarns were a part of Eaves from the very beginning. I love the fact that Shelter and Loft come in the same color range which open up a world of possibilities! I kept my enthusiasm to a minimum here using Shelter only for the ribbed trims. I love the look of thick ribbing in contrast with the lighter gauge body, which is understated and unexpected.

It adds a nice weight and finish to the trims, which I think is a very classy detail.

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Your 2013 book Metropolitan Knits was a whole collection of garments inspired by New York City. May I ask what’s inspiring you now?

Right now, I’m in a bit of a learning cycle while I refill the creative well. Whenever I feel a little tired creatively, learning about something new helps me get going again. Mainly, I’ve been sewing a lot and studying Couture techniques that I never learned in school. I find them so interesting! While putting together Metropolitan Knits was a great experience, putting my entire heart and soul into the project resulted in a bit of burn out.

I think most working creatives have all been there at some point or another!

Taking up sewing again was a nice change. I’ve also been supplementing my fiber education. I’ve recently taken up spinning, brought on by the purchase of my first fleece at Rhinebeck this year. Learning about the preparation of fiber and how different yarns are made is fascinating! Even though I’m not putting out the same amount of designs I have in the past, I’m sure this little educational break will lead me to something new and exciting!

It sounds like you’re definitely keeping yourself on your toes—I look forward to seeing how your new explorations will inform your design work. Thanks so much for coming on the blog today, Melissa – it’s been great!

Thanks so much for having me Jared!

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Curious to read more about this design or get your hands on the pattern? Visit Eaves’ 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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Today I’m kicking off the first of a six-part series of interviews I’ve conducted with selected designers from our new Wool People 8 collection. I’ll be posting the remainder of the Designer Conversations here on the blog throughout the next three weeks. I loved getting to know these designers better and hope you enjoy reading the interviews as much as I enjoyed conducting them! –Jared

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Hello, Sarah! So happy to have you joining me today on the blog, thanks for stopping by.

Thanks, Jared! It’s such an honor to be part of this gorgeous collection and always a delight to chat with you.

So lets jump right in – how did you come to knitting and design?

I like to think it was lurking in my DNA. I didn’t grow up around knitting, but my family is full of creatives. As a kid I was always making and building and tinkering, and I briefly learned to knit from my grandmother, but I only saw her a couple of times a year and it didn’t stick. (I think I moved into a woven potholder phase instead.) Then I got busy with school and college and intellectual work, as so many of us do. It wasn’t until I landed in New York City and made a start in editing children’s books that I realized I still had an innate drive to be working with my hands. So I bought a book, a couple of skeins of yarn, and some needles and taught myself to knit again. I had a partner who worked long hours and not many other friends in the city, so I went all in with my new craft. Fortunately it was the advent of the knitting blog era and I was able to get a great sense of possibility from following the work of talented knitters around the globe.

Sounds like a very familiar story to me! My own evolution as a knitter was forged here in NYC —starting with blogging—right around the same time. It’s amazing to see how the industry has changed online in just 10 short years. How did you use that period to hone your skills?

Mostly by reaching beyond my grasp. Learning is intoxicating, and knitting was just so much fun. I chose projects that taught me something new every time. I found Katharina Buss’s Big Book of Knitting, which has charts for creating basic patterns based on gauge, and that was a revelation: winter was coming, but I could invent my own mittens. I could even adapt a tuck stitch detail I’d seen on a sweater in another book to decorate the cuffs! And that was it. From then on I never doubted that I could knit whatever I could imagine. Soon after I found Elizabeth Zimmermann and she said I was perfectly right and gave me the education in the architecture of knitted garments I needed to forge ahead. She also introduced me to the great historical knitting traditions of Scandinavia and the British Isles, which are a bottomless well of inspiration.

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Oh yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you on those sources of inspiration! Flight is a product of those historical genres, as well as Zimmermann’s construction methods. Can you tell us about the genesis of this design?

I went to Meg Swansen’s Knitting Camp in 2008, and that’s where I first met with the beautiful Bohus Stickning designs created in the 1930’s-60’s.

Bohus sweaters are stunningly beautiful, aren’t they? Especially when viewed in person—I remember my own shock and awe the first time I was able to see Susanna Hansson’s collection of these amazing sweaters.

They’re international treasures. Totally breathtaking. Last winter I had the opportunity to take Susanna’s Bohus class at the Madrona Retreat and learned more about the incredible social history behind them. It only deepened my appreciation to know these amazing couture garments were knit by farm wives and daughters in whatever spare time they could find amid their duties to family and food production and animal husbandry, and to understand what those sweaters represented in allowing women to support their families financially in times of war and post-war hardship. And the Bohus designers were such visionaries, such rulebreakers. They probably originated the colorwork yoke, weren’t afraid to work with five colors in a round, intentionally embraced asymmetry, and uniquely incorporated purl stitches to enrich the texture and interaction between colors. Their innovations really fired my imagination. I wanted to play with some of those techniques, but at a larger scale. I have too much respect for the original designers to tread near the brilliance and complexity of the Bohus Stickning yoke designs, but I couldn’t resist the idea of a garment a skillful farm girl could knit and actually wear herself from day to day. A simple flight of chevrons in a palette of browns came quickly to mind. And I know of nothing so practical as Elizabeth Zimmermann’s seamless circular yoke formula. Her folded hems and cuffs were perfect for the clean look I wanted, too. So this sweater is as much an homage to EZ as it is to Swedish design.

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I think it works out to be a pretty perfect marriage myself! You did some updates to the shaping, though. Can you tell us about that?

I noticed years ago that I’m never very satisfied with the way sweaters fit me when the shaping is at the sides. I’ve been following the work of contemporary designers who place the shaping at dart points to customize the fit to women’s anatomy and I opted to give it a try for Flight. I weighted the waist decreases to remove more fabric from the back, where most bodies curve in, and then stacked the increases toward the front to accommodate the bust. Brief raglan shaping on the front removes the extra fabric above the fullest part of the bust and rebalances the stitch count. EZ’s decrease scheme for a circular yoke yields a fabric that ruffles gently at the first decrease round if you don’t give it a very stiff blocking. She and her daughter, Meg Swansen, later made alterations to the formula to correct that. But I find the effect sweetly feminine, especially at a fine gauge, so I kept the original proportions.

You and I are both Pacific Northwest natives – how have your roots in that distinct part of the country shaped your identity as a designer?

My island childhood instilled a firm belief that clothes are for keeping you warm while you’re out riding horses or climbing trees or catching minnows in the tidepools. I was lucky to have a lot of sturdy wool hand-me-downs, which must have lodged in my subconscious! Northwest natives know there’s no such thing as bad weather, there’s just bad clothing. And there’s a strong appreciation for artisans of every stripe, so it’s a great climate and culture for handknits. Now I try to knit and design garments with practical elegance that work in the city and up home. I’ll always find inspiration in the natural beauty of this part of the world, too.

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This has been wonderful, Sarah – thank you for taking the time to chat today and share more about the beautiful Flight.

Thanks to you for your help in bringing the design to maturity and for taking incredible photographs! And thanks to the BT editorial staff for their care with the pattern. It’s just tremendous to work with all of you.

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

This has been the Part 1 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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Thank you for all your wonderful comments and e-mails regarding our new collection—it’s been wonderful seeing Wool People 8 make its way out into the world!

Today we’re sharing a quiet little video that we created from footage taken during our weekend in the Catskills for the Wool People 8 shoot. We rented an old farmhouse just outside of Saugerties Village and spent two days exploring the area with sweaters and cameras. The early September weather was absolutely beautiful—warm in the sunlight and cool in the shade—the kind of weather that reminds you fall is coming, but summer isn’t completely over yet.

Hope you enjoy this “alternate view” of the collection!

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JF: Hello Yoko! Welcome to the blog – so glad to have you (all the way from Tokyo!)

YH: Hi Jared – thank you for inviting me.

JF: You’ve led quite a long and successful career in Japan as a hand-knitwear designer – can you tell our readers a little more about your history as a designer?

YH: I started working in the early ’70s, when many women began entering careers in design, advertising and fashion. They looked so independent – it was inspirational to me. Eiko Ishioka (who designed many costumes for Hollywood movies), was becoming a well-known art director, and I wished that I could be working with a creative purpose like her.

I chose to study design for my degree at Musashino Art University, but my schooling fell amidst the middle of the major political movements among students at the time and I eventually dropped out of the program in hopes to pursue my creative vision on my own.

I always liked to make things with my hands, even as a young child. I began crochet & crochet lace-making first when I was very small, then picked up knitting in high school. My first knitted garment was a U-neck vest – at the time I could only knit and purl, so stockinette (or reverse stockinette) were the only fabrics I was using!

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I began designing by making garments for myself, because my budget for clothing was small, yet I desperately wanted an interesting wardrobe, regardless.

After dropping out of college, I started making knitted garments and brought them to the boutiques in Harajuku. I also had purchased a knitting machine to make my garments more quickly.

After a while, one of my friends introduced me to a hand knit designer who was regularly publishing in pattern books and magazines. She put me in touch with her editors and shortly after I started publishing patterns for hand knitters – this was in 1973.

JF: When did you first begin publishing patterns in the US? Does your process change at all when designing for foreign knitters, rather than your design work in Japan? Do you think there are certain trends that are more popular in Japan than elsewhere in the world?

YH: My first design in the US was for “Crochet Today” in 2007, I think. After that I began gradually submitting more work for Vogue Knitting and other US magazines.

Nothing much changes about my design process for US publication vs. Japanese publication. The difference is mainly the yarns and colors that the editors choose, which can sometimes be unexpected, though it often turns out as a pleasant surprise.

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JF: Do you study trends in Japan to inform your work?

YH: In general, I prefer classic and timeless design with high-quality yarns (to me these things are never out of style!). Especially when it comes to hand knitting, the yarn choice is the absolute key. If you choose quality yarn, your hands will be happy as you work.

JF: Natsumi” is your fourth design for Brooklyn Tweed (you’ve also contributed “Ando” for WP3, “Tilda” for WP4, and “Fleur” for WP5). Can you talk a bit about your design inspiration for your new pullover?

YH: The main feature of this design is a sideways knitting construction and a curved hemline. The garment utilizes both increasing and decreasing concurrently to create the silhouette as you work. A wide cable stands out in simple stockinette stitch, and the zigzag eyelet gives a touch of lightness, which seems very appropriate for this yarn/fabric.

The garment is virtually seamless, as both sleeves and hemline are picked up and worked in the round directly from the finished body.

JF: You are an incredibly prolific designer. I’m always in awe of the amount of work you produce every season in Japan. Can you tell us a little more about what kind of design process is required for such high output?  

YH: In Japan I regularly contribute to many different magazines, books, and yarn companies. This is only possible due to my highly capable and trustworthy team of knitters who help me create my designs after I get the concepts into a usable form.

I have several knitters who have worked with me for a long time – they understand my work and the fabrics I try to achieve – that is a huge advantage for me.

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JF: Do you tend to lean more towards simplicity or complexity with your work?

YH: I always try to make pattern relatively easy to knit or crochet, though I do enjoy working on complicated designs for special occasions. To me it is important to find ways of making fashionable, quality clothing that is still accessible to a wide range of skill levels among knitters. I find that even people who can knit very complicated work often like to have something simpler to work on as well, if they need to really relax during their knitting. If I or my sample knitters don’t enjoy making something – I take that as a sign to really question if it is worth putting out in the world. The knitting experience is very important to the overall success of a garment.

JF: Yoko, this has been fantastic – thank you again for sharing with our readers more about who you are as a designer and your inspiring story!

YH: It is my pleasure – I love talking with other creative people. Thank you.

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BURAYA_wp7_blog_conversation_01

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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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NAKAYOSHI_wp7_blog_conversation_01

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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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