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!

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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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AGNES_01

Today’s Notebook is devoted to Agnes, my second design from our Met Museum collection from Winter ’15. One part of the Met that I really love is the modernist wing. The early 20th-century was such a rich and interesting time of change in art history, so it was a treat to go trawling for inspiration there. The simplicity of much of the abstract work in this portion of the museum makes it a common occurrence to hear visitors saying things like, “That painting is famous? But I could do that!”, though that reductive, spare quality is actually imbued with a huge amount of struggle and meaning for the artist, and I find that a subtle interplay of color and form can actually be powerful despite its often “simple” appearance.

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One of my favorite minimalist artists is the painter Agnes Martin (she’s also the namesake for this design). Her approach to art was probing, individualistic, and even spiritual. The particular painting of hers that really resonated with me—an Untitled work from 1984 (shown above left)—is all about composition with barely any color whatsoever. Though it might seem like an odd place to find inspiration to some, the piece got me thinking about boxy silhouettes and bands of subtle color, ultimately serving as the baseline for the final concept.

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Just a few steps away is Jasper Johns’s White Flag from 1955 (shown at right)—a perfect example of tone and texture adding beauty to a monochromatic surface. These two works got me thinking about the subtle use of warm and cool tones, and I wanted to capture something of that subtle richness with my own interpretation. I love a temperature-based approach to color and honed in our three palest neutral shades for the first variation of the pullover. Notice how the Snowbound (grey) band at the bust appears cool (almost blue) due to its proximity to the warmer tones of Fossil and milky brown Woodsmoke.

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Any time I design with stripes or colorblocking, I begin by illustrating countless variations of the garment digitally to assess proportion, balance, hue and value. Here are a few variations of this design that I was playing with during the initial phase (Version C being the final version).

Before too long, I realized that it might be fun to work up an additional variation with bolder colors and a different layout sequence (it also meant I could pull from a few more works of art at the Met!). The second version of the sweater also allowed for some variation to the fit of the garment. I really like the combination of a skinny sleeve with a boxy silhouette but know that a lot of people prefer a more relaxed fitting sleeve, so I wrote the pattern with two sleeve options: slim and classic. In our photographed samples, the bolder version (colors Cast IronLong Johns & Fossil) is the slim sleeve and the tonal “Jasper Johns” version is the classic (a wider upper arm and slightly deeper armhole).

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The higher-contrast palette of the second sample was inspired by two other paintings in the modernist wing, each Untitled works from painters Al Held (1959, left) and Clyfford Still (1960, center). I also stumbled upon the Young Woman Peeling Apples painting (1655, right) by Nicolaes Maes (over in Dutch Masters…) which fit perfectly into the theme, too. I loved that this one was from a completely different era but related so perfectly to the concept.

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Tips for Your Own Version

I also wanted to talk about a few tips that might be helpful for any of you knitting this design but wanting to experiment with your own colorblocking palette/layout. When working with fields of color, a key thing to keep in mind is that darker values will visually recede while lighter values “come forward”. This rule is obviously more relevant for a high-contrast palette; you’ll notice that if you squint at my pale version it reads more or less as a single hue, and this will be true of any combination of colors that are close in value (read more about color and value from my earlier posts here and here). I did choose to arrange the pale colors from darkest to lightest moving up from the hem, which gives the garment more visual weight at the bottom and fools the eye into thinking the shape is longer than it really is. This is generally flattering on the figure.

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With pullovers, you typically want to downplay the appearance of width in the waist area (particularly true of boxy oversized garments), so in the higher-contrast version I chose to place a wide block of Cast Iron covering the mid-section, covering the bust with the darkest shade to create a more androgynous form by de-emphasizing the curves there. By contrast, the pale version has a narrower stripe at the bust with the skirt worked in a single color, which has more of an empire waist feel to it. Knowing that the less graphic nature of the pale palette side-stepped the “widening” issue, I thought it would be more fun to play with some subtle front-back changes too, so I flipped the placement of Fossil and Snowbound from front to back, which makes for an interesting detail when viewing the garment in profile (the left photo above gives a nice visual of the difference between front and back).

The yoke color block is the most fun to play with in terms of how tall it is, since it interacts with the neckline as well as highlighting the angled shaping of the shoulder and the intersection with the armhole. I like the idea of a shallow block there to look more like epaulets or shoulder patches, but in the end, I wanted it to be deep enough so as not to bisect the neckline.

And that’s probably about all the nerdy design talk you might be able to handle for one day! The bottom line is that Agnes is a modern, comfortable sweater that’s easy to wear and a fun canvas for your own original creation. For those of you who choose to knit this, I hope you’ll share your own take on the design!

 

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Although collection launch days always feel super exciting around here, this one feels especially fantastic since we can finally publicly welcome Norah Gaughan as the newest member to our in-house Design Team!

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I remember my first encounter with Norah’s work. I had a job on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and I often spent my lunch break soaking up all the knitting knowledge I could absorb in the Barnes & Noble that used to occupy the corner of 66th and Broadway. (This was also where I picked up most of my intermediate-to-advanced knitting knowledge, hunkered down among the bookshelves sponging up as much technical info as I could between my morning and afternoon shift…)

One day I spied a beautiful new hardcover face-out on the shelf: Knitting Nature. Leafing through it was mind expanding. Not only were the garments unlike anything I’d ever seen—swirls and polygons and fractal shapes cunningly transformed into wearable art—but the styling and production quality were totally arresting. It was the first time I realized how much was possible in melding the arts of knitting and photography which, in hindsight, was a pretty major moment for me.

For eight years since, I’ve been following Norah’s design career, marveling at her prolific and agile brain. I couldn’t possibly be more thrilled to now call her a colleague at BT. Working with her in the past few months has already been a complete joy. Check out Norah’s first few designs from our Winter Collection— Chainlink (pictured above), Marshal, and Nomad—and please join me in welcoming her to the BT family!

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My very talented cousin, Craig Flood, is a videographer in Portland, Oregon. Back in November, he was visiting NYC and staying with me as a houseguest during photoshoot week for our Winter collection (coming tomorrow—so excited!). When I began telling him about the concept for the art history-inspired shoot I was working on for the collection, he thought it sounded like the perfect subject for a video story—and so we decided to do a cousin collaboration!

Craig tagged along with me on the days leading up to the shoot and captured a nice look at the process involved in weaving it all together.

I’ve had the idea of doing a collection of designs inspired by art historical references for years. I loved the idea of bringing my post-academia love of art history together with our work at Brooklyn Tweed in some way. In college I spent 9 months abroad in Rome studying art history and fell in love with the lighting and composition of paintings from the Baroque period, especially those of the Dutch Masters like Vermeer and Rembrandt. I thought it would be a fun creative challenge to create imagery inspired by this genre of painting for a knitwear collection, and to use art historical references as a springboard for our designers to begin concepts for their garments. Last November, when our Design Team convened in NYC for our regular design retreat, we took a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to gather inspiration for some of our newest patterns in the Winter 15 collection.

Craig’s video is a nice glimpse into our process for putting a shoot together; I hope you enjoy it! (I’m much more comfortable behind the camera—leave it to my little cousin to get me to sit for an interview!)

A huge thanks to Craig for making this beautiful video and enhancing my own creative journey on this project!

And of course, stay tuned for the new collection tomorrow morning! (You’ll get an early peek at the designs in our “History of Art” story at the end of the video.)

 

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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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Escher (3 of 7)

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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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Our team first began earnest work on our new web site (launching today—we’re excited!) last April. At the time I had been in a particularly reflective phase, and was reminiscing on the many unexpected and lovely surprises Brooklyn Tweed has brought into my path.
When I first started writing a blog about knitting,  I was doing it during downtime at my day job, hoping I might engage online with a few like-minded folks who loved their yarn too. I couldn’t have imagined it was the unknowing beginning to what has become a meaningful career doing something I really care about.

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I was reminded of some of the things I loved most about my first years of blogging. How much I enjoyed sharing the in-between parts of creative work, or any sudden inspiration of the moment. To my eye, the swerves and detours along the way are usually the best part of the creative process (and certainly the most interesting part to talk about). I realized that I missed having a dedicated place to do that.

And so the idea of a Notebook was born.

This will be a bit of free space—a blank page for me to record moments captured in creative work, as well as a place to share inspirational images or ideas that help keep my own gears turning. Our BT News feed (link at the top of this page) will continue to keep you posted about everything we’re up to at Brooklyn Tweed with yarn and pattern design, of course.

Over here, I’ll just be doin’ my thing.

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I’m looking forward to being back in the sharing chair.

(And, thanks for reading!)

—Jared

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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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