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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!