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!
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.